Experimental Cocktail Club, Chinatown

Type of Bar: Speakeasy
Damage£££
Ideal for: –

This concerns me.

When we arrive at what is meant to be a discreet door (the glaring bouncer hardly makes it discreet) on Gerrard Street, we have to scramble through our phones for the ‘passwords’ sent to us only that day. Our party of 3 arrived the same time as some other party of 4 strangers who booked a table a few days before us, mind you, is forced to wait because they can’t access their emails.

Said party was turned away.

Yes, their name was on the list.

They fit the dress code well enough.

Announcing the silly password (‘Marie Antoinette’, oh my, how libertine. In any case 2014 brings the death knells of speakeasies.) we are led upstairs and forced to share an extended couch with about a dozen other people at least. Suffocating just to drink. Searching for the WCs, I find the upstairs area with empty tables all round. These were never filled in the hour we were there. If this is their definition of optimism, I grant them they deserve an award for it (If it was a concern about clashing reservations, see: Zetter Townhouse’s 2 hour slots).

On the other hand: my drink was very good. La Medicacion contains Calle 23 Reposado Tequila, Ramazzotti, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, agave nectar, ginger syrup and Del Maguey Mezcal mist. Strong, full of kick, with harmonious flavours.

I would have enjoyed it, if I could shake off the memory of the party downstairs.

London gives one many, many, many places for an excellent cocktail. A bar is meant to offer respite, and is meant to care for its visitors. A bar is meant to show concern and welcome its customers. And the attitude at the door, added to the forcing of people onto one floor, not to mention the cold service – stole a major part of what could have been a night with wonderful drinks.

It is out of principle that I don’t return here. The drinks may have been pleasurable, but it can be anyone the next time they show up at the door, expectant after having made their booking 10 days prior.

If they have hired decent staff now, the best to them. Otherwise, a bar is meant to cater to you. You are not meant to cater to a bar. Never forget that.

Many people seem to suffer this illusion that a bar has to be ‘exclusive’. That you have to fight your way in to have a decent cocktail. This is complete nonsense. The best bars in London have the utmost respect for the customer, and their care at heart – not their own arrogance.

If you feel you deserve to be in a venue that appeals to your sense of ‘exclusivity’, by all means, go ahead and enjoy the ECC. Meanwhile you’ll find me at award-winning bars like the Artesian.

Please refer to my List of Reviews for other attitude-less bars who rival & even beat the ECC in drinks, and serve up fantastic scores for Atmosphere and Service that ECC fails at. Some examples are: the Zetter Townhouse, Megaro, etc. And if you’re looking for ‘Experimental’, check out Peg + Patriot for some serious experimentation.

Also, Opium opened next door, they delight in hearing stories about the ECC. Order The Feather of the Phoenix with extra chilli.

I’ve never liked a place with the word ‘Cocktail Club’ in the name, mind you.

Drinks: ****
Atmosphere: ** 
Service: For the first time, here is a 0.

ECC Chinatown,

13a Gerrard St, Chinatown,
London W1D 5PS

http://www.chinatownecc.com/

Advertisements

Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour, Chinatown

Type of Bar: Bar/Restaurant, Chinese, Speakeasy, Lounge
Damage£££
Ideal for: Food, Small Groups

 

I do like Opium. But you have to be there at exactly the right time.

There are two floors, both are not always open at the same time, but each feels totally different from the other.

 

In the evenings, the bar can be absolutely empty, and though I do love a good empty bar – Opium’s upper floor is one of those that really needs every seat filled to make it a great experience. Those bizarre 70s grandma’s living room seats need to be hidden from view. Especially when randomly placed beside black leather alcoves. It’s why I prefer to snatch the bar seats, which are in a kitchen setting with wonderfully engaging bartenders.

Image

I think my issue with the chairs is just personal

The upper floor bar is unnaturally dark, making it reminiscent of the Shochu Lounge at Roka. The best way to enjoy it is to get a reservation for a late Saturday evening, crowded and pigeonholed with a few good friends, with each drink accompanied with the bar’s dim sum menu.

The lower floor, though, has an excellent atmosphere, better lighting. But the bartenders are just as engaging and thoughtful. They’re half the experience here.

 

Image

The beautiful lower floor bar

Said bartenders are excellent for crafting personal cocktails with good reason. The menu comes with a custom cocktail section, where filling out a little questionnaire on your tastes in flavours and drinks will have them craft a little masterpiece for you. The cocktail list in itself is a treasure for making itself accessible to the less libationary-aware. Other than an ingredient description, each drink is given a three word summary. For example, the Long March (Bombay Sapphire gin, Plymouth Sloe, pomegranate juice, cinnamon and sweet red bean puree) is ‘Long – Complex – Fruity’.

On my first visit, I went straight for the Blind Date: Heaven Hill bourbon, Pedro Ximenez sherry, date puree and szechuan pepper. Definitely an after dinner drink (necessary, following my lunch at the Holborn Dining Room), the intense date flavour might have needed more pepper to balance it, but for the sweet tooth, works perfectly. Perhaps too many ingredients in each cocktail, but I’m willing to let it slide, since they end up working.  The Feather of the Phoenix is an excellently contradictory cocktail: Olmeca Altos Blanco meets blood orange puree and ginger beer in a long drink, topped off with smoked chilli infusion. I needed a bit more bite in mine so asked for more chilli, which makes the drink what it is. It’s up to you to judge whether or not a good drink hinges on one ingredient, but I certainly won’t turn it down.
Maybe I’d be a bit more forgiving if each drink came at 10 pounds instead of 11.50 to 13. Please do not ignore the tea, a great break from a long night out – and hey, no one said you couldn’t add some G to your Tea. A dim sum box comes at about 6.50 to 8 pounds, or grab a platter at 16.

Image

All in all, besides the peculiar environment, the Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour does a good job as a hidden away den, and certainly makes a much less pretentious alternative to the Experimental Cocktail Club next door that I abandoned because of terrible service. Opium has gone for the speakeasy-but-not-speakeasy feel by simply avoiding the conspicuous bouncer or massive signs – just come in through the Jade Door.

 

Also, for those in the know, query about a certain New Orleans tune, or perhaps an old Soho brothel of the same name that dear Nina Simone crooned about. The waiters will first insist they have no idea what you’re talking about. But at your own risk, Nina did tell us that it brought down the reputation of many of the curious over the years.

Drinks: ***
Atmosphere:  Upper floor: ***, Lower floor: ****
Service: ****

 

Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour
15-16 Gerrard St,
London W1D 6JA

http://www.opiumchinatown.com/