As a self-confessed tiki lover, I’m all about the sweeter things in life. Cocktails containing fresh fruit, mixed with a little rum or shaken with a dash of egg are right up my street. If you’d handed me a drink made with Campari or Vermouth a couple of years ago, I would have winced in pain. Yet here I am in 2018; sipping away on Aperol Spritzes like a basic bitch without a care in the world. In fact, I never used to be so keen on the menu at the Worship Street Whistling Shop either, but I took my mature palate and headed on down to try their new cocktail list.
I knew there was only one person to take with me; the other half who I’d often visit with a few years back. We loved the dimly lit speakeasy which takes its name from the people who would stand outside secret bars and whistle a tune to signal the location of gin houses back in the Prohibition era. Situated on a nondescript Shoreditch side street, the subterranean bar is home to plush red velvet booths, globe tables and a bar where you can watch bartenders hand-cut ice and work their magic.
Cocktails are inspired by the Victorian age, from when the bar was built. Split between ‘high society’ and ‘low society’ concoctions, you’ll find aromatic creations like the Blood and Tears (£11) which combines gin with wine reduction, grapefruit and blood orange for a subdued taste and the sweeter Crambambull (£11); a creamy blend of rum and Madeira mixed with cacao, stout reduction and egg.
If you’re wondering why there are two prices next to each cocktail, that’s to signal the non-alcoholic versions that are available. Forget whisky-less whisky or brands like Seedlip, because booze-free blends are made in an in-house lab to complement the flavour profiles of each drink and simulate the taste and textures of alcohol. You’ll never find me eyeing up an alcohol-free cocktail (maybe I have a problem...) but for those after a drink that doesn’t taste like juice, this is your place.
With over 120 bottles of gin on offer, Whistling Shop is a juniper-lover’s dream, though the latest menu features a wide range of spirits. Mr Merdle (£12) was a dangerously drinkable combination of cognac, calvados, quince, lemon, cinnamon and sage served in a frosty sugar-dusted glass, while the nutty Duchess of Bedford (£12) mixed shortbread and earl grey vodka with wine reduction and bitters, before topping with a Biscoff biscuit.
Working our way through the menu, the other half inhaled the scotch-centric Pit Eye (£10) and Queen of Victoria (£12) while I thought I’d finish on the Little Nipper (£10). Just like a cheese plate after dinner, this short sip was a savoury end to the night. Vodka, soured apple and cranberry jam topped with a red Leicester foam was a surprisingly impressive result. If you like Marmite, then you’ll love this.
The DesignMyNight Digest
When it comes to atmospheric surroundings, good drinks and great chat, the guys at Whistling Shop have nailed it. Whether you’re looking for short and boozy or long and floral, they have it all. Bar manager and fellow tiki-lover Sergio will even whip you up a fruity off-menu concoction if you ask nicely enough. So, next time you’re in east London, keep an eye out for the not-so-secret gin house and prepare to indulge on tipples from a bygone era.