Update 21/08/2010: Oh dear, Purl still good but be warned booking now essential…this will noticeably limit my future visits
Update – 9/08/2010: I made a return visit to Purl this week and retract all reservations I harboured from the first. The Martini was probably the best I’d ever had, there’s some new exciting drinks such as the Street Urchin (served in a beer-scented, brown paper wrapped bottle and served on newspaper strips) and the Cherry Julep (garnished with the most delicious bourbon soaked cherry – so good I’m going to try to make these myself) .
What’s more, further even more exciting menu changes are to come. We had a couple of sneak previews of the latter and I won’t spoil any surprises, but I will say I can’t wait to try the finished versions. All Purl’s early promise has now been achieved while, happily, losing none of the theatre, fun or irreverence. If you haven’t been yet, go soon!
Original review from 25/06/2010 here: Saturated as Marylebone is with restaurants and cafes, I’ve never been excited by what it has to offer in the way of pubs and bars. With the exception of The Golden Eagle and its regular piano singalongs, there’s nothing out of the ordinary on offer.
Which is why I was happy to hear that a new bar called Purl was opening on Blandford street. Early buzz referred to nitrogen baths and other specialist equipment, suggesting a molecular approach to the drinks menu. I’m not a massive fan of molecular mixology as a rule (I’m yet to be convinced it sufficiently enhances the drinking experience) but for an occasional outing, it offers a talking point and a little fun.
Talking of fun, I persuaded one of my companions to try the Mr Hyde’s Fixer Upper (Ron Zapaca 23, cola reduction, smoke injection of orange bitters, served in a wax-sealed potion bottle – £9) from the somewhat restricted menu. You see, I was curious to see how it was served but had already decided on a Negroni (Tanqueray 10, Aperol, Antica Formula, grapefruit bitters -£9). Fortunately rum and coke is her drink of choice so she was easily persuaded. Our third drink was the GT Turbo (Beefeater gin, homemade tonic syrup and fresh lime – £7 ) which described itself as a compressed gin and tonic.
The Fixer Upper was every bit as silly as you could hope from such a name, with the sealed potion bottle served in smoking bucket of liquid nitrogen. The barman suggested letting the drink infuse briefly before pouring out half, saving the rest for a more intensely smokey flavour. The verdict was that it was like a delicious rum and coke (unsurprisingly) but the promised smokiness was largely restricted to the aroma.
The Negroni was excellent with a beautiful wedge of ice chipped from a crystal clear berg behind the bar. There are certain drinks where the ice is a particularly crucial part of the formula and a Negroni is one of them. I was uncertain about the grapefruit bitters, feeling them a bit unnecessary and after the first sip, they were lost in the other flavours. The range of bitters used here are called Bobs and are home-made by a friend of the bar. I wish Bob was my friend too.
The GT Turbo included orange bitters (not mentioned on the menu), which were felt to drown out the tonic syrup – a nice drink but disappointing in as much it was not what we expected.
Round two was: a nitrogen-cooled Martini, a Myrtle Bank Punch (Pampero Anniversario, fresh lime, grenadine, Maraschino float – £8) and a Backwards Bellini (lavender bitters infused sugar cube, Prosecco, pomegranate foam – £8).
The Martini was the coldest I’d ever had the pleasure of tasting and was tiny. I think they should be smaller than is standard so considered that a good sign – the size could have been reflected in the price though. The Punch, deemed ‘ a nice lady drink’, was probably the tastiest of the evening, nicely balanced between fruity and strong. The Bellini was a let down mostly due to the instant evaporation of the pomegranate foam – molecular mixology at its most disappointing. A straight pomegranate juice and Prosecco mix would have been more rewarding.
There were 12 drinks listed which is a fairly narrow choice but I think the intention is to update the menu regularly. On top of that, I’m sure these guys could and would fix you anything you wanted – such as the coldest Martini you can buy in London. Still, I’m looking forward to seeing what next they have to offer.
The bar itself is in a basement and full of rabbit warren-y charm, with exposed brick nooks and crannies, a piano bar, luxurious chandelier lit booths – all scattered with antique and vintage cocktail paraphernalia. I like this mix of the traditional and the modern. It’s something that characterises Purl as a whole and it does it well, in its decor and music as well as in its menu (molecular techniques fused with heavy use of bitters and the odd classic such as a fizz or Clover Club). I also like the sense of fun and adventure, largely coming from the enthusiasm behind the bar.
If some of the more experimental mixing needs a little fine tuning, it’s a small price to pay for such a charming experience.
(Scores updated on 11/08/2010)