A new bar has recently opened – one that, for a long time now, has been causing ripples of excitement to spread through the global cocktail scene. For it isn’t every day that the creators of a one of the world’s best bars (twice awarded third place) declare that a sister bar will join the ranks of top places to get a tipple in London.
Birds of a Feather
The name of the new bar is Oriole – a colourful bird that, according to Wikipedia, can belong to either the New or Old World. And so the tale begins…
Those who have visited Nightjar (a necessary trip if you’re a cocktail fanatic) will know of its speakeasy charm. It channeled flappers and secret gin and gleaming white spats – nooks and crannies to hide from the eyes of the police or perhaps your significant other.
Oriole is more concerned with geography and times gone by – it harks back to a golden age of travel and exploration. That time not so long ago when the map was being unfurled even further, and new worlds were being discovered at a rate of knots – the time before Lonely Planet guides and David Attenborough and Easyjet cheap flights.
The layout reflects this – Oriole comprises of one large room that is more encompassing than its shadowy, seductive, slightly furtive sister. It is a room for bonhomie; for joie de vivre. It evokes a sense of nostalgia and wide eyes discovery in one fell swoop – those days of grand peacock feathers and heady jasmine scent and the brassy tones of a sax. It’s evocative of musty books from your grandma’s library; of a dusty globe that lifts to become a bar with decanters of amber liquor. It’s adventure, and the unknown, and tantalizing danger. Curious are dotted around, from horns and tusks to leering gargoyles and carved statues. The wallpaper is a Kipling-esque jungle scene, and the seats are teal leather. The band plays on a raised stage.
Exploring the globe on sip at a time
Oriole’s menu is beautiful and practical. It has images of each drink, stuck down as collectables in an album. A flick through will tell you ingredients (which can range from Buffalo Popcorn Tea to Kelpie Seaweed Ale – even Bamboo Forest Aroma is included), while also offering a delightful back-story. The libations are divided into Old World, New World and The Orient, and have been created by head barman Luca Cinalli.
First we try a concoction from The Orient – the drinks of which are influenced by Asia and the Pacific (we’re advised to ‘prepare for passion’.) The list is resplendent with exotic and umami flavours like Seagrass Syrup and Prickly Pear Jam. I’m drawn towards the Road To Hanoi, and it arrives in a small glass goblet, tasting like a sweet, spiced Negroni. There is a wonderful bitter, herbaceous bite from Campari, tempered with a mellow almond sweetness from Marzipan Grappa, while the Hennessy gives a rich, boozy depth. My friend orders a Batavia – it’s like a sweet Manhattan, wonderfully strong, with the glimmering film Arabican Argan Oil dappling the surface and a cube of dark-chocolate dipped gouda.
Next I make a foray into the New World, drawn by my love of mezcal. These are cocktails of The Americas, and my Zapotec takes the best of what is, today, Mexico. Mezcal, chilli, sun-dried tomato, lime and mandarin combine to make a gloriously punchy Bloody Mary, the smokiness of the agave liqueur leaving a tantalizing essence on my tongue. My friend stays Old World – Europe and Africa – and the pine forest, mists, and mystical Celtic charm of Scotland are embraced in the Saligo Bay. Whisky, oat syrup, green walnut liqueur and the musty, earthiness of peat dust speaks of fading days and dying fires.
Sustenance for your journey
Another difference with Oriole is that here the dishes are vying for attention with the beverages. It might be a select list but boy, are the options impressive. It is a menu that boasts sushi, civiche and tartare, as well as cooked items. Chilean Sea Bass Miso was as good as any black cod I’ve enjoyed in London, while Venison Tartare was kept from being overly rich by the clever crunch of black quinoa. Creole influences abounded in a creamy, hearty plate of chicken with corn and avocado, but the stand out dish was the Tamarind glazed pork – sweet, sticky, BBQ flavours were given texture and crunch by peanut pieces and cut through with the necessary and perfect addition of a bowl of kimchi. The meal was, actually, pretty amazing. I would be tempted here just by the food.
It’s safe to say that Oriole will be competing for number one destination bar in London, and for good reason. Rosie and Edmund have once more created a magical place that is not simply a bar to come and get a drink, to sip idly while you chat or nibble or daydream. These are cocktails to be absorbed by – to ponder over. Like one allows oneself to be immersed in a story – to feel the layers and the characters and the scenes wash through the imagination – so visitors should treat a visit to Oriole. It is a journey of discovery into mind-blowing cocktails – and the education starts here.
Explore Oriole more and follow them on Instagram @theoriolebar