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Cocktails and surrealism at Artesian, London by Maggie O'Sullivan

Posted in HOTELS + VILLAS By Maggie O' Sullivan

And the winner of the World’s Best 50 Bars 2015 is… Artesian, London. No, I’d never heard of it either, even though it has just won the prestigious award for the fourth year running.

Artesian is the cocktail bar at The Langham hotel in Portland Place.When it opened in 1865, The Langham was the grandest hotel in London, its guest list studded with the names of the great and the good. By the mid-1960s it had been sold to the BBC (Broadcasting House is just opposite) which at one point tried to have it knocked down. Fortunately, it was unsuccessful and the hotel is now the flagship of Langham Hotels International. Artesian, incidentally, is named after the deep well under the hotel.I invited two friends to join me on my Artesian sortie (neither of them had heard of it either) and at 6.30 on Monday evening the bar was buzzing. There were still a couple of tables free, so we quickly bagged one, and a waitress appeared within seconds bearing wooden cocktail menus.

Problem one: the pretty, vaguely oriental-style bar was so dimly lit we couldn’t read the menu. I flicked on the torch on my mobile phone and noticed that the occupants of several nearby tables were doing the same. Problem two: even when we could read the menu – intriguingly entitled Surrealism – we were none the wiser. Every cocktail had at least two ingredients we had never heard of. Furikake, Perilla or Caju, anyone? When a cocktail costs £18 plus service, you want to be sure you’re going to love it.In the end, we played safe and ordered a round of margaritas – and that is how we came to miss the point of Artesian. Head bartender and mixology genius Lex Kratena believes the perfect cocktail should be a ‘multi-sensory journey that incorporates everything from taste, scent and feel, down to the type of glass’. While we were sipping our (admittedly superb) margaritas, we noticed the waitress delivering a smoking box to a table by the window. Ah. So that’s what ‘smoke’ meant on the list of ingredients for the Anti Hero #feelinglikearockstar cocktail. Then we spotted other weird and wonderful receptacles issuing forth from the bar. Oh well. At least the salt dusting the rim of our glasses was bright pink…We didn’t order anything from the Snax menu but the tapas-style dishes, created by Executive Chef Chris King in consultation with Michael Roux Jr, are apparently inspired by the Surrealism cocktail menu and are presented in a similarly imaginative way with some of the same ingredients (I really must find out what furikake is).

Our bill came to a whopping £114 for six cocktails which means Artesian is unlikely to become a regular haunt. But there will definitely be a return visit at some point, and next time we’ll do it as Lex Kratena intended, surrealist cocktails and all.

Further information, The Langham, London

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