Some cocktail bars arrive on the scene unannounced. Some cocktail bars have decent pedigree. And some cocktail bars are housed in one of London's most luxurious hotels and curated by the world’s most famous mixologist. Hello, Velvet. Nice to meet you.
Calling Salvatore Calabrese a mixologist is something of an undersell. The man’s written ten books, created multiple celebrated cocktails and won more awards than you’ve had tequila shots. His nickname says it all: The Maestro.
Now The Maestro has joined forces with the Corinthia Hotel to open Velvet, a cocktail bar par excellence. In the words of the man himself: “We want to celebrate the magic and theatre of hospitality, with a cocktail list of sophisticated classics that have stood the test of time, alongside modern drinks which are now well-established in the 2020s.”
Calabrese wants the bar to “become one of the most desirable destinations in London.” Will he succeed in this ambition? He’s called the Maestro. What do you think?
What's the vibe?
My friend insists that I describe Velvet as a sumptuous lair. Not really my writing style but in fairness it's undeniably sumptuous and quite lairlike in its dimensions. This is a place where ears are whispered into and eyes meet across the candlelight. Intimate luxury, let's call it.
Unsurprisingly there's a lot of velvet – rich burgundy velvet makes up the curtains, chairs, sofas, and often the smoking jackets of the clientele. Indeed part of me wishes you could smoke in Velvet: the place is so very 1920s, all cool and class, glance up the bar and there's Scott lighting Zelda's cigarette. But the tobacco would probably make the upholstery smell something rotten.
Twenty-first century smoking laws aside, Velvet is a throwback to a bygone era, a better era when it comes to hospitality. It's impossible to drink here and not feel like a movie star. All that's missing is a live pianist – oh wait, the pianist comes on at nine. Play it, Sam.
What's to order?
The cocktail menu is split into five categories: 1920s Classics, 2020s Modern Era, Velvet Martinis, Salvatore’s Signatures and Golden Era Vintage cocktails. Alas, we couldn’t drink all of them but the ones we sampled were of such quality that I wouldn't hesitate to vouch for the ones we didn't.
You really should order a 1920s Classic, which tend to be simpler creations than their descendants. (The Adonis uses Fino sherry, Mancino Rosso, bitter; Bee’s Knees is Tanquaray No.10, lemon juice, honey.) Nonetheless, you would need a fairly dormant imagination hot to be thrilled at this sampling of alcoholic history.
Two favourites came from the 2020s. The Truffle Salazeric is just as gorgeously decadent as it sounds, served with fresh truffle on its ice cube. And Senorita was a standout among standouts, a golden kiss of a drink that goes down as warm and sweet as mead on a summer afternoon.
Don't sleep on the small plates. Crab tartlets, featherlight and fabulous. Tiny squares of truffle croque monsieur that don't hit the spot so much as bludgeon it into submission. Best of all is the yellow fin tuna served on cucumber cushions and flavoured with wasabi.
Will it bankrupt me?
Quality is rarely cheap and Velvet certainly isn't: cocktails are all around £22 with the small plates mostly £15. Maybe call your bank in advance to prepare them.
Feeling flush? Those Golden Era Vintage cocktails range from £200-£350. We double dare you.
Anything else to note?
Hungry? Kerridge's Bar & Grill is housed in the same hotel. We're a fan of that restaurant, too.
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Corinthia Hotel, Whitehall Pl, SW1A 2BD; Velvet