214 Bermondsey (below Antico restaurant)
214 Bermondsey St
020 7407 4682
Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, you need to walk into this one. Bermondsey St’s Antico restaurant has just re-launched its basement bar as 214 Bermondsey, a cocktail and gin bar boasting 45 different varieties of Mother’s Ruin. With London currently in the grips of a ‘ginaissance’ even the classic G&T now comes with a twist, owner Nick Crispini says.
“No two gins are the same so to enhance their unique flavours we have created 214 Tonic water finding that the addition of this to any gin transforms a classic G&T,” he explains.
While the quinine based soft drink was historically used for medicinal purposes to fight malaria, its popularity as an alcoholic mixer has given it the staying power needed for artisan brands to emerge. And although you’re about as likely to find an outbreak of malaria on Bermondsey St as you are to spot a dog without a £200 diamante collar, it seems this home-brewed quinine concoction may in fact be somewhat of an elixir. I escaped from my evening of Bermondsey St boozing surprisingly sans hangover.
Built on the site of the old Bermondsey Antiques market, the underground bar is dark and slick, illuminated only by flickering candles and low-hanging lamps. Exposed brick, wooden tones and leather lounges create a relaxed atmosphere while flawless table service and expert bartenders (dressed in jaunty waistcoats and bus-boy caps no less) add an element of speakeasy style.
On a recent visit to the gin joint, my friend and I retreated from the downpour outside and –as if by magic- instantly found ourselves with a cocktail in hand in place of our umbrellas. All was right in the world again. The night began with a 214 Collins, the bar’s own signature version of the classic Tom Collins, a crisp concoction of Hammer Gin, lemon juice, Campari and sugar, stirred over soda and ice.
From here we embarked on a gin flight, which contrary to what the name suggests is not a one-way ticket into an irredeemable gin fog. Rather, it’s an exciting mystery game where three G&Ts are brought out, accompanied with a wax-sealed envelope revealing the names of the brands used to create the beverages. Tasters are given a list of the three gins and descriptions of their flavours and have to blind-taste and match the drink to the gin. We tried the International flight, a whirlwind journey through gins of America, the Mediterranean and Italy, incorporating the fruity dry No 209, the rosemary and ginger tinged Gin Mare, and the cold, herb-infused The Botanist. The most startling revelation was that the home-made tonic water was pale orange, which is apparently its natural colour. It’s noticeably more refreshing and sharper than the likes of sugary Schweppes and enhances the flavours and subtle nuances of the gin (though admittedly not enough for my now gin-soaked palette to detect slight juniper undertones).
For gin connoisseurs with a taste for local-made brews, the Peck’em cocktail is particularly popular. A little bird at the bar tells me Peckham-made Little Bird is one of their most highly sought after gins. The Peck’em enhances the gin’s signature citrus tones with Aperol, Cinzano and grapefruit juice, finishing it with grapefruit bitters. In keeping with the citrus theme I opted for a personal favourite, the Gimlet: a simple concoction of Plymouth gin and Rose’s lime juice, which thanks to Mad Men is enjoying resurgence in modern day drinking culture. 214’s version of the classic is perfection.
I should at this stage pay tribute to the food; I’m happy to acknowledge not everyone is as big a fan of the liquid dinner as I am. Paired with wine (naturally), the slow-roasted rabbit tortellini with sage butter is simple and delicious with the subtle sauce complimenting the mild flavours of the rabbit. The four types of pasta on the menu upstairs at Antico are hand-made fresh every day, which is immediately evident. My friend, a pasta aficionado, paid high compliment to the slow cooked pork shoulder and juniper ragù Pappardelle.
We finished with a dessert cocktail (or two…) and it’s worth pointing out the silver lining of the gin cloud, which was awakening the next day hangover free. Perhaps there’s something in the (tonic) water?