London’s home-grown rum guru, RumFest founder Ian Burrell, shares his thoughts on his city, Black Tears dry spiced and rum in general—ideal for the armchair traveller.

Born and raised in North London by Jamaican parents, Ian Burrell grew up with rum – as a medicine for cuts, bruises and winter colds, as a cooking ingredient and, ultimately, as punch. He has been promoting the spirit around the UK and beyond for decades, first as a brand ambassador, then as a bar owner, and, for the last 13 years, as founder and promoter of the RumFest London event. Here’s his guide to how to enjoy his home city, once the world returns to normal and travel is back on the menu.

What cocktail bars should we not miss in London?

I prefer bartenders to bars, because they really make the atmosphere. Some of mine are Laki Kane, an exotic rum bar in Upper Street, Islington, Tayer + Elementary, Alex Kratena and Monica Berg’s place, and Trailer Happiness, a perennial Tiki basement bar, just off Portobello Road. If I’m going to go high end, a bar that doesn’t really get mentioned as much as it should is Donovan Bar at Brown’s Hotel. That’s hosted and run by Salvatore Calabrese, who’s still one of the best hosts in the spirits industry when it comes to making your customers feel like a million dollars.

Where do off-duty bartenders go drinking once they finish their shift?

There’s a place in Soho, El Camion, where Dick Bradsell used to work, and a lot of bartenders go to drink in the downstairs bar, Pink Chihuahua.

What’s a cool live music venue?

One of my favourite live places is Jazz Café in Camden Town. London is such a multicultural melting pot and Jazz Café has been going for many years and continues bringing the latest singers and creating a really great musical vibe.

Where can you find the best selection of ingredients in London?

I’m very fortunate to live in an area that’s very mixed and diverse. I can get Caribbean produce, Asian produce and Mediterranean produce quite easily. Local markets and local high streets in the suburbs are great, like Dalston market or Stroud Green Road in Finsbury Park. They cater for a multicultural audience so you can get bespoke things there.

Where should we go for coffee and why?

If you’re looking for a good coffee and to people watch, Shoreditch seems to be the place. But Soho’s still a popular place to sit down and get a coffee and watch the world go by. Bar Italia on Frith Street is a great place.

What’s the best place for Caribbean food in London?

Besides my house? The best place that ticks all the boxes would be somewhere like Tracks & Records near Liverpool Street, which is part-owned by sprinter Usain Bolt. They have the best Jamaican rum selection (I created their rum menu) and one of the top Caribbean chefs, Colin Brown, manages the place.

What city market should we not miss?

Brick Lane Market on Sundays has everything, people selling all types of stuff. There’s always something that you need, even if you’re going there not expecting to spend any money. There’s something there for everybody.

Where is the best place for street eats?

One of my favourite places is Dinerama down in Shoreditch. There are lots of street food-y places all under one roof, so you get a selection. It’s almost like a supermarket for street food.

What’s an activity that we should see in your city?

There are a lot of football teams in London, so catch a football match – Chelsea, Arsenal, West Ham. Or you could go and see a cheaper team a bit lower like the league, something like Leyton Orient.

Tell us a secret place in your city that we can’t miss.

There’s Secret Cinema. The shows pop up, you can sit down, have a glass of wine, eat a meal and watch a movie with friends.


Burrell has championed Black Tears since it launched in May 2019. “When people who drink spiced rums think of spiced rums, they usually think of a spicy sweet product they mix with their favourite mixer and that’s it,” Burrell says. “Black Tears is different. It’s Cuban. It’s not sweet. It’s fairly dry, so it’s great for bartenders to use in styles of cocktails where you have the ability to sweeten the cocktail or leave it dry.”

His cocktail is named for Maria Soto Robbins, a Cuban artist based in Florida, and inspired by her still life painting, Cuban Coffee and Lime. Coffee is one of Black Tears’ key spice ingredients, while lime forms part of the rum trinity.

Maria Soto Robbins

50ml Black Tears Spiced Rum
25ml Fresh Lime Juice
12.5ml Sugar syrup.
3 dashes of chocolate bitters
3 dashes of Angostura Orange bitters

Shake all the ingredients and double strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the oils from a twist of orange peel, and 3 lightly flamed coffee beans.

We may be confined to our homes right now, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop dreaming of travel.

Theodora Sutcliffe

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