Just Oriental Bar and Oriental Brasserie, London

Jasmine in the air, kumquats in the Caipirinhas, and a hundred ways with Lapsang Souchong -- Richard Johnson enjoys a taste of China in the middle of London
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I remember an austere bartender in Cardiff once poured me a Tiananmen. I had never heard of the cocktail, and laughed ­ mockingly. "What, like the Square?" I asked. "Yes," he replied, without a hint of a smile. "This drink is dedicated to the victims of the massacre on the Place of Heavenly Peace in Beijing on 3 June, 1989." I didn't bother him for the complimentary bar nuts, and just crept back to my table.

I remember an austere bartender in Cardiff once poured me a Tiananmen. I had never heard of the cocktail, and laughed ­ mockingly. "What, like the Square?" I asked. "Yes," he replied, without a hint of a smile. "This drink is dedicated to the victims of the massacre on the Place of Heavenly Peace in Beijing on 3 June, 1989." I didn't bother him for the complimentary bar nuts, and just crept back to my table.

The Tiananmen was the first Chinese cocktail I had ever had. It was blood red. And it left a sickly taste in my mouth. I think it was probably the guilt. Or, possibly, the insipid mix of Grand Marnier and Galliano. But China has never been a country I associate with rockin' good times. Cocktails are, after all, counter-revolutionary. So I was intrigued to visit the bar at London's Just Oriental.

I was expecting an uninviting, strip-lit basement serving only jack-fruit smoothies. But what I got was a delightful oasis of scalloped seats and oriental rugs, with the smell of jasmine in the air. And a cocktail list that would delight the most anti-democratic running dog of capitalism.

Our attentive team of waiters told us how nightlife in Beijing regularly begins with the tea-cocktail hour ­ that's tea for propriety, and cocktails for pep. The "hour" ends any time after 2am. Just Oriental has honoured the idea by shaking Jack Daniels with chilled Lapsang Souchong to make a Lynchburg Iced Tea. Luk Yu, a Tang dynasty Master of Tea, wrote that Lapsang is best sipped "in the company of sweet and beautiful maidens in a pavilion by a water-lily pond or near a lacquered bridge". But, at a push, table four will give you a nice view of the fish tank.

I decided to move on to the Kumquat Caipirinha. Kumquats are a fruit native to China. People flock to the foothills to gather the little beggars when they're in season. But in Britain, our kumquats come from America ­ Dade City, Florida, to be specific, which holds its own annual kumquat festival. Dade was the town in which Jim Morrison was once arrested for flashing his particulars. But then the fleshy, thick, tightly clinging peel of the kumquat, with its scant pulp, has been known to turn a man's mind.

I never expect a lot from Chinese food. My low expectations date back to my last visit to Beijing, where my hotel offered "Salad (the firm's own make); limpid red beet soup with cheesy dumplings in the form of a finger; and beef rashers beaten up in the country people's fashion. All good quality! All good price!" The Just Oriental dim sum ­ which I paired with a rack of four-spice-infused vodkas ­ went some way to erasing that memory. But if I concentrate hard enough I can still taste those cheesy dumplings in the form of a finger. E

Just Oriental Bar and Oriental Brasserie, 19 King Street, London SW1 (020-7930 9292).

You can e-mail Richard Johnson at drinkwithrichardjohnson@yahoo.co.uk

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