The London Journalist's Heathcote Ruthven takes a surreal elevator ride up to London's highest Havana Club pop-up in the sky...
It was a truly magnificent moment stepping out of a lift in the sky to a view of the Shard, Tower of London, the Gherkin, St. Paul's – all the iconic London landmarks we know and love. From the Skylounge on the 12th floor of the DoubleTree Hilton in Tower Hill, the urban cityscape seemed foreign to me, slightly Gotham City perhaps – brooding and glamorous.
The atmosphere was casual and corporate. A charming waiter made us feel welcome but not put-upon while lone businessmen lounged languorously at the end of their long day. Romantic dates appeared to be going well, and a smattering of tourists drank in the mesmerising view. There was something very 80's about the whole scene: a flashy cosmopolitan glasshouse, socially fumbling yet economically booming, drunk on outré saccharine cocktails.
There are two roofs in Skylounge, one permanently open, and the other only for either seasonal pop-up bars or private events. Last year’s pop up was South American themed, this year’s Cuban, sponsored by Havana Rum. The bright red, blue and yellow walls, colourful festoon lights, and driftwood bar together created a disorientating facsimile of a lively Havanan seaside shack, pleasantly out of place, surrounded by tall towers of our global Capital.
The Cuban-inspired menu of fried plantain, chargrilled octopus, and pulled pork quesadillas looked delicious, although we could only imagine as the BBQ was closed that evening. The pop-up rooftop is often hired by companies, and seemed to have all the right ingredients for an successful work drinks party.
We tried two of the Cuban cocktails: I had the Mouse’s Ear, an experimental and award winning cocktail from last year’s Havana Club Cocktail Grand Prix, made of dark Havana rum, Ramazotti amaro, peanut orgeat, chocolate bitters, and a peanut-brittle garnish. This unusual concoction was smooth, nutty, and rich.
My partner drank the Shaquiri, an impressive riff – dare I say improvement on - the age old Daiquiri. Other than the traditional rum, lime, and syrup, they added an apple liqueur and Cuban Cristal beer. The latter ingredient gave it a subtle smoky flavour, offsetting the sweetness of the apple liqueur, which instead offered a welcome bitter note. This was a complex and robust drink and definitely the best of the evening.
Other than the pop-up menu, the Skylounge offers a range of delightful cocktails and side-dishes all year round. Skylounge specialise in gin-based drinks, to which they dedicate an entire page of their drinks list. Based on the two that we tried, their approach is to create fresh, iced cocktails more lightly scented than strongly flavoured - letting their fine selection of gins do the talking.
My partner had the Botanist’s Salve, pairing a fantastic floral gin from Islay called The Botanist with apple, thyme and edible flowers topped up with Fever Tree Aromatic Tonic water. I opted for the Mediterranean Breeze, which was created with the flavoursome Spanish-made Gin Mare, and combined with a herbal combination of thyme, rosemary, orange zest, served with Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic water. To me, they were not radically different drinks (though my gin aficionado friend claims otherwise), but they are, as is the vogue right now, high quality versions of popular classics. These perfumed takes on the bog-standard G+T emanated pure luxury.
Two young men beside us ordered elaborate miniature burgers, which looked good for people into that sort of thing. We however, ordered the salmon ceviche on sourdough crackers, miso crème fraiche, cucumber, puffed wild rice, and coriander. The four soggy globs of salmon were refreshing and delicious, although the crackers were a bit uninspired. The marinated artichoke, pancetta, wild rocket, and gorgonzola bruschetta were next - a larger, more filling dish. The whole thing felt distinctly unhipster. No artisanal trappings made in an East End lock-up, just thick slices of serviceable white bread with good cheese, salad, and meat piled on top.
Dizzy from the high grade gin we descended into the narrow streets below. Drinking strong cocktails so high up in the sky is undoubtedly exciting - inebriation served with vertigo. A swanky London spot, Skylounge must be a perfect regular haunt for some and is definitely worth a visit for all.
Heathcote Ruthven is a writer and Londoner based in the Portobello area. You can find him on instagram here: @heathcoteruthven
Havana Club at the Skylounge is open Tuesday to Saturday, between 5-11pm until the end of September 2017.