Underneath the Italian-inspired Antico restaurant hides 214 Bermondsey, a dimly lit cocktail bar which specialises in gin. Signposted only by a temporary blackboard outside Antico’s, it’d be easy to walk straight past this Aladdin’s cave of mother’s ruin. Roll up gin lovers, this lot is going to take some getting through!
Thinking we’d been invited in to some sort of speakeasy, we tiptoed down the stairs, through the hallway and into a small cellar-like room. Exposed brickwork and low, cushion-laden sofas run around the parameter and give the place a cool but not at all pretentious feel. Turns out, in the borough of Southwark at around 7pm, 214 is not the little known secret I’d assumed! We descended into an excited buzz that would undoubtedly fill any bar boasting around 50 gins on its packed-out shelves.
Seated comfortably by the lovely and oh-so-knowledgeable manager Lawrence Mason, the gin-swilling commenced. First up is a 214 spin on a classic Collins. Made with Beefeater gin, lemon juice, sugar and ‘quite a bit of Campari,’ says Laurence, ‘this is the perfect palate cleanser.’ Three slurps in and the conclusion is that Campari works a treat – it’s preferable to the traditional soda water.
Warm up completed and Lawrence sets us our next task: a gin tasting challenge. We accepted, reluctantly of course. ‘Gin fights’ are trays of three different gins labelled from one to three. Using tasting notes from the menu, punters try to identify which is which before tearing open sealed envelopes and revealing just how astute their taste buds are.
The menu groups gins together, for example there is an ‘international’ flight featuring The Botanist from Scotland which has over 30 botanicals; No.209, an American equivalent of a London Dry, and the rosemary and thyme-heavy Gin Mare from Spain. Each is served with the same, homemade tonic. Lawrence explains that 214 feels that many of the supermarket tonics are a little sweet and distract from the taste of the gin. Take it from me, this is the most sophisticated and fun game one can play of an evening.
The taste sensation of the evening came from a London based gin name Butler’s. Sampled as part of a ‘Tour of London’ gin flight, its refreshing and crisp taste comes from lemongrass and cardamon and is far from the perfume-like taste one might associate with mother’s ruin.
Gin-sters, get yourself down there. And if there’s anyone less than impressed by gin in your friendship group, assure them 214 also has an impressive selection of other spirits plus a few wines and beers.
Tel: 020 7403 6875