Through a concealed door off Exhibition St marked by flashing offset lights, stands 1806. I must’ve walked past it at least three times because to the left of the entrance is the stairway that takes you down into the Understudy basement.
Stumbling into the small saloon-like swinging doors I can’t help but think that I’m visiting someone at Hogwarts. The vintage cabaret style décor is somewhat eerie with Charlie the ventriloquist doll (you might recall from the old Goosebumps books) eyeing me off from his chair in the corner above the bar.
The story goes that this tiny little cocktail bar used to be where the understudies from the theatre above (1806) would hide out before, after and during performances for a drink (and to be ready if they got the call). Due to licensing laws back in the day, there were restrictions on times during which alcohol could be served – which seems to be coming in fashion again.
An eight-course degustation matched with cocktails awaits – starting with ‘Truffle Airmail’ a white rum, champagne, honey and truffle oil. Damn! The first course was a tomato roulade with prosciutto and goats cheese – brilliant. This rolled into the next with an introduction to each cocktail from Nick Reed. Among the notable were ‘Nieve’ – tequila, avocado, cinnamon and soymilk (served in Mexican desert pottery), and ‘Algonquin No.2’ – rye whiskey, pineapple, basil and olive salt. I understood him to be more or less a cocktail madman, with serious street cred, having competed widely in cocktail competitions; he now reserves his right to artistic license in a house of his own.
Kudos also to Tommy McIntosh for his detailing of some of the finest mini courses before I shoved them into my gob. Having frequented the Little Ox, I expected nothing less than delectable. I’ve no doubt that his latest venture Tommy Collins Events will go far if that sake roasted pork belly with corn puree & szechuan crackle is anything to go by!
The last round was by far my favourite. Being a good single-malt scotch kinda guy, I may impart some bias here, but the jasmine tea, smoked aged sake, tonka bean and sherry (yep) spilled over a boulder of ice in an old-fashioned whisky glass was nothing short of awe-inspiring. Backed up with white chocolate mousse cone with pink peppercorn praline in a tiny waffle cone – complete.
The Understudy offers a very lavish and dimly lit lounge to sample some seriously choice cocktails. So maybe if you’re waiting in the wings of the limelight for a cheeky cocktail or eight, go and see the ventriloquist and all of his watchers. I feel some alcohol free days coming on.