Mike samples the cocktails at one of, officially, the best bars in the world
Bar Swift in Old Compton Street has something of the speakeasy about it. 40’s inspired art deco fluted shapes and muted rich colours. A conducive environment within which to imbibe fabulous cocktails.
Up top is a fresher more tightly packed affair and I wait to meet friend Adam at the bar.
To whet my whistle, I stand with a tasty fresh Schiehallion a bottled lager from Scotland.
There is usually a pilsner on tap but tonight the draught offer is Guinness, a hangover from Paddy’s day that even a bar of this quality can’t resist catering to.
Whatever you are drinking here you are given water in a small thin rimmed glass as a courtesy, so even when you are between drinks you have something to sip on.
Adam arrives and we are swiftly ushered downstairs, our drinks carried on a tray ahead of us and placed in their, and our, new home, a beautiful semi-circular dark wood and red leather booth. I love a booth. We slink into it as you do and our eyes feast on the new cocktail menu.
Co-owners Mia Johansson and Bobby Hiddleston, along with their creative team, have given the menu its biggest shake up since the bar launched two years ago.
Not that they needed the change to get bums onto plush seats, this is a multi-award-winning cocktail emporium; best UK bar in 2018, Best London Bar of 2018 and the 46th best bar in the world even.
The menu is split into four sections to guide us;’ Delicate’, ‘Bright’, ‘Stiff’ and ‘Rich’, each with accompanying artwork created by illustrator Sara Stode.
‘Delicate’ features light flavoured ingredients such as cucumber and blossom flowers, whilst in contrast ‘Bright’ uses punchy flavours such as chilli and citrus fruit, ‘Stiff’ nods to boozier, stirred down drinks whilst ‘Rich’ offers heavier style cocktails with chocolate or cherries.
I go ‘Rich’ with a Praline Flip; Swift spiced rum blend, Guinness, hazelnut orgeat and egg. It is foamy, smooth, creamy and full of flavour whilst remaining light on it’s feet.
Adam has a ‘Stiff’ Jackdaw created with Woodford Reserve bourbon, Clos Martin Armagnac, Swift Jamaican rum, honey and allspice. Of course, I have to swig his to try it and it is wonderfully punchy and layered.
Although cocktails on an empty stomach are always a great starter, we need to eat something and Swift have just the ticket; A selection of brioche rolls with seasonal fillings, tonight we receive three petite sliders each, featuring peppery salami, silky brie and fresh smoked salmon. They slide into us in a matter of minutes.
We can’t resist ordering a second cocktail to sample the other two seasons of the menu. I go for a ‘Delicate’ Destination Tokyo, Suntory Chita Japanese whisky, coconut, pandan, rice milk and genmaicha tea.
This comes in a squat stone bowl with a massive single ice cube/block in the centre.It is clean, fresh and indeed delicate. Adam’s ‘Bright’ choice is a Coral Reef, Ginseng Havana 3 rum with kumquat, lime and Chambord, it is long and fruity with an earthy note.
Sipping on our amazing drinks and casting an eye around at the sophisticated clientele I start to believe we have joined an elite club of international sophisticates.
That is until, in an attempt to get my nose into the last of my Destination Tokyo, I pinch my giant ice cube to move it over to my water glass and it slips, plopping from some height into my courtesy water, sploshing much of it onto the floor. Not my Eureka moment.
As we retreat off to the real world the staff efficiently and effectively clean up the puddle I leave behind, without judgement or irritation, these guys are pros and have a welcome ready for you any day of the week.
This was a Tuesday and it was packed, it always is - so book if you want the full downstairs booth experience.
I can see why it was judged the 46th best bar in the world, when you consider how many wannabe swanky global bars there are, it’s some achievement.
I wonder how many of the others I've been to?
12 Old Compton Street, London, W1D 4TQ