Peg + Patriot, Bethnal Green

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

First, let’s deal with the first thing you see upon entering the Town Hall.

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Alright then, turn right after that into the Peg + Patriot, barely a fortnight old. The décor, simple, dimly lit and unabashedly minimalist leaves the bartenders at centre stage (with all their own homemade spirits!) for the patrons to observe.

Experimental bartender, Matt Whiley, is bringing his skills from his last venture as the pop up-then-permanent Talented Mr. Fox at One Leicester St. to his own bar here at the Town Hall, and does so with spectacular new developments in style.

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By which I mean, the menu. I was thrilled by the look of it; it is so different from the previous bars he has been associated with. There is a confidence to it that is so refreshing. My main concern with the previous menus was each drink trying to accomplish too much, too fast – I doubt they were being obnoxious, as much as trying to be novel – which they were. But the new menu seems to have evolved to be more self-aware, relying on either one powerful flavour, or two subtler ones to work together instead of trying to constantly outdo itself and the drinker.

Nonetheless, each drink was a surprise, and one never really gets what they expect. This can be for better or worse, depending on the drink. Let’s review the best first.

The Pho Money Pho Problems is exquisite – Pho spirit and lime, with pak choi and lime leaf as aromatics provides an excellent, almost gimlet like drink. Strong, potent, in both content and flavour. The spices all come through, coriander, ginger, chilli, it summarised my entire experience with Mr. Whiley: wondering if I was hallucinating the meat or not. Wonderfully smooth and savoury, a definite try.

Another hit was the Rice Rice Baby, roasted rice ice cream liqueur in sparkling Cocchi Brut. Exactly what it says on the tin. The flavour of the roasted rice and… is that hazelnut?… grows stronger further down the drink, but rarely tiresome. Not a complex drink, but a satisfying one.

 

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Left to Right: D. Groner; Rice Rice Baby; Barley Legal

But then, there are some questions to be raised.

What made the D. Groner (Cognac, bitters, salt beef beigel and lime) interesting was first, the mustard leaf on the nose, then the incredible beefy coating of the mouthfeel. Otherwise though, I’m afraid the drink was mostly, well, cognac. Nonetheless, the cognac was satisfying, but in the end, it was the mouthfeel that made it unique and essentially, not just a glass of cognac. I guess I expected a bit more since the beef really came through in the Talented Mr. Fox’s Peasant’s Breakfast.

There was a similar opinion of the Batanga: Blanco Tequila, Chinato Cola Vermouth, lime, cherry salt rim. The rim was far too salty to make the most of the cherry – and the tequila’s dilution made it almost unnecessary compared to reason why there is a salt rim on a margarita. The tequila itself is wonderful, but like the D. Groner, it feels like diluted tequila. Here is a drink with great potential, but didn’t live up to it – this time.

Finally, the 142nd + Lenox. I need someone to explain this to me because it went right over my head. Moonshine Kid White Ape (Sweetcorn and cornflakes distillate), peach shrub, egg white and a few drops of coal oil. Primarily cornflakes on the nose, the flavour is all peach and the coal oil is essentially, well, bitter drops of coal. I felt like this was an example of the previous ventures’ hubris. Okay, hubris is a strong word, but I’m still lost on exactly what this drink is trying to accomplish.

 

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Left to Right: Pho Money Pho Problems; Batanga; 142nd + Lenox

All that said, I am still expecting to return and try out the Riot Cup Number One: White port, o’Clock Sugar (the sugar distilled from Pimms), cucumber phosphate (the acidity from cucumbers), ginger ale; and the Rye Your Eyes Mate (mustard maple herbs liqueur?), though it sounds like it’s attempting too much. The Vesgroni is also on my list, though I’m expecting a viscous Negroni.

So, I suppose, yes, there is still obnoxiousness to the ingredients on the menu (then again, how different is that to being 19 and asking what Fernet Branca is? It’s fun to feel young again,), but service is less so, and servers are happy to explain it to you as long as they’re in a good mood (“Could you tell us more about the coal oil?” – “It’s coal.” – “Oh. Okay.”) Otherwise, service is rather decent.

 

In short? One can’t take away Mr. Whiley’s striving for originality, even if it makes the ingredients exhausting to keep asking details for. The good news is to see a certain amount of restraint and confidence in the menu’s construction, creating one that stands stronger to the previous. A definite amount of props has to be given to the use of homemade spirits, and excited to see what their future with shots is going to bring – I imagine each shot to hopefully come with aromatic pairings.

Peg + Patriot might have a mixed review, but it certainly makes for an excellent day out trying each one and discovering something new, even if it is just cognac with unique mouthfeel, or as much as pho as a cocktail (still in love). I look forward to returning to try out more of the menu.

Drinks: **** (Caveat emptor, come with an open mind)
Atmosphere: ***
Service: ***

 

Peg + Patriot, Town Hall Hotel,

Patriot Square,
Bethnal Green,
London, E2 9NF

http://www.pegandpatriot.com

Satan’s Whiskers, Bethnal Green

Type of Bar: Local
Damage£
Ideal for: Small Group, Date

Alrighty, let’s get stuck right in.

Perhaps we came in a bit early; maybe the sunlight stole a bit from the atmosphere of a place that should be enjoyed in the dark, so I can’t really make vast claims about it. The taxidermy is certainly a fun touch – makes me wonder if the Last Tuesday Society up the street had anything to do with it.
Satan’s Whiskers is definitely a quirky little spot, and would make a fine local if you lived in the area. And definitely a late evening bar.

Grabbing our table, the menu doesn’t state the brand of spirits, so I decided to ask. ‘Bourbon, lemon, maple syrup and bitters’, the St. Lawrence tells me. When our drinks arrived, our not particularly polite server, when asked “Could you please tell us which brands of spirits you’ve used in these drinks” replied:

“Knob Creek.”
“And in this drink?”
“Tanqueray.”
*pause*
“And in this one?”
“Finlandia.”
There was an exasperated sigh and he wandered off without letting us finish “And what about the vermouth?”
Note, there were 5 servers and the only other people there was a group of six.

So we began on a fairly sour note.  But we shall return to the sour service at the end of our experience.

 

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Should check out the unicorn skeleton

The St. Lawrence above is still a decent drink. Strongly citrus on the nose, it has a soft bourbon opening, ending with the maple syrup’s aftertaste. It is a smooth, pleasant drink I’d recommend to anyone and would definitely order again.

The signature Satan’s Whiskers is a mix of Tanqueray gin, Grand Marnier, fresh orange and vermouth; was conflicting. Personally, I found it to be orange juice in a coupe, but one of the members of the group took to it fairly well. The Salty Dog of Finlandia vodka, pink grapefruit and pink salt came off as being flat, the salt rim being a bit redundant since it was impossible to put to your lips without cringing. Then the Stone Fence. Knob Creek Bourbon, ginger liqueur, lemon and hard cider met to create a purely citrus drink that had a slight ginger hint in there somewhere.

You’ll notice my normally lengthy description of drinks is very short here. Because that’s it: There isn’t anything to say about them.

Though, the St. Lawrence was still pretty decent.

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Left to Right: Satan’s Whiskers, St. Lawrence, and Stone Fence.

We ended staring at the bar. Sitting nearest to the bar, we didn’t disturb the two bartenders busy shaking, another employee was busy working away on a laptop, and no other server was to be seen. Nonetheless, the server who did eventually show up was rather polite in wonderful contrast to the first disappointment – so service can be better on a good day.

I want to like Satan’s Whiskers. After all, service isn’t a 24/7 problem (unless you work at the Experimental Cocktail Club), but it certainly wasn’t anywhere close to optimal, noting that we were the only other people there other than a group of six – when the menu states there are 5 servers, they couldn’t be spread that thin.

Nonetheless, it is a very affordable bar, and it’s worth stopping by for a quick Manhattan, but wouldn’t make it the venue of the night.

Drinks: ** (I suspect there is potential here with different drinks)
Atmosphere: ***
Service: **


Satan’s Whiskers

343 Cambridge Heath Road,
London E2 9RA

https://www.facebook.com/satanswhiskers

5cc London

Type of Bar: Basement, Speakeasy
Damage££
Ideal for: Small groups, early evening

I’m sometimes surprised that the 5cc is often overlooked, especially considering how insanely busy the venues they are hidden in are.

I say hidden in, since the punters of the Well & Bucket, and Exmouth Arms, seem almost completely oblivious to the cocktail den hidden under and above (respectively) the said pubs. True, reservations are necessary considering the size of both venues, where visitors sneak in to the little hideaways.

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Image courtesy of 5cc London

Though they share the same furniture, the atmosphere of each venue is entirely different. When entering the Well and Bucket on Bethnal Green Road, you are met with a warped impression of a Victorian pub, with ceiling to floor length mirrors and mirrored portraits of decaying 19th Century gentry on dark wood panels. Impressive as the aura is, we take the stairs in the corner down to the basement, where leather couches line the walls and the tiny alcoves of the crypt with its exposed brick wall. Fleetwood Mac plays in the background while the Hoodooist and his friends excitedly charge in to possess a dark alcove for themselves.

The Exmouth Market venue is entirely different. The Exmouth Arms is a similarly dark pub decorated with Dan Hillier prints. Whereas the pub has terribly bad service (“What’s Armangac?” – it was on the menu.), you can escape up the staircase that’s rather well hidden near the fire exit. The 5cc upstairs is docked with black blinds and exposed bulbs, creating an aura of a Film Noir detective’s office – very different from the East London crypt.

The cocktail menu is vibrant and rum heavy, mezcal plays its part as well. Beginning with a Don Collins (overproof rum and grapefruit, charged with cider), was far more satisfying than expected, considering the Hoodooist isn’t a fan of tall drinks. The citrus of the grapefruit is not overpowering, and helps sweeten the cider’s acidity. This was followed by a 151 Express: Goslings 151 proof rum, coffee liqueur in espresso. With previous experiences with Goslings, I was, again, surprised – to find a smooth drink sneakier than you could imagine. A great digestif, the rum was subtle and would catch up with you by the end of the sweet, caffeinated cocktail.

I ended by asking the bartender for an off-menu cocktail off the top of his head. What I got was a ‘daiquiri with bourbon’ (I doubt it still counts as a daiquiri). Bourbon, crème de peche, orange for citrus, and sugar. My skepticism was sated with a short drink that perhaps was more of a sour, but an excellent one.  The right balance of tart and sweet in its etched crystal glass, and one you could take your time with.

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Image courtesy of 5cc London

House cocktails are excellent, in wonderful atmospheres away from the bustle. 5cc also provides ‘vintage cocktails’ with heavily aged liquors – a Martinez, and 7-gins-to-1-vermouth Martini at 45 pounds each. Don’t forget to ask for Forgotten Range: shaken moons ago and perhaps left behind.

5cc is a welcome bar with skill in both highly commercial areas of BGR and Exmouth Market that pay little attention to what they offer in drinks.  Pop by early on the in the evening for a quiet drink with friends, or surround yourself with strangers more than happy to be in conversation in the cosy environment.

Drinks: ***
Atmosphere: ***
Service: ****
5cc can be found

@ Well and Bucket, 143 Bethnal Green Road, London, E2 7DG;
& @ Exmouth Arms, 23 Exmouth Market , London, EC1R 4QL;
& @ Harrild and Sons, 26 Farringdon Street, London, EC4A 4AB.

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