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Monday, 19 May 2014

House of Peroni - El Nivel

Friday 2nd May - May got off to a great start with a rambling pub-bar-bar-pub route around Holborn and Covent Garden, talking in two old favourites and a couple of new joints.

The evening started with a quick pint in the Holborn Whippet with Max & Felix who mostly watched Team List from afar last year whilst posted in Lithuania & Afghanistan respectively.  I'm still waiting for a guest blog from their travels...

The Holborn Whippet is a cracking pub in the same family as Euston Tap & Pelt Trader, and is nicely tucked away on the often overlooked pedestrianised Sicilian Avenue near Holborn.  Lagunitas IPA, Redwell IPA and Beavertown 8-Ball impressed as usual.

From there, we decided to drop in to The House of Peroni which had conveniently just opened that day round the corner in Lincoln's Inn Fields.  Four floors of an elegant townhouse have been converted into a celebration of Italian style & culture for the month of May, inspired by the spirit of 1963 - a year when Italian style became renowned across the world, and Carlo Peroni created Peroni Nastro Azzurro beer.  The house is free to enter (for ages 18+), Monday to Saturday (and occasional Sundays) until 31st May from 12 noon til late.











Vibrant colours in the entrance
We decided to start at the top, popping our heads in to the temporary home for Bottega Wapping restaurant.  You need to reserve a spot to eat & drink in this incredibly funky dining room.  Bizarrely, Creative Director Lorenzo Di Francesco and Head Chef Daniele Miconi have reimagined traditional Italian cuisine through the music of 1963 Italy! I'm not entirely sure what that means.






Moving down through the house with a pint that didn't compare too well to the Holborn Whippet's finest, we got distracted by several fun & impressive installations.  

The bars are also part of the design party - The Black and White Bar is a striking nod to Franco Grignani's monochrome designs, and The Concrete Bar is set out like a miniature concrete cityscape that illuminates at night.. Drinks are different on every floor, with several cocktails making use of Peroni Nastro Azzurro in some way.  They have also taken this opportunity to launch a new Piccola bottle, their first innovation in bottle design since 1963.

Felix using all of his army training to move some coloured lights around a wall

Max controlling the world.
What would the army think of you, Felix?

The Black and White Bar
Federico Riezzo's Negroni Bottiglia

The new "Piccola" bottle
We eventually made it down to the al fresco Terrace area outside the entrance, where rotating street food traders will serve up quick eats & The Pavilion Bar is handling drinks.  We had a fantastic round of Orecchiette with Spicy N'Duja Sausage and Tenderstem Broccoli from Pasta e Basta.


Alongside the food, drink & art, there are several workshops to get involved with including Become an Italian Barista, The Art of Gelato and Create your own Silk Scarf which all need to be booked in advance.

Whilst the beer itself isn't much of an attraction, the house most certainly is - get down there before the end of May!

House of Peroni

Our next stop was a short walk away in Covent Garden.  Hidden above Maiden Lane mainstay La Perla, you will find their new sister bar dedicated to all things agave called El Nivel.  Antojitos (small plates) lie in wait to soak up all of the tequilas, mezcals, sotols, bacanoras & raicillas on offer.

We were warmly welcomed by Massi & his bar team, who started us off with some superb Tequila Ocho to sip.  Little did we know, Tomas Estes, Creator of Tequila Ocho, International Tequila Ambassador for the National Chamber of the Tequila Industry. Owner of Cafe Pacifico, La Perla and El Nivel (phew), and all round good egg, was across the room.  We were in safe hands.

Moving temporarily away from sipping, we got a round of cocktails in (all £9-13).  I went for a Siesta, a twist on the contemporary classic from PDT, the New York speakeasy that is high on my American summer holiday to-do list.  El Nivel's Siesta is a refreshing blend of AquaRiva premium Reposado, fresh lime and grapefruit juices, almond syrup, Campari & Merlet apricot, churned over crushed ice.

Max, sporting a medal from working at the Lithuanian embassy, couldn't resist getting a Diplomat's Downfall - Tapatio 110, fresh lemon and orange juices, lemon thyme and pineapple syrups, pimento dram, churned over crushed ice with a port float. Delicious.

Best of the bunch though was the Felix's Mezcal Fix featuring QuiQuiRiQui mezcal, roasted pineapple syrup, fresh lime, Cynar and saltwater spray.  I had such cocktail envy that I ordered it for myself later.  QuiQuiRiQui mezcal is owned by Melanie Symonds who you might spot boozing away in Catrina, her Mezcal ambulance, or in the QuiQuiRiQui mezcaleria which is due to reopen permanently underneath Golden Grill kebab shop on Hackney Road after a popular stay there in 2013


Due to the nature of their license, you have to eat something with a knife and fork at some point during your stay at El Nivel, so we ordered some Guacamole & Hummus.  Make that President Carter's Hummus and Guacamole "Yim Fun Ho" (with fresh strawberries, mango, jicama, topped with pomegranate seeds, served on an edible Shiso leaf, accompaned by Chinese pancakes).  If you are feeling fancy, you can go for the Roasted lobster & monkfish tail, served with lobster bisque and sangrita reduction or the Fillet of Beef Barcelona Style with caramelised onions and seared foie gras.

After our first round, Massi brought Tomas Estes over for a chat, which bizarrely led to a comprehensive Vestal Vodka tasting as William Vestal had recently dropped off some of his finest bottles.  Vestal are leading a vodka revolution in the UK (expect more to emerge this year).  Hunt some down - it will really surprise you.

Vestal Vodka

The Tequila Ambassador book by Tomas Estes

Moving back to agave, we sipped on the QuiQuiRiQui Matatlan and San Juan del Rio, even better served neat.  Following Tomas' advice, Max finished with La Poderosa - Vida mezcal, agave nectar, lime juice, cardamom and lavender bitters, topped with sparkling wine.  I wasn't convinced that mezcal and sparkling wine would be a winning combination, but I was very much in the wrong.  What do I know anyway?

QuiQuiRiQui Mezcal

La Poderosa
El Nivel is one of my favourite new finds.  The location is obviously excellent and the hospitality was second to none, but most importantly, the spirits collection is fantastic and the cocktails were consistently impressive.  I'll be back soon.

Completing the pub-bar-bar-pub route, we couldn't walk to Charing Cross without dropping in to The Harp for a couple of beers.  Still one of the best pubs in London despite the new wave of craft beer bars, and a great spot in summer when the doors are opened up.  Read more here.

Thanks to (soon to be) Captain Felix & (kind of) Ambassador Max for keeping me company this time around.

Square Meal

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