Best bars in London: Gillray’s Bar at the Marriott County Hall

cocktail menu on table

 

“It’s performance art meets bottle,” says one patron sitting at Gillray’s Bar, at the London Marriott County Hall on London’s South Bank.

Forget the image of the run-of-the-mill hotel bar, with bland staff dispensing pallid lager and overpriced vodka tonics. At Gillray’s Bar, drinks are served with inspiring flavours, elan and a little bit of theatre. New ideas spill from the menu, created by the head bartender Sam Luis Mitchell, who has a passion for inventiveness. Cocktails here are half libation, half experience.

You can order Pandora Opening Her Box, Rooibos tea-infused Professor Cornelius Ampleforth Bathtub Gin, maraschino, white peach, king’s ginger and orgeat (an almond liqueur) served out of an actual Chinese box, or a Jubilee, which comes in a metal martini glass and is possibly the only time you’ll drink Bombay Sapphire mixed with rhubarb and ginger jam (along with mint and lemon juice).

 

Jennifer Howze and Sam Mitchell head bartender

Me with head bartender Sam

 

Let yourself browse the playful list and discover Light Expelling Darkness, in which homemade Bacardi Carta Blanca spiced rum, Chambord, pineapple, orgeat syrup, lime and cointreau are heated in a metal cup, then sprinkled with cinnamon that ignites, dancing above the container like sparks from a bonfire.

Another dramatic drink is Regardez-Moi, which has “the DNA of a sweet Manhattan with herbal notes relating back to the chamomile smoke” — the chamomile smoke which is blown into a small carafe and held in with a sphere of ice. Rich scented smoke wafts up when you tip the concoction into the accompanying cut crystal glass, the ball of ice hitting with a satisfying plunk, the amber liquid spilling over it. Select this one and, like us, you’ll start something of a trend, as other drinkers see it and signal the bartender for a little alchemy of their own.

 

bartender at Gillray's Bar on jenography

Kevin the bartender mixes Regardez-Moi. Foreground: A completed Light Expelling Darkness.

 

(Kevin, the charming French bartender who made mine, will happily oblige.)

In addition to the mixology, the bar also makes its own spiced rum and sloe gin and has what amounts to a library of gins. Sloe gin and gin are specialties — try the honey & clove sloe gin sour, while it’s available; the sloe gin takes six months to make and once this batch is gone, it’s gone. Sam, in addition to head bartender duties, is a brand ambassador for Cotswolds Gin, the small artisanal distillery based in Stourton. Expect to be converted to this London dry style gin if you get a chance to chat — his enthusiasm for his favourite spirits is infectious.

Sipping cocktails here is made all the better by the surroundings: striking yellow sofas that riff on the Chesterfield theme, artwork by the 18th-century British political satirist James Gillray, wood panelling that lends a clubby, gracious air.

 

Gillray's Bar on Jenography.net

 

Surely the view can’t hurt: a picture window frames Westminster Bridge, Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. On the clear day when I visited, I sat with a group while end-of-day light streamed in, bathing the bar in gold. Once the sun went down, Parliament and the city lights reflecting off the Thames made the room even more glamorous and romantic.

Nearby you have the London Eye, the London Aquarium, the South Bank with its restaurants, bars, and performance spaces.

 

Beckett's Sloe Gin at Gillray's Bar

The limited edition Beckett’s Sloe Gin, made with sloe berries handpicked from Box Hill in Surrey

 

cocktails at Gillray's in London - Jenography

Light Expelling Darkness, the Jubilee and Regardez-Moi

 

Stay at the hotel with your children and you’ll also find a respectable list of mocktails (my daughter would work her way through all of them); or leave the kids at home and enjoy a grown-up evening out or overnight stay.

At the end of the night, you might find the luxury of the newly refurbished bedrooms irresistibly beckoning…and you’ll have something of a dilemma. Should you hurry up to sink into the heavenly bed upstairs or sample one more drink from the list?

Consider the Very Slippy Weather, made with Grey Goose, limoncello, and amaretto, topped with meringue that’s blowtorched at the table. Think pudding in a martini glass. It might just waylay you.

 

Gillray’s Bar

London Marriott County Hall

Westminster Bridge Road

London SE1 7PB

+44 (0) 207 928 5200

Specialty cocktails start at £13, glasses of wine start at £7.50, a 50ml measure of gin from £8.50

I’m a journalist and blogger. Previously I was The Times’s online lifestyle editor and Alpha Mummy blogger. Now I’m co-founder of BritMums and BritMums Live! – our annual blogging conference that draws hundreds. Follow me on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and Google Profile+
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8 Comments

  1. June 3, 2016 / 9:26 pm

    Oh gosh Jen it sounds fabulous, I’m craving all manner of drinks now! I’d definitely have to sneak in another one before bed. What a superb spot too, one of my favourite places is the Southbank – especially around 8am when there’s barely a soul around. You can just stand beneath the London Eye with a camera and look up 🙂

  2. June 4, 2016 / 9:37 am

    I do love a good cocktail – and as I have plans to meet a friend on the South Bank soon to celebrate our (big) birthdays, I shall have to add this to the list.

  3. June 4, 2016 / 9:11 pm

    Hmm, I’m a bit of a lightweight when it comes to alcohol even though I love a good cocktail so I’d probably go through the mocktails menu too!

  4. June 5, 2016 / 9:50 am

    OK, I’ve chosen already – a Jubilee followed by a Very Slippy Weather. Oh and I vote child-free for this one 😉 Sounds rather splendid. See you at the bar?

  5. June 11, 2016 / 11:59 am

    It’s sometimes tricky to find a seat at a bar on the southbank, so I’m adding this to my list of places to try. The cocktails sound delectable. Anything with jam in it gets a thumbs-up from me.

  6. July 1, 2016 / 2:41 pm

    Wow, looks amazing and you look absolutely stuning Jen! Must try this when next in London x

    • July 3, 2016 / 1:34 pm

      Hey lady, it’s a great location too! We could meet for a drink.

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