Long awaited Jan Lee Koreo-Mexican joint finally opens on Soho’s Greek Street! After a lot of date push-backs, the venue opened just in time for the Lunar New Year and participated in the Baijiu Cocktail Week 2015 (Click HERE for Review!).
Casual and chilled out: Stripped back décor, a long bar perfect for an evening hang out for some anju, and curling around with multiple seats for groups to hang out. A few low tables on the right, and a cavern in the back for larger groups, with the occasional blast of heat from the smoking in the kitchen. And participating in the delightful return of disco and cheese (much like the playlist at Cocktail Trading Co., click HERE for Review!) – the Hoodooist loves the atmosphere here. Especially just before sunset, when the light is just right. At night, all the venue’s light seems to come from the bar, where Demetris and Darren are either shaking or smoking for their soju-focused menu and the repeatedly changing bar-specials up on the board.
Since we’re cocktail-focused, we’ll give food only a glancing look: a major focus on Korean and Mexican cuisine, Bo Drake takes a cuisine popular in Seoul and among the Aenikkaeng immigrants in Mexico and finally brings it to London. We have to admit – the ‘Smalls’ were our favourite part of the menu, by far. The Mushroom Tostada stole the show with enoki mushrooms and red pepper slathered in cheese and sesame butter, followed by the Brisket Bao with their 12 hour beef, the cucumber adding a delightful contrast to the general sweetness of the dish. The Kimchi Quesadilla was hit-or-miss with the meagre filling. I’d return entirely for drinks and Smalls.
In terms of mains, I couldn’t help but feel they could be less expensive for what is provided (at the 13 pound mark and above). The Bobo Chicken was a tad dry, but with a loud accompanying sauce. However the Bo Ssam was classic, the ssamjang just spicy enough. Spectacular pickling of the kimchi, and rice was wonderful. And the dessert offering is limited to a sesame soft-serve ice cream, which after all the BBQ and warm flavours is absolutely perfect. Couldn’t think of a better end to the meal.
Onto the cocktails!
The short list is very soju focused, but Demetris is more than happy to prep other classics for you, or shake something up himself.
The signature Soju de la Vida slushie – mezcal, soju, strawberry slush – might *just* convert the Hoodooist to a slushie fan. The mezcal is exactly what we need to spice up the tedious margarita slushie trend – adding an intense smokiness to the sweet. Brainfreeze material, great for dessert on the way out.
The Soju Fiction screamed out to me, so absolutely had to order the Yamazaki 12, soju, bamboo syrup and Antica Formula vermouth concoction. Whisky nose. Smoky, both from the whisky and the added smoking of the drink. Dry, the Antica Formula’s sweetness stands out. I’ve yet to decide how I feel about this drink – it isn’t unpleasant, certainly not. But there is one thing that keeps nagging at me. I think it is the smoking of the drink – it interferes with the otherwise excellent flavours of the cocktail that are in themselves, quite relaxed and laid back. Good cocktail, less or no smoke, please.
Then from the temporary ‘Bar Specials’ on the chalkboard, the El Greco certainly went for some very Hellenic flavours: Metaxa 7yr brandy, Mastiha, Cocchi Americano, Cointreau and orange bitters – there is a word for this that escapes me. Sylvan. It screams a decadent springtime with saps bursting out of treebarks, with the air filled with pollen and petals – as well as the on-coming heat of summer and the sickly sweetness of bees nesting in lion corpses. Debauched and over the top, enjoyed it, but couldn’t finish it with the intensity of flavours – I’d serve this in a Tokaji glass.
The Metaxa 7’s brandy/muscat wine mix with its range of sweet botanicals (especially rose) stands out strongly – spicy on the sides of the tongue. Only reinforced by the gum mastic of the Mastiha (Mastika. Mastikha.); which would be the source of the resinous chewiness. The Cocchi Americano is absolutely necessary to thin the drink a bit and assault the back of the throat with the Cointreau. Garnished with petals, the drink is intensely floral and fruity, but with sweet, thick texture. Again, as enjoyable as it was, there is too much of a good thing, and could be served in smaller glasses. An acquired taste, I’d think.
When asked for a whisky drink off-menu, the Hoodooist was provided with blend of Hibiki, Noilly Prat vermouth, smoked with Hickory and Cherry wood, and garnished with the spiciest damn jalapeno this side of hell. Nose was apple, maybe cinnamon (or was that the jalapeno?). A Dry Manhattan minus the bitters – I decided to drop the now-bitten Jalapeno in for a bit of kick – a slow drink, the Hibiki’s fermented fruits stand out, and it’s nuttiness. Malty, slightly, balanced against the Noilly Prat’s piney flavours. A decent dry drink you want to really take your time with, with a batch of nuts, preferably.
Finally, a classic Negroni – dry, smooth. Just right.
There is a distinct attraction to dryness in the menu – which Bo Drake does best, in comparison to the other drinks, I’d say. The drinks are all at the tipping point into great – but with the very good price range of 8-9 pounds, are just right. I certainly wouldn’t charge more than that. I’d suggest to stick with the drier drinks for their complexity and slow-sipping.
As for service – wonderful. It’s what defines the venue and make me want to return. Hostess Martina steals the show with her liveliness and humour, and will go out of her way to accommodate the diners. Demetris and Darren are incredibly entertaining and bring a casual dive element of fun to a venue of complex cocktails (which in London, for some reason, many feel are mutually exclusive). Between mezcal shots and agave worms, their chemistry is brilliant to be a part of and make sitting at the bar a necessity – especially with their experimental attitude to cocktails.
The family at Bo Drake make visiting a pleasure, and see it as a space to pop by in the afternoons for a drink and nibble at the mushroom tostada or bao (which, should totally be offered for take away!). The casual vibe at Bo Drake is a fun pairing with the more complex menu of both food and cocktails, and recommend a visit – note: a new cocktail menu is expected in a couple of weeks, and with the regularly changing bar specials, expect the menu to be generally rather mercurial and ever-changing.
Drinks: *** – ****
6 Greek Street, Soho
London W1D 4DE