The pub is dead. Maybe a touch hyperbolic but stay with me. What I mean is the blueprint of an evening spent downing lukewarm pints until you can’t stand is becoming less tempting for many people. Nightlife has changed.
But what steps into the void? What does a good time look like for the monied and mobile members of our capital? Enter the small plates concept bar, or SPCB as I have now christened it. Themed cocktails and nibbling food to line our stomachs.
I lead you onto the spot of the day, the perplexingly-named Deep Cuts London. A sign on the wall helpfully explains that the phrase is a way to describe the little-known work of a band or singer. Fair enough. Issues arise when you google the venue or slap the name into Instagram and are immediately blinded by all the internet’s most shocking gore, or in Instagram’s case provided with the Samaritan’s contact details. Never forget the “London” at the end, dear reader!
Have I heard worse names in my career? Of course, anything involving the word ‘dirty’ always gets my hackles up. I digress.
Imagine drinking in a bar lovingly built inside the innards of a James and the Giant Peach-sized clementine. Think mid-century modern in layers of shadow and pops of bright tangerine. The vibrant strip lights and dainty table lamps are like looking at a tea light through a Campari-infused drink, which incidentally you will do a lot of during your visit. An infinitely pretty space to get classily trollied on aperitivos. And this is what my friend and I proceed to do.
Dan Beattie and his petite team want to expand our horizons of alcohol in an unpretentious way. Having only been opened in November by Tom Rees and Ben Martin (Homegrown Pubs), they are still finding their feet in this most admirable of quests.
But, we ask, is this a bar that does food? A restaurant with an impressive bottle collection? Or the inside of a giant fruit? The answer is somewhere between the first two.
Not one but three negronis are available to choose from, so we try each, as the job demands. The DC is a complex, slightly sugared version of the much-loved drink with an Italian vermouth Punte E Mes giving it a southern European passport. The Sbagliato (‘made wrong’ in Italian) is the hot new thing on the English drink scene. Prosecco shakes up the earthy bitterness, perfect for negroni novices. The Alfresco is the flamboyant floral cousin of the above duo, and with Zarro vermouth, it has a sloping smoothness that belies all its boozy glory.
Along with the eight other vermouths on sale, there is an extensive and well-curated cocktail menu, and a good-sized wine list – though you won’t find any bottles below £20.
Small plates are an issue much discussed, so we won’t get bogged down with them now. Whatever your feelings about them might be, they do allow us to graze like a Moroccan goat on an argan tree. Who doesn’t want that? The prices are refreshingly fair here, with everything under £10 and most under £7. The cuisine is vaguely southern European with some splashes of pan-Asian here and there.
Let’s start with the good: grilled artichoke hearts, with tail-like stalks – think dead mice but with a taste like barbequed divinity. The oceanic salted nori butter is to thank, as these slimy carcasses slalom down our necks. The pork Yakitori skewers are treacly and terrific, cooked to soft pliability as only the belly of a pig can be. I assume fairly that the shiitake mushroom and chicken and scallion skewers must also be giftedly marinated and incinerated. The gyoza are a little plain and it is hard to work out which is prawn, chicken, or vegetable – not a good sign. Tempura vegetables are crunchy, for sure, but also oily and very easily forgotten. Lastly, the crispy smoked chicken is like eating rubbery shards of silicon, dry, with little sauce and even less flavour. There is also soft shell crab, chorizo au vin, kimchi for a little Korean fermentation, padron peppers (a predictable addition), croqueta de bacalao if you need some carbs, and a wakame salad if you don’t.
Much on the menu is grilled, smoked, or charred. This approach is a great paring for copious cocktail consumption and is comfort food at its best, dosed in heat, sauce, and sweetness. Yet the line between enjoyable flamed food and simply burnt is a razor-thin one that is sometimes stumbled over in the gloom of Deep Cuts.
A surprisingly large plate of matcha chocolate truffles is the only dessert. Grandiosely dense, we valiantly try our best to polish them off before sticking the remainder in our pockets to congeal for later.
The drinks are unmatched. A bolshy Manhattan is a treat and a Lemontini is a citrous slap. The Bijou has all the herbal bite you would expect from green chartreuse.
Bringing obscure spirits and vermouth to the forefront of the operation, Deep Cuts London is a lively addition to the bustling fraternity of SPCBs in Hackney. The food will likely catch up with the liquids as the team refines its offering.
Those painting the town red (or orange in this case) want to be impressed not only by the effects of inebriation but also by what’s on those flat ceramic things between the glasses, and Deep Cuts is well on its way to providing both.
Deep Cuts London
171 Mare Street