Posted on April 6th, 2011
I recently had the pleasure of spending a week in England, starting with a few days in Cambridge and ending with the better portion of a week in London. The main purpose of the trip was for my husband to participate in his PhD ceremony at Jesus College, three years after actually defending his thesis. Come back for the Circumstance, stay for the Pomp. When combined with the coincidence that my birthday was to fall a few days after the ceremony, the Pomp levels were through the roof. So after enjoying many a pint of truly unique and fantastic cask-conditioned ales in Cambridge, we headed to London to continue the celebration with cocktails.
Not wanting to waste any time, we popped into a Marks & Spencer at the train station and each picked out a canned cocktail. On the train I popped open my cheeky can of mojito, guaranteed at 10% alcohol, and somehow didn’t feel trashy at all. I was speeding through the English countryside, London-bound, sipping an effervescent adult beverage containing no high-fructose corn syrup from a slender silver can– it was like Red Bull that heightens your sense of superiority instead of keeping you awake.
The next evening in London, we wandered into a pub for yet more authentic English beer and ran into one of my husband’s friends. As I was getting towards the bottom of a fairly uninspiring brew, I confessed that as nice as these pints of earthy room-temperature liquid were, I was beginning to suffer from Beer Fatigue. While my husband assured me that my pint had probably just come from the bottom of the barrel, his friend picked up on my subtle whine and recommended a nearby cocktail bar called The Hide.
As soon as I saw the green banker’s lamp on their homepage, I was convinced that The Hide was going to be a truly awesome place. Based on the image, I had already come to the conclusion that every table would be bathed in its own verdant glow and that you could ask the waiter to bring you a typewriter, on a tray, if you wanted one– needed one, even. Next, I clicked on the drink menu and was both pleased and startled by the halting forward motion of the progress bar. Surely a weighty .pdf was being hoisted out of the Internet. Eight pages of cocktails, warm and cold; two pages of beer; fifteen pages of house spirits, and about thirteen wines described in a separate menu. Each cocktail description was accompanied by an illustration of its administrative glass. I felt as if I should probably be taking notes.
Soon we found ourselves hustling down Bermondsey Street against a stiff breeze. With the thought of my first cocktail chilling in my brain, we entered The Hide and joined a group of friends seated on a pair of lumpy green leather couches. I exited, several hours later, having made the following new friends:
Snow Leopard Martini
“Snow Leopard vodka infused with rosemary, Lillet blanc.
Really smooth, this martini has a fantastic nose from the rosemary and lemon, with a slight sweetness from the Lillet.”
A dear friend of mine and I have always said that “Rosemary is for VIGOR!” This is based on a mutual fantasy about her elderly (but strapping) Italian landlord– who grows tomato plants as sturdy as trees and cocoons his fruit-bearing fig trees in tarps for the New England winter– and how he musters up his agrarian fecundity by autoflagellation with a bouquet of rosemary. Of course, he doesn’t really, but rosemary can never hurt and it does pair well with spirits. The Snow Leopard was served with a literal fistful of rosemary, and the cocktail that passed through the herb clod was vigorous indeed. Warming, but not overly so thanks to the lemon and Lillet.
American in London
“Knob Creek bourbon, infused with Earl Grey tea. Peach liqueur, Peychaud’s bitters and sweet vermouth.
American bourbon (a great one) with a quintessentially English tea, sweetened with peach.”
Speaking as an American in London, I don’t know if I’d call Knob Creek “great” on its own, but I have been very impressed with other tea-based infusions in the past. In the case of this Manhattan family member, the tea’s bergamot tang worked extremely well in concert with the bitters and bourbon’s rich oaked sweetness. The only thing that seemed out of place in this gorgeous antique desk of-a-cocktail was the peach liqueur. It wasn’t enough to harm the drink, but it certainly didn’t help.
The Nethernez/Mint Julep Fiasco
Sadly, this is not the name of a cocktail. The Nethernez was my bold move of the night, being made up of “Bols Genever, Zucca rhubarb liqueur, China Martini & homemade anise syrup. Our proud interpretation of a Martinez with a clear “Hide” touch, a competition winner!”
The minute this cocktail slithered down my throat I knew that the competition they had won was for government funding to continue their hot pursuit of the cure for the common cold. The Nethernez tasted like it has probably been through a few clinical trials. This was a seriously medicinal cocktail that shattered my endurance halfway through. If I wasn’t going to end up Robo-tripping, I saw no reason to drink any further. Coughing lightly, I fixed a plaintive gaze on my husband’s shiny pewter cup of Mint Julep containing “H by Hine cognac, peach liqueur, mint, sugar and a fresh pineapple wedge. Harry Craddock’s version of the classic Derby drink, as from the Savoy Cocktail book, 1930.”
Being a good man, he traded drinks with me and I proceeded to celebrate the ice cold julep that made quick work of any lingering traces of the syrupy Nethertussin.
“Peruvian Pisco Demonio des Andes, La Strega, lemon juice, Orgeat and egg white
Inspired by one of the bartenders’ dad, this complex and playful drink will probably surprise you.”
At this point, a fluffy layer of egg white was the only thing that could keep me afloat. The Picso 1960 was the perfect end to an evening of epic drinks, with the excess of lemon juice dominating the Orgeat in a symbolic oustering of the demon aniseed of The Nethernez. And the mome raths outgrabe.
In the end, and despite the fact that each table didn’t end up having its own banker’s lamp, The Hide is an absolutely brilliant place to let your tongue stretch its taste buds. My husband claims to have somehow enjoyed the Nethernez, and I am eager to go back for another occasion– special or not– as I’ve only scratched the surface of this bar’s tremendous offerings.