Our Lily heads down to the Royal Academy of Arts‘ Keeper’s House Restaurant. There she discovers The Shenkman Bar, and a man called Fabio – who does things with cocktails that you’ll never believe…
In A Word:
People wanting to impress their friends with a cool, relatively well-kept secret. The beauty of the Shenkman Bar’s location is that it’s hidden in plain view; there’s something wonderful about the fact that hundreds upon hundreds of tourists will have visited the Royal Academy of Arts without realising that they’re metres away from this gem.
Those who know it’s there will extract great pleasure in leading their unassuming pals towards the Keeper’s House, through the enigmatic door marked ‘Keep Me Safe’ and down the stairs to reveal the treasure trove of delicious cocktails that awaits…
Escapists, from both reality and the bustling city centre, will enjoy the fact that the garden here provides a snippet of serenity as you choose from a variety of art-inspired cocktails. With a story behind every drink, there’s plenty to distract you from the business of the day that’s passed.
I think I have a new favourite person. Fabio Fritolli, the creative brain behind the Shenkman Bar’s current menu, is simply a joy to spend time with. His enthusiasm for his work, and the products he uses, is both infectious and endearing… it ended up getting us pretty drunk actually!
With each cocktail we were served, Fabio talked us through its conception and ingredients in fine detail; the artistry displayed in his craft tying in perfectly with the bar’s situation in the RAA. I’m not sure I was able to articulate this thought quite as coherently at the time – I was probably more likely to have, embarrassingly, erupted into various noises of appreciation as I sipped/slurped on his beautiful drinks. I’ve forgiven myself for this though; I think you’d be in the same boat.
All in all, I was blown away by our encounter with such a knowledgeable craftsman and would urge you to talk to Fabio about his menu if you get the chance. It will definitely enhance your experience but, please be warned: it will, justifiably, give you a hangover.
First on our road to inebriation was Frankly, My Dear. Film buffs will have already placed it but, for those who are frustrated at how familiar it sounds, it’s named after Rhett Butler’s line in Gone with the Wind – although Fabio pointed out the fact that that Gone with the Gin might be more appropriate here. As a gin-lover myself, this was the perfect start to proceedings: Portobello Gin, apricot brandy, lemon balm, orange curacao and yuzu juice. The perfect summer-evening tipple; dangerously drinkable.
The most notable drink for both of us was probably the Eddystone Keeper’s flask. Served in a chilled hipflask, on a bed of ice, balanced perfectly in a martini glass: classy. An entrance like that has to be followed by an equally impressive taste… we weren’t disappointed! It’s very unique and was actually considerably more delicate than I was expecting, especially considering the strength of the alcohol used. The Talisker Storm and Yellow Chartreuse are balanced masterfully with camomile syrup, fresh bergamot juice and Jamaican pepper rim; the result is surprisingly refreshing and smooth.
Now, this is where my liver took a kicking. On discovering my love for gin, Fabio introduced us to 3 of his favourites; Elephant Gin, Dodd’s Gin and VII Hills. We talked through the botanicals, tasted them neat and were advised as to which cocktails these would work particularly well with. What did I tell you? This man is a legend.
What I particularly enjoyed was his response to my admission of never having enjoyed tequila. This was apparently unacceptable and had to be addressed. I was introduced to Taquila Chamucos and can now safely say that I’m a convert – I won’t be necking Jose Cuervo on a night out, but I will be far more adventurous when it comes to tequila-based drinks. Progress!
Nibbles were obligatory, of course. We had a double helping of the crispy, paprika-smothered potato skins – my mouth is watering just thinking about these. I would go as far as to say they might be the best bar snacks I’ve ever encountered, and that is no mean feat.
It will come as no surprise to those who know me, that the mention of a cheese board brought actual tears of happiness to my eyes. I’m going to blame this on the gin… and my insatiable love of all cheese… but, mainly, the gin. The cheese went wonderfully with the drinks we were served, which was undoubtedly planned to a tee.
I want to tell everybody I know about the Shenkman Bar as well as wanting to keep it my little secret… I’m very torn!
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s to be saved for your most valued friends, the people you want to impress and those you can rely upon to enjoy the cultured side of alcohol. This isn’t the kind of bar you go to for ‘pre-drinks’ before a big booze-up. Instead; indulge in the art of alcohol, soak up the atmosphere and keep your eyes peeled for A-listers. It’s a night out in itself.
Royal Academy of Arts
London W1J 0BD
020 7300 5881