Barrio Central, Soho

Type of Bar: Bar/Restaurant, Mexican
Damage: ££
Ideal for: Food, Small Groups, Large Groups, Party

Soho classic Barrio Central is back! After being shut for renovation, the Poland Street hangout has reopened its door with a few new menu surprises!

Redecorated, the blue-green venue speckled with bright contrasting tiles is still serving Mexican Gulf inspired cocktails and bites, with a few twists here and there. Of course, downstairs is still a drinks-focused late night party hang out versus the dinner tables upstairs.

Barrio Central Soho Cocktail Bar London

Let’s get right to it! Over the Al Pastor tacos: Achiote marinated pork, cooked on the spit with slow roasted pineapple, white onions & coriander, with a spicy drizzling El Yucateco habanero sauce – a succulent, deeply flavourful bite with the sweet citrus of pineapple cutting right through – the Hoodooist and co. order a Wonky Donkey and Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

Barrio Central Soho Cocktail Bar London

L-R: Wonky Donkey, Ol’ Dirty Bastard

The Ol’ Dirty Bastard is a firm favourite here: Santa Teresa rum, Four Roses bourbon and orange – a host of fruit from the rum quickly gives way to the orange and honeyed notes of the bourbon, ending with a zesty length of orange peel. A fun, lively twist on an Old Fashioned.

The Wonky Donkey leaves quite a bit to be desired, though. Casco Viejo tequila, elderflower, ginger and lime lengthened with soda leaves a rather flat drink at the end. The tequila goes missing (I even forgot what spirit was in the drink), and all you have left is something vaguely sweet and citrusy.

Barrio Central Soho Cocktail Bar London

Soon after, the Ceviche Mixto provides a fresh mix of seafood in tiger’s milk, with avocado, crispy sweet potato & serrano chili – a fantastic, lighter seafood dish after the heavier Al Pastor and smoky Lamb Chilli tacos.

Alongside, the new cocktails, (COMING SOON!) arrive – new designs by bartender Sophie Mackay, her newly designed cocktails have a more modern swing to them.

Barrio Central Soho Cocktail Bar London

The Bossa Beleza brings in the fizz! Abelha Cachaca, jasmine, ginger, mint, topped up with prosecco – the sweet cachaca and the prosecco dominate this drink, with the jasmine trailing as a faint, lingering finish. Better than that though, while on the South American track, is the Cuba Lima: Pisco ABA, peach, lemon, egg white. A classic tart Pisco Sour with a peachy twist. A fun, reliable drink, with fresh egg white. Always a reliable classic.

Barrio Central Soho Cocktail Bar London
The Cactus and Three Cheese Melt Quesadilla come in, cool and fabulously textured. With it, a classic from the Barrio Central menu, the Rumshackle: Santa Teresa rum, orange curacao, pineapple is an incredibly sweet and fruity cocktail, bright with the tropical rum and the powerful pineapple. A beautiful presentation, however.

Barrio Central Soho Cocktail Bar London

The Rumshackle

Service is absolutely on point, swift and polite. What I am looking forward to is more from Sophie Mackay‘s coming menu which frankly outshines the older Barrio cocktail collection. True, the Ol’ Dirty Bastard is a good classic, but Bossa Beleza and Cuba Lima knock the Wonky Donky, Rumshackle and Hand Grenade HiBall out of the water. The drinks coming up seem to be more balanced, with more focus on the spirits’ innate flavour profile to shine through without being overwhelmed with juices.

Barrio Central knows what it does and does it well: providing a chilled out spot to relax with a group of friends, no fuss or stuffiness. A party spot in Soho we’re glad to have back.

 

Drinks: ** (Classic menu) – *** (menu Coming Soon)
Atmosphere: ***
Service: ****

 

Barrio Central

6 Poland Street, Soho,
London W1F 8PS

http://www.barriocentral.com/

 

Bó Drake, Soho

Type of Bar: Bar/Restaurant, Mexican, Korean
Damage: ££ (for cocktails)
Ideal for: Food, Small Groups, Dry cocktails, Soju

Long awaited Jan Lee Koreo-Mexican joint finally opens on Soho’s Greek Street! After a lot of date push-backs, the venue opened just in time for the Lunar New Year and participated in the Baijiu Cocktail Week 2015 (Click HERE for Review!).

Casual and chilled out: Stripped back décor, a long bar perfect for an evening hang out for some anju, and curling around with multiple seats for groups to hang out. A few low tables on the right, and a cavern in the back for larger groups, with the occasional blast of heat from the smoking in the kitchen. And participating in the delightful return of disco and cheese (much like the playlist at Cocktail Trading Co., click HERE for Review!) – the Hoodooist loves the atmosphere here. Especially just before sunset, when the light is just right. At night, all the venue’s light seems to come from the bar, where Demetris and Darren are either shaking or smoking for their soju-focused menu and the repeatedly changing bar-specials up on the board.

Bo Drake's Bo Ssam and Brisket Bao

Bo Drake’s Bo Ssam and Brisket Bao

Since we’re cocktail-focused, we’ll give food only a glancing look: a major focus on Korean and Mexican cuisine, Bo Drake takes a cuisine popular in Seoul and among the Aenikkaeng immigrants in Mexico and finally brings it to London. We have to admit – the ‘Smalls’ were our favourite part of the menu, by far. The Mushroom Tostada stole the show with enoki mushrooms and red pepper slathered in cheese and sesame butter, followed by the Brisket Bao with their 12 hour beef, the cucumber adding a delightful contrast to the general sweetness of the dish. The Kimchi Quesadilla was hit-or-miss with the meagre filling. I’d return entirely for drinks and Smalls.

In terms of mains, I couldn’t help but feel they could be less expensive for what is provided (at the 13 pound mark and above). The Bobo Chicken was a tad dry, but with a loud accompanying sauce. However the Bo Ssam was classic, the ssamjang just spicy enough. Spectacular pickling of the kimchi, and rice was wonderful. And the dessert offering is limited to a sesame soft-serve ice cream, which after all the BBQ and warm flavours is absolutely perfect. Couldn’t think of a better end to the meal.

Onto the cocktails!

The short list is very soju focused, but Demetris is more than happy to prep other classics for you, or shake something up himself.

The signature Soju de la Vida slushie – mezcal, soju, strawberry slush – might *just* convert the Hoodooist to a slushie fan. The mezcal is exactly what we need to spice up the tedious margarita slushie trend – adding an intense smokiness to the sweet. Brainfreeze material, great for dessert on the way out.

The Soju de la Vida slushie

The Soju de la Vida slushie

The Soju Fiction screamed out to me, so absolutely had to order the Yamazaki 12, soju, bamboo syrup and Antica Formula vermouth concoction. Whisky nose. Smoky, both from the whisky and the added smoking of the drink. Dry, the Antica Formula’s sweetness stands out. I’ve yet to decide how I feel about this drink – it isn’t unpleasant, certainly not. But there is one thing that keeps nagging at me. I think it is the smoking of the drink – it interferes with the otherwise excellent flavours of the cocktail that are in themselves, quite relaxed and laid back. Good cocktail, less or no smoke, please.

L-R: The El Greco; the Soju Fiction

L-R: The El Greco; the Soju Fiction

Then from the temporary ‘Bar Specials’ on the chalkboard, the El Greco certainly went for some very Hellenic flavours: Metaxa 7yr brandy, Mastiha, Cocchi Americano, Cointreau and orange bitters – there is a word for this that escapes me. Sylvan. It screams a decadent springtime with saps bursting out of treebarks, with the air filled with pollen and petals – as well as the on-coming heat of summer and the sickly sweetness of bees nesting in lion corpses. Debauched and over the top, enjoyed it, but couldn’t finish it with the intensity of flavours – I’d serve this in a Tokaji glass.

The Metaxa 7’s brandy/muscat wine mix with its range of sweet botanicals (especially rose) stands out strongly – spicy on the sides of the tongue. Only reinforced by the gum mastic of the Mastiha (Mastika. Mastikha.); which would be the source of the resinous chewiness. The Cocchi Americano is absolutely necessary to thin the drink a bit and assault the back of the throat with the Cointreau. Garnished with petals, the drink is intensely floral and fruity, but with sweet, thick texture. Again, as enjoyable as it was, there is too much of a good thing, and could be served in smaller glasses. An acquired taste, I’d think.

Smoked Hibiki and Vermouth

Smoked Hibiki and Vermouth

When asked for a whisky drink off-menu, the Hoodooist was provided with blend of Hibiki, Noilly Prat vermouth, smoked with Hickory and Cherry wood, and garnished with the spiciest damn jalapeno this side of hell. Nose was apple, maybe cinnamon (or was that the jalapeno?). A Dry Manhattan minus the bitters – I decided to drop the now-bitten Jalapeno in for a bit of kick – a slow drink, the Hibiki’s fermented fruits stand out, and it’s nuttiness. Malty, slightly, balanced against the Noilly Prat’s piney flavours. A decent dry drink you want to really take your time with, with a batch of nuts, preferably.

Finally, a classic Negroni – dry, smooth. Just right.

Smoking Cocktail

There is a distinct attraction to dryness in the menu – which Bo Drake does best, in comparison to the other drinks, I’d say. The drinks are all at the tipping point into great – but with the very good price range of 8-9 pounds, are just right. I certainly wouldn’t charge more than that. I’d suggest to stick with the drier drinks for their complexity and slow-sipping.

As for service – wonderful. It’s what defines the venue and make me want to return. Hostess Martina steals the show with her liveliness and humour, and will go out of her way to accommodate the diners. Demetris and Darren are incredibly entertaining and bring a casual dive element of fun to a venue of complex cocktails (which in London, for some reason, many feel are mutually exclusive). Between mezcal shots and agave worms, their chemistry is brilliant to be a part of and make sitting at the bar a necessity – especially with their experimental attitude to cocktails.

Bartender Cocktail Ice

The family at Bo Drake make visiting a pleasure, and see it as a space to pop by in the afternoons for a drink and nibble at the mushroom tostada or bao (which, should totally be offered for take away!). The casual vibe at Bo Drake is a fun pairing with the more complex menu of both food and cocktails, and recommend a visit – note: a new cocktail menu is expected in a couple of weeks, and with the regularly changing bar specials, expect the menu to be generally rather mercurial and ever-changing.

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

 

Bo Drake

6 Greek Street, Soho
London W1D 4DE

http://www.bodrake.co.uk/

Agaveria El Nivel, Covent Garden

Type of BarBar/Restaurant, Mexican
Damage££
Ideal for: Food, Tequila, Mezcal

The Hoodooist is in love. The Tomas and Jesse Estes venture upstairs at La Perla, Maiden Lane is a brilliant success. It is early days (Launch week), but it stinks of success. Absolutely reeks of it. Gifts of spirits from Megaro and NOLA, and the appearance of bartenders from various other bars speaks of its presence in the bartending world.

The La Perla/Café Pacifico branches have always been the chilled out venues to break into for a Margarita you know you’ll love, but the atmosphere up here at El Nivel takes on a more sophisticated, experimental twist. The wealth of knowledge in this tiny venue is expansive, the service impeccable. Sitting at the bar with drinking buddy Anastrophe and Cheese, was an absolute pleasure as the barmen served us tasters of various mezcal and tequila, and explained the process of their home-made cordials and accompaniments.

 

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Some of QuiQuiRiQui’s Mezcals

We began with the Mezcal Fix, my first, and favourite of the evening: Mezcaleria QuiQuiRiQui’s personal brand of 45%abv mezcal, roasted pineapple syrup, Cynar artichoke bitter liqueur and saltwater spray. Everyone knows I’ll snatch anything with Cynar in it. I was amazed by the incredibly harmonious combo of sweet with salty; how the pineapple’s roasting doesn’t give it a strongly pineapple flavour, but just its fruity sweetness that tames the mezcal – releasing only its smokiness. The Cynar does a wonderful job at just rounding out the drink for the saltwater spray to not overpower it. Unbelievable work.

The Fallen Angel was certainly an interesting drink. Gran Centenario Añejo, Antica Formula sweet vermouth, Cynar. I’m not sure how to describe this drink except as the best sweet Manhattan you’ve had that wasn’t actually a Manhattan. A bit too sweet for my taste, but I know when to appreciate a well-made drink. The Añejo is an excellent twist on the classic, and my Manhattan-loving mate almost wept in excitement.

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The Mezcal Fix (L); and Fallen Angel (R)

The Horchata is a boozy twist on a classic Mexican refreshment: rice water, condensed milk, cinnamon and vanilla with Ocho Reposado, garnished with an edible flower. As much as I enjoyed it, it might need a shorter serving, as the condensed milk gets incredibly heavy – but a pleasant drink no less.

Finally, the Siesta was a *very* citrusy complexity. AquaRiva premium Reposado, fresh lime and grapefruit juices, almond syrup, Campari and Merlet apricot, churned over crushed ice. The Campari is barely noticeable, but necessary to hold back the possibility of being too sweet. The first flavour is the tequila, until there is a sudden punch of lime citrus, to eventually settle on the apricot and grapefruit. A wonderful work for those less comfortable around tequila.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, they are working on mezcal/tequila flights!

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The Horchata (L); and Siesta (R)

 

Food is varied in substance and price, so I certainly look forward to returning for a boozy lunch – because return I will. El Nivel has all the makings of an excellent bar, certainly blowing its competitors on Maiden Lane out of the water – in terms of both drink and service.  I wish them all the best, though they probably don’t need it.

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

 

Agaveria El Nivel,

Upstairs @ La Perla,
28 Maiden Lane,
London WC2E 7JS

http://www.elnivel.co.uk/