If you have already sipped a few cocktails with your meal at pan-Asian restaurant Cocochan off Oxford Street in London’s West End, you can find the descent to its basement bar something of a challenge. You negotiate your way down a twisting staircase with mirrors on both sides, past the toilets, to emerge into the narrow intimate bar with dimly lit seating and even more intimate alcoves. But on the more brightly lit back-bar, there are the premium spirits and liqueurs that make this one of the more interesting restaurant bars in London.
The ground-floor restaurant serves up a delicious choice of contemporary Asian food drawn from the cuisines of Thailand, China, Vietnam and Japan. But downstairs, the bar has deliberately avoided Asian ingredients, says consultant Andreas Tsanos, who set up the bar. “The restaurant is pan-Asian but, with the cocktails, we decided to stay away from that.” Instead, it is classics with a twist with plenty of homemade syrups, sherbets and infusions – something that Andreas is familiar with from working at Purl bar in nearby Marylebone. The exception is the bar’s infusions of the Asian spirit, sochu, using herbs such as chervil and bergamot or spice and coffee beans to create a “winter sochu”.
Dining on dishes such as Chilean seabass and dim sum, I leave my friends to enjoy the excellent wine while I check out some of the cocktails on the restaurant menu. First is the Inner Senses which is anything but innocent. It is a tasty, tangy mix of Ocho blanco tequila, the bitter rhubarb and orange aperitif Aperol, a New World sauvignon blanc and St-Germain elderflower liqueur.
Next up, I try out the Secret Garden, which is made with Plymouth Navy Strength Gin (with an ABV of 57 per cent), Sagatiba Pura cachaça and apple brandy shaken with homemade grenadine and citrus. Among the other five cocktails on the restaurant drinks menu is The Scarlet Club, combining Beefeater gin, Galliano L’Autentico and lemon sherbet shaken with pasteurised egg whites, fresh raspberries and homemade raspberry syrup.
A broader range of cocktails is available in the basement bar where you can enjoy creative concoctions such as Dove’s Sour, which combines pisco, New World sauvignon blanc and homemade limoncello, blended with citrus, peach and Bob’s Lavender Bitters. Or try the Hail Victoria with pineapple-infused Chivas Regal 12-year-old whisky, Yellow Chartreuse and strawberry vermouth shaken with agave nectar and homemade raspberry syrup.
But if these are not enough, bartenders can draw on other ingredients behind the bar in the kitchen to come up with more Asian-style drinks if requested, Andreas says. “Although we are not classified as a pan-Asian bar, if someone wants a drink with something like sake, we can do it even though it’s not on the list.”
The restaurant and bar were both designed by L’Autre Monde working with owner Donald Storey, former operations director of Gaucho Group. Andreas says the bar, with its discreet snug areas and a six-metre-long sofa, is more “chilled and mellow” than the restaurant, staying open till midnight seven days a week. But he adds: “Being part of a restaurant, there is more pressure on the bar to use fresh ingredients for freshly prepared cocktails.” Cocochan is worth seeking out whether you want to enjoy creatively designed cocktails with unique homemade ingredients or you simply need to escape from the bustling crowds of shoppers above ground.
Cocochan, 38-40 James Street, London W1U 1EU. Tel: 020 7486 1000 www.cocochan.co.uk.