Most of us measure our day by how much we can do and how quickly we can do it, so there’s something exceptional about an experience that makes you want to slow down and enjoy every bite of what you eat, every aroma you smell or, particularly in this case, every sip you drink. The Omakase Bar at The Aubrey, within London’s Mandarin Oriental hotel, is one such experience, a lesson in appreciation for the lucky six people who can sit around its table. 

Bottles of alcohol and bitters at The Omakase Bar cocktail experience at The Aubrey, London
Some of the spirits from around the world and housemade bitters on offer at The Omakase Bar at The Aubrey. Photography by Steven Joyce 

The first appointment-only bar in the UK (and certainly one of our favourite summer cocktail bars), The Omakase Bar is located in a secluded side room within The Aubrey restaurant. To get there, you must descend the stairs to the Mandarin Oriental’s lower level, pass through the sumptuous red interiors of The Aubrey, and find yourself inside an intimate, dimly lit enclave with every surface of the wood-panelled walls covered in gilded-framed paintings.

In the middle of the room is the horseshoe bar with just enough room for six people to sit around and an array of luminous liquors with unfamiliar labels lined up behind it. ’Omakase’ translates from Japanese as ‘I leave it up to you’ and usually refers to a dining experience where the chef decides what you will be served. In this case, it means that the six cocktails served during the two-hour experience are crafted by bar director Pietro Rizzo according to his reading of your individual tastes and the atmosphere of the evening.

Clear cocktail in a glass with a green leaf

Describing the evening, Rizzo says, ‘a beverage-driven omakase experience has never really been developed before, but we thought London was a perfect capital to launch such a unique concept. People here are ready to receive an experience where they don’t have to choose; we often need to make decisions in our lives, [but] in The Omakase Bar you feel you can trust your bartender.’ 

The experience is like cocktail jazz, with Rizzo and fellow bartender Sara Cassano reading the room and improvising creations as they go. Using an array of rare and valuable liquors predominantly from Japan, the pair use a limited combination of ingredients to create innovative cocktails. On the evening Wallpaper* visited, we were served drinks including a combination cherry blossom liquor and The Aubrey’s own brand of champagne, that tasted like the fragrant water of distilled petals. 

Bar director Pietro Rizzo, who leads the cocktail experience at The Omakase Bar
Bar director Pietro Rizzo

Another drink was an upscaled interpretation of a Chūhai, a Japanese canned drink that combines shochu liquor with soda water. Shochu can be made from anything from sweet potato to barley and brown sugar and although it is highly popular in parts of Asia, it is relatively unknown in Europe.

The wonder of shochu, and its potential to be the next big liquor outside Asia, was just one of many things we learned during our omakase evening, as we sipped Rizzo’s blend of rice shochu with sakura vermouth, a touch of violet liqueur and a homemade soda kept in an antique crystal decanter. Yet most impressive of the evening’s offerings was a twist on the Adonis cocktail, which blended sake with an extraordinary tomato liquor and umami bitters to create a drink that was delicate, savoury and deliciously peculiar.

Food on a plate
An example of the small bites served alongside The Omakase Bar’s cocktail offerings

The drinks take precedence at The Omakase Bar but an impressive selection of light finger food, such as lime yellowtail sashimi or Wagyu beef sushi, is served alongside them. All together it makes for an extraordinary parade of flavours, both familiar and strange, that will surprise and delight even the most jaded palettes. §