Union Street Bar, London

Mark Ludmon goes downstairs to the cocktail bar beneath Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant Union Street Café

Gordon Ramsay’s latest venture, Union Street Café, in Borough, south London, has been one of the most talked-about openings this year. Much of the attention has been focused on the restaurant and the food but downstairs there is an impressive bar operation with stylish interiors and cocktails good enough to match the menu upstairs.

Union Street Bar – Ramsay’s first venture into destination bars – is described as a “local urban living room”, accessible from the street without going through the restaurant. The interior takes inspiration from living rooms for a “home-from-home ambience” but this is juxtaposed with distressed walls and exposed ducting that are a nod to the area’s industrial past. It has been designed by Russell Sage Studios, which has worked on many top London bars, clubs and restaurants such as Zetter Townhouse, Grain Store, Bounce and Jason Atherton’s Social Eating House.

The bar is the perfect place to lounge with a cocktail, furnished with richly coloured Persian rugs, coffee tables, laid-back leather sofas and chairs with textured scatter cushions, and standard lamps that focus soft lighting on the seating areas. Artwork has been commissioned through the nearby Stolenspace Gallery, with pieces celebrating the local community by artists such as Eine, Rawn, D*face, Word to the Mother, David Bray and Cyrcle – all of which is for sale.

Reflecting the quality and seasonality of the menu in the restaurants upstairs, the cocktails take influence from Mediterranean and Italian flavours, using seasonal and homemade ingredients. The bar manager is Abdulai Kpekawa, who has worked at some of the best cocktail bars in London such as Experimental Cocktail Club, The Luggage Room, Roux at the Pembury and Sosho Match.

The short list of original cocktails changes weekly, but the bartenders are trained to make any of the classics on request. Past recipes from the menu can be ordered, so long as all the ingredients are available, including The Duke Meets the Queen, which is made with rinquinquin peach aperitif, riesling, Nardini Bianco grappa and porter syrup, stirred and then topped with soda. Another flavoursome drink is called Are We There Yet?, which mixes Wray & Nephew Overproof Rum, sloe gin, grenadine, lime juice and cider liqueur, topped up with San Pellegrino limonata.

Other favourites include the Southwark Angel, made with gin, Green Chartreuse, raspberries, cucumber, lemon juice and egg white, and the Mischievous Matilda, combining Tanqueray Gin with Lillet Blanc, rinquinquin and mint. “The weekly changes are all about fresh ingredients and keeping the bartenders interested,” Abdulai explains. “If they are making the same drinks over and over again, it can get a bit monotonous.” While he created the first lists, new recipes are being developed by the whole team who have been recruited from other cocktail bars such as The Maven in Leeds. The head bartender is Daniel Ferreira, formerly at Novikov in London.

The bar is open from 5pm seven days a week, until midnight except Sundays when it closes at 11.30pm. Abdulai says: “Borough has such an exciting energy. We wanted to offer our guests something that bit different and add to the great mix that is already well established here. Working here is a dream come true.”

Union Street Bar, Union Street Café, 47-51 Great Suffolk Street, London SE1 0BS
Tel: 020 7592 7977 www.gordonramsay.com

Union Streer Bar
Originally published in the November 2013 edition of Bar magazine

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