Chris Moore Combines Cocktails and French Culture at Coupette
As the latest bar to open in the booming East London suburb of Bethnal Green, Coupette could easily have been lost in the crowd. But its all-star staff line-up and original concept ensured the bar generated a lot of buzz before opening. Now the drinks are finally flowing, we dropped in for a first look.
If America invented the cocktail and England refined it, France supplied them both with a lot of essential ingredients. After all, where would the cocktail canon be without cognac, absinthe, and a whole host of liqueurs and vermouths? Paying tribute to this French connection is the goal of Chris Moore’s new bar, Coupette, which opened in Bethnal Green, East London’s latest cocktail hub, last month.
Coupette bar in London: Putting the team together
Coupette marks Moore’s first outing as bar manager and owner, and his time as head bartender at The Savoy’s Beaufort Bar in London earned him the kind of reputation that virtually guaranteed Coupette would turn heads. Moore also opted to hire an equally well-qualified team, including Bacardi Legacy 2015 winner Franck Dedieu as head bartender, and Dan Schofield, the former head bartender at London’s 69 Colebrooke Row, as assistant manager. With a line-up like that, it’s fair to say Coupette is in more than one safe pair of hands. Sitting up at the bar, watching these three experienced barmen smoothly serving the room, you get the feeling you’re in safe hands, too.
The bar itself takes pride of place in the middle of one wall in Coupette’s single long room. Clearly, putting the spotlight on French drinks begins by shining that spotlight on the bottles behind the bar. Coupette has assembled an impressive collection of French booze, from calvados to Suze, but as in so many bars, the most interesting drinks are the uncommon or homemade ones, like the intense Esprit de Figues, and Bloomsbury Amer, created by Coupette in collaboration with London’s Bloomsbury Distillery.
Coupette’s Coins and Cocktails
But it’s not just about the bottles. The most distinctive visual touch at Coupette – one that’s sure to appear in many an Instagram post – is the old French centime coins which make up the surface of the bar. It’s the perfect embellishment. It’s subtle, (the coins are the copper colour that’s still a fashionable finish for old-timey bars) but it gives the bar a unique texture, not to mention making it the focus of a never-ending quest among customers to find the oldest coin. “I’ve found the 1950s,” one customer called out, two drinks into the evening.
A seat at the bar is the most popular spot in the house, and not just for the coins and alcoholic eye-candy. The bartenders have an easy way of drawing you in to what they’re making, so that even a quick question about one of the cocktails can turn into an impromptu tasting session. And you’re sure to have questions. The trio clearly had fun creating the extensive cocktail menu and sourcing a range of esoteric ingredients, some of which only the most dedicated bartender or Francophile is likely to have sampled.
The bar menu dance with Franck Dedieu
Making a choice from such an interesting and varied menu is a reminder that the interaction between customer and bartender is like a dance – someone has be confident enough to take the lead. Thankfully, Dedieu in particular never hesitates to offer an appropriate drink recommendation, so you won’t stay mired in the menu for long.
Unfortunately, two of Coupette’s signature drinks – the “Apples,” a combination of calvados and house-made sparkling apple juice, and the “Truffled White Negroni,” a further twist on the now-familiar twisted classic, featuring Escubac and seasonal truffles – were unavailable when we visited this London bar. But the “Champagne Pina Colada” was a clear crowd favourite, proving that Tiki is as popular as ever, especially when you add bubbles and coconut sorbet. Dedieu says the need for pineapple in the drink also led to the creation of one of Coupette’s secret weapons. The “Exotic Cordial,” made with pineapple, ginger, and other fruits and spices, is complex and well layered – it’s almost a shame to mix it into a cocktail.
Champagne or cocktails: why not both?
Other inventive drinks include “Champagne is for Squares,” a shared dessert drink featuring champagne sorbet and a sweet brioche tincture. In keeping with the French theme, champagne features prominently throughout the menu, and seemed to be the most popular option apart from cocktails. Coupette also offers a carefully chosen list of French ciders and beers.
Still, a bar like this enjoys blurring the lines between all those drinks. One order which elicited a cheeky smile from Dedieu was the “Malt Sour.” What starts out as a high-end Whisky Sour, featuring a mix of Aberfeldy and Ichiro’s Malt & Grain, takes a turn towards beer with the addition of malt bitters and a topping of Toast, a beer made from leftover bread. The end result is a thick, satisfying cocktail, which is like breakfast in a glass. And the powder garnish on top? “That’s Ovaltine,” Dedieu says with a grin.
The bar’s planned range of French-inspired lunch and dinner food wasn’t quite ready at the time of visiting, but, like the disappearance of those two signature cocktails, that’s a first-week kink which will no doubt be ironed out soon. If the large, laidback crowd was anything to go by, Coupette is already attracting a very understanding clientele.
Coupette couches new ingredients in familiar recipes
Overall, Coupette does an excellent job of balancing commitment to its theme with the need to keep things inviting and accessible for customers. It’s like your old, reliable neighbourhood pub, but with much better drinks. In London, a city filled with world class bars and bartenders, making a menu that stands out can quickly turn into a race toward the least appealing combinations.
Coupette avoids that trap by ensuring there’s something familiar about all their cocktails, be it the structure, the base, or even the flavour. It’s so much more enlightening to experience Coupette’s weird and wonderful French ingredients through the lens of a drink you’ve (almost) had before.