Notorious for either its history or its name, the popular Dirty Dicks a stone’s throw from Liverpool Street Station has transformed its basement into an all new, all day cocktail bar and cafe.
Serving up toasties, coffee, craft beers and cocktails makes this a great ‘pop in anytime’ kinda spot, which is perfect for the City surroundings. Besides great coffee and bites, the cocktail menu takes a daring step with all the drinks being shrub-based. Shrubs, normally served as acidic aperitifs, can be sweetened dramatically depending on the infusion, and on the other ingredients in the cocktail.
WM Barker & Co., goes for the sweeter. In fact, the whole cocktail list is made with primarily sweet drinks. Each cocktail is named after nearby area, marking the bar as the boundary between City and Shoreditch, attempting to appeal to both markets.
Beginning with the Bank #TheBanker, we find a unique combo of Absolut vodka, Sherry vinegar, Ban Poitin, champagne syrup, milk, cream, raisin bitters. Now this is bizarre – served in a milk bottle, the first sip is a massive wallop of a hundred flavours at once, till you go in for a second.
Sweet, yes, creamy, oh yes – this certainly is a dessert drink that begins with a pleasing sherry vinegar bite to cut through all the cream. After, it, literally, there is no other comparison: it’s liquid bread pudding.
Honestly, that is exactly it. It finishes off with a lingering champagne syrup.
For someone who normally does not go for sweet drinks, the Hoodooist was oddly charmed by this. Probably the most unique cocktail on the menu.
To go in for something a bit more balanced after the Bank, we ordered the Bishopsgate #TheInvestor: Rittenhouse Rye, La Fee absinthe, peach, peach bitters, mint, sugar. Sounding much more classic Sazerac/Julep, the likes of something that would not be amiss at the Buffalo Bourbon Empire.
However, bitter it is not – I think this cocktail could do with stepping back on the sugar syrup, the bittersweet is followed by a caramelly thickness which one assumes is coming from a lot of sugar syrup. Absinthe aniseed slowly develops. I suppose I went in with a certain expectation of this drink, I’d like to see the spice of the rye playing more of a part.
St. Pauls #ThePriest really stands out from the menu with its sour profile: Whitley Neill gin, Green Chartreuse, maraschino, cucumber, cucumber shrub, lime juice, sugar, cucumber ribbon and cornichon. It’s wonderfully heavy on the Chartreuse, which is unmissable as first. Wonderfully tart, the sweetness of the cucumber and maraschino do set in, and if you pay close attention, the unique botanicals of the Whitley Neill are present in the background. A nice change from the sweetness so far.
Hoxton #ThePhotographer – is, unfortunately, a drink I don’t see myself ordering again. Sipsmith Gin, Sipsmith Sloe Gin, apricot liqueur, pomegranate shrub, lime juice, shortbread crumble rim. Sound wonderful, but really, the shortbread rim is the best part. The overwhelming sugar content of the cocktail, though, is choking.
However, all is not lost: The delightful Craig behind the bar will knock out one of the best Maker’s Mark Old Fashioneds if you ask nicely. A great way to polish off the evening, and change from the Hoxton.
Finally, with Halloween just around the corner, WM Barker will be releasing a Halloween special on the day!
The Tarot XIII – #Death, comes with all the dark sweetness you’d expect of the holiday: Muddled sour cherries, sour cherry shrub, sherry, Kahlua, Port, and Tia Maria, topped off with Schweppes. I will have to admit, this cocktail does have a lot going on in terms of depth, with all the layers of dry fruit from the sherry, the coffee from the Kahlua, et al. But the unmissable, striking flavour is the intensely sour-sweet sour cherries. It is distinctly Halloween, and probably also has the sugar content of a bag of trick-or-treating candy.
WM Barker & Co. is certainly a spot one can see becoming packed with people through the week. Time spent sat at the bar is fun with the company of Craig and team, and more than enough space at a bar that is deceptively larger than it first seems. There is amazing talent behind the bar, and a more varied menu will really showcase their skill.
The only thing that makes this a difficult spot to grade for drinks is, though there is obvious thought going into the cocktails, they’re all on the sweet side, even the ones that lean away like the St. Pauls. Luckily, bartenders will make classics on request, but one feels it should be something that is addressed in the menu.
A fun night out, as long as you know what you are going for!
Drinks: ** (variety) – *** (quality)
W. M. Barker & Co.
Basement of Dirty Dicks,
London, EC2M 4NR.