Discreet, intimate and unapologetically swanky, you’ll find the St James Bar nestled by the foyer of the five-star Hotel Sofitel just off Pall Mall. Low-lit and luxury, with its sleek marble bar and rich velvet seating, this is a venue dripping in elegant exclusivity.
It’s classy and classic; the kind of haunt that Connery-era Bond might prowl on his night off from saving the world.
Thankfully cocktail making has come on since Sean’s day though, so no dry Vodka Martinis in sight here. Six parts vodka and one part dry Vermouth? I don’t care if it’s shaken or stirred, that’s more offensive than 007’s attitude to monogamy.
What’s the story?
The Sofitel is housed in a beautiful neoclassical building in keeping with the graceful and inimitably West-End surroundings. Built in the 20s and spending much of its life as a military bank, the high-end French hotel chain moved in in 2007 and cranked up the elegance, winning award after award for luxury.
The St James Bar is no exception and has been recently redesigned by a top restaurant architect (who know that was a thing?). The result is a decadent mix of British refinement and Parisian chic.
What to Drink?
For a location steeped in such tradition, their new Passport-themed menu is an impressively eclectic, international selection of innovative and novel cocktails.
The Greek offering, “Chasing the Sun” might sound like a BBC Three documentary in Kavos, but it couldn’t be further away from those trademark fluorescent fishbowls. It is a wonderfully original blend of Beluga noble vodka, citrus and a hint of olive oil, heady with the fragrance of Hellenic herbs.
The real star of the show is the Thai “Better Life”, which blends coconut, rum, lime, basil, tea and a healthy dose of chilli. It’s a punchy and exciting flavour combination, and a clever aesthetic: it comes in a Buddhist garden complete with plants, a shrine, and a gong with a toothpick-sized mallet.
How’s the Food?
The menu, courtesy of the chefs at the adjacent Wild Honey restaurant, (the building once home to Brasserie Roux no less) is designed to complement each destination.
Try the Tempura cod with the Japanese Black cherry Shodo first, then ask your host for the French Canelé dessert. A light, classical cake served with a salty, almost savoury dark chocolate truffle, It is an exquisite finish for those of us without too much of a sweet tooth, and elegantly sums up the balance between the classic and the inventive that the St James Bar strikes so well.
Will it bankrupt me?
The “passport” cocktails are mostly £15-£20, so Wetherspoon’s it ain't, but you can broaden your horizons a little without breaking the bank. If you get carried away and circumnavigate the full menu though, be prepared to get stung like I did the last time I flew Ryanair and didn’t pay extra for the ‘basic human rights’ option.
I mean, It’s practically a hotel on Mayfair, and we all know how much landing there will set you back.
The menu has one page for Wine, and another for Fine Wine; categorised as if they are entirely different substances and priced accordingly. The business end of the menu even has a bottle of Louis XIII Rare Cask Cognac for £32 000 in case you happen to live down the Mall at Buckingham Palace.
Anything else to note?
Another nod to the Anglo-French heritage of the Sofitel is the artwork on the ceiling. There’s a twelve-foot painting of a cockerel in full military uniform, but somehow it blends in subtly with the general décor. Maybe I shouldn’t be so dismissive of the ‘bar architecture’ game, that’s a difficult thing to pull off.
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For more info, see Hotel Sofitel