Powder Keg Diplomacy – cousin to the Lost Society & Lost Angel (Review HERE) offering drinks of the same nature, trend and quality as its brethren, but in a much calmer restaurant setting.
Disclaimer / Trigger Warning:
“Honouring tradition while subverting convention”, the PKD motto announces; but this bar nostalgic to times very few living people can remember, has distinct similarities and differences to its relatives – in a concerning way. The pseudo-Victorian nature of the décor in the LS & LA is taken to the extreme at the PKD – but in the worrying theme of colonialism and empire – proudly described as “an urban colonial environment”. Derridans, do with that as you will. The designer seems to forget there is a difference between patriotism, and pride in colonialism. As a descendant of British emigrants and soldiers of the empire to foreign conquered lands who themselves chided colonialism upon witnessing the result of colonialism in these countries, I couldn’t help but be a bit uncomfortable with the giant mural in front of my table painting the establishment of empire in countries I share homes and relatives with. Should’ve guessed considering the word ‘Diplomacy’ here is defined by a keg of gunpowder. Maybe I just don’t get the irony?
This bizarre misplaced nostalgia of empire is served up alongside “approachable seasonal British fare”, “sourced solely from the land and sea of the United Kingdom”, which is at best, irony or mistake in philosophy; or at worst, the normalisation of colonial politic. Rendered almost funny by a friend’s comment about how the Victorian Empire was just a search for decent food, which is why it ended when it found curry.
Before anyone launches at me for being uncomfortable with the décor, I’d like to say that there is a way to have a Victorian theme to a venue without going down this route (See: The Lost Angel, Zetter Townhouse). But really it’s up to you, this is just a disclaimer.
Cocktails: On the ball. Excellent value for excellent drinks (Don’t you love Zone 2?)
Whitley Neill Gin, ‘gunpowder’ green tea vermouth, maple syrup, dandelion & burdock bitters came together for the Henry Martini Rifle, is apparently ‘inspired’ by the rifle used “to overpower and subdue colonies”. Right.
The drink was a decent wet Martini, the primary flavour being the initial hit of the gunpowder smokiness after the gin bite (the green tea infused vermouth itself being distantly reminiscent of jasmine), followed by the dandelion & burdock bitters being surprisingly strong; served in a tiny coupe while the rest is chilling in an ice filled tumbler. Well rounded, and an excellent aperitif.
The Ben and Jerries makes an excellent drink for the sweet tooth, Appleton VX & Santa Teresa rums, strawberry shrub, vanilla extract, lemon juice, and a natural yoghurt powder rim. I love that the (though intense) flavour of the strawberry shrub does not overpower the drinker, so well balanced with the spicy oak of Appleton VX – and the very different kind of subtle brown sugar sweetness of the Santa Teresa. You don’t have much time to worry about the drink before you lick the powder from your lips and the sudden clashing appearance of the powder hits you, the sweet-sour yoghurt powder finishing the drink off wonderfully.
The Bourbinheim seemed to be the hit of the night – hibiscus & sour cherry smoke, Woodford Reserve, Maraschino liqueur, Punt e Mes. Punt e Mes & Maraschino are always a winning combination to add to dark spirits; and the whisky is smoked excellently but the sour sweetness of the smoke. For a deep, enveloping, sweet-but-not, cocktail, the Bourbinheim is fantastic.
BUT, there were problems: A (unfortunately) particularly disappointing drink was the Hanakatoba Sour was meant to combine “the honey and citrus in the ginseng to really stimulate the senses”: Umeshu, ginseng liqueur, King’s Ginger liqueur, fresh lemon juice and egg white. At the end of it, it was straight citrus through and through. There was a hint of umeshu deep in the distance, but that was about all. Would love to try the drink without the last two ingredients, just as a wine-based umeshu drink. The Gincess Gimlet was another little hiccup, but not as much of a problem as the Hanakatoba; Plymouth Navy Strength Gin, rhubarb and rosehip syrup and lemon juice felt confused and reminded me instantly of the PortSide Parlour’s (Click HERE for review) ‘Grace Jones’ (which we eventually described as ‘soup’).
A drink we didn’t try, but referenced the misplaced notion of positive-colonialism would be the ‘Silk Road’ – apparently a “respectable nod towards the trade route that was central to cultural interaction of Asia and the Mediterranean… Flavours from far and wide brought together”. And yet, 3 of the 4 ingredients come from Central America and the Caribbean an ocean away – Mezcal, tequila, curacao, pomegranate molasses. Were the words ‘respectable nod’ sarcastic? You decide. Baijiu, arak, arrack, raki, Huangjiu and various Mediterranean alcohols & flavours still exist that could have been used.
The Lost Angel does a drink called the Silk Route Martini, which is at least inspired by the idea, with Opihr gin and its various spice-botanicals that were traded on said route.
Service was spectacular for a venue with loudish music. Swift, attentive, always up for a little chat; Maskell and his team are once again at the top of their game when it comes to hosting. Excellent points for hospitality!
In short, well, I don’t know if there is an in short for this venue. Drinks are not really hit and miss, since the drinks that didn’t work out seemed suspicious just from their list of ingredients, so didn’t surprise me. But the drinks that worked well, were absolutely wonderful. The excellent service was one of the best parts of our evening. It just kept getting tainted by the theme, the names of some of the drinks and their descriptions. For some of you, this might not be a problem, but I feel it is something that should be highlighted and acknowledged by a visitor before going there, in order to not be…. Surprised.
Atmosphere: “I dub this country BongoBongoLand”
Powder Keg Diplomacy
147 St. Johns Hill,
London SW11 1TQ