The idea of a “British themed” drinking hole in central London is a fresh hell to equal the questionable end of Oxford Street: Union Jack bunting, faux Ye Olde English signage and the acrid aroma of vinegar-drenched fish and chips eaten by dismayed tourists who had hoped to find a comely Dickensian inn and roaring fire. Which makes Scarfes Bar in the Rosewood hotel’s proposition all the more daring. Its menu is devoted to British icons, both established and entirely unlikely, in a setting that couldn’t be further from bunting-and-battered-cod.
Applying a “concept” to a cocktail bar can easily descent into gimmickry. What began life as a pleasant environment to sip a Manhattan ends up as Rainforest Cafe-style theme park with orangutan noises overhead. Luckily, the concept around Scarfes bar is as sophisticated and elevated as the decor — beautifully created by Martin Brudnizki, who recently renovated Annabel’s — and of the Rosewood hotel itself.
The cosy bar is decorated in caricatures by Gerald Scarfe
The bar is a tribute to (and dialogue with) renowned cartoon satirist Gerald Scarfe. His scribbled drawings cover the walls of the low-lit, plush velvet filled space. And it’s his skewering of the British establishment that informs the drinks menu, which has been designed by head bartender Yann Bouvignies and his team. Within a few pages it’s clear; this place goes beyond the standard-issue Cosmopolitan.
The cocktails are inspired by a full role-call of British characters, as various as they are surprising (and slightly odd in some cases), from the Queen to Sadiq Khan, Richard Branson to Sacha Baron-Cohen, David Attenborough to JK Rowling. Each cocktail is designed with ingredients that nod to its namesake in some way. Teetotallers can even opt for the Prince George, a blend of orange, jasmine, rose and ginger.
No such takers here; first up is the decidedly alcohol-heavy Off The Market, an ode to Prince Harry in liquid form with Royal Salute whisky, saffron, ginger and figs. A nod to his flame-shaded hair, then, but also a thoughtful reference to one of the readings at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding: the Song of Solomon’s fig trees. The result is a fiery, peppery, potent concoction, heartily warming for winter nights by the roaring fireplace in the corner.
The Naturalist, an ode to David Attenborough
Next up is an tribute to national treasure Attenborough, a surprisingly dainty affair for a man who’s spent his life rustling through the undergrowth or scaling mountains. A blush-toned cocktail of Star of Bombay, with “essence of grass” and floral notes, it’s a herbal, rose-infused, botanical blend, almost tea-like with an added punch of gin; familiar with a refreshing zing.
And in the interests of honoring that most eccentric of British icons, Bowie, we felt duty-bound to sample the Zingy Stardust, a sharp, citrus blend of Absolut Elyx — vodka distilled in copper casks — with zara lebu, an Indian citrus fruit, lemongrass and kaffir lime.
It’s as otherwordly and intoxicating as the man himself; spicy, tangy and with enough of an impact to knock you sideways, much like Bowie’s Ziggy attire. In a landscape of polite taupe decor and cocktails that err towards the sedately refined, Scarfes Bar stands out as a bolshie, playful take on cocktail hour. British whimsy and humour, without a flash of Union Jack bunting.