About Time: You Tried the Winter Warming Cocktails at St James BarBy Sam Holder
The Sofitel in St James probably isn’t the first place you’d think of when going for a cocktail. Hotel chain bars have a reputation for being stuffy, full of suited businessmen and generally unadventurous – with exorbitantly high prices seemingly targeting those who haven’t quite mastered the exchange rate yet.
St James Bar: The Lowdown
The allure here is the promise of an interior inspired by Coco Chanel’s 1920’s apartment and a new Winter Tales cocktail list. Through the marbled lobby (past the check-in desk), lies the bar; small, opulent and surprisingly comfortable, thanks to an excellent selection of large velvet chairs. (Good seating seems to be vastly underrated in the world of bar designers.) So do the drinks match up to the decor?
St James Bar: The Drinks
The new menu takes inspiration from classic childhood tales. Fear O’Clock (from Peter Pan and Captain Hook) is essentially a rum Negroni, infused with violet, as well as lemongrass and ginger herbal tea. The original Negroni may well be the perfect cocktail, but this is a worthwhile interpretation with a rich fruity layer complementing that bitter backbone.
The Enchanted Rose, a tribute to Beauty and the Beast, suitably arrives in a smoke-filled bell jar. Built on a berry-infused Belvedere vodka base, with rose water (in keeping with the theme) white tea syrup and elderflower liqueur, it’s floral without being overpowering.
Most outrageously decadent of all is Who’s Nibbling at My House – a riff on the gingerbread house in Hansel and Gretel. Ingredients read like a list of forbidden fruits: whisky, chocolate, double cream, cookie syrup and vanilla bitters. It may sound saccharine, but the heavily peated Talisker balances out the sweetness. The result is something akin to a gingerbread whisky; a delicious, creamy, alcoholic dessert.
The absolute stand-out is Satine’s Dilemma, based on Moulin Rouge, which surprisingly falls into the category of ‘childhood tales’. Botanist gin is shaken with rose syrup, plum bitters and a homemade grape ‘shrub’ – a type of vinegar used in old-school cocktails. It’s perfectly balanced between sweet and sour, with a luxurious foam and edible diamond – so good, it would be worth visiting any hotel bar for.
St James Bar: The Verdict
Rooms here cost £300 a night, so it’s no surprise that the cocktails are £16 each. It’s expensive, yes, and a strange destination, but if you want somewhere elegant and cosy to nestle up with a date during these cold winter months – and an unusual cocktail in hand – this is the place to do it. And at least if you overindulge, you’re only a couple of metres from the check-in desk.
8 Pall Mall, St James’s, London SW1Y 5NG