If the bar’s name weren’t nailed to the door, Nipperkin could easily be mistaken for a posh Londoner’s home. The intimate 20-seat space, designed in the style of a Victorian-era English manor, is about as cozy as bars come.
Inside, the focus is the bar station, which is built into a wooden island that’s elegantly positioned in the center of the amber-lit room. Plush and patterned banquettes surround the bar, giving guests a clear view of the action, tucked under a lampshade chandelier. It’s all very British, a characteristic that also manifests in Nipperkin’s extraordinary cocktail program, which highlights the seasons with hyperlocal ingredients in the drinks.
True to Nipperkin’s home entertaining–like atmosphere, the bar makes its ever-expanding “flavor library”—an innovative collection of housemade distillates, cordials, tinctures and other clever ingredients—available to its guests. While most bars save these bottlings for behind-the-scenes efforts, at Nipperkin, anything from the kelp distillate (recently featured in the bar’s sweet-savory Martini) to the housemade Norfolk shiso spirit (which has made an appearance in a minimalist spicy Margarita) can be tasted on its own in a flight. The isolated flavors, housed in clay bottles on the shelves lining the bar’s walls, showcase the best of British produce in the most creative of ways.
One of Nipperkin’s most impressive cocktails, which debuted on the bar’s opening menu this past May, is the Fig Leaf, a minimalist take on the Piña Colada made from 100 percent British ingredients. It’s a concept that Angelos Bafas, head of bars at London’s Nipperkin and 20 Berkeley, says came to fruition on an early summer foraging walk. “I asked the team which drink everybody would love to have at the moment, and the Piña Colada was the popular choice,” he says. The idea for the Fig Leaf was born: The bar set out to create “the ultimate British Piña Colada.”
With pineapples and coconuts virtually nonexistent on the not-so-tropical islands that constitute the U.K., Bafas had to look elsewhere to source similar flavors. He dissected the cocktail into three main pillars: rum, creaminess and coconut.
Fig leaf–infused soy milk stands in for cream of coconut in this Piña Colada variation made exclusively with ingredients from the United Kingdom.
“In previous research, we’d figured out how to replicate coconut flavor with fresh fig leaves,” says Bafas, who simply swapped out the typical cream of coconut with a fig leaf–infused soy milk that is gently cooked under sous vide for an hour. The more challenging flavor to replicate, he says, was the pineapple. The team started playing around with pineapple weed (also known as wild chamomile), an herb that is native to Europe and Asia; while not actually related to pineapple, it expresses a similar aroma.
Bafas experimented with various tinctures, infusions, syrups and sodas made with the pineapple weed. In a cordial, he found, “the sugars and acids perfectly replicated the pineapple mouthfeel.” To create the cordial, Bafas mixes pineapple weed with sugar, water and acid powder, then gently cooks the mixture under sous vide until the flavor is concentrated and reminiscent of the fruit.
As he began combining ingredients, basing the cocktail on rum from Two Drifters, an English carbon-negative distillery, he realized that the fig leaf soy milk muddied the drink’s appearance. To maintain Nipperkin’s minimalist aesthetic, Bafas did one final round of tinkering to refine the Fig Leaf’s execution.
After some trial and error with milk clarification, Bafas used an ingredient he dubbed a “sour agent”—a blend of acid powders, sugars and “texture improvers” that replicate egg white’s consistency—to curdle the milk and retain the clarified colada’s creaminess. Altogether, the four components yield one harmonious cocktail that tastes surprisingly tropical, considering that the whole drink derives from an island that’s far from it.
“The cocktail has quickly become a Nipperkin classic, and we are still trying to find a way of preserving ingredients to keep it on the menu for longer,” says Bafas, as he laments the struggles of sourcing the elusive seasonal pineapple weed. “We take pride in saying that our cocktails are grown from these lands, and we really feel that the Fig Leaf cocktail is Nipperkin in a glass.”