The Zetter Townhouse – a Gilded Experience
Experience the cutting-edge of mixology in a surrealist period drama setting.
Cocktails are a difficult thing to get right: the slight overuse of sugar or a misplaced bitter can be the tipping point between the extraordinary and the off-putting. With so much current excitement in the wake of flavoured spirits and extracts offering an entirely new method of cocktail construction, over-use of these new species of materials can be the pitfall of the home connoisseur and professional mixologist alike. The Zetter Townhouse bar in Clerkenwell stands out as one of the shining examples of just how brilliantly these alchemic tools can be wielded by the right hands.
Part of the Zetter Group consisting of eccentric boutique hotels which can be found in the more upscale zones of London, the EC1 Townhouse’s crowning jewel is its bar which is one of the most intriguing venues in London. It can be described as somewhere between Downton Abbey and a Monty Python colonial sketch with a beautifully cluttered Georgian interior where even the staff wear historically tailored uniforms. Every inch of the decadent watering hole is covered in elaborate artwork to stimulate the senses, and one of the best activities is arguing over the most fitting name for the house cat: a rather coquettish ginger moggy dressed in a pastel blue regency dress whose prized possession is a flamboyant parasol reminiscent of cocktail umbrellas.
The food and drink is accordingly creative in both its content and delivery. The cocktails are obviously the first port of call after settling into one of Zetter’s enveloping armchairs. The focus is on quality over quantity so you can breathe a sigh of relief about not being confronted with an overwhelming selection. The particularly hard core drinker could get through the entire menu in one evening if they put their mind to it; though it’s probably in everyone’s best interest to go with a few friends and have a taste of everything. Don’t be fooled by the initially classic appearance of the drinks: the menu is the creation of famous molecular mixologist Tony Conigliaro who is at the forefront of cutting-edge drinks technology. Accordingly exciting ingredients are the bedrock of the experience: saffron cordial, gunpowder tea tincture, bee pollen, horseradish vodka, and dandelion and burdock bitters all make an unexpected appearance. Those with a sweet tooth will adore the Secret Garden (rose liqueur, eau de vie d’Eglantine and Jacques Picard Champagne) whereas the more savoury of temperaments will greatly appreciate the house twist on the Bloody Mary.
With such a high emphasis on cocktails, it comes as a pleasant surprise that the cuisine is so good. There is a tasty array of nibbles and they’re enthusiastic about potted items: potted shrimp with nutmeg butter, potted duck with pomegranate jelly, and potted pork with port and sage jelly are all up for grabs as well as even more potted things. For the more ravenous there are some comforting house supper bowls along the lines of lamb stew and fish pie. Both of these options can be rounded off with grown-up versions of childhood favourites for desert.
The magical ambience makes Zetter a perfect venue for dates with enough interesting things around to talk about even if it’s going really badly. Even entering and exiting is an experience which gives the sensation of stepping into a time machine to a fictional era where it would not be out of place to accidentally bump into Sherlock Holmes or a decadent Viscount in the midst of flitting away the family fortune. Fittingly, the venue attracts a high number of eccentric artists and fashion personalities so that analogy is really not too far from the truth. Expect to shell out quite a bit of cash for evening- cocktails are around £10 each, but you’ll want to have quite a few of them. Rest assured, they’re so good you’ll even be thanking yourself for the hangover next day.