245 Hackney Rd, London E2 8NA
Sundays are a divisive day. Cherished by some, bemoaned by others. The good lord may have rested but sections of this city demand activity on this once lazy, hazy end to the week. What is this reviewer’s recommendation? Why drink, of course!
But before you buy 3 litres of White Lighting and claim a park bench, let me remind you, there is drinking and drinking. Equal parts are the latter. The team behind the Sagar + Wilde opened EP in February, working up to 7 days a week, with their famous wine bar/restaurant sitting further down Hackney Rd. This was always going to be an elevated experience. As the tendrils of gentrification wind their way up from Shoreditch proper this bar on the corner, encased in green tiles (I swoon) like a square armadillo, is another flower in that ever-hungry triffid’s progress.
Trendy self-assured folks’ flux through the doors of the light-drenched space, with a massive glass brick wall at the back. People working over a cocktail (what do you do?) or fresh-faced and beaming with vibrant flowers in hand from Colombia Rd flower market. Vintage fans spin overhead, and what looks like incubator lights swing over the inbuilt bar that snakes over the right-hand wall. The ever-changing record player provides an eclectic playlist that ranges from Mexican jazz to rocky 70s soul. The whirring fans, the sunshine, and boisterous music mean it feels very much like Cuba in the 1960s, just without the looming missile crisis. Cool, my friend all very cool.
The drinks are the pull here, and my aren’t they a beguiling lot. Calling myself rather an expert (that’s professional lush for the older crowd) I am giddy with glee at the thoughtful approach to hooch detailed on the menu. Helpfully ranked in descending strength, with the crowd-pleasing Strawberry and Fig Leaf Campari-Negroni, Sbaglito, and Americano, at the top. We avoid these as we all know what a good Negroni tastes off, we are onto pastures newer and shinier this afternoon.
Oddest first I think is the rule. The Flor, a love child between a dirty martini, its onion-laced (odd) cousin the Gibson, and an Italian salad. Yes, that’s right, alcoholic gazpacho, this yellowish liquid looks innocuous but is the best, savoury, salty liquid I have put in my mouth for a while (mind out of the gutter please). Olive oil vodka and Fino sherry explain that palette-based contradiction. Discussing with one of the three charming and passionate staff on duty, it’s an easy steppingstone for the martini curious but afraid, as it’s still very much on the Bloody Mary side of things (Boujie Mary if you will).
The Apricot Gimlet is a summer staple for a reason, elderflower, and gin tangoing with the title fruit, starting a dance that barely feels like drinking.
The Triple Treat in its paper-thin glass and spinning massive square ice cube is a rather mysterious gentleman. Again, a disarming yellowish tone, it’s a vaguely lemonish (zesty Chinotto Nero) caffeine-brushed drink that is also somehow neither of these things, with fruity notes provided by the Calvados cider brandy. Pure witchcraft!
The No.16 is way down on the list and is an elevated Manhattan twist, with Byrrh (the popular French wine aperitif).
The Del Mago Bitter is a shocking red long drink, a spritz and softer friend to the Negroni, with kicks of rhubarb, woodworm, and quinine.
The Orange is the only disappointment, like a boozy Sunny D (although I may be showing my age with that simile) it is as simple as its name suggests.
There are ingenious pairings of rum and mezcal in the Ox Tommy and a whole page of Agaves (tequila in all but name from smaller producers). There are cocktails for every mood, along with classics available as well. Naturally, there is a very good (but not very cheap) wine list. Bottles begin at £32 and cocktails are mainly around £12 throughout so it could be an expensive visit if you, like me have very little self-control around well-made drinks.
Little agave succulents sit on tables, but this attention to detail so prominent in the booze selection and décor is rather absent in other spheres. I need to eat while I drink, I mean from a medical standpoint we all do. But especially my tongue forks most pointily without a stomach lining. Yet all that is on offer is some posh nuts (truffle kissed obviously) in an unsurprisingly small ramekin, cheese or ham crisps, ramekin-less and dumped down onto our table in their bags, (one of which was a shocking £7.5, FOR CRISPS?) olives and almonds. A rather measly offering from a bar doing so many things right. Take my money please but chuck me a pitiful plate of cheese and 3 crackers and I will thank you.
Like many couples on a Sunday this overflowing of disarming drinks sans-grub produced two things, sleepiness in my partner and the aforementioned snappiness in myself. On the wander home, we bickered like the best of them, I’m sure providing passers-by with the sort of minor domestic I so love to witness in others. Now, of course, I am by no means blaming this glorious establishment for the phenomenon. But with drinks this delectable, and snacks this unsubstantial, be warned fellow Sunday day trippers, the piper must always be paid in the end.
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