The General Store @ The Garage, Islington

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

Returning to the revamped spot next to the Garage made me a bit nervous at first – countless rock gigs later it would be strange to see it redone. But frankly, it works.

The General Store is now a chilled out, brightly coloured daytime hangout spot that would be my local cafe if I lived in the area.

The decor is incredibly welcoming, the mint green by the brown and gold makes the place incredibly lively and inviting – kind of like a set from Pushing Daisies. There’s something cosy and nostalgic about it. I personally love the new look (if you couldn’t already tell).

What. I can look dark and gloomy and still like bright cosy cafes shut up.

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Coffees and cafe treats dominate the menu, and in my opinion, should. As much as I love the fabulous staff and service, and can lounge in that decor all day, coffee and treats fare better than the cocktail menu.

We order an Electric Lemonade to start – a gin and sherbet tang cocktail with citrus. Love the look, an electric blue in a lightbulb! It is more of a hard lemonade though, which makes one ask what warrants the price tag.

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Geddit. Bauhaus. At the Garage. *fingerguns*

The General Store Patent Tonic comes pretty in pink – Bloom Gin, grapefruit, pomegranate, and mint. Once again, the spirit barely comes through, and the mint is overpowering, resulting in what is essentially a pink mojito.

The G, T & T seems a bit more promising: gin, green tea syrup and tonic. The green tea syrup is not particularly perceptible, so order a G&T instead.

The General Store Sour brings us bourbon, lemon juice and maple syrup. Finally, a drink that tastes like a cocktail! A traditional whiskey sour with a slightly sweeter bite.

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The cocktails down at The General Store are all undoubtedly pretty, but don’t particularly stand out. What does stand out is the beautiful design, chill atmosphere, and wonderful staff. There are great reasons to come here, but spend the money on cake instead.

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

The General Store @ The Garage, Islington

20-22 Highbury Crescent, Highbury East,
London N5 1RD

https://www.facebook.com/genstorelondon/

T.T. Liquor, Shoreditch

Type of Bar: Basement, Speakeasy, Cocktail School
Damage£ – ££
Ideal for: After Work, Date, Small Groups, Tasting, Shop

The sudden appearance of TT Liquor is a welcome gift from some of the folk behind Umbrella Brewing of the amazing Discount Suit Co. and Sun Tavern!

Only a couple of hours after the sign was put up, the Hoodooist found himself amazed by the venue from the street – aged wood and metal clasps in the ground floor guard some of the fantastic products that can be surprisingly hard to acquire, like the 5% ginger beer by Umbrella Brewing that is the talk of the town.

Umbrella Brewing TT Liquor London cocktail bar

Mind, there are three floors to this venue, behind the store and upstairs are cocktail classrooms that make up what is essentially a cocktail school – this is literally my Hogwarts.

Downstairs, though, that’s where we find the bar and the ex-prison cells that make up the vaults where gin, rum, and whiskey tastings are held, including Cocktail Journeys, where several cocktails inspired by the various eras of cocktail culture are enjoyed as a flight. The cosy, candle lit surrounds are excellent for huddling over cocktails and small dishes served up at the venue.

Umbrella Brewing TT Liquor London cocktail bar

The menu is divided into eras, and are all wonderful takes on cocktails of their time. If you were to level a criticism against it, it would simply be that it seems to be a tiny bit gin heavy at times.

That’s not to say those that those cocktails that are there are not satisfying. They are gorgeous – the tequila Rosetta is one such beautiful cocktail.

Umbrella Brewing TT Liquor London cocktail bar

Blending Arette Silver tequila, Briotte Rose, lime juice, rose water and syrup, the Rosetta’s nose is distinctly Arette. Upon first sip, it is tequila heavy – so agave fans will be most pleased. If the sound of rose is intimidating, there is nothing to worry about here, as the rose is quite subtle and soft, wisping in at the end, and lightened by the lime citrus.

Next, the Dorian, in keeping with one of Umbrella’s favourite whiskeys, mixes Redbreast 12 yr with hazelnut syrup and the Fee Brothers Aztec chocolate bitters. A little bit on the sweet side and one note for myself, it is best to ask for a slightly less sweet take on this when ordering. Unless, of course, you’re really in the mood for bittersweet chocolate hazelnut!

Umbrella Brewing TT Liquor London cocktail bar

The Dorian

Next, the Sexy Kung Fu Fighter really goes for it – Jinzu gin meets kumquat, fresh bergamot juice, kaffir lime and shiso leaves, Belsazar white vermouth and syrup. A little heavy on the bergamot, a bright, lively and effervescent cocktail with hints of kaffir lime and cherry blossom from the Jinzu. An exciting and enjoyable drink.

Umbrella Brewing TT Liquor London cocktail bar

The Sexy Kung Fu Fighter

Le Chat Noir is dangerous. Hayman’s Old Tom gin, Lillet Blanc, Henry Bardouin pastis, fresh lime juice, syrup and tarragon will deceive you, and vanish in the space of seconds. A long drink that is easy to down, you will have to consciously nurse this one early on, so they don’t get thrown back late in the evening.

Reminiscent of a (much) lighter take on a Corpse Reviver No.2, Le Chat Noir manages to channel the herbal tarragon and pastis incredibly well, for a light cocktail that does not hold itself from packing a punch in the long run.

Umbrella Brewing TT Liquor London cocktail bar

Le Chat Noir

And then there is the signature.

Doing the rounds since about London Cocktail Week 2016, the home made Umbrella Brewing Ginger Beer packs a punch at 5%, with gorgeous effervescence and spice. A candied and ginger nose is followed by a palate that is uncompromisingly spicy, with hints of malty molasses sweetness, and citrus.

Beautiful.

Umbrella Brewing TT Liquor London cocktail bar

Honestly, it was great to see cocktails go back to simpler combos and try not to outdo themselves.

The only cocktail here I can say I did not take to was the Dead Ringer. Woodford Reserve, Toussaint coffee liqueur and Bob’s Peppermint bitters formed something not particularly enjoyable. But when held up to the beautiful cocktails above, who’s to care?

Do the right thing – go to TT Liquor. Get a class. Buy a bottle. Support your fabulous new local.

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

T. T. Liquor

17b Kingsland Road,
London E2 8AA

http://ttliquor.co.uk/

The Gibson, Clerkenwell

Type of Bar: Tiny, Experimental
Damage: ££ – £££
Ideal for: DateAfter Work

After being open for a while, The Gibson, known for it’s complex and imaginative menu highlighted by the simple classic that is its namesake, went for a small menu rehaul.

The new cocktails are similarly complex, boasting nearly a dozen ingredients at some points, taking risks with flavour profiles.

A first glance at the menu did make the Hoodooist a bit cautious, I am bit of a traditionalist with warning that drinks going past 5 ingredients were at risk for getting lost, but that won’t stop me from trying out new cocktails.

A tiny, intimate venue, with dim light and close range seating, the Gibson has gone for a powerfully apothecary atmosphere, reflecting its equally strange and varied menu, including everything from oregano flowers to the infusion of forest bees.

whisky cocktail the gibson bar london

The Garden of the Sun King

Beginning with a cocktail very much up the Hoodooist’s street, the Garden of the Sun King mixes Ailsa Bay whisky, infusion of forest bees, 3 La Quintinye Royal vermouths, lemon balm and leaf extract aged aquavit, maple ice wine tea and white port tincture, garnished with floregano, roasted pepper jacket and black olive.

Get the gist? Yeah.

The nose is undoubtedly full of red pepper, smokey and almost beefy. First sip is full of the tarry, smokey, liquorice of Ailsa Bay, followed by a light honey from the bee infusion. A lightness follows, from the lemon balm, then the white port. If you choose to dunk the red pepper in, a spice trails at the end. You want to finish this drink quickly – over time the sweetness begins to dominate the bottom half of the drink

whiskey cocktail the gibson bar london

Beyond the Pines

Next up, the Beyond the Pines. Loving pine flavours, this had to be tried. Monkey Shoulder whiskey and pine resin infusion, mixed with Kamm & Sons ginseng liqueur, lemon, ‘pine-apple’, elderflower juice, smoked juniper and rosemary honey, hot gooseberry chutney, ginger beer, wasabi, and matcha.

Thanks to the pine and flaming pinecone garnish, the nose is powerfully forest-y. In the best way. Palate starts with pine, smoked rosemary and juniper. There is a light effervescence to it, immediately followed by ginger and matcha, with a length of wasabi.

This was easily my favourite drink of the evening. Distinguishable flavours, cool and refreshing.

genever cocktail the gibson bar london

Winter in Neverland

Finally, the Winter in Wonderland was a great example as to why a dozen ingredients can be majorly problematic.

Cacao shell soaked Bols Genever, Mulled spiced cordial vintage cider, apple and pear conserve, lemon, 7 y.o. mandarin bitter, white snow waffle topped with raspberry and chocolate, cedarwood ice.

A cold drink the nose was spiced and citrus-y. But the drink was orange throughout, with the variety of flavours drowned out.

The stroopwaffel was ace, though.

cocktail the gibson bar london

Angel Tears

There is a food menu, with an exquisite beef tartare – love. Service is fab, however preparing these complex cocktails takes a while, so do be prepared. On the note of fab service, it has to be, as I found myself asking for flavour profiles being far more useful than reading the variety of ingredients. This can be difficult when working with a menu that is one of the longest I’ve seen in recent history.

The Gibson is a great bar for those who want to take risks and have the money to spend, there are certainly some gems like the Beyond the Pines here. I know I had a good night – but you do have to take risks and keep what you get. With the great staff, you shouldn’t have too much of a problem getting the flavour profiles down and chatting about what you enjoy.

And push comes to shove, order the Gibson Martini.

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

The Gibson

44 Old St,
London EC1V 9AQ.

Burlock, Marylebone

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

Yeah, I’m late to the Burlock party, sue me.

Until I got there and regretted not going earlier.

Burlock is London’s latest rum bar on Duke St Mayfair, and how gorgeous it is. In a basement, the ingenious lighting and décor evokes a secluded rum den in sunset Havana, up to a rather random hair station in one corner – with the occasional hairdresser for the customers!

Bizarre, yes, but we ain’t here for the hair, let’s get down to business.

London Cocktails Burlock

The Rum-ember the Maine

A quick look at the crowd, and this is definitely Marylebone. The space is dark and romantic, definitely a good option for choice friends for a night cap.

Cosying up on an armchair underneath the lit blinds, we peruse the menu, and the Rum-ember the Maine catches my eye. Mezan XO rum, cherry brandy, Martini Rosso, IPA, Cornish Pastis (yes), and Embers. I asked the server to turn down the cherry brandy because I was expecting this to be a tad too sweet for me, but I wish I also asked for more pastis. A bit too much taking place here, and the much of the flavour gets drowned out. A hint of the pastis comes through in the liquorice linger after, but mangled sweetness dominate the heft of the palate.

The Canchanchara suffers similarly. White rum, lime and honey, but entirely too much honey. The result is sugar sweet.

London Cocktails Burlock

Good old Rum Old Fashioned

The short and exceedingly sweet leaning menu meant we went off-menu and so glad we did!

A regular Daiquiri came off much better balanced and wonderfully tart, frosty and uplifting, exactly what the Hoodooist needed! Sometimes simpler is better.

Similarly, I wanted to relax after that effervescent cocktail, and wanted to see how Burlock handles a reliable classic.

A Rum Old Fashioned it is, asking for the rum menu it turns out the bar does not have one, which is one thing I wish was done – but wandering off to the bar, asked for Plantation XO Barbados 20th Anniversary.

Love, love, love this cocktail.

The spicy tropical fruit and banana wafts on the nose, hints of oak. Spice and coconut on the palate, velvety and luxurious. Caramel lingers after. Gorgeous.

London Cocktails Burlock

We end a wonderful evening with doubles of Plantation Pineapple (easily the toast of 2016), with it’s ripe banana and pineapple flavours with a light spice. Relaxing into the folds of the couch, this was an evening well spent.

If I *had* to be more critical, really, all I’d say is the menu could use a bit more flavour variety, unique though it may be.

Service is spot on, booking is necessary. Burlock is a welcome addition to a bar scene in a year where London has lost many giants. The Hoodooist is optimistic once again.

 

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


Burlock

31 Duke St, Marylebone,
London W1U 1LG

https://burlocklondon.co.uk/

 

Pitch Black

“The 90-minute blind tasting will see guests sip on a pre-set selection of 5 libations.  Consisting of bubbles on arrival, 2 mouth-watering cocktails, an amuse bouche to cleanse the palate, followed by 2 aromatic wines, to be imbibed in absolute darkness.”

‘Blind tasting’ taken to its literal and logical conclusion means drinking in a subterranean room on City Road in complete darkness – have to admit, I was curious, and found myself learning a lot in the process!

Pitch Black cocktails blind tasting

The cocktails and wines will change week to week throughout its run November and December 2016, and is an excellent learning experience for drinks novices and experts alike.

Led down a stairway into a cosy room, we rest on the banquettes as the 8 of us get to know each other – but as the lights dim and eventually go dark, we find inhibitions dissolving and conversations with the others in the room enlivening.

To be fair, the drinks probably helped too.

Novices will get a chance to pay closer attention to finer details like nose, flavour, and mouthfeel, whereas experts will find themselves approaching some well known classics with a renewed appreciation for the drink.

Cocktails and wines will be served, with no hint as to what they are, as participants explore the drinks and discuss flavour and ideas. At the end of each session the drinks are revealed and explained in further detail to surprise.

A Breakfast Martini can have some surprisingly herbal flavours in the dark, and a Pisco Sour a spicier nose than one first thought. An amuse bouche to be enjoyed before moving onto the wines: a naturally sweet Riesling and a devious blend of reds, before a final glass of bubbly to enjoy.

Pitch Black does exactly what it says on the tin, and is well worth the experience. Darkness heightens not only the senses, but the social aspect of the evening, and will be educational to all participants of any level of expertise. I highly suggest you sign up for a fun evening with friends, entertaining parents, or a date, for something just a little bit different.

Tickets cost £48 per head and can be purchased at: http://pitchblackbar.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/