One of the most memorable cocktail bars I went to whilst living in Brixton was Shrub and Shutter– a cool little haunt on Coldharbour Lane that serves some of the most inventive ‘culinary cocktails’ in London.
So, when I found out that the award-winning bartender Chris Edwards (co-founder of Shrub and Shutter and First Aid Box) was behind the cocktail menu of the new Alphabet Bar & Restaurant in Islington, I was very keen to accept an invitation to check it out.
Gone are the days when I can be lured by alcohol alone. Now a new mum, a night of care-free cocktails followed by guilt-free lie in is a thing of the past. And I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve stayed out past (gasp) 10 o’clock in the last few months. Hangovers and late nights just aren’t fun when you’ve got a newborn baby (nor is it ahem, responsible).
That said, a mama needs some time out and I was pining for an evening in London of good food and drink. The concept at Alphabet Bar and Restaurant is fresh Mediterranean fare with a dash of middle eastern influence and of course, fabulous cocktails to boot.
Count me in.
Cocktails & Grazing at Alphabet Bar & Restaurant
To give you a bit of background info, Alphabet Bar on Upper Street is a relative of the original Beak Street venue in Soho. It has a sister restaurant, Lockhouse in Paddington, but apparently, the original was a favourite haunt among media types in the 90s.
I get the feeling this new and improved outpost is a good all-round place to grab brunch, lunch, dinner and drinks.
Its location, opposite Islington Green, means it’s going to attract plenty of footfall and come the weekend, you can expect one or two DJ appearances too.
Interiors-wise, Alphabet resembles the type of images you might squirrel away into a secret Pinterest board when you’re curating (slightly pipedream) inspiration for a new house (Ok, yes that’s me).
Think exposed white brick walls, pendant filament light bulbs, potted succulents and modern art.
At the front of the building you can perch on high stools around the bar and there’s a clutch of tables on the pavement of Upper Street where you can sit and watch the world go by.
But if you’re eating, I recommend you head to the back of the restaurant where rustic style wooden tables and leather banquette seating sit beneath an atrium of hanging foliage.
It was pretty quiet during our visit on a Tuesday – at one point we were the only people eating – but I’m pretty sure that come mid-week, things start to liven up in here.
The cocktails at Alphabet
However cocktail clued-up you think you might be, I can guarantee there’s going to be an ingredient in this drinks list you’ll have to ask the waiter about (or google if you want to pretend you know your stuff).
The cocktail menu is interestingly split into a ‘reinvention’ section and ‘invention’ section. So, if you’re a creature of habit you can try a new take on your traditional Bloody Mary or Negroni.
And if you’re up for something new, you can delve into some alternative boozy creations.
My friend ordered the C-Breeze from the re-invention menu (Black Cow Vodka, Solerno, pomegranate shrub, cranberry bitters, citric acid) which was a little on the tarte side for me, but she really enjoyed.
I asked for something sparkling so the waiter suggested I tried the aptly named Fizzlington from the invention menu (Pisco El Gobernador, Evangelist Organic Limoncello, melon, bay leaf, pink fizz) which had some delicious botanical flavours.
Later, we ordered a couple of glasses of Prosecco to have with our food, but if I hadn’t had my sensible mum head on, I’d have gladly carried on with a clotted cream Gin-based Love Will Tear Us Apart, a Mezcal-based Peach Therapist and all sorts of other weird and wonderful things.
If you’re feeling a bit more virtuous, there’s also a great selection of alcohol-free sodas and blended drinks from the Zero Proof section.
The food at Alphabet Bar & Restaurant
The food at Alphabet Bar & Restaurant is based on Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavours. And if you’re a grazing, bit-of-this-bit-of-that type of diner, you’ll love the first few sections of the menu – a selection of dips, flatbreads and sharing-style platters which they categorise as ‘Social Eating’.
Here’s what we had:
The zaalouk – a dip of chargrilled aubergine, chilli and sesame which was earthy yet fresh and served with a small flat bread in a bag…
the courgette and fennel fritters which were brilliantly crispy, despite the fennel flavours being a little subtle…
…and the grilled squid which was excellent – not too chewy, not too slimy and layered with flavours of chilli, sumac, coriander and lime.
A steal at £7 too.
While mushrooms aren’t usually my thing, the loaded wild mushroom flatbread was a great example of unfussy, Mediterranean cuisine.
Its fresh-from-the-oven base was layered with kale and macademia nut pesto, chargrilled aubergine, red pepper and harissa.
We didn’t get onto the tagines and kebabs section (the sharing plates felt enough for a light bite). But I’d love to come back and try them another time.
Plus, we wanted to end on a sweet note. So, do try the melon with macadamia ricotta for a light dessert (the combination of the sweet melon with honey drizzle was delicious).
And my friend loved the Mint Choc Chip Mojito, a fun cocktail dessert.
Yes, I got my comeuppance for my wild alcohol consumption (two-drink hangovers is now a thing people). But it was worth it. The setting at Alphabet Bar is cool and vibey, the food is unfussy yet far from forgettable (and great for vegans and vegetarians, I noticed) and the cocktails add a bit of pizazz to any night out.
Definitely try it out if you’re ever in this part of town.
Alphabet, 56 Upper Street London, N1 0NY, 0207 226 8674