A Hidden Gem
Hidden away in a small town in North Warwickshire is a hotel with a twist. The Kenilworth, helpfully named after the town in which it resides, is a ’boutique’ hotel that just so happens to also house the most extraordinary cocktail bar.
The Kenilworth is a classy establishment; guests are welcomed with the sort of greeting that instantly makes you feel like you never want to leave. Jazz plays soothingly in the background whilst the friendly and knowledgeable staff provide effortlessly smooth table-service to a discerning clientele. The bar is fun yet mature, upscale yet relaxed, and contemporary yet timeless all at the same time. Though my visits over the years have seen bartenders change, the atmosphere never has; it feels like home.
The hotel itself is absolutely charming. Much of it is located in a lovingly restored 16th century building to provide contemporary accommodation that has lost none of the original charm. Each room is different, making the best use of each space. One room has a cute staircase leading to the bathroom, several have original wooden beams, and all are decked out to the highest quality. Large wet rooms, designer furniture, walnut clad walls and superbly comfortable beds all make for a delightful stay.
The main focus for me of course are the cocktails. My latest visit came over a year since the previous one, with the intervening period being so crammed with amazing cocktail experiences that I worried it would not live up to expectations. My worries turned out not just to be unfounded, but plain ridiculous, for this is a cocktail bar at the top of its game. The menu is currently a lengthy affair comprising the best part of 100 drinks, plus a specials list of another half dozen. Each double page spread focuses on a different spirit or drink category; first there are the signature classics (with a range of spirits offered at different price points), then a tantalising mix of old and new, plus the Kenilworth own inventions. Unusual ingredients frequently make an appearance as do a huge number of homemade syrups, sherbets and cordials. Rob (bar manager) has even created his own ‘Old Fashioned’ syrups to facilitate delicious yet speedy Old Fashioneds’ during even the busiest service.
You could be forgiven for thinking that a bar in deepest Warwickshire might not be the most forward-thinking or modern expression of cocktail culture. Not so; new techniques and styles are embraced here, but they are always executed in an intelligent way. Fierce quality control ensures only the best drinks make it onto the menu and when they do, boy are you in for a treat. My first drink of the evening was a “Clover Club 3000”, served as a foam and sprinkled with popping candy. I have tried ‘foams’ in several bars now and I’ve not quite been convinced. This drink however was superb, the foam remained stable right until the very bottom and the contrast of the soft foam and the harshness of the popping candy was pure genius. Other highlights included a Solera (rum, sherry, madeira and balsamic vinegar) which was complex, moreish, and beautifully smooth; a Four seasons fizz (strawberry and rhubarb syrup, gin and champagne) tasted like the most intensely fruity ice-cream, with a depth of flavour that remains with me several weeks later; and an English garden that combined gin, thyme, and rosemary to create a most unusual but lip-smacking twist on a julep.
As with any successful bar, what makes the Kenilworth stand out are it’s people. There is a special magic here that combines passion with the most incredible skill to deliver an exceptional experience. The owners, Darren and Stuart, insist on the highest standards and their passion is clear to see. They also seem to have a rather good knack for recruiting amazingly talented bartenders. Rob Wood, bar manager, has a flair for flavour that is a cut above the rest. He doesn’t just deliver great tasting drinks, but interesting, unusual and often game-changing ones as well. Never before have I consumed so many drinks that make me smile as at the Kenilworth, and that says a lot. If you try just one new place this year, make it the Kenilworth, it really is something special.