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Nightjar

We are in London for a few nights and squeezing in as many activities as possible. Obviously, a major focus of this was drinking. Finding cocktails here is pretty easy compared with continental Europe – within a few blocks of where we’re staying there’s Happiness Forgets and Callooh Callay, both excellent cocktail bars.

However, I was most excited about visiting Nightjar. We were recommended it by a friend in San Francisco. The menu online looked interesting, so I booked a table. There’s no standing in the bar, and you have to have a table to get service. I booked about four days before, on a Tuesday, and could only get a table at 6pm.

It’s behind an unassuming door just near Old Street underground station. The bouncer checks your name against a list, and sends you downstairs. After being in the daylight, heading down a candle-lit staircase was a little disorienting. At the bottom of the stairs, the maitre d’ (is that even what they’re called in a cocktail bar?) welcomed us and sat us down at a small table next to a cabinet of old liqueuers.

Nightjar coaster

The menu had an incredible cover, with the Nightjar appearing on it multiple times. Throughout the night the silhouette of the bird was a recurring theme – punched into lemon-rinds or branded on the side of a mug.

Menu

The menu was extensive, sorted by pre-prohibition, prohibition, post-war and signature drinks. Most of the cocktails had at least one ingredient I’d never heard of. It took us a while to decide what to go for, but the bartender was helpful in pointing you towards certain things. With her help, I chose the New Orleans Daisy as it had chartreuse in it – but the bartender suggested I take it with gin. Turns out it comes in an owl-shaped container with a candied hibiscus flower and a peacock feather.

New Orleans Daisy

It was really quite incredible. It had an almost buttery flavour with a nectar aftertaste.

Our friend went for the London Mule. The picture below doesn’t quite convey the size of the mug: it was probably about 12 inches high. Most of that was packed ice. It was a great interpretation of the mule-style of drink.

London Mule

Hampton got a Toronto, which was similar to an Old Fashioned but with maple syrup as the sweetener. Its garnish was a candy-floss nest with some mini-eggs in it.

Toronto

I noticed another table received a cocktail in some sort of two-neck condensing flask. I asked what it was, and it’s called the Forager’s Shrub. Of course I went for that next.

Forager’s Shrub in flask

The cocktail itself was in the bigger bulb. In the internal, smaller bulb was an oil with some dry ice (I think). It produced a vapour which I was instructed to smell. It smelt of pine and nettles, like a forest after some rain.

Must-smell item

The bartender then poured the drink out – the fragrant oil into a chalice and the drink itself into a tumbler with ice. I was instructed to smell the oils before drinking. Sure, it was fairly pretentious but here’s the thing – the smell really did make it taste different. And the cocktail was amazing, so I didn’t care if I looked like a wally taking a big huff before every sip.

The final cocktail (yes that’s a mini corn on the cob)

My last drink was a Marmalade Nº 2. It tasted exactly like a Seville orange marmalade – acidic, bitter, bursting with orange flavour. I loved it.

Marmalade Nº 2

Other drinks we had but I didn’t take pictures of:

  • Bloody Mary – served in a hollowed-out squash (you can almost see it behind the Marmalade Nº 2 above)
  • Name of the Samurai - served in an ochoko set inside a masu which had burnt herbs inside
  • Secret Cocktail – a gin/egg white combination that was pretty tasty, but had icing sugar around the whole glass so was impossible to drink without getting sticky
  • Deep Sea - had squid ink in it, and had nori around the rim of the glass
  • Prarie Flip – had a garnish of a boiled quail’s egg and had a weird garlicky taste… not sure I’d recommend this one

The cocktails weren’t too expensive – between £8 and £12 was the average. Considering that such care went into not only the flavours, but also the decoration and presentation, I found it to be a worthwhile treat.

Nightjar serves innovative cocktails in both taste and presentation. I can see Hampton and I coming back here whenever we’re in London.

9.6 / 10

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