Friday, 24 February 2012

Presenting...Pisco and Arrack (I know, what?!)

Callooh Callay’s first Tasting Tuesday of 2012 was a little off the cuff, a change from the polished brand ambassadors who know frankly everything you throw at them. But this was new territory for me and as a virgin Pisco/Arrack taster I had no idea what I would find in my glass.

We started with Ceylon Arrack, here are the facts:

-          spirits distilled from coconut appendage sap caught in clay pot
-          takes 5 to 6 tress to get enough sap to distill for one bottle
-          the guys climbing up the tress for your drink are called toddy tappers
-          this version comes from Sri Lanka though there are various national versions
-          it starts fermenting almost immediately with no yeast added due to climate

Ceylon has been in production since 1924 and is produced using the continuous still method. There is no set aging but average is 3 years in Sri Lankan wood. This is dense and impenetrable, similar to using steel. It does not impart anything but allows the product to harmonise and mellow.

Colour: pale straw

Nose: slightly meaty, powerful, almost old claret like, spicy

Palate: slightly meaty, malty, strangely fresh

Mixed with coconut water: palate softens, adds sweetness but nose becomes even stronger

It is not like anything I have had before, almost incomparable, but I am not sure that I will be ordering this at a bar anytime soon but if you fancy trying it mix with ginger ale

Then we moved onto Aba Pisco, this one coming from Chile and alternative versions from Bolivia and Peru:

-          distilled from wine of Muscat grapes
-          Aba is only made with the juice – no skin, no stalks
-          similar to cognac or grappa
-          takes 10 kg grapes to make one bottle

So this spirit is dsitlled twice to 60-70% and is allowed two months to settle and breath; French oak aging is now going on within the Aba brand. It is then diluted (as opposed to distilled like in Peru) down to 40%.


Nose: Floral, grapey like a Southern France sweet wine, honey, pear, honeysuckle

Palate: Spicey from alcohol, grapey, melon, honeysuckle, honeyed pear, soor ploom notes

If you fancy trying this one what about a Pisco Sour

3 parts Pisco
1 1/2 parts lemon juice
1 - 2 tbsp sugar

Add all ingredients to a mixer with ice. Shake well (until ice is melted) and serve

Many thanks to for putting this on

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Dabbous, Noho: 19/20

Location: Whitfield Street, Noho

Visit: Several times on various days and times of night

To Note? Restaurant upstairs bar downstairs

Ambiance 4/5
Design 5/5
Drinks 5/5
Staff 5/5
Extra LBS star: Not until the crowds start showing...

As a huge fan of Texture, I wanted to like Dabbous from the minute there were whispers of Oliver Dabbous’s leaving for a new venture in Noho, even more so when Oskar Kinberg of the Cuckoo Club signed up to run the bar. I was almost the first in when the doors in, and I have been going back ever since.

Mellow Yellow
The space, a corner site just behind Goodge Street and an area attracting more venues by the day, is all concrete and scaffolding. The upstairs is the restaurant opening from the industrial metal front door to single light bulbs hanging from iron bars, a small kitchen functioning behind a glass screen (FYI offering a tasting menu) and not a white table cloth in sight. Down the “fire escape” style stairs the theme continues with a sleek wooden bar serving a room with a mix of benches round walls and long wooden tables and chairs – all with a hint of 60’s design in their curves and design. Candles are everywhere so you may need your phone to read the menu, and refreshing your make-up in the bathrooms is nigh on impossible.

Four pages of cocktail cover everything from Martinis to long classics and even beer cocktails, all sitting at around a reasonably friendly £8. Having personally tried about…seven, I can safely say that it is very difficult to go wrong; these guys really know what they are doing and even the waiting staff (it’s table service) know the menu back to front so ask away if you need help. There is a good selection of beers, wines and very tasty bar snacks as well as the option (we were told) to order something from the restaurant if they are not too busy upstairs. They are saying “fully booked till April” but there will always be no-shows so from my experience if you are in the area drop in and try.

Music is more mainline than I would have thought considering the cutting edge design but they are keen to get their license extended (currently open until 11pm in the opening months) and then look out for a DJ and more upbeat times.

So it all sounds positive, and everyone is talking about Dabbous, making the right noises, yet it is never busy. I am not saying that it lacks a buzz, I have always been more than happy to wile away the hours there, but I overheard our waitress saying “Oh it was busier earlier” in response to the query of how quiet it was. No, it wasn’t – I’d been there since 6.30pm!

Perhaps it is going to take a while for people to start diverting from Soho, perhaps it will take more investment in the area, or a later license. In the meantime I will keep enjoying an extraordinarily good cocktail without worrying – yet – about getting a table!

Friday, 17 February 2012

Presenting…Ocho Curado Tequila

It seems that more and more of my life is being spent in Noho, the area near Goodge Street and north of Soho that seems to be going through something of a revival; And it was here that I headed to La Perla bar for an exciting new launch.
I have only ever encountered one or two sipping tequilas but if ever this phrase should be applied it is to OCHO Curado’s new spirit.

Now Tequila as a category has been hitting the industry headlines with almost 2,500 bartenders signing a petition for clearer regulations around the use of the word agave. They are hoping to limit use of the word thereby protecting boutique producers and we can only wait to see how successful this campaign is.

Back to OCHO, made by the personable Tomas Estes (meeting him is like a big hug, he treats you like an old friend he could not be happier to see you) and enjoyed by some big industry names, we’ll start with what the man himself has to say:

“A totally natural innovation made of tequila 100% pure agave infused with 100% pure cooked agave. The Tequila OCHO used for Curado is carefully made in the old-fashioned, artisanal way creating a spirit that has an exceptionally full and complex agave flavour.

Curiously no one has done this simple synthesis before…It is high quality tequila which is enhanced and not covered up by the addition of cooked agave.”

And what did I have to say? Well it has a pale gold colour, and the nose is surprisingly gentle with sweet notes like ripe tropical fruit and cooking sugar. It is very smooth on the palate with more of that chocolate coming through with the tropical fruits but also something fresher, like preserved lemons. As a tequila it clearly has the strength of alcohol that you would expect but it is so well balanced you would neither smelling nor tasting this want to knock it back straight away. It has depth to appreciate.

Next came La Cura, a cocktail designed to highlight the tequila’s flavour characteristics.

50ml OCHO Curado
10ml Mandarin Napoleon
10ml White Cacao
2 drops orange bitters

All swirled with ice and served with a mandarin segment

What did this do? Well what is says on the tin, just highlighting the citrus and chocolate notes – and frankly putting them in a drink I really would knock back as delicious as it was.

I will definitely be keeping an eye out for this in the bars to encourage friends to give it a try. And I encourage you to do the same.

Thanks to Domino Communications for the PR work!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Presenting…Prohibition with Four Roses Bourbon Speakeasy

I was taken out of my comfort zone earlier this week and sent to North London to what has been described as a New Orlean’s Cocktail Den – Shaker & Co - and more specifically the Four Roses sponsored speakeasy downstairs.

A rather salubrious street off a 6 lane motorway passing under-agers drinking outside the local Spar and a shifty looking group of chain smoking girls is the location of much talked about new bar. The ground floor looks, to be honest, like a London pub. There is an incredibly well stocked bar on one side, seating down the other with a nod to the old in the stags head and a nod to the new/old cocktail culture in a feature photo wall of Southern bartenders. I like the toilets.

However this evening was taking place downstairs (where I presume the great smelling food was also emerging from) in the speakeasy. Walls are pasted with Four Roses cocktail recipes (mine was mixed with fresh ginger, yum), Dickensian streetlamps flicker in the corners and customers perch on bourbon crates – ladies be warned, this is serious splinter territory if in a skirt – which are frankly not too comfortable.

But hey, this IS a speakeasy. Whether you love them or hate them, the London trend has created everything from ramshackle pop ups to sleek bars hidden behind secret doors; the term originally meant something hidden and thrown together to enjoy alcohol in the time when it was banned and to “speak easy” – which is what we have here.

Straining to hear over the live music and stomping upstairs (which I liked as we hunkered down in the basement) we listened to a run down of the period that has so inspired the cocktail scene and television shows like Broadwalk Empire. .

In 1884 Georgia became the second state to introduce prohibition. By 1920 it was enforced across the USA until 1933. The results of prohibition were numerous:

-          there were more bars than when alcohol was legal
-          alcohol production became a money spinner and the mob quickly moved in
-          with an “anything goes” attitude these soon become brothels and gambling dens too
-          doctors became bartenders (1 in 4 bourbon tots were issued for medicinal purposes!)
-          most importantly it led to the popularity and spread of the cocktail

Alcohol quality went down quickly, with names such as Rotgut you can imagine the standard, so this was mixed with other flavours and soon developed classics such as Whisky Sour or the Old Fashioned. US bartenders grew frustrated and moved to Europe taking their cocktail culture to new markets and often staying, most famously in Harry’s Bar in Paris.

So what happened after it was all over? Depression, WWII, another depression, an influx of Canadian Whisky who were able to make and most importantly age their products so immediate release was possible, big companies taking names and dropping quality, gin coming into fashion from Europe, rum coming into fashion from the Navy boys, Tiki fashion in the 50’s since fruit juices were available again. In fact the only countries not to be exposed to the cheap Four Roses blend were Japan, France and Spain where it is still outselling its famous counterpart. Certainly nothing to do Bourbon any good.

But most importantly we are back on form now: Wild Turkey, Makers Mark, Bulleit, Four Roses with the people behind the products asking the right questions – can this be better? I am a new fan of bourbon but a passionate one so whether you pop into Byron for a burger/beer/bourbon offer or you choose MEATLiquor, Shaker&Co, the Blues Kitchen for some serious drinking, give this spirit a try and some long deserved support.

Recommended: Scofflaw (created in Harry’s Bar and named after those who scoffed at the law)

·                 1 1/2 ounces rye
·                 1 ounce dry vermouth
·                 3/4 ounces fresh lemon juice
·                 3/4 ounces grenadine
·                 2 dashes of orange bitters
Shake all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Thanks to the who organised this event for us and to Dan Priseman, Brand Ambassador

Monday, 13 February 2012

MEATLiquor, Oxford Street: 17/20*

Location: Welbeck Street, just behind John Lewis


Visit: Thursday afternoon

To Note: the huge queuing system gives away how popular this place already is

Ambience 5/5
Design 5/5
Drinks 5/5
Staff 2/5
Extra LBS Star: an extra star for making me want to handcuff myself to the banquette and never leave!

“Ya, ya, it’s called Meat and Liquor” I heard drawled behind me as I nipped through John Lewis to this recently opened joint. Can I really criticise having called it Meat Liqueur for an embarrassing amount of time?

Is it hidden? No. It is inconspicuous on the ground floor of an old car park but the queue barriers reinforce that this place has really landed, and people are prepared to wait. And clearly from the people I heard discussing MEATLiquor its not just the tattooed and hair dyed amongst the ol’ smoke who are clamouring to get in.

We went at 3pm on a Thursday and not only was there no queue but with a maximum of 10 people in the place we had to almost scream to get the waitress’ attention for a seat. Being my first visit it took quite a while to order. I was so busy staring at the “art”, spotting new quotes or a face coming out the wall and tapping my feet to the music (and Shazam-ing a lot of it too, it was awesome) that I was grateful for the simplicity of the menu: food outside, liquor inside.

A green chilli cheeseburger and a straight up cheese burger were ordered with fries and slaw and duly noting the “20 minutes to cook” note at the bottom of the menu. 5 minutes later (?) the food arrived…and here I need to hold back from raving!

A metal tray with checked paper lining - in a McDonalds mockery - caught the burger juices which were profuse and a clear example of how good this burger was. Cooked medium rare it was succulent and loaded with chilli that were really warm and a tasty surprise (after years of Indian restaurants and their “3 chilli but not actually hot” warnings). The fries were skinny, crisp and demolished in minutes and the slaw was some of the best I’ve had and utterly necessary as a cooling agent! I would have allowed my companion a bite, maybe, but you need to hang onto these bad boys till they’re all gone or the delicious shiny burger bun will collapse on you. Oh god. This was good.

When these had disappeared we took to the bourbon based cocktails and both were absolutely divine and served in old jam jars. We struggled through two – each – before deciding that dessert was in order and opted for Pecan Pie (apparently excellent) and Quack Pie – which the waitress clearly had no idea what it was so for all those thinking of going – it’s a treacle tart on a flapjack base and its GOOD!

From the former street food Meat Wagon, it seems that the transition to restaurant lacks one fairly key point – service. We spent far too long with empty glasses, had to beg for the bill and in the end went up to pay at the till. The barman was constantly shouting at the waitresses to get the drinks out (and avoid over melted ice) and I’m not surprised that service is not automatically added – I would complain!

However I will be back again. And again. And again. Until I get a plaque on the wall for dedication. Burgers simply should not taste THIS good, nor cocktails, but keep them coming please MEATLiquor and I’ll keep handing over my bank card!

And next time, I’m bringing a bib.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Archer Street Cocktail Bar, Soho: 15(?)/20

Location: 3-4 Archer Street, Soho


Visit: Thursday evening

To Note: this is part one of this review but I felt I needed to say something about it!
Ambience 4/5
Design 4/5
Drinks 3/5
Staff 4/5

Archer Street Cocktail Bar. I'm not sure.

I booked and found their response efficient. They checked before the day that we were still attending.

On arrival, the host showed us to the table which was a good thing as it was rammed. 


There are two parts of this bar. The top bar is like a very nice country hotel bar with Louis XIV couches, antique coffee tables and round tables and stools topped off with a large vase of lilies in the middle. Downstairs (and a way from the toilets upstairs) is more nooks and crannies, with library printed wall paper, booths and a larger bar. I asked at the time regarding their main USP - their waiters sing. Apparently, though admittedly they do not advertise this anywhere, this does not start till 10pm; Considering the noise level at 8pm i cannot imagine how this works. There was no specification between the two levels on booking. 

Drinks, a blackberry/mint cocktail and passionfruit/chili cocktail, were average. At best.

Service, at tables, was good and the staff were doing everything they could to get round the tables whilst catering for a large group booking but with 12.5% on the bill I do not appreciate - when going to pay by card - the question do I wish to add gratuity!!

I would like to spend an afternoon here with a bottle of something fizzy. I would like to hear the waiters sing. But on this particular occasion we bolted one drink later for the ever reliable Be At One across the road.

I do not know what to make of Archer Street yet but nor did I feel I could let it off the hook for its ambivalence. A heterosexual haven in Soho I think could be levelled at it...lets see.

Presenting...Great Coffee at The Sensory Lab

The Sensory Lab, 75 Wigmore Street, W1U 1QD

I feel a special post was owed to the fab guys at The Sensory Lab. In the centre of London, a stones throw from Bond Street on Wigmore Street, you'll find this gem of a coffee shop. I discovered this from the London Coffee Guide - an excellent source if you are into your coffee beyond Starbucks, Caffe Nero etc - and popped in one afternoon for a cappuccino.

The choice of drinks is simple, but they put a lot of effort into getting it right. There are maybe 15 seats max in the window and round the edges but you're there for the coffee, not to curl up on the sofa for hours. There are a few nibbles along the usual lines of muffins etc too.

Milk is heated to around 62 degrees to ensure the proteins are not damaged. A straight black coffee involved weighing of the beans, the ground product and water heated to a specific temperature. Hot coffee does not, after all, do anything for the palate.

I asked what they were up to with the water system - all very advanced - and soon got into a conversation that led to full training on how to use my new coffee grinder (instructions in Japanese!) works as well as cleaning directions and referral to a website for future help, fab!

If you are into coffee, if you're not and want to try, whatever you're stance i am sure these guys could get you addicted. Well done to their efforts.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

69 Colebrooke Row, Angel: 18/20*

Location: Colebrooke Row, 10 minutes walk north from Angel


Visit: Friday evenings

To Note: aka The Bar With No Name, look out for the Martini awning

Ambience 5/5
Design 3/5
Drinks 5/5
Staff 5/5
Extra LBS Star: yup, it's got something that has me intrigued...

I first visited 69 Colebrooke Row, also called The Bar With No Name, when it opened and I was newly arrived in London. I didn’t get it. It was small, dark and expensive. On a cold Friday night, with due notice that I LOVE their sister bar the Zetter Townhouse, I returned to the scene of the crime to try again and it was small, dark and…really pretty reasonable!

The Bar With No Name similarly has no sign outside; Just walk north from Angel up Colebrooke Row for about 10 minutes and take the martini awning as a guide to their door. And make sure you book or you’ll have to take a stair and hope someone leaves.

So you may need to read the menu by the light of your mobile phone if you are not lucky enough to get a bar seat – you can ask and you will have the staff squeezing through but well worth the effort to enjoy the show – but who cares when the menu reads so damn well. Enjoy a glass of water as you browse (tick!) and if you look a little undecided they are more than happy to recommend both on and off the menu (tick!); then the staff dressed in a cross between a lab coat and a blazer will bring you your drink on a silver tray.

At £9 for all house cocktails I barely acknowledged the wine or beer overleaf – but the choices are there if you do not choose your drinking companion wisely. I opted for the Rhubarb Gimlet, of which several ingredients were homemade, and it was quite frankly fresh and delicious. A Manhattan similarly produced oohs and aahs from my friend.

As for the space it is small but does not lack atmosphere and they certainly are trying to fit us all in comfortably with a mixture of high barstools at the bar (surprise), against the back wall and then low tables and chairs throughout. Otherwise a few large drinks posters and wooden floors make up the rest. The music on the night had a latino flavour and I could definitely envisage dancing – in a reserved “limited space” kind of way – picking up as the cocktails go down.

I am not sure what I did not understand the first time round, perhaps it was the crowd I took, perhaps it was London prices still shocking me, either way I’ve booked onto one of Tony’s masterclasses here for March and look forward to more trips to North London in the not too distant future.