If you’re one of those people who feel guilty in the lap of luxury, look away now.
A visit to Mayfair’s preposterously swanky Cartizze Bar, a “luxury Bellini and cocktail destination”, feels like an uncensored behind-the-scenes insight into the top 1%.
Yes, the menu could easily double-up as a manifesto for unfettered turbo-capitalism. And the staff look like extras from Made in Chelsea. But Cartizze is very impressive. They’ve created some serious cocktails that deserve to be experienced.
Hidden within the cobblestone enclave of Lancaster Court, Mayfair’s twee medieval backstreet quarter, Cartizze instantly gives off an impression of understatement – no bad thing in this part of London. Promisingly, each small detail inside Cartizze oozes with a sly genius: the decor, the music, the lighting, it’s all spot on. From the tiniest trinket to the centre-piece ‘snack’ plates – even the complimentary peanuts are doused in truffle oil – every artefact plays a small but significant cameo in the concerto of Cartizze, conspiring to make you feel as though you’ve entered the realm of millionaire playboydom but without the grotesque ego. Unlike so many of these aspirational hideouts, the bravado within is justified.
Our first and most pressing order is for the Olive Oil Gin Fizz, bestowed with special distinction as Cartizze’s signature cocktail. Judging solely by taste, it’s one of the most subtle cocktails I’ve tried, but it’s the texture – at once frothy and silky – that intrigues. Miraculously avoiding any trace of greasiness, brought to life by a twist of lemon, Cartizze’s marquee creation is diabolically drinkable and irresistibly appetising. An unqualified triumph: if you find yourself at Cartizze, order the Olive Oil Gin Fizz before you do anything else.
Beyond the Olive Oil Gin Fizz, there’s a formidable phalanx of traditional cocktails which routinely make us flinch with amazement. There’s the Sgroppino, improbably crowned with a Limoncello sorbet which floats daintily across its surface; the Amor y Amargo, a saccharine waltz of Amaretto, apricot liqueur and vanilla sugar; and the traditional Bellini, where peach nectar embraces the sharp fizz of prosecco. Each one is distinct, each one is worthy of sustained attention. This is a cocktail selection which refuses to deviate from excellence.
There’s also an apertivo menu. Don’t be fooled by the prices: these are very much snacks, and unless you’ve got three figures agitating to escape your pockets I wouldn’t arrive here any further down the path of hunger than ‘peckish’. Figs wrapped in San Daniele ham, soaked in truffle honey and served with roquette are good enough to swoon over, taking you through several blends of sweetness but leaving behind a savoury, umami aftertaste. Each one is delicious, disappearing off the plate almost as soon as they’ve arrived. It’s a masterful demonstration of what contrasting flavours can do, achieving the remarkable feat of justifying its initially eyebrow-raising price of £9.
Scallops from the Orkney Isles are dressed in smoked pancetta and placed within the ever-popular brioche bap are nice enough, but the scallops are overpowered by other busier flavours, a shame given their tenderness. They arrive in possibly the artiest way I’ve ever seen a snack grace a dining table: the row of buns are perched along a slab of granite balanced over a row of candles to keep the food warm, all on a large melon-sized boulder delivered by our heroic waitress. Tuna tartare, while offering less fanfare, is a colourful turmoil of sharp flavours, and the candied chilli it’s served with is a nice touch. The dishes are diverse, but united in the sense that they are all light, well-presented and effortless to eat: in other words, this is as ideal a snacking ensemble for an evening of drinking as you’re ever likely to encounter.
I want to dislike Cartizze. I want to dislike like its über-privileged Mayfair setting, its unashamedly premium pricing, its one-way tinted windows allowing patrons to peer outside without being seen. But I can’t. As much as Cartizze is a barely-suppressed guffaw at the credit crunch, a belly-laugh at the mere idea of a recession, it undeniably achieves so many of the criteria necessary in the creation of an atmospheric drinking den. All the small details are in place. From the well-selected assortment of pre-war swing classics and post-war soul sensations on the stereo – you’re not going to have to tolerate Bruno Mars in here – to the wickedly well-choreographed apertivos, it’s not difficult to discern the obsessive devotion to quality running right through the place.
It’s a 21st century let-them-eat-truffle-oil, but if you can handle the eye-watering opulence there is an excellent night to be had at Cartizze. And, as long as it doesn’t inspire you to start canvassing for the Tories or shoot grouse at the weekends, you don’t have to feel guilty about the luxury either.
words Chris Zacharia