39 Whitfield Street,
London W1T 2RL
207 323 1544
Inspired by the Nordic spirit of this month's Kalevala Gin, this month's joint is a fantastic cocktail bar in the heart of London...
When it comes to creative cocktails, it can be tough to find the perfect balance between interesting and overwhelming. But one man, working in his namesake bar in central London, walks this fine line with aplomb – and a sense of humour, to boot.
His name is Oskar Kinberg, and he’s the master mixologist behind the much lauded Oskar’s Bar, a chic but welcoming destination directly under Michelin-starred restaurant Dabbous.
“I wanted a bar where everyone is welcome,” he says of his eponymous gin joint, “that serves great cocktails and food with an upbeat and fun atmosphere.”
Born in Sweden, Oskar didn’t start bartending until he came to London. But once he got his start, he worked his way up quickly, finding a home at London’s infamous Cuckoo Club.
“What I call my ‘uni years’ would have been when I worked at the Cuckoo Club from 2005 to 2011,” he says. “Much like university there were a lot of drinks – but I also learned how to run a business and make tasty drinks.”
Oskar’s talent couldn’t be denied, and by the time he left the Cuckoo Club he had made a name for himself on the London cocktail scene. So it was no surprise to industry insiders when he teamed up with chef Oliver Dabbous, who was opening up a restaurant of his own, and set up a venue to showcase his incredibly creative and original concoctions in the basement bar.
Now Oskar’s bar frequently makes the list of top cocktail bars in the UK, and it’s no surprise. From the warmly Scandi-chic interior to the impressive (and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny) list of cocktails on offer, everything at Oskar’s is designed to strike the balance between accessible and out-of-this-world.
As Oskar explains: “I like my cocktails to be interesting, but not intimidating – tasty and easy to drink, regardless of style.”
A look down the Oskar’s Bar cocktail list is a journey through a wonderful imagination. From the Dillusion (featuring former Craft Gin Club Gin of the Month, Tarquin’s, with dill, elderflower and lemon) to the Another Day in Paradise (gin washed with extra virgin olive oil stirred with bay leaf and Cocchi Vermouth Amaro), there are all sorts of amazing ginny concoctions to try.
And, of course, Oskar has given all of the classics an update of his own. The Negroni is rested in an American oak barrel. And their Martinez? Made with Oskar’s incredible home-made sloe gin.
Like any self-respecting Swede, Oskar also gives classic Scandinavian flavours a chance to shine. Meadowsweet, dill, and even Icelandic ale feature in his wonderful creations – not to mention the world’s best gins. With about 25 gins behind the bar at any one time, the selection process is surprisingly simple.
Oskar explains: “Gins make it onto our list for one of two reasons: they’re tasty or they’re in demand. If a gin doesn’t sell, it gets replaced.”
So how does Oskar come up with such an amazing range of inventive cocktails? “I usually start with one ingredient,” he says, “either a food or an alcohol – and work from there.” Eventually, Oskar decided that he wanted to help home mixologists make the kind of creative, delicious cocktails that he serves in his bar, complete with the more unusual syrups, infusions and ingredients. So he did what any bartender would do: wrote a book!
“I had never written a book before, so I wanted to see if I could. I like a challenge,” he laughs.
Oskar’s Cocktail Cookbook is out now. Give it a read to learn how to make the kind of cocktails you thought only an experienced bartender can make – and see how easy beautiful drinks are to make at home. “The books shows how easy it is to make your own ingredients and use them,” Oskar says. “If you can make tea, you can make all of the drinks in the book just as easily.”
With a new book out and his bar’s fifth birthday just last month, Oskar has a lot to look forward to in 2017. “I’m looking forward to another great year!”
Peas ‘n’ Mint
Handful of pea shoots
1 Mint leaf
15ml Aperitivo Cocchi Americano
15ml lemon juice
15ml lemon verbena tea (available from speciality tea shops or online)
15ml sugar syrup
Pea shoots and a flower, to garnish
Using a muddler – or the end of a rolling pin – crush the pea shoots and mint leaf to release their aroma. Next, shake all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Carefully strain and serve in a cocktail glass. Garnish with pea shoots.