Since launching in 2013, B.Y.O.C. (that’s ‘bring your own cocktails’ in case you’ve been hiding under a rock for three years) have gone on to cement themselves as top dogs in the new-age speakeasy scene. Their fourth site, B.Y.O.C. Ft. James Cochran, promises the same unique drinking concept (just bring your spirit of choice, and the masterful-mixologist will do the rest), with the added extra this time around of guests being able to chow down on a delicious menu from Michelin-trained young talent, James Cochran.
The venue is split over three floors, and if you like, you can visit each independently. The ground floor is where the restaurant operates, and it’s worth noting that unlike B.Y.O.C.’s other venues, you can, and should, buy alcohol here. Stripped back but with an undeniable air of coolness (especially in this over-worked area of town), the restaurant looks out onto a heavy foot-fall Great Windmill Street, just up from Shaftesbury Avenue.
The space is simple, and that’s reflected in the ambience and service. Our server on the night was friendly, fun, and super knowledgeable on all the dishes and ingredients, some of which are home-grown – which was a nice touch. The food here is top notch and innovative, but surprisingly, the atmosphere is warm, and oddly, even homely.
James Cochran was formerly a chef at the internationally-acclaimed, two-Michelin starred restaurant at The Ledbury (the 14th best in the world no less), and this venture represents his debut solo project. Menu-wise, it’s a mixed bag. A mixed bag of brilliant flavours, bold innovations and reasonable prices. Cochran combines modern British cuisine with his Caribbean roots to bring about an exceptionally-interesting foodie experience, all the while using fresh, and local produce. The small plates are great for sharing, and there’s plenty to choose from. The standouts were the Jamaican jerk buttermilk chicken, pickled scotch bonnets, corn nuts, coriander (£6), the braised short rib of red ruby beef, chocolate malt, celeriac, swiss chard, shallots, horseradish (£18) and the oozing Hackney nduja scotch egg (£6.50). All beautifully and carefully presented, full of flavour, and wholly individual. It’s not quirky for the sake of it (a pet peeve), but each dish shows personality, and moreover, it shows Cochran isn’t afraid to experiment with massive flavours either.
Once you’re done eating, you can head up to the speakeasy bar and experience B.Y.O.C.’s signature concept. The top floor is set up for smaller tables, and there’s a mid-way floor which can be hired out for bigger groups.
Guests pay a £25 cover charge on the door, and bring in their own spirits. Though it’s a bit of an alien concept to many - essentially paying for entry into a bar – when you see the standard of cocktails being produced here, you’ll quickly see it’s worth the price. The level of mixology is expectantly-excellent. For drinks of this calibre you’re usually looking at a price of around £10-£12 for the area; and when you consider you’ll likely knock back four or five, it suddenly becomes a lot more appealing. We brought our own gin – made by our own fair hands at the City of London Distillery – which let’s face it, might seem a little w*nky, but truthfully; we really just wanted to test out our mixologist. But predictably, he wasn't phased. Like, at all. Far from it in fact; he asked us what type of drinks we liked and what we didn’t like, then mixed up several different concoctions using his tray of adornments, bitters and potions – and every single one of them was completely delicious. If you’re like me and spend an unnaturally long time looking at cocktail menus, this is an ideal place to drink.
Great food, a cool concept and affordable prices; B.Y.O.C. ft. James Cochran is sure to follow the similar successes of the independent group’s other projects. The bar is notably-great, but the real star of this show has to be the restaurant for me. So if you can pop down and try it for yourself; then definitely do.