Expect the unexpected they always say. Well my expectations were surely challenged during my latest bar review…
A short ride away in Hackney, Allyn and I sought out a cool spot for a cocktail, away from the dribbling rain of a cold Tuesday evening. Following our map we were taken to a quiet street, our heads scanning the rows of closed shops and all night fast food for some neon lights showing the way. Looking at where my phone wanted me to go, I suddenly saw a simple sign… BAR. To the left a narrow entrance was concealed by the darkness of the sky. Only when we got closer and looked up did we see a faint reflective name confirming we had reached our destination. Behind This Wall, or behind this mysteriously lit staircase as it soon became.
Allyn followed me down the steps into a basement where I reached a pair of velvet curtains, voices to be heard behind. As I pulled one aside I was closely greeted by a small group of people gathered around a tiled bar. The man across the counter serving crafted drinks welcomed us over, showing us to a table in the far corner of the room, a basic panelled set up.
The interiors were my first surprise. When I imagine the place where I’ll sip on a cocktail and catch up with those around me, I think of plush cosy comforts, low lighting and a quiet background playlist that gets you unintentionally nodding along. Instead I was met with cold bare furnishings, with contrasting large vases and tealights. The comfort factor was almost there, a cushion or few more and I would have been more at ease.
The atmosphere itself was refreshingly non pretentious for what is probably called a ‘hipster’ part of town. Everyone felt welcome and was greeted and spoken to like a friend.
A record player filled the space with loud beats, anything and everything from African soul to more electric sounds. Every now and then the room would fall silent as the barman changed the record, adding to the relaxed ambience.
Sat on our bench we looked over Behind This Wall’s latest cocktail menu, a two page spread of 12 natural potions using fresh ingredients that avoid unnecessary sugars and additives. I was pleasantly surprised by the reasonable prices starting at £6 for a small glass with a side snack to £9 for a richer drink.
For our first choice we ordered two Digestifs, a Vieux over Manhattan and Salem Witch Reviver. The first was a mix of 100 proof rye, sweet vermouth, pisco, herbal liqueur, cold apple cedar smoke and orange. Simply served in a short tumbler, it was light and festively fruity with a heavy sharp taste of vermouth that left a slightly tangy after taste.
The latter was poured into a classic glass, a rich syrup of white rum, coffee liqueur and maraska liqueur, complete with a maple-candied apple slice that provided a sweet note to its strong aromatic scent. A sip of this cocktail was my highlight of the night and a drink that I would go back for.
Whilst we sipped away and talked through our days, a short menu was delivered to tempt our stomachs. We decided on a small sample of dishes that were cooked up and prepared behind another secret wall.
The first, a platter of Vermont cheddar pieces piled next to sweet maple-candied fruits on an ice cold block. Each bite was sweet and tangy, and went perfectly with our first drink selections, particularly the refreshing sharp taste of the Vieux over Manhattan.
Next came a generous handful of chilli-roasted cashews served in a beautiful seashell bowl.
Our last dish was a recommended combination of the bar’s most recognisable food, Oyster Poké. Every evening between 6-7pm, Behind this Wall hosts an oyster happy hour, also saving 3 small dishes for a bigger appetite.
Together came a pumpkin oyster and clam chowder served with black rice, switchel glaze, lime pickled onions, lemon sea foam, Chesapeake seasoning and toasted pumpkin seeds. Both the oyster and clam burst like an egg yolk, a silky flavoursome dressing spilling out over the rice and refreshing thinly sliced onions. The lemon sea foam only increased the overall citrus flavour of the dish. There was seeming to be a theme to Behind this Wall’s flavour wheel – sharp, light, refreshing.
Whilst we waited for a second round of cocktails, I explored our surroundings. The small basement contained a range of booths and bar stools to perch between scattered flowers and intriguing poster art.
Before we knew it we had another drink in front of us. This time a supposedly fruitier long serving called the Pondicherry Sling. Containing genever, cherry heering, rosé vermouth, triple sec, lemongrass tonic, kaffir lime leaf and missing a bourbon cherry, this drink wasn’t quite up to the standard of the first round. With Allyn and I having a similar distaste for tonic water, we were slightly disappointed to find that this was the dominant taste. I had expected more of a citrus and cherry tang but it was missing.
My final drink was the bar’s signature Raj Gin Fizz, a skillfully made complex cocktail of Saffron gin, triple sec, grapefruit sour, agave, double cream, egg white, bourbon vanilla soda and more grapefruit. Said to be time consuming to create and a heavier cocktail perfect for finishing your night on, I was surprised by the quick delivery and intrigued by its appearance.
A nice thick layer of citric foam topped the drink, pierced by two thin straws. My taste buds struggled with this one. It was strongly flavoured by grapefruit yet silky due to the cream ingredient. My expectations had envisioned a thicker liquid, not necessarily a bad thing but I couldn’t quite make sense of a milky substance tasting a little sour. I’ve heard and read many a good response to the drink so can only conclude that it came to a matter of taste.
My last cocktail almost felt like a representation of the bar itself. There were many parts that I liked and would recommend, but together perhaps it needed more… some comforting corners to cosy up in and a fruity garnish to add a sugary element for those with a sweet tooth.
Looking over at the group by the bar, I considered what brought them here. A friend serving up his latest creations, a local spot to meet in, a bar that offers snacks like none other.
If you enjoy an oyster or ten with your bitter sweet cocktails than you may want to venture beyond Behind This Wall. Perhaps bring a cushion.
Our drinks and food at Behind This Wall were complimentary. As always all views are my own, no matter how many oysters and vermouth is consumed.