If you’ve read some of my other blogs at the start of the year, you’ll remember that one of my new year resolutions was to try my hand at mixology – well the catalyst for this was all the fab cocktail books I got for Christmas, including The Curious Bartender by Tristan Stephenson.
Renowned as one of the leading experts in the bar community on cocktail science and molecular mixology, he set up the bar at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Cornwall and has trained bartenders at some of the highest regarded bars and restaurants in the UK, including The Ritz. Responsible for two of London’s most reputed speakeasies, Purl and Worship Street Whistling Shop, Tristan is something of a legend when it comes to cocktails, so obviously these bars were on my must visit list, but alas, Purl would prove problematic…
It was on my recent stay in Marylebone at The Landmark (look out for a blog on their Sunday Brunch coming soon) that I hoped to check out the cocktails at Purl, what with it being a stone’s throw away, but a quick glance at their website and their penchant for boozy balloon alchemy (aaaahhhhhhh) put that idea straight to bed!
Instead, it was on a wet Friday travelling back from the Excel, that I decided to make an impromptu detour to Shoreditch and stop off for some celebratory cocktails. Ironically I was on my way to speakeasy Nightjar, when my satnav sent me in the wrong direction and I wound up outside Worship Street Whistling Shop totally by chance.
Somewhat bizarrely for a speakeasy, in spite of its off the beaten track location, it was ridiculously easy to find – not least because it made no effort to hide what it was, – in fact the sign glared above the entrance, the door to which was wide open – no clandestine secret code words needed here! Ladies wearing heels be warned though, the stairs down to the basement are dimly lit save a few candles, so get a grip!
Downstairs the place really comes into its own with touches of taxidermy, its eclectic décor, illicit seating and Dickensian style mixology booth. For a speakeasy it’s pretty darn spacious too – but don’t let that fool you. I was lucky to visit around 5pm on a Friday when I could briefly pop in for a quick cocktail without a reservation, but this place packs out, so book, book, book!
In terms of the menu, I‘ve got mixed feelings. Reminiscent of a ration book, I loved the design, but felt the selection of cocktails was a little on the slim side. Mixed feelings continued to be the running theme as I settled on The Changeling cocktail – artfully built to trick your taste buds and mind-hump the senses, changing from sweet to sour. I’ll be honest, when I took my first sip I thought good God, what have I done, this is most definitely a game of my much loved cocktail Russian Roulette that I’ve lost. Stubborn and determined to get my money’s worth, I continued to slurp The Changeling, struggling with each mouthful as I hoped that this Heston Blumenthal style revelation would wash over me and my Changeling would well, change.
Feeling a little queasy, I decided to take a break in hopes that the cocktail’s key, but not so secret ingredient would start to go to work – ice! The most fundamental part of any cocktail, but at WSWS they take it to a whole new level of alchemy, and with a carefully constructed homemade lemonade ice cube this particular drink is no exception.
As it began to melt and create a masterpiece in front of me, I dared to take another swig, this time to sup a refreshing and delightful cocktail that had completely transformed. I’d literally gone from struggling to swallow a drop, to wanting to order another!
If you’re used to drinking from cocktail menus as long as War and Peace, then Worship Street Whistling Shop probably isn’t for you. If you’re a social cocktail drinker though, looking to take your first step into speakeasies and experimental cocktails, this place is definitely worth a visit.
Just keep an open mouth, and an open mind, because you never know what might happen….
The Burly Baker x