First Small Beer, then Chicken in the Woods, and now a brand-new bar and restaurant from seasoned bartenders, Noel and Max Venning (Three Sheets, Bar Three) together with Alan Sherwood. The sweet yet sleepily quaint Crouch End has recently become home to a number of innovative and exciting new wining and dining hotspots. We chat to Sherwood (ex-Peg+ Patriot and Scout) about his new venture with the brothers Venning.
You’ve previously worked with Matt Whiley (Talented Mr Fox) on Peg + Patriot and Scout. Why are you not relocating with him to the new Scout?
Matt and I worked closely together for two years or more, and also collaborated on several consultancy projects, but he and I parted company about a year back, so I’m no longer part of the Scout team. I wish him every success with the new site and am incredibly grateful for the time and energy he put into making me the bartender I am today.
What’s the idea behind the new bar and why did you pick Crouch End after previously working in bars out in East London?
We wanted to open a local bar, one with great cocktails, but that are approachable and most importantly delicious. There was always the idea to have draft beer, and I’ve been obsessed with cold drip coffee so knew I wanted that on tap too. I still live in East London, and there are so many great things there, but while we looked at sites and different areas of London, this appeared as an amazing opportunity. Crouch End has this brilliant village community area, it’s strange as its still so much a part of London, but we realised that if we opened something good people would really engage with it.
How do you know the Venning brothers? Have you ever worked with them before?
I knew Max and Noel through Three Sheets, as I’d sat and had a drink there on several occasions. When I made the decision to leave, they were the only people I spoke to with regards to work: Noel needed some cover in the bar, and so I became part of the team. This was about a year ago, and when we opened the new bar, Bar Three (read our full review here), I moved down to help open that.
What’s the concept behind the bar and menus
All the menus are designed around the central idea – make everything delicious. We use modern kitchen techniques behind the scene but what we want to present is tasty food and drink. Our style tends towards simplicity, and easy-drinking cocktails. The food represents a similar approach, using modern techniques but presented in a way that people are comfortable ordering at any time.
Tell us about the cocktails
The drinks are obviously the thing we are most excited about and we’ve been working on them for six months now. The Pornstar is probably one of our favourites; it’s a twist on the classic Pornstar Martini, using in-house carbonation to combine the original martini with champagne. We take a clear passionfruit vodka and a pink passionfruit cordial and mix them with white wine, vanilla, orange blossom and verjus, then carbonate the whole thing. For a guest, the experience is just like getting a glass of champagne, poured table-side.
There is also the Delicious Sour, made with Golden Delicious apple cordial and an incredible apple caramel. The Peach Tea is one of my personal favourites, with Silver Needle Tea infused Ocho Blanco Tequila, Peach Cordial, Clary Sage and Soda. It’s refreshing, light and very session-able. All cocktails will be £8.50, or otherwise less.
How does your style/taste compare to the Vennings’?
Originally, I would say my style was very different, but I think in some respects both Max and I have come from similar backgrounds to end up in a very similar place (which is probably where Noel was already)! We like long easy drinks, something you can sit and have 4 of without worrying. I still like weird things, and the guys occasionally have to remind me this.
What’s your favourite drink on the menu?
If I had to pick one, it would be the Peach Tea, but the Pornstar and the Coffee Picon are close.
We’ve been seeing a trend recently in bars upping their game in terms of bar food menu. How did you come to decide on your food offering?
We’ve put together a food menu that we’re really happy with. People are more conscious about how they are drinking, and a top food offering is vital to a neighbourhood bar. We looked at our favourite bar menus around the world – NoMad NYC, Hawksmoor, Victory Mansion – and considered what we wanted to eat when we drink. There are some really great dishes and I think the steak sandwich will become something we are known for!
The Vennings were heavily involved in the décor design of Bar Three. Are you all similarly so with Little Mercies?
The original design for Mercies was mostly mine, but thankfully Max and Noel have an amazing eye, and it’s come a long way since my first designs. There are elements borrowed from both Three Sheets and Bar Three; the shape of the bar, the exposed brick, and some of the furniture, even the colour, is all influenced by the two bars.
What’s behind the name, “Little Mercies”?
The name comes from two things: it’s based on a track by my favourite band, and also on the old saying “thank god for small mercies”. There is a bar over the road from where I live, that does coffee, wine and beer, and I always think the same thing about that place. I hope I can do the same for Crouch End.
Due to launch this Autumn on Crouch End’s Broadway Parade, the 52-cover restaurant will serve up high-end (but not pretentious) cocktails for up to £8.50 each alongside a short menu of evening bar snacks, including Sliced bavette steak sandwich with garlic aioli, confit onion, mustard dressing and leaves; Panko-crumbed chicken; and Eggs Benedict with brown butter hollandaise and bacon powder. The bar will be open from midday on weekends to serve brunch, cocktails and coffee.