18/81, and Nocturnal Animals, Birmingham

Someone should have let me know that I was sleeping on Birmingham’s bar scene cause damn.

Spending a weekend in the Midlands at the Bites Here and There conference, the Hoodooist and friends got to crawl around some of the most impressive cocktails bars B’ham has to offer.

18/81

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

I ain’t gonna tell you how to find this venue, but follow your gut. London’s speakeasies could learn a thing or two about how to….be an actual speakeasy from 18/81.

Once in, the décor is clean and simple, a risky decision but lord, was I happy to not see a speakeasy made of low lights and leather armchairs.

This menu unapologetically revels in the return of vodka and that is so refreshing to see.

The Oaxaca

The Oaxaca mixes mezcal, mole negro, red Muscat, and served with a dark chocolate garnish.

“Is this just you in a glass?” Natalie of legal and IT recruiters Tap Search asks.

And she has a point. Smoky mezcal with hints of white pepper gives into lightly floral sweet Muscat, before being a submerged into dark chocolate and spicy chilli, from the savouriness of the mole. Do I love this cocktail? It goes on forever and stands as one of the best I’ve had in a while,and certainly the best I’ve had in Birmingham (in competition with the Smokey Old Bastard by the Edgbaston Hotel).

The Garden to Glass

The Garden to Glass serves vodka, wild nettle, cut grass, and garden herbs

Spectacular. Icy vodka prickled with fresh, grassy notes and effervescent nettle that cuts through the herbs. If light cocktails are your style, this is what you need.

Le Jardin once again gives us vodka, this time with jasmine, wormwood, and wild flowers. I have mixed feelings here. I do like the perfumed nature of the drink, and the anisey wormwood, but it feels a little *too* perfumed. If you like bitter and floral, here’s your cocktail, an acquired taste though it is.

The Shandong Blonde, and Le Jardin

The Shandong Blonde, a mix of vodka (Well, this has clearly made a comeback), Szechuan pepper flower, citrus, borage honey. Sweeter, if a bit confused. Maybe I’m just being fussy after the Oaxaca and Garden to Glass? The light floral spice feels a bit conflicted against the powerful raw honey sweetness of the borage honey. It doesn’t taste how you’d expect it, while also tasting exactly how you’d expect it to.

With a spectacular team behind the bar, service is impeccable. 18/81 serves us an amazing experience, down to the hunt for the venue.

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

18/81
Thorp St,
Birmingham B5 4AU

http://1881birmingham.co.uk/

Nocturnal Animals

Type of Bar: Bar/Restaurant
Damage: ££
Ideal for: FoodSmall Groups, Date

Talk about a showstopping look. Black walls, blue banquettes, neon against a massive bar – complete with multi-sensory distortion dividers (touch em, you’ll see what I mean). Nocturnal Animals knows how to turn a look – and don’t miss the IG opportunities downstairs!

This menu is set up in an excellent manner – each section has a base spirit and set of ingredients, followed by three takes on that mix – the Short, the Sharp, and Long – each a longer version of the prior.

The Short Pisco, adds pink grapefruit, rosewater, peach, Turmeon Rose vermouth, Aperol, and Japanese peach bitters to the mix.

The fruit of the Turmeon Rose Vermouth comes through on the nose quite spectacularly. The palette is similarly sweet, but not overwhelmingly so. For its sweetness, the drink is perfectly short, since it would take you as long to drink.

Wonderfully fruited from the vermouth and fruits, the pisco and Aperol just pull it back from a fructose hell into being a fabulously balanced sweet cocktail with a mild winter spice hit. Wave after wave of fruit notes make this a rollercoaster delight.

The Short Pisco

The Short Gin, mixes green chilli, pear eau de vie, Turmeon weed vermouth, and charred fennel bulbs.

Now, there is a lot to be said about the political ramifications of racism and the prison system in the legal cannabis market but anyway, here we are being edgy.

That said, this Martini works excellently, though is an acquired taste. The gin is drowned out by the other ingredients, however. The bright chilli is immediately followed up by the cannabis flavour of the vermouth and fennel, but eventually settling on the sweeter notes of the pear and vermouth, and a great long finish.

The Short Gin

Remember to book, this place is booked up and take in all this dystopian sexiness.

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

Nocturnal Animals
20 Bennetts Hill,
Birmingham B2 5QJ

https://www.nocturnal-animals.co.uk/

Join us again next time for our review of the Edgbaston Hotel, Birmingham!

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 Tea Den @ Opium, Chinatown

Type of Bar: Pop UpBar/Restaurant, Chinese, Speakeasy, Lounge
Damage££
Ideal for: TeaFood, DateSmall Groups

Okay. Seriously. Forget what else is happening on Afternoon Tea Week 2015 (10th-16th August) – your butts should be at Opium Chinatown.

 

We’ve reviewed Opium Chinatown before (Click HERE for Review!), but this week they will be working alongside The London Tea Club, and lifestyle brand, Oblique.

The London Tea Club, spread across Europe and North America, supply members with teas every month matching their flavour profile – perfect for the tea buff – have supplied Opium with a share of some of their most popular teas to construct a spectacular tea-infused cocktail list for Afternoon Tea Week (though the Hoodooist says that they should be permanent cocktails on the Opium menu).

 

Tucked away in the deep red corridors of Opium, beyond the Jade Door on Gerrard Street, find yourself present with 5 magical cocktails, named after the tea used in the concoction:

 

Opium Chinatown Afternoon Tea Week Den Dim Sum Cocktail

The Antique Rose

A major hit of the night (with one friend drinking three of them exclusively), the Antique Rose: Absolut Elyx vodka infused with Antique Rose tea, with Cocchi Americano Rosa and orange oil.

A beautiful, beautiful twist on the vodka Martini, the nose is alluring and primarily the Rosa’s berries and florals (lavender?), with hints of bitter chinchona. By palate, the sweeter tea with powerful rose notes adds life to the Elyx, the strong tea and rose eruption is followed by enveloping raspberry, strawberry and vanilla – ending on a castanet kick of quinine, cloves, a hint of ginger and orange zest.

Sophisticated, aromatic, seductive. A winner.

 

Opium Chinatown Afternoon Tea Week Den Dim Sum Cocktail

The Lapsang Souchong

If you want to go for something a little less Carmen, and a bit more Cosette, then the Lapsang Souchong might be for you: Buffalo Trace bourbon, apricot liqueur, tea-smoked cherries.

The normally deep, smokey tea is mellowed here, in a cocktail that appears to be more similar to a whiskey sour than you’d imagine. A very good one, nonetheless. Shy, fruit laden, the cocktail begins with the apricot, followed by the Buffalo Trace’s oaky, toffee, brown sugar flavours, leading toward the slightly more tart cherry and ending on a soft bed of lapsang souchong smoke.

A bit sweet, bit fruity, longer and easy to relish for the whiskey sour fan.

 

Opium Chinatown Afternoon Tea Week Den Dim Sum Cocktail

The White Peony

Now the White Peony, this one is always just out of reach, so well-composed, so independent, with footfalls of tiny bells: Double strength White Peony tea, Herradura Plata tequila, Belsazar White vermouth, house falernum.

The nose is strongly of the white peony, but underneath there is a lingering layer of agave. The first flavour belongs to the Herradura, soft, oaky, bright agave notes – but give away almost immediately to the tea, and below flowers the very restrained Belsazar and falernum with spicier, fruitier flavours. This cocktail, though loaded with various flavours, always feels so restrained and in control – it is delicate and patience is needed to fully appreciate it.

In short: It’s a bloody success.

 

Opium Chinatown Afternoon Tea Week Den Dim Sum Cocktail

The Goji Berry & Chrysanthemum

In contrast, the Goji Berry & Chrysanthemum is far louder: The teas infused in Absolut vodka and a splash of pink grapefruit juice makes a strongly juicy and brightly fruity cocktail. It might lack the White Peony’s complexity, but is a great middle-drink when wandering through the menu to lighten the spirits between the hardhitters. It might not be the Hoodooist’s style, but is an admirable cocktail, nonetheless, well crafted.

The pink grapefruit juice and vodka are the first to hit you, followed by the flowering flavours of Goji berry, and finishing on the floral chrysanthemum.

 

Opium Chinatown Afternoon Tea Week Den Dim Sum Cocktail

The Iron Goddess of Mercy

Finally, the Iron Goddess of Mercy. More commonly known as Tie Guan Yin (or even TGY), the dramatic name comes from various legends that have the same result: the Goddess of Mercy, Guan Yin, has provided a patient listener with a treasure in the form of an Oolong tea whose popularity spread across the country. Rich, and sweet, using it in a nectar-like syrup for a classic Rum Daiquiri was a fantastic choice.

Refreshing, bright, but not lacking in depth, this cocktail (in all its simplicity) is a breath of fresh air, and a fantastic finisher to the menu. Sweet, uplifting, with hints of herb and spice in the distance (as should be customary of a well-made Daiquiri). Wonderful.

Opium Cocktail Dimsum Parlour Chinatown

 

Honestly, recently the Hoodooist has been looking for cocktails that would ‘wow’ him again, and the Tea Den did just that. Having a sip of the teas before their respective cocktails is a great idea to appreciate the brews themselves, as well as identify their place in the cocktails. I also love that the menu is set out in an excellent order, I’d recommend working your way in the same order, as the cocktails flow and contrast wonderfully that way. Manager Bruce Govia has done a remarkable job with working with the London Tea Club here, and service is light, conversational, speedy and approachable.

 

I guess what I’m saying is: You cannot miss this.

 

Drinks: *****

 

The Tea Den @ Opium, Chinatown

15-16 Gerrard St,
London W1D 6JA

http://www.opiumchinatown.com/

Discount Suit Company, Aldgate

Type of Bar: Basement, Speakeasy, Tiny
Damage£
Ideal for: Small Groups, Party

 

The street’s covered with clothing stores, and a discount suit store is hardly unique in these parts – except for one: The Discount Suit Company, housed in an ex-suit store basement, houses some of the more imaginative cocktails in the are.

Run by the Umbrella Project (also responsible for the Sun Tavern, Bethnal Green – Review up Friday 17th July ’15!), the DSC is a very intimate basement space, candlelit – though surprisingly loud – so I’d recommend booking a table in advance if you’d rather have a conversation down at the couch.

Like both bars by the Umbrella Project, the DSC keeps a a beautiful bar-back and short cocktail menu (off menu classics can be prepared), and for the summer, expect light cocktails focusing on sweet and slightly spiced flavours. The Hoodooist is walked through the menu by the fantastic Connor behind the bar:

 

Discount Suit Company London cocktails Aldgate

Koffie?

Koffie? Wow, I’d love one of these every morning. Genever, Ristretto liqueur, Fernet Branca, cold brew coffee, orgeat, egg yolk. Surprisingly light (you’d expect something heavier with the yolk, but the creaminess is not as thick as you’d think). The bitter Fernet Branca is barely perceptible, just to help balance the sweetness of the ristretto liqueur and orgeat. The almond in the orgeat works well with the bright floral notes of the Genever. Very short, but a beautiful drink.

Discount Suit Company London cocktails Aldgate

Connor preparing the Pollo Loco

The bright green Pollo Loco is exactly what this summer asked for, Tequila Blanco, St. Germain, Absinthe, lemon, cucumber, honey water. Senses assaulted by waves of honey water and cucumber, the vegetal green of the cucumber tempered by the St. Germain – finally the tequila’s pepper and agave lingering underneath. All the while being a light summer cocktail.

Discount Suit Company London cocktails Aldgate

The Grapes and the Grain

The Grapes and the Grain: Gin, Pisco, Velvet Falernum, grape juice, lime, honey water. Tropical without being tropical, this cocktail has pronounced flavours of the ginger, cloves and sweetness in Velvet Falernum, with the sweet honey water and a fruitiness that can only be ascribed to the grape juice. From underneath these the Pisco emerges, a light singe and more fruit.

Another light summer drink, but lacks the same intensity of the Pollo Loco, and begins to lose character quickly – but a good way to end to a night of drinks with something cleansing and relaxed.

Discount Suit Company London cocktails Aldgate

The Dane-ted Love

Next up, Bartender Connor’s favourite, the Dane-ted Love. Now we’re back in business: Akvavit, Amaro Montenegro, lemon juice, lemongrass syrup. The otherwise powerful rose notes of the Amaro Montenegro are surprisingly calm in this cocktail – instead the spice and fruit notes of the Amaro are lengthened by the lemon juice and akvavit, and the citrus drink is sweetened lightly by the lemongrass.

On the topic of sweetness, The Royal Rhubarb goes all the way: Rhubarb vodka, cherry aperitif, vanilla syrup, rhubarb bitters, topped up with Prosecco. No surprise that it’s rhubarby – the cherry and the drier notes of the aperitif (gonna guess it’s Bold London Spirit?), its clove and cassia, and the dry Prosecco, help round out the flavour of the cocktail by adding a little bit of oomph.

Discount Suit Company London cocktails Aldgate

The Royal Rhubarb

The Captain Cobbler, really, is the one drink the Hoodooist wouldn’t order again – Dark rum, Amontillado sherry, kumquat, ginger and honey marmalade, pink grapefruit and IPA head. I’m sure there is an audience who’d enjoy this, but it came off as a confused, sweet muddle.

Discount Suit Company London cocktails Aldgate

The Captain Cobbler

The Discount Suit Co.’s cocktail game is strong, as usual – fantastic in fact, for a short menu – and recognise that simplicity is key. Of course, a short menu can be limiting, so whisky cocktails are gonna be classics ordered off menu – which shouldn’t be a problem with this fantastic team – fun, conversational, swift, gotta love the guys behind the bar.

Discount Suit Company London cocktails Aldgate

The House of Ban-Boo

The Discount Suit Co. is another testament to the Umbrella Project’s skill at good bar concepts: aiming for simplicity, while understanding the customers and serving up quality at fabulous wallet-preserving costs (particularly handy close to the university as it is). Love this joint.

 

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

 

Discount Suit Company

29A Wentworth Street,
London E1 7TB

http://www.discountsuitcompany.co.uk/

Kansas Smitty’s, Broadway Market

Type of Bar: Speakeasy, Basement, Tiny, Jazz
Damage: ££
Ideal for: Live Music, Small Groups, Juleps

 

Kansas Smitty’s ‘puts the danger back in jazz’ with their new Jazz n Julep bar at Broadway Market!

Taking the place of PortSide Parlour’s first residence (Click HERE for Review!), Kansas Smitty’s takes a minimalist and powder blue revamp to the basement of Off Broadway. Much space saved for standing guests, banquettes line the walls for table seats that sit about 4 persons, a dark, intimate, candle-lit venue that suits the music fantastically. Namesake of the eight-piece resident house band for whom the clubhouse is both a performance and rehearsal spot.

Throughout the week, the venue will be used by the house band and guest musicians to rehearse, perform and create music, a unique setting for live jazz in London. On Wednesdays the bar will host the ‘Basement Tapes’, a weekly concert featuring new projects, guest performers, secret shows and new pieces written and rehearsed that week in the bar. With limited space and high calibre performances these will be hot tickets to get hold of. At other times, band members will play their favourite records for guests, providing a soundtrack of quality music.

Kansas Smittys cocktail Juleps

I was curious to see how KS was about to pull off the all-Julep menu, and boy, did they – a massive collection of spices and botanicals changes the Julep game entirely. Everything from Cassia to Chamomile, these juleps are doing their best to stand out from the crowd and change the way you see the cocktail entirely. Four of the 8 Juleps use sweeter Four Roses Bourbon, and the mint is used just right, and not abused the way it is in many bars.

The bar signature, the Smitty’s Julep, is probably the best to start with, and the most balanced and layered of the menu. Bourbon, Amaro bitters, raisin, peach, cassia bar and mint. Beginning with the honeyed winter spice bite of the Four Roses, the raisins make a short entrance, followed by a powerful punch of cassia bark, finally ending on notes of the Amaro’s bitter orange and mint haze. Light, refreshing, and deserving of the title of the bar’s signature Julep.

 

Kansas Smittys cocktailJuleps

The signature Smitty’s Julep

The next three Juleps could really be called ‘specialty’ cocktails, that focus on a specific flavour and jump in headlong:

The Allotment Julep takes a twist with gin! Nettle, elderflower, carrot, coriander seed, apple, pear and mint seem like an enormous combination, but the result is a wonderfully light, breezy concoction. Predominantly fruity with the apple and pear, the occasional carrot kick, the fruitiness is broken by the coriander seed and nettle. A great light twist with the heavier drinks on the menu.

One such heavy drink being the Jesuit’s Bark – Mt. Gay rum, clove, pimento, lime, grapefruit peel, quinine cordial and mint. Wow. Packing a serious punch, you want to dedicate a good half hour to this drink. The rum and clove don’t mess around, and you get whacked round the face with it – so make sure you enjoy these flavours (luckily, the Hoodooist does). A slight lightening of flavours by the grapefruit peel and mint to the end, with a longer quinine finish, with lingering spice and smokiness of the Mt. Gay.

Another one of these ‘flavour specialty’ Juleps is the Scarborough: Bourbon, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, toasted almond, salted heather honey and mint. It’s a bit difficult to tell each of the ingredients apart in this one, but you get a good idea with the green herbiness of it, the parsley is notable, as you’d imagine. The toasted almond lingers in the background as the salted heather honey actually is rather powerful, and necessary to balance the green.

Kansas Smittys cocktail Juleps

Then, two themed Juleps: the Morning Joe-lep and the Sleepytime.

The Morning Joe-lep goes for bourbon, coffee bean, stem ginger, cardamom, cocoa nibs and bitter orange marmalade. I had my heart set on this one, but a lot of powerful flavours come at you at once, and it all feels a bit muddled and confused.

The Sleepytime, though, gets more points. Scotch whisky, chamomile, pink peppercorn, raspberry, lemon peel and mint – you the first slightly sweet, but still smoky bite of scotch, immediately moving on to the raspberry and lemon, finally ending on a smooth length of chamomile. All served with a delicate ice-crater filled with raspberries. Best in terms of presentation, and of the sweeter drinks on the menu, the most balanced.

 

The one cocktail that wasn’t received well at the table would’ve been the Ous Est Le Menthe. Cognac, sherry, tonka bean, cascara, star anise, walnut and nutmeg. The cognac, sherry and walnut stand out prominently, but the drink overall, comes off a bit sticky and sickly, and sadly wasn’t finished.

Not that this should end on a bad note, with the otherwise excellent drinks available on the menu.

Kansas Smittys cocktail Juleps

Drinks are to be ordered at the bar, and there will be queues, and massive respect to the bartenders juggling as many drinks as they did! Major props. So there might be bit of a wait for the drinks, but it is totally understandable in the space constraint and number of orders. Excellent work and service on part of the ‘tenders.

 

Summary? London was long due a bar like Kansas Smitty’s – revolutionising Juleps with a deft hand, and masterfully thought out recipes, bringing back a more relaxed atmosphere to cocktail bars, and finding that great mid-space between gig-venue and cocktails. Definitely worth a visit.

 

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

 

Kansas Smitty’s
Underneath ‘Off Broadway’

63 Broadway Market,
London E8 4PH.

http://www.kansassmittys.com/

Bourne & Hollingsworth Bar, Fitzrovia

Type of Bar: Basement, Speakeasy, Quirky, Vintage, Tiny
Damage££
Ideal for: After Work, Nightcap, Small Groups, Date

When the B&H Bar opened a few years ago, a marked a then-change in cocktail culture and turned the tide toward a fascination with speakeasies, gin, and vintage-England. It was a tastemaker, and has developed into a brand name with its sister bars (Reverend JW Simpson: Click HERE for Review!, and the B&H Buildings, Review HERE!) and its vintage and chap themed events from the Blitz Party to Belle Epoque.

Bourne Hollingsworth London Cocktails

And for those years, this tiny, one-square-granny’s-living-room (complete with a distinct odour of damp) was a spot the Hoodooist would pop by for a last drink before heading home when in the area.

However, the new menu has taken a Spring turn in not *quite* the best direction. Said direction has been the elimination of many of the drinks that stood out, and resulting homogenisation of flavours and ingredients – the new menu now boasts a numerous (easily 25 or more) cocktails, that seem to blend into each other instead of standing with independent personalities, and taste too similar to each other (whereas Rev JW Simpson did the opposite and developed a greater variety of flavours than before, the B&H Buildings provide a greater variety as well).

The new menu has a tendency towards being incredibly sweet (so perfect if you enjoy sweet!), and an overbearing of berries and gin – so for the evening we tried our best to go for those that stood out.

Bourne Hollingsworth London Cocktails

L-R: The Madame Elisa’s Breakfast; The Honey Berry Bison

The then Cherry Sidecar has reverted to a slightly more classic Sidecar (Cognac, with marmalade instead of triple sec) in the Madame Elisa’s Breakfast – a drink that stood about a bit further from the others of the evening with the tartness of the marmalade – probably the most enjoyed of the evening in its simplicity.

The Honey Berry Bison goes for Zubrowka vodka and berries, shaken with lemon juice, acacia honey and egg white. Berries range from rasp- to black- and the cocktail itself has a distinctly cinnamon flavour after the first few sips – but it doesn’t take away from the intense sweet berries of the cocktail.

Tequila finally takes the stage in the Plum Plume: Reposado tequila shaken with lime juice, plum wine and bitters, topped with lemonade – but comes off without much flavour outside the plum wine and lemonade’s sweetness. But at least that went down better than the Black Jack – Bourbon with spiced honey whisky liqueur, seasonal fruits, mint infused sugar and lemon that was entirely too much to drink when it tastes like an iced glassful of watered down Jack Daniel’s Honey and berries.

Bourne Hollingsworth London Cocktails

Service is good, even on days when the room is crowded, you can trust that someone will be served. Often, there are free tables (especially weekdays) to walk-in, but for Saturday nights, a booking is recommended. Normally quite chilled out and relaxed, event nights can get very crowded – so do check in advance.

With other great bars like Rev JW and B&H Buildings in their roster, it won’t take long for a banging new menu to be on the cards, but for now, this spring/summer might have to wait.

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

 

Bourne & Hollingsworth

Rathbone Place,
London W1T 1JF

http://www.bourneandhollingsworth.com/bournes/

Reverend JW Simpson, Fitzrovia

Type of Bar: Basement, Speakeasy, Vintage, Quirky
Damage££
Ideal for: Date, Small Groups, After Work

A door is not a door, and a wall is not a wall at the Reverend JW SimpsonBourne and Hollingsworth’s sister bar (Click HERE for Review!) resides in a basement apartment just minutes away in Fitzrovia. The third of the B&H bars being the B&H Buldings, Clerkenwell (Review HERE!).

Named after an ex-resident of the space, the apartment now houses white banquettes set up against tattered wallpaper, overseen by a large and impressive bar, amusingly presented as ‘windows’ to the visitors, from where the drinks are served. There is a strange kind of shabby-Art-Deco-dissonance about the venue, especially with honkytonk, swamp rock, and everything from the Talking Heads to Red Hot Chilli Peppers playing in the background.

On a weekend night, the venue can get swamped with people, so reservations are highly recommended – but this doesn’t harm service too much. It’s swift and attentive even with the crowd.

Reverend JW Simpson Cocktails

The two menus – one seasonal and one permanent (in the form of a paper fortune teller!) – have running themes: light, fruity, but there are the occasional heavyweights like the beautiful Larder Batch (The Hoodooist’s favourite at the Cocktails in the City 2014 event, Click HERE for Review).

So whether you pick out a seasonal drink, or play a schoolyard game to make your order, the Hoodooist tried a few from each for your consideration!

Reverend JW Simpson Cocktails

The Fir Douglas Rathbone, Esq.

The Fir Douglas Rathbone, Esq. immediately catches the eye: Rathbone New London Dry Gin, homemade Douglas Fir liqueur, lemon juice, and a touch of maple syrup – finished with a spray of bergamot oils. The Hoodooist could sit back and just sniff this one all day. The fir and bergamot is sharp and fragrant, incredible. However, considering the ingredients, there are two ways to approach this cocktail – the heavy maple syrup sinks to the bottom of the glass, so either you stir it to spread the sweetness throughout the drink, or just drink it straight.

Drinking it straight results in the bottom half becoming a sweeter version of the top half – which, though wonderfully piney, and strongly juniper, risks tasting like disinfectant (although I think that comes more from the scent than from the actual flavour!). Personally, I rather enjoyed the bright, vivid drink, but it is easy to see how it can be an acquired drink for some. Stirring it will result in a maple sugariness toning down the tartness, while keeping in like with the evergreen theme.

Reverend JW Simpson Cocktails

L-R: The Blue Leaf Clover; and the Pomegranate Haze

The Blue Leaf Clover from the seasonal menu goes straight for the Bourne and Hollingsworth favourite flavours: berries. Rathbone New London Dry Gin, homemade blackberry and rosemary syrup, lemon juice and egg white result in a drink that is very easy sipping, smooth and delicate. It might not be complex, or a showstopper, but does its job as a refreshing semi-sweet cocktail you’d want at a picnic on the kind of sunny mornings we’ve had this Easter. And you can’t argue with the beautiful garnish that comes with it.

The Hoodooist’s love affair with Mastiha gum mastic liqueur is back with the Pomegranate Haze! Hendricks Distilled Gin, Mastiha liqueur, pomegranate tea syrup, lemon juice. This is not as sweet as you’d expect, and has a distinct earthiness a friend described as ‘like being in a forest’ – which I find is characteristic of Mastiha. There is an added bitter depth from the pomegranate tea syrup, slightly herbal, somewhat spicy, this drink in surprisingly adventurous.

Reverend JW Simpson Cocktails

Foreground: The Gardenier; Background: The Rumplestiltskin

A young apple is used instead of an ice cube in the Gardenier: Aged Calvados, Suze Aperitif, honey and orange liqueurs, apple shrub. The first sip of this drink is overwhelmingly sweet, the Calvados, honey and shrub assault the palate – but after the first sip, it seems to mellow out a bit, with help from the bitter Suze, whose spice complements the apple nicely. Still, a bit too much on the sweet side for myself, but a useful dessert drink nonetheless. This is more suited to autumn in front of a fire.

The Rumplestiltskin, on the other hand, is sweet in less appealing ways: Rum, homemade apple and spiced Falernum syrups, lime juice and dry chocolate liqueur present an intensely sugary long cocktail with a bit of a chocolate kick. This cocktail seems a bit jumbled and confused. Not far off, the Serena, with Polish Vodka, carrot shrub, vanilla liqueur, lemon and honey; lacks character and seems to taste more berryish than carrot, though the vanilla makes an appearance.

Reverend JW Simpson Cocktails

The Larder Batch

The Larder Batch really does need to be eaten with steak. An excellent short bourbon drink, Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon, Pinot Noir reduction, seasoned with pink peppercorn, spiced cardamom and Angostura bitters. Here the Reverend presents us with a steak dinner in a cocktail format; the natural winter spiciness and vanilla/honey sweetness of the Four Roses Small Batch, and the bite of the peppercorn and cardamom suits the Pinot Noir (PIIINOOOOT NOIIR…sorry) reduction perfectly. The Reverend excels here, with a style that is daring and stands out from the rest of the menu. Would love to see more in the style of the Larder Batch next season.

Reverend JW Simpson Cocktails

More adventurous than its original cousin, the Rev still displays a certain amount of conservatism with the flavours explored on the menu. Nonetheless, there are a large number of drinks to choose from, each bringing something new to the table – they know vintage, and they do it right.

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

Reverend JW Simpson,

32 Goodge Street, Fitzrovia,
London, W1T 2QJ

http://www.revjwsimpson.com/

5cc Singer Tavern, Old Street

Type of Bar: Basement, Speakeasy
Damage££
Ideal for: Party, Small Groups, Large Groups, After Work

 

Way back in the day, the reviewed the 5cc‘s other branches in a blog post (Click HERE for Review!) – but the launch of the new Singer Tavern, 1 City Road venue demands another look with a total change of the 5cc vibe!

Which I mean, kinda like its Hoxton brother, this venue is much bigger than the elder siblings – more than enough space to easily fit a 100 guests, with massive booths, couches, and even a semi-private room. And space to dance! Walking down the stairs from the Singer Tavern (yes, Singer as in the sewing machine company, and the venues décor won’t let you forget that) – the Hoodooist is greeted with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins blasting on the stereo – a volume level that never really goes down, which makes it great for a night out – not so much for private conversation. Come here for an evening out with a group of friends, not on a first date.

 

This manifestation of 5cc takes on the crypt-like surrounds of the Bethnal Green venue, as well as the modern décor of the Farringdon branch, with the Hoxton spot’s upbeat tempo – definitely an after-work spot.

_DSC5322-Edit

As for the cocktails, we’re seeing many updates from the slightly more demure 5cc standards.

The Montgomery is one of the most classic cocktails served: a Dolin dry vermouth based gin Martini using No.3 Gin – served short and fairly wet (at least for the Hoodooist). Easy drinking for a Martini, No.3 has to still be one of the Hoodooist’s favourite Martini gins, simple, crisp citrus with powerful juniper. The Dolin is a game changer though, with a potently floral and sweet flavour – which made this drink rather divisive at the table, some enjoying it, others turning away pretty quickly. If you’re a Martini fan, consider the sweetness of the Dolin, and go for it if it works for you!

 

5cc Singer Tavern cocktails

The Saints & Sinners

Along the short and Martini-esque route, the Saints & Sinners is closer to a dry twist on a classic Hanky Panky. Dictador aged gin and Lillet Blanc, mixed in with Fernet Branca and vanilla bitters, garnished with an olive. I… have no idea what this cocktail is trying to achieve. Now, the Hoodooist has used the Dictador aged gin in a basic gin Martini with Lillet Blanc before with pleasant results – however this goes in a totally different route. If you haven’t come across this gin before, it made the controversial decision to age the gin for 35 weeks in rum barrels to provide a rounder, sweeter flavour. Instead we get this bizarre confused mix of dry flavours that were just difficult to decipher. Universally abandoned at the table.

5cc Singer Tavern cocktails

Then came the East End Old Fashioned: Elijah Craig 12, lapsang souchong cordial, chilli and orange bitters. I think the lapsang souchong cordial and chilli were meant to complement the Elijah Craig 12’s slightly spicy and fruity character, but instead, making the tea a cordial left the cocktail a bit flat. There seemed to be a hint of spice that stops short. Unfortunately, it comes off a bit ineffectual and unmemorable.

For a longer drink though, the Knock Out does the trick: ELLC Demerara rum, lime, strawberry and blackberry cordial, topped up with soda (seemed more like ginger beer?). Now, if you’re thirsty, this would be it. It may not be the Hoodooist’s style, but it does its job and a sweeter thirst-quencher. It’s nice to see the East London Liquor Company’s Demerara rum! With a hint of vanilla and woody flavour, the rum works well with the ginger beer – and surprisingly well with the berries. If you want a simple long drink, this would be it.

Finally, Frida’s Tropical Margarita: 1800 coconut tequila, lime, pineapple and chipotle cordial with coconut and salt rim. When it says ‘tropical’, it ain’t kidding. However, again, the cordial-isation of the ingredients leaves it a bit flat, and what was agreed on was that the most exciting part of the drink was the coconut rim.

 

5cc Singer Tavern cocktails

The Knock Out

The Montgomery and Knock Out seem to do exactly what they mean to – but also have the simplest combinations when you look at them. The two cordial drinks, the East End Old Fashioned and Frida’s Tropical Margarita, somehow go a bit flat on flavour. The Saints & Sinners, at first glance, has a problematic combo of flavours (The Minestrone Cocktail effect, as Alessandro Palazzi would put it).

So with a keen eye, you’d actually be able to spot what would work and what doesn’t – though probably easier said then done, as witnessed by the East End Old Fashioned, which sounds good in theory.

 

However, you shouldn’t have a problem getting a cocktail tailored to your tastes, since the service at the bar is wonderful – although do keep in mind that this is a bar that can certainly get rather busy! But like we all know, a busy bar means a more effervescent atmosphere to find yourself partying in, and a space to dance is what too many cocktail bars in London are lacking.

 

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

 

5cc, Singer Tavern, 

1 City Road, Old Street
London, EC1Y 1AE.

http://www.5cc-london.com/

Sovereign Loss, Brixton

Type of Bar: Vintage, Tiny, Late Night, Speakeasy
Damage: ££
Ideal for: Date, Small Groups, Nightcap

The launch of Sovereign Loss in Brixton this week marks Brixton Road/Coldharbour Lane as a major cocktail hub in the South now, joining stars like the Shrub and Shutter and Three Eight Four (Click HERE for review!). With the brand ambassadors of Aperol and Whitley Neill Gin running the show, Sovereign Loss is bound to be a South London star. As a major fan of Chris Dennis (of Trailer Happiness fame), having him behind the bar means this was a launch the Hoodooist would certainly not miss.

Pressing the buzzer at the Trade Entrance door just beside the Prince of Wales, one climbs up the stairs, past a smoking terrace, to a candlelit, intimate space that could be best described as Cuban Art Deco. Initially quite relaxed, the lights get darker and music louder as the night goes on – and on it goes – with the 24 hour license, the weekend sees the bar open till 5AM, on Sundays till last man standing! But not being a club, this exactly where the Hoodooist wants to find himself instead of some riotous oonce-oonce shindig at 3AM – just chilling with an El Presidente.

Sovereign Loss Negroni

The cocktail list is short, but impressive, and matching the Art Deco surrounds, with a good balance between short and long drinks (but rather heavy on the orange). Let’s begin with the most impressive.

The Canopy, now this was a surprise. The Hoodooist so rarely enjoys a long drink, but heavens, this is incredible. And so simple! Whitley Neill gin, orange sherbert, Curacao, lemon and soda. Being a smooth, subtle gin, Whitley Neill is excellent with its citrus for a cocktail like the Canopy. It beings with a burst of the orange sherbert, such an excellent flavour, moving to a short expression of the gin, and settling on the Curacao. A bit on the sweet side, but well balanced with tartness. A wonderful drink to begin with. But, enjoy it quickly, it dilutes easily.

The Presidente is a fairly classic El Presidente with Santa Teresa Reserva rum, Cinzano dry vermouth, Curacao and pomegranate. I adore this rum for the Presidente, fruits and caramel, followed by winter spices and oak. The Cinzano’s dryness does not overpower this wonderful rum and neither does the pomegranate. Easily one of the best short drinks on this menu.

The Metropole was a very surprising drink: Courvoisier Exclusif, sweet vermouth, Dubonnet, Peychaud’s and Orange bitters. The initial flavour is intensely chocolate, with strains of the CV Exclusif’s Borderies Cru fruit lines simmering in. Halfway through, the other ingredients begin to shine, the vermouths open up to the palate, followed by the orange bitters in the background. A very intriguing, but heavy drink.

The Metropole

The Metropole

The next two drinks have incredible potential, but are a bit imbalanced to intense sweetness.

The traditional, classic New Corpse Reviver: Louis Royer VS Pommeau (which I am deducing would be Louis Royer VS Cognac, apple must, with apple brandy) and sweet vermouth follows Craddock’s recipe in the 1930’s Savoy Handbook, going to show that not all classic recipes are intensely dry or bitter. This have a very heavy mouthfeel, and is intensely sweet. If you are looking for a dessert drink, this would be a good one.

As we said with the Pisco Embassy last week (Click HERE for review), Pisco once again proves to be a difficult ingredient to use in cocktails. The Apiscopalian brings Pisco Porton, Aperol and peach to the table. In order to balance the sweetness of the peach with the Aperol and strong Pisco, the drink swings to the opposite end of the spectrum with a thick, syrupy texture making it difficult to drink. The intense sweetness, if you aren’t a fan of it, can make it rather sickly. Not a fan of this drink, but at our table of four, one did enjoy it for the first half of the glass.

Finally, the unfortunate Journalist, taken out of the Savoy Handbook again, Beefeater gin, Curacao, sweet and dry vermouth, citrus, bitters, was not only too overbearing with the orange and citrus throughout, but when made, was overdone with the orange peel spray, resulting in being too oily.

The Apiscopalian

The Apiscopalian

Serivce-wise, with Joe and Chris, it is impossible to have anything negative with the service, whereas kinks regarding table-service are being ironed out once it gets crowded. Regarding cocktails, the Presidente, Canopy and Metropole stood out as winners, with the New Corpse Reviver running up. Though orange pervades the menu, it is not tiresome, thankfully. And though the Journalist and Apiscopalian do not quite work, you can tell by the recipe.

A fantastic bartender, a great design, and an incredible 24 hour license make Sovereign Loss a perfect late night spot when partying in the area. Hoodooist Recommended!

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

 

Sovereign Loss,

469 Brixton Road,
London SW9 8HH

http://www.sovereignloss.com

Bermondsey Arts Club, Bermondsey

Type of Bar: Tiny, Basement, Speakeasy
Damage££
Ideal for: Date, Small Groups, Live Music

Now this is interesting.

The Bermondsey Arts Club has kept itself to itself since they opened about half a year ago. They’ve also developed a loyal following, especially from the area, looking for a cocktail bar closer to home (major plus for the Hoodooist in Greenwich).

Taking up residence in the public conveniences underground, on weekdays, you wouldn’t know the BAC was here. Keeping the walls, the rest of the venue has been done up in black and gold art deco revival – and on Wednesdays, bringing out their chilled jazz band. I do wish that they kept the jazz throughout the week, though – the weekend pop playlist is a bit jarring with the sexy underground surrounding.

L to R: Phra Phum, and Three Wise

L to R: Phra Phum, and Three Wise

Making one’s way there for the launch of their Winter Cocktail list, I have to say, it is a major improvement on the previous menu. And this new menu (launching Dec 5th ’14) is absolutely delightful, I fell in love with it as we tasted.

Let’s begin with the Phra Phum: House Thai Gin (ginger, chilli, garlic, spring onion), lemon, sugar, egg white, House Soy Bitters. Love. Bright, spry, lively – the first hits of spring onion and chilli, then ginger and finally the simmering of garlic and hint of soy – all make an appearance in this citrusy-spicy East Asian inspired cocktail. An excellent way to start a night, and easily one of my favourites on the list.

Another one that stood out would be a light take on a dessert drink: the Grappa’s Delight brings Chamomile Grappa, Cocchi Americano, lemon, honey, green tea gelato together with a few dried chamomile blooms dusted above. Less thick than most dessert drinks, yet still with that smooth gelato texture, this cocktail is sneaky. Not a dry drink at all, the Cocchi Americano is barely noticeable, as the gelato, honey and chamomile have their way with you. The Grappa does make a sound appearance, and I’d pick this over a dessert any day of the week.

L to R: Accidentally half drunk Grappa's Delight, and A Little R & R

L to R: Accidentally half drunk Grappa’s Delight, and A Little R & R

The next two drinks go in for darker, heavier flavours. The Hit and Mist was most enjoyable – Cider poached Apple Laphroaig, Treacle Syrup, Whisky Barrel Bitters is smoked with Apple Hickory smoke. A short, strong drink and a great winter warmer, surprisingly not as sweet as you’d expect. The characteristic nature of Laphroaig, with its already smoky, and rather medicinal flavour is necessary to balance the sweeter treacle – creating a very well balanced drink that really is made by the Hickory smoke. Without it, it would lose a lot of character (like the Lost in the Woods, by PortSide Parlour, review HERE). But this exactly the kind of drink the Hoodooist would enjoy. Seductive, balanced, warm and enveloping.

The Coupe des Garcon is an odd one – named after the fashion house Comme des Garcon – puts Port, Ramazzotti, Fine Calvados and Peychaud’s Bitters in a glass wrapped in a napkin sprayed with Comme de Garcon’s Wonderwood parfum. Now here is the odd part: the Calvados is not a strong flavour, yet plays an important part in the drink with the Port and Ramazzotti and the intriguing bit is how similar to bourbon the result is – the fruity bourbon sweetness, the woodiness of the barrels, all evoked wonderfully. I suspect, though, the woodiness is in fact olfactory. The Wonderwood parfum (Hm, pepper, sandalwood, oudh? I think.) is an excellent pairing with the cocktail, making it a multisensory experience – but don’t spray it on yourself, getting it off your clothes is impossible (or off you. Or your pillowcases. Everything into the wash). Another excellent winter drink, throwing you headfirst into nature with hints of oranges, apples and spices.

The Hit and Mist

The Hit and Mist

Finally, I probably should end mentioning two drinks that, though still good, are not up to par with the above. A Little R & R is a surprisingly uncharacteristic drink (Butter-washed raisin rum, cinnamon liqueur, lemon and cardamom bitters), and in fact, comes off a bit too citrusy. I feel avoiding the lemon a bit, and relying more on a sort of butter-washed raisin rum Old Fashioned would be a better idea. Nonetheless, we have the buttery, rich mouthfeel of the rum, with a final hint of cardamom at the end. Less lemon. Always less lemon.

Lastly, the Three Wise is in fact what I started with. I was intrigued by the strangeness of the ingredients: Taylor’s 10yr Port, Brokers Gin, Gold/Frankincense/Myrrh Bitters. Yup. Served in a Japanese wooden cube (also used by the Artesian for a Japanese styled drink in a previous menu) – it can be uncomfortable to drink from, especially with that little singed stick of incense prodding your face. On one hand, a good aperitif with intense dryness – on the other hand, a bit confusing. I might enjoy it more with less gin, since it drowns out the barely noticeable figs in the port, which would be fantastically both thematically and in regard to taste. The frankincense and myrrh is certainly a nice addition – as for the gold, well. Perhaps gold leaf would be a better garnish than the incense. This drink appeals more to my intellect than my tastebuds.

The Aged Old Negronis

The Aged Old Negronis

Service at the bar is wonderful (Aged Negronis bottled to take home! Taste delicious and rounded, well-balanced). Milo (who runs a cocktail Youtube channel, Caffe Corretto), Jake and Adam are excellent company. On weekends though, the tables can get very crowded and getting attention/waiting for drinks can get a bit tiring – but one expects that on crowded nights. You will see the Hoodooist and friends at the bar, getting tanked on Hit and Mists on Wednesdays, I think.

In summary: the new menu at the Bermondsey Arts Club is formidable, original, and wonderful. Favouring the Hoodooist’s preferred style of short, but intense, these drinks are quickly taking this bar to one of my more favoured hang outs. With excellent design and atmosphere, and fun service – you’ll see me here often (at least, as often as I can. I have two bars a week to review for you people, you know.)

A major thanks to Jamie Pinkham and team for an excellent night out!

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

Bermondsey Arts Club

102A Tower Bridge Road,
London SE1 4TP

http://bermondseyartsclub.co.uk/