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Sypped is the official website for wine and spirits journalist and personality, Adrian Smith. For your dose of wine, spirits, food and lifestyle inspiration, look no further!

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Try Before You Buy: London Retailers That Help You Explore The Wine Scene

Getting into wine can be daunting. With countless styles, varieties, and producers, navigating even the most basic wine list, or picking the right bottle from an unending sea of wines on a supermarket shelf can seem an impossible task. Of course there are a wealth of different ways to start learning about wine but it simply doesn't get any better than rolling up your sleeves, bracing yourself for action and trying as many wines as you can.

Wine tastings are usually the most informative and fun way to get started. They usually follow a theme (California old vine wines, Killer Cabs, Strictly Sangiovese and so on) and give you exposure to experts and other wine lovers - it’s a brilliant way to learn. Wine tasting offers one of the few opportunities to try before you buy so you don't have to commit to anything before knowing that you enjoy the style or the specific bottle.

London, in my opinion, now the culinary and wine capital of Europe, offers a vast range of informal and friendly tastings at no or low cost. The London-based retailers listed below do a good job at helping you get started on your journey into wine.

However, before you let yourself loose, here are some simple tips to help you along the way; 1) always approach wine with an open mind (you never know what you will find), 2) bring a notepad or use your phone to take note of your preferences, and 3) have fun; few people are truly experts and it’s ultimately about what tickles your fancy.


Retailers with free tastings:


Majestic

With shops nationwide, Majestic is one of the more accessible retailers with a wide selection of wine at all price points.

Majestic always have a few bottles retailing around £10-20 of red, white and rosé open for you to taste. The styles on offer range quite a bit so it’s always worthwhile to pop in and see what they have open - to the point where I was pleasantly surprised one Saturday to find a bottle of La Rioja Alta 904 2007 (RRP £40) sitting in a decanter waiting to be tasted.

Majestic also run well-priced tutored tastings focussing on different themes. Visit their website to see what’s coming up near you: https://www.majestic.co.uk/events

The Winery

The Winery is a small boutique wine shop in Maida Vale W9 that specialises in German Rieslings and Spätburgunders (also known as Pinot Noir) but also stock French, Italian, Spanish and Californian wines. They host free and informal monthly tastings that usually fill the shop to the point that people spill out into the street – during summer this can be quite fun!

It’s a great opportunity to sample six or seven different wines always guided by their friendly and knowledgeable staff and sometimes the producers themselves. The tastings run from 17.00-21.00 and you can drop in at any time – no need to register beforehand.

Check out their website for upcoming tastings: www.thewineryuk.com/tastings

Retailers with enomatic machines:
 

The Sampler


The Sampler has two branches in London, one in Wimbledon and one in Islington. Their goal is to offer 80 wines in each shop ranging from inexpensive party wines to the world’s finest bottles through enomatic machines.

Enomatic machines dispense small tasting quantities and preserve the bottle using state of the art inert gas. This means that you can pay £4-5 for a small glass of a wine that would otherwise set you back £100+ a bottle. This is one of the best ways around to try premium and rare wines at very low cost.

To see what is sampling now in Wimbledon and Islington, visit http://www.thesampler.co.uk/130/Sampling-Now/

Bottle Apostle

Bottle Apostle has five branches scattered around London in Victoria Park, Crouch End, Clapham, East Village and Primrose Hill. The concept here is the same as The Sampler, however Bottle Apostle stocks smaller and organic/biodynamic producers from across the world. All five locations have wine dispensing machines carrying a broad range of wines at very low price points, some as low as under £1 for a tasting.

Every Friday between 4-8pm they run free tastings highlighting unique wines and new additions to their range.

Retailers with guided tastings less than £30:


The Winemakers Club

The Winemakers Club can be found in the atmospheric vaults under the Holborn Viaduct in the City of London. They specialize in stocking small producers that embrace organic and biodynamic practices in their vineyards and cellars.

The Winemakers Club experienced staff run guided tastings usually focusing on specific regions or producers. With examples of previous tastings including “Natural Wine vs. Craft Beer” and “I’m not drinking any f***ing Merlot! A Merlot Tasting” – they really are as much fun as they sound.

The staff manages to take you through the story of the wines while making you forget that you are sitting around a table with a bunch of strangers swirling delicious wine in your glass.

Tastings, which are usually around £25, are held in an intimate private dining room and includes a shared plate of delicious charcuterie and cheese.

Check out their website for upcoming tastings: thewinemakersclub.co.uk/events

Cellar door wines

Cellar Door Wines is based in St Albans (ok, this isn’t technically London but it’s close enough) and specializes in wines from small, boutique vineyards.

Their selection of guided tastings is truly impressive, including masterclasses from top producers, all fairly priced between £10-15, including light snacks.

Check out their website for upcoming tastings: cellardoorwines.co.uk

These are only some examples of merchants; it is always worth asking your local wine retailer if they run tastings, you never know. Other retailers that are worth checking out are Highbury Vintners, Lay and Wheeler and Vagabond Wines.

Hopefully you found these fun, accessible and affordable ways to explore the world of wine useful. Perhaps the next time you reach for that wine list in your local restaurant, or select a wine from Waitrose, you’ll know exactly what you want to try. There is a world of wine waiting to be discovered so get out there and have fun.

The Hakkasan Solar Menu: London

 

Every great restaurant has it’s own unique touch, an extra bit of inspiration that makes a dining experience truly special. For Hakkasan, a Cantonese restaurant that first took London and then the world by storm, that inspiration comes from the Chinese solar year. This summer they’ve put together a menu that melds both ancient Chinese culture and with the kind of cuisine best suited to the warm weather of the summer months.

 

The menu consists of an eight-course meal, each course conceived with summer nutrition and Chinese philosophy in mind. The food items are delicious, featuring plenty of seafood such as seared scallops in XO sauce and chargrilled octopus, as well as plenty of fruits and vegetables. To make things even better, the ingredients are chosen not only for their flavor, but to relate to the idea of yin and yang, which holds that natural harmony which can be achieved by eating or drinking foods that help both the body and the spirit.

 

The menu can be paired with both alcoholic and non-alcoholic flights. With so much attention to detail, your taste buds and your body will walk away satisfied.

Cafe Monico

You find yourself in the heart of London in the blistering cold, surrounded by crowds of people left, right and centre - but before you sits a solace in this madness, a haven of comfort, delicious food and most importantly, great cocktails. 

While Cafe Monico may be situated so centrally, the general vibe couldn't be more opposite. Bespoke, warm and sophisticated would be the perfect word to describe this upscale cafe that takes you back in time to a 1950's Paris era.

The downstairs bar in the perfect place to take refuge and explore one of the many Italian themed cocktails on the newly launched menu, while the simple but tasty menu combines the perfect amount of choice to allow you to take a moment to breathe and indulge. 

If you want a little more privacy then the upstairs balcony area is ideal. Little pockets of private tables nestle around the antique oak walls, each conversation it's own. There's a reason Soho House properties have such a great reputation and that's because they take into consideration every minor detail. Every touch, from the glassware to the ambience and even the bread and gourmet churned butter brought to the table - they get it. 

Food:            8/10
Drink:           8/10
Service:       9/10
Price:            $$
 

The Bloomsbury Club

Hidden beneath the finesse of Doyle Collections’ Bloomsbury Hotel sits a quaint yet sophisticated bar, teeming with cocktail creativity. A speakeasy mixed with Mad Men vibe on the inside opens out to a rustic and cozy outdoor patio on the outside. The well placed heat lamps keep you warm, so you can spend the entire evening sitting beneath stone arches in all-embracing comfort and privacy.

I always take my hat off to a bar that invites Mixologists from around the globe to come in-house and help them perfect their craft -- and that’s exactly what Bloomsbury has done. Teaming up with a variety of World’s Best Bars, including The Clumsies and BlackTail they continue to push the boundaries of cocktail innovation.

There's a marvelous old school feel the this place which resonates throughout the entirety of the cocktail menu, new twists on old favourties accross a spectrum of gin, rum, whisky and tequila. There's even a couple of exciting surprises thrown into the mix, such as the Gin & Milk cocktail, which was not at all what you'd expect in a truly fantastical kind of way. The highlight of the experience is that not only can you bank on getting a delicious cocktail, it becomes without the typical London price-tag, costing you around £10 per serve. 

You can't help but notice subtle Italian themes peeking through every now and again, especially when it comes to a good old fashioned Negroni, which I have to say Bloomsbury kicks ass at. In an effort to drum up some more excitement and create a personal and tailored experience they will also soon be launching the ability to have your very own barrel filled with a Negroni style cocktail. The thinking behind this being; when you arrive at the venue, you have your own personal stash you can delve into. A solid idea with a wonderfully personally feel to it that compliments the look and feel to this venue so incredibly well.

Well all know that when great food and drink combine they create an other-worldly experience and Bloomsbury is no stranger to this way of thinking – with an incredible nibble menu at the heart of this bar. Whether it’s the quail scotch eggs, lobster taco’s or charcuterie boards that tickle your fancy, these gourmet treats hit the spot, rich in flavor and combine beautifully with the bespoke cocktail menu.

All in all this is a fabulous up-and-coming venue that could really do with some more love from cocktail enthusiasts. The space is incredibly inviting, warm and cosy and I can quite confidently say that I will be returning soon. With cocktails around the £10 mark, it’s an absolute steal considering the quality.

Where: The Bloomsbury Hotel
Address: 16-22 Great Russell St, Fitzrovia, London WC1B 3NN
Phone: 020 7347 1000

Food:            8/10
Drink:           8/10
Service:       10/10
Price:            $$

MASH: The Modern American Steak House

MASH stands for “Modern American Steak House”, and this restaurant brings the best of the classic US culinary institutions to Brewer St. in central London’s Soho neighborhood. MASH‘s main claim to fame is quality preparation of some of the finest cuts of meat in the world— Japanese Wagyu, Danish dry-aged beef, and of course succulent American corn-fed beef, but the recently revamped cocktail list is creating a well-deserved buzz around town.

Inspired by a tasting and exploring trip around the United States, head barman Miroslav Panos and a talented supporting crew came up with some inspired concoctions mainly based on classic American spirits like bourbon and rye but also including a couple of interesting tequila-based libations and even an intriguing absinth-based “La Fee Verte” (The Green Fairy).

The bar itself is a classy basement establishment, calling to mind an elegant 1920’s speakeasy with soft lighting, red leather stools, accents in warm shades of red and gold, and an Art Deco esthetic. The “Boston Tea Party” is a good way to start the evening (concocted from Hendricks gin, green tea, elderflower, and lemon) and the “What’s Your Fashion?” is an audience-participatory Old Fashioned in which guests can choose the flavors that most appeal.

Either come for the steak and stay for the cocktails, or come for the atmospheric bar scene and exceptional adult beverages alone; this is a basement bar from which one doesn’t want to ascend too quickly.

M Victoria

Our favorite thing about M Victoria Street , Martin Williams’ latest fine dining and nightlife venture an eight minute walk from London’s Victoria Station, is the sheer number of options the venue offers to wine, dine, taste, socialize, and just generally eat, drink, and be merry.

From the high end wine shop through which one enters the restaurant (offering tasting portions from automated dispensers and a “Bottomless Bellini Brunch” on its veranda) to the two sides of the dining room (sumptuous world class steaks at M Grill and ultra-healthy fresh sashimi at Raw Bar) M Victoria has a seat, a glass, and a plate to please even the most discerning of London diners.

M Grill offers steaks from six countries, from Kansas USDA Prime filet mignon or T-bone to Australian Grade 9++ Blackmore Wagyu and mouthwatering sauces to accompany the high quality cuts—from a rich burnt butter emulsion to a fresh, vibrant chimichurri. Want to top your steak with a half lobster or fresh truffles? Sure, M Grill can do that for you.

M Raw Bar serves up favorites like Yellow Fin tuna sushi and soft shell crab sashimi as well as more unusual offerings like kangaroo tartare—probably inspired by Executive Chef Michael Reid’s recent return to the UK from Australia. Whether it’s for a romantic Friday night out with a loved one, cocktails in the chic basement bar with friends on a Saturday night, or a Sunday brunch with Grandma watching her get tipsy on Bellinis, M Victoria has your weekend covered. Just show up.

Myki Sand Bar

Craving an icy tropical cocktail with your toes sinking into the sand, but with no immediate plans to jet off to Santorini or Mallorca? Look no further than Archer Street in Soho for a beach-conjuring escape in central London at Myki Sand Bar, a glamorous pop-up bar that carves a little slice of beach paradise into the unlikely vessel of an urban basement bar.

Furnished and decorated in gleaming whites and blues that call to mind magical Greek islands on the aquamarine Aegean with photos of iconic stretches of sand, palm trees, and of course, an actual sand floor (plan ahead with footwear, stilettoes not encouraged) Myki Sand Bar brings the beach holiday to you, even if only for a few relaxing hours.

Opened in late May and carrying on with the beach party vibe until late October, Myki offers a creative menu of original and classic tropical cocktails featuring Cîroc vodkas and other top quality craft spirits. Try the designed-to-be-shared “Pure Shores”, an oversized cocktail portioned for four featuring Cîroc, pistachio, lime juice, salted watermelon, mint leaves and soda water and be transported instantly from a dreary work week trapped in an office to the bliss of golden sand, lapping waves, and a blissed out atmosphere. Okay, Myki won’t quite substitute for a couple of weeks in Santorini, but it’s a lovely escape—no passport required.

The Savoy

Step into a world that takes you back several decades and witness London in all its glory, with a heritage that is truly like none other. Mix that with a little 1960’s America vibe in two of the most exclusive cocktail bars in England and you have yourself The Savoy. But English heritage aside, we’re talking about a hotel that prides itself in the world of alcohol, the Savoy Collection being a prime example of that and something we’re really excited to share with you today.

The American Bar

With its entrance located in the heart of the foyer, the American Bar can be anything you want it to be. Take in the vibrant atmosphere with a group as you chat away or observe single handedly in peace as you admire the pianist doing what he does best with an unbelievably good cocktail in hand. Order anything from the extensive cocktail menu, full of distinctive classics and local twists; either way, you’re sure to be impressed. Make sure to call ahead and make a reservation, the American Bar is one of the most popular spots in London for travelers and cocktail enthusiasts alike.

The Beaufort Bar

There is no question that Beaufort is a definite contender for one of London’s most extravagant cocktail bars. I mean lets face it, there’s not many places that have a hand-crafted cocktail trolley pull up to your table, and believe me when I tell you, its quite an experience to witness. As if the ambience couldn’t be topped, the state of the art pop-up drinks menu really is the garnish to the cocktail.

I guarantee you’ve never seen anything like it before nor will you see anything like it again. The vibe of the room embraces you, taking you back several decades as if you’re in the heart of London just after WWII. Every detail is met to perfection, including each cocktail you will see crafted before your very eyes. The Beaufort is a London gem, a place that like many other bars cannot be replicated in any way, shape or form.

The Savoy Collection

As if two of the most prestigious bars in the country wasn’t enough, The Savoy is home to one of the worlds most luxurious and limited spirit collections.

Decades ago when The Savoy had first opened its doors, there was a spirit collection so prestigious that only the most loyal guests were able to taste. It was the hotels way of saying ‘thank you’ – to the people who kept its doors open and to those who had supported what was to become one of the most famous hotels in the world. A couple of years ago the hotel had a realization… why not re-introduce this custom? Why not once again say thank you to those who are at the core of The Savoy community? And so it was re-born.

While only launched in 2013, this collection already boasts multiple one-of-a-kind spirits, bottled exclusively for The Savoy and to be enjoyed by a handful of the most loyal returning guests and discerned imbibers. The idea is simple; partner with some of the worlds most legendary spirits to create a collection, so unique, that those lucky enough to get their hands on a bottle will keep it locked away while it ages to its peak potential. Obviously these spirits can be enjoyed now and are clearly divine, but we’re with The Savoy on this one, buy now, drink later. They do say ‘patience is a virtue’ after all…

Curated by a leading panel of award-winning bartenders and the Savoy’s own team of drink experts, each sensation is carefully picked, bottled, labeled and presented immaculately. Incredibly limited quantities of each spirit produced to ensure they remain a rare and hard to come by delight, every bottle being hand-numbered. With names like Laphroaig and Martini sitting at the heart of the collection, the centerpiece gem is presented in a custom-made glass masterpiece, the elusive 125th Anniversary Decanter filled with the rarest Speyside whisky to date; the 48 year-old Macallan single malt scotch.

The Savoy Collection currently has extremely limited quantities of:

  • 21 year-old Macallan
  • 17-year old Laphroaig
  • The Royal Suite Reserve Cognac
  • Savoy Martini Bitters
  • Demerara Rum from Guyana 1975
  • The 125th Anniversary Decanter (Macallan 48 year-old single malt whisky)

So there you have it, you read the list, you’ve licked your lips and you’re probably rummaging through your liquor cabinet right about now. I’ll leave you with this; sometimes when you look really closely at something you realize it’s not just black and white. While The Savoy is one of London’s most historic hotels, it is also at the very heart of our drinks industry, a pioneer and innovator of its time and a curator of what will become some of the rarest and most sought after spirits on this planet.

We’ll cheers to that.

Cinnamon Kitchen

The City of London: filled with a vast array of bars and eateries to satisfy any person’s palette. With thousands of restaurants to choose from, most make their choice based on recommendation; choose a restaurant they know well or the closest one to their destination.

But what about those hidden gems? The undiscovered? The ones that aren’t necessarily easy to find unless you stumble upon them or are told of their existence. That was exactly my experience of Cinnamon Kitchen.

Just a short walk from the hustle and bustle of Liverpool Station, the restaurant is located in the heart of Devonshire Square, Formerly warehouses for the East India Company, the new developments add a more modern feel. The restaurant isn’t an easy to find but this adds something special to this place. Neighbouring a number of bars with a roof overhead the area is the perfect place to eat and relax after a busy day at work, socialising with friends or a formal gathering. Somehow the space has an intimate feel which almost makes you feel like you’re not in London at all!

When you arrive at the restaurant, a chique, stylish and understated place where you immediately feel relaxed and comfortable, The staff members offer to take your coat and see you to your table beginning your visit on a beautiful note. The comfortable outdoor seating along with the Indian inspired decor and fire tikis collectively simulate the cosines of your own home.

The cocktails were aplenty in choice, each with it’s own personality and a mixture of traditional indian fruits and flavoring to cater to your taste buds. For those of you who prefer to have alcohol free cocktails, they offer a mocktail selection or to adapt their classics. A truly refreshing experience.

With the talents of CEO and executive chef Vivek Singh’s, the flavors of the modern Indian cuisine shine through. As soon as you’re presented with the menu, you’re greeted with a variety of classic options with their own ‘Cinnamon Club inspired’ twist. Their unique approach to such classic dishes continue to push the culinary boundaries beyond what we think to be possible. We were first offered a basket of fresh bread (garlic and plain naan and a sweet naan) complemented by a selection of dips. These weren’t your typical flavors that you would receive at any restaurant and the attention to detail was clear. Each dip and bread worked together so that each bite was a delicious experience.

The Lucknowi Chicken Biriyani I chose was presented in a cosy metal bowl, the fusion of flavors in each dish being a delight to experience. The chicken was succulent and cooked to perfection and just the right portions to really have a perfect meal. Saving just enough room for dessert, the ice cream trio was a perfect way to close this dinner.

As we drank tea to unwind and reflect on our evening, all I can say is that this whole experience was a very special one. From the staff, to the hidden location, the food and the ambience, this is definitely one place I will be visiting again. And I think that next time you’re in the area, you should too.

A special thanks to all of the polite, attentive and helpful staff who made this visit such an enjoyable experience.

Address: 9 Devonshire Square, London EC2M 4YL
Telephone: 020 7626 5000
Nearest tube: Liverpool Street

Opening Hours:
Lunch Monday – Friday: 12.00 – 14.45
Dinner Monday – Saturday: 18.00 – 22.45