Disrepute, visited January 2017

img_4764When a bar opens on the site of the old Pinstripe Club (think Profumo, Keeler, O’Toole & others of that era), it has to be worth a visit or two. Taken on by the owners of the Barrio & Sovereign Loss bars, the re-design of this underground venue has really pushed what can be achieved in a linear & low-ceilinged space, creating areas of joy and mystery in equal measure.

The central bar reminds me of the sadly long-closed Green Room club, once described as ‘designed for twenty, but hosting one hundred’, where I spent more than a few evenings pinned against the walls by my colleagues from many  (some nights it seemed like *all*) of  London’s theatres – although the bar in Disrepute is a lot more beautiful. And far less damp and dark.

img_2093The key feature of the bar is the cocktail narrative – drinks are ordered by choosing from a menu of stories, or from a separate menu of ingredients – each drink only known by their initials. I had a ‘T’ on my first order, and mysterious and lyrical it was in equal measures.

Disrepute (or DRP, if you will) will be a members’ bar in the late evening, but right now, a cheery demeanour & a pleasant smile should be enough to score you entry early in the evening; certainly, it got me seated with a friend at a fine table by the bar, and served by some of the most happy and cheerful staff I have ever met in London. Disrepute by name, but definitely not disreputable; fabulous, actually. It’s excellence has not been lost on others, either, Vogue magazine just named the newly-opened bar in its top 10 of London bars – quite an accolade for a place that has only been open since December last year.

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Punch Room, visited 31st March

img_1978On Wednesday, I went to see the exhibition on John Dee, the Elizabethan scientist, sorceror & spy at the Royal College of Physicians, custodian of many of his books and artefacts.

I went, not only because of an interest in Dee, but because I accompanied my friend, Lloyd Shepherd, who has written a historical novel that includes Dee – or more particularly his library – as a key element in his C19th story. Lloyd had seen some other of Dee’s books up close as part of his research for the novel (being published later this month, and I recommend you read it), but here was a rare chance to see some of the rarer books in the Royal College’s collection.

The exhibition was great, but to end the afternoon properly, we needed something suitably traditional drink to toast the upcoming novel. A bowl of punch*, that most English of alcoholic mixtures, seemed most appropriate (Lloyd’s novel refers to the East India Company, where we get our love of punch from), so we visited the Punch Room at the London Edition hotel. This is a small bar, hidden at the rear of the hotel lobby, and in keeping with the current trend for speakeasies, completely anonymous from the outside. The hotel suggests a strict reservations-only policy, but when we were there it seemed to me that hotel residents are (quite fairly) treated more relaxedly. The benefit of the system means that one visits a busy, but not crammed bar. There are two rooms – one with a fabulous stand-alone serving bar where all the mixing takes place, the other an even quieter, smaller space with comfortable armchairs. The design is apparently to suggest a  gentlemen’s wood-panelled club room, though here the materials used are quite light and modern and the chairs low, but this means the space is warm and inviting, not dark and oppressive.

We drank the Arrak punch (arrak, lemon juice, chai tea, honey essence), which packed a… kick (avoiding the obvious joke), after starting with a glass of their complementary house punch. Both were really lovely: warming, sharp & refreshing.

The good thing about a punch is the sharing nature of the drink – it’s fun to ladle out the mix into your glasses – and the higher juice content against a lower alcohol perecntage means these are longer drinks, to be sipped slowly while talking, making them ideal for a conversational sort of an evening.

 

  • According to Wikipedia:

The drink was brought to England from India by sailors and employees of the British East India Company in the early seventeenth century. From there it was introduced into other European countries. When served communally, the drink is expected to be of a lower alcohol content than a typical cocktail

 

 

Craft beer in London

Time Out magazine seems to be championing the craft brewers of London right now. A few weeks ago, they ran a double-page feature on bottled London ales. They have now followed this up with an online piece about the best place to buy craft brewery beers in London, which can be found here on their Now. Here. This. London blog. London’s off-licences can often reveal a healthy selection of bottled beers – in particular, the Time Out article completely missed the brilliant Oddbins near London Bridge station, where manager Simon is an enthusiastic buyer for all kinds of local beer.

The shops mentioned in Time Out’s article are bucking the tend for Doombar and their ilk, and showcasing the amazing range of beers to be found in and around London now. All are worth sampling; if you don’t like one, open the next bottle and discover another set of flavours.

Genever

Bernard Filliers samples the family product in Belgium
Bernard Filliers – click to read the whole article in The Independent

There is a very interesting piece in The Independent about the return of interest in Dutch Genever – the drink that we British adopted and modified into the London Dry Gin, enjoyed worldwide in the classic  gin & tonic now. What piqued my interest was the description of it being ideal for use in an Old-Fashioned, which is one of my favourite cocktails, and I have already detailed in a previous post.

Genever is described as being much more complex and malty than our familiar dry spirit, closer in flavour terms to a whisky than the white spirit of a London Dry

Today being Friday, I am considering walking down to the Whisky Exchange to see if they have any bottles.

Bitters (2) – Home made

The first batch of BTP House bitters is cooked up.
The first batch of BTP House bitters is cooked up.

I received a copy of Brad Thomas Parsons brilliant book, Bitters, for a recent birthday. Besides being a thorough history of this often-overlooked cocktail ingredient, Mr Parsons also includes several recipes to try at home. Naturally, I had to try one for myself, so settled on his signature recipe: BTP House bitters.

Over the last last week I have visited various herbalists in London to stock up on the ingredients, which has been fascinating in itself. The herbalist at Neal’s Yard was very interested in the items as I was buying – not least because the quassia chips (Quassia amara) are apparently an unusual purchase due to their incredible bitterness, so coupled with the gentian root (Gentiana lutea) also on the list – she was wondering what I could be making. When I told her the story of the Bitters book, she was delighted to share advice about extracting the properties from the herbs, and how they might treat common stomach ailments when the recipe was finished. She also directed me to London’s oldest herbalist, Baldwin’s to pick up the final few items – cassia bark (Cinnamomum aromaticum) and vanilla (Vanilla planifolia) as they were out of stock. Again, when the Baldwin’s herbalist discovered what I was making, he insisted in opening a new pack of vanilla to get the freshest pod available to infuse properly. So, even if my recipe isn’t a success, I have discovered a whole new subject in herbalism.

The biggest problem in making the bitters, here in the UK at least, is the strong alcohol required for the extraction to work. Most UK spirits are sold at 40% ABV (alcohol by volume), and stronger spirits are difficult to come by. I was directed to look for Polish Rectified Spirits among our Polish community in London, and the Neal’s Yard herbalist recommended I start making herbal tonics, as this would allow me to register for the purchase of the pure medicinal alcohol required for their extractions.

In the end, I discovered a closer solution to home – a quantity of strong Cretan tsikoudia (aka tsipouro, or just ‘raki’) I had brought back from holidays on the island. Well-made tsikoudia is very pleasant as a digestif, so I thought it would make a good base for my first bitters batch. It is also a pretty strong spirit – not in the realm of Everclear perhaps – but certainly strong enough for my needs. And the bottle I had at home had a pleasantly herby scent (the spirit changes depending on the distiller, and wide varieties of flavour exist across the island and even village-to-village).

Last night, I mixed up the ingredients in a preserving jar, and already the aroma they give off is incredibly tantalizing. The ingredients in this batch are: orange peel (dried and fresh), sour cherries, cassia, quassia, cloves, cinnamon, walnut leaf, cardamom, star anise, cinnamon & gentian – but if you want the proportions, you need to read Mr Parson’s book.

More information in around two weeks, when the alcohol will have extracted all of the good things from the herb, spice & fruit mix in the jar.