Diary of a bar-fly: Ordering off-menu

At times, off-menu ordering in a swanky bar can feel a little like ordering chips in a Michelin-starred restaurant. When there’s a tempting list of cocktails as long as my arm, I often feel a little boring that I want to put it down and ask the barman for a Vesper Martini. But I have to admit, I often do it on purpose to test the establishment. It’s all very well having a cocktail menu brimming with extract-of-this and syrup-of-that, serving every other drink with a sprig of thyme, a kumquat or a packet of Parma Violets poking out of the top, but frankly, I’m going to distrust any barman who can’t knock up a decent Old Fashioned without having to consult a crib sheet.

That said, there’s a danger in this, especially when outside of the realm of the high end establishments. The staff may be trained to make and serve the particular drinks on offer and very few others. There’s nothing worse than having to talk a barman through what a Singapore Sling is. Or, they may forget how to do it half way through. Or they might suddenly realise that they don’t quite have the right ingredients, panic, and make a dodgy improvisation.

A couple of bars I’ve tried this tactic at have really impressed me. Coco Tang in Nottingham serves consistently excellent drinks, and so far all of my off-menu orders have been met with a confident nod, despite the fact that many of the bartenders look about 21, so could be forgiven for not having a wealth of experience on their side. Here in London, the knowledgeable waitress in Happiness Forgets suggested a cocktail called a Prescription based on my request for a Mint Julep, which was delicious.

Have you had a very good/bad experience with an off-menu order? Comment here if so – I’d love to hear it.