5cc Singer Tavern, Old Street

Type of Bar: Basement, Speakeasy
Damage££
Ideal for: Party, Small Groups, Large Groups, After Work

 

Way back in the day, the reviewed the 5cc‘s other branches in a blog post (Click HERE for Review!) – but the launch of the new Singer Tavern, 1 City Road venue demands another look with a total change of the 5cc vibe!

Which I mean, kinda like its Hoxton brother, this venue is much bigger than the elder siblings – more than enough space to easily fit a 100 guests, with massive booths, couches, and even a semi-private room. And space to dance! Walking down the stairs from the Singer Tavern (yes, Singer as in the sewing machine company, and the venues décor won’t let you forget that) – the Hoodooist is greeted with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins blasting on the stereo – a volume level that never really goes down, which makes it great for a night out – not so much for private conversation. Come here for an evening out with a group of friends, not on a first date.

 

This manifestation of 5cc takes on the crypt-like surrounds of the Bethnal Green venue, as well as the modern décor of the Farringdon branch, with the Hoxton spot’s upbeat tempo – definitely an after-work spot.

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As for the cocktails, we’re seeing many updates from the slightly more demure 5cc standards.

The Montgomery is one of the most classic cocktails served: a Dolin dry vermouth based gin Martini using No.3 Gin – served short and fairly wet (at least for the Hoodooist). Easy drinking for a Martini, No.3 has to still be one of the Hoodooist’s favourite Martini gins, simple, crisp citrus with powerful juniper. The Dolin is a game changer though, with a potently floral and sweet flavour – which made this drink rather divisive at the table, some enjoying it, others turning away pretty quickly. If you’re a Martini fan, consider the sweetness of the Dolin, and go for it if it works for you!

 

5cc Singer Tavern cocktails

The Saints & Sinners

Along the short and Martini-esque route, the Saints & Sinners is closer to a dry twist on a classic Hanky Panky. Dictador aged gin and Lillet Blanc, mixed in with Fernet Branca and vanilla bitters, garnished with an olive. I… have no idea what this cocktail is trying to achieve. Now, the Hoodooist has used the Dictador aged gin in a basic gin Martini with Lillet Blanc before with pleasant results – however this goes in a totally different route. If you haven’t come across this gin before, it made the controversial decision to age the gin for 35 weeks in rum barrels to provide a rounder, sweeter flavour. Instead we get this bizarre confused mix of dry flavours that were just difficult to decipher. Universally abandoned at the table.

5cc Singer Tavern cocktails

Then came the East End Old Fashioned: Elijah Craig 12, lapsang souchong cordial, chilli and orange bitters. I think the lapsang souchong cordial and chilli were meant to complement the Elijah Craig 12’s slightly spicy and fruity character, but instead, making the tea a cordial left the cocktail a bit flat. There seemed to be a hint of spice that stops short. Unfortunately, it comes off a bit ineffectual and unmemorable.

For a longer drink though, the Knock Out does the trick: ELLC Demerara rum, lime, strawberry and blackberry cordial, topped up with soda (seemed more like ginger beer?). Now, if you’re thirsty, this would be it. It may not be the Hoodooist’s style, but it does its job and a sweeter thirst-quencher. It’s nice to see the East London Liquor Company’s Demerara rum! With a hint of vanilla and woody flavour, the rum works well with the ginger beer – and surprisingly well with the berries. If you want a simple long drink, this would be it.

Finally, Frida’s Tropical Margarita: 1800 coconut tequila, lime, pineapple and chipotle cordial with coconut and salt rim. When it says ‘tropical’, it ain’t kidding. However, again, the cordial-isation of the ingredients leaves it a bit flat, and what was agreed on was that the most exciting part of the drink was the coconut rim.

 

5cc Singer Tavern cocktails

The Knock Out

The Montgomery and Knock Out seem to do exactly what they mean to – but also have the simplest combinations when you look at them. The two cordial drinks, the East End Old Fashioned and Frida’s Tropical Margarita, somehow go a bit flat on flavour. The Saints & Sinners, at first glance, has a problematic combo of flavours (The Minestrone Cocktail effect, as Alessandro Palazzi would put it).

So with a keen eye, you’d actually be able to spot what would work and what doesn’t – though probably easier said then done, as witnessed by the East End Old Fashioned, which sounds good in theory.

 

However, you shouldn’t have a problem getting a cocktail tailored to your tastes, since the service at the bar is wonderful – although do keep in mind that this is a bar that can certainly get rather busy! But like we all know, a busy bar means a more effervescent atmosphere to find yourself partying in, and a space to dance is what too many cocktail bars in London are lacking.

 

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

 

5cc, Singer Tavern, 

1 City Road, Old Street
London, EC1Y 1AE.

http://www.5cc-london.com/

The Cocktail Trading Company, Soho

Type of Bar: Tiny, Basement, Quirky
Damage££
Ideal for: Date

 

The Cocktail Trading Company Development Bar & Table (can we just call it CTC? Cool, okay) has been one of the most long-awaited openings in the cocktail world of 2015 after generating buzz for months now. And probably what the brasserie upstairs, Central & Co, needed to up its cocktail game.

The basement is tiny, if you’re lucky you might bag a couch (book in advance!) – and I recommend you find a good seat, because time can fly here! Dim-lit and cosy, the 80s playlist really makes the venue. Well, that and the incredible drinks and service provided by the Olly/Andy/Elliot trinity.

CTC

It’s probably worth mentioning that with 7 cocktail awards between them, it is difficult to go wrong with a good old classic here. About half the menu is classics, but the team will happily go off menu if you ask, as they did for a spectacularly constructed Campari-heavy Negroni Sbagliato (Vermouth, Campari, Prosecco).

But let’s move on to the house cocktails!

 

For Whom The Bell Bols

For Whom The Bell Bols

Star of the night would easily be the For Whom the Bell Bols (oh yes, puns, go with it. And yes, it *is indeed* served in a bell): Lavender and Chamomile infused Bols Genever, Golden Syrup 1:1, lemon juice and egg white, topped with a shortbread. Firstly, shortbread with the egg white and Golden Syrup is amazing. Secondly, so wonderful to see more of Bols Genever, sadly not used in the London scene as much as it could be. The malty texture of the Bols suits the combo of flavours so wonderfully, with the lavender and chamomile sweeping up the drinker initially, followed by the brighter pine flavour of the Bols and hints of its signature smoky spiciness – though that spiciness is rendered more subtle with the addition of the Golden Syrup. An incredible drink, a sweeter flavour for those who don’t do sweet.

 

Urn-Aged Corpse Reviver No.2

Urn-Aged Corpse Reviver No.2

The Urn-Aged Corpse Reviver No.2, is an intriguing one. ‘Egyptian Embalming Gin’, fortified honey wine, mandarin liqueur, lemon juice and absinthe. The Egyptian Embalming gin was certainly intriguing, keeping with the ‘corpse’ theme, the team wanted to bring out the gin botanicals commonly found in Egyptian embalming fluid. And honey wine similarly in theme. The most powerful flavour yet is the mandarin, with the gins spicier and more herbal botanicals following, the sweetness of the honey wine throughout. Managing to remain citrusy without becoming too sweet, and avoiding the overdose of absinthe that many Corpse Reviver No.2s suffer, this is a wonderful take on a classic. Not to mention the wonderful presentation!

 

Welcome to Kentucky, Have a Nice Day!

Welcome to Kentucky, Have a Nice Day!

However, the Welcome to Kentucky, Have a Nice Day: Jim Beam, ginger and plum infusion, Yuzu juice, matcha tea, was a confusing one. Between us, it felt like a bit too much happening at the same time. The Jim Beam comes through quite clearly. After a couple of sips you begin to notice the underlying thick sweetness of the matcha, the ginger and a very light citrus of the yuzu, and maybe it is a matter of personal taste, but it felt like too much at once. (Although, do call the number on the menu under this drink.)

#FESTIVALCHIC

#FESTIVALCHIC

Finally, the #FESTIVALCHIC is presented the most strangely – in a welly. This is a great example of the wonderful service expected at CTC. The concoction: Wray & Nephew rum, Cinzano Bianco, lychee liqueur, cranberry, lemon juice, is certainly not the Hoodooist’s style, turning out to be far sweeter than he would normally drink. The lychee and cranberry stand out the most, the rum and vermouth downplayed slightly. But while chatting over it, the team offered to add in lemon juice, Campari and salt to actually make a fantastic, well balanced apertivo that I’d recommend.

So though the #FESTIVALCHIC is a naturally sugary drink for the sweet tooth, I highly appreciate the team for going out of their way to balance it further.

 

Really, aside from the wonderful music and quirky drinks, the service (as I’ve stressed before, being the most important aspect of a bar) is what makes the Cocktail Trading Co a definite visit when in the area. Highly recommended, a drink like For Whom the Bell Bols is not to be missed.

 

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

 

The Cocktail Trading Company

Basement @ Central and Co., 22 Great Marlborough St.,
London, W1F 7HU.

http://www.thecocktailtradingco.co.uk/

MASH Steak 2015, Soho

Type of Bar: Bar/Restaurant, Experimental, Basement
Damage££ – £££
Ideal for: Date, Small Groups, Large Groups, Steak, Originality

 

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.

 

The Woody Woodpecker

The Woody Woodpecker

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.

 

The Yosemite

The Yosemite

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.

 

The Solvang

The Solvang

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

The Little Italy

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.

 

Dusting the Seattle Set

Dusting the Seattle Set

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.

 

Preparing the 3 step Mad Hatte

Preparing the 3 step Mad Hatte

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.

The Binchotan

The Binchotan

 

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*.

 

The Test Tube

The Test Tube

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

 

MASH Steak

77 Brewer Street,
London,W1F 9ZN.

http://www.mashsteak.co.uk/

Ruby’s, Dalston

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

One can’t really call Ruby’s ‘hidden’, exactly. Under a cinema-style sign, an ominous red stairway leading into the basement opens up a small, shabby chic style venue very reminiscent of the King’s Cross Simmons Bar.

Rubys

L-R: The Bitter Stump, & Nordic Cruise

The menu is divided in two, the permanent menu and seasonal – we decided to take on 2 seasonal, 1 permanent and 1 classic drink.

The seasonal Bitter Stump: Bourbon, Cynar, Benedictine, Bitters is exactly the kind of drink the Hoodooist would go for – it even comes with an artichoke…leaf? Thingy. ‘Bract’ (thanks, wiki). Wait, it is a kind of leaf. Yes. Alright! So the first half of the drink is greatly enjoyable, with the bourbon giving way to the Cynar balanced by Benedictine. But halfway through, it becomes very, very sweet. It could do with more Benedictine and bitters, I’d imagine. Loving the drink if it managed to keep its more savoury flavour all the way through.

The seasonal Nordic Cruise, with its winter style, takes on a similarly sweet personality. Pimento Dram, Cognac, Pear liqueur and cloves/cinnamon – starts off pleasantly enough. An enjoyable winter drink, the smoothness of the cognac and the pear initially, then the cloves and pimento dram. But about halfway through the flavours kinda dissipate, leaving a flat drink. Drink this one quickly.

The Kurimi is on the permanent menu: Nikka whisky, liquorice, black walnut. Seeming like a good idea at first, it turns out the latter two ingredients far outweigh the first, leaving a pleasing flavour, but far too sweet for an entire drink.

A Buffalo Trace bourbon Old Fashioned, is made excellently.

 

IMAG1511
Service is polite and quick, no complaints there.

Really, the only concern in the imbalance to sweetness in the cocktails here, the menu tends toward the sweet as is. If there are complaints, it’s more about the choice of house cocktails than of anything else, since the bartenders are talented.
Of course, if these are flavours you enjoy, you will probably take to them far more than myself – but it would be nice to see slightly harder and drier drinks on the menu, too. Especially when the Old Fashioned came out that well. Maybe the next seasonal menu? Fingers crossed!

Ruby’s is a unique little spot on the up and coming Stoke Newington Road, and is a fun place to hang out over a drink, but probably more so for classics than house cocktails.

 

DrinksHouse cocktails: ** , Classics: ***
Atmosphere: ***
Service: ***

Ruby’s

76 Stoke Newington Road,
London N16 7XB.

http://www.rubysdalston.com/

Original Sin, Dalston

Type of Bar: Basement
Damage££
Ideal for: Small Groups, Pool, Nightcaps

Yes, Alastair Burgess and team of Happiness Forgets (Click HERE for review) are back with a vengeance with Original Sin in Dalston! The basement below the Stokey Bears burger venue above ground becomes the dark and seductive Original Sin.

Original Sin is both very similar to, and very different from Happiness Forgets, and those who’ve been to both will understand. Sin’s set up is similar to an expanded version of Happiness, decked out in hardwood and bronzed lighting. The menu is quintessentially Burgess as well, and the crowd typically Happiness. Though less claustrophobic than Happiness, Original Sin is still packed with punters.

addiechinn.comAC8_1882

The cocktail menu is short, and unpredictable. The unique combinations of ingredients make it difficult to anticipate the flavours of the drinks, so you just have to go for it – but what a fantastic menu it is.

The Perfect Storm comes right from the Happiness Forgets menu: Dark rum, plum brandy, lemon, honey and ginger. And a perfect storm it is, spicy, tangy and a whole lotta fun. Once you’ve been hit by the ginger full force, then the plum brandy, moving into the dark rum and finally settling again to the honey and intense ginger – highly recommended unless ginger isn’t your thing. You got to love it to enjoy this one.

Mr. Sandman is perfect for this time of year: Remy Martin, allspice, lemon, maple syrup, ginger and egg yolk. The first thing that struck me is how well the yolk has been handled here. Shaken just right to not curdle or become too thick. Lightly spiced, the allspice is more present than the ginger, but doesn’t overpower – it’s the maple syrup that stands out (not often that maple syrup is a powerful flavour in a drink, I find). Incredibly well balanced, and one of the few traditionally Xmas style drinks the Hoodooist has enjoyed. The only drawback being trying to stop singing Mr. Sandman after.

The Sea City

The Sea City

The winner of the night has to be the Sea City: Mezcal, Cachaca, lemon, Agave, salt, mint, egg white and soda. We had no idea what to expect when ordering this one, but it turns out the name is far more enlightening to the flavour than the drink – bright, lively, exciting. The background smokiness of the mezcal lingers throughout the drink, but begins with the intensity of agave and Cachaca, followed by the lemon and salt, with a hint of mint at the end, this entire drink is a roller coaster. Amazing.

Original Sin

AND POOL TABLE.

Service is excellent: quick, with a good number of staff, major plus.

The only drawback I experienced at Original Sin would have been the feeling that people were always crowded in on you even when you were seated (perhaps that was the result of the loud speakers?). I can see a stricter limit on entry (like the stricter limit enforced at Happiness Forgets) greatly benefiting Original Sin.

I love the idea of having this great bar as a nightcap spot, popping by at 1AM for a last drink and round of pool – so a firm favourite on Stoke Newington High Street to round a night out. A must visit!

Original Sin is currently open, but will only take reservations from January 2015 onward.

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

Original Sin

129 Stoke Newington High Street,
London N16 0PH.

http://www.originalsin.bar/

BUMP Caves, London Bridge

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

BUMP Caves is another of the quick sprouting cocktail bars in the London Bridge/Bermondsey area that only recently was seriously lacking in cocktail venues.

The innocuous pub, the Draft House, hides an experimental cocktail venue in the basement that specialises in all their own homemade spirits, and what they call ‘Bumps’: spirits customised with various flavours by Max Chater and his rotavap.

So you could get a beer, or a shrub and soda, which you can mix a BUMP into. For example, Craft beer Beavertown Smog Rocket adds ginger, pecan and sweet potato.

But not being a beer guy, the Hoodooist went in for the cocktails.

Sneaking into one of the snug booths (said ‘caves’), the Hoodooist was pleased to find a bartender whose drinks he greatly enjoyed at the Pickle Jar launch in London Cocktail Week ’14 (Click HERE for article!) dishing out the drinks. And just as the last time, service was impeccable, friendly and conversational.

Electric Kool Aid Acid Test (EKAAT)

Electric Kool Aid Acid Test (EKAAT)

The Hoodooist inevitably went for Electric Kool Aid Acid Test (EKAAT) – named after the Tom Wolfe book which inspired the venue and its psychedelic theme – Malt, Campari, Sweet Vermouth, Piquepoul, 9V, Acid. Okay, let’s explain. The actual cocktail is presented as a mix of the first 4 ingredients, with citric acid powder being presented in a dodgy little baggy, and a 9V Duracell battery on the side.

On the nose, the Campari and Vermouth, and the malty flavour is unmistakable. Nonetheless, without bunging in the entire packet of acid (though you are expected to ‘balance’ the drink with as much acid as you need, it really only improves in flavour with nearly the entire packet) the drink isn’t anything notable. Once you have, you lick the poles of the battery, and take a sip.

Okay. The battery-licking was meant to bring out the flavour of the Gentian in the Campari, and I don’t know if it was just me, but I found the bitterness mellower instead after licking.  In fact, I found the vermouth to stand out further, with only a hint of the Campari’s bitterness, accompanied by the malt mouthfeel. An interesting drink, but an exhausting one with the constant 9V shocks from the battery each sip.

Hi/Bye

Hi/Bye

The Barrel Aged Hi/Bye was a much more traditional drink, a Brooklyn with hibiscus: Rye, hibiscus, Bump Picon and Dry Vermouth – accompanied with a pickle, and a dried hibiscus garnish. As a Brooklyn, slightly sweeter and smoother thanks to the aging, and definitely benefitting from the hibiscus. A well-made Brooklyn in any case.

Chinese Double Smoke

Chinese Double Smoke

The Chinese Double Smoke – an excellent concept. Ilegal Mezcal, Kamm & Sons, Dry Vermouth, cloves, with lapsang souchong loose tea and a sprig of samphire to highlight contrast in flavours. Toss in the tea to smoke the drink as desired, drink, nibble on samphire. It’s rare to get a strong ginseng flavour in a drink, but the Chinese Double Smoke does it successfully, highlighted by the dryness of the vermouth. With the Mezcal smokiness of the Ilegal mingling well with the cloves and tea – you’d actually expect it to be smokier than it actually is. Of the four drinks of the night, though this was highly interactive and experimental, it was somehow lacking character.

My Beautiful Friend

My Beautiful Friend

Finally, the My Beautiful Friend – Victory Gin (what a brilliant name), Green Chartreuse, Sour fortification make a highly acidic twist on a Last Word where a slab of white chocolate plays the part of the maraschino to provide a sweet creaminess to balance the highly acidic cocktail.

You’ll notice my descriptions of the drinks are shorter than usual, because frankly, the experience was somewhat confusing. Do not get me wrong, the drinks were still great, but sometimes (not always) the addition of certain flavours or pairings are more as perks – which are fun and innovative, but don’t necessarily play a large part in the flavour of the drink. The My Beautiful Friend and Hi/Bye were winners of the night, but were also the most traditional. The Chinese Double Smoke has incredible potential if more flavoursome, and though the EKAAT is the most captivating and unique, felt like bit a chore after a short while.

Nonetheless, one appreciates the uniqueness of the approach, and it would be wrong of me to not urge the reader to visit, for the novelty of the experience and hospitality. I do look forward to coming back and trying more of the menu!

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

Bump Caves @ The Draft House

206-208 Tower Bridge Rd
London SE1 2LL

https://www.facebook.com/TripAtBumpCaves

Bermondsey Arts Club, Bermondsey

Type of Bar: Tiny, Basement, Speakeasy
Damage££
Ideal for: Date, Small Groups, Live Music

Now this is interesting.

The Bermondsey Arts Club has kept itself to itself since they opened about half a year ago. They’ve also developed a loyal following, especially from the area, looking for a cocktail bar closer to home (major plus for the Hoodooist in Greenwich).

Taking up residence in the public conveniences underground, on weekdays, you wouldn’t know the BAC was here. Keeping the walls, the rest of the venue has been done up in black and gold art deco revival – and on Wednesdays, bringing out their chilled jazz band. I do wish that they kept the jazz throughout the week, though – the weekend pop playlist is a bit jarring with the sexy underground surrounding.

L to R: Phra Phum, and Three Wise

L to R: Phra Phum, and Three Wise

Making one’s way there for the launch of their Winter Cocktail list, I have to say, it is a major improvement on the previous menu. And this new menu (launching Dec 5th ’14) is absolutely delightful, I fell in love with it as we tasted.

Let’s begin with the Phra Phum: House Thai Gin (ginger, chilli, garlic, spring onion), lemon, sugar, egg white, House Soy Bitters. Love. Bright, spry, lively – the first hits of spring onion and chilli, then ginger and finally the simmering of garlic and hint of soy – all make an appearance in this citrusy-spicy East Asian inspired cocktail. An excellent way to start a night, and easily one of my favourites on the list.

Another one that stood out would be a light take on a dessert drink: the Grappa’s Delight brings Chamomile Grappa, Cocchi Americano, lemon, honey, green tea gelato together with a few dried chamomile blooms dusted above. Less thick than most dessert drinks, yet still with that smooth gelato texture, this cocktail is sneaky. Not a dry drink at all, the Cocchi Americano is barely noticeable, as the gelato, honey and chamomile have their way with you. The Grappa does make a sound appearance, and I’d pick this over a dessert any day of the week.

L to R: Accidentally half drunk Grappa's Delight, and A Little R & R

L to R: Accidentally half drunk Grappa’s Delight, and A Little R & R

The next two drinks go in for darker, heavier flavours. The Hit and Mist was most enjoyable – Cider poached Apple Laphroaig, Treacle Syrup, Whisky Barrel Bitters is smoked with Apple Hickory smoke. A short, strong drink and a great winter warmer, surprisingly not as sweet as you’d expect. The characteristic nature of Laphroaig, with its already smoky, and rather medicinal flavour is necessary to balance the sweeter treacle – creating a very well balanced drink that really is made by the Hickory smoke. Without it, it would lose a lot of character (like the Lost in the Woods, by PortSide Parlour, review HERE). But this exactly the kind of drink the Hoodooist would enjoy. Seductive, balanced, warm and enveloping.

The Coupe des Garcon is an odd one – named after the fashion house Comme des Garcon – puts Port, Ramazzotti, Fine Calvados and Peychaud’s Bitters in a glass wrapped in a napkin sprayed with Comme de Garcon’s Wonderwood parfum. Now here is the odd part: the Calvados is not a strong flavour, yet plays an important part in the drink with the Port and Ramazzotti and the intriguing bit is how similar to bourbon the result is – the fruity bourbon sweetness, the woodiness of the barrels, all evoked wonderfully. I suspect, though, the woodiness is in fact olfactory. The Wonderwood parfum (Hm, pepper, sandalwood, oudh? I think.) is an excellent pairing with the cocktail, making it a multisensory experience – but don’t spray it on yourself, getting it off your clothes is impossible (or off you. Or your pillowcases. Everything into the wash). Another excellent winter drink, throwing you headfirst into nature with hints of oranges, apples and spices.

The Hit and Mist

The Hit and Mist

Finally, I probably should end mentioning two drinks that, though still good, are not up to par with the above. A Little R & R is a surprisingly uncharacteristic drink (Butter-washed raisin rum, cinnamon liqueur, lemon and cardamom bitters), and in fact, comes off a bit too citrusy. I feel avoiding the lemon a bit, and relying more on a sort of butter-washed raisin rum Old Fashioned would be a better idea. Nonetheless, we have the buttery, rich mouthfeel of the rum, with a final hint of cardamom at the end. Less lemon. Always less lemon.

Lastly, the Three Wise is in fact what I started with. I was intrigued by the strangeness of the ingredients: Taylor’s 10yr Port, Brokers Gin, Gold/Frankincense/Myrrh Bitters. Yup. Served in a Japanese wooden cube (also used by the Artesian for a Japanese styled drink in a previous menu) – it can be uncomfortable to drink from, especially with that little singed stick of incense prodding your face. On one hand, a good aperitif with intense dryness – on the other hand, a bit confusing. I might enjoy it more with less gin, since it drowns out the barely noticeable figs in the port, which would be fantastically both thematically and in regard to taste. The frankincense and myrrh is certainly a nice addition – as for the gold, well. Perhaps gold leaf would be a better garnish than the incense. This drink appeals more to my intellect than my tastebuds.

The Aged Old Negronis

The Aged Old Negronis

Service at the bar is wonderful (Aged Negronis bottled to take home! Taste delicious and rounded, well-balanced). Milo (who runs a cocktail Youtube channel, Caffe Corretto), Jake and Adam are excellent company. On weekends though, the tables can get very crowded and getting attention/waiting for drinks can get a bit tiring – but one expects that on crowded nights. You will see the Hoodooist and friends at the bar, getting tanked on Hit and Mists on Wednesdays, I think.

In summary: the new menu at the Bermondsey Arts Club is formidable, original, and wonderful. Favouring the Hoodooist’s preferred style of short, but intense, these drinks are quickly taking this bar to one of my more favoured hang outs. With excellent design and atmosphere, and fun service – you’ll see me here often (at least, as often as I can. I have two bars a week to review for you people, you know.)

A major thanks to Jamie Pinkham and team for an excellent night out!

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

Bermondsey Arts Club

102A Tower Bridge Road,
London SE1 4TP

http://bermondseyartsclub.co.uk/

Happiness Forgets, Shoreditch

Type of Bar: Basement, Tiny
Damage££
Ideal for: Small Groups

 

Hoxton Square is home to a few bars, but none with the reputation of Happiness Forgets. A Shoreditch institution, Pegu Club trained Alastair Burgess rallied up a few spectacular bartenders for the venue.

Happiness-Forgets-6

The opening sentence pretty much tells you I enjoy the cocktails here, and have popped by over the years – the menu is seasonal and alters a bit. So let’s have a look at a classic first: can’t go wrong with a Buffalo Trace Old Fashioned. Smooth, silky, just a little bit of kick, gorgeous.

The Jerezana catches my eye; Manzanilla & Amontillado, sweet & dry vermouths, dash of vanilla and orange bitters. The sherries are the first to assault you, with the light chamomile of the Manzanilla, followed by the wonderfully contrasting dry and sweet vermouths – the scrape of the former, and rounded mouthfeel of the latter. Finally, the vanilla does just the trick to add that little something to round out the drink. The drink is ambitious, but works incredibly well.

The Alter Ego; St. Germain elderflower liqueur, Vulson white rye, dry sherry and Angostura is almost a dry cousin of the Jerezana. You tumble through the flavours of this drink as the open up surprisingly quickly. The spicy fruitiness of the white rye clashes comfortably with the elderflower to settle on the sherry. The drink is almost unsettling, yet addictive – with the perfect name.

Happiness ForgetsCocktail_05-580x386

As much as I love the menu and staff, I find the atmosphere a bit claustrophobic – seats near the exit are the most comfortable with access to fresh air. Dark, loud and surprisingly warm, it can be fun on quieter evenings. On quieter evenings though (hardly ever, mind you), there is plenty seating at the bar for chats. On that note, booking is absolutely necessary, especially if there are more than two of you. I’ve always noticed the strange mix of clientele – it’s like nearby Shoreditch, Liverpool St. and Old St. all fit themselves in.

Service is excellent, polite, and fun – can’t fault it. But one has to account for crowded evenings, too.

 

In summary, the mercurial menu means that one can only comment on the staff’s ability to come up with original cocktails that work and their finesse – which is fantastic. Classics are knocked out wonderfully, too. Happiness Forgets is crowded with good reason.

Drinks: ****
Atmosphere: ** – ***
(Certainly up to taste)
Service: ***

 

Happiness Forgets

8-9 Hoxton Square,
London N1 6NU

http://www.happinessforgets.com/

Cecil’s UFF Tea Ball, London Bridge

Type of Bar: Basement, Vintage
Damage££
Ideal for: Party, Date, Small Groups, Large Groups, Birthdays

 

Tucked away down the industrial alleyway of 8 Holyrood Street, Cecil’s is a basement venue that on weekends goes from bar to 1930s glam with their galas. With Cecil himself on stage and the wonderfully charismatic Jim McMahon as host, the night wasn’t short of incredible entertainment and fantastic service. We have been to Cecil’s before, as we covered their Paris in London Grand Marnier pop up in London Cocktail Week (Click HERE for review!).

Cecil's

The UFF Tea Ball is characterised by its focus on the 30s and formal wear (always a good excuse to throw on a tux), with varying themes now and again, this time: 1930s Shanghai; with Cecil singing classic tunes on stage in front of a small dancefloor, two large booths on either side of the room and a scattering of tables among the indoor foliage.

Greeted at the door with an Oolong tea based punch, downstairs we begin with a New York of the East: Maker’s Mark Bourbon, a splash of Umeshu plum wine, sugar, bitters, orange twist. Essentially an Old Fashioned with Umeshu, it brought a brightness to the classic, with a lasting earthiness in the aftertaste. An interesting twist. The Cecil’s Rum Swizzle is one of those effortless and classic drinks that demands no pretention or fascination, and in many ways epitomises the style of Cecil’s cocktails, it’s quietly confident and here to get the job done: Santa Teresa Claro rum, Velvet Falernum, spiced sugar syrup from Barbados, lime juice, bitters. I’m going to go ahead and assume the ‘spiced sugar syrup from Barbados’ is the spiced sugar cane syrup that is mixed in with rum to make Velvet Falernum, but I could be wrong. What you get is a clean, soft cocktail that really is a quintessential rum swizzle.

 

The New York of the East

The New York of the East

The star of the evening would definitely be the Aperitif No. 20: El Jimador Reposado tequila, lemon, marmalade, sugar, splash of Kamm and Sons – bright, spry, lively, and effervescent. Citrusy, but only the best of ways, the tart sweetness of the marmalade and warm earthiness of the Kamm and Sons preventing a dreadful leap into sourness.

 

There was, still a hiccup with the Cecil’s Club Vodka Highball, which might appeal to some, but came off a bit *too* plain: Belenkaya Vodka, Umeshu, stripped cucumber, soda. Besides a distant umeshu after-taste, my bias against this might be the same reason I dislike so many of Hendrick’s Gin signature drinks, you could just eat a cucumber with a shot of vodka. So I am reluctant to judge this harshly since it could be a personal dislike, although it wasn’t a hit across the table for its plainness.

L-R: Cecil's Rum Swizzle; Cecil's Club Vodka Highball

L-R: Cecil’s Rum Swizzle; Cecil’s Club Vodka Highball

Service-wise, as aforementioned, Cecil’s was flawless. Especially with their hosting and shout outs of several birthday parties that seem to take place there. Maybe a *slightly* stricter policy on the formal dress code, after all, ticket holders paid for an event to come out in gowns and tuxes, and the random fellow with shades indoors and his shirt hanging out over his jeans is bit of a dampener – but I suppose everyone needs comic relief.

In short? Cecil’s UFF Tea Ball provides a stimulating night out without the oppressiveness of say, the Blitz Ball, or the general offishness of most of the London Vintage scene. Along with fabulous hosts, and simple, classic cocktails, it’s definitely worth a knees up.

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

 

Cecil’s

8 Holyrood Street,
London, SE1 2EL.

http://www.cecilslondon.com/

City of London Distillery, Blackfriars

Type of Bar: Basement, Ginstitute
Damage££
Ideal for: Gin, Date, Small Groups, Large Groups, After Work, Education

COLD is a rare gem in the City of London, opened in 2012, it finally brought back the distilling of gin to the City after 200 years – and boy do they take it seriously. Climbing down the stairs on unassuming Bride Lane, you’ll walk past their enormous copper stills, Clarissa and Jennifer, on display, which play part of the many Gin Experiences they provide: from tours, flights and tastings, to ginstitutes and making your own gin.

The atmosphere at COLD certainly is one of a late night bar. Dark green walls with an impressively stocked bar and vintage paraphernalia bask in the glow of the stills’ lighting. Further back the sense of being underground heightens, as the Hoodooist hunted down the winged leather Chesterfield armchair in the corner (as one does).

 

COLD's 'Distiller's Martini'

COLD’s ‘Distiller’s Martini’

They are known for their gins made in situ, including the award winning City of London Dry Gin that is also for sale – a well-balanced gin, with tendency to citrus, the distinct flavours of the liquorice, pink grapefruit and orange come through in this spirit, making it a very interesting choice for a:

COLD Distiller’s Martini: City of London Dry gin, Mancino Bianco with a pink grapefruit twist. As aforementioned, the gin is already fairly grapefruit-heavy, so pairing it with the garnish, and a more bitter vermouth that is distinctly flavoured with grapefruit and orange was a bold choice. The gin gives a slight pepperiness to the Martini, but one must acknowledge the overwhelming grapefruit of the drink – moreso than any of the other cocktails here serving up CoL Dry gin. It provides a decidedly smooth Martini that only isn’t to my taste because of the overdone grapefruit, although I did take to it more after getting the garnish out.

A winning drink coming up was a White Martinez, Cocchi Americano, City of London Dry Gin, Luxardo Maraschino, dash of Regans Orange Bitters, maraschino cherry garnish dropped in. This is excellent, but also very sweet, even in comparison to most Martinez’. The orange bitters really does come through with the grapefruit of the CoL gin; combatting with the thick sweetness of the Cocchi Americano and Luxardo Maraschino. Further down the drink, the cherry gets a chance to release its sugars into the drink for further sweetness. Somehow still a wonderful drink regardless of its intense sugariness – but one that takes time to drink.

COLD's 'Cristal Clear Martinez'

COLD’s ‘Cristal Clear Martinez’

Chatting with our absolutely wonderful server, a bespoke Gin Old Fashioned was concocted, and was exactly that – an Old Fashioned with Beefeater Borrough’s Reserve Oak Rested Gin – sugar, bitters, grapefruit rind. A sophisticated cocktail often avoided by most bars, using a gin avoided by many gin purists, handled well and confidently, here at COLD. Probably more suitable to a drink like this, Beefeater Borrough’s is rested in French Oak barrels that used to contain Lillet Vermouth, that adds to the gin’s juniper and citrus notes of oaky vanilla, and winter spices like cinnamon or nutmeg. This gin certainly isn’t a Martini gin, but a wonderful idea to use it as a Gin Old Fashioned. Inspired.

After those 3 successful drinks, though, there was one hiccup – the OMG & Tea was a warning with the name, really. CoL Old Tom Gin, Bitter Truth Golden Falernum, Merlet Crème de Peche, Breakfast tea, lemon juice, soda water, garnished with mint and lemon. It ended up being a confused muddle of citrus soda at the end of it.  Honestly though, this is a drink that is a warning from the outset, so it was silly to try it.

What COLD does best, is present sophisticated, alcohol heavy drinks – the menu’s occasional attempts into more ‘fun’ cocktail regions come with risk upon reading the ingredients.

The highlight of the night though, was the incredibly knowledgeable and convivial service. Conversing with our servers was a delight, and a highly educational experience. Polite, attentive, the staff are stars.

COLD

In summary, COLD is a unique gem in the heart of London’s business sector, and has won awards with good reason. Providing an incredible list of experiences and events, besides their unique gins, makes it a destination in itself. It’s strength lies in its simpler, more sophisticated drinks that demand skill and finesse to construct, and in its wonderful service. A hit in our books.

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

 

City of London Distillery

24 Bride Lane,
London, EC4Y 8DT

http://cityoflondondistillery.com/