“Book a table for nine people for some drinks on Friday…” was the request that came from my girlfriend.
“…Somewhere good” being the only given requirement.
After some consideration I decided to book a table in a dimly-lit basement on a side street in Shoreditch that combines “the charm of Victorian squalor with the elegance of grand Gin Palaces”. Yep, we were off to the Worship Street Whistling Shop…
Opening back in April 2011 the Whistling Shop was the second venture by the chaps behind the prohibition-style Purl in Marylebone as well as the more recent 17th Century-inspired Punch House VOC in King’s Cross and the NYC-influenced Dach & Sons in Hampstead.
Negotiating the stairs that lead from street-level down into the Whistling Shop is a bit like going into the fitting room at Mr. Benn’s local fancy dress shop; you leave the world behind you and enter an entirely new one. There is however nothing ‘fancy dress’ about this place as everything is designed with an attention to detail that grants it authenticity.
Despite the impressive surroundings though, it is the drinks that are rightly the stars of the show here.
“Our drinks are inspired by the trends and drinking cultures of days gone by. Using these themes as starting points, we then develop our cocktail list within our in-house lab. Here, we use rotary evaporators, sous vide, vacuum technology and a large array of enzymes, acids, proteins and hydrocolloids to create drinks that are truly unique.”
– the Whistling Shop chaps
As there were nine of us each ordering something different we were able to order the large majority of the excellent cocktail menu (which changes regularly) right off the bat! (They’re about £9 each plus a service charge.)
I kicked off with a refreshing Gattering Cup, which is made with Hennessy Fin de Cognac, Camden Ink Stout, Buck-wheat Honey, Ginger Beer and Cardamom Bitters served over ice in a copper cup garnished with a sprig of mint leaves and a glass stirrer that reminded us of an old thermometer.
Some review-site types seem to have had problems with service here but I can’t understand that personally – there are few things that annoy me more than having somebody constantly hovering over me, especially when I am enjoying something as special as these cocktails and we had no problem ordering more when we were ready. Having said that one of our drinks was dropped onto the table sending broken glass, Lillet and Martini in all directions!!! I have my suspicions that this may not have happened had one of our party not tried to eagerly grab theirs as soon as it was within arm’s reach however. I mean, would you let this girl anywhere near a full tray of cocktails?
Having all (eventually) had the opportunity to see (and sample) each other’s first cocktails, most steered towards a favourite for their second. In my case this was the Million Dollar #2…
Million Dollar #2: Woodford Reserve, Pineapple Juice, WS2 Grenadine, Martini Rosso, Chip Pan Bitters – $100 Note
Nose: So smokey! Lapsang souchong and smoked cheese fill your nostrils without even placing them too near the drink! The Chip Pan Bitters made in-house dominate proceedings.
Palate: Usually the palate confirms what the nose has told you even if slightly different elements are detected. Not here. Is this the same drink? Any trepidation about putting chip pan liquid in your mouth is made a mockery of instantly as tropical fruits catch your senses totally off guard. Herbal notes from the red vermouth are present as well as creaminess from the Woodford Reserve whilst Grenadine tartness keeps the fruit in check.
Finish: Smoooth. Pineapple and just a little smoke briefly linger. That wasn’t a drink that was a journey. Or was it? I’m not even sure what has just happened.
Overall: If cocktails are about the senses then that was the best one that I have ever had.
Then, as if by Magic, the shopkeeper appeared… Or at least our reservation (you get a two hour slot as standard) was beginning to run down and our wallets and purses were all getting a little light.
In true Mr. Benn fashion, as I returned home later I realised that I had a miniature $100 bill in my pocket. “I thought I’d thrown that away! Now I can keep it to help me remember”.