Saturday, 18 January 2014

Speakeasy bars of Liverpool

Readers of my blog will know I have a soft spot for roof top bars, there's nothing like enjoying a glass of something cold with a view to die for ( a lazy sightseer) . But what of the winter when most rooftops are closed ? Step forward the speakeasy ! 

My new passion for this style of drinking den began when I visited a couple of speakeasy's in London during my birthday weekend in October. Most notably "The Blind Pig"  ( slang for a speakeasy) & "The mayor of scaredy cat town" but more of them in another blog. 

A speakeasy was a term used for an illegal drinking establishment during the prohibition era in America  between 1920-1933 and so called because owners of such establishments would encourage their patrons to "be quiet" or " speakeasy" so not to attract attention to the law and the name stuck. 

Most drinking dens were forced to go underground or pose as some other establishment altogether but inside I imagine they would have been magical , dramatic , heady and thrilling with a small amount of fear of being arrested thrown in to the mix... A good night out in my view. 
You can watch this video clip on the history of the speak easy HERE or check out this quick reference on Wiki HERE

Not surprisingly after prohibition ended in 1933 most establishments disappeared. 
Today we see a massive return of bars based on the speakeasy era and they are popping up regularly in most cities. They have become trendy, retro and some uber cool but for me it's the fun of finding them and sampling their wonderful drinks.  

Still in-keeping with secrecy most speakeasy's do not have a sign outside or will pose a some other establishment. For example this bar "Dusk till Pawn" in Manchester's Northern Quarter posses as a Pawn shop. 

Some are hidden within a bar e.g behind a secret bookcase, through a Smeg fridge, through a W.C cubicle etc. Some bars require you to know a secret password, others a punch code to be entered into an electronic keypad. 

Speakeasy bars like regular bars serve beer, wine and spirits etc but it's all about the cocktail. It's here where bartenders love to show off their creativeness. The classics are still there along with twist on the classics but you will also find some downright weird and wonderful concoctions served in equally dramatic receptacles.  

After enjoying a few speakeasy's in London I decided to check out a few in Liverpool. First up was " Berry and Rye". Clue to this bar's whereabouts is in the name. It's on Berry street, look for the building with two black doors and blacked out window. Only one door will open, the one with number 48 on it won't budge but the other will. Once inside you will encounter a thick black curtain step behind this and you are in Berry and Rye. 

Berry and Rye is very small inside but it felt very cosy, a bare brick interior and very dimly lit. 
Intimate booth seats with industrial lights hanging overhead line the way to the bar which is in the middle. The rear of the bar where we sat is a little more spacey with a longer table for groups. We were brought glasses of iced water whilst we looked at the cocktail menu which is cleverly hidden in between the pages of old books. 

The music and atmosphere was great but I was itching for the ghost of Duke Ellington to pound out some tunes on the piano I was seated next too. 

The cocktails were very good but I was slightly disappointed with my Singapore sling, it seemed to have the addition of soda water which in my view weakened the taste slightly. That said I've only ever had a sling once before and that was at the Long bar in Raffles hotel when I visited Singapore. The recipe there does not include soda and I make them at home to the same recipe so for me it's just a question of personal taste but you'll find no other gripes here. Berry and Rye is a fab place, one which I will certainly revisit and recommend.

You can follow Berry and Rye on Twitter @berry_and_rye 
Open 5pm-late Monday to Saturday. 7pm- 1am Sunday.

This is by far the most intriguing speakeasy to visit in Liverpool in the way of gaining an entrance.
81ltd is an invite only bar, firstly you have to find it's location? The clue is "you will find this bar above the best place to enjoy a stein and a brine" ? If I said beer and hot dogs ? Still no ? Then a quick Google of that clue would bring you to .... (Spoiler alert) ..... Salt Dog Slims ! Located at 79 Seel street.

OK now you know where, how about getting that invite ? 
Well firstly 81ltd is hidden behind an electronically locked door and you need to get a code to unlock that door. 

So I followed 81ltd on Twitter @81ltd and politely asked how I go about receiving an invite? 
The reply was Hi, text your name and party size to 07803 361 052 and @slinkybears will text you back with this evenings code.  Slinkybears by the way is the hostess who greets you once inside so be sure to say hello with a smile. 

I loved this, very clandestine like and sets you up for a night of intrigue if nothing else .
Arriving outside Salt Dog Slims we were met by a burly bouncer who we informed we were here to visit 81ltd, he asked us if we had the code then pointed us in the right direction at the very back of the bar. Once up some stairs you are met by this black door complete with electronic key pad, punch in the code and your in ! First impression is you've arrived at the hall of mirrors and it's very disorientating (in a good way) but at the end we were met by a very pleasant hostess (@slinkybears) 

Inside you'll find a bar that stretches the entire back wall, there are cosy booths opposite and a segregated table behind bars that looks almost like a prison cell.

Atmoshpere was very lively to the point of club like by the end of our visit, a DJ belted out some wicked 80's tunes.

The cocktail menu here is superb, I wanted to drink my way through it for the names alone ! 
 "Siberian truth serum", "Paddingtons Marmalade", "I left my heart in a Venezuelan Whorehouse" 
Quite a few come with interesting story's attached , one drink in particular "Captain Monkey's tail Curler"  instructs you to ask the bar tender to tell you the fantastical story of how the gin in this cocktail got it's name.

The one thing I noticed with 81ltd as with some of the speakeasy's in London, is you don't leave by the same door you came in. it's key to keeping the secret alive.

Another bar on my hit list was Dillingers, this secret bar is hidden behind this bookcase in Sapphire lounge on Bold street. A private party put a stop to our visit.
So I will be updating this blog after my visit.

Jenny's Bar 
Many years ago I visited (at the time) a very upmarket restaurant in the business district of Liverpool called Jenny's seafood restaurant. It's the very same place that is now Jenny's bar. Stepping in immediately transported my back to that snug little basement restaurant. Jenny's bar is the sleeker big sister of Berry & Rye.

Similar to some speakeasies I've visited in London the bartenders here dress in early Victorian style. I love a bar with table service, It's impeccable here. My visit was just before Christmas and I had been drinking cocktails with festive ingredients. I couldn't find a suitable one on menu. Not a problem here the bartender can knock up any drink you like off menu, he suggested a Brandy Alexander. It was Divine! My partners Grasshopper was equally wonderful.

Sorry about image quality, Jenny's is a very dimly lit bar and using flash in bars and restaurants is a bit of a no no for me. 

                           Brandy Alexander 

Inside Jenny's you will also find a Whisky emporium style shop just inside the doorway. Besides Whisky you'll find spirits, liqueurs and bitters, everything you'll need to make your cocktail.
I picked up some Bobs chocolate bitters whilst there. I will certainly be making this a to go destination when looking for specialist drinks, there's no where like it to my mind in Liverpool. And whilst there it would be a sin to not try another cocktail !

Jenny's bar can be found in the business district of town. At the Old Ropery, Fenwick street. Just look for the old Jenny's seafood restaurant sign that still hangs over the door. 

You can follow Jenny's on twitter @jennys_bar 
whiskey business @LplWhisky 

Some Place 
After discovering the whereabouts of this bar I was immediately intrigued to try it, for three  reasons. In no particular order! 
1) This bar was brought to fruition by the same team as Berry & Rye and Jenny's bar! 
2) It's a Speakeasy! 
3) I love Absinthe !

I just knew I would be in for a treat. Some Place is a beautiful little speakeasy bar specialising in Absinthe and Absinthe based cocktails. 
lovingly nicknamed by many as "the green fairy" she's certainly sprinkled her fairy dust here.

I won't wax lyrical of the drinks infamous history or the era of all its famous drinkers,You can Google that! And this wonderful site on everything you want to know about the Absinth ritual

But soon as you enter Some place you'll encounter a seating area that looks like it's been reserved for Hemingway.

In a haze of dark green light you'll encounter simple sleek style tables stretching the length of the place, murals and framed art work of historical absinthe drinkers by Liverpool based artist Michael Lacey line the walls which gives it a quirky vibe.

The star of the show without doubt are the beautiful Absinthe fountains that line the bar. 

Skipping the cocktail list for once we decided to drink Absinthe the traditional way. After all the fountains were too pretty to ignore. Our bartender ( who was a very knowledgeable chap) filled the fountain up with iced water then set three glasses of the green nectar under each spout. A cube of sugar was then placed on a perforated Absinthe spoon. The taps were turned on, slowly dripping the iced water on to the dissolving sugar which then dripped into the green liquid, a term known as Louching . This gives the Absinthe a cloudy appearance, and the sugar sweetened the bitter Absinthe, it's a mesmerising ritual, pure theatre.

In true speakeasy style there is no sign for this bar.
Clue to finding Some Place - The bar is in Seel street, look for the green light so look up as you walk Seel street.

(Spoiler alert ) it's above Zanzibar . 

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Coq Au Vin

Now winter has truly taken hold this is the time I like to make those comforting winter dishes. Stews and casseroles are very easy to make and take up hardly anytime at all.
Usually I like to chuck everything into the slow cooker and let it bubble away whilst I'm at work. Today however I started cooking too late for a slow cooking method.

So after looking at chicken casserole recipe's on the Internet Coq Au Vin seemed to fit the bill, aside from the prep you will have your casserole in around one and a half hours. I love french cooking and anything simmered in wine is a winner for me so Coq Au Vin it was. 

There are many different versions out there but they all use the similar holy trinity of veg, Onion, carrot and celery along with bacon or Pancetta and wine, very similar to Beef bourguignon. A stew doesn't have to be followed to the letter for example if the recipe calls for one carrot and you have three use them ! This is what I did with this recipe which is loosely based on a Nigel Slater recipe. You can view this here.
I Just added what I had left in my fridge. So here is how I made my Coq Au Vin. 

Have a go it's delicious. 

1 whole chicken cut into six pieces, you should get 2 breasts, two thighs with drummers attached, two wings.
40g Butter 
130g Cubed Pancetta 
1 large onion roughly chopped
3 Carrots 1 diced the other two roughly chopped ( for texture) 
3 Celery sticks roughly chopped
2 fat cloves garlic sliced
2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp spoons of Cognac
1 bottle of Burgundy wine 
Couple of bay leaves and a couple of sprigs of Thyme
Shallots however many you want
Large handful of mushrooms 

Start by chopping all your vegetables and weighing out your butter and flour.

Next joint your whole chicken into various cuts . The carcass can be used for stock so there is no waste.

Season your chicken pieces with salt and pepper.

In a large casserole pan melt half the butter and fry the Pancetta until it's just starting to turn golden then lift out of the pan and set aside.

Add your chicken to the pan and cook till the skin is a light pale golden colour then turn and cook the other side. This should only take a couple of minutes each side.

 Remove the chicken pieces  from the pan and set aside with the Pancetta. 

Next add your onion, carrots and celery to the pan and cook gently till the onions go slightly translucent

By now the base of your casserole pan will start to develop sticky brown bits, this is normal and where Much of the flavour will come from. At this point add your garlic and cook for a minute longer.

In a separate pan add the remainder of the butter and colour your mushrooms and shallots.

Return your Chicken and Pancetta to the casserole pan and add the flour, cook for a minute then add your Cognac and wine. Give the whole pan a stir scrapping as much of the sticky bits of the base and sides of the pan as you can. 

Add the herbs , Mushrooms and Shallots. 

Turn the heat down to a simmer and cover your casserole pan with a tight fitting lid. Let the casserole simmer away for around one hour. 

After one hour check if the chicken is cooked through , if it is lift out and set aside. 
Turn the heat up under the sauce and reduce by half, then return the chicken. 

I served the Coq Au Vin with creamy mash potatoes and Brussel tops.