Brighton’s ‘Best New Bar’
Brighton Food Blogger, Eshé, Nov 2016
It had been a long week (although it was only Tuesday) and I couldn’t think of a better way to unwind from it than dressing up and heading out for after work cocktails.
HarBAR, my destination that evening, is one of the newest cocktail bars to hit Brighton’s budding bar scene and I’ve heard much of it, including a recent awarded accolade of ‘Best New Bar’, won at the 2016 Brighton Bartender Awards.
Centrally positioned on the Kings Road, it’s just a stone’s throw from the beach, benefiting it with direct sea views. It’s also part of the new development of the former Umi Hotel site – now know as The Jetty Restaurant and Harbour Hotel & Spa.
Luxury & sophistication down to a tee
A good cocktail bar should have an air of sophistication, comfort and luxury, without feeling overly pretentious. It’s a fine line to walk, but HarBAR has all of these qualities down to a tee. Dolled up in our heels we avoid tottering too far from the entrance. Instead, we perch on high stools up at the smooth, marble top bar and review what the menu has to offer.
Design your own cocktails
We’re introduced to our knowledgeable barman, Simon Robinson, who remains at our service for the whole evening, attentively taking mental notes of the flavours we like and dislike and designing one-off cocktails to suit our tastes from The ‘Dealer’s Choice’ section of the menu.
This design-your-own offering isn’t as pricey as I would have expected at £10 and appeals to me as I’m someone who loves to try new things each time I dine (or drink out).
Plenty to choose from
The cobalt blue drinks menu has two full pages of cocktails to tempt, plus a further three pages filled with wine and spirits. The cocktail offering spans apertivos (starter cocktails), HarBAR specials, old classics (like the Manhattan or a Dark & Stormy) and a handful of after dinner cocktails priced on average at £7-£9.
I need perking up, so I request a “wake me up” cocktail. Simon decides the classic Espresso Martini is the answer and he concocts it in a spectacularly long, thin-stemmed martini glass with Finlandia vodka, Kahlua, espresso and coffee dust. It tastes superb and does exactly what I ask.
Not just your standard spirits
Feeling more alive from my caffeine hit, I chat away to our well-spoken, but personable, barman. In doing so, I discover not all the cocktails are formed from your standard spirits. There’s an impressive sounding Earl Grey Scotch made on the premises, and a peated (smoked) scotch that is about to go into my next festive themed cocktail.
Food urgently in order!
At first, I’m not convinced these cocktails are all that strong, but I quickly realise I’ve made the fatal mistake of underestimating their alcohol content. Food is urgently in order to enable the night to continue at this pace, so we peruse the bar snacks on the menu and order several nibbles to graze on. My companion is vegan but we’re assured that her diet can be accommodated and the vegan-friendly options are pointed out to us.
Hardly a moment has passed before several plates start gliding out to us all at once. First up is the Truffle Popcorn, £3.50 and bread and dips, also £3.50. These would usually come accompanied by taramasalata and tuna mayonnaise dips, but our Vegan option comes with a rich olive tapenade and punchy salsa verde instead – both of which are fabulous, full-flavoured alternatives.
Then there are my three Tempura Prawns, £1.75 each and served with a sweet chilli dip, as well as my guest’s Tempura Vegetables, £3.50. The batter is lovely and light, without a trace of grease – big tick.
Lucky I’ve skipped dinner
I’m not quite finished with the tempura before there’s another two dishes coming over (lucky I’ve skipped my dinner this evening and have plenty of room for all this.) These are an Angel on Horseback (oysters, grilled in bacon), £2,25 each and the Potted Crab, £3.50. The oyster is exquisite, warm, salty and moreish but my palate doesn’t favour the potted crab and after only one mouthful I know it will have to be left.
The perfect ending
We conclude the evening with a glass a mighty fine Chablis, £11.50 which is dry with fruity notes and too easy to drink. It’s the perfect finale to a relaxed and most enjoyable evening. Would I return? Certainly.