Head here if… you’re feeling adventurous and fancy pushing your tastebuds to the max
If you’re looking for a touch of drama with your drinks, Purl, a 1920s Speakeasy-style bar from mixology maestros Tristan Stephenson, Thomas Aske, Matt Whiley and Bryan Pieterson will definitely hit the spot.
First things first
Let’s get this out of the way from the off; Purl isn’t the kind of place you rock up to if you have a penchant for classic cocktails. With a taste for the unusual, both in the ingredients and the way the drinks are served, you’re advised to enter with adventure in mind. Which of course we did. With gusto.
It’s not a members club but it feels like one. Not just because you have to call and book your table in advance but after descending down the stairs it seems like you’re entering something out of bounds. That’s down to the Milk & Honey feel it has about it: lighting so low you have to read the menu with the light from your mobile phone and the 1920s paraphernalia taking up every space you look. We’re led to the back room – nice if you’re in a group occupying one of the three womb-like alcoves but not so inviting when you’re positioned by the back wall on a table for two. Take our advice if you’re going a deux; ask for a table in the front room where you’ll feel the pulse of the place and see the barmen in action.
There are two signature drinks on the 12-strong list: Purl (a warm punch-style drink consisting of Hendrick’s gin, Doom Bar bitters, hops,
cinnamon, anise and wormwood) and Mr Hyde’s Fixer Upper, (Ron Zacapa 23 rum and homemade cola and orange bitters served in a smoke injected, wax sealed potion bottle with Lapsang fog). Guess which one Ms S goes for? Purely in the name of research, it has to be the latter; come on – homemade cola and orange bitters, smoke injected bottle and Lapsang fog, how could she possibly pass it by?
The drink arrives in a single-serve ice bucket with special instructions from our waitress to drink half now and the rest at least five minutes later, “that way you get a real difference in taste as the smoke does it work,” she says helpfully. With that she pours water into the bucket to get the liquid nitrogen going and before you can say ‘holy smoke’ there’s more fog bubbling in the container and spilling over the table than Mr Hyde or any other crazy scientists would ever have seen in their labs. It really is dramatic and as far as presentation goes, this scores a resounding 10/10. The bottle is lovely, the kind of thing you remember from your chemistry lesson but instead of pointless and possibly dangerous combinations from the periodical table, this one bears something much more promising. That said, Ms S doesn’t get the ‘kappow’ in the taste department she’s hoping for. It’s strong, it’s smoky, it’s theatrical but the overall package doesn’t quite match the presentation. Meanwhile, the bottle smoking away in the ice bucket is making a curious snap, crackle and popping sound on the table giving the impression that it’s ready to take off. It doesn’t, which is a blessing as Ms S can give the contents a second sampling. There’s no doubting the flavours have intensified with the whole sound effects thing, resulting in a more rounded, depth-charged drink. The smoke has really taken over to show who’s boss and given time, the cola and orange bitters really start to do their stuff.
Like its namesake Mr Hyde’s Fixer Upper takes something ordinary and transforms it into something completely different and daring. Whether or not it’s to your taste is another matter entirely. Ms S wasn’t altogether sure.
It would have seemed not to be entering into the spirit of things if Mr G had insisted on a classic gin martini. Instead he goes with the flow and Purl’s take on the drink: the KeteLN2 (Ketel One vodka, stirred chilled in a Liquid Nitrogen bath, vermouth, frozen lemon twist). The big story here is the liquid nitrogen – it apparently takes the drink down to -40f and, moreover, it arrives streaming a la The Munsters. It is dramatic, it is theatrical but kinda lacks something. There’s a hint of a lemon aroma, it feels strong and it is cold, though certainly not the coldest of martinis (not a criticism, just an observation). Overall the feeling Mr G is left with is that he’s been entertained and, thanks to the sensation of the drink evaporating on the tongue, has a refreshed palate.
Thinking she can have an ordinary drink any day of the week Ms S goes for another of the more unusual creations on the menu. And the Colonel Sanders Boiler Maker (Four Roses bourbon, hay-infused stout reduction, honey water and liquorice bitters. ‘Bottle and bagged’), is about as unusual as it gets. True to the menu, the drink appears in a bottle artfully wrapped in brown paper filled with hay. There’s no glass, so like the game bird she is, Ms S takes the bottle to her lips and tips her head back to await the taste of the elixir within. So this is what it feels like to be a real hardened drinker – forget your pretentious cocktail loving shenanigans, this feels more like sleeping on the street rather than drinking in a West End bar. It doesn’t help that she has to tilt her head quite far back as the bottle is only quarter full. Not very ladylike but hey ho, needs must… Should a person who doesn’t really like liquorice go for a cocktail with liquorice bitters? Probably not as its a dominant flavour and its the first thing Ms S tastes in this particular drink. Still, it’s a clever brew, very well thought out, carefully balanced and presented in an original fashion. It’s a bit too sweet for Ms S’s palate though and even if you like it, you probably couldn’t order more than one.
A fan of the resurgent Martinez Mr G goes for the Crystal Clear Martinez (Jenson’s Old Tom Ganeia Sweet vermouth , Marischino Liqueur and Bob’s Orange & Mandarin Bitters). It looks great – absolutely clear with small pieces of orange floating on top and a large ice cube anchoring the whole thing. It has a full orange aroma, is packed with flavour, sits just the right side of not too sweet and has a wonderfully satisfying herby finish. Absolutely delicious.
And To Eat?
Forget it if you’re proper hungry there are only four things on the food menu: big olives (£4), exotic nuts and salted parsnips (£4), cured meat board (£10) cheese board (£10). So either eat before or after your visit. Shame.
Look Out For
Purl is a liquid labyrinth with all kinds of details nestled in the various nooks and crannies. The star attraction is the retro telephone booth providing no purpose other than decoration, then there’s the upright piano which looks like a cheeky chappy with high-waisted pin-stripe trousers, braces and flat cap will pull up a stool and start tinkling away at any moment. Elsewhere there are squishy leather Chesterfield sofas, shimmering chandeliers and enough warren-like alcoves to cosy up in groups and have a really good night.
What’s The Damage?
£8.50 to £10 for all drinks on the menu.
Ms S says
The cosy alcoves are perfect for large-ish groups – hen parties would love it here. Don’t be prissy, try something new, you’re bound to have an opinion.
Mr G says
Purl would be an intriguing venue to take a new date – lots to taste, look at and talk about.
50-54 Blandford Street, W1U 7HX. Tel: 020-7935 0835. www.purl-london.com