Review: Worship Street Whistling Shop
In these difficult economic times, it must be tempting for those opening new cocktail bars to play it a little bit safe to pull the punters in. If so, the chaps behind the Whistling Shop have clearly not given in to such pressures. With ingredients like chip pan bitters, formula milk, sage dust, and walnut ketchup, the cocktail menu hardly appeals to the mass market. Even I, a self-confessed cocktail geek found myself questioning whether these drinks were a step too far. That was until I visited…..
Sister to Purl and headed up by Ryan Chetiyawardana, the Whistling Shop claims to combine “the charm of Victorian squallor, with the elegance of grand gin palaces”. As if that wasn’t a challenge enough, it is apparently also going to “redefine cocktails within the Capital”. Now I appreciate a bit of PR waffle as much as the next man, but this is clearly not an establishment looking to blend in with the crowd. Located in a rather nondescript side street in Shoreditch, this subterranean bar fuses modern cocktail alchemy with a good sprinkling of Victoriana themed decor. It’s a good size too, and despite visiting on a very quiet Monday evening, there was still a nice ‘feel’ about the place; only spoilt by the somewhat questionable choice of music playlist. Frilly-shirted waiters sporting leather-strapped jackets help create the illusion that you have stepped back in time, although I can’t help but feel as though it’s more ‘Disney’ than 1830’s London. That’s OK though, it’s nice enough and we’re not here for the decor, it’s the drinks we are interested in.
A posh chemistry set is seemingly rapidly becoming essential kit for a cocktail bar these days, and the Whistling Shop proudly displays it’s toys in a ‘laboratory’ viewable from the bar itself. Correspondingly there’s not a single drink on the menu that doesn’t contain at least one strange- sounding ingredient. Whilst this won’t be to everyones taste, those willing to experiment and try something new are richly rewarded. The Black Cat martini containing ‘removed’ cream is a subtly sweet and creamy twist on your classic martini, and actually a very approachable drink for those not used to such exotic libations. The rum based Radiation Aged Cocktail is an intriguing mix of six ingredients including chip pan bitters, which is then ‘irradiated’ (they wouldn’t tell me how!) and served short. Drinking it is like a workout for your taste buds, for it is sweet, sour, bitter and dry all at the same time. Somehow it avoids being ‘confused’ and instead achieves a perfect balance that is hard to achieve even in much simpler drinks. If you like the sound of a cocktail that tastes like a caramel Mini Milk ice-cream then the (Substitute) Bosom Caresser is the drink for you. Cognac, formula milk, madeira, grenadine and salt and pepper bitters combine beautifully to create a drink that is moreish, complex and comforting in the extreme.
Admittedly this review is based on only one visit so I can’t comment on consistency, but the drinks we sampled were really very good indeed. The expectations of a bar using ‘molecular mixology’ are high, and rightly so. But here they have excelled themselves, each drink was full of character and showcased unusual ingredients and techniques in an intelligent and imaginative way. If they can keep this standard up, they will soon be getting themselves a very strong reputation for serving up drinks as tasty as they are original. The food is also worthy of a mention. Created by Temple and Shian, there is both a full a la carte lunch menu and evening bar menu on offer. I can only testify for the pork pie and marinated brie from the bar menu, but both were delicious and well worth a try.
A Victoriana-themed basement bar serving ‘molecular’ cocktails sounds so fashionable you could be forgiven for worrying it might be a case of style over substance, theatrics over taste, and weird over wonderful. It’s not, the cocktails really shine. They are unusual, interesting, complex, balanced, original, approachable, and above all delicious. It is clear a lot of time and talent has gone into creating them and if they can keep it up, they may yet achieve their aim of redefining cocktails, perhaps not just within the Capital.