Following the reopening of UK hospitality venues, The Churchill Bar & Terrace on Portman Square, the award-winning bar at Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill, unveiled its World of Wanderlust concept menu inspired by the bar team’s own unforgettable travel experiences.

After a year of being predominantly grounded in the UK – and the bar permitted to open for limited periods of time only – the new menu is both a celebration of London reopening and an inspiration for travellers seeking out their next oversees adventure. From gliding over the Himalayas and drifting through remote waterways, to observing one of the natural wonders of the world, the new menu aims to transport guests across the globe, encouraging their own travel memories to resurface and inspire new destinations to add to their travel bucket list.

The interactive, digital menu offers an immersive experience as guests can travel around the globe with the swipe of a finger. Guests can guide the plane across the screen, flying over continents, before landing in their ideal destination and discovering more about their chosen cocktail, including its ingredients and what inspired its flavours.

We recently sat down with Bar Manger Nelson Bernardes to find out about the bar’s reopening, the inspiration behind the new cocktail list and his hopes for the future of the hospitality industry.

Could I start by asking how reopening has been for the bar team at The Churchill Bar & Terrace?

The pent-up demand for socialising away from home has been very strong and the positive response we’ve seen in the first few weeks since reopening post-lockdown gives cause for optimism for the future.

As well as welcoming back our regular guests, we have noticed many new faces since reopening, some of whom may be regular clients from other bars that were closed for longer. We’ve also seen a slightly younger demographic – which may be down to different age groups feeling more comfortable in getting back out quicker.

The Haunted City cocktail

The first few weeks post-lockdown also saw the launch of our new World of Wanderlust craft cocktail menu, timed with the reopening of our luxe indoor bar. We took advantage of the time during lockdown to experiment behind the scenes, innovate and design a new cocktail menu that was inspired by our mixologists’ own unforgettable travel experiences at a time when travel had all but ground to a halt. The new cocktail menu shares our personal travel experiences, encourages wanderlust to reignite and allows guests to venture across the globe through each sip.

What inspired the new World of Wanderlust menu?

The global pandemic naturally changed the travel landscape drastically and rapidly. Lockdown saw international travel come to a halt, while our mixologists were all in London. We are an international team and the situation the world faced led us – like so many around the world – to reminisce and think back to our favourite travel experiences back when borders were open. We combined personal experiential travel memories with what we do best: mixology. We also created an interactive menu where you can travel to far-flung destinations with the swipe of a finger, guiding Pilot Churchill and his plane across the screen and over continents to land and learn more about each cocktail, its ingredients and destination inspiration. We wanted guests to feel the same sense of fun and playfulness while experiencing each cocktail as we had in creating the menu.

High Altitude served at The Churchill Bar & Terrace

How did you go about using the team’s travel experiences to create the cocktails?

We focused on the personal, the meaningful and the memorable – each cocktail relates to a particular travel experience, not just a country or destination. This is why you’ll find cocktails on the menu that are inspired by everything from the high-octane and adrenaline inducing, like gliding over the Himalayas, to the simple rusticity of a beach bonfire with friends on a Greek island.

For the former, we crafted the cocktail High Altitude. To recreate the sense of altitude, we serve the tequila-based drink in an encapsulated smoke cloud to evoke the feeling of soaring through the clouds between mountaintops. The mellowness of the tequila and sherry is complemented by the fiery tastes of paprika and cardamom, topped off with a salt and smoked paprika rimmed glass.

To capture the carefree pleasure of a beach bonfire under the stars on Mirtos Beach in Greece we designed Cephalonia, a twist on the classic Mai Tai cocktail. It uses Greek brandy Metaxa washed with olive oil by our mixologists in-house, orange liqueur and our homemade marzipan syrup, served in a ceramic cup to theatrically reveal wispy smoke that recalls a beach bonfire.

The Cephalonia cocktail is twist on the classic Mai Tai

Which of the cocktails reflects your own travel experiences?

The long, gin-based cocktail Air Safari was inspired by a once in a lifetime trip that I did to Masai Mara on a day-long safari, with a hot air balloon ride at sunrise floating above the vast plains – it was absolutely magical and a memory I’ll treasure forever. During my childhood, I lived in Mozambique for a couple of years and will always remember the ubiquitous image of cornfields, which I drew on when combining the ingredients for this drink. The use of almond milk and tonka beans creates a smooth, nutty taste; the cocktail uses corn liqueur and is garnished with lemon zest and a mini-toasted corn. The cocktails uses Elephant Gin as base – for every bottle we use, 15% of profits are donated to charities dedicated to the conservation of the African elephant.

What techniques are employed to create the cocktails? 

All of the cocktails from the World of Wanderlust menu have some sort of homemade ingredient that requires preparation in our lab, from syrups to infused spirits. For example, in our Cephalonia cocktail, we blend oil with the Metaxa brandy to break the molecules. We then freeze this mix for 48 hours, when the oil will then float as a frozen layer, which we remove and strain.

Are there any cocktails on the new menu that stand out for you?

Recently, I came across smoked paprika, which was something that caught my attention and had to buy to have it at home. We’re using it in the cocktail High Altitude. Inspired by the experience of gliding in the Himalayas, we make our own paprika cordial and also use it mixed with salt on the rim of the glass.

The gin-based cocktail Air Safari was inspired by a once in a lifetime trip Benardes took to the Masai Mara on a day-long safari, with a hot air balloon ride at sunrise

How has the World of Wanderlust concept been received so far?

With borders for the most part remaining closed or restricted, travel remains at the forefront of everyone’s minds so we’ve seen a very positive response to our travel-inspired cocktail menu, where guests are keen to travel vicariously any way they can. Guests are curious and ask questions about the ingredients they may be less familiar with and about the flavour profiles, which our mixologists are always on hand to explain.

Aurora, a long and refreshing drink, is currently the most popular cocktail on the menu. Inspired by icy landscapes and the colourful hues of one of the most mesmerizing displays of nature in the world, Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights, the vodka-based cocktail echoes one of the most famous bucket list travel experiences in the world in the far reaches of Iceland. Made with homemade blueberry syrup, blue curacao, and lychee juice, it is served with an LED coaster to project light through the glass.

What else has the bar team been working on since reopening?

Our focus has been the launch of the World of Wanderlust cocktail menu, however we’ve also revamped our craft cocktail selection for Churchill’s Cocktail Brunch, available on Saturdays and Sundays, to suit the warmer, sunnier days we’re now starting to enjoy.

Thousand Islands is made using zacapa rum, dubonnet, cacao husk brew and Benedictine

How has your role evolved over the last 18 months?

My role has been heavily dependent on whether the bar has been allowed to operate or not. Naturally more time has been time spent on ensuring that all colleagues are up to speed on the latest health & safety protocols – we’ve had to adapt quickly on a daily basis and continual change is the norm. I’ve been much more present on the floor to support my team, making sure that all the guests have a wonderful experience, though by and large guests have been very understanding and tolerant of changes they might have experienced through changes to protocols, like viewing menus via QR code.

I think that overall the operational changes brought about by the pandemic have prompted an even closer collaboration between colleagues, so it’s been a very positive experience to have worked closely with all departments at Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill, where The Churchill Bar & Terrace is based.

Aurora, a long and refreshing drink, is currently the most popular cocktail on the menu

During the last 18 months, while being closed, I’ve also looked for the silver linings: I have had more time for personal development and growth, and along with the rest of the team, I’ve had more time to ideate and experiment behind the scenes.

Looking forward, what are your hopes for the hospitality industry?

I’m optimistic – people are fundamentally social and I believe the desire to connect with friends, colleagues and family is unwavering. Without being able to travel abroad easily, now more than ever people are understandably seeking out alternative opportunities to have fun, relax and socialise in other ways, like by visiting bars and restaurants, which stands us in good stead as an industry.

As has been widely documented in mainstream media, the hospitality industry at large is facing some challenges when it comes to recruitment and staffing, so this is one key issue where I do see some hurdles for the industry that still need to be overcome and I truly hope this situation can be turned around.

Words: Jenna Campbell
Photography: Courtesy of The Churchill Bar & Terrace