Type of Bar: Tiny, Basement, Speakeasy
Ideal for: Date, Small Groups, Live Music
Now this is interesting.
The Bermondsey Arts Club has kept itself to itself since they opened about half a year ago. They’ve also developed a loyal following, especially from the area, looking for a cocktail bar closer to home (major plus for the Hoodooist in Greenwich).
Taking up residence in the public conveniences underground, on weekdays, you wouldn’t know the BAC was here. Keeping the walls, the rest of the venue has been done up in black and gold art deco revival – and on Wednesdays, bringing out their chilled jazz band. I do wish that they kept the jazz throughout the week, though – the weekend pop playlist is a bit jarring with the sexy underground surrounding.
Making one’s way there for the launch of their Winter Cocktail list, I have to say, it is a major improvement on the previous menu. And this new menu (launching Dec 5th ’14) is absolutely delightful, I fell in love with it as we tasted.
Let’s begin with the Phra Phum: House Thai Gin (ginger, chilli, garlic, spring onion), lemon, sugar, egg white, House Soy Bitters. Love. Bright, spry, lively – the first hits of spring onion and chilli, then ginger and finally the simmering of garlic and hint of soy – all make an appearance in this citrusy-spicy East Asian inspired cocktail. An excellent way to start a night, and easily one of my favourites on the list.
Another one that stood out would be a light take on a dessert drink: the Grappa’s Delight brings Chamomile Grappa, Cocchi Americano, lemon, honey, green tea gelato together with a few dried chamomile blooms dusted above. Less thick than most dessert drinks, yet still with that smooth gelato texture, this cocktail is sneaky. Not a dry drink at all, the Cocchi Americano is barely noticeable, as the gelato, honey and chamomile have their way with you. The Grappa does make a sound appearance, and I’d pick this over a dessert any day of the week.
The next two drinks go in for darker, heavier flavours. The Hit and Mist was most enjoyable – Cider poached Apple Laphroaig, Treacle Syrup, Whisky Barrel Bitters is smoked with Apple Hickory smoke. A short, strong drink and a great winter warmer, surprisingly not as sweet as you’d expect. The characteristic nature of Laphroaig, with its already smoky, and rather medicinal flavour is necessary to balance the sweeter treacle – creating a very well balanced drink that really is made by the Hickory smoke. Without it, it would lose a lot of character (like the Lost in the Woods, by PortSide Parlour, review HERE). But this exactly the kind of drink the Hoodooist would enjoy. Seductive, balanced, warm and enveloping.
The Coupe des Garcon is an odd one – named after the fashion house Comme des Garcon – puts Port, Ramazzotti, Fine Calvados and Peychaud’s Bitters in a glass wrapped in a napkin sprayed with Comme de Garcon’s Wonderwood parfum. Now here is the odd part: the Calvados is not a strong flavour, yet plays an important part in the drink with the Port and Ramazzotti and the intriguing bit is how similar to bourbon the result is – the fruity bourbon sweetness, the woodiness of the barrels, all evoked wonderfully. I suspect, though, the woodiness is in fact olfactory. The Wonderwood parfum (Hm, pepper, sandalwood, oudh? I think.) is an excellent pairing with the cocktail, making it a multisensory experience – but don’t spray it on yourself, getting it off your clothes is impossible (or off you. Or your pillowcases. Everything into the wash). Another excellent winter drink, throwing you headfirst into nature with hints of oranges, apples and spices.
Finally, I probably should end mentioning two drinks that, though still good, are not up to par with the above. A Little R & R is a surprisingly uncharacteristic drink (Butter-washed raisin rum, cinnamon liqueur, lemon and cardamom bitters), and in fact, comes off a bit too citrusy. I feel avoiding the lemon a bit, and relying more on a sort of butter-washed raisin rum Old Fashioned would be a better idea. Nonetheless, we have the buttery, rich mouthfeel of the rum, with a final hint of cardamom at the end. Less lemon. Always less lemon.
Lastly, the Three Wise is in fact what I started with. I was intrigued by the strangeness of the ingredients: Taylor’s 10yr Port, Brokers Gin, Gold/Frankincense/Myrrh Bitters. Yup. Served in a Japanese wooden cube (also used by the Artesian for a Japanese styled drink in a previous menu) – it can be uncomfortable to drink from, especially with that little singed stick of incense prodding your face. On one hand, a good aperitif with intense dryness – on the other hand, a bit confusing. I might enjoy it more with less gin, since it drowns out the barely noticeable figs in the port, which would be fantastically both thematically and in regard to taste. The frankincense and myrrh is certainly a nice addition – as for the gold, well. Perhaps gold leaf would be a better garnish than the incense. This drink appeals more to my intellect than my tastebuds.
Service at the bar is wonderful (Aged Negronis bottled to take home! Taste delicious and rounded, well-balanced). Milo (who runs a cocktail Youtube channel, Caffe Corretto), Jake and Adam are excellent company. On weekends though, the tables can get very crowded and getting attention/waiting for drinks can get a bit tiring – but one expects that on crowded nights. You will see the Hoodooist and friends at the bar, getting tanked on Hit and Mists on Wednesdays, I think.
In summary: the new menu at the Bermondsey Arts Club is formidable, original, and wonderful. Favouring the Hoodooist’s preferred style of short, but intense, these drinks are quickly taking this bar to one of my more favoured hang outs. With excellent design and atmosphere, and fun service – you’ll see me here often (at least, as often as I can. I have two bars a week to review for you people, you know.)
A major thanks to Jamie Pinkham and team for an excellent night out!
Bermondsey Arts Club
102A Tower Bridge Road,
London SE1 4TP
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