411 Mare Street, E8 1HY
The Carouser head to the launch of the winter menu at Behind This Wall -an underground, ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ bar at the end of Mare Street, Hackney. If it wasn’t for the luminous ‘Bar’ sign outside, I could have easily walked past and carried on to Clapton. That said, it’s only a short walk from Hackney Central overground station.
Hackney can sometimes feel a little manic, what with so much going on around every corner. It’s a welcome surprise to walk down the stairs and find myself entering a softly lit room with several alcoves and a bar. The decor is fairly minimal and chic, with light jazz records playing in the background. Upon entering, the staff all seem very friendly, and direct me towards a corner seat illuminated only by a small lamp and two tea lights.
As someone who’s into health and wellbeing, I’m quite interested to see how the bar’s ‘low sugar’ ethos is explored in these colder months. Having also read that the cooking techniques and ingredients are an ode to winter, I am curious to see how it will work.
Upon scanning the menu, I notice that the cocktails are split into three sections – Aperitif, Highball and Digestif. I order the aptly named Beer-Tini containing vodka, chilli liqueur, coffee liqueur, pickle juice, tiki bitters and whipped weisse beer. It’s a daring mix of ingredients, but I immediately love the kick that I get from the chilli and the saltiness from the pickle juice. Weisse beer is one of my current alcoholic obsessions and the whipped version on top of the cocktail adds a nice touch. It’s a very warming drink with a herbal undertone.
To compliment the cocktail, I am provided with some ‘amuse-bouche’ in the form of spelt puffs with chestnut, pisco (brandy) and nori (edible seaweed) powder. These are incredibly tasty little treats, like a savoury version of a chocolate rice puff. They don’t last very long as I find myself eating one after another whilst deciding what my second cocktail will be.
From the ‘Highball’ menu I choose a Chi Mule and decide to try the sweet potato ‘Poké dogs’ from the ‘Raw Bar’ food selection. The cocktail is incredibly refreshing, containing only three ingredients: vodka, yuzu and ginger beer. I ask the waitress what ‘yuzu’ is; she seems to be quite knowledgeable about all the ingredients on the menu. I learn that it’s a citrus fruit from East Asia which explains the zingy taste that is layered on top of the ginger beer.
The poké-dogs arrive, and I have to say that I would come back here just for them. Sweet potato, crunchy kimchi and radish fill the soft steamed buns with a hint of spice. Enquiring about the kimchi, the waitress informs me that they make it fresh there and leave it for up to two weeks to ferment. The poké-dogs are bursting with flavour and coupled with the ‘Chi Mule’, they make a very tasty dynamic duo. For meat eaters, you can choose the beef jerky version or a mixture of both.
I try next the ‘Hors D’Ouever’ from the food selection. A portion of Genever (dutch gin) cured red mullet served on a bed of yuzu crème fresh, topped with a radish and clementine garnish. The dish is put together very well and I did enjoy what I tried, despite not being the biggest fan of the ‘raw fish’ trend. The Genever, shiro shoyu (white soy sauce) and hickory smoke add real depth to the mullet without overpowering it. The crème fresh ensures the dish is not too heavy, allowing you to enjoy the food and cocktails together.
Lastly from the ‘Raw Bar’ menu, ‘Poussé café’ offers a plate of toasted ravioli filled with a bay and rosemary ganache. I can’t decide if the ‘pasta’ made from spiced rum, blood orange and white chocolate is a bit too experimental or not. Reading it on the menu, I expected it to be sweet, but it proves to be a mix of a deep herby chocolate ganache and salty ‘pasta’ giving it a savoury edge. I think I would have preferred it to be one or the other.
To end the night, I order a Postprandial Drip from the Digestif cocktail section. It’s a mix of absinthe, elderflower liqueur and a beet & sage kombucha. Kombucha is one of the latest drinks to take off in the health market boasting many benefits; a fermented tea, with a very distinctive taste. However, when mixed with these other independently strong ingredients it doesn’t really come through. A hint of sage and elderflower lingers in the background, but they are overwhelmed by the absinthe.
The winter menu at Behind This Wall is very ambitious. Where some of the cocktails and dishes work really well, others are bit too ‘cutting edge’ for myself. I admire the passion behind the menu in line with the bar’s ethos. I can imagine that it would be a regular for those seeking new and interesting drinks and edible cocktails made with fine, natural ingredients.
Photography By Alex Zalewska