Ah, absinthe! One thinks of all sorts of fin de siècle delights; Beardsley, decadent poets and Kylie Minogue in Moulin Rouge. Just as well, then, that the Green Bar at Café Royal in Piccadilly offers rather more refined pleasures. Not that you’ll go remotely thirsty if you try their signature cocktails, the Velvet Essence – a short, punchy number that will make you recite Baudelaire if you have enough of them – and the best sharing cocktail that Larry and I have taken in many a moon, the OW (named for the Café Royal’s regular visitor and unofficial patron saint, Oscar Wilde).
It comes in a glass tureen, with adjustable taps for each drinker, reminiscent of its traditional method of ‘louching’ – that slightly discomforting process in which a sugar cube is slowly dissolved over absinthe using iced water from said fountain. This, however, is pre-mixed, thankfully, and it adds a welcome touch of theatre that makes the experience all the more enjoyable.
It’s fitting that in the surrounds of this deeply viridescent drinking den, this hitherto unfairly maligned herbal spirit should be given its own stage via the bar’s ‘Absinthe Revival’, with the chance to try a rather inexhaustible list of different varieties, should one be so inclined. Who knew it was as diverse as any of its distillate peers?
In among this mystifying array are limited release bottles, such as La Fée XS Suisse, distilled in small quantities in Val-de-Travers in Switzerland, the birthplace of absinthe, as well as its French cousin, La Fée XS Française, made using locally grown herbs in stills dating back to 1870.
As it happens, Larry and I content ourselves with our punch, and we leave into the London air, sanity intact and humour fully restored. Oscar, we decide, would have liked to have joined us.
The Art of Absinthe runs is available now at the Green Bar at the Hotel Café Royal, 15 Glasshouse Street, London. For more information, including a full menu of cocktails and the Absinthe Revival, please visit www.hotelcaferoyal.com.