Drinking and dining for us at Sated, is largely about experience. When choosing a venue, we look for sights that will hold our gaze, tune our ears to the ambiance a cacophony of strangers’ voices can create, pick our seat to support the slump or lean of our energy levels, and hanker after something that will delight our taste buds. So, when we heard that Threadneedle Bar, the bar at the historic Royal Exchange, was launching a new Smoky Cocktail Menu, all our senses were suitably intrigued.
As entrances go, few bars have one as impressive as that of the Royal Exchange. We climb the steps to the 1840s monument, staring upwards at the sculptured frieze, running our hands along a column and marvelling at the fact that we have never been inside before. Our reverie is broken by a friendly doorman who directs us to the lift to the Threadneedle Bar. Perched on a mezzanine level overlooking the Royal Exchange Grand Café, the space is handsome, with dusty pink and caramel armchairs in gently zoned seating arrangements at one end, and a classic dining area at the other. In between, sits a bar lined with comfortable leather bar stools. Naturally, this is what we’re drawn to.
We are greeted by Leo, who hands us a menu and leaves us to peruse its contents. Whilst the 5-drink Smoky Cocktail menu only launched in February of this year, the initial idea was born in 2016, when the team decided to mark the 350-year anniversary since the Great Fire with the creation of a cocktail – Smoky Mandarin, made with Black Label whisky, Talisker 10yo, Mandarin Napoleon liqueur and cinnamon sugar. This paved the way for the Smoky Cocktail menu as it stands today and therefore seemed as good a place to start as any.
As Leo prepares our drink, he explains how the smoke used is made from a combination of three types of wood. Back in 2016, they created it “the old-fashioned way” but these days the team has a handy smoking gun that seems a lot easier to manage. Our drink is mixed in the same manner as we’ve seen 100 times before, with expert precision and flair, but once Leo has added the homemade cinnamon sugar (“the best bit” he claims) and garnished the cocktail with a piece of cinnamon bark, he produces a glass bell jar and a small stand. The tumbler is positioned on this small stage and the glass placed over it before smoke is billowed into it. Leo smiles and places the vessel in front of us, completing the show by turning on a light in the base of the stand that illuminates our engulfed beverage. After a spot of Instagramming, we lift the glass top and are greeted by an unfurling of smoke. This fills our nose as we put the drink to our lips, working well with the smokiness of the Talisker. Orange is present and the cinnamon adds a spiced sweetness, resulting in a balanced, strong yet refreshing cocktail.
As we scan the menu for our next drink, our eyes light upon The Lumberjack, which combines two things we love more than life itself – whiskey and bacon. Woodford Reserve has been infused with bacon for 24-hours, before being combined with maple syrup, orange and Angostura bitters. The bacon has then been dried and repurposed as a garnish. The drink is presented to us in an apothecary-esque bottle, complete with its own brown label announcing its contents, and an ice-filled glass. Like its predecessor, the whiskey-based bevvy is perfectly balanced. There is a syrup taste and mouthfeel to the drink without it being overly saccharine as we had feared. The bacon flavour has seeped into the spirit and is pure indulgence, leaving the garnish sadly tasteless but a pleasant addition nonetheless.
For our final drink, we take a step back from whisky and towards mezcal. The Mexican Negroni features Campari and Martini Rosso and comes garnished with a red chilli, and covered with a smoke-filled, spherical jar. The reveal is just as fun the second time as the smoke swirls round the glass. Here, the smell of the woods is joined by the peppery scent and prickly heat of freshly cut chilli. This works wonders with the bitterness of the negroni, rounding the drink off beautifully.
As we sit back, cocktail in hand, picking at the sumptuous selection of cured meats on the artisanal sharing platter that has been brought out to us, we find ourselves feeling entirely at ease. With so many of the City bars packed to the rafters from 6pm, Threadneedle Bar offers a relaxed alternative for an after-work destination where the staff are friendly, the drinks are well-curated, and the location is unbeatable.
Threadneedle Bar, Royal Exchange London, EC3V 3LR