You’ve left it too late to book an east London speakeasy, that cheap bar in Brixton feels like a mission and there’s no way you can be bothered slumming it on a friend’s sofa for the sake of some warm white wine. Where do you go? Consider one of London’s many chain restaurants and bars, which are catching up with the cocktail trend and upping their game, making for a pretty reasonable and fuss-free alternative when you’re out on the town and fancy your favourite poison.
The post-work hotspot, situated in Covent Garden, Mayfair and the City, has given its selection of namesake Martinis a huge makeover, resulting in some innovative creations – such as the Lavender and Honey Martini (with Polish bison grass vodka). Then there’s the in-house Carrot Cake (Sipsmith gin, carrot juice topped with a walnut), skinny cocktails and a significant selection of fizz. They knock up a pretty decent Old Fashioned, too. It gets pretty banging (music-wise) in the evenings so if you’re up for a dance, go for it – if you’re looking for something lively but a little chilled, go before the peak-time rush. Oh and did we mention they have Happy Hours?
Hungry? For easy to eat bites, there’s a range of ‘minis’ – from hot dogs, to burgers and skewers. If you’ve bagged a seat, settle into a sharing platter.
Best branch: The newly opened Bishopsgate venue, right opposite Liverpool Street station, has plenty of floor space, a vibrant interior and numerous comfy booths.
Stylish modern Indian hangout Dishoom draws inspiration from the ‘Irani’ cafés of Bombay that enjoyed widespread popularity in 1960s India. Our London-based reincarnation is a balanced mix of British quirk with casual chic and boasts numerous delectable gin-heavy quenchers – all made from top-shelf stuff. The cheekily named Edwina’s Affair (ask your mate who’s into politics) includes cardamom, fresh mint and candied rose petals, while Dishoom’s own in-house vermouth with hints of vanilla and cinnamon, can certainly twist some classics – just sample the Sonia’s Negroni and see.
Hungry? Two words – Gunpowder Potatoes. Boom.
Best branch: Covent Garden is in a pretty convenient locale, but if you’re focused on some quality drinking time and are over in the east, head straight for the Permit Room, housed at the restaurant in Shoreditch, to kick back with some gimlets and juleps.
Stylised Chinese teahouse Ping Pong is known for serving up western-friendly dim sum, but few are aware of the chain’s carefully crafted and extensive range of eye-catching drinks – from flowering teas, to coolers and, of course, cocktails. Oriental twisted delights including Wasabi and Amaretto Sour, Lychee and Roses Martini are long-standing favourites, while head mixologist Daniele Ziaco knocks up seasonal specials – with pearl-tea inspired Dancing Dragon, complete with tapioca balls, in celebration of Chinese New Year currently on offer.
Hungry? Then make time for a weekend jaunt to indulge in the ‘Lazy Sumday’ deal – all you can eat, every Sunday, for £21.95. We’ll have some char siu bao – ta.
Best Branch: The venue at Southbank Centre, with its sleek glass exterior, heated terrace and an elegant bar upstairs for those who just want to nip in for a sly – but no doubt well deserved — vanilla chilli sidecar.
As surprising as it might be – the cocktails at TGI’s are the real deal. Premium spirits, experienced bartenders and a mixology team behind a drinks list packed full of classics, signatures and some boozy ice cream treats. Given the generous double measures and prices around £5.50-£8.50 – it’s pretty good value to boot. Love the texture of sours? Go for anything with the ‘Friday’s Foam’. It’s egg white and lemon. Squirted on top. If you like it sweet, line up the Southern Belles with Jack-infused honey. For refreshing and firm, opt for Cucumber Martini and get it shaken up with Hendrick’s – the cucumber and rose botanicals will give you a sipworthy drink with more depth.
Hungry? Snack on some American bar-style tapas — meatball sliders and skewers with their signature Jack Daniels glaze. More than 10 years later and we still haven’t cracked the recipe. Damnit.
Best branch: At the Covent Garden eatery, just off the Strand, the tourist footfall is perhaps less than that of its siblings and it’s perfect for post-theatre drinks when the Savoy is too crowded, too expensive and too far.
As a nation of food-spectators, Thomasina Miers’ 2005 Masterchef victory and her passion for Mexican food made her – and the Wahaca Brand – a household name. The playful, colourful décor gives off a family-friendly vibe but also has a few pleasant surprises for grown-ups. The margaritas here are made with high-quality agave tequila (with some brands of 100% agave in particular branches) and organic agave syrup, which makes for a top-notch tipple. If you’re a fan of the hard stuff on the rocks, the Charlotte Street branch has a dedicated (and dare we say trendy) mezcal bar – hailed as the UK’s first, and one we visited on what must have been the country’s first ever mezcal bar-crawl. Far be it from us to promote the soft stuff; however, if you’re on the wagon the horchata is a simple but blissful blend of almond and rice milks and cinnamon. But you didn’t hear it from us.
Hungry? Where to start…just get everything. She did win Masterchef.
Best Branch: It’s all relative. For drinks, it’s the aforementioned Charlotte Street, without a doubt. If we’re talking food (and booze, naturally) you’ll find us at the Southbank Centre location – constructed from shipping crates, serving experimental dishes and with the Thames rolling by – how could we not be tempted?
One to watch: Kimchee
Korea is coming to town and hotly tipped to take on Japan’s reign on the capital in a big way. The cuisine formerly resigned to New Malden and that tiny strip off Charing Cross Road is growing in popularity and it’s no surprise that the chain is already spawning take out joints, so expect more drinking dens like the one that currently resides at their flagship Holborn branch. Lashings of Soju (grain spirit) and bek se ju (think sake with ginseng hints) form the base of many a liquid elixir at the Asian-decked, wood panelled basement bar. Don’t forget the Bulgogi puffs for the peckish.
Images obtained from the respective chains, but content chosen and written independently.
This article is part of our Best of London Food and Drink series. Visit the page for more recommendations of where to enjoy the capital’s top food and drink, categorised by cuisine, food type and more.