An Insider’s Guide to London, From the City’s Cult Cocktail Crew
Wherever the guys behind Experimental Group go, the cool kids tend to follow.
In Paris they jump-started cocktail culture, arriving just as a long-held French fixation on wine was finally ready for disruption.
In New York they shook up the scene with their Experimental Cocktail Club, a three-year-long pop-up that locals still mourn, two years after its closing.
Their beach club in Ibiza is the hot spot among a sea of hot spots.
And in London they’ve drawn a following for their various bars and dining clubs, be it their eponymous Chinatown cocktail den or the subterranean, Champagne-centric Joyeux Bordel, in Shoreditch.
Now they’re expanding beyond nightlife, with the May 15 opening of the Henrietta Hotel, an 18-room oasis in the heart of London’s Covent Garden. The Henrietta, Experimental Group’s second hotel—Grand Pigalle opened in Paris’s trendy 9th arrondissement in 2015—cements the company’s broader ambitions. To wit, they’ve also just opened a members-only clubhouse in London called Chess Club, and a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant called Balagan will soon make its debut in Paris’ 1st arrondissement. A third hotel, in Paris, is slated to pop up by the end of the year.
Everything they’ve touched, so far, has turned to hospitality gold. So where do these busy masterminds go when they want to have fun, off the clock and away from their own establishments? Bloomberg chatted with co-founder Pierre-Charles Cros and partner Xavier Padovani—two maximally tapped-in London residents with delightfully thick French accents—about their favorite hometown finds.
The best restaurants near Henrietta Hotel: Travelers staying in this smack-in-the-middle-of-town property don’t need to truck it to Shoreditch to find compelling eats. “We love Barrafina,” Cros said. “We go for tapas, Spanish food, beautiful seafood—it feels authentic. I’m not a huge fan of ‘no reservations’ places, but it’s very sharp.”
There’s also Frenchie, a spinoff of a Paris classic, literally next door to the hotel, and the sibling restaurants Barbary and Palomar, both from the Israeli chef Assaf Granit. “Palomar is more a sit-down restaurant and Barbary more of a casual counter,” said Padovani. “Both are small, just a few tables, very generous and with very inspiring cuisine.” Added Cros: “The decomposed kebabs are my favorite, and the bread as well—homemade challah.” In fact, the partners are so devoted to these two spots that they’ve struck a partnership with Granit for their next Paris restaurant.
Just as Midtown Manhattan is having a revival, so is Covent Garden, one of London’s most touristy and commercial hubs and home to the Henrietta Hotel. “Before, you could find mostly Pret A Mangers and chains. You wouldn’t go if you didn’t have a reason, like if you were catching a show,” said Padovani. “Now it’s happening. A lot of great chefs and operators that wouldn’t have considered it a few years ago are coming back. The advantage is being central and being so busy all the time.”
A bar they can’t quit: Rules is better known for its food than for its drinks. “It’s a really amazing place—the last James Bond was filmed in it,” began Cros, “but there’s a fantastic cocktail bar upstairs that nobody knows about.” It’s classic and cozy, he said, “a mix between new and old school in London that I very much like.”
An unexpected celebration spot: “I don’t know if Hoppers even has a Michelin star, but it’s amazing food and service,” Padovani said of this Sri Lankan gem in Mayfair, made to look like a colonial diner. “They sometimes lack the flair and the décor,” he added, “but it feels like turn of the century a little bit. You would definitely go there to impress someone or to celebrate something.”
The cocktail den that’s most worth the hype: London lays claim to nine of the world’s 50 best bars, according to this influential list, with the American Bar at the Savoy taking the No. 2 slot overall. Padovani and Cros are dedicated loyalists, calling it one of their favorites. “I like to take my wife there when we’re not working, when it’s a quiet time of day,” said Padovani of the surprisingly romantic spot, where the lighting is dim, the servers wear timeless white jackets, and ordering at random is a risk-free proposition.
Where to get your morning jolt: Padovani votes for Monmouth Coffee, whose “owner and backyard garden are super nice.” The only caveat: “You have to choose the right time to go. Avoid 2 o’clock, when all the tourists line up, and go early in the morning instead. They’re one of the main coffee players in London right now.”
As for Cros? “Flat White, on Berwick Street in Soho. It’s on my way to the office. It’s very cool, very Soho.”
The best menswear shop: Padovani is loyal to Real McCoy’s in Covent Garden for modernized military staples, like alpaca fur-lined replicas of N-1 jackets that were originally produced in the 1940s. Its sibling stores have similarly niche collections: Joe McCoy is all about vintage workwear, for instance, while Buco has a motorcycle-inspired slant.
The key spot for wardrobe essentials: “I’ve got the best shop ever for shoes,” said Padovani. “Son of a Stag. It’s a Japanese denim specialist, the best in the U.K., and I’m a bit boring with shoes but that’s where I go. Red Wings are all I wear at the moment.” There’s also Trunk, in Marylebone, added Cros: “Excellent selections. Small independent brands. It’s more dressy.”
The shopping trend you can’t miss: Head to East London, and you’ll find a handful of stores merging art, clothing, motorcycles, and coffee. “There’s a lot of these,” explained Clos. “The last one that just opened that’s super cool is called Bolt.” He said the Bethnal Green shop is still pretty undiscovered—but not for long. “The whole biking thing has become kind of cool in East London.”