By Leo Owen.
I've entered the Monopoly board and the unfamiliar. I'm quite out of my comfort zone about to see how the so-called “other half” live. I'm so clueless, I actually wander past The Metropolitan Hotel looking for some small independent bar called The Met Bar on Old Park Lane. Of course, I soon realise my error and tentatively approaching the revolving hotel doors, I am instantly recognisable as a minnow out of its tank. Pointed in the right direction by helpful door staff, I'm soon off the scorching London pavements and inside The Met Bar’s relieving cool interior.
The intimate party I join comfortably sit in a small booth discussing the hotel's members' only club and how nominations provide the golden ticket. Apparently it was once extremely exclusive and now more welcoming, and talk of this elusive members’ club draws me into the world Paul Torday cleverly created in The Girl On The Landing. Discussing how the hotel has changed over the years, shifts in the bar atmosphere at certain times of day, and how The Met Bar is one of the few venues open until 3am (helpfully providing apres-dinner apres-11pm drinks options), I feel like I'm unwittingly taking part in a TV advertisement. Asking one of my companions - who works with the hotel - provides the explanation to this bizarre sensation: only three of the seven of us are outsiders, the rest clearly passionate about their product and experts at their jobs!
Champagne flutes almost drained and full introductions given, we get on with the task at hand: sampling three new cocktails launching that day as part of the spring and summer menu. Revisiting lost fortified classics, The Met’s new additions aim to revitalise rarely used alcoholic drinks to act as the basis for their new light, stripped back cocktails.
Port, sherry and vermouth aim to pay homage to post-Victorian decadence but our first sampler, The Fino Royal, unavoidably reminds me of my Nan's drinks cabinet. Muddled with raspberries, almond syrup (Orgeat), a lemon twist and champagne, the Tao Pepe Fino sherry tastes of cherry-topped bakewell tarts but without the stodgy texture; it's light and summery like a refreshing long cool Pimm’s.
Moving away from aperitifs and onto so-called “dinner drinks”, the Mayfair Stinger's sweet syrupy texture is more suited to your average April wintery evening, not the sweltering freak weather we're enjoying tonight. Looking deceptively lethal, this golden cup of Disaronno Amaretto, Ramos Pinto 20 Year Port and mint, is carefully described on the menu.
Interrupting the easy listening funk and my desecration of the lemon-flavoured olives, our cocktail maestro, Lewis Wilkinson, introduces his final creation, as more stragglers arrive. Despite his baby-face, The Met’s award-winning head bartender clearly knows his stuff and is later even heard discussing molecular drink experimentation.
The Secret Formula is a digestif with recycling in mind as chef can afterwards utilise the booze-soaked raisons to make whisky cake. Much more bitter than the previous offerings, it is concocted from Agave (sweetener syrup), Briottet crème de Figue, raison infused Johnnie Walker Black, Antica Formula (Vermouth) and a grapefruit twist garnish. The cocktail's name is somewhat redundant now that I am privy to Lewis' genius, but rather than completely expose its recipe, I'll merely say two ingredients are in 5ml measures, one 20 ml and the final 35ml.
Previously worried I'd be uselessly bumbling around Hyde Park after the tastings, I'm heartened by the continuously replenished olives and the unexpected arrival of sumptuous mini burgers, sausages and vegetarian-suited mini tortillas. I may be far more functional than I'd previously expected but a fellow cocktail sampler has kindly given me a creamy miniature for the road so there's still plenty of stumbling time yet.
Looking for further cocktail inspiration? Check out our guide to the Best Cocktail Bars in London