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.

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/

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

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