18/81, and Nocturnal Animals, Birmingham

Someone should have let me know that I was sleeping on Birmingham’s bar scene cause damn.

Spending a weekend in the Midlands at the Bites Here and There conference, the Hoodooist and friends got to crawl around some of the most impressive cocktails bars B’ham has to offer.

18/81

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

I ain’t gonna tell you how to find this venue, but follow your gut. London’s speakeasies could learn a thing or two about how to….be an actual speakeasy from 18/81.

Once in, the décor is clean and simple, a risky decision but lord, was I happy to not see a speakeasy made of low lights and leather armchairs.

This menu unapologetically revels in the return of vodka and that is so refreshing to see.

The Oaxaca

The Oaxaca mixes mezcal, mole negro, red Muscat, and served with a dark chocolate garnish.

“Is this just you in a glass?” Natalie of legal and IT recruiters Tap Search asks.

And she has a point. Smoky mezcal with hints of white pepper gives into lightly floral sweet Muscat, before being a submerged into dark chocolate and spicy chilli, from the savouriness of the mole. Do I love this cocktail? It goes on forever and stands as one of the best I’ve had in a while,and certainly the best I’ve had in Birmingham (in competition with the Smokey Old Bastard by the Edgbaston Hotel).

The Garden to Glass

The Garden to Glass serves vodka, wild nettle, cut grass, and garden herbs

Spectacular. Icy vodka prickled with fresh, grassy notes and effervescent nettle that cuts through the herbs. If light cocktails are your style, this is what you need.

Le Jardin once again gives us vodka, this time with jasmine, wormwood, and wild flowers. I have mixed feelings here. I do like the perfumed nature of the drink, and the anisey wormwood, but it feels a little *too* perfumed. If you like bitter and floral, here’s your cocktail, an acquired taste though it is.

The Shandong Blonde, and Le Jardin

The Shandong Blonde, a mix of vodka (Well, this has clearly made a comeback), Szechuan pepper flower, citrus, borage honey. Sweeter, if a bit confused. Maybe I’m just being fussy after the Oaxaca and Garden to Glass? The light floral spice feels a bit conflicted against the powerful raw honey sweetness of the borage honey. It doesn’t taste how you’d expect it, while also tasting exactly how you’d expect it to.

With a spectacular team behind the bar, service is impeccable. 18/81 serves us an amazing experience, down to the hunt for the venue.

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

18/81
Thorp St,
Birmingham B5 4AU

http://1881birmingham.co.uk/

Nocturnal Animals

Type of Bar: Bar/Restaurant
Damage: ££
Ideal for: FoodSmall Groups, Date

Talk about a showstopping look. Black walls, blue banquettes, neon against a massive bar – complete with multi-sensory distortion dividers (touch em, you’ll see what I mean). Nocturnal Animals knows how to turn a look – and don’t miss the IG opportunities downstairs!

This menu is set up in an excellent manner – each section has a base spirit and set of ingredients, followed by three takes on that mix – the Short, the Sharp, and Long – each a longer version of the prior.

The Short Pisco, adds pink grapefruit, rosewater, peach, Turmeon Rose vermouth, Aperol, and Japanese peach bitters to the mix.

The fruit of the Turmeon Rose Vermouth comes through on the nose quite spectacularly. The palette is similarly sweet, but not overwhelmingly so. For its sweetness, the drink is perfectly short, since it would take you as long to drink.

Wonderfully fruited from the vermouth and fruits, the pisco and Aperol just pull it back from a fructose hell into being a fabulously balanced sweet cocktail with a mild winter spice hit. Wave after wave of fruit notes make this a rollercoaster delight.

The Short Pisco

The Short Gin, mixes green chilli, pear eau de vie, Turmeon weed vermouth, and charred fennel bulbs.

Now, there is a lot to be said about the political ramifications of racism and the prison system in the legal cannabis market but anyway, here we are being edgy.

That said, this Martini works excellently, though is an acquired taste. The gin is drowned out by the other ingredients, however. The bright chilli is immediately followed up by the cannabis flavour of the vermouth and fennel, but eventually settling on the sweeter notes of the pear and vermouth, and a great long finish.

The Short Gin

Remember to book, this place is booked up and take in all this dystopian sexiness.

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

Nocturnal Animals
20 Bennetts Hill,
Birmingham B2 5QJ

https://www.nocturnal-animals.co.uk/

Join us again next time for our review of the Edgbaston Hotel, Birmingham!

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Death+Victory, Smithfield

Type of Bar: Bar/Restaurant
Damage: £££
Ideal for: FoodSmall GroupsLarge GroupsAfter Work

 

Smiths of Smithfields, a Farringdon staple for it’s multiple floors and enormous space, has long attracted city boys after work and meetings in the day time. One of its floors has now been relaunched as Death + Victory, a dedicated cocktail space.

This smaller bar exists as a more private, less formal, room away from the rest of the venue, allowing for some intimacy and conversation. In teals and yellows, with low candle light, it maintains a city-chic.

We were looked after by George, who was attentive and made fantastic conversation. Even when busy, we didn’t feel overlooked.

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The menu is meant to be easy and accessible to the cater to the after-work or quick meeting experience. Light and easy drinking cocktails that often come as twists on classics.

The Smooth Fields presents us with a twist on the whiskey sour – Jameson Caskmates stout edition whiskey, Amaro Averna, egg white, lemon, sugar syrup. The Caskmates’ nose of orchard fruit and the Amaro’s spice comes through on the nose. As a sour, it holds its own with the Amaro’s bittersweet orange zest and liquorice flavours adding a bit of tart bitterness to the sweeter Irish potstill and hopsy notes from the stout cask.

While we’re on the sour train, the Monkey Went To Market mixes Monkey 47 gin, apricot liqueur, lime juice, gomme, egg white and garnished with mango. An excellent sour where the woodsy and spicy Monkey 47 is balanced out against the apricot for a bright cocktail.

Our final two cocktails include the one that didn’t work too well and one that was excellent.

The Horace, I think, is entirely too ambitious. Absolut Elyx, jasmine tea, Lillet Blanc, lemon juice, chocolate bitters, Champagne creates a cacophony of clashing flavours and temperatures, with the hot tea is mixed in with the cold spirits, and asking the bartender to chill it down was one way of making it more drinkable.

On the other hand, The Regal was an excellent take on a classic Brooklyn.

The bar had (luckily) just run out of Lillet Rouge, which would be the usual vermouth for the cocktail (let’s leave the argument for whether or not Lillet is a vermouth for another time). Instead we used the Lillet Blanc to mix with Chivas Regal 18YO, Maraschino and honey water.

Saving the cocktail from the potentially sickly mix of the Rouge, the Blanc instead allows for a lighter yet still decadent cocktail where the marmalade and cocoa of the Chivas mellow out the honey water, with that added candied orange and quinine of the Lillet Blanc giving it that little kick.

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The Horace and the Regal

If I were to raise a concern, it would be that the prices were slightly steep for the offering at 12 GBP each.

Outside that one concern, we must acknowledge the comfortable space and attentive service, the drinks were all approachable and enjoyable, and it is pleasing to see an after-work staple for so many in the area step up its cocktail game.

 

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

Death + Victory @ Smiths of Smithfield

67-77 Charterhouse St, Clerkenwell,
London EC1M 6HJ

https://www.smithsofsmithfield.co.uk/death-victory-cocktail-bar

Le Petit Chef – A Dinner Time Story @ TT Liquor

Setting sail from Dubai, and travelling all over the world, Le Petit Chef comes to London!

The multisensory, multimedia, multicultural, 6 course event (I know I’m pushing it, it’s a Sunday and I’m craving a Ramos Gin Fizz before noon, sue me) follows the adventures of the Marco Polo, being relived by the tiny Petit Chef, as he guides us through the cuisine of several regions along the way. We begin in the Mediterranean, enter the Middle East and the Maghreb, then South Asia, a short stop in the Himalayas, with a main course in China and ending with a dessert that brings elements of the journey together.

Personally, something I really enjoyed about the event was how family friendly it was. Nadine Beshir has developed a great way of introducing kids to varied cuisines in an accessible, attention grabbing way. As the story unfolds, the décor changes as well, keeping the experience immersive.

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Going in without being sure what to expect, we found ourselves seated on upstairs at TT Liquor (which we know is one of the Hoodooist’s favourite venues, and basically his Hogwarts), with a book set out in front of us.

Soon, I quickly realise there our projectors set up over our heads, and the table comes to life, introducing us to tonight’s Dinner Time Story, as our minuscule chef guides us across the silk route in cuisine.
I was thinking of posting videos of the event here, but then again, I thought I’d leave it up to you to find out!

So, leaving some mystery to the night, let’s get down to the courses!

Each food course is paired with a cocktail, and wine pours throughout the evening, so be prepared for a heavy one!

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Our amuse bouche, honestly is gorgeous and is a good sign for the rest of the evening. Simple and effective: Truffled goat’s cheese and slow roasted tomato, spiralled on a Gruyere sesame seed biscuit with sweet tomato chutney. The umami fullness of the truffle forms a base for the brighter and sweeter tomato chutney, whose savouriness complements the salted cheese gracefully.It’s an amuse bouche that packs a punch.

Tuna nicoise tartlet with a soft boiled quail’s egg immediately follows, condensing a classic into a quickly digestible whole.

Our amuse bouche is paired with a TT Liquor staple that manages to be one of my favourites: Le Chat Noir. A perfect aperitif of Hayman’s Old Tom gin, Lillet Blanc, Henry Bardouin Pastis, fresh lime juice, syrup and tarragon. A light sweetness of the Old Tom and Lillet along with the aniseed of the pastis and the herbaceous tarragon invigorates the palate, announcing the evening.

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Our chef fights the sandstorms of the Middle East and finds himself in a spice souk, making his way through several classics along the way.

Okay, how many ways can I say I adored this course?

A lamb tagine croquette with pistachio crumbs served with a harissa and lemon dip is rich with full meaty sweetness lifted by the pistachio, and brought to life by the spiced and citrus dip.

A filo cup is stuffed with smoked aubergine caviar and a baby ratatouille garnish, and a classic dolma twists itself with more mint and a spicy tomato and cucumber dip, setting itself apart from its store-bought cousins.

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A crispy flatbread is thoroughly dusted in Zaatar, paired with corn fed chicken kibbeh, for a smoky, rich bite.

The course is paired with the Maghrabi TT: gin, spicy honey syrup, lemon, Verbena tea and mint. This cocktail, though intriguing on its own, I fear struggled a little with the flavours of the course, often risking over-crowding – particularly the verbena tea.

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Sweeping into South Asia, we are served butter chicken on mini poppadom with mint raita – I mean, butter chicken is a classic that it is impossible to not enjoy, mildly spiced with a buttery fullness that’s brought alive by the fresh mint raita contrast. Immediately followed by a cauliflower pannacotta with a gobi aloo (cauliflower and potato) tartar served in a crisp puri.

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Our cocktail pairing is a Pineapple Mango Cobbler – vermouth bianco, fresh pineapple, fresh mango and kaffir lime cordial. A low ABV break from our last two courses, the fruit flavours of a summer in India bring a balanced sweetness to this savoury course.

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We take a break with a sorbet of pink grapefruit and lychee in the Himalayas, with one of the most visually enjoyable and immersive moments of the evening – which I will not spoil for our readers! A chill runs through the room, and the sound of a cold mountainous wind rushes across the table.

Just, this is a great course. I am not spoiling it.

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After that palate refreshing sorbet, we prepare for the main course – though I must admit, I was already pretty full!

Paired with a red or white wine, our main takes place in China – though still a good course by all means, the past 4 courses raised the bar fairly high. Unfortunately, I think this might be the weaker course of the evening.

My duck with Bok choy and East Asian vegetables left me envying my friend’s seafood choice. The duck could have been warmer, and considering it is served with chopsticks, the rice could have been sticky, instead we found ourselves requesting spoons.

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But we finally enter our final course of the evening, by now finding it impossible to move. Our dessert is a wonderful combination of ingredients from previous courses into a crème brulee, served with a refreshing digestif: the Sgroppino mixes vodka and lemon ice cream, topped up with sparkling wine for a wonderfully lively end to the evening with its citrus sweetness.

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Cue us trying to think of a way to stand up after an absolutely massive meal.

Le Petit Chef is a fantastic evening, which finds a way to bring multiple cuisines together to one meal in a way most of us would normally be skeptical of. Its use of multimedia is a fun way to segue between courses, and its family friendly nature makes it an excellent evening for kids and families. Oh, and vegetarian options are available if informed in advance!

I encourage anyone to certainly pop down to TT Liquor for Le Petit Chef while it’s running, which, due to its success, has been extended to 31st August 2018! And prepare for a trip across the globe from the comfort of London.

 

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

Le Petit Chef @ T. T. Liquor

17b Kingsland Road,
London E2 8AA

http://dinnertimestory.com
Tickets are available on the website at 95 GBP.

The Elephant’s Head, Hackney

Type of BarBar/Restaurant, Pub
Damage££
Ideal forFoodDateSmall Groups, SundaysAfter Work

 

It’s firmly back in place!
The Elephant’s Head has reclaimed it’s spot at 43 Lower Clapton! Which is exactly what we all needed after years of the venue changing hands.

The pub has itself ready for anything, a spot to spend the night with friends, a dim lit room to nurse a hangover, and not mention, a fantastic Sunday roast.

And they ain’t too shabby on the cocktail front! Classics with a few signatures, the bar knows what they do, and do it well.

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Before our late night roast makes its way in, we sit below the beautiful stained glass ceiling nursing an El Chapo and a Martinez.

The classic Martinez has gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur and Angostura bitters, but this classic is twisted slightly with a 2:1 gin:vermouth rather than the old 1:1. The result is a lighter, brighter, much more balanced and modern cocktail.

The El Chapo stands out tonight as the best of the bar’s signature cocktails: Ocho Tequila, agave syrup, lime, ginger syrup, a mezcal float with candied ginger garnish. The sweet agave of the tequila and light white pepperiness is followed up by citrus to end with a crackle of ginger. Simple, clean, wonderful.

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After a plate of wings, a classic Japanese Cocktail makes an appearance with cognac, orgeat, lemon juice and Angostura bitters – sweet with almond and orange flavours, with an undercurrent of ripe fruit and oaky vanilla from the cognac. Certainly for the sweet tooth.

The roast sirloin was perfectly medium rare, but what we were cheering on were those incredible infinite trimmings. Tenderstem broccoli with peppered sweet root vegetables, roast potatoes that though simple were entirely too addictive, and *that* cheesy cauliflower with that distinct honeyed sweetness.

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After a second helping of the methtatoes, the now unable to move Hoodooist and co. order Gin, and Tequila Old Fashioneds, respectively.

The Gin Old Fashioned gave us rosemary infused gin, maple syrup, and black walnut bitters – which is a promising recipe, but the maple could overpower the rosemary gin – although that’s easily sorted by asking for a little less maple syrup for a sweet and savoury digestif.

The Tequila Old Fashioned I wanted extra spicy, and extra spicy I got it: tequila, chilli, agave syrup, grapefruit bitters, for a brighter alternative to the Gin variant. The agave and the tequila give us the sweet and earthy, while the grapefruit and chilli go bright and effervescent. What an excellent combo.

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I’m glad the Elephant’s Head is back, and better than ever. With quality cocktails at a price you couldn’t frown at, the most dramatic WCs ever (no, seriously), and all the methtatoes with that excellent roast, the EH makes a great spot to spend a Sunday afternoon.

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

 

The Elephant’s Head

43 Lower Clapton Rd, Hackney
London E5 0NS, UK

https://www.elephanthackney.com/

Herman ze German, Fitzrovia

Type of Bar: Bar/Restaurant
Damage£-££
Ideal for: FoodSmall Groups

 

 

Late nights and stomach-lining before drinks is our first thought when we think ‘Herman ze German‘, but why wait? Especially when the branch at Charlotte Street now serves it’s own drinks?

A cocktail menu has found its way into the basement bar and dining area, serving up twists on classics to go with some new menu additions!

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The mixed drinks inject some German traditional fare like the German Fritz Co’s drinks.

Some classics like the Aperol Spritz and a Margarita (using Tequila Ocho) are always solid crowd pleasers, others, like the Gin Melon, mix  Beefeater gin, lemongrass and Fritz Melon. The Fritz honey melon mixer could use more of the spice from the lemongrass, but makes for a fun light drink for the summer.

 

Here on out, things might go a bit pear-shaped for those who don’t have a massive sweet tooth. The Mish Mashed brings Asbach rye whiskey to Fritz MischMasch, a German cola/orange soda hybrid, and it’s about as confusing as it sounds. Similarly, the Cherry Bomb dessert drink mixes Fritz Cherry, Asbach brandy and chocolate liqueur for something entirely too sweet and sickly.

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However, the food is on point and delightfully indulgent. The new Bratmeister brings a major twist to HzG’s traditional menu: the signature Black Forrest bratwurst is garnished with freshly roasted veggies, aged feta and topped off with homemade veal gravy. It still needs to live up to the undeniably cheesy goodness of their schnitzel, though.

 

Service in this basement is excellent, and really is what made our visit – and why HzG manages to be a fun place to chill with friends over some currywurst. Even if 7 quid for spirits and mixer is a tad steep.

 

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

 

Herman ze German

43 Charlotte St, Fitzrovia, 
London W1T 1RS

http://www.hermanzegerman.com/

Aqua Nueva & Spirit, Oxford Circus

Type of Bar: Bar/Restaurant, Spanish, Japanese
Damage££££
Ideal for: FoodDate, Small Groups, After Work

 

As crowded as Argyll Street is, it is easy to miss some of the signs around you – including the doorway that leads up to the 5th floor, where three of Aqua’s dining experiences are hidden away.

The opulently decorated Aqua series begins with the shimmering mirrored surfaces of the Aqua Spirit bar, before opening up to the Nueva restaurant, heralded by the charging Pamplona bull – an awful lot of spectacle, so the Hoodooist was curious to see if there was substance behind the glitz.

 

Aqua Kyoto Nueva London cocktails

The Smoke Over Spain

 

Once seated at our table, looking out the balcony to the Central London skyline, and over the bar of Nueva, we are served with the London Cocktail Week offering of the Smoke Over Spain.

I’m already sold with this. Tanqueray gin, orgeat, sherry, wild strawberry liqueur, fresh lemon juice and served with a paprika foam, a gorgeous balancing act of sweet without being sickly, citrus without being overpowering, and smoky for a burst of flavour. You begin with the smoky paprika foam that teases the tastebuds before a wash of fruit and nutty sweetness of the orgeat, giving way to the powerful strawberry flavour that dominates the drink, leading to a dry finish from the sherry.

This is a cocktail you will remember, even for the Hoodooist who notoriously avoids sweet or fruit dominated cocktails. I do wish this will find its way onto the cocktail menu year round, to firmly place Aqua on the map for cocktail ingenuity.

We enjoy snacks of Manzanilla olives, chickpea croquettes, and Iberian meats before being served padron peppers fried with olive oil and dusted with sea salt that the Hoodooist absolutely adores. The addition of sea salt does stand out from many servings of padron peppers, and the Hoodooist doubts he can have it any other way now! A pile of green pepper heads on his plate, we are served another cocktail.

 

 

Aqua Spirit Kyoto Nueva London cocktails

Salmon and avocado maki with salmon ‘pearls’

 

Aqua Spirit‘s offering of the Japanese Citrus initially does not go down well – until it dilutes. Then we find a wonderfully refreshing drink. The melting ice dilutes the pungency of the powerful yuzu sake, which is mixed with Ketel One vodka, fresh lemon juice, ginger syrup, Angostura bitters and topped with soda water. Once you’ve waited a few minutes, the yuzu citrus provides a wonderful backdrop for the ginger to sizzle.

This was paired with salmon and avocado maki, topped with salmon roe. Clearly freshly cut and succulent salmon made this sushi worth travelling for, exciting seasoned residents of Japan at our table. Soon, chicken wings stuffed with coriander and miso are served, as well as crisp prawn tempura with garlic chilli sauce.

 

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Finally, melt-in-your-mouth oxtail topped with avocado creme is paired with a glass of champagne, before the finale of a shot of Espresso Martini as a digestif to polish off a wonderful evening.

Staff at the Aqua Nueva & Spirit are faultless: polite, swift, and conversational. I do prize service above everything else at a bar, and the Aqua series certainly score here.

 

Overall, the glitz is not just for show. Cocktails are engineered to be paired with food, so do not attempt to be enormously complex or demanding – but when they do, we find stars like the Smoke Over Spain. The Japanese Citrus is also a great example at how cocktails meant to be paired can be enjoyable even on their own.The atmosphere is perfect for a celebratory dinner, after work drink on the balcony, and particularly for meetings. You can’t go wrong for why you’re here, really.

Sure, it’s a steep price, which is expected – but all things considered, the Aqua Nueva and Spirit are venues a visit to London should not do without.

 

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

 

Aqua Nueva & Spirit,

240 Regent St, Oxford Circus
London W1B 3BR

http://aquakyoto.co.uk/
http://aquanueva.co.uk/

Game of Thrones Menu at @Bird Of Smithfield, Clerkenwell

Type of Bar: Bar/Restaurant, Also optional Basement, Rooftop
The Iron Price: Three courses £30
Ideal for: FoodDate, Small Groups, Large GroupsAfter Work

 

Game of Thrones Menu available 15th – 26th August 2016

Okay, you know we love Bird of Smithfield – we’ve covered their drinks and a solid 4/5 was in order. Simple, elegant, get the job done.

And for this week only, the restaurant unveils a dedicated set menu (horse hearts and incest not included) celebrating the Game of Thrones fandom – or at least staving off GoT deprivation during the hiatus!

The menu appeals to the theme of the series while maintaining the approachable simplicity of British fare – and in BoS tradition, managing to amp up the everyday to a meal worth travelling for.

Bird of Smithfield Game of Thrones

Okay. This is gorgeous.

The Dracarys Salad felt like bit of a crime to eat, really.

Marbled quail eggs nested on salad with bacon lardons presented beautifully on a noodle nest. The eggs just perfectly runny and shimmering in the streaming light, and crisp of bacon for that little Dothraki touch.

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Then, what is a party in Westeros without a pie (and several casualties)?

Joffrey’s Wedding Pie is suitably hearty and incredibly filling: Chicken , quail and leeks spill from the pie, sizzling. Once the quail stabbing through the pie is dealt with, the perfectly crisp and flaky pastry is broken through to the chicken underneath.

Bird of Smithfield Game of Thrones

Finally, the meal ends with the Ice and Fire, a vanilla Baked Alaska comes with Wildfire!

Green Chartreuse is spilled around the dessert to be set alight – keep your vial of Wildfire to drink as a digestif after.

The vanilla gelato encased the the cake might be slightly firmer than we’d like, but the browned meringue is just right, and spiced up with the Chartreuse for just a little bit of kick for a twist.

Bird of Smithfield Game of Thrones

 

Bird of Smithfield manages to chic up most Game of Thrones/ASoIaF themed meals and keeping the simplicity of British fare – and all for a modest price. Highly recommended for the GoT fan – and certainly on Friday night to welcome the Night Tube as you saunter away from your Westerosi dining at midnight.

(Look out for our Night Tube launch party recommendations tomorrow!)

Game of Thrones menu only till Friday 26th August 2016! To book, call 0207 559 5100

 

Bird of Smithfield

26 Smithfield St, Clerkenwell
London EC1A 9LB

http://birdofsmithfield.com/