It’s an easy term to bandy around (and god knows I’m possibly more guilty of doing so than most), but from time to time, one is simply so taken aback that the term “astonishing” is really all that fits the bill. I found myself using that particular word on approximately a dozen occasions, when my good lady wife and I visited Purl earlier this year.
Just as it is usually possible to accurately assess the competence of a curry house by ordering a simple Madras, the ‘control’ drink in any half-decent cocktail bar, for me, is a martini cocktail. Good glassware – points; correctly chilled glass – yet more points; really, really good Sicilian lemons for the twist, many points. If, however, as in the case of one restaurant recently visited who shall remain nameless – you serve it in a chipped glass, complete with crushed ice, and a slice of lemon, you’re scoring very low indeed.
There are quite a few bars I can think of that score a solid 10 on the martini Benchmark scale - notably ‘Dry Martini’ in Barcelona (review to follow in a week or two), and Duke’s Hotel in St. James, but what’s a chap to do when a martini is ordered, and what arrives at the table can only be described as a cross between a refreshing beverage, and that bit at the end of Terminator 2 where Robert Patrick meets his end at the hands of a lorry-load of Liquid nitrogen? Well my friends…
The stern warning of certain death from the waitress who delivered the drink ringing in our ears, we duly waited for the liquid nitrogen to fully evaporate from the surface of the drink, and tucked in. The KeteLN2 (see what they’ve done there) is certainly the best-made vodka martini I’ve ever had, and the extra point has to be awarded for the sheer audacity of serving a drink fully capable of killing the customer should they be foolish enough to drink it too soon.
Ridiculous? Certainly. Sublime? Assuredly.
So, where to go from there? The menu has a simply superb selection of the most eclectic and insane-sounding cocktails we’ve ever seen. We pick our favourite looking ‘few’ and set about them.
First up was the ominously titled ‘what’s your poison’ – the description of which read “Medical tray with clandestine absinthe, blue death tincture, PX, Ciroc & lemon poison bottle, Grape Sherbet pill jar. Comes with prescription.”. Well then…
Recipe for trouble
The ‘prescription’ calls for one to chew the included pill (a capsule containing some delicious grape sherbet), then mix the drink according to the recipe included on the prescription. The real magic comes when you add the final tincture, and the drink changes colour in front of your eyes. Absolutely superb, but all these pesky white spirits had left us hankering for something with a bit more depth to it. This came in the form of the worryingly titled ‘Mr Hyde’s No 2’.
A mixture of Zacapa 23 rum, cola and chocolate bitters, Pedro Ximenez, chilled down, and served in an old-school potion bottle topped off with Lapsang Souchong smoke and wax-sealed. Another fantastically theatrical cocktail, served with a glass containing a single huge chunk of crystal-clear ice.
As for the flavour of the Mr Hyde’s No 2, there could be no mistaking the base of the cocktail – it remains true to the flavour of the Zacapa, but rather than smothering the rum with over-enthusiastic use of bitters, the cola and chocolate bitters serve to bring out some of the more earthy and umami-rich notes, backed up by the lightly perfumed note added by the tea-smoke. In a word? Yep, you guessed it. Astonishing.
For our final drink of the evening, we sauntered over to the bar, where a superb-looking concoction was prepared from Laphroaig 18yo (see – we are a whisky blog – really), Charentais melon liqueur, and sherry. Sounds good huh? How could one possibly improve upon this recipe? Well – what about serving it on a wooden board, next to a couple of sizeable slices of Iberico ham, dumping a glass cloche over the top of the whole shooting match, then pumping fresh oak and PX smoke under the cloche?
We were told by the barkeep that the longer we left it, the more smoky the drink (and ham) would become. We duly left it alone for a minute or two, then set about it. I can see where they’re going with this – melon and ham – and it definitely works. The way that the sweet and smoky drink offset the tremendous richness of the ham was nothing short of genius.
The wife’s iPhone ate the photo of the final cocktail, so here’s a dog dressed as Yoda instead.
So, a conclusion then? Well, we don’t live in London, we live in Tunbridge Wells. This is, if I’m honest, the only reason that I’m not at Purl right now. That and ‘work’ I suppose. And the fact they’re not open at 14:30 on a Tuesday afternoon.
It’s not really possible to find the words to recommend Purl enough – it’s one of those places that you simply have to go to in order to experience what cocktails can be like if you really really care about what you’re serving.
You can find directions and opening hours here: www.purl-london.com. Go. Go now. Your boss will understand.
You’ll be seeing more bar reviews over the coming weeks and months – keep your eyes and tastebuds peeled.