Shochu Lounge

A Tanuki Peach and a Setting Sun

After a hard day’s shopping for my sister’s trousseau (no joking) a little pick-me-up seemed not merely in order but imperative. We had wound up on the Tottenham Court Road so scuttled round the corner to see what the chocolate-box-pretty Bourne and Hollingsworth could offer in the way of restoratives.

It was closed for a private function.

Never one to allow a first failure to swerve me from my purpose, I turned 180 degrees on  my heel to mount the stairs of the next door Bam Bou and ascend to the Red Bar, their fourth-floor womb of  a cocktail bar.

It was closed for a private function.

London bars. You just can’t rely on ’em. Luckily, I had a plan C and a D – in fact a whole octave of plans – up my sleeve. Just a few metres further up Charlotte Street, we finally found a welcome at Shochu Lounge. I last went there over  a year ago so was curious to see what changes there were.

First change: all the tables were laid for dinner and we were asked on entry if we were dining. On answering no, we were waved to sit at the bar, which is where I would sit by choice but given the upstairs restaurant was empty and the only other customers were also at the bar it seemed a bit officious. Plus I do like a bar to be about drinks rather than food.

The drinks menu seemed pretty much the same and is based on the bar’s usp – shochu – which is a vodka-like infused spirit. For a hefty price, customers can even buy their own jars to store behind the bar,  a nicely decorative touch that is complemented by other nods to the shochu making process in the interior design.

Dark woods and low lighting make for a quite grown-up feel that is at odds with the music policy – that was something that had unfortunately not changed since my last visit. Blaring techno-house at six in the evening leads me to suspect that the clientele is probably not from  the surrounding media district. However,  I found if you talk hard enough it’s possible to forget about the (not so) background noise.

Apart from the omnipresence of shochu, the menu has a Eurasian feel, with teas and exotic fruits introduced into classic recipes. I’d failed to purchase any maraschino on our shopping trip, so my first choice had to be an Empress: shochu, egg white, lemon and maraschino. This had a lovely balance of flavours though I might have preferred if it had come without some extra spoonings of alcoholic syrup from the bar’s cherry jar, making the last few sips a little sweet. Presentation was straightforward which is always a relief.

Albertus, our lovely Lithuanian barman who has been with the establishment since launch, recommended I should try the Tanuki Peach (shochu, peach liqueur, lemon and mint). Having been reassured I didn’t have to pay if I didn’t like it, I took his recommendation in spite of my usual reservations about peach-flavoured spirits.  I paid. Another good balance of flavours with the sprig of mint to offset the peachy tang.

My companion’s choice was an Elegante (a dessert-like, frozen concoction of vodka, lemon, lemon sorbet and prosecco) and Setting Sun (Kumquat shu, elderflower cordial, champagne, grapefruit twist). We had a long argument about how to pronounce the former but agreed it would probably be best saved for summer and not a wintry March day. The latter was a little bland given the ingredients but still enjoyable.

I’m not sure what the atmosphere would be like later in the night and if there would even be room at the bar for non-diners. But in an area where half the pubs and bars shut at weekends and the other half are given over to private hire, the fair prices and welcoming staff makes this a solid early evening or late night option.

Ambience: 7/10
Drinks: 7.5/10
Service: 9/10
Value: 7.5/10

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