Ah, Islington. Though it has stars like 69 Colebrooke Row (Click HERE for review!), it needed some new blood, or something that stood out from the myriad of mediocre French restaurants that litter the area.
And so head bartender Jose Francisco-Modonese turns the Comedor Grill and Bar into a Peruvian drinking den everything Friday and Saturday night. A late-late night ‘pop up’ of sorts, from midnight to 5AM on weekends, tables are shoved out of the way for a dance floor with DJ JJ Latino at the helm.
London has a complicated relationship with pisco. The unaged grape brandy (think of other unaged brandies like Grappa, Zivania, or Palinca) has tried to break out into the UK cocktail market repeatedly since 2011 and always fell short – maybe it is its inherent difficulty to be used in cocktails. As bartender Jose put it, “Everyone’s had the Pisco Sour,” – another notable twist on the Sour would be Gareth Evans’ Piscotheque. And the Hoodooist could see it being used well in a punch.
And yet, I was intrigued by some of the choices made in the cocktails here. Some were either twists on classics (like a Metropolitan, but with Pisco. Or a Mojito, but with Pisco), or recipes brought over from Peru, but so few really channelled *Peru*, if I’m making any sense. For example, drinks using bitters, went for Angostura instead of using flavours that would work with Peruvian Amargo Chuncho bitters.
Let’s start with a few drinks that worked well:
A traditional Pisco Sour; Pisco and sugar/lime/eggwhite/Angostura: providing a well-balanced Sour, dry, just right. A safe bet.
The Piscojito (Pisco Quebranta, sugar, lime and spearmint), obviously a twist on the Mojito, makes a surprisingly smooth drink that beats a traditional Mojito any day of the week. By going back to the original Cuban Mojito recipe using spearmint instead of the popular modern use of mint, we get a subtler, more fragrant and less assaulting cocktail that allows the drinker to enjoy the flavours of the pisco quebranta instead of just herbs.
The Pisco Embassy Punch… Whew. Okay, the Hoodooist loves raw pineapple, just the fresh fruit – but for some reason in juice or cocktail form, it just sends shivers down his spine. Yet, this drink, though not my style, I recognise as being well-made, well-balanced, though simple (as long as you like pineapple juice). Not strictly a ‘punch’ by definition, the 1850s Californian recipe: Pisco, pineapple juice, lime, cinnamon syrup brings up a different perception of the Californian gold rush, one with a strongly Caribbean sepia tone filter.
Now for the other drinks involved. Some were a bit more adventurous, but there was one flaw that seemed to pervade many of the drinks we had: imbalance. Instead of having one leading flavour, it would be overpowering.
The Chicha Sour brings Chicha Morada – a sweet non-alcoholic maize drink to the Pisco Sour. The purple maize adds a lovely colour to the drink, though I wish they removed the sugar syrup because god, help me, this is diabetes in a glass. Sickly sweet, and almost sticky, with a thick mouthfeel. I can see this, if served shorter as a dessert drink as possibly working.
The Paddington Bear – Pisco, cinnamon and clove syrup, lime and orange juice and bit of marmalade (obviously!) had overdone the spice syrup, though it is an excellent idea, this can be saved really easily if the syrup is toned down a bit. Similarly, the Capitan: Orange peel-infused Pisco, whisky barrel bitters and red vermouth infused with cinnamon, cloves, star anise and 2 smoked star anise was bit too heavy with the star anise. Less of that, and we are looking at a sharp, tart, winter drink for those with less of a taste for juicier drinks.
The Macchu Picchu Nights has far too much going on with shiso infused pisco, lemon, apple juice, red basil syrup and crème de cassis, but as far as sweet drinks go, works better than the Paddington Bear. But still excruciatingly sweet with bit too intense cassis.
Finally, as a fan of Chilcanos, I was a bit surprised at how over the top the ginger flavours were here. Pisco, ginger ale, fernet branca, lime, sugar and muddled ginger slices I can only imagine meant too much muddled ginger.
On the other hand, the choice of Piscos is excellent, and Jose’s knowledge of the spirit is extensive – what would make the Pisco Embassy a hit, other than the Midnight to Dawn license, would be the Pisco flights he can take you on – and this is the primary reason I would urge you to visit if you wish to develop your knowledge on Pisco.
Otherwise, I find that the cocktails do need to only slightly tone down some flavours in their drinks, especially with some drinks costing a whopping 12 pounds (this affects the scores) – since the drinks here do have incredible potential, and the passion of the staff is admirable. It’s a fun atmosphere, with a dancefloor and great music, with excellent service and bar snacks – so there is a lot to enjoy here, particularly at 3AM!
Drinks: Cocktails – ** , Pisco Flights – ****
Pisco Embassy @ Comedor Bar & Grill
176 Upper Street, Islington
London N1 1RG