Ah, MASH. The Danish-American steak venture is bound to have a surge in bar visitors with the introduction of their new menu, taking on more international (particularly Danish) influences.
MASH’s enormous Lynchian red and black pseudo-Deco décor retains that element of American-but-not-quite, and I must still recommend seating right up at the bar for the best lighting and experience with the wonderful bartenders and service offered (the service, as always, was impeccable. It’s one of MASH’s greatest strengths). This is, of course, if you are coming for the bar and not for the meal, in which case there is the gargantuan restaurant and red booths that are open to you. However, one must recommend the bar snacks, especially the MASH tartare and chilli fries.
So the cocktails! Though the new menu is meant to evoke a trip across the USA, one will see inspirations from Scandinavia, Central Europe and Italy. And though it has kept a small handful of drinks from the old menu, MASH has developed a large and innovative new selection. Often working with spirit companies to help create bespoke glassware for their drinks; personally, the glassware can be a highlight of the drinking experience here.
Though we went through the entire new menu, let us cover the ones that stand out here today.
First, let’s get one of the drinks from that has remained on the new menu from the last one – with good reason, it is excellent: the Woody Woodpecker was covered in our review of the 5th day of London Cocktail Week 2014: CLICK.
And let’s get one of our favourite drinks out of the way: The Yosemite is incredible. Ketel One Vodka, St. George Terroir Gin, Becherovka liqueur, pine, maple, almond and lemon. How does one describe this drink? It was the moment I stepped out of a plane to face the vast, intimidating forests an hour outside of Stockholm. The crispness of the wind and that silent-noise that comes with being surrounded by pine trees. For some reason many expect a pine inspired drink to come off a bit medicinal, especially with Becherovka, but this certainly isn’t – the Yosemite is a masterfully balanced cocktail.
A smooth mouthfeel with a late tingle finish, and long length. On the nose, a brilliant array of light herbs, sage and pine. Flavour-wise, a complex arrangement of bright, crisp flavours. Initially, a cold wake-up call of the Ketel One’s signature citrus and the pine, followed almost immediately by the gin’s sage and Douglas fir. The maple is introduced to work well with the bitter notes of medicinal Becherovka, letting out its more spicy botanicals, like clove (and maybe ginger?). Finally, the almond brings the rollercoaster to an end. What a killer drink.
On the same tangent as bright and citrus, the Solvang is another great addition to the menu. Dill Akvavit, apple, celery water, lemon with a rim of smoked salt and fennel seed finally gives Akvavit the attention it deserves in London. Your first experience will be the perfectly salted rim: smoked salt and fennel seeds, which complement the drink exquisitely. The primary flavours of the cocktail are initially, the citrus, then the dill akvavit, and finally the celery. You’ll notice the apple plays more a part of restraining some of the flavours rather than masking them or taking a prominent place. And excellent aperitif.
The Little Italy is a complex gastronomical cocktail: Martini Rosso, apple brandy infused with porcini mushrooms, Amaro, bitters, granita of cherry and parsley. This presents one of the most impressive glassware in the house. The cocktail itself is poured into a warped Eiswein glass, with an upturned cone places above it, with a straw running into the cocktail, and enough space for the cherry and parsley granita above to dilute and pour into the cocktail, sweetening the flavour as time goes on – you are also provided a spoon if you wish to attack the granita yourself. The drink is powerfully Martini Rosso with its rounded red fruit flavours, followed by the slightly herbal Amaro and bitters, finally ending on the apple brandy and the earthy woodland notes of the porcini mushrooms and cherry granita. Though a complex and good drink, well balanced and not too herbal, I feel it satisfies my intellect more than my palate, purely out of the intense sweetness of it, I suppose. But still a drink I highly recommend – especially that since it uses so many ingredients associated with an aperitif, it is very much an after dinner drink.
On the note of after-dinner drinks, the Seattle Set is an interesting twist on an Espresso Martini. Zacapa 23 rum, matcha tea, chocolate, raspberry vinegar and coffee. Beginning with the initial harsh hit of coffee, with the rounded, green, velvet mouthfeel of the matcha and its bitter tang, the toffeeness of the rum introduces the chocolate and beautiful addition of the raspberry vinegar – slightly tart, and adding a great dimension to the cocktail. It tastes more like a raspberry liqueur chocolate than an espresso martini.
But things are about to get stranger. The Mad Hatter is a hot tea-based cocktail that uses a V60 to prepare. The entire thing is complicated with heating of the pre-prepped concoction poured over a dry tea blend. Bulleit bourbon, crème de peche, maraschino, hibiscus, and a hint of vanilla is heated and poured over a tea blend of many ingredients, including apricot, peppermint, and stevia leaves, over a frozen ginger and lemon gelatin. I’m not sure how I feel about this drink – on one hand, it is still pleasant, on the other, the flavours kind of assault you all at once. Let me explain. The orange concoction begins with a punch in the face of peach, bourbon and apricot all at once, settling on the ginger and peppermint at the end. It’s all quite overwhelming – and yet, still pleasant. It manages to be warming and inviting, and yet not too reminiscent of having a cold, though you notice the similarity – so it’s an excellent job to not be medicinal. Also, drink it quickly while it’s hot.
Let’s tackle two drinks that are good ideas, but in practice can be a bit more difficult, and certainly target the more experienced drinker. Subtlety is the key to these two.
First, the Binchotan uses a stick of Binchotan Japanese charcoal to filter and mellow the normally sharp flavours of Bulleit bourbon, with coconut, cardamom, Cynar and sugar. The technique used to mellow the bourbon though, also mellows out the rest of the flavours. So one needs to focus to get more out of the flavours than just the Cynar and hint of coconut – it does risk becoming an Old Fashioned to the less experienced palate. Perhaps adding the flavours to the Binchotan filtered bourbon after instead of keeping them in the same pre-prepped bottle might help. I like the idea of the MASH logo printed on the ice, but not when the ice is taller than the glass, making it an interference to drink. A good drink to relax with altogether, though somewhat underwhelming.
Another drink in this category would be the Sipper. The custom glass it is served in was developed by the MASH team to provide a specific pour for the drinker, to coat the tongue and focus the heady vapours directly to the drinker. A very good idea, generally. The flavour pack is added in a very low ratio: Corn whisky, maraschino, chocolate, absinth, orange bitters. The first taste just screams whiskey, followed by chocolate and orange bitters. The absinth is more ambient. An intriguing drink if you have a long while to sip it. You want food to accompany this one.
Finally, the most enigmatic of the menu, and certainly the riskiest to order. The Test Tube.
The Test Tube serves up 3 test tubes of Bulleit bourbon infused with different flavours. First, Violette, then St. Germain elderflower, finally, apricot bee-pollen. You are provided droppers with 3 separate bitters, recommended for each infusion: Angostura for the Violette, peach for the elderflower, and orange for the apricot bee pollen. Either way, you are encouraged to experiment to find your preferred flavour.
As you can see, it is certainly not for the novice, since if you mess up a test tube once, fixing it would not be possible. First to keep in mind, it is a sharp drink, bourbon fans primarily. I found that if you stuck to the recommendations, elderflower/peach was the most accessible.
However, my favourite ended up being the apricot bee-pollen, with two bitters, Angostura and Orange at a 1:2 ratio, after it chilled a bit in the ice casing.
The West Side Apertivo (Tequila, Kamm & Sons, rhubarb, apple, lemon, almond and pink peppercorn syrup) ends up too fizzy, too orange, too tart. It’s the one drink other the Test Tube I don’t see myself ordering again – the latter primarily because effort *bent wrist to perspiring forehead*.
All in all? What an exciting menu! It is a major improvement on their last overly sweet menu, and has matured, finding its place in experimentation and involvement of various senses. Coupled with their incredible service, MASH is surging high up the list for innovative cocktails in London, and getting to be one of my most favoured places in Soho.
Drinks: **** – *****
77 Brewer Street,