Peg + Patriot, Bethnal Green

Type of Bar: Hotel, Experimental
Damage££
Ideal for: Date, Small Groups, Originality

First, let’s deal with the first thing you see upon entering the Town Hall.

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Alright then, turn right after that into the Peg + Patriot, barely a fortnight old. The décor, simple, dimly lit and unabashedly minimalist leaves the bartenders at centre stage (with all their own homemade spirits!) for the patrons to observe.

Experimental bartender, Matt Whiley, is bringing his skills from his last venture as the pop up-then-permanent Talented Mr. Fox at One Leicester St. to his own bar here at the Town Hall, and does so with spectacular new developments in style.

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By which I mean, the menu. I was thrilled by the look of it; it is so different from the previous bars he has been associated with. There is a confidence to it that is so refreshing. My main concern with the previous menus was each drink trying to accomplish too much, too fast – I doubt they were being obnoxious, as much as trying to be novel – which they were. But the new menu seems to have evolved to be more self-aware, relying on either one powerful flavour, or two subtler ones to work together instead of trying to constantly outdo itself and the drinker.

Nonetheless, each drink was a surprise, and one never really gets what they expect. This can be for better or worse, depending on the drink. Let’s review the best first.

The Pho Money Pho Problems is exquisite – Pho spirit and lime, with pak choi and lime leaf as aromatics provides an excellent, almost gimlet like drink. Strong, potent, in both content and flavour. The spices all come through, coriander, ginger, chilli, it summarised my entire experience with Mr. Whiley: wondering if I was hallucinating the meat or not. Wonderfully smooth and savoury, a definite try.

Another hit was the Rice Rice Baby, roasted rice ice cream liqueur in sparkling Cocchi Brut. Exactly what it says on the tin. The flavour of the roasted rice and… is that hazelnut?… grows stronger further down the drink, but rarely tiresome. Not a complex drink, but a satisfying one.

 

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Left to Right: D. Groner; Rice Rice Baby; Barley Legal

But then, there are some questions to be raised.

What made the D. Groner (Cognac, bitters, salt beef beigel and lime) interesting was first, the mustard leaf on the nose, then the incredible beefy coating of the mouthfeel. Otherwise though, I’m afraid the drink was mostly, well, cognac. Nonetheless, the cognac was satisfying, but in the end, it was the mouthfeel that made it unique and essentially, not just a glass of cognac. I guess I expected a bit more since the beef really came through in the Talented Mr. Fox’s Peasant’s Breakfast.

There was a similar opinion of the Batanga: Blanco Tequila, Chinato Cola Vermouth, lime, cherry salt rim. The rim was far too salty to make the most of the cherry – and the tequila’s dilution made it almost unnecessary compared to reason why there is a salt rim on a margarita. The tequila itself is wonderful, but like the D. Groner, it feels like diluted tequila. Here is a drink with great potential, but didn’t live up to it – this time.

Finally, the 142nd + Lenox. I need someone to explain this to me because it went right over my head. Moonshine Kid White Ape (Sweetcorn and cornflakes distillate), peach shrub, egg white and a few drops of coal oil. Primarily cornflakes on the nose, the flavour is all peach and the coal oil is essentially, well, bitter drops of coal. I felt like this was an example of the previous ventures’ hubris. Okay, hubris is a strong word, but I’m still lost on exactly what this drink is trying to accomplish.

 

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Left to Right: Pho Money Pho Problems; Batanga; 142nd + Lenox

All that said, I am still expecting to return and try out the Riot Cup Number One: White port, o’Clock Sugar (the sugar distilled from Pimms), cucumber phosphate (the acidity from cucumbers), ginger ale; and the Rye Your Eyes Mate (mustard maple herbs liqueur?), though it sounds like it’s attempting too much. The Vesgroni is also on my list, though I’m expecting a viscous Negroni.

So, I suppose, yes, there is still obnoxiousness to the ingredients on the menu (then again, how different is that to being 19 and asking what Fernet Branca is? It’s fun to feel young again,), but service is less so, and servers are happy to explain it to you as long as they’re in a good mood (“Could you tell us more about the coal oil?” – “It’s coal.” – “Oh. Okay.”) Otherwise, service is rather decent.

 

In short? One can’t take away Mr. Whiley’s striving for originality, even if it makes the ingredients exhausting to keep asking details for. The good news is to see a certain amount of restraint and confidence in the menu’s construction, creating one that stands stronger to the previous. A definite amount of props has to be given to the use of homemade spirits, and excited to see what their future with shots is going to bring – I imagine each shot to hopefully come with aromatic pairings.

Peg + Patriot might have a mixed review, but it certainly makes for an excellent day out trying each one and discovering something new, even if it is just cognac with unique mouthfeel, or as much as pho as a cocktail (still in love). I look forward to returning to try out more of the menu.

Drinks: **** (Caveat emptor, come with an open mind)
Atmosphere: ***
Service: ***

 

Peg + Patriot, Town Hall Hotel,

Patriot Square,
Bethnal Green,
London, E2 9NF

http://www.pegandpatriot.com

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Street Feast, Dalston Yard

Okay, quick article about the next Street Feast at Dalston Yard – a weekend night market that’s free entry 5-7PM (3 pounds after), that offers the best of London’s street food, pop ups, vans and trucks. Each weekend provides different traders with a few permanent bar joints.
Unlike the Winter 2013-14 Street Feast Hawker House, this venue is outdoors and rarely covered up, so bring your jumper and brolly! Huddle around the fire if it gets chilly, or make most of the sun. Although it makes more a less claustrophobic and more sociable atmosphere.

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Here’s a quick run-down of some of the traders we sampled:

Bleecker St. Burger has been around the street circuit for a while now – with good reason. Going off menu for Angry Mixed Fries was a good idea, potato and sweet potato fries with hot and blue cheese sauce was excellent – I barely noticed when I had finished my box, ended up stealing my friend’s to take home later.

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Le Bun broke in with the spectacular Le Bourguignon Bun: Bourguignon glazed slow roast beef short rib, bacon salt, truffle mayo, house slaw in toasted brioche bun. To die for – but, bit too salty, so keep water on hand. On that note, do not spend 2 pounds on water at the Rotary Bar (besides that tasteless Old Fashioned from last time), instead, head to the Gin Store for tap water and a gin cocktail. With an excellent number of gins to choose from, and wonderful gin flights, the Gin Store also serves up a a mean Floradora 

(gin, lime juice, shaken raspberries, ginger and fizzy water) for 8 quid.

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Finally, ending at Sorbitium Ices as expected! Sour Cherry and Almond ice cream being wonderfully subtle with the occasional burst of tartness, followed by the the sweet and malty dryness of Malt and Chocolate. Was less of a fan of the Spiced Rose and Mastic for being a bit more fragrant than it should have been, but if Rose and Prosecco sorbet is available, go for it! Some old school reliables like Sea Salt Caramel also available, with sauces like bourbon butterscotch (YES).

Major Shout outs to the Kamm and Sons’ KammShed for ginseng cocktails with a Brit-theme, Engine Hot Dogs and the ever-loved Kimchinary for teaching a friend that Korean and Burritos can work!

If anything, my one issue was failing to find coffee anywhere (Where are you, Kalopsia?!) – but luckily, next door you can find peace from the crowd at the Dalston Curve Garden Cafe with a large cafetiere for 4 quid – ending our day wonderfully.

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Street Feast will show up to Lewisham for 15 weeks on 20th June.

Street Feast,
http://www.streetfeastlondon.com/
Twitter: @StreetFeastLDN

Shaker & Company, Warren Street

Type of Bar: Local
Damage££
Ideal for: Food, Date, Small Groups, Large Groups

Warren Street doesn’t usually come to mind where cocktailing is concerned (unless you count Goodge Street just South), but right next to one of our favourite Mexican restaurant/bars Mestizo; Shaker and Co. suddenly sprung up.

It’s not easy running a cocktail bar round here, so I’m glad to see introduction of the Monday Cocktail Cinema Club, with movies of various eras and genres coming with 20 pounds for 2 pizzas and 2 cocktails. Pretty good deal if you ask me.

Décor upstairs is simple, wood tables and chairs, leather couch lining the walls. The beautiful and immense bar framed by a stag head is easy on the eyes though. The basement changes form now and again, once being a monastery, currently in a Belle Époque phase, comfortable for the cinema club. The basement can also be hired for a private venue for larger groups.

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As for the drinks, this is a mixed bag. The cocktail list at first glance didn’t quite grab me. Quite of a few of the cocktails try to do more than they should – this isn’t saying there are no good drinks. Our first drink was nameless, limited and running for a short time only: rum, maraschino and gunpowder earl grey liqueur concoction – which was wonderful in its simplicity. Smoky, layered and slightly tart with lemon juice. It knew what it was there to do, and accomplished it. Very satisfying.

The Irish Blood, English Heart came with Irish whiskey, spiced port reduction, Benedictine, blood cherry liqueur, and mandarin bitters. Though sweet, it formed a neat dry drink. Not as fascinating as it sounds, but a good drink, over all.

I ended with the Gentleman’s Recline. Cigar infused Glenfiddich 12, stirred with Byrrh, Calvados, spiced port reduction, and liquorice bitters on ice. This drink, sadly, was a complete disappointment. Sometimes the calvados might sneak through, but otherwise was just a very orange-citrusy Old Fashioned. At 9.50, I felt a bit cheated.

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What you can turn to, instead, is the wonderfully affordable and delightful food. I wish the drinks were more like the food and didn’t try so hard. I highly suggest the sweet potato wedges for snacks. The main focus: the pizzas, are excellent, as well as the smaller pizzettes. Cheese and charcuterie boards also available.

Shaker and Co. earns a decent score in great service and good food, but house cocktails can be hit and miss, primarily for usually having one more ingredient than necessary, or attempting to be too complex. Still, the right choice can make a difference. For their event nights, it’s certainly a fun stop and a great local if you live in the area.

Drinks: ***
Atmosphere: ***
Service: ****


Shaker and Company

119 Hampstead Rd,
London NW1 3EE

www.shakerandcompany.co.uk/

Satan’s Whiskers, Bethnal Green

Type of Bar: Local
Damage£
Ideal for: Small Group, Date

Alrighty, let’s get stuck right in.

Perhaps we came in a bit early; maybe the sunlight stole a bit from the atmosphere of a place that should be enjoyed in the dark, so I can’t really make vast claims about it. The taxidermy is certainly a fun touch – makes me wonder if the Last Tuesday Society up the street had anything to do with it.
Satan’s Whiskers is definitely a quirky little spot, and would make a fine local if you lived in the area. And definitely a late evening bar.

Grabbing our table, the menu doesn’t state the brand of spirits, so I decided to ask. ‘Bourbon, lemon, maple syrup and bitters’, the St. Lawrence tells me. When our drinks arrived, our not particularly polite server, when asked “Could you please tell us which brands of spirits you’ve used in these drinks” replied:

“Knob Creek.”
“And in this drink?”
“Tanqueray.”
*pause*
“And in this one?”
“Finlandia.”
There was an exasperated sigh and he wandered off without letting us finish “And what about the vermouth?”
Note, there were 5 servers and the only other people there was a group of six.

So we began on a fairly sour note.  But we shall return to the sour service at the end of our experience.

 

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Should check out the unicorn skeleton

The St. Lawrence above is still a decent drink. Strongly citrus on the nose, it has a soft bourbon opening, ending with the maple syrup’s aftertaste. It is a smooth, pleasant drink I’d recommend to anyone and would definitely order again.

The signature Satan’s Whiskers is a mix of Tanqueray gin, Grand Marnier, fresh orange and vermouth; was conflicting. Personally, I found it to be orange juice in a coupe, but one of the members of the group took to it fairly well. The Salty Dog of Finlandia vodka, pink grapefruit and pink salt came off as being flat, the salt rim being a bit redundant since it was impossible to put to your lips without cringing. Then the Stone Fence. Knob Creek Bourbon, ginger liqueur, lemon and hard cider met to create a purely citrus drink that had a slight ginger hint in there somewhere.

You’ll notice my normally lengthy description of drinks is very short here. Because that’s it: There isn’t anything to say about them.

Though, the St. Lawrence was still pretty decent.

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Left to Right: Satan’s Whiskers, St. Lawrence, and Stone Fence.

We ended staring at the bar. Sitting nearest to the bar, we didn’t disturb the two bartenders busy shaking, another employee was busy working away on a laptop, and no other server was to be seen. Nonetheless, the server who did eventually show up was rather polite in wonderful contrast to the first disappointment – so service can be better on a good day.

I want to like Satan’s Whiskers. After all, service isn’t a 24/7 problem (unless you work at the Experimental Cocktail Club), but it certainly wasn’t anywhere close to optimal, noting that we were the only other people there other than a group of six – when the menu states there are 5 servers, they couldn’t be spread that thin.

Nonetheless, it is a very affordable bar, and it’s worth stopping by for a quick Manhattan, but wouldn’t make it the venue of the night.

Drinks: ** (I suspect there is potential here with different drinks)
Atmosphere: ***
Service: **


Satan’s Whiskers

343 Cambridge Heath Road,
London E2 9RA

https://www.facebook.com/satanswhiskers

City Social @ Tower 42, Bank

Type of Bar: High Rise, Art Deco
Damage££  £££
Ideal for: View, Date, Small Groups, Large Groups, Food

It’s been open only a couple of weeks, but City Social by Jason Atherton has garnered quite a bit of attention. Rightfully so, bar manager and 2013 UK World Class champion Gareth Evans (of The Blind Pig, Berners Tavern, and Pollen Street Social fame) brings his trademark style 24 floors up. If one hasn’t tried his work yet, think of it being what Steam and Rye *tries* to be, but can’t.

Anyway, City Social is an Art Deco gem. Black and gold, and understated without trying its hardest to rub it in your face (cough certain Mayfair bar cough) – and still has a typically Atherton feel to it. A friend called it ‘mature’, but in the best of ways: relaxed and besuited. The atmosphere changes drastically at night when the crowd picks up – but arriving in time for the sunset is glorious for the view.

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Right, the cocktails. As aforementioned: Typically Evans. Adventurous, quirky, addicted to puns and garnishes. Although I’m fairly sure is completely different from the menus at his other bars which tend to share majority of the same drinks. I was enthusiastic since his ‘Dill or No Dill’ and ‘Piscotheque’ were rather impressive.

We began with the Kammaraderie: Kamm & Sons ginseng spirit, Garriguette strawberries, Maraschino, lemon juice, and strawberry paper (ie, a chewy strawberry stripe). It’s a strawberry assault with a subtle spice to it. The Robin Hood brings Somerset 5 year apple brandy, quince liqueur, honey mead, lemon juice and a ‘mini-apple bullseye’ (a tiny unripe apple, bright and citrus). Not quite sure what to say about this one, it was definitely still a good drink, but you can’t really say what the exact flavours were – which, with such powerfully flavoured ingredients, you’d think would be more prominent. If I had to describe it, I’d definitely say the quince and honey mead, with its texture thinned by the brandy.

The Robin Hood does fall prey to trying to mix too much of a good thing, but it doesn’t take away from the overall experience as a bright and light drink.

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Robin Hood (L); Kammaraderie (R)

We decided, to suit the venue, to order a pair of classics, which the bartenders actually seemed rather excited by. A Perfect Manhattan (Buffalo Trace bourbon) came out perfectly and worthy of applause. The Sazerac (Hine cognac, Bulleit Rye blend) was commendable, though perhaps with a smidge more absinthe than necessary (though that is up to taste).

I will also point out the number of people ordering The Root of All Evil. Probably the quirkiest of the drinks: walnut rum, bramley apply syrup, Poire William, root beer, lime juice, with a garnish of USD.

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Sazerac (foreground); and Manhattan

Service at the bar was excellent, bartenders Omar and Wayne were professional and approachable. Table service was incredibly attentive, almost to a fault. Bar snacks were spectacular. Fried baby Cornish squid with chilli and lime salt were generously portioned; but the goat’s cheese churros with truffle honey stole the show as a savoury bite for the sweet tooth.

All in all, City Social is a welcome arrival amongst the lacklustre high-rise bars in London, blowing them out of the water.  And whereas I generally would recommend classic cocktails here in this exquisitely designed space, it does not take away from the house cocktails still being pleasant and original. Not to mention the food!

The Hoodooist looks forward to return to City Social for a meal with a few Old Fashioneds.

Drinks: ***
Atmosphere: *****
Service: ****


City Social @ Tower 42,

25 Old Broad Street, City of London,
London EC2N 1HQ

http://citysociallondon.com/

The JubJub @ Callooh Callay, Shoreditch

Type of Bar: Tiny, QuirkyMembers?
Damage££
Ideal for: Date, Small Groups
Callooh Callay has become a Shoreditch institution over the past few years, but recently there has been discussion on what to do with the Upstairs Bar, aka the JubJub. Do we make it members only again? Do we give make it members only after 10 PM? (Free) membership will kick in in the summer, at which point it will become members only after 10PM, whilst open to the public before then.

So we’re gonna tell you what you need to know before any of that comes in the way of your evening’s plan.

The JJ @ CC gets a separate article because of its separate cocktail list by manager Matt Fairhurst; yes, its list is different from the first two rooms on the ground floor. The menu is shorter, but typically Callooh Callay.

The bar-in-a-bar-in-a-bar  itself is tiny, though not necessarily intimate; it fits a lot of people in. It has CC’s traditional sense of décor, large teal and hardwood sofas alongside wooden stools against purple walls decorated with massive pieces of art from the Pure Evil gallery: like pin up girls on a beach against a nuclear explosion (?). It’s actually a very relaxed little space.

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Drinks wise, there is no trend per se, but we see a degree of experimentation with flavour with CC’s signature quirkiness. For example, the Rum and Coke (aka. Smokey Cokey), is El Dorado 12yr rum with coke reduction and Fernet Branca.

We began with the Fernet Me Not is described as ‘floral’ for some reason. Cucumber, Tanqueray gin, lemon, topped with fizz. We don’t get much of the Fernet Branca, but the cucumber and the notes of cucumber in the gin stand out the strongest, almost ultimately. With the fizz we get a wonderfully refreshing drink that is simple, traditional, but effective.

Holy Guacamole, has mezcal, lime juice with blended avocado, coriander and chilli to make a spring-green cocktail very reminiscent of Casita’s Tequila con Verdita shot. The avocado brings a velvety texture to the drink, the coriander and chilli being rather subtle and just adding a little spring in its step. The mezcal is the star of the show ultimately, with its smokiness. Bright, spry, this cocktail is perfect to perk you up in the evenings.

The Fig Shrubble in Little Cynar which brought Agricole rhum with fig shrub, sweet vermouth and Cynar artichoke liqueur bitter – of whose flavours the most prominent was the Cynar and sweet vermouth, surprisingly! It certainly wasn’t unpleasant, but not what one expected, either.

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Service is swift and attentive, in such a tiny space, it really has to be. Sitting at the bar feels a bit uncomfortable and cramped though, so I’d definitely request being at the tables. The low, backless chairs may provide a bit of difficulty if you’re spending a long time there.

The Jub Jub provides a very similar look to the rest of Callooh Callay in terms of décor and cocktails. As for experience, it is, thankfully, less crowded than the first two rooms – which are the two things that often makes me cross the street to NOLA when on Rivington Street. In many ways, this contributes to the argument to bring the JubJub back to members only status. The only way to avoid making it members only, I think, is to make sure that only the smallest groups of people can make bookings. Whatever the decision CC makes, the JubJub is still worth trying out when possible!

Drinks: ***, Arguably ****
Atmosphere: ***
Service: ****

The Jub Jub,
Upstairs @ Callooh Callay

65 Rivington Street, Shoreditch
London EC2A 3AY

http://www.calloohcallaybar.com/

NOLA, Shoreditch

Type of Bar: New Orleans, Cigars
Damage££
Ideal for: Small Groups, Sazeracs

It’s nice to see whisky, hard wood and jazz bands in some place that isn’t a bloody speakeasy that serves you drinks in blasted tea cups and jars. It’s not fun. Or quirky. Stop.

NOLA goes back to bringing coupes, jazz era style and Louisiana drinks into the modern day (PUBLIC) bar scene – and they do it with a bang. Bringing the bayou to London (as you can tell by the Hoodooist’s nom de plume), is a move he is very pleased with.

When first walking in, we had to make sure not to end up at the other bars in the same tiny building on Rivington Street (Bedroom Bar, French Quarter Bar) all linked by the same staircase. NOLA is a small space, but far from suffocating. They cater entirely to table service, to make sure to either book in advance, or cross your fingers. Leather booths and dark wood tables face a bandstand where jazz musicians come in on a Thursday night. The bar itself is framed by mounted trombones, and fronted by aged bottles and an apothecary of bitters, reductions and various flavourings, in keeping with the voodoo vibe the menu tries to evoke.

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The menu is sublime.

It has to be said. The classic cocktail selection is enormous, but overshadowed by the stars of the show: the wonderful house cocktails. We see the New Orleans classics like Hurricanes (of which there are several versions served here; usually as sharers, as they should be) and Sazeracs – as well as drinks designed by New Orleans bartenders, or NOLA themselves.

We began with the bar’s signature, the Sazerac. NOLA is the only bar outside the USA to win the New Orleans Culinary and Cultural Preservation Society’s “Seal of the Sazerac” and boy, do they deserve it. You have a choice to go for the pre-1870 cognac, post-1870 rye, or blend recipes – the blend is your friend. The Hoodooist was very pleased to see the Sazerac served without ice (a mistake many bars in London make) with minimum garnish. Just simple, warm, inviting like a leather Chesterfield armchair.

The fragrance was rounded, its heat sending the scent directly to the head without being harsh on the nose. The flavour was exactly what one expects from a Sazerac. The anise, bitters and the sweetness of the liquors and sugar balanced beautifully with none demanding centre stage (as absinthe usually does).

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We were hoping the next drinks measured up – we weren’t disappointed. The house cocktail: Gris Gris, was an excellent follow up. Banks 5 Island rum, stirred with sherry and maraschino, finished with spice and injected with smoke. Thankfully not as sweet as we feared; was tart and handsomely dry thanks to the sherry. The spice and smoke really are what makes this drink, adding an aura of mysteriousness to the drink that draw you in from the scent – a better name for this drink I couldn’t have conjured.

The VEP Rinse whips out the 12yo El Dorado rum for sweet vermouth, bitters and Chartreuse VEP rinsed ice cubes to make a supremely smooth drink that begins with the rum and ends with a hint of the Chartreuse. The Hoodooist and his table did have an argument over the Black Magic Woman – some loved it, some hated the Blackwell’s dark rum, sweet vermouth, Fernet Branca and crème de violet mix. The primary accusation was its medicinal quality, mine was that it was too sweet. It begins on the crème de violet’s deep sweetness; then the Fernet Branca, which might have been more of than necessary. I like that this exemplifies the subjectivity around cocktail reviews – there needs to be in depth discussion because “This is good/bad” just doesn’t cut it.

Finally, the Slightly Sinister was the perfect end to the night. Developed by New Orleans bartender, Kimberly Patton-Bragg, Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon is stirred with quina, cherry and bitters, injected with aromatic smoke over ice. I was pleased to see quina since it is uncommon to find in cocktails in London – a fortified wine on a precarious balance of plum-like sweetness from the fortification, the bitterness of chinchona bark (source of quinine, not a popular flavour these days, sadly – as Kina Lillet noticed) and the herbal flavours of gentian – goes very well with bourbons. The quinine is the first flavour to encounter; then the drink is sweet, without being domineeringly so, which is what makes it a great last drink. Not dry like the Gris Gris, but sharing the inviting scent from the smoke.

Although the drinks reviewed here are primarily short and intense, you will find a large selection of longer drinks on the menu, do not fear that.

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And that’s a wrap! NOLA still ranks as one of the Hoodooist’s favourite haunts, regardless of the Mardi Gras hiccup, because it just is that good. It’s good to see a success story on the same street as the famous Callooh Callay and rival it with such vigour – moreso now that we are expecting the wonderful PortSide Parlour to dock there as well. Everyone’s going to have to start upping the ante, I suspect.

Drinks: *****
Atmosphere: ****
Service: ***

NOLA,

Upstairs @
66-68 Rivington Street,
London EC2A 3AY

http://www.nola-london.com/‎