In search of London’s finest summer hangouts, we hit up the Riviera vibe of Kitchen Joël Antunes at Embassy Mayfair, where Dame Viv and Christina Hendricks held their fashion week party, where the convivial terrace has just opened and where on Saturdays, the Bagatelle-esque brunch party season has sprung to life. Three irrefutably excellent reasons to go – but there are many more.
The voyage of discovery starts here
Ten minutes in the company of the charismatic and handsome head barman Adam (it’s not just us; everyone calls him Handsome Adam) is a revelation.
Moments after taking up residence at the bar, a long slab of white marble dotted with rustic pots of fragrant lavender and an apothecary of intriguing bottles, we had embarked upon on a voyage of discovery, starting with a light, crisp, and not too sweet rose wine from the Provence region of France that the boundlessly enthusiastic sommelier Uri was trialling for the summer brunch season.
An airy Riviera vibe by day; by night, a St Tropez-by-night buzz
It was a Chateau d’Ollieres, vintage 2010. The palest rose petal pink, it had a fresh, clean flavour and a dangerously moreish quality with only a hint of acidity that made it the ideal accompaniment for an afternoon of light drinking. Handsome Adam said he’d like to drink it over ice, lying on the beach. We would too but, failing that, Kitchen Joël Antunes’ terrace would be the next best thing.
The bar at Kitchen Joel Antunes (this is not Handsome Adam; to see him you must go there)
Aperol with champagne: A bittersweet symphony
Next, he poured out a jewel-sized droplet of sticky, burnished amber liquid from one of his mysterious apothecary bottles, many of which he has picked up from antiques markets in the French countryside, which it transpired was a heavenly aromatic lavender syrup made in Joël’s kitchen. That ambrosia was swiftly followed by an introduction to liqueur de violette from the distinguished Dijonnaise firm Edmond Briottet.
Both feature in the signature aperitif Lazy Lavender, a heady concoction of Don Julio Blanco tequila with the homemade lavender syrup, lime juice and violette liqueur.
But we digress, because the real discovery for us was the Aperol piscine – a punchy, ultra-refreshing cocktail made with a shot of Aperol in a large wine glass full of ice, topped up with champagne.
If you are an Aperol virgin, it’s an amber-hued Italian liquor dating back to 1919 that is made of a blend of bitter orange, rhubarb, gentian (a little blue flower whose roots are said to have tonic properties), cinchona (another flower, that is a source of quinine)… need we go on? Suffice to say, it’s complex, slightly bitter, and aromatic.
Our Continental cousins have long mixed Aperol with soda as a spritz, so to make it Royale is surely the natural progression.
The concept of the piscine – basically champagne on the rocks – was invented in Paris, when the Parisians would throw an ice cube in cheap champagne to disperse the acidity. They grew to like the chilled-down result, and began putting ice in on a whim, not simply to make bad champagne better.
A taste of Provence in W1… The terrace at Embassy Mayfair is the place to be this summer
Add to that a shot of Aperol, and the resulting perky orange nectar is a joy to behold – and even better to drink. The clink of the ice cubes in the fishbowl wine glass, the delicate fizz, the aromatic, slight bitterness to the Aperol, and the ultra-chilled Pommery.
Now that’s a summer drink we can get behind.
Kitchen Joël Antunes at Embassy Mayfair, 29 Old Burlington St, W1S 3AN, 020 7494 5660, embassymayfair.com