First, let’s deal with the first thing you see upon entering the Town Hall.
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.
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.
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.
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)
Peg + Patriot, Town Hall Hotel,
London, E2 9NF