My opinions on the Old Fashioned aren’t quite as strong as those of this publication’s erstwhile food editor, who’d consider flinging a crystal tumbler into the nearest brick wall if it had actual fruit in it. But my cocktail convictions are pretty strong. The making and perfecting of Old Fashioneds in particular has consumed many of my Friday nights, as well as numerous Thursdays (OK, Mondays). So there was no way in hell I was going to turn down an invitation to ‘Discover the Myths and Legends of the Old Fashioned Bar’ down at the World’s End Market, Stoptober or the sheer weirdness of going to Chelsea be damned.
The bar’s above the old World’s End pub, nowadays a handsome dining spot, and it certainly is a classy number, tastefully wood-panelled and adorned with Lorenzo Agius’ portrait photography. The bar itself houses an intimidating array of spirits and vessels, and once the oysters are ordered we take a tour through the exotic fare that makes up the cocktail menu.
There are dozens available, thanks to the high-end mixology and deep reservoir of whiskies behind the bar, but we focus on the mythic, mysterious signature cocktails that give thought not only to flavour but to presentation. The Fairy Fay is partly an homage to Jack the Ripper – an odd choice, but stay with me – and as such it turns up in a lantern. This is more appropriate than you know, because it’s so easy to drink that a few of these will certainly turn your lights out: Johnnie Walker Gold and absinthe join the bitters and VSOP to kick-start your night. Conversely, the Stigos (‘key to immortality’) is refreshing and uplifting, with Havana Club, honey, lemon juice and vanilla all in the mix, transporting us from drizzly Autumn to sparkling summer.
The big beasts come out next, in a literal sense: the ‘Mysterious Beast’ is a cocktail based improbably on the peatiest of monsters, former World Whisky of the Year, the Ardbeg Uigedail. Throw in chilli-infused sugar, cardamom bitters and orange and you have a cocktail that struggles to be contained – so much so that it arrives chained down to a wooden plinth.
To finish we have the first and only mezcal cocktail I’ve ever had that works: ‘To be, or not to be’ comes in an exquisite glass skull, because of course it does, and combines mezcal, apple elixir, agave lapsang tea infusion, lime and salt. After my Mexican travels I am a convert to the ways of the sacred agave and it takes something pretty special for me to tolerate someone diluting it. But this Shakespearian number does the job beautifully, keeping the smoky sweetness of the mezcal but lightening it with the tea and citrus. Drain the skull at your first opportunity.
After drinking so deeply it seemed unwise to continue through the menu, but there are barrel-aged Old Fashioneds, Old Fashioneds served in books, a full flavour map of neat whiskies; just about anything you could think to ask for could probably be conjured up in a few minutes by the wizards behind the bar. If every trip to Chelsea is like this, I’d make the effort much more often.
For more information about the Old Fashioned Bar, including details of the Worlds End Market, visit www.theworldsendmarket.com.