When one of our favourite spirits brands, Porter’s Gin, announces a unique supper club with five of the capital’s best bartenders, our ears pricked up. We headed down to Shoreditch’s TT Liquor to see what was what.
Candlelight flecks off the spirit bottles crammed along the back of the bar. In front of them stand five of London’s cocktail tastemakers du jour. They’re awaiting the arrival of 15-or-so guests for 5 Stories – a supper club that will see each bartender pair a signature cocktail with a tasting morsel crafted by pastry chef Andrew Sutton.
This is a preamble to Sutton’s restaurant No Idea, set to open on Shoreditch’s Curtain Road at the end of April and promising at-the-counter dining “through the eyes of a pastry chef.”
Tonight though, we’re upstairs at TT Liquor off Kingsland Road, a rabbit warren of a building that conjures homeliness at odds with the illicit feeling of a speakeasy. It’s a well-chosen venue considering the evening’s concept is to marry sweet with savoury, nostalgic comfort with the unexpected.
In typical supper club style and despite long communal tables, shoulder-to-shoulder guests initially avoid cross-party chat as Punch Room’s Simone de Luca explains the evening’s appetiser cocktail – a clarified bramble and dangerously drinkable palette cleanser.
After a brief welcome by Sutton, Porter’s Gin brand ambassador Jack Wareing takes the stage, standing in tonight for Enrico Gonzago, Dandelayan’s former head bartender and first on the evening’s line-up. Gonzago’s creation is a heady hit of Porter’s Tropical Old Tom Gin with exotic fruits and banana, topped up with leftover sparkling wine and inspired by Dandelayan’s mission to put to use opened champagne in inventive new ways. We sip it between plump slices of fig, smoked over eucalyptus and drizzled in a delicious, woody pickled walnut puree.
Next up is a light and perplexingly sweet pebble of Jerusalem artichoke cake with dehydrated tarragon, its subtlety enhanced by the thin disc of mustard seed caramel perched on top. To some, the punch evokes awkward school discos and vodka-soaked teen house parties, but de Luca explains its slightly more refined origins: “Punch actually means ‘five’ in Sanskrit and the language is used as a pillar,” he says. “So the drink has five components: sweet, sour, spice, weakness and strength.”
His twist on the 17th century tipple with Porter’s Gin, apricot, eucalyptus and anise hysop packs a surprising, sophisticated…punch, particularly when paired with the cake’s crumbly sweetness.
The third plate, a ‘main course’ so to speak, is a lesson in considered pairing and testament to the fact that 5 Stories was seven months in the making. Vince Smart of Hawksmoor’s tequila, purple carrot syrup and mezcal saline solution doesn’t sound like it should work – and yet it does. Passion fruit curd zig-zags over slivers of just-roasted carrot don’t sit well either, and yet when the carrot’s earthy sweetness and the passion fruit’s sharp tang meet the smoky, salty remnants of the drink sipped seconds earlier, well, it’s a sensory delight to behold.
This is the thing: we’re used to seeing – and for the privileged few, eating – complex tasting courses replete with faffy foams, deconstructed delicacies and ingredients reworked as abstract art. No Idea was born from a feeling of discontent, of not quite fitting into the structure of this food scene. It’s about relatively simple ingredients brought together in ways the average gourmand would probably never consider. And it works.
What follows is a tiny pot of rhubarb-umeboshi compote, tart and pleasing and layered with duck egg custard, sprinkled with roasted cocoa nibs for bitter edge. We try to savour it as head bartender at The Bloomsbury Club Bar, Charlotte Charret, explains her drink: a twist on the Bramble that blends 30et40 apple brandy, Sassy cider and oloroso sherry syrup, and which is inspired by the travels of London’s Bloomsbury residents in the early to mid-1900s.
To finish, traditionally French pâtes de fruits bring together chocolate, cauliflower and cherry in sturdy cubes of set fruit paste that are much like sinking your teeth into sugar-dusted, concentrated jam. A couple of these are ample, offset by Jack Porter of the Library Bar at The Ned’s altogether more savoury blend of Porter’s Gin with pea and cauliflower leaf cordial, topped with lemongrass tea ‘fizz’.
If you’re after culinary largesse that’s at once daring and dainty, this is it. While further details of No Idea’s Curtain Road set-up can’t yet be disclosed – for fear of ruining the surprise – guests can expect to find themselves traversing between its forkfuls of saccharine smugness and earthly simplicity within the month.
Words Jade Hammond