Bar Review – 69 Colebrooke Row
The bar with no name (or 69 Colebrooke Row as it is more commonly referred to) is amongst the most talked about bars in London. Twice nominated (third time lucky?) for the prestigious ‘world’s best bar’ award at the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited awards in New Orleans and winner of all manner of other accolades, this is a small bar creating a big impact.
Located on an understated side street in Islington, the bar with no name occupies a teeny corner plot with space for no more than 40 people. Sophisticated elegance is the name of the game here, with dark wood abound and low seating making the most of the limited space. Being tall my favourite perch is on one of the bar stools, but great minds think alike and you’ll want to arrive early to bag one of these. In fact you’ll want to arrive early wherever you want to sit for this is one popular bar; otherwise make sure you book ahead of time.
The success of 69 Colebrooke Row is beautiful in its simplicity; dedication to perfection. This dedication penetrates everything they do, and rarely do they fall short of expectations. Arriving at the bar you’ll be sure of a warm welcome and a glass of water poured almost before you have taken your seat. Such a simple touch, and one that many bars use, but rarely so successfully as here where you will find it almost impossible to empty your water glass before it is topped up again! The small size also makes for an efficient service, ensuring each customer is looked after by friendly and knowledgeable waiting staff. The reputation for amazing drinks this bar has would be worthless were it not matched by a great (and reliable) customer experience; the effect of co-owner Camille Hobby Limon is clear to see. If you want to see what I mean, pop along to the Charles Lamb pub down the road, its also owned by Camille and also serves up her trademark hospitality.
Of course it is the drinks that gather the most attention, with many talking about the ‘molecular mixology’ techniques that co-owner Tony Conigliaro uses. The use of such a term implies that the ‘technique’ drives the creation of the drink, a very misleading statement. I have been lucky enough to meet Tony several times and recently visited the Drink Factory where many of the ingredients for the drinks are created. I can safely say that those who refer to Tony’s drinks as ‘molecular’ are missing a trick. Let me refer back for a moment to my earlier reference to ‘dedication to perfection’. Like any good cocktail bar, the drinks at 69 Colebrooke Row are inspired by many different things, perhaps a particular experience, or smell. What then follows is an awe-inspiring quest to create the perfect incarnation of the idea. This is where the centrifuges, water baths, rotavapours and other ‘laboratory’ kit comes in; not to use for the sake of it to create a drink that is fashionable or different, but simply to facilitate this endless search for perfection. The result are ingredients as sophisticated and elegant as the bar itself that many will copy, but few will succeed.
The end result of this quest can be seen in the menu; relatively short and infrequently changed, the drinks you see can take years to develop. One thing that stands out is they are all wondrous in their deceptive simplicity and I am regularly astounded at how complex and beautiful the drinks taste. In addition to flavour, aroma is also a big inspiration here, something that stands out from many of the even the best cocktail bars. One such example is the ‘La Rose’ which infuses a sugar cube with “English rose garden aromatics” and simply tops with Champagne. The result is like taking a walk in an English rose garden; the aroma and flavour develops as the sugar cube dissolves to create the impression of walking through the flower beds and experiencing the different smells that you encounter. It’s one of those drinks that make you sit back, smile and never want to leave. I shudder to think of the number of cocktails I have imbibed in different bars, but somehow the drinks here always linger in the memory long after the taste has gone, these are the stuff of dreams. Some have commented on the smaller than ‘average’ size of the cocktails but honestly, when my drink might have taken years to develop, and the use of several pieces of expensive lab equipment not to mention the genius brain that is Tony and his team, I’m happy to have them a little smaller. After all that means I can try more!
69 Colebrooke Row deserves every plaudit it receives. The drinks, the service, the atmosphere, indeed everything about this bar screams quality of the highest order. I applaud their search for perfection and I’m not sure they haven’t already found it.
Check out my review of their sister bar at the Zetter Townhouse here.