Tequila Fest 2015 Preview @ Barrio East

Though the wide-spread drinking of tequila and the recent emergence of Mezcalerias like Agaveria El Nivel, one of the Hoodooist’s favourite openings 0f 2014, are known well enough, a connoisseurial culture of the spirit never completely blossomed in the Isles. “This is a no salt or lime zone”, stresses Festival organiser Eduardo Gomez, as we grab our tasting cups.

After last year’s major success, TequilaFest 2015 is not an event to be missed

Tequila TequilaFest Mezcal London Mexico

Hosted at Barrio East, Shoreditch (keep an eye out for their next Brixton opening, Barrio South), the press preview brought forward a spectacular crowd to taste a large variety of tequilas & mezcals. A few fantastic discoveries in the world of agave for the Hoodooist, such as Meteoro‘s pure Espadin mezcal – it even comes with a backstory – a crater from a crashed meteor in Oaxaca became the cooking spot for this mezcal’s agave. Delightfully smooth, the Meteoro Joven is a fantastic sipping tequila. Bold, muscling in with powerful smokiness and a bright trail left behind, it lives up to it’s media campaign, #ItFellFromTheSky.

Tequila TequilaFest Mezcal London Mexico

Another of the TequilaFest newcomers to expect will be agave giant Patron with their Silver, Reposado, Anejo and XO Cafe range – and in a few days will be unleashing their Incendio chilli-chocolate tequila onto #Drinkstagram tags everywhere.

Herencia de Plata has entered the ring as well, with their bright, peppery range, and can carry it’s weight in combat with the other stars of the show.

Tequila TequilaFest Mezcal London Mexico

Expect to see old reliables like Ocho, who have unveiled their Curado – a Blanco tequila that has been infused with agave – carrying their Blanco’s feel and kick, with a fruity wave of agave, addictive this one.

Stars of last year are back, from the smoky caramel Espadin San Cosme mezcal, to classic Altos and Siete Misterios Espadin, with that spicy, earthy smokiness and sugary dried fruit (so, so beautiful). And you certainly can’t go wrong with a Del Maguey Tommy’s Margarita.

Tequila TequilaFest Mezcal London Mexico

After the food provided by Barrio East was demolished by the now slightly staggering clientele of the room, the Hoodooist realises that this year’s TequilaFest at Old Spitalfield Market is going to enormous in comparison to the previous year – this is an event he – and you – should certainly not miss.

Tequila TequilaFest Mezcal London Mexico

“The Tequila Fest will educate you in the customs of production and consumption and engulf you in the taste, smells, sounds and sights of true Mexico. There are few spirits with a more rich and fascinating lineage. Get to grips with the technical jargon, the process of distillation and the bounty of care that goes into every single bottle.” Also featuring blind tastings, cocktail tutorials and masterclasses, “Real tequila.”

http://www.tequilafest.co.uk/

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Seymour’s Parlour @ The Zetter Townhouse, Marylebone

Type of Bar: Hotel, Lounge, Victorian
Damage££
Ideal for: Date, Small Groups

After 69 Colebrook Row, Bar Termini, and the Zetter Townhouse Clerkenwell – Tony Conigliaro is back! Working with the newly opened Zetter Townhouse Marylebone, Seymour’s Parlour is instantly recognisable as its Clerkenwell relative with a more late Georgian twist.

Seymour's Parlour Zetter Townhouse Marylebone London Cocktail

Swathed in reds and greens, it’s a smaller space, but a comfortable one, overlooked by a portrait of the hotel’s fictional host, the Wicked Uncle Seymour.  Inspired by the tales of the travelling louche, the cocktails are indulgent, and tend to a few more fizzy drinks than the Clerkenwell cousin, also perhaps knowing its market in Marylebone.

Drinking in this beautiful space is almost like spending an evening at the John Soane’s Museum, and is a room that would not look amiss at the eccentric collector’s home. So reclining on a couch beside the fireplace, we have a quick look at the menu, and a few do stand out.

Seymour's Parlour Zetter Townhouse Marylebone London Cocktail

The Turf Club

The Hoodooist begins with the Turf Club – Old Tom Gin, Dubonnet, Grape Reduction, Peruvian Bitters, and grass. The grass is not in the cocktail itself: inspired by the racetracks, the stem of the glass is entwined with grass and a reduced grass oil coats it – leaving the fragrance on the fingertips of the drinker. It’s not in the drink itself.

The cocktail is incredible. A modern take on the popular vintage tipple adds a sweet grape reduction, and Peruvian bitters that enhance the quinine flavours of the Dubonnet while also adding a bit of spice and kick. The short drink is deep, strong, and enveloping – there’s something almost soporific about it.

The Old Tom’s initial hit is quickly followed but the grape reduction, finally settling on the quinine and sweeter layers of the Dubonnet, and ending on a dry note, though well-rounded. Addictive, a favourite.

Seymour's Parlour Zetter Townhouse Marylebone London Cocktail

The Madeira Sour, & a shot of Flashed Madeira

The Madeira Sour is one for the citrus fans: Cognac, Flashed Madeira, Lemon and Walnut. An easy drink, this one. The flashed Rainwater Madeira – or the sweet Madeira that is concentrated with heat – retains its dryness, and balances the drink wonderfully. A woody cognac base goes fantastically with the citrus flavours, and long length of walnut finish is an elegant conclusion to a very confident drink.

Seymour's Parlour Zetter Townhouse Marylebone London Cocktails

The Last Laugh

The Last Laugh anticipates the Autumn coming soon: Cognac, Cider Apple Brandy, Apple Caramel and Apple Wood Bitters. This was wave after wave of varying takes on apple flavours. Appearing in quick succession, the bright brandy is quickly followed by the caramels, finally ending with the young citrus cognac notes with undercurrents of warm woodiness. Sounds like easy drinking, but takes deceptively longer with its intense flavour.

Finally, there’s the Two-Pennie Trash – Rye Whiskey, Powdered Malts, Treacle. This was an odd one – couldn’t quite place exactly what it was that I was tasting. On first sip it’s almost effervescent – it does, however, taste primarily of malt and yeast. One for the marmite crowd, I’d imagine – an acquired taste.

Seymour's Parlour Zetter Townhouse Marylebone London Cocktail

The Two-Pennie Trash

A good 4 hours whiled away in the comforting candlelit space, with the blues in the background, and marvellous drinks in hand – manager Claudio and Steve are delightful hosts, and in its first weekend service is speedy and attentive. The Hoodooist is already plotting to return to taste the Rake and Le Sphinx.

Another fantastic venue from the Zetter Group and Tony Conigliaro – should come as no surprise from these legends.

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


The Zetter Townhouse Marylebone

30 Seymour Street
London W1H 7JB

http://www.thezettertownhouse.com/marylebone

Drink Shop & Do, King’s Cross St. Pancras

Type of Bar: Creative, Party, 90s, Quirky
Damage££
Ideal for: Afternoon Tea, Activities, Small Groups

 

Celebrating it’s 5th birthday, young entrepreneurs Kristie Bishop and Coralie Sleap have turned fun into a business venture – providing customers with everything from a quirky store to afternoon tea with cocktails and Lego and nipple-tassel craft classes, to a 90s themed basement club accompanied by classes to learn Beyonce dance moves (which let’s not pretend you haven’t practised at home already).

The site of the ex-Turkish-bathhouse, with its massive skylight and overhead discoball, houses two large bars (one above, one below) – serving up primarily spritzes and punches, has a primarily sweet menu. There is the occasional Negroni, though, so don’t panic yet!

Drink Shop Do Cocktails Tea London

The 5th Birthday party begins with a series of easy-serve drinks and bites – whilst building Lego robots, the Sun-blushed tomato, tapenade and sweet herb sandwich is competed with only by the Smoked salmon, cream cheese and chrain – and the dessert even better. Hazelnut chocolate brownie dense and flavourful.

Drink Shop Do Cocktails Tea London

The drinks were a hit or miss: the Duppy Rum Punch serves up Duppy Share Rum, fresh lime juice and gomme (which may have not been entirely necessary with the sweetness of the rum). It really relies on the inherent richness of the blended rum, and it’s powerful pineapple, mango and papaya flavours are tempered by the lemon.

The Happy was a bit of a stumble though, Evan Williams Bourbon meets elderflower and apple to make a confused intense hit of sour to the back of the jaw, followed by sticky, painful sweetness.

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The Birthday was a major improvement: Belvedere Vodka, lychee, lemongrass, ginger, chilli and soda. A mix of savoury chilli kick followed by a length of sweet lychee.

Downstairs, the Wild Spritz: Elderflower, Perry and gin was thick, and tasted more like a glassful of sugar syrup.

Drink Shop Do Cocktails Tea London

Though the myriad of events and the food do outweigh the skill regarding cocktails, I can see myself returning for an afternoon tea with a friend, but not quite for the drinks. The lengthy list of sweet drinks is almost patronising, and could do with either increased variety, or with catching up with 2015, the apple, elderflower and lychee combos are rather old hat and very SW postcode Chelsea (which, let’s face it, is the last to join the party at anything).

There are some fantastic spirits behind the bar I’d love to see used more often – like a great collection of mezcals that are not on the cocktail menu. Take the Birthday, for example: Replace the lychee with hibiscus, and the vodka with mezcal, for a more modern and mature cocktail.

Drink Shop Do Cocktails Tea London

The staff are wonderful – upbeat, polite and conversational, and most of all – fun. And the obvious passion they display for their work is palpable, and is contagious. From the events upstairs to the parties below, they keep the crowd alive and excited for their work. 

Drink Shop & Do is a beautiful space, run by brilliant creatives, and a wonderful place to learn new skills, or just let loose. To another 5 years of DSD!

 

Drinks: * (I recommend coming for the tea and food, though!)
Atmosphere: ****
Service: ****

 

Drink, Shop & Do

9 Caledonian Rd, King’s Cross,
London N1 9DX.

http://www.drinkshopdo.com/

The Tea Den @ Opium, Chinatown

Type of Bar: Pop UpBar/Restaurant, Chinese, Speakeasy, Lounge
Damage££
Ideal for: TeaFood, DateSmall Groups

Okay. Seriously. Forget what else is happening on Afternoon Tea Week 2015 (10th-16th August) – your butts should be at Opium Chinatown.

 

We’ve reviewed Opium Chinatown before (Click HERE for Review!), but this week they will be working alongside The London Tea Club, and lifestyle brand, Oblique.

The London Tea Club, spread across Europe and North America, supply members with teas every month matching their flavour profile – perfect for the tea buff – have supplied Opium with a share of some of their most popular teas to construct a spectacular tea-infused cocktail list for Afternoon Tea Week (though the Hoodooist says that they should be permanent cocktails on the Opium menu).

 

Tucked away in the deep red corridors of Opium, beyond the Jade Door on Gerrard Street, find yourself present with 5 magical cocktails, named after the tea used in the concoction:

 

Opium Chinatown Afternoon Tea Week Den Dim Sum Cocktail

The Antique Rose

A major hit of the night (with one friend drinking three of them exclusively), the Antique Rose: Absolut Elyx vodka infused with Antique Rose tea, with Cocchi Americano Rosa and orange oil.

A beautiful, beautiful twist on the vodka Martini, the nose is alluring and primarily the Rosa’s berries and florals (lavender?), with hints of bitter chinchona. By palate, the sweeter tea with powerful rose notes adds life to the Elyx, the strong tea and rose eruption is followed by enveloping raspberry, strawberry and vanilla – ending on a castanet kick of quinine, cloves, a hint of ginger and orange zest.

Sophisticated, aromatic, seductive. A winner.

 

Opium Chinatown Afternoon Tea Week Den Dim Sum Cocktail

The Lapsang Souchong

If you want to go for something a little less Carmen, and a bit more Cosette, then the Lapsang Souchong might be for you: Buffalo Trace bourbon, apricot liqueur, tea-smoked cherries.

The normally deep, smokey tea is mellowed here, in a cocktail that appears to be more similar to a whiskey sour than you’d imagine. A very good one, nonetheless. Shy, fruit laden, the cocktail begins with the apricot, followed by the Buffalo Trace’s oaky, toffee, brown sugar flavours, leading toward the slightly more tart cherry and ending on a soft bed of lapsang souchong smoke.

A bit sweet, bit fruity, longer and easy to relish for the whiskey sour fan.

 

Opium Chinatown Afternoon Tea Week Den Dim Sum Cocktail

The White Peony

Now the White Peony, this one is always just out of reach, so well-composed, so independent, with footfalls of tiny bells: Double strength White Peony tea, Herradura Plata tequila, Belsazar White vermouth, house falernum.

The nose is strongly of the white peony, but underneath there is a lingering layer of agave. The first flavour belongs to the Herradura, soft, oaky, bright agave notes – but give away almost immediately to the tea, and below flowers the very restrained Belsazar and falernum with spicier, fruitier flavours. This cocktail, though loaded with various flavours, always feels so restrained and in control – it is delicate and patience is needed to fully appreciate it.

In short: It’s a bloody success.

 

Opium Chinatown Afternoon Tea Week Den Dim Sum Cocktail

The Goji Berry & Chrysanthemum

In contrast, the Goji Berry & Chrysanthemum is far louder: The teas infused in Absolut vodka and a splash of pink grapefruit juice makes a strongly juicy and brightly fruity cocktail. It might lack the White Peony’s complexity, but is a great middle-drink when wandering through the menu to lighten the spirits between the hardhitters. It might not be the Hoodooist’s style, but is an admirable cocktail, nonetheless, well crafted.

The pink grapefruit juice and vodka are the first to hit you, followed by the flowering flavours of Goji berry, and finishing on the floral chrysanthemum.

 

Opium Chinatown Afternoon Tea Week Den Dim Sum Cocktail

The Iron Goddess of Mercy

Finally, the Iron Goddess of Mercy. More commonly known as Tie Guan Yin (or even TGY), the dramatic name comes from various legends that have the same result: the Goddess of Mercy, Guan Yin, has provided a patient listener with a treasure in the form of an Oolong tea whose popularity spread across the country. Rich, and sweet, using it in a nectar-like syrup for a classic Rum Daiquiri was a fantastic choice.

Refreshing, bright, but not lacking in depth, this cocktail (in all its simplicity) is a breath of fresh air, and a fantastic finisher to the menu. Sweet, uplifting, with hints of herb and spice in the distance (as should be customary of a well-made Daiquiri). Wonderful.

Opium Cocktail Dimsum Parlour Chinatown

 

Honestly, recently the Hoodooist has been looking for cocktails that would ‘wow’ him again, and the Tea Den did just that. Having a sip of the teas before their respective cocktails is a great idea to appreciate the brews themselves, as well as identify their place in the cocktails. I also love that the menu is set out in an excellent order, I’d recommend working your way in the same order, as the cocktails flow and contrast wonderfully that way. Manager Bruce Govia has done a remarkable job with working with the London Tea Club here, and service is light, conversational, speedy and approachable.

 

I guess what I’m saying is: You cannot miss this.

 

Drinks: *****

 

The Tea Den @ Opium, Chinatown

15-16 Gerrard St,
London W1D 6JA

http://www.opiumchinatown.com/

Upstairs @The Ten Bells, Shoreditch

Type of Bar: Pub
Damage£
Ideal for: Shorties, Date, Small Groups

 

Reopened, the Upstairs at the enormously popular Ten Bells in Spitalfields has been revamped to a sort of Prohibition meets Renaissance-Cathedral chic. Amid winged armchairs and chandeliers, a Tracy Emin neon sign, religious paraphernalia and under the watchful eyes of the subverted Gabrielle d’Estrées et un de ses soeur, or in this case, Gabriel d’Estrées et une de ses frères – imbibers are treated to a British take on New York’s current cocktail trend: the Shorties.

Ten Bells Spitalfields Shorties Cocktails London

Reminiscent of Tony Conigliaro’s Negronis at the Bar Termini (Click HERE for Review!), Shorties attempt to maximise flavour and intensity, while minimising volume – essentially, it’s more than a shot, but less than a full-blown cocktail, something that you drink quickly before moving on to the next order of business.

The Hoodooist, for whom cocktails always – always – mean lying back and throwing two fingers up to the universe and its machinations in all their metaphysical yet infinitely irritating glory – this posed a challenge. After all, one might argue that their cheaper prices (6 to 7 pounds) is relative to their volume, but if you’re going to spend the evening here, you might end up spending more dosh than usual. It’s a complicated game, the gambling sort might enjoy this.

That’s the fun bit. The only part of this menu that one found slightly annoying was the fact that the cocktails lacked names. “I’ll have the one with the tequila – no, not the tequila and peach – the tequila and brachetto, yeah, the one from the ‘Fresh’ section, not ‘Crushed’,” I imagine to be needlessly complicated. Numbering them would be fine.

Ten Bells Spitalfields Shorties Cocktails London

The cocktails are divided into separate categories from ‘Fresh’, to ‘Strong’, and ‘Late’.

From the ‘Strong’ group, the stand out drink would definitely be the superior Black Bottle Scotch, Apricot Liqueur, Cinnamon, Black Cardamom, Jaggery and on the side, a Camden Pale Ale. This instantly reminded me of the IPA Paanch at Dishoom, King’s Cross (Click HERE for Review!). The Black Bottle blended malt is slightly smokey, silky with elements of chocolate, ginger, honey and oak – the golden sweetness of the finish teased out further by the jaggery, the apricot and spices add a wonderful extra kick to a twist on an Old Fashioned. The side of ale is meant to be a way to lengthen the drink by sipping it between draws, a kind of cleanser.

It isn’t necessary, but they pair rather well, the brightness of the ale helping lift the heavy flavours, making each sip of the cocktail feel like the first.

Ten Bells Spitalfields Shorties Cocktails London

The other three cocktails on the ‘Strong’ list struggle.

There is a distinct originality to the Rum, Fresh Pandan, Ginger, Palm Sugar, Mandarin Bitters, but it is definitely a distinctly acquired or unique taste. The sweet rum kicks you in the face as quickly as the pandan and palm sugar – lending to the cocktail a thick, green, rice-liquor flavour. Somewhat piney, and rather musty. This is a cocktail that can only be served as a shorty – because even for those who took to it (like the Hoodooist), there is only so much of it you can drink. The other three on the table failed to appreciate this.

The Gin, Creme de Peche, Jasmine, Peychauds Bitters, Grapefruit Twistlacked character, and came off a bit too sour, too floral. Similarly, the Crushed Botija Olives, Noilly Prat Rouge, Gin or Vodka, was less of a Shorty twist on a Dirty Martini, but was filthy with a drop of Martini. What graced the table was olive brine and vinegar. Mixing the three cocktails together made them more palatable.

Making a strong cocktail that short might be problematic.

Ten Bells Spitalfields Shorties Cocktails London

However, the ‘Fresh’ category held more promise.

The Bee Pollen Gin, Blossom Honey, Cocchi Americano, Lemon, Soda – this is what summer needs. The bright gin and the sweet, floral honey is balanced well by the dark, savoury bee pollen and the spiced quinine noted of the Cocchi Americano – lengthened by the lemon and soda. It’s one surprise after another when you go from savoury to sweet, to spicy to bitter to citrus and fizz. A fun little thing.

The Birbet Brachetto, Tequila, Maraschino, Burlesque Bitters, Lemon Twist and Soda, is a deep, sweet, and lightly floral cocktail that goes from the Brachetto grape’s intense spumante-esque sweetness to the floral sweetness of the Burlesque Bitters (like hibiscus?), to the Maraschino, finally ending with the tequila – bit sweet for the Hoodooist, but I can see that there is a market for this one. Expect sweet, a bit much, though.

The Red Date Shrub, Pommeu de Normandie, Vodka, Prosecco, Berries, was a hit or miss depending on the Prosecco used. Apparently a change in Prosecco halfway through the evening took a semi-sweet, berried, bright cocktail and turned it into gran’s basement. It’s up to you if it’s worth the risk.

Ten Bells Spitalfields Shorties Cocktails London

Now, the beautiful ‘Late’ Shorties – they won the evening.

Tequila, Amaro, Condensed Horchata, Cold Brew Coffee: The Tequila and Amaro are mixed into the coffee, then the Horchata (a Latin and Spanish drink, this one maybe more similar to the Mexican variation: rice, condensed milk, vanilla, cinnamon? Something the Hoodooist had been craving for the past week) was frozen and dropped in like an ice cube.

Being impatient, the Hoodooist chipped away at his to melt, resulting in a milky caffeine-fueled digestif. Intensely bittersweet, the tequila lifts the Amaro’s bitterness out of the depth of the coffee/horchata combo.

The incredible nostalgia suddenly took the Hoodooist back to sneaking Kopiko Coffee Candy out in the middle of the evening as a 6 year old – anyone who tasted these Thai candies that randomly appeared in the house in the Middle East would recognise the flavour.

Finally, the Birch Wood Aged Vieux Carre – Rye, Cognac, Benedictine, Vermouth, Bitters, all aged in Birch – result in one of the most beautiful takes on a Vieux Carre. Incredible depth, lingering, powerful eau de vie finishes, the bitterness balanced with the woody sweetness of the birch wood and the vermouth. Wonderful.

Ten Bells Spitalfields Shorties Cocktails London

Co-founder Bradley Lomas is a delight, as well as his carpaccio, and head-bartender Jerome Slesinski knocks out the Shorties with polite conversation and confidence. Server Andrea is wonderful to work with, and a spectacular host to chat about Sardegnian cheeses with. Their passion for their new venue and take on cocktails is admirable, and so is their risk-taking.

 

When a Shorty goes right, it goes very right. It’s a difficult one to gauge, when the results of reliable/good : risk/all over the place are 5:4. Did we have fun? Majorly. A great space to experiment with little shorts if you’re in the mood for it. A beautiful space to boot, with wonderful service.

 

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

 

The Ten Bells

84 Commercial Street, Spitalfields,
London E1 6LY.

http://tenbells.com/