Like highly trained hounds snuffling for truffles, the Smith collective is always on the hunt for new drinking dens. However, even we were surprised to hear of a new liquor-laden lair (with flair) in Leicester Square – aka the veritable armpit of London).
We’d been invited to a Christmas shindig at the London Cocktail Club (LCC), so westwards we headed, thirsting for festivities. And darn it, we deserved a drink – if battling through the crowds, straining muscles (and soul) under the weight of bulging bags, and watching our bank balance plummet from healthy to hopeless doesn’t warrant an eggnog or three, Lord knows what does.
Clutching our invitation, we dodged buses, tourists and mini-skirted harridans and found ourselves outside the LCC, on Great Newport Street. We gingerly descended a narrow staircase to the basement bar, and entered a subterranean expanse with emerald green walls, battered chesterfields, Persian rugs and lashings of retro bric-a-brac. JJ Goodman, the club’s dapper owner, welcomed us with a handshake, an Asahi, and a cocktail menu. That’s the kind of greeting that should feature in etiquette books.
JJ, fresh from a turn on Raymond Blanc‘s TV show, The Restaurant, is a bit obsessed with cocktails. His particular predilection: matching the flavours of his liquid and culinary creations. Guests milled around sipping sage and cranberry martinis (boasting baubles fresh from the freezer – ice cubes are so last season) and nibbling turkey sandwiches and mini sausages with cranberry dipping sauce.
A pan bubbled on a little heater on the bar, scenting the room with a heady cloud of potent fumes, and the assembled media types made their own DIY-style mulled wine, topping up the brew with orange peel, cloves, red wine, apple and bitters. Throwing caution (and the risk of salmonella) to the wind, Smith opted for a Molecular Snow Ball – advocaat with whole egg, fresh vanilla and ice, topped with a festive chocolate coin (gold foil and all) scattered with ‘molecular lime cordial caviar’.
Peering around to see if Heston Blumenthal was in the room lapping up the science-speak (and the drinkables), we had a sip. It was good. So good in fact, that the gal next to us swiped our glass. A dashing PR whisked a new one seemingly from thin air, and bonhomie was restored. Things got even better when a family-size box of Quality Street was deposited on our table, and we alternated between gobbling cheese-and-pineapple chunks on cocktail sticks and the purple-wrapped caramel and nut numbers. (So much better when grandparents aren’t around to nab the best ones.)
Our learnings from the night? Along with dim sum and the Prince Charles cinema, Leicester Square has a third lure – the LCC. And should you overdo things on the alcoholic front and need to make a speedy retreat, bed down in one of two boutique boltholes nearby, the Haymarket Hotel, or the Covent Garden Hotel.