Opened in late December 2012, just in time for New Year’s Eve, XOXO has managed to create a food and drinks menu which marries classic cocktails, such as the Pornstar Martini, and modernised cocktails like the XOXO Martini, with great tasting food.

Ambience and Decor

Being an Islington bar its decor was very ‘Islington chic’, which I regard as deep reds, metallic silvers and lots of black. I find this darkened colour scheme works well in bars, because it’s chilled and easy on the eyes. The only thing that didn’t work for me was the booth lighting which was a bit bright considering the rest of the bar’s ambient blue lighting. Despite this, the mood was well set.

 

The blacks and reds at XOXO bar

 

Clientele and Atmosphere

When I first arrived (7:30pm on a Friday night) it wasn’t particularly busy, but it appeared to be those enjoying their post work drinks. As the evening progressed, it attracted the clientele expected from Islington: It’s the trendy, chic crowd that you regularly see in Islington frequenting the multitude of cool, sexy bars and cocktail lounges, which helps bring character to this bar.

Chilled and non-pretentious is the kind of atmosphere you want while drinking and as well as the food, the atmosphere was one of the things I was exceedingly happy with. Many new bars these days pop up and think that being snotty is the way to go, it really isn’t. The staff are friendly, chatty and don’t take themselves too seriously so this provides the relaxed and welcoming feel that many bars lack.

 

The chic moody interior at XOXO bar, Islington

Drinks

I started off with the Easy Emerald, which was pleasant, floral and smooth on the palate. The fragrant flavour you would expect from Hendricks is successfully combined with the cucumber used in the drink. It works well as it complements the pre-existing hints of coriander in the gin. It’s the type of drink I could see being sipped outside on a beautiful summer’s day. It’s quite strange as I can’t stand kiwi or cucumber but this really hit the spot. Another drink I had was custom-made with Zubrowka (I like floral spirits). It was impeccable, especially as the lavender and thyme hints from the vodka sat very well with the passion fruit included in the drink. I would also recommend the Pornstar and XOXO Martinis.

I was a tad disappointed regarding the “classic” drinks. I’ve got a strong preference for Dirty Martinis and I couldn’t have one as they had no olives. They couldn’t make an Espresso Martini either. Shame. I found the Italian Job too bitter but my friends thought it was spot on; I’m just picky. Some drinks lacked balance, as the sweetness overpowered the other flavours. Other problems were bartenders asking what ‘rum’ my friend would like in his Tommy’s Margarita (a tequila based drink), then asking what it was. A knowledgeable bar team is paramount to a successful cocktail bar.

 

XOXO bar, Islington

Food

When I browsed the food menu I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and what I fancied. I went for a sharing platter, duck dish and Pad Thai. Many bars have food menus that are tacked on to keep people interested; it’s most often a bitter disappointment and poorly thought out. XOXO delivered and delivered it perfectly. The sharing platter would be ideal for 2-3 persons while kicking back over a few drinks. The ‘Ped Grop Nam Ma-Kham’, was mouth-watering: Its use of chilli and tamarind sauce gave it a smooth, spiced, warming taste which settled well with the duck. Finally Pad-Thai, a personal favourite and the dish up for the most scrutiny; I’ve been eating Pad-Thai for over 10 years, in both foreign and domestic restaurants but this has been one of the best so far (even though I usually prefer it with more chilli and sauce).

Music

What good music! I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in bars, it’s been the same old ‘latest dance’ songs and I’ve wanted to either throttle the DJ or tear the speakers from the walls. The music here is modern and enjoyable but not the overly popular stuff we get sick of hearing, though I can’t really place a name or genre to it. There’s also a dance floor at the back of the bar, and many of the tunes are just right for dancing to. I was told by the bartenders that later on in the evenings, when they get busier, many people get up and start to dance.

 

Booths and banquettes at XOXO bar, Islington, London

Summary

My use of the words trendy and chic might come across a bit over the top but that’s exactly what XOXO is. With a veritable mix of great Thai food and some very interesting cocktails, this suits the area perfectly. I’d definitely consider XOXO a gastronomic bar rather than a bar all about the cocktails.

If you come to Islington regularly and/or consider yourself very much part of the ‘Islington crowd’, then definitely stop by here. If you’re big on mixology and you know far too much about cocktails, then this may not be the right spot for you. However, as a new bar it obviously needs some finessing but if you are looking for cool after work drinks, a place to impress a date or even a bar where you can have a little dance then I would definitely give it a chance as I believe it is going to grow and become a new Islington must.

Budget: Happily Affordable

Pre-designs: After-work drinks, Cocktails & Dancing, Impress a date, Bar with great food

Service: 4/5