Hotel bar snacks that guests love

The best bar snacks in London. Londons top bars and pubs put as much effort into their bar snacks as they do their drinks

When we are travelling on business or on a family holiday – we look forward to the company but food is what we look forward to most!

The best bar snacks in London. London’s top bars and pubs put as much effort into their bar snacks as they do their drinks

There’s no room for nuts and olives at these hotel bars, where something to nibble on with a cocktail has been elevated to a truly superlative snack

When it comes to hotel bars, London – and the rest of the UK – is not short of high-calibre options. From the Scotch Bar at the Balmoral, to the Artesian at the Langham, these hotel bars and the drinks they turn out are recognised the world over. However, when it comes to the food menu in some bars, it is also fair to say there is perhaps less excitement to be had.

At one end of the scale, there’s the familiar assorted nuts, crackers and olives, which, while welcome, will be disappointing for anyone looking for something more substantial.

At the other end, bowls of chips, mini sliders and croquettes, although undoubtedly more filling, are uninspired and can leave guests feeling heavy and tired.

So when a hotel bar has a more exciting and varied menu, chances are that guests will be more inclined to keep coming back. Indeed, some hotel bars are really doing bar food justice. At the top end, bars such as the Stafford’s American Bar have kept it simple, offering caviar with crumpets along with oysters as an easy way of impressing guests. At a similar level, the team at Claridge’s serves a whole lobster wellington to drinkers in the Fumoir bar.

Perhaps more approachable is Christina’s at the Mondrian, which has built up an avid following for its signature Japanese sandos, made using 72-hour slow-fermented Tokyo milk bread and filled with the likes of egg and mayo, fried chicken and deep-fried mortadella katsu.

More recently, the Seed Library bar from Ryan Chetiyawardana at the new One Hundred Shoreditch hotel serves up chicken hearts as well as playful, homemade potato smiles, the latter served with a delightful cheese sauce dip. There are also rumblings of a new menu being launched at Auchterarder 70 at Glen­eagles, with plentiful bar snacks as part of the gin and craft beer bar’s offering.

But this all begs the question: if it’s important as well as possible to serve great food in hotel bars, why do so many still do it so badly?

Time to think about bar snacks

For starters, it can be an operational issue. “I think it’s because it is always a second thought,” explains Anna Sebastian, former bar manager of the Artesian at the Langham and now turned consultant. “It tends to be food that can be cooked by the main chef team during the day but also the night chefs that cook the in-room dining food. It has to be easy enough to produce during all other services throughout the day and night during busy times.”

There’s also the common theme that bar snacks in hotels are often geared around driving drinks sales, something both Sebastian and Ben Boeynaems, head chef at the Beaumont, believe to be another driving force behind uninspired bar food in hotels.

“I think honestly the majority of operators want the bar snacks to be something salty to encourage more drinkers rather than something that is created for the pure enjoyment of eating,” says Boeynaems. “Thus most bar snacks tend to be very generic and boring.”

Generic and boring are two words you wouldn’t associate with the bar snacks in the Beaumont’s recently relaunched Le Magritte bar. Alongside oysters and caviar served with brown butter waffles, the likes of devilled eggs, French toast, chickpea fries with jalapeño ketchup and corndogs make the offering here memorably fun.

These are also snacks that don’t detract from the drinks turned out by bar manager Antonino Lo Iacono and his team – something that was important for Boeynaems, who says: “The approach was it has to be delicious, exciting, something suitable for sharing, visually attractive and not overpower Antonino’s cocktails.”

Creating a bar snack menu

Aberdeenshire’s Meldrum House has four F&B outlets to contend with. Executive chef Alan Clarke, who joined the hotel in September 2021, has created menus for its new Titan Sky Bar as well as its existing Cave Bar. The menus are based on the theme of land, sea and air, with Titan offering 10 each of meat, fish, veggie and vegan canapés. The haggis bonbon is a star contender for Clarke – although it’s a nightmare to make, involving a pipette for injecting Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve whisky mayonnaise into the middle. Other standouts are the salmon and caviar ballotine and chicken liver parfait choux buns.

What differentiates Clarke’s offering from Boeynaems’ is that the snacks and canapés in Titan Sky Bar are prebooked, allowing him and his team to manage the logistics of running multiple formats of food out of a busy kitchen. “I could tell you now what we have booked in for nibbles and snacks next week,” he says.

In the more informal Cave Bar, guests popping in for a cocktail can order off the menu, where those haggis bonbons are joined by anything from cauliflower bhajis and baked Camembert with black garlic ketchup to smoked haddock with a duck egg in a smoke-filled whisky bottle. And it’s not just savoury snacks: the arrival of a deep-fried Mars bar with Irn Bru ice-cream got tongues wagging. “It’s about being memorable,” says Clarke.

The team also do a lot of food and drink pairings for guests, which is where the question of ‘what comes first: the food or the drinks?’ comes into play. While food is often the primary consideration when it comes to pairings, at Meldrum House, Clarke actually finds that starting with the drinks and then creating the food is a much easier way of working. “Aidan Duguid [the hotel’s bar manager] comes up with the main cocktails he would like to sell, and we match to that,” Clarke explains. “It’s far easier that way around.”

It’s that sense of collaboration which Sebastian feels is missing in a lot of hotel settings, resulting in disjointed and disappointing menus. “I think the bars and kitchens in hotels are quite separate,” she explains. “It isn’t a collaborative effort to create a food and drink menu that has synergy. That needs to change.”

Boeynaems agrees, saying hotel kitchens should “work with the bar team to create a menu that is harmonious and fits the concept”.

Drinks first, food second

So what could the future of hotel bar dining look like? Sebastian thinks that being able to instil a culture where the teams and individuals in the kitchen and behind the bar work together is a way of bringing up the quality of bar food menus with their drink counterparts. “Change the way things are done and bring the bar and kitchen teams together to have a collaborative concept,” she advises.

For Boeynaems – as with Clarke – it’s a case of looking to the drinks first and complementing them with the food. He says: “I think it is very important to take the lead from the drinks concept: the food is there to enhance the whole experience not to overpower or detract from it.”

In six years of being a head chef, Clarke has learned that the individual identity of the space – surroundings, location, clientele – means that replicating something you may have seen elsewhere isn’t the best course of action if you want to have a truly memorable offering. And sometimes, that might even mean compromising on your personal preferences.

“You can’t take ideas from other places, so the best thing to do is send out a social post to ask what people expect from a bar menu. Then make sure you have elements of what people want and elements of what you want. Don’t forget, you’re not cooking for yourself – you’re cooking for your guests.”

Different and delicious: A trio of standout bar snacks

Lobster wellington,the Fumoir, Claridge’s

Perhaps the most iconic hotel bar snack of them all, the lobster wellington at Claridge’s is a thing of beauty and graces the Instagram feeds of many a food writer who has been lucky enough to see one in the flesh. Both elegant and filling, it is the perfect balance of decadence and sustenance. Guests who order it in the hotel’s Fumoir bar, perhaps alongside a fig leaf, olive and white balsamic Martini, are presented with a whole pastry-covered lobster (complete with head and tail) and a side flourish of truffle French fries.

Corndogs and stout mustard, Le Magritte, the Beaumont

Head chef Ben Boeynaems has brought some fun to the menu. Indeed, the concept of the bar – which is influenced by transatlantic early 20th-century glamour and the works of Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte – means its drinks menu features cocktails with serious ingredients but playful presentation. Alongside those cocktails, guests can enjoy Boeynaems’ corndog and stout mustard bar snack – an American nod to the bar concept. It comes as it should: served on a stick. Sitting alongside the bar’s aesthetically pleasing and slick cocktails, it’s a delicious juxtaposition.

Fried merguez filo and whipped feta, Lounge Bar, Gara Rock

The contemporary Gara Rock hotel in Salcombe, Devon, offers clean, modern and approachable food and drink offerings.

Gara Rock’s Lounge Bar has been designed for guests to relax away from the many outdoor activities on offer at the hotel. The food menu – while short – offers simple and on-trend snacks, from Padrón peppers to truffle salami. Its fried merguez (Algerian sausage) filo and whipped feta dish is a standout and gives guests something refreshingly different with their drinks.

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Dan Dunn
Executive Managing editor

Editor and Admin at MarkMeets since Nov 2012. Columnist, reviewer and entertainment writer and oversees all of the section's news, features and interviews. During his career, he has written for numerous magazines.

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