In the ever evolving London bar scene, it seems merely calling yourself just a bar isn't enough. You seem to need a theme, apply some rules that are not to be broken or brew your own booze to stand out from the crowd. Once you're done, call yourself a speakeasy, adding an air of mystery, something that makes you feel that you're part of a special gang. Maybe a password, or a hidden door, or better still, keep yourself hidden out the back of some perfunctory diner.
Something like this seems to be opening every month here in London, and although the concept may seem quite contrived, it doesn't necessarily mean that the end product will disappoint. I was invited to try out Evans and Peel a while back and whilst it worked under some weird pseudo-charade, the cocktails were good which is essentially what every bar boils down to. Having said all that, I kind of liked the concept too. Masquerading as a "detective" agency a short stroll from Earls Court station, you buzz for entry at a door in an otherwise nondescript road and descend the stairs into what seems to be a small office to meet the detective. I was genuinely confused as to how we would get into the bar from the office, but one secret panel later and we were in.
The bar itself is lovely and have all the fittings and fixtures befitting what I would consider a "speakeasy". The bonus for me, a devout hater of standing and drinking/eating, is that there is a no standing policy, with plenty of space for seating, many of which were filled on my visit, providing a good drinking atmosphere. Personally, I found some of the food lacking, but it was early days and the team behind E and P were still developing the menu. With a lot of focus on smoking things (including cheesecake which was surprisingly delicious), I would highly recommend their macaroni cheese and squash salad to soak up the booze. I can't remember the specific drinks I had, but there were no duds. All well crafted whilst being interesting at the same time. (no pics of the food, it was REALLY dark)
The problem with competition is that you really need to be good to differentiate yourself and encourage repeat visits, especially if you aren't based right amongst the nightlife. I enjoyed Evans and Peel, finding it charming without overdoing "the theme" and will definitely be back. Sadly, I'm not sure the same can be said of my visit to Dach and Sons.
Located in the heart of Hampstead, it's the second venture from Purl, the popular bar based more centrally in Marylebone. Renowned for their molecular approach to cocktail making, I was excited to visit, especially with the promise of yet more American diner based food.
One thing to note is that Dach and Sons is more about the food than the drink, bringing aspects of their molecular approach to drinks into their food. The main room is large and contains a decent number of seats that you can plonk yourself down on and order. I found it pretty odd for an establishment with a well regarded bar upstairs, that there was only one cocktail and a limited drinks list. Nonetheless, the Julep that was on offer was decent enough.
The food sadly was greatly lacking. The hot dog had no snap, was underseasoned and had an extremely unpleasant texture, with a soft and porridge like consistency all the way through. The strange compressed chilli tomato topping led to the whole dog tasting more sweet than savoury. And the bun, too stiff and chewy.
The trio of sliders, all professing to contain a variety of different ingredients like bacon jam, smoked flexi-cheddar and a salt beef chilli, actually kind of tasted the same. We had to peer under their lids to figure out which was which, and often found us asking the other "Which one is this one meant to be?". Under-seasoned, lacking in real flavour from it's ingredients, these were sadly not greatly enjoyable.
It's a shame that all the main meat offerings from the menu were so poor. The sides we ordered were mostly decent with good fried pickles and an excellent dill flecked coleslaw. Once we had finished our food, we popped upstairs to the bar which as you would expect from Purl, smart, dimly lit and packed with a variety of cocktail gadgets. I can't help feeling that a lot of the add-ons are just for gimmicks sake, but you can't deny the showmanship of the bubbling Mr Hydes No 2, or my Counted but not out, accompanied by my very own little juniper oil burner. The cocktails are all expertly crafted and highly enjoyable, gimmick or no. The cocktails are definitely worth returning for, but I think the issue lies in that their main differentiator (the food) was so disappointing. I think I may just stick to the drinks in their Marylebone location. A bit closer to home and plenty of better places to eat nearby.
Evans and Peel - 310c Earls Court Road, London SW5 9BA
Dach and Sons - 68 Heath St, London NW3 1DN