Wednesday 20th November - After a boozy Tuesday (see here), Wednesday was supposed to be my night off, but Louis (of Tuck and Vine) & Amy dragged me back out again. If I'm honest, it only took one text before I was on a tube to Barbican, one of the least convenient stops to get to in all of Central London (I live in the incredibly well connected Battersea). This is where the Evans & Peel Detective Agency boys have launched their new place, Kench & Bibesy.
Upstairs is a an attractive restaurant & bar serving small plates of British food. Chef Michael Harrison has developed a quirky little menu with oddly named dishes like 'The Fall of Jerusalem' (Jerusalem artichoke, chestnut & black truffle paté, spelt crackers, pickled walnut) and 'Pigeon, Fancier' (pigeon breast, barley, chocolate, hazelnuts, rowan berry).
I greatly enjoyed my 'Return of the Tail' (pulled oxtail, roast potato, braised red cabbage & pickled grapes) as well as a portion of 'All Carrot No Shtick' (rare breed carrots, sorrel hollandaise, Buttermilk & black pepper), but Louis was less convinced by Amy's Belly Pops (confit pork belly lollipops, squash purée, Bramley apple).
The fun doesn't stop upstairs though, for tucked away below the restaurant is another low-lit speakeasy with a hidden entrance. I'll leave it to you to pull and push on various panels and objects before finding the relatively obvious entrance to this underground watering hole.
|Where's the door? No, not that one.|
Someone obviously had a load of spare stuffed squirrels lying around, as they await you at every turn down here. It is a pretty small space (no bookings are taken) which keeps the atmosphere lively. After Louis & Amy rushed off, I decided to prop up the bar to investigate the drinks list.
All of the beers (also available upstairs) are from Wild Beer Co (based in Somerset), including Fresh and Scarlet Fever on draught, both of which went down very easily. In the fridge there are more adventurous bottles such as Ninkasi (9% - New Zealand hops, apple juice, wild yeasts and champagne fermentation) and Wildebeest (11% - Imperial espresso chocolate vanilla stout).
The cocktail list extends to several pages, which doesn't bother me as a lot of TLC has gone into this drinks menu. The marmite drink on the list is Campari Eggnog (campari, egg, cream & sugar) which grew on me very quickly. Experimental Campari dust was apparently sinking too readily, so cinnamon may be shaken on top instead. The rival for most bizarre drink is the Marraine - Croissant infused Vodka (surprisingly well achieved) stirred with Almond Liqueur. The friendly bartenders kindly gave me a taster of some Finnish Cloudberry liqueur which I hadn't come across before - order the Lapland Collins to see it in action.
A few of the cocktails are also available upstairs (such as the sweet Oenological Manhattan that turns dry in your mouth) along with the beers & amusingly-described wines ("dark fruits with mafia hit", "a plum in your mouth, sir" etc). Both floors work nicely in their own way, and I'm sure this is going to be a big hit with the locals. Can the next one be in Battersea, please?
Friday 22nd November - I booked tickets to the Jim Beam American Stillhouse experience at the Old Truman Brewery a couple of months ago and promptly forgot about it, so it was a pleasant surprise to suddenly see it all booked in and paid for (a bargain £5) in my calendar. I sped over to Shoreditch after work to meet 6th placed Lee for some early evening bourbon.
We collected our bourbon passports and made our way in to the first room where we were greeted by the Master Distiller himself, Fred Noe (Jim Beam's great-grandson). Seven generations of Beams (or Boehms) have been producing Kentucky bourbon for over 200 years, surviving through the Great Depression, two wars and Prohibition.
Fred was a very engaging host, amusingly describing his inevitable rise to the role of Master distiller. He encouraged everyone to drink Jim Beam Original "however you damn well want" whether it be neat, watered down, or in a cocktail. We held our glasses (bourbon was free flowing throughout) up to the light, and had a good sniff (mouths open) before "chewing" it in our mouths. One clumsy/sozzled punter displayed how not to drink it by smashing his glass a few minutes in to the tour.
The second room showcased the special Devil's Cut bourbon.
"As bourbon ages, a portion of the liquid is lost from the barrel due to evaporation—that's the "Angel's Share." After aging, when the bourbon is dumped out of the barrel, a certain amount of whiskey is left trapped within the wood of every barrel. We call that the devil's cut."
This is then blended with 6 year old bourbon and bottled at 45%. Two comedians with dubious accents were running this room, and took us through the legal requirements that must be fulfilled for a product to be called Kentucky Bourbon. Write down your answers and check here. They also informed us that, during Prohibition, Jim Beam turned his hand to coal mining and citrus farming:
"Luckily for us, he was no good at either otherwise we would be holding lemony coal not bourbon."
The last room was a cocktail bar with four drinks to choose from making use of different Jim Beam products including Red Stag Black Cherry (also available in Spiced Cinnamon, Honey Tea & Hardcore Cider flavours) and Jim Beam Honey. There are several other Jim Beam creations that weren't on show such as Maple, Black, Jacob's Ghost and Signature Craft which you can read more about on the website.
Before we left, we signed a barrel from which we will be sent a bottle of whiskey in 4 years time, assuming they can still contact us then. I find it hard to believe it will actually happen, but it will be a very pleasant surprise if it does! It was a superbly run event and ridiculously priced at £5 - make sure you don't miss it next time around.
We made one more stop that evening to break up the walk back to Liverpool Street. I spotted the recently refurbished Williams Ale & Cider House (keeping up with the beer revolution) down the road from The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town on Artillery Lane, so we popped in with beer afficionado Sam to check out their 14 hand pulls and 7 taps.
Despite being so close to Liverpool Street, it wasn't busy for a Friday night and we managed to sit up at the bar. It's a great looking pub, and it gets lots of extra points from me for having a free to play piano, and regular live jazz.
We started with the wonderful Five Points Pale before moving on to ales from ELB, London Fields, Camden Town and Portobello. They have their very own "Spitalfields Brew" at 3.6% made for them as their house ale.
According to their website, they also have a quirky stew option on the food menu:
"Our unique stew of the day will sit on the back bar and be served in mess tins, with a spoon and a wedge of bread. The stew will change daily and when it’s gone it’s GONE."
Williams Ale and Cider House is another top pub with great beer in London, and gives the excellent Water Poet some competition. I do wonder what the Southampton Arms will think of the sign though...