Review – Gillray’s Bar
Sitting in the cocktail bar of one of London’s luxury hotels usually involves feasting your eyes on the sumptuous decor, and for the most part at least, the well-heeled clientele. As pleasurable as this might be, it does often seem a shame considering the variety of delightful architectural sights distributed across this fine city. Gillray’s bar at the Marriott County Hall, with its views over the river, of the London eye, and even the houses of parliament is therefore welcomed with open arms, and grateful eyes; quite why no-one has put a cocktail bar here before is anyones guess.
The bar is partnered up with a posh steakhouse that will no doubt generate plenty of traffic for a pre- and post-dinner cocktails alongside the inevitable tourist hum that comes with a location on the Southbank. This combined with the proximity to the houses of parliament makes for a pleasingly mixed crowd of customers that means this bar offers an approachability to all, whilst maintaining an air of sophistication. Certainly the bright and airy, leather-clad interior is an appealing alternative for the eyes when the British weather shrouds the external views in miserableness.
It is all about the gin at Gillray’s, with the backbar being dedicated to their impressive selection and other spirits scurried away out of sight. The cocktail list takes the reader on a time-travelling journey from the Georgian era, through Victorian Britain, onto the Edwardian period, through the era of WWII and ending right now in contemporary Britain. Each period offers five or more cocktails and is understandably gin-heavy, often taking a fruity route; although aged spirits and those seeking a ‘shorter’ libation will also be happy. The drinks themselves take inspiration from their respective era’s rather than being historically accurate, something which serves to encourage more detailed investigation by customers than might otherwise be the case, and is therefore a good thing. It also encourages the ordering of cocktails rather than a default G+T which can only be a good thing.
The drinks themselves are well-executed, imaginative and immensely sippable. A Georgian-era ‘Very Slippy-Weather’ combined lychee juice, lemon bitters, violet liqueur and William Chase gin to great effect, achieving a balance of flavours that gave confidence this is not a bar simply looking to cash in on the tourist market that pass by its doors in throngs. A classic Martinez further highlighted the skills behind the bar here when, despite using a gin-heavy recipe that I usually find inferior to the inverse, a perfect balance with Maraschino and dilution results in one of the best examples of this old favourite I have enjoyed outside of my own home. The contemporary ‘molecular’ (don’t get me started on that word) cocktails are premium-priced and consequentially set an expectation that for the Pina Colada at least, wasn’t delivered. The combination of Navy rum-flamed fresh pineapple, Flor de Cana rum and pineapple juice that formed the base of this drink was sublime, yet was topped with a commercial canned coconut ‘foam’. The potential for contrasting aromas and textures was there, but a failure to ‘do it properly’ by preparing the foam in-house resulted in a drink that was more Boots sun-tan lotion than tropical paradise.
Molecular slip-up aside, this is a very promising bar that I will certainly be popping into the next time I am in the area. In fact I am very likely to make a special trip. With great views, some keenly priced and well made cocktails, a solid offering of bar snacks (did I mention the fish and chips were great?), and a well-trained set of staff, this is a bar worth knowing about.