Let me tell you about this drink, which is perhaps the best cocktail I’ve had in, oh, I don’t know, two years? Granted the past 16 months do dull the shine of this accolade — in lockdown, I mostly stuck to Scotch delivered in tranquillizing volume — but you take the point.
The drink is a martini. Bear with me; this isn’t my first rodeo. Your granddaddy’s mind-fogging hit of an icy neat spirit it is not. A clear pool of high-risk liquid sat in a thin-stemmed coupe, it’s a martini in name and looks — but on the other hand, no gin, no vodka, no lemon.
Instead, an olive’s been sunk in tequila, dry vermouth, cocoa liqueur, cucumber and pine distillate. The result is strangely beautiful, light, clear and pure.
I suspect it was rather stronger than it tasted — my laughable, nonsense note for it reads: “If moonlight on a lake could be bottled, it would taste like this” — but the tequila was woven in so gently, its petrol smell covered by the summery sniff of cucumber and pine, that it barely noticed. I would have had 12 but I’m still broken-up from a break-up and already, shall we say, conscious of my recent booze inhalation.
This stiffener is found downstairs in Kol, the Mexican restaurant behind Marble Arch that everyone is (deservedly) wittering on about — the pull is chef Santiago Lastra, who a) once held together the globally-adored Noma Mexico; and b) is hot.
Kol’s underground bar is a rattan-chaired concrete bunker, three walls grey and dangerous, the other that, bafflingly, makes soil-brown look sexy. The elegance is countered only by an enjoyable sense of jeopardy: if those walls could talk, they’d smirkingly promise a glassy-eyed morning after. The bar shelf is a warning, a compendium of hard-to-find bottles mostly full with mezcal — the funnier, richer and bigger-dicked cousin of tequila. Your usual favourites are shuffled in there as well.
Barmen, not bars, are worth loyalty and the chap handling these bottles is manager Maxim Schulte, who I’ve known since he was head pourer-stirrer-mixer of The Savoy’s famous American Bar. The hotel has seemingly cocked up the (still shut) spot by shedding its best people in the pandemic — director Declan McGurk, in particular, a great loss — but pre-Covid it was generally held to be the best bar in the world.
Schulte’s training and old-world expertise show: after the martini, a lowball of mezcal with bell pepper and soda fizzed merrily, the smoke of the spirit popping into the air, but the taste fresh.
I would have had 12 but I’m still broken-up from a break-up and already, shall we say, conscious of my recent booze inhalation
Are tequila shots the only drink to induce PTSD? Even those with harrowing flashbacks of awry post-work pub sessions could stomach the stuff they pour neat here; that in the martini was mercifully gentle and the other we had, a house mezcal, gorgeously floral. “I’d say it’s got a bit of jasmine in there,” said Schulte, right on the money.
This place, with the dim lights and late hours, felt, painfully, like it would be dreamily perfect for a date, though there’s a rather appealing invitation to unravel, too. In another world, you did not read this and I am still there, fired but happy, putting away martini number 37 and rambling about moonlight and heartbreak.
9 Seymour St, W1H 7BA. Cocktails from £14. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 5pm to 1am; kolrestaurant.com/the-mezcaleria