PortSide Parlour, Broadway Market

Disclaimer: This review was written for the closing weekend of PortSide Parlour’s Off Broadway venue in May 2014, PP has dropped anchor at 14 Rivington Street, Shoreditch, new review here!

Type of Bar: Basement, Speakeasy
Damage££
Ideal for: Date, Small Groups, Large Groups, Rum
 

Entering the basement venue through the false toilet, the PP is a dark, candlelit venue with red fabric sofas lining the walls, large wooden tables and leather armchairs. Though somewhat of an open plan seating, PP can be surprisingly intimate, and comfortable in both quiet and crowded hours – successfully channelling the feel of being under-deck.

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Voted the ‘Best Speakeasy in London’ according to their website, the PP also boasts an enormous selection of 50 rums, and certainly played a part in making long-neglected rum the spirit of 2014. House cocktails are primarily rum based; though also offer other, primarily dark, liquors.

Three drinks were ordered, let’s get to the *non-rum* based drinks first.

The Word of God is spectacular. Ambler 7yr bourbon carries Cynar and sea salt, garnished with pickles. This came with a bizarre ‘word of warning’ from the server, about it “tasting like straight bourbon” (which it didn’t). Funnily enough, the Word of God is as smooth and soft as you could imagine. The savoury Cynar complements the bourbon perfectly, with the added bite of the sea salt. Every few sips you reward yourself with a bourbon-soaked pickle. Absolutely adored this drink – flavourful, and layered wonderfully.

For the rum based drinks, these were interesting.

The Fishwife Punch brings El Dorado 8yr rum with lemon juice, rose syrup, Bitter Truth Apricot brandy and chocolate bitters. I normally have a bias against chocolate bitters, but these really didn’t play much of a part in the overt flavour. What we got was a long, fresh and fruity cocktail tasting primarily of the El Dorado 8yr’s toffee and apricot, with rose coming in softly in at the end.

Finally, the Grace Jones is probably as out there as its namesake. Appleton Estate 8yr rum, King’s ginger liqueur, fresh lime and mint, Angostura bitters, topped up with Piper Hiedsieck Champagne. You know, it was impossible to put a finger on what was going on here.  There seems to be this initial blast of mint, then somehow overwhelmingly fizzy champagne with a great ginger finish. Nonetheless, there was something about it we could put out finger on, it’s a drink we had difficulty dissecting, though overall had reminded us of… Soup? I think it might be the savouriness of the ingredients mixing with the dark sugariness of Appleton 8 yr. Not entirely sure what was going on here, but that doesn’t make it an unpleasant drink. Aromatic and, shall we say, complex? Or muddled, depending on how harsh you want to be. In the end, it’s actually kind of fun.

PP’s done an excellent job with drinks so far.

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And although it probably isn’t anything, we were all unsettled by the ‘warning’ offered with the Word of God. This seems to be another in a long line of strange remarks made to female drinkers I’ve witnessed when ordering ‘strong drinks’ (Skylon being the worst when accusing a seasoned drinking friend of not liking a badly made Vesper because “Women don’t drink strong drinks”). Not that that is what our server at PP was insinuating, I hope.

All in all, the PP was a great stop, and highly recommend it, and wish it the best in its new home on Rivington Street – of course, it will be competing with NOLA and Callooh Callay, so let’s see what the three do to up their game!

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


PortSide Parlour

Rivington Street address TBA upon re-opening.

http://portsideparlour.co.uk/

Agaveria El Nivel, Covent Garden

Type of BarBar/Restaurant, Mexican
Damage££
Ideal for: Food, Tequila, Mezcal

The Hoodooist is in love. The Tomas and Jesse Estes venture upstairs at La Perla, Maiden Lane is a brilliant success. It is early days (Launch week), but it stinks of success. Absolutely reeks of it. Gifts of spirits from Megaro and NOLA, and the appearance of bartenders from various other bars speaks of its presence in the bartending world.

The La Perla/Café Pacifico branches have always been the chilled out venues to break into for a Margarita you know you’ll love, but the atmosphere up here at El Nivel takes on a more sophisticated, experimental twist. The wealth of knowledge in this tiny venue is expansive, the service impeccable. Sitting at the bar with drinking buddy Anastrophe and Cheese, was an absolute pleasure as the barmen served us tasters of various mezcal and tequila, and explained the process of their home-made cordials and accompaniments.

 

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Some of QuiQuiRiQui’s Mezcals

We began with the Mezcal Fix, my first, and favourite of the evening: Mezcaleria QuiQuiRiQui’s personal brand of 45%abv mezcal, roasted pineapple syrup, Cynar artichoke bitter liqueur and saltwater spray. Everyone knows I’ll snatch anything with Cynar in it. I was amazed by the incredibly harmonious combo of sweet with salty; how the pineapple’s roasting doesn’t give it a strongly pineapple flavour, but just its fruity sweetness that tames the mezcal – releasing only its smokiness. The Cynar does a wonderful job at just rounding out the drink for the saltwater spray to not overpower it. Unbelievable work.

The Fallen Angel was certainly an interesting drink. Gran Centenario Añejo, Antica Formula sweet vermouth, Cynar. I’m not sure how to describe this drink except as the best sweet Manhattan you’ve had that wasn’t actually a Manhattan. A bit too sweet for my taste, but I know when to appreciate a well-made drink. The Añejo is an excellent twist on the classic, and my Manhattan-loving mate almost wept in excitement.

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The Mezcal Fix (L); and Fallen Angel (R)

The Horchata is a boozy twist on a classic Mexican refreshment: rice water, condensed milk, cinnamon and vanilla with Ocho Reposado, garnished with an edible flower. As much as I enjoyed it, it might need a shorter serving, as the condensed milk gets incredibly heavy – but a pleasant drink no less.

Finally, the Siesta was a *very* citrusy complexity. AquaRiva premium Reposado, fresh lime and grapefruit juices, almond syrup, Campari and Merlet apricot, churned over crushed ice. The Campari is barely noticeable, but necessary to hold back the possibility of being too sweet. The first flavour is the tequila, until there is a sudden punch of lime citrus, to eventually settle on the apricot and grapefruit. A wonderful work for those less comfortable around tequila.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, they are working on mezcal/tequila flights!

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The Horchata (L); and Siesta (R)

 

Food is varied in substance and price, so I certainly look forward to returning for a boozy lunch – because return I will. El Nivel has all the makings of an excellent bar, certainly blowing its competitors on Maiden Lane out of the water – in terms of both drink and service.  I wish them all the best, though they probably don’t need it.

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

 

Agaveria El Nivel,

Upstairs @ La Perla,
28 Maiden Lane,
London WC2E 7JS

http://www.elnivel.co.uk/