There are few things better in London during the Summer than leisurely drinking the long days away in a good Beer Garden. So, when we heard that mixology guru Tony Conigliaro was about to launch an Asahi Moon Garden at the back of his Dalston joint, Untitled Restaurant and Bar, serving up cool beers and ever-creative cocktails alongside Japanese small plates, we had to check it out.
Dropped onto Dalston’s Kingsland Road, the uber-cool Untitled (following Tony C’s penchant for naming his bars nameless) is a hotspot for those looking for innovative cocktails within an exceptionally trendy yet relaxed environment. We make our way through the front door, passed the silver foil and concrete walls adorned with punk-esque, erotic black & white photography, and out into the new Moon Garden. A covered wooden terrace holds an Asahi Beer bar and looks out onto a fenced-off, sunken garden with odd little grey stone tables and stools and a suspended “moon” light that starts to glow as daylight receded. Designed by Soho & Co., the space is stark and simple but not at all unwelcoming. We plop ourselves down on the in-built bench that sweeps around the perimeter and take a gander at the vacuum-sealed cocktail menu.
Cocktails on offer are as intriguing as one would expect, with each aimed at evoking a single object, identity or style through a union of the senses. As we are choosing our first drink, a delicate and stylised cup, balancing a debossed paper leaf is placed before us. Manager, Graziano Madeo, tells us that it is a complimentary starter cocktail that changes every so often and that acts as a welcome to the bar. Soft peach in flavour and colour with a slightly more viscous mouthfeel than anticipated, it is beautifully juicy with a sort of light umami or “salt of the earth” style aftertaste and an unexpected, delayed heat in the chest.
Tickled by our surprise tipple, we push on to order the Aztec (dark caramel, buckwheat, cocoa nib tequila), which arrives in a small unglazed cup. Our initial sip is less a taste, more the embodiment of the word “smooth”, with that recognisable flavour of tequila arriving second, followed by a mellowing chocolate that brings the drink full-circle to its balanced beginning. As we savour this, the first of our small plates from chef Rob Roy Cameron arrives in the form of Smoked Chicken Satays with Spring Onions and Sesame, and mini Oyster Hot Dogs with Yuzu Kusho Mayo. The chicken is delicious with a light smoke from the grill and the deep-fried oysters have a great crunch and spice to them (although we’re a tad disappointed by the cold and slightly stale buns).
Our next drink, Earthmother (cocoa nib vodka, pu-erh tea, lemon, egg white), is a gorgeous affair. Fresh and nuanced with a frothy egg white top, lemon staves off over-sweetness and a robust aged tea rounds it off to fulfillment. However, our favourite is to follow in the guise of Violin (dark oak, pine, beeswax, benzoin, black pepper vodka infusions), which for us perfectly achieves Tony C’s desire to encapsulate the spirit of the object named. It quite simply smells, tastes and even looks like a violin would do in drink form. The delicate glass it comes in has the curves of the instrument whilst the initial scent is unmistakably that of wood with a wafting floral memory. Once sipped, the drink develops like a symphony, lilting and dancing on the tongue with gentle lingering charm and a slight grainy roughness. It is a truly brilliant cocktail that we would happily nurse for an hour.
As we wax lyrical about Violin to those about our table, an array of dishes arrives, including Kimchi Cucumber with Sesame, Shisho Pickled Pear with Dried Seaweed, Mussels on Leek with Yuzu Beurre Blanc, Lamb Brioche with Ginger and Shitake and Aubergine with Miso and Hazelnuts. The mussels are standout, with soft slightly smoked leeks and perfectly cooked mussels swimming in an incredible buttery sauce, whilst the aubergine has a fair amount of tahini in it but is a good accompaniment to the other dishes. However, what astonished us most about everything we ate was the affordability! Prices of yakitori start from only £1.50, with the most expensive item on the food menu being the finger-licking Boneless Chicken Wings with Sweet Kimchi at £5.80. Even the cocktails are ludicrously cheap (between £8-9) when you consider the providence of the mixologist, the uniqueness of the offerings and the hipness of the venue. For this and so many other reasons we recommend that if you’re ever in Dalston, go check out Untitled Restaurant and Bar.
Untitled Restaurant and Bar, 538 Kingsland Rd, London E8 4AH