Head Here If… You want to take the Speakeasy vibe on to the next level
Speakeasies are sooo old hat but gin palaces? Now that’s a whole different story. The Worship Street Whistling Shop is Tristan Stephenson, Thomas Aske, Matt Whiley and Bryan Pietersen’s homage to the Victorian drinking dens of yesteryear and just like their first venture Purl, they’ve got the details just right…
First Things First
Not so long ago, a bar with a theme at its heart was considered naff. The reason? Mostly they all were. Tiki bars are borderline depending on how much bamboo and coconut shells are involved and sports bars? Well, let’s just say there’s a reason why sport and alcohol don’t mix. But the Fluid Movement guys have a thing for concepts. And a jolly good job they make of them, too. At Purl they’ve blended Prohibition naughtiness with a soupcon of gin palace opulence. Here at The Whistling Shop they’ve done a Doctor Who and jumped into the tardis, heading back to 1830 or so with no diversions at all. There’s the large, imposing space, requisite dark wood and aged barrels for propping your cocktails on, as well as a couple of quirky extras including a Lab for all kind of mixology shennigans, a Dram Shop complete with vintage bottlings, Honesty Bar, bench seating and a bathtub of gin, plus a soon-to-be-opened Cocktail Emporium to be booked by discerning groups for a complete multi-sensory experience.
Ms S is always impressed when a cocktail bar hands its punters a glass of water along with the menu, its a simple enough touch but one that shows it takes the business of responsible drinking seriously. It also means you don’t gulp your drink to quench your thirst. So with a clear palate and a nice clean head she gets down to the business of considering the 11 cocktails on the menu. Of the two signature drinks she goes for the House Gin Fizz (Tanqueray, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, vanilla salt, orange bitters and soda). Talk about a taste explosion, if this drink was a shape it would be a star – metaphorically and physically – as it bounces around hitting all corners of the mouth and throat at once. The unctuous texture and taste of the olive oil creates a kind of creaminess while the salt comes in and takes the experience to a whole new level. It’s a very subtle combination brought together to create an unusual but at the same time, familiar tasting drink that works like a dream.
Mr G always enjoys chewing over the merits of various spirits (if you can actually chew a spirit) with experts on the other side of the bar, particularly when it leads him into new territory. So after exchanging views on the excellence of Hendrick’s, Tanqueray No. Ten and No. 3, a bottle of Old Raj is proffered for inspection. A preliminary taste bodes well so Old Raj it is. It’s stirred slowly in a very large jug with a bar spoon of Martini Dry Vermouth and loads of ice. The coupe glass is ice cold and the drink is topped off with a long and very neatly cut piece of lemon peel. It’s the perfect temperature and packed with flavour – some suggestion of caramel up front leading through to a surprising sweetness at the back of the mouth. It has an agreeable, slightly syrupy texture, the juniper is just there and it finishes well with a tingling of black pepper. It tastes like a big drink thanks to the whacking great 55% of the Old Raj and overall there’s a really nice traditional feel about it.
Ms S falls hook, line and sinker for the Tin & Jonic – what’s not to like about a name like that? It gets even better when she’s told the drink is their playful way to ‘gin-up’ vodka. You’re given a base of Quinine Ketel One vodka, then you take your pick from three Whistling Shop sodas: juniper, cassia and coriander seed; raspberry, black pepper and rose or Grand Marnier, lemon and vanilla. Ms S goes for the first out-and-out gin-tastic combo and isn’t at all disappointed with her choice. It’s a little sweeter than she initially thought however, the drink is a fabulous balance of flavours and gets top marks for the name and being a nice, playful idea.
There’s something about an ingredient described as “removed cream” that has to investigated, so Mr G stays in the martini groove with the Black Cat’s Martini (Beefeater Gin, Martini Extra Dry Vermouth, removed cream). So, that “removed cream” then… The cocktail boffins here have found a way to infuse gin with cream before then extracting the gin, to make it look like gin again, has a creamy texture and, surprise, surprise, tastes of cream. Got it? (Oh, and it’s garnished with a radish on a cocktail stick for bites between sips.) It’s like the illegitimate child of a dry martini and Harvey’s Bristol Cream, but like a regal one. It’s mysterious, intriguing and charismatic. It’s very tasty too.
And To Eat?
Get your Union Jack out, the food here is unashamedly British. Tuck into a full blown lunch or dinner courtesy of the Mussel Men, including classics like pickled sardines with shaved fennel salad and oyster beignet followed by pork cheek hot pot (£18.50 for two courses), or try the excellent bar menu. There’s the Mussel Men’s Oyster Feast, crumbled oysters, lightly fried and served with chlorophyll air and jasmine scented aroma (6 for £21 or 12 for £35), a tasty British cheese board £13.50 or tapas style bar food – the best mini pork pies EVER, jellied smoked eels with sourdough and half pint of prawns with garlic mayo all at £6 a pop.
What’s The Damage?
£8.50-£40, rising to £70 per person for the groups of 5-8 embarking on the 2 hour Cocktail Emporium experience, so something for all tastes and budgets.
Look Out For
There’s the Lab, Dram Shop and Cocktail Emporium of course, but keep your eyes peeled for the wondrous bespoke creations housed in barrels on shelves behind the bar. Better yet, give them a try. Take your pick from Whisky, Old Tom, Genever, Gin & Pep, Jager Tee and Rye Whiskey – they’re absolutely delish.
Ms S says:
With all the drink wizardry at play here (as well as the Fluid Movement guys, Ryan Chetiyawardana previously creating mixology mischief at 69 Colebrook Row heads up the bar), you’d think The Whistling Shop would take itself a little too seriously. Not a bit of it. There’s an extremely friendly atmosphere both behind the bar and in front, and if you’re unsure about any of the wackier sounding drinks, they’ll happily explain the method behind their apparent madness. It’s a great place for groups as well as couples and a must visit for anyone who appreciates a cracking drink.
Mr G says:
Thanks to the gin palace thing it manages to create something that feels a bit like a proper old London boozer and cleverly combine it with cocktails that are as delicious as they are original. The drinks menu is one of those ones that I want to work my way through from beginning to end. While the food menu will be keeping those cocktails company very nicely. Add in some knowledgeable and friendly staff and here’s a venue that I’ll be returning to again and again and again.
63 Worship Street, EC2A 2DU. T: 020 7247 0015. whistlingshop.com
Open Mon-Thurs noon-1am; Fri & Sat noon-2.30am