Meditation. Is it a pastime, an art, or a highly elevated form of spiritual release? No longer the sole preserve of monks, yogis, Swamis and Saddhus, this habit or ritual is now practiced by a glut of suburban pseudo-hippies across nations. And why not? We are all of us licensed to culture-surf freely across borders, letting our minds take us to where they might never have roamed before the advent of telescopes, satellites, computers and the beloved televisual goggle-box gave fuel to the fire of our imagination. As the human exploration of space and the universe extends ever further, so too does each individual’s faculty of comprehension. We can all go vegan, close our eyes in Lotus position and pop off on an astral trip around the universe. I tried it myself (not veganism!) and can safely report that there is no threat from X Factor in deep space, which is good to know. Still, back to Earth for now. Where better to engage in such self-elevation than the great cultural hubristic hubbub that is London? And the destination of choice for this particular astral voyage? Why it’s none other than Arkady Novikov’s emporium of earthly delights, deep in the heart of Mayfair. To quote Dr Frasier Crane: “that sounded better in the shower this morning.”
I had heard about Novikov through various acquaintances and was intrigued to sample the opulent bohemic kitsch cool for which it is famed, but I somehow view myself as being almost sub-human even in comparison to the staff in such establishments. However on this occasion I was a guest, invited along with my blogger hat on to sample their new cicchetti menu. So it’s cocktail oclock and you’re going to throw Italian aperitivos in to the bargain, and the staff are guaranteed not to sneer at my threads? Beam me up, or down in fact as this is a basement bar after all. Emporium may not actually suffice to describe what Novikov has brought to Mayfair as in fact this is more of a palace. It’s vast in scale, with luxury embellishments throughout and a wide open expansive feeling that strikes you the moment you enter. Rather than exploring the upstairs space which appeared to consist of a dining room, food hall and lounge bar, I headed straight for the subterranean bar, where the promise of cocktails and cicchetti lay waiting. One of the first things I noted was that the staff, whilst imacculately groomed and notably attractive, were also obliging and polite. It’s not hard to smile while you work, yet in certain establishments of this ilk which shall remain nameless Hakkasan, even the coat check looks down their nose haughtily at your garments, as though they’re just not making the benchmark of lux-labelled chic that they deign to handle. None such frippery here.
Anyway, on to the best thing about Novikov: the cocktails. I’ll try hard to remember what I had, but bear with me dear readers. It was dark and the night was long, the sofas were deep and the beautiful people who served us made us feel warm and welcome. It’s a spacious bar that spreads out wide across the entire footprint of the floor and has an intimate and sumptuous feeling to it due to the subdued lighting and lounge furnishing. Add a seasonal cocktail list into the mix and you can see we’re on to a winner here. I know it may seem a little outrè, extraneous, wacky even but who cares, so long as it’s done well. And it surely is. What makes it work? Fresh, seasonal fruits and syrups, solid rocks of ice that have had the bubbles removed to make for a superior chill on your spirit, slightly more obscure spirits sourced from a wide range of suppliers and more flair and imagination in the list than the usual melange. Try a Shogun: Hibiki 17 year old malt Japanese whisky stirred over hand cut ice blocks with Aragoshi Umeshu plum sake, Oloroso Lustau sherry, honey and Angostura bitters. The smoke flavour really comes at you, and is counterbalanced by the sweet tang of plums. There are plenty more like this to choose from, and each drink we sampled was made with the same exacting standards and correct balance, notably the Negroni which I must say was one of the best I’ve ever had. Don’t tell my doctor, but that’s saying something.
Food wise, the cicchetti were pleasing enough although nothing too remarkable. Cheese platters featured a range of cheeses from various countries though mostly French and Italian were the order of the day. Focaccia slivers sandwiched multifarious fillings from salami and mortadella through mozzarella and sunblush tomatoes. Staple fare and good to have something to accompany the drinks although in all honesty the main reasons I would go back are the ambience, the cocktails and of course the location. If you’re looking to impress a date, then this is a pretty good place to start; if swag is the order of the day then Novikov is a solid port of call. At some point I’m sure I’ll head back to sample the full menu and be proven wrong. Until then, happy to sit and meditate on another one of those Shoguns. I can still smell mountain woodsmoke wafting up through the ice.