Top 5: Chilli Cocktails in LondonBy Angelica Malin
In the early days of dating, you’ll do anything to prove yourself to your prospective partner. You try, in subtle ways, to flaunt your talents; whether it’s casually speaking in another language on the phone, filling your flat with the scent of freshly-baked croissants or showing off your toned arms in a t-shirt in the depths of winter.
With my boyfriend and I, it all started with chilli.
It began as a joke. Really, it did. It was our second date – he had ordered a shot of chilli vodka at the bar (what mad man has shot on a Tuesday night, I wondered?) and sipped (sipped!) it. Never to be out-done, and addressing the ability to withstand high heats as a feminist agenda, I too ordered a shot.
I tried not to show as the hot, fiery liquid scorched my insides and made my eyes well up. “Lovely” I said. We both confessed our mutual love of chilli – and thus, chilli fest began. Soon our dating life turned into some kind of sick version of Man vs. Food, where we’d plan dates around outdoing each other’s drinks orders.
After 3-months of sampling London’s hottest tipples, and 25 cocktails later, I can now proudly say I’ve probably ruined my digestive system for ever. But for discovering the chilli Pisco Sour at Andina? Totally worth it. Here’s where to drink the hot stuff (and some secrets along the way) – happy sipping, London:
1. Best for Heat: Chilli Fino Old Fashioned at Nopi
What: Hacienda Anejo, Fino dry sherry, fresh chilli, hazelnut liqueur & a lemon twist (£12)
The Bartender’s Trick: “We use a French hazelnut liqueur with barely any sugar, and an extra dry, hardly sweet sherry, to make a perfectly balanced cocktail”
Heat Factor: Don’t try this if you don’t really, really love chilli. As they use a fancy French hazelnut liqueur, there’s no sweetness, really, to disguise the burning taste of the chilli – and it’s a serious bartender drinks, with just the rich alcohol to offset the feverish heat of the chilli. Whatever, they use, it’s strong. So strong it took me an hour and two glasses of warm water to drink. That said, if you love Old Fashioned cocktails, and love chilli, you might just find this is your favourite cocktail in London.
The Idea: Ottolenghi’s Nopi is fantastic for Israeli-inspired small plates. The food is literally to die – pair this cocktail with the sweet potato with tahini, or the aubergine with black garlic and yogurt. The cocktail really brings out the heat and spice of the Middle Eastern dishes, and have the coffee and chocolate financiers with whisky cream (like mini chocolate fondants, so delicious) as a rewarding treat for finishing it.
2. Best for Homemade Spirit: Peru Bravo at Andina
What: Chilli-infused Pisco, pineapple juice, fresh chilli garnish (£11)
The Bartender’s Trick: “We use infuse all our own Pisco spirits for weeks, to give a really authentic depth to the cocktail”
Heat Factor: When we stumbled on Andina’s offering of homemade Pisco spirits, we knew we were really onto something. The bartender proudly showed us his infusions pickling away in glass jars; the last of which, a concoction of Pisco (the grape-distilled Peruvian national drink) and chilli, muddling away together. The drink really, really works – the spirit is steeped in chilli for weeks, rather than used as a garnish, which gives it a heat from its base. The pineapple is the perfect sweet balancer – and the drink is oddly moreish.
The Idea: Andina’s Peruvian ceviche and small plates are top notch. Come for their famous salmon ceviche with red onion, blueberries and avocado, all cured in Tiger’s Milk (not actual Tiger) and the cassava chips with spicy salsa. Finish with a gluten-free quinoa brownie as a special treat for all those virtuous vegetables.
3. Best for Flavour Combination: Chilli Popcorn Cocktail at Mr Fogg’s
What: Maple syrup, popcorn Bulleit bourbon, Angostura bitters and ice (£14)
The Bartender’s Trick: “We infuse the Bulleit bourbon with Freshly made popcorn! The infusion needs at least one weeks rest to get the perfect result”
Heat Factor: This is where it all began, and a cocktail we keep coming back for. The drink is very unusual – rather nostalgic, like mixing your salty popcorn with the pick n’ mix at the cinema as a kid – with that popcorn-flavoured vodka. It would be too much sweet, but the heat of the chilli makes it firmly an adult’s drink. Or for a big kid.
The Idea: Mr Fogg’s has a very cool date vibe. The Mayfair bar is themed around the famous adventurer Fogg and is decked out like an antique circus, with leather armchairs, black and white photographs and vintage bicycles hanging from the ceiling. Even the bartenders have waxed moustaches. They’ve got an awesome menu; go her for a date and make your way through the creative cocktails.
4. Best for Value: Mango and Chilli Martini at Dirty Martini
What: Absolut Mango Vodka is shaken with Briottet Crème de Mangue liqueur, fresh lemon and mango juice and a hint
of chilli (£9)
The Bartender’s Trick: “We use Asian-inspired flavours to give a twist on the classic martini. This is one of our most popular drinks, just after the Lychee Martini”
Heat Factor: We knew we’d lucked out when we discovered a decent chilli cocktail in the West End. This, by my own admission, is not a traffic-stopping cocktail of supreme mixology – but at £4.50 during Happy Hour (and Happy Hour is VERY happy until 10pm all week), it’s a total bargain. The martini uses classic Asian flavours of sweet fruit and savoury notes (think spicy Thai papaya salad) to bring together all things good in a glass. It’s not too hot, either, so won’t ruin your mouth for the evening ahead.
The Idea: There’s branches of Dirty Martini all over London in great locations, such as by Liverpool Street Station and by the Covent Garden Piazza. It’s a great place for a casual after-work French martini, or to start off your night out on the weekend. Whatever you do, make sure you don’t end up having all the 2-4-1 cocktails to yourself, now.
5. Best for Innovation: Japanese Margarita at Nobu, Berkeley Street
What: Red Chilli infused Sake and Shoshu, Cointreau, Lime Juice and Agave Syrup
The Bartender’s Trick: “It’s all in the balance of flavours, the agave is perfect for adding natural sweetness to the Japanese flavours of the drink”
Heat Factor: This cocktail is so delicious, so naughty, we actually couldn’t find a photo of it (the one pictured is the Jalapeno and Ginger Martini – also hot and rather heavenly). It’s hot, but in a really good way – and the agave is the perfect balancer for the heat of the chilli. If you like sake, you totally love this cocktail.
The Idea: Come for the cocktails, stay for the spicy tuna, shrimp tempura and generally very, very cool atmosphere.