Soda & Friends is a new neighbourhood cocktail bar in Canning Town specialising in highballs. Brought to us by Hebe Richardson, Nate Brown, and Imie Augier (all of nebula), and managed by Brie Feather (ex-American Bar at the Savoy), it’s certainly a solid cast! We wander down to London City Island to check out the space and see what’s on the menu.
Location – the start of things to come…
It’s fair to say that, when you think of Canning Town as an area, you do not think ‘cocktail hub’. Riverside living? Maybe. Rapidly developing Commuter-ville? Yes. Elizabeth line stop? Hopefully one day! But cocktails…? Well, this is one association the newly opened Soda & Friends is working on. Located on London City Island – a swathe of new-builds with thousands of residents starved of quality tipples – the minimalist bar centres around the iconic highball serve, showcasing fine and rare spirits with a story to tell. Each cocktail is mixed with in-house cordial creations, liqueurs and ferments, as well as a range of sodas and seltzers.
The softly lit space takes inspiration from minimalist Nordic and Japanese designs, centring around a speckled green bar made from recycled plastic and glass, alongside tactile, natural textures of wood and concrete. Tan leather banquettes with accompanying tables line the floor-to-ceiling window opposite the long bar counter. A supporting beam to the back of the room creates a quiet pocket space behind the kitchen and away from the main hustle and bustle of those standing and sitting around the bar.
Soda & Friends firmly believes that “Highballs are the Future”, and this is naturally reflected in the cocktails. The menu is broken down into three chapters, the first and longest being the Highballs, with Lowballs coming forward for chapter 2, and Up & Down rounding things off in chapter 3. All drinks on offer are priced at £9 or £10.
We start at the beginning with the Soda House Highball (pear, apple, plum, Buffalo Trace, soda; £9) – a whiskey highball with ample fruitiness and gentle carbonation. Canary (£9) chirps out a tart, citric note ringing with burnt lemon soda and yuzu. These harmonise with the citrus elements in East London Liquor Company Gin, whilst the Nikka Days’ mellowed honey notes temper any sharpness, to deliver a lightly astringent, dry, tart beauty that is perfect for anyone wanting to steer clear of sweetness. Our final highball choice of the nine available is the Honeymoon (£9) – a vibrant rum and ginger soda affair full of green cardamom spice. Sweet, supple apricot and honey wine come first with the spice notes dancing with the rum’s light sugarcane character. Cinder toffee honeycomb makes for a delightful garnish to top off this flavourful endeavour.
Little Colada (£9) catches our eye from the Lowballs section and takes us down a refreshing, tropical path. Lightly coconut-y with a bright pineapple character, Ming River Baijiu amps up the fruity flavour, throwing out ripe melon, papaya, and mango as well as a touch of anise and white pepper. There’s a lovely body to this that adds to the lusciousness of the drink.
As we’ve been sipping, the already busy bar starts to fill up even more. New locals – on receiving word of a local bar opening – have flooded the airy venue and the atmosphere is positively buzzing!
We elect to finish proceedings with a trip to the closing chapter. Sesame Street (£9) proves itself to be a delightfully moreish treat with oily, nutty sesame providing a base for dry sake and Lillet Blanc to glide over. Both work beautifully with the juniper-forward Boatyard Double Gin, to create a delicate, rounded, yet entirely smashable cocktail. Our final drink of the evening has to be the Champagne Paloma (grapefruit, rosé Champagne, strawberry, and tequila blanco; £10). The zingy grapefruit matched with juicy strawberry bumps up the fruity sweetness, with the Champagne’s dryness keeping all in check whilst agave quietly adds body in the background.
We leave the heaving venue with a new appreciation for highballs. Often, we find that the long drink form is lazily put together and provides little intrigue for the palate at a huge price markup for the ingredient list. This is not the case at Soda & Friends. Here, the team has crafted some gorgeous drinks, contemplating the demands of various palates, and working to deliver a list that has something for everyone whilst maintaining cohesion. Whilst many are on the lighter alcohol content side of life, the flavours are powerful and the intention well-thought-out.
Soda & Friends is certainly a much-needed addition to the area and has already developed a strong identity and following. With great staff, tasty drinks, and lovely setting, we’re sure they’ll do fantastically well!
Soda & Friends, 20 Hopewell Square, London City Island, London E14 0SY