David Ellis On the Sauce at Kwãnt: Beguiling and baffling, but London hasn’t had a bar this radical in years

Farway feel: the bar that dominates the room  (Press handout)
Farway feel: the bar that dominates the room (Press handout)

Before this Kwãnt was the old Kwãnt, folded away under Heddon Street’s Mo Diner, which I tended to approach with trepidation (“beware the chef,” a friend warned, “he’s as mad as a snake”). Getting to that Kwãnt involved tunnels, a cursed stare from an old man, and holding back tears in the face of a fearsome bouncer. It involved, I suppose, an adventure.

I was somewhat nonplussed, then, to find the new one two doors down from a Timpson’s and around the corner from a public loo. Not quite the same.But in its glossy Mayfair shell, somewhere else entirely has been built, a room of yellow boucle chairs and palms in the window, of fans silently moving the air. In front of the enormous steel bar are tables of twos and fours, the table-tops inlaid with chess boards. I couldn’t find the pieces to play, which seemed fitting: the feeling offered here is slightly false, one of being on a film set — though curiously, this set appears to be a first-class airport lounge in a faraway land. Unhappily, this faraway quality also means the food menu lacks a Spoons full English. So it goes.

Erik Lorincz, generally taken to be the world’s best bartender, designs the drinks. They are utterly their own. Such idiosyncrasy offers good and bad. It’s good in a Wallet (bourbon, black miso, barley vermouth, chestnut, salted maple), which tastes familiar and foreign at the same time. The Ryuku (rum, espresso, two types of sherry) sounds usual enough but isn’t, given the addition of awamori syrup, which is made from a mostly-unknown Japanese spirit. I drank puzzled, but delighted.

The bad? Strangeness can be beguiling, but it can irritate too. See The Sea offered gin with langoustine distillate and “sea oil” — not the stuff off tankers that kills seagulls — which left me feeling like I’d licked a lobster pot. Or take the Garden Martini (the usual, plus an evidently unwashed parsnip). Were I asked to choose just one taste of a garden to pop in a drink, soil would not be it.

When four drinks cost 80 quid, it would be preferable that all experiments work. But I can’t quite shake the feeling London hasn’t had a bar this radical in years. Other places mimic each other; if Kwãnt is looking anywhere for inspiration, you suspect it is only in the mirror.

Cocktails from £16.50, 52 Stratton Street, W1J 8LN, @kwantmayfair