Coupette popped onto the award-winning Bethnal Green cocktail scene in 2017, taking up residence on the high street in what used to be a poky local sports bar, and instantly garnering global praise and accolades. It’s sophisticated décor, relaxed atmosphere and exceptional, innovative drinks quickly made it one of our favourite bars in London. So, when we learnt that the menu was changing, we knew we had to check it out for ourselves.
One would be forgiven for walking passed Coupette’s smart navy blue façade that gently states itself on Bethnal Green Road. A quick glance through the window reveals a warm glow of industrial-style pendant lighting reflecting off a bar-top embellished with beautiful yet defunct 10 Franc coins. Further investigation catches exposed brickwork adorned with modern artwork and a long venue stretching back towards intimate seating.
Whilst unassuming from the street, this neighbourhood bar has been named “Best International Newcomer” at the prestigious Tales of the Cocktail awards; “New Bar of the Year”, “Cocktail of the Year” at the Class Bar Awards, and currently sits at number 18 in World’s 50 Best Bars. The brainchild of Chris Moore (ex-Head Bartender at The Savoy’s Beaufort Bar), Coupette’s drinks are inspired by France whilst speaking to local experience and tastes. French ingredients, such as calvados, champagne, Noilly Prat and Lillet Rosé share the menu with English marmalade and drinks called Punk and Strawberries & Cream, and whilst the wine menu is French, the beers are all local to East London.
We push open the door and tread over the familiar, inset mosaic announcing the name of the bar. A few regulars chill at the bar alongside newcomers returning for the second day in a row. Patrick Kelleher, one of the bartenders who has been part of Coupette from day one, welcomes us with the usual bowl of popcorn and the new menu.
The booklet itself is a collaboration between Chris and a local sign writer, Ged Palmer. Decorative typography stamps and curls over the pages that hold the bar’s new ‘Summer’ cocktail menu. After admiring the background artwork, our eyes refocus to the drinks. We breathe a sigh of relief when we see that our favourite three cocktails – the gorgeously rich and evocatively smoky, cognac-based Board Room and award-winning Apples and Champagne Pina Colada – have all survived the menu overhaul.
We force ourselves not to go for the old reliables and elect instead – after much deliberation – to start with Sunday Afternoon (Calvados, Pommeau, Cider Caramel, Spices, Beurre) and Punk (Tapatio Blanco Tequila, Ilegal Mezcal, Pastilla, Ancho Reyes, Lime, Hoja Santa). We’re in love from the first sips. The Sunday Afternoon is an incredible boozy number with initial woodiness and spice from freshly grated nutmeg coming through on top of crisp and juicy apple. Freshness from the apple’s malic acid spritzes through the butter fat-washed calvados and caramalised cider, providing a rounded and coated mouthfeel that is not cloying or heavy. Pat wanders over and admits that, when developing the drink, he was worried it would be too syrupy, however an edit of the measurements created this balanced beauty that sits happily on the ‘Summer’ menu.
As fits its title, Punk is a spectacle from the get-go. A silver-sprayed, studded glass contains ice balls barely visible under the egg white topping. Ilegal mezcal adds gentle vegetal notes and smoke that pairs with the Ancho Reyes green chilli flavour and heat. Cracked black pepper adds to the earthy spice with lime holding the deeper notes in check. Fresh, bright and smooth, with a smoky attitude, punk-tuated by prickly spice, this is a complex Summer pleaser that we’ll definitely be returning to.
For our next round, we choose Obsidian and Corn Collins. The latter is one of Patrick’s favourites and builds on the fact that American whiskies, like the Woodford Reserve used here, have a minimum of 51% corn in the grain mix. Homemade smoked corn liqueur is then mixed with lemon and London Essence soda water to create a new twist on a Tom Collins. Light carbonation brings with it a whisper of bitterness, followed by lemon and the intoxicating smell of the garnish – a sous vide buttered corn generously seasoned with salt and paprika. The butter and sweet corn engulf the senses and readies the palate for Woodford’s thick sweetness and barrel spice, which marries well with the corn’s own sweetness. A bite of the garnish brings out more of the citric notes in the drink and the result is incredible. If we could sit down to a meal of just that garnish, we’d be very happy gluttons.
Still reeling from the corn, we take a sip of the short Obsidian and are surprised to be reminded of a Bacardi & Coke! We glance back at the menu and read the ingredients “Bacardi 8yr, Amer Picon, Clay, Passion Fruit, Cocoa”. One of the reasons we love Coupette is that they always manage to subvert expectations without appearing gimmicky or try-hard. The team has somehow taken fruitiness from the passion fruit but left behind a lot of its front of mouth, sweetness and tart properties. The passion fruit brings out the fruity elements from the cocoa, whilst bitter cocao nibs add a gentle earthy note which is tipped into balance by over-sweet rum. This is all bound together with a mineral texture from the edible clay that is infused before the drink is filtered and served.
To end proceedings, we go for two very different cocktails. “Kir Royale” is a dessert in itself with blackcurrant leaf sorbet plopped into our glass on top of a small spoon. Juicy with a natural sweetness and thicker mouthfeel that expected, this is basically adult Ribena done right and is much more satisfying than your average Kir Royale.
Imperfect is entirely bizarre and ironically the perfect way to end our experience at Coupette. Patrick tells us that it is an accidental Negroni style cocktail that is very much a divider. We nose it, expecting botanicals from the Bombay Sapphire, cocoa from the Coca Wine or Truffle Vermouth’s earthiness but all that reaches us the smell of ice and fresh air (or as our companion puts it, “it smells like opening a freezer”). The taste however is nothing like the aroma. Very savoury in a mineral manner with a delicate oiliness and a back palate earthiness. It is refined, elegant, light as hell, dramatically complex and quietly thrilling! Its being served on a soft leather coaster with a marble print pattern is also very apt, speaking to its softness, minerality and clean palate.
We leave Coupette as we always do – relaxed, excited and already planning our next visit. The new ‘Summer’ menu has been carefully curated to cover a wide array of palates without ever compromising the unique and world-class ethos of the bar. Everything we tried was exceptional and we definitely suggest that, when you go, you try something you wouldn’t normally go for, as if there was ever a bar that can’t make a bad drink, it’s Coupette.
Coupette, 423 Bethnal Green Rd, London E2 0AN