The Chinese Bar at Blakes Hotel, South Kensington
The Chinese Bar is concealed within the first luxury boutique hotel in London, Blakes of South Kensington. It is an intimate (tiny) space, themed around ‘the orient’, as imagined perhaps by an elegant Sloane. The colour scheme is orange and charcoal which sounds disastrous but is in fact deeply sumptuous. A monogrammed Louis Vuitton travel trunk sits in the centre of the room, masquerading as a table, which immediately conjures up thoughts of Hollywood sirens. None were around when I visited, just skinny leather clad women purring at their banker boyfriends and elderly Russian men arguing with their wives about investments (probably). It could have been that these well groomed women weren’t wives or girlfriends at all, but mistresses. This secretive, dimly lit bar is exactly the kind of place that the wealthy could conduct illicit affairs in.
The cocktail menu changes regularly but tends to consist of combinations that are unique enough to justify the price (£12.50 excluding service). Most drinks contain Asian ingredients (wokka saki, mandarin puree) combined with western indulgences such as champagne. Go for the jazzed up classics such as the Chinese Mojito (infused with ginger) or the Gin and Tonic (enhanced with elderflower). The illicitness and international feel of the place also make Bond-themed drinks a perfect choice; try a Martini or Vanilla 007. If you work your way through all the complimentary wasabi peas and are still hungry, order a selection of chicken and prawn dim sum.
Meet in the dimly lit hotel reception for small talk before navigating the spiral staircase downstairs together. Whatever you do, sit at the bar. If you sit on the communal seats that face the bar you’ll just end up feeling like audience members. Stay there for one hour, enough time to get through two drinks each. Don’t be presumptuous and book a room at the hotel beforehand, it’s best to use this venue as a first port of call before heading somewhere else (try local bars Bodo Schloss and Eclipse). Ask the hotel lobby to call you a cab, as struggling with google maps along the residential backstreets of South Kensington will murder the glamour of the evening.
If you don’t dress up you will risk feeling out of place. It’s expensive too, so avoid this bar if £70 for a couple of drinks and a fried crustacean sounds too steep.
4. Blakes is a perfectly seductive venue – dark, luxurious and expensive. Best for European traders and film stars.