Until the review invite pinged into my inbox, I’d never heard of Grand Union bars. Yet there are actually eight of them scattered all over The Smoke, and suddenly I found myself heading to Farringdon with my galpal to check one of them out.
When we walk in, the upstairs is long and thin and booked out for a party. It’s pretty dimly lit even at 5pm and we descend with caution to a space much wider than I’d expected, a space that is big enough and open enough to dance in the centre of the room but private enough to spill secrets and do some snogging in the booths and areas around the edges.
Drinks menus are presented to us. They are old hardback books, stripped of their pages and replaced with several chapters of cocktails. As me and my friend were brought up on The Sound of Music, we started at the beginning, it being a very good place to start and all. ‘Chapter 1’ is fizz. We opted for a cherry thyme fizz which came served in a champagne flute adorned with a sprig of thyme shoved through a cherry. It’s quite an unusual pairing (Brownie points for that) and despite the brut fizz, it manages to retain some sweetness without being sickly.
I go for a Campari mint fizz. It’s thoroughly refreshing and comes with what must be genetically modified mint leaves – they are ENORMOUS. This one comes in a red wine glass so there’s basically gallons of it. There’s a LOT of ice too: it’s a bit bizarre to pop prosecco over ice, but the rules are obviously there to be broken for these guys.
Turning the page to ‘Chapter 2’ to discover the classics, I wonder if Grand Union will stay a little closer to tradition here. Of late I have made it my business to taste a negroni from each cocktail list I hold. There’s no messing about with extra flourishes here. It’s your standard one part gin (Bombay Saphire) to one part Campari and one part sweet vermouth. It’s good but the only thing that is exceptional is the size of it. It is massive and no sooner had I clapped eyes on it, I knew food was in order.
The grub menu is printed on tracing paper. Echoing the creativity of the two menus, the diner is invited to get a bit inspired by making their own pizzas and burgers by choosing from an impressive list of toppings and sauces. The pizzas are ok but the burgers are delicious! All burgers are double patties and come in a beautifully moist brioche bun. They are wrapped in diner-style greaseproof paper.
Grand Union offers something different from the other gastro chains. The burgers are as tasty as any mid-range pub grub, the cocktails are more imaginative than the bog standard and the décor is far better thought out than the majority of mid-range bars. Grand Union has got a really decent brand here and it probably should be more popular than it is.
55 Charterhouse Street
Tel: 020 7251 5259