Head here if… you want to be part of something fab, funky and fun in the heart of Shoreditch.
You’d be hard pressed to beat Callooh Callay for first-class cocktails and sheer inventiveness. Cool without taking itself too seriously..
First Things First
Like the name implies, Callooh Callay is a place for fun-loving people, just like owner Richard Wynne created when he managed Lounge Lover. It helps if you veer towards the trendy east London side of things, too. On our visit the main room at the front was packed with a mixed crowd of 20/30-something lovelies all entering into the spirit of things. Quite literally. It was as if everyone was taking Alice’s lead, going for their own adventure in wonderland by sipping anything that beckoned ‘Drink Me’.
Top of the list was the Mad Hatter’s Tiki Punchbowl (Seven Tiki rum, crème de peche, rhubarb and ginger juice, freshly squeezed lemon and plenty of Angustora and grapefruit bitters). And it was easy to see why. From an economic point of view it came up trumps, serving 3-5 happy drinkers for a Credit Crunch-tastic £20, while on the style front, what’s not to like about a punchbowl made to look like a gramophone (complete with a dramatic horn)? Straws are provided to make light work of the sharing experience.
For those who prefer to keep their drinks to themselves, the photograph album-styled, fabric-covered menus displayed some of the most imaginative, exciting alcoholic concoctions we’d seen in a while. Take your pick from Classics, Connoisseur or Disco, and rest assured Sean Ware and the rest of the team behind the bar will shake up a storm.
Step through the cleverly designed Wardrobe (oh yes, C.S. Lewis also gets a look-in in this grown up fairytale) and enter an even larger, darker, clubbier room bubbling with an enthusiastic, no less trendy crowd. We were given a private viewing of the third, as yet unopened space upstairs which is destined to become the most coveted drinking spot in town. Think comfy-cool lounge with its own bespoke bar and you’ve got the right idea.
Looks aside, there were many wondrous things about this place. The drinks were on par with any of the swanky hotel bars, the food as dead tasty and the barmen were clearly loving their job beyond the call of duty. But what set CC apart from anything else was the fun and originality which had gone into its creation. Seems like Lewis Carroll and his nonsensical rhyme was pretty clever after all.
We visited so early into its incarnation that there was no signature drink to speak of. However, being a willing student Ms S was delighted to be educated on the merits of the Lazy Mexican Margarita (Ocho Reposado tequilia, roasted red pepper, oregano syrup, lemon juice, served on the rocks with paprika and sugar rim finish). Ooh, hello! If only all lessons were as interesting as this, there would be no room left at the top of the class. Here was a drink mixed with confidence – that was evident even before taking a sip. The presentation got Ms S first - the intriguing paprika and sugar rim not only gave an almost magical jewel-like effect to the Collins glass but also added an extra depth to the flavour of the expertly blended, very carefully put together cocktail. It went down like an absolute dream. A fabulous choice.
Checking out the classic Gin Martini time after time could leave Mr G with a jaded palate. Not so when delights like this are in store. Things looked good from the off when there was actually a Gin Martini listed under Classics, just where it belongs. At Callooh Callay they mix it with Tanqueray No. Ten, Noilly Prat and a twist of grapefruit. It arrived looking pretty good in a 1930’s style glass with the aforementioned grapefruit peel big, fat, rugged and sloping in the glass in a Robert Mitchum, devil-may-care kind of way. But like Mitch the presence of the peel wasn’t just to look good. The lovely aroma of the grapefruit set things up nicely. The temperature was just right – cold enough for the drink to say ‘let me introduce myself’ but not too much to stop the Tanq 10 coming through to say ‘you know what, I’m actually the star of this show’. And the grapefruit worked well with this partner for a refreshing dryness and a breakfast-like quality (gin, martinis, breakfast, let’s not go there). Putting the Tanq 10 and grapefruit together was a very good idea. Simple, full of flavour, lovely finish. A delicious martini. And at £7.50 this was an act of kindness and love.
So, Mr G looked beyond the name Afternoon Twee to the content (Hendricks Gin, muddled with fresh blackberries, lavender sugar, maraschino liqueur, apple juice, lime and orange bitters) and was rewarded for doing so. What a sublime drink. Served long with a sprig of mint which gave it a lovely aroma (obviously). Not too dry, not too sweet, this drink was invented and mixed with real knowhow. Like many good recipes Mr G couldn’t put his finger on a single ingredient or taste but found a full experience. Just alcoholic enough, refreshing too – a great summer alternative to the Mojito. Fab.
So much for the male side of things, what did Ms S make of her Delicious Sour (Courvoisier VSOP Exclusif, Crème de Peche and lemon, frothed with egg white served over ice)? Put it this way: not for nothing had it been given its name. It’s good to see that Sours are making a comeback, especially when they are concocted with such flair. Ms S swooned over the slightly sweet, slightly sour taste, commenting that not only was it gorgeous to look at but it was even better to taste. She loved the elegant way the ingredients came together to create a drink that refreshed the parts that others could only hope to reach.
And to eat?
The fact is, it wouldn’t matter if the food didn’t quite match the quality of the drinks but it really did. The bar menu looked good broken down into Credit Crunch Lunch at £5, Hearty Dishes starting from £8.50 and a Tasting Menu devised for thirsty people to share. Ms S went for caramelised onion pasties and Mr G for slow braised pork belly with creamy mash and apple sauce. These were sharing portions but on the very generous side. If we had been served these kind of measures in a restaurant we would have been very happy. But what made the neat dishes work so well is that they sat so well with the drinks. Speaking of which, if you just want a very light snack, don’t miss the devilishly moreish roasted macademia nuts with rosemary.
Look Out For
The wardrobe to step through. The gramophone punch bowls. And the third bar – not yet open, but we will definitely be going back to check it out.
What’s the damage?
At £6.50 to £8.50 for these kinds of cocktails what’s not to like?
Ms S says:
A great bar to kick back and relax (while keeping an eye out for talent, obviously). Wonderful cocktails, good vibe, good crowd.
Mr G says:
How can somewhere so eminently bonkers produce such eminently fabulous cocktails?
Callooh Callay, 2 Rivington Street, London, EC2A 3AY. T: 020 7739 4781. Find it here