The Elephant’s Head, Hackney

Type of BarBar/Restaurant, Pub
Damage££
Ideal forFoodDateSmall Groups, SundaysAfter Work

 

It’s firmly back in place!
The Elephant’s Head has reclaimed it’s spot at 43 Lower Clapton! Which is exactly what we all needed after years of the venue changing hands.

The pub has itself ready for anything, a spot to spend the night with friends, a dim lit room to nurse a hangover, and not mention, a fantastic Sunday roast.

And they ain’t too shabby on the cocktail front! Classics with a few signatures, the bar knows what they do, and do it well.

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Before our late night roast makes its way in, we sit below the beautiful stained glass ceiling nursing an El Chapo and a Martinez.

The classic Martinez has gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur and Angostura bitters, but this classic is twisted slightly with a 2:1 gin:vermouth rather than the old 1:1. The result is a lighter, brighter, much more balanced and modern cocktail.

The El Chapo stands out tonight as the best of the bar’s signature cocktails: Ocho Tequila, agave syrup, lime, ginger syrup, a mezcal float with candied ginger garnish. The sweet agave of the tequila and light white pepperiness is followed up by citrus to end with a crackle of ginger. Simple, clean, wonderful.

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After a plate of wings, a classic Japanese Cocktail makes an appearance with cognac, orgeat, lemon juice and Angostura bitters – sweet with almond and orange flavours, with an undercurrent of ripe fruit and oaky vanilla from the cognac. Certainly for the sweet tooth.

The roast sirloin was perfectly medium rare, but what we were cheering on were those incredible infinite trimmings. Tenderstem broccoli with peppered sweet root vegetables, roast potatoes that though simple were entirely too addictive, and *that* cheesy cauliflower with that distinct honeyed sweetness.

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After a second helping of the methtatoes, the now unable to move Hoodooist and co. order Gin, and Tequila Old Fashioneds, respectively.

The Gin Old Fashioned gave us rosemary infused gin, maple syrup, and black walnut bitters – which is a promising recipe, but the maple could overpower the rosemary gin – although that’s easily sorted by asking for a little less maple syrup for a sweet and savoury digestif.

The Tequila Old Fashioned I wanted extra spicy, and extra spicy I got it: tequila, chilli, agave syrup, grapefruit bitters, for a brighter alternative to the Gin variant. The agave and the tequila give us the sweet and earthy, while the grapefruit and chilli go bright and effervescent. What an excellent combo.

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I’m glad the Elephant’s Head is back, and better than ever. With quality cocktails at a price you couldn’t frown at, the most dramatic WCs ever (no, seriously), and all the methtatoes with that excellent roast, the EH makes a great spot to spend a Sunday afternoon.

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

 

The Elephant’s Head

43 Lower Clapton Rd, Hackney
London E5 0NS, UK

https://www.elephanthackney.com/

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Upstairs @The Ten Bells, Shoreditch

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

 

Reopened, the Upstairs at the enormously popular Ten Bells in Spitalfields has been revamped to a sort of Prohibition meets Renaissance-Cathedral chic. Amid winged armchairs and chandeliers, a Tracy Emin neon sign, religious paraphernalia and under the watchful eyes of the subverted Gabrielle d’Estrées et un de ses soeur, or in this case, Gabriel d’Estrées et une de ses frères – imbibers are treated to a British take on New York’s current cocktail trend: the Shorties.

Ten Bells Spitalfields Shorties Cocktails London

Reminiscent of Tony Conigliaro’s Negronis at the Bar Termini (Click HERE for Review!), Shorties attempt to maximise flavour and intensity, while minimising volume – essentially, it’s more than a shot, but less than a full-blown cocktail, something that you drink quickly before moving on to the next order of business.

The Hoodooist, for whom cocktails always – always – mean lying back and throwing two fingers up to the universe and its machinations in all their metaphysical yet infinitely irritating glory – this posed a challenge. After all, one might argue that their cheaper prices (6 to 7 pounds) is relative to their volume, but if you’re going to spend the evening here, you might end up spending more dosh than usual. It’s a complicated game, the gambling sort might enjoy this.

That’s the fun bit. The only part of this menu that one found slightly annoying was the fact that the cocktails lacked names. “I’ll have the one with the tequila – no, not the tequila and peach – the tequila and brachetto, yeah, the one from the ‘Fresh’ section, not ‘Crushed’,” I imagine to be needlessly complicated. Numbering them would be fine.

Ten Bells Spitalfields Shorties Cocktails London

The cocktails are divided into separate categories from ‘Fresh’, to ‘Strong’, and ‘Late’.

From the ‘Strong’ group, the stand out drink would definitely be the superior Black Bottle Scotch, Apricot Liqueur, Cinnamon, Black Cardamom, Jaggery and on the side, a Camden Pale Ale. This instantly reminded me of the IPA Paanch at Dishoom, King’s Cross (Click HERE for Review!). The Black Bottle blended malt is slightly smokey, silky with elements of chocolate, ginger, honey and oak – the golden sweetness of the finish teased out further by the jaggery, the apricot and spices add a wonderful extra kick to a twist on an Old Fashioned. The side of ale is meant to be a way to lengthen the drink by sipping it between draws, a kind of cleanser.

It isn’t necessary, but they pair rather well, the brightness of the ale helping lift the heavy flavours, making each sip of the cocktail feel like the first.

Ten Bells Spitalfields Shorties Cocktails London

The other three cocktails on the ‘Strong’ list struggle.

There is a distinct originality to the Rum, Fresh Pandan, Ginger, Palm Sugar, Mandarin Bitters, but it is definitely a distinctly acquired or unique taste. The sweet rum kicks you in the face as quickly as the pandan and palm sugar – lending to the cocktail a thick, green, rice-liquor flavour. Somewhat piney, and rather musty. This is a cocktail that can only be served as a shorty – because even for those who took to it (like the Hoodooist), there is only so much of it you can drink. The other three on the table failed to appreciate this.

The Gin, Creme de Peche, Jasmine, Peychauds Bitters, Grapefruit Twistlacked character, and came off a bit too sour, too floral. Similarly, the Crushed Botija Olives, Noilly Prat Rouge, Gin or Vodka, was less of a Shorty twist on a Dirty Martini, but was filthy with a drop of Martini. What graced the table was olive brine and vinegar. Mixing the three cocktails together made them more palatable.

Making a strong cocktail that short might be problematic.

Ten Bells Spitalfields Shorties Cocktails London

However, the ‘Fresh’ category held more promise.

The Bee Pollen Gin, Blossom Honey, Cocchi Americano, Lemon, Soda – this is what summer needs. The bright gin and the sweet, floral honey is balanced well by the dark, savoury bee pollen and the spiced quinine noted of the Cocchi Americano – lengthened by the lemon and soda. It’s one surprise after another when you go from savoury to sweet, to spicy to bitter to citrus and fizz. A fun little thing.

The Birbet Brachetto, Tequila, Maraschino, Burlesque Bitters, Lemon Twist and Soda, is a deep, sweet, and lightly floral cocktail that goes from the Brachetto grape’s intense spumante-esque sweetness to the floral sweetness of the Burlesque Bitters (like hibiscus?), to the Maraschino, finally ending with the tequila – bit sweet for the Hoodooist, but I can see that there is a market for this one. Expect sweet, a bit much, though.

The Red Date Shrub, Pommeu de Normandie, Vodka, Prosecco, Berries, was a hit or miss depending on the Prosecco used. Apparently a change in Prosecco halfway through the evening took a semi-sweet, berried, bright cocktail and turned it into gran’s basement. It’s up to you if it’s worth the risk.

Ten Bells Spitalfields Shorties Cocktails London

Now, the beautiful ‘Late’ Shorties – they won the evening.

Tequila, Amaro, Condensed Horchata, Cold Brew Coffee: The Tequila and Amaro are mixed into the coffee, then the Horchata (a Latin and Spanish drink, this one maybe more similar to the Mexican variation: rice, condensed milk, vanilla, cinnamon? Something the Hoodooist had been craving for the past week) was frozen and dropped in like an ice cube.

Being impatient, the Hoodooist chipped away at his to melt, resulting in a milky caffeine-fueled digestif. Intensely bittersweet, the tequila lifts the Amaro’s bitterness out of the depth of the coffee/horchata combo.

The incredible nostalgia suddenly took the Hoodooist back to sneaking Kopiko Coffee Candy out in the middle of the evening as a 6 year old – anyone who tasted these Thai candies that randomly appeared in the house in the Middle East would recognise the flavour.

Finally, the Birch Wood Aged Vieux Carre – Rye, Cognac, Benedictine, Vermouth, Bitters, all aged in Birch – result in one of the most beautiful takes on a Vieux Carre. Incredible depth, lingering, powerful eau de vie finishes, the bitterness balanced with the woody sweetness of the birch wood and the vermouth. Wonderful.

Ten Bells Spitalfields Shorties Cocktails London

Co-founder Bradley Lomas is a delight, as well as his carpaccio, and head-bartender Jerome Slesinski knocks out the Shorties with polite conversation and confidence. Server Andrea is wonderful to work with, and a spectacular host to chat about Sardegnian cheeses with. Their passion for their new venue and take on cocktails is admirable, and so is their risk-taking.

 

When a Shorty goes right, it goes very right. It’s a difficult one to gauge, when the results of reliable/good : risk/all over the place are 5:4. Did we have fun? Majorly. A great space to experiment with little shorts if you’re in the mood for it. A beautiful space to boot, with wonderful service.

 

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

 

The Ten Bells

84 Commercial Street, Spitalfields,
London E1 6LY.

http://tenbells.com/

The Sun Tavern, Bethnal Green

Type of Bar: Pub (?), Whisky, Poitin
Damage: £
Ideal for: Sundays, Lounge, Small Groups, Date

 

Reopening last year, regulars were glad to see that the Sun Tavern retained its pub atmosphere, blurring the line between pub and cocktail bar. The biggest perk of the venue is its morning opening, serving pastries and coffee, and pub grub throughout the day (alongside its Neal’s Yard sourced charcuterie).

And this is all alongside its selection of craft beers and Irish Poitin (a pretty large collection considering it only being legalised about 3 years ago).
Small, with bare brick, a sizable bar, and a fantastic playlist from Zeppelin, to Ram Jam, to the Talking Heads – the Sun Tavern is your local boozer with quiet confidence in its skill and product. And confident they should be – the cocktails are incredible.

Sun Tavern Bar Bethnal Green London Cocktail

The One For The Road, sausage roll not included ;P

Beginning with a sausage and stilton roll, the Hoodooist orders a One For the Road: Irish Whiskey, Peated Irish Whiskey, English Spiced Vermouth, Amaro Montenegro. Such a beautiful cocktail – the initial hit is of the Amaro’s rosewater, quickly retreating into the whiskey, with a quick buildup of peat, smoking its way in. Once that smoky wave subsides, spices come forth from the Amaro and vermouth (which I’m going to guess is by Sacred Distilleries, with its hints of liquorice and cinnamon). The cocktail, though peaty, is very light, and works well in the daytime.

Sun Tavern Bar Bethnal Green London Cocktail

The Red Lombriz

The Red Lombriz wanders into sweeter territory: Mezcal, Raspberries, Agave Syrup, Lemon, Chocolate Bitters. Pink and dusted with chocolate shavings, it’s certainly a looker – citrus and sweet dominate the drink, with agave syrup’s unique flavour working surprisingly well with raspberries. The chocolate bitters do a great job at rounding out the drink.

Sun Tavern Bar Bethnal Green London Cocktail

The Fleur de Lis

Back to whiskey, the Fleur de Lis brings Irish Double Whiskey, Cognac, Cynar, Lime, and Pecan Syrup together to make a slightly thick, and laid back kicker of drink. I find this one difficult to describe. It somehow manages a distinct citrus to it even while bringing the whiskey’s butterscotch sweetness – suspect the whiskey might be a Glendalough? The cognac grants a depth and warmth to it, probably enhanced by the pecan. The Cynar being a Hoodooist favourite helps provide balance to the sweetness.

Sun Tavern Bar Bethnal Green London Cocktail

The Wake

Finally, The Wake: 3yr Guyanese rum, Suze, Overproof Poitin, Lemon – Of course, the overproof Poitin bit is fascinating, as it can run well into the 90% ABV. The nose is loud, sour, and almost like sand after rain – not soil, not earth, sand. The 3 yr rum, which I’m gonna hazard a guess at El Dorado 3yr, provides a coconut and hay flavour, and dry – harmonises well with the Suze’s bitter gentian. That drop of Poitin is what, I suspect, adds to the dry, grassy, white rum flavours. Long, dry, citrus, bitter – the cherry at the end is a major contrast, and seems to soak up the Poitin like a shot because wow it’s a kick in the teeth.

 

It was difficult to keep up with the One for the Road (or even the Fleur de Lis), but the short cocktail list manages to be incredibly original, hard-hitting, exquisitely prepared and a bargain. Service is exceptionally swift, whether at bar or table.

The Sun Tavern’s easily the Hoodooist’s favourite new spot in Bethnal Green.

 

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

 

The Sun Tavern

441 Bethnal Green Road
London E2 0AN

http://www.thesuntavern.co.uk/