I love, perhaps a little too much, discovering great places to drink.
My latest discovery came to light via my friend Mark. After months of trying, we finally got together for a sneaky afternoon drink — girding ourselves for our separate, taxing evenings to come.
He suggested Swans Bar, right smack on Piccadilly. I’d never heard of it and was intrigued — I walk down this street several times a month but had never seen it.
It turned out to be gorgeous, interesting, decadent — the perfect place to steal an hour or two with a friend or lover and lift a glass of something delicious. It’s now my new favourite drinking destination in Piccadilly.
But how to describe it? Maison Assouline defies categorisation. It’s a combination bookshop, lifestyle boutique, cafe, bar. You could meet colleagues to huddle over a laptop, like a foursome I saw that day. You could sit alone with a cup of coffee, contemplating life, like that lovely lady in the corner. You could turn up in seamed stockings and a pillbox hat with veil and not look out of place. You could spend all day, starting with breakfast and latte, going through to lunch, then lingering until cocktail hour, eventually strolling out onto the darkening street to clamber into a taxi and be whisked off somewhere equally thrilling.
The look: Coffee table books about fashion, design and art line shelves that reach to the ceiling. An enormous globe sits at the base of the stairs. Vases with single roses sit on the tables during the day, replaced by votives at night. The building itself, a former bank, was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1922 and the small cafe bar somehow feels miles — and perhaps even decades — away from the hubbub of the modern London street just steps away.
The location: The Picadilly area, just across from the Royal Academy and a few steps down from Fortnum & Mason. Many of the bars and restaurants around here are busy, touristy, loud and unappealing. Swans Bar is the antithesis — sophisticated, quiet and something of a secret (no one I know who frequents the area has heard of it).
The drinks: Yes there are teas and coffees. But really, it’s much better to opt for the Hemingway Daiquiri (Delicious! I tried two, just to make sure. Pictured at top) or the Rat Pack Manhattan, which is the perfect combination of dry and sweet. Cocktails here are not inexpensive, but are worth the investment.
The food: For something substantial, try “the world’s most exquisite smoked salmon”, lentils with pomegranate and mixed vegetables, or foie gras with toasted baguette. I like the parmesan and olive plate — queen green olives and crumbly cubes of parmesan that are the perfect foil for a glass of whatever you please.
My star rating (out of 5): ★ ★ ★ ★ ★