One of Peyton and Byrne's many cultural spin-offs, The Shenkman Bar keeps those with artistic interests well watered at the RA.
You don't get many better approaches to a bar than here, where the magnificent courtyard of the RA banks back beautifully from Regent Street. The only problem is that The Shenkman Bar is a bit of a bugger to find, with Tracey Emin's neon squiggle denoting the entrance with about as much clarity as her art. The restaurant (Keeper’s House - very nice) sits to the left, and although the bar (to the right) does feel a bit like an afterthought (far fewer fineries), it's perfectly pleasant, making good use of its little box with a busy bar and plenty of comfy banquette seating. Beware, though, the door to the courtyard. Sitting there can get just a tad nippy when those partial to a fag or two pop outside for a puff.
In keeping with the setting, you can expect more than a few well-heeled arty sorts (plenty of those thin rimmed, round specs). You might also see the odd famous face too (Anneka Rice! The faint whiff of wet dreams recalled). Most visiting are probably popping in for a pre-prandial but some are grabbing bites and a bottle with a view to a stay, too. The seat by that door can grate but on the whole, things are swell: staff know their stuff and are happy to improvise when it comes to drinks. They're also very courteous, which is nice.
It’s bar bites basically, but bar bites as good as you would expect from Mr Peyton et al. Salty cobnuts (£4.50) are suitably salty - and nutty, to be fair. Arancini (£5.50) is lovely and lemony, with a good bit of crunch, too. A roast beef bap (£7.50) is beautifully rare, with a steamed white roll generously slicked with punchy horseradish.
Cocktails might take a little while to come but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – par for the course, even, when those fashionable sorts are knocking up intricate concoctions that they clearly care about. The quality is high, too, and even though the emphasis on the seasonal means ingredients might not always be available, bar staff are dab hands at replacing one barely believable ingredient with another. A rosehip, rose, mescal, dry sherry, blueberry, carrot and black sea salt creation (£11.50) shows just how off the wall things can get, but there’s a common theme throughout: everything’s really well balanced and hands are hardly shy when it comes to a pour - nice and boozy.
The Last Word
This small spot is a great shout if you’re hitting either the RA or the really rather marvellous Keeper’s House. However, there’s enough to those very fine tipples to make it worth hunting out too, especially for those fond of impeccably crafted cocktails. And still-hot TV personalities from the ‘80s, of course.