It is a year and a half since top chef Michel Roux Jr opened his fine dining restaurant Roux at Parliament Square near to the Palace of Westminster, and now he and his partner – Compass Group’s Restaurant Associates – have turned an unassuming lounge on the first floor into a destination cocktail bar. It was officially launched on Thursday and now goes under the name of Roux at the Pembury – named after the town in Kent where the chef was born.
The building itself is tucked away down a side street between Parliament Square and St James’s Park, and is home to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), built in 1899 to designs by architect Alfred Waterhouse who also designed London’s Natural History Museum and Science Museum.
The 60-capacity bar is accessed through the same door as the ground-floor restaurant and is at the top of a plush Georgian staircase. The space has not been radically revamped from its previous incarnation, which already featured a small bar, but its furniture and furnishings now have a more stylish, softer look thanks to hospitality specialist Mango Architecture & Design, founded by Jonathan Mangham. His other projects have included Milk & Honey in London, the former East Room in Shoreditch and several bars for Inc Group and its sister company Alphabet Group.
In this comfortable setting, you can enjoy some well-made cocktails by a team headed by two experienced bartenders: Abdulai Kpekawa, formerly of London’s Experimental Cocktail Club, All Star Lanes in Holborn and Bayswater and Sosho Match in Shoreditch; and Liam Cotter, also from All Star Lanes in Holborn and The Box in Soho. Readers of Bar magazine may remember that in our June 2011 issue we carried an interview with leading mixologist Esther Medina Cuesta about her plans as new bar manager but they parted ways.
Abdulai and Liam’s cocktails are an impressive mix of classic and original cocktails. Notable drinks include William’s Tipple made with Tanqueray No Ten gin, Lillet Blanc vermouth, Kammerling’s Ginseng Spirit and peach bitters. Cocktail aficionados will appreciate The Penultimate Word, inspired by the Prohibition era cocktail The Last Word. This new recipe takes the classic mix of gin, lime, Green Chartreuse and maraschino liqueur and adds Talisker whisky, Don Julio blanco tequila and coriander.
A variation on a popular classic is the Toasted Daiquiri, made with Pampero Aniversario rum, Yellow Chartreuse, pineapple juice, lime juice and toasted almond syrup. “We are trying to push some boundaries with different flavours and different drinks,” Liam explains.
Even more exotic is the Three Citrus Ricky, made with Ketel One Citron vodka, fino sherry, yuzu, pineapple juice, lemon juice and soda. They describe this as an “hors d’oeuvres” – the first course of a liquid menu for those of us who are happy to get our nutrition in liquid form. The main course, or “plats principaux”, is the Pembury Cup, combining Pimm’s No 1, Tanqueray gin, watermelon and coriander, topped up with champagne. For “dessert”, there is the Colonial Flip, mixing Wray & Nephew white rum, Guinness, Demerara sugar, cream and egg.
There is a delicious bar food menu that is as fantastic as the meals served downstairs, including one of the best Scotch eggs I have ever tasted. They have also come up with ideas for matching cocktails with food, packaged as a Nibbles and Tipples menu with each pairing priced at £9.50. Suggestions include drinking the William’s Tipple with smoked paprika pork scratchings, or snacking on some feta-stuffed Peppadew peppers with the Berry Stinger – a mix of port, crème de framboise, crème de cassis and mint.
Like the restaurant, the bar is open only weekdays, from midday to 11pm. Liam says Roux at the Pembury has been welcomed by diners as a place for meeting over aperitifs. “We now really have somewhere that stands out, that people will want to come back to after dinner.” Abdulai points out that the cocktail menu will be regularly updated, with new drinks due to be added imminently. “We want it to be a destination bar where you can feel relaxed and get the feeling of personal service.”
Update, 27 September 2011: Roux at Parliament Square was awarded the accolade of three AA rosettes at the AA Hospitality Awards at the London Hilton Park Lane hotel. With the bar food created in the same kitchen, it is no wonder the Scotch eggs are a cut above the rest.
Roux at the Pembury, 12 Great George Street, Westminster, London SW1P 3AD. Tel: 020 7334 3737. www.rouxatparliamentsquare.co.uk