WLC’s resident sybarite, Lucy Shaw, heads to French-inspired bar Coupette in Bethnal Green for a Champagne-laced Piña Colada and a nostalgic strawberry cocktail with a lickable white chocolate rim.
The concept: Certain memories are attached to certain drinks. For me, calvados will forever remind me of an evening early on in my career as a food and drink writer when a close friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, invited me along to his review of the Tate Modern restaurant. We were in our early twenties and still wide-eyed and greedy, keen to drink life to the lees and wear our hangovers with pride the next day.
Needless to say much wine was imbibed over the course of the evening, and during dessert we were offered a glass of calvados, which we both eagerly accepted. It turned out to be my friend’s undoing. On the way home he disappeared into a side street and emerged a few minutes later looking a ghoulish shade of green with flecks of sick on his tie. It wasn’t a pretty sight.
I can’t think of Calvados without being taken back to that night, and have drunk it just a few times over the last decade, fearful its distinctive apple aroma might bring about a torrent of nausea. But phobias must be overcome and Coupette seemed the perfect place to reacquaint myself with the French apple brandy.
Located in trendy Bethnal Green, Coupette, which opened in 2017, serves sophisticated sips in a laid-back environment. Presiding over the cocktails is Chris Moore, formerly of The Beaufort Bar at The Savoy. His classical cocktail training is evident on the menu, where balance and elegance triumph over wacky serves and garish garnishes.
The décor: Coupette is a neighbourhood bar with a French brasserie feel, with its exposed brickwork, pretty Tiffany lamps and tipsy Tabac sign. The bar is topped with glimmering 10 Franc coins and cocktail memorabilia, from vintage shakers to a well-thumbed copy of The Savoy Cocktail Book, line the shelves.
Among the stranger design quirks is a bronze skull in a bell jar. The lighting is flatteringly low, and on Monday and Wednesdays there’s a guy tinkling the ivories. With the likes of La Mer and As Time Goes By floating through the air, it feels like being in Woody Allen’s rose-tinted version of Paris.
The drinks: Coupette shines a light on French fancies, from Champagne and calvados to poiré de Normandie. Moore’s current menu celebrates summer flavours with a healthy dollop of nostalgia. He’s teamed up with local sign painter Ged Palmer, who created the artwork for the menu.
I began with a Seville Ramos (£9.50), which tips its hat to Andalucía. Made with gin, an orange liqueur made from a blend of three different expressions for added layers of sweet citrus flavour, marmalade, vanilla and unashamedly retro Orangina, the refreshing creamy concoction reminded me of a Snowball cocktail and the guilty pleasures that can be had with a bottle of Advocaat.
The star of the show was the Strawberries & Cream (£9.50). Made from a complex blend of strawberry eau de vie, rosé wine, cream soda and clarified milk, the misty pink drink tastes like liquid strawberry laces and is finished with a painted Milky Bar-like white chocolate rim that’s so temptingly tasty, I licked the coupe clean. Well balanced, skilfully executed, and wonderfully fun, it was one of the most delicious and enjoyable cocktails I’ve had this year.
Signature sips: For those keen to try some of the enduring classics on the menu, it’s worth starting with the Apples (£9) a simple long drink made with Calvados and carbonated pressed apples that change with the seasons. Tart and refreshing, it tastes unmistakably French and evokes nostalgic memories of Appletiser.
No trip to Coupette would be complete without trying its signature sip – the Piña Colada (£11.50), which has been copied the world over. Topped with coconut shavings, Moore has elevated the Caribbean classic with the addition of Champagne and the use of coconut sorbet rather than coconut milk, making the drink lighter and more refreshing than the creamy original.
The food: The standout bar snack is the white bean hummus with truffle oil and smoked paprika, which is made on site each morning. You’ve got to be quick though – we were lucky enough to order the last portion.
Also on offer is a classically French cheese and charcuterie platter, loaded with duck and venison saucisson, aged Comté and creamy Camembert.
Who to know: Look out for the impeccably mannered Patrick behind the bar, who is about to head to Hawksmoor to become a sommelier.
Last word: Coupette is a charming addition to Bethnal Green’s clutch of cocktail bars and has rightly been recognised by the World’s 50 Best Bars and Tales of the Cocktail as one of the capital’s finest. It has a quiet confidence that is hugely appealing, and a cosy atmosphere that makes you want to stay beyond bedtime.
The only disappointment of the evening was that the food offering didn’t live up to the inventiveness and deliciousness of the cocktails. While perfectly serviceable, if a bit boring, it seems like the bar is missing a trick in not serving snacks that are as creative and interesting as the drinks.
Coupette, 423 Bethnal Green Road, London E2 0AN; Tel: +44 (0)20 7729 9562