Much has been said in the past about how dark it is in the Worship Street Whistling Shop (try saying that three times fast), but it bears repeating: this is a really dark bar.
Nestled underground, and with just dim lights to suit its quasi-Victorian aesthetic, visibility drops to about zero by the time you’re halfway down the stairs. If you were caught in a torrential downpour on your way there and your glasses are dripping wet, it becomes even harder to navigate without tripping over yourself, a stool, or another patron. Still, if you can successfully make your way to a table in one piece, it’s probably worth it.
Well, that’s if you can make it past the menu first. In the dark.
Inspired by the astronomical orrery, the cocktails are “mapped by flavour and in accordance to the elements or Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water.” It’s about as helpful a system as that makes it sound, not least given that the whole thing is in a circle, leaving you constantly rotating as you go, hoping not to bash your neighbour along the way. Oh, and some of the drinks are hidden online behind a QR code. Which you have to scan in the dark. And the drinks aren’t marked directly with their price – instead there are dots, and a helpful key that converts from dots to GBP. Call me old-fashioned, but I can’t help but feel that any menu that requires a key to interpret might be just a tad overly complex.
Still, this is the London cocktail scene, and if an astronomically fiddly menu is what you need to help your bar stand out from the mob of competitors, I’m sympathetic. As long as your drinks are worth the work.
I sample two on my visit, both featuring Woodford Reserve. The Neck Oil No.2 partners the small batch bourbon with barrel-aged duck fat cider, Hennessy apple brandy, and bitters. The result is a drink that earns its name, smooth and sweet, with a light finish. It’s eminently drinkable, the sort of cocktail you could knock back a few of without really blinking. In short, it’s dangerous stuff, though perhaps a bit more punch wouldn’t hurt.
The Kinoko Manhattan is a different affair, lurking behind the QR code for those curious enough to find it. Presumably they trust that by the time you get there you’re going to feel committed, as it’s a stiff £18, though that perhaps reflects the work that’s gone this twist on the classic Manhattan: Woodford Double Oaked serves as the whiskey base, partnered with honey pomelo curacao and kombucha vermouth fermented with lapsang souchong tea. The heavy, smoky lapsang dominates the nose, but this is really about the exquisitely long, dry finish as the bourbon slowly exerts its dominance over your palate. This is a drink with depth, the sort of thing that stops you in your tracks, conversation falling to the wayside as you try to puzzle it out.
Overall on Woodford Reserve at Worship Street Whistling Shop: great drinks, complicated menu, bring a torch.
Words by Dominic Preston
Photography by Josh Linfitt