Leicester’s 10 Best Cocktails
BY RUTH CLOWES
It's time to give way to decadence with one (or all) of Leicester's most indulgent boozy treats. Whether you fancy a dark and smoky brew or something fresh and fruity, there's something on this list of Leicester's best cocktails that’ll float your boat.
White Peacock: Blueberry and Parma Violet Lady
The setting for this classy establishment is an elegant Grade 2 listed building at the foot of New Walk. Well-known for the creative cuisine on offer in its restaurant, White Peacock's smart little bar deserves some attention of its own. Like the venue itself, the cocktail menu is understated and refined, but offers something just a little different. This is my favourite cocktail bar in Leicester. The charmingly formal service only enhances the atmosphere.
I've a feeling that the Blueberry and Parma Violet Lady is a love it or hate it affair. This isn't a subtle drink. The honk of violets hits your nasal passages before the glass even gets to your lips. You know those parma violet sweets you get in goodie bags? This drink is like a liquid version of those. Condensed. With an extra thump of blueberries on top. And boozy? Yes - it's plenty boozy. If only all cocktails were this good.
33 Cank Street: Old John Fashioned
This gorgeous little bar on St Martin's Square is named after Leicester's Cank Well. The well once supplied our city with water and was a place people gathered to share news and gossip. This is the kind of local historical detail that you'll also find peppered throughout the bar's cocktail menu. The names of each cocktail, the ingredients, and even the way they're presented, hark back to Leicester's past.
The whiskey-based Old Fashioned has enjoyed a surge in popularity lately. This gloriously dark and smoky cocktail is a welcome antidote to the nation's current infatuation with gin. The 33 Cank Street version is made with Wild Turkey whiskey and the venue's own cherry liqueur. It's served in a little brown bag of smoke, while a chilled piece of Bradgate slate keeps it cool. The attention to detail in this place is stunning.
Turkey Café: Colour Changing Mojito
This Granby Street bar has semi-legendary status in the city because of its long history and eccentric appearance. The dramatic Art Nouveau façade exploits the multiple meanings of the word ‘turkey’. This playfulness is carried over into the exotically decorated interior. Incidentally, the architect, Arthur Wakerley, was a vocal supporter of the temperance movement…
It's fair to say that Arthur wouldn't have approved of Turkey Café's current reputation as one of Leicester's best loved bars. But if anything could change his mind, it would be their signature cocktail, the Colour Changing Mojito. This beautiful, theatrical rum-based drink does exactly what it says on the tin. Or should that be test tube?
The Bottle Garden: The Bottle Garden
A botanical-style cocktail bar designed by the folk at Outer Space was always going to be a winner. The Bottle Garden has certainly lived up to expectations. This has got to be one of the most chilled-out, cheerful bars in town. Even in the depths of winter, it's got a fresh and bright feel about it. And its location right at the heart of St Martin's Square makes it the perfect spot for watching the world go by.
The Bottle Garden's eponymous short cocktail has a base of vodka and white rum. This is combined with raspberry syrup, lemon juice and bitters for a sweet and fruity flavour that's deliciously moreish. Flowers on top provide an apt tie-in with the botanical theme. Meanwhile, the addition of egg white gives the drink a luxurious texture. Pro tip: scoop the frothy remnants out of the glass with your finger to make sure not a drop is left behind.
Manhattan 34: Basil Blush
The end of prohibition in 1934 revolutionised nightlife across the USA. A generation of hedonistic young Americans took to the bars and clubs to enjoy their new-found freedom. Manhattan 34 on Rutland Street captures this moment in time and brings it to modern-day Leicester. The comfy seats and friendly staff in this art deco-style bar make it a place to linger.
I'm a sucker for a herby cocktail and I'm not averse to a good pun either. No wonder Basil Blush caught my eye. The secret ingredient is the homemade basil syrup. It's combined with gin and cranberry juice with the addition of some fresh fruity goodness. It's one of your five a day. Probably. More importantly, it's a fresh and fragrant delight that will have you thinking spring has arrived early.
The Toast Inn: Pornstar Martini
Tucked away on Francis Street in sleepy Stoneygate, you'll find Toast Inn. It's the very cosiest of cocktail bars. With its crackling log fire and laid-back industrial vibe, it's the perfect hideaway for snuggling up with a drink or two. And there are plenty to choose from. The worst part is having to tog up and go back outside into the cold. Maybe just one more cocktail…
The martini is the coolest cocktail money can buy. There's only one way to make this classic even more decadent and that's to chuck a load of passion fruit innards in it and serve it with a shot of prosecco on the side. Toast Inn’s mixologists have perfected the nice and naughty Pornstar Martini. This is a smooth and fruity brew and it’s generously garnished with half a passionfruit. Actual heaven.
Spirits Bar: Asylum
One of the newest cocktail bars in town, Spirits Bar promises to "soothe the soul and pleasure the spirit" with its hand-crafted concoctions. It's housed in the same Hotel Street venue as the Escape Asylum escape rooms. So that's handy if you fancy being locked up for a while before a night of drinking. Makes a change from it being the other way around…
Asylum is described as “a mind manipulating medical masterpiece, consisting of an explosive self-administering prescription of potions and dry ice. Not for sensitive minds or bodies.” In reality, the sweet and sour contents of the five individual shot glasses have a bark rather worse than their bite. But perhaps that’s for the best. This is still a Leicester cocktail experience like no other, in a truly unique venue.
The Gadabout: Origami
Are you a habitual pleasure-seeker (that's the dictionary definition of a gadabout)? If so, you'll feel right at home in this Guildhall Lane drinkery. The Gadabout's theme of exploration and new experiences is reflected in a menu of far-flung cocktails. Playful twists on old favourites are the order of the day and there are plenty to sup on while you plan your next trip.
There are more flamboyant drinks on the menu, but my pick is the elegant and complex Origami. Made with Togouchi whisky and lapsang syrup, it has a deep, earthy flavour. Meanwhile the rice orgeat and yuzu sake add freshness and vibrancy. Then there's a hint of sweetness, courtesy of the sakura bitters and maraschino. This Japanese-inspired cocktail is an adventure in a glass. And a very tasty one at that.
The Exchange: Chelsea Widecar
The cocktail menu at this bar and party venue on Rutland Street has an elegant simplicity to it. There are shooters, jam jars or teapots depending on how thirsty you are and how many friends you've got. No smoky theatricals or fiddly, thin-stemmed saucer glasses here. Easy-drinking, shareable brews are the order of the day.
King of the teapot cocktails is the Chelsea Widecar. This longer variation of a classic sidecar is just the thing to get the party started. Gin and triple sec are mixed with lemon juice and sugar syrup to give the cocktail a sweet, citrusy base. It's then topped with prosecco and soda for a fresh and bubbly finish. Perfect for sharing.
The Fish and The Chip: Key Lime Pie
This no-nonsense 'modern chippy' on Nicholas Street brings an international flavour to traditional chip shop fare. Their allergen-friendly approach and dedicated vegan menu sets them apart from the competition. They also happen to have a small but perfectly formed selection of cocktails.
Enter the simple but decadent Key Lime Pie. White rum, lime and sugar are combined to create a zingy, citrusy treat with a seriously boozy punch. The glass is topped with deliciously sweet Italian meringue which is scorched to give it a caramelised flavour that compliments the sweetness of the drink. The whole thing is finished off with a sprinkling of lime zest. Who needs dessert?