A while ago, one of my favorite bars in London turned into a soulless, lacklustre, commercial joke and, slightly distraught by this revelation, I never returned again. Last night, however, my faith in the London bar scene was restored by a visit to Clerkenwell & Social, which just opened in St. John's Square in (duh!) Clerkenwell this month.
Enchanted by its literary theme and intriguing cocktail menu (they make their own infusions in house), I recruited my publishing and book-loving partner-in-crime, Natalie, to sample some of Clerkenwell & Social's best cocktails and pizzas.
Clerkenwell is known for its foodie reputation: Modern Pantry's just around the corner, Bruno Loubet of Grain Store fame has opened Grain Store Unleashed nearby, and the Zetter Townhouse has long been known for its atmospheric bar. But Clerkenwell & Social won't have any problems holding its own, I don't think.
The cocktails are aptly named, but not obviously so: for example, "Black Luce" isn't a character who features in Shakespeare's plays, but rather one who is said to have inspired the "Dark Lady" of his sonnets. It was nice to see that a little extra thought had been taken into account, rather than the usual, lazy use of alliterative alias (ha, see what I did there?), which themed bars tend to do.
The same can be said of their infusions: Natalie's "Love is a Smoke" cocktail featured Merlot, Aperol, and Campari infused with home-made Louisiana-style bourbon, which was then infused with smoked apple-wood chips - a process that Bar Supervisor (and our host for the evening) Felix was all too happy to demonstrate:
My usual impulse when presented with such theatrical cocktail making is to laugh it off as a gimmick, but folks - this is serious. So seriously good. The smoked apple-wood chips give the cocktail an initial, intense hit of disorientation as the sweetness of the Campari and Aperol forms the next layer, and the bourbon forming the layer under that. I've never tasted such a multi-dimensional cocktail before. It's genius.
Thinking that I'd play the "safe" option (which, by the way, is not what you're supposed to do when exploring an experimental cocktail menu), I requested the "I See Lychee" cocktail: infused chilli gin paired with lychee liqueur, cranberry juice and lychee.
What I didn't expect, however, was for Felix to stop half-way through making this pretty pink cocktail to tear off a fluff of cotton candy and artfully pin it to a cocktail stick.
The point, as Felix explained, was to give the customer two options: either enjoy the cotton candy separately and on its own, or to sweeten the drink (and therefore reduce the kick of the chilli), dissolve the candy floss into the liquid. Of course, the child inside me couldn't resist doing the latter, and the beautiful pink cloud disappeared within seconds.
We took our drinks upstairs to admire the bar, before our pizzas arrived.
The thin-crust Neapolitan pizzas are the perfect accompaniment to Clerkenwell & Social's cocktails, but my advice is to get two to share, as ours were both equally delicious! As Natalie's vegetarian (they also have gluten-free options!), we chose the foraged spinach pizza and the Portobello mushroom pizza with Dolce Latte and truffle oil. To no one's surprise, the restaurant also has a range of their own chilli and garlic-infused oils, which are provided upon request.
To end the evening, we were (unbelievably!) treated to a chest - yes, that's right - of Clerkenwell & Social's spirit-infused shots.
Some sounded downright delicious (the bar's own version of Nutella infused with brandy), others interesting (white chocolate vodka), and some ... well, adventurous (Marmite vodka).
In case you're wondering, the Marmite vodka tastes a bit like gravy, Natalie has a photo of my face after I tried the mushroom (yes, really) vodka and it wasn't especially flattering ... but we both fell in love with the Nutella infused brandy and the caramel tequila, which tastes exactly like salted caramel. Felix, being the generous host he was, offered us two more for the road, and by the time we'd finished the chest, our volume levels were definitely a lot higher than before.
The shots can be ordered together in a flight of 8 (£20) or separately at £3.50 (the Nutella and brandy shot, my favorite, is £4.50 - which is no surprise, as I always pick the most expensive item in the room!).
After laughing more than I could remember in a long while and admiring the achingly cool aesthetic of Clerkenwell & Social's interiors, I could barely order a cab from my phone, let alone stumble out onto the cobblestones of St. John's Court without falling over. Oh, the woes of not being able to handle my drink - any drink.
The evening was still light and I could imagine many more summer evenings spent at Clerkenwell & Social to come. In fact, I just might book a table for Friday ...
Natalie and I were generously hosted by Clerkenwell & Social - thank you! The bar is currently running their #12DaysofSummer campaign - show your Facebook or Twitter post of a Clerkenwell & Social cocktail to bar staff and receive 2 for 1 on cocktails.
Huge thanks to Esosa at Truffle Social and Felix at Clerkenwell & Social for a fantastic evening! All opinions are my own.