Merchant House Fleet Street review: Go on an exploration of whisky in a hidden cocktail bar
When it comes to finding a perfect bar, there’s two main things I look for – an extensive cocktail menu and a relatively low-key venue. I’m a sucker for speakeasies and hidden bars off the beaten track so I’m having a new experience and don’t feel I’m jostling for a spot at the bar with a big crowd. When it comes to whisky/whiskey, I’ve flirted with it in the past and am partial to a Bushmills and Coke when I’m visiting family in Ireland, but am yet to become a full whisky convert. However, after hearing of a new hidden Whisky bar in the heart of the City I went to check it out.
Merchant House of Fleet Street is the sister bar to Merchant House Of The City in Bow Lane, the latter being a gin and rum bar with 300 varieties of each. The newer Fleet Street branch focuses on whiskys and whiskeys instead, boasting over 500 different types, predominantly from Ireland and Scotland, but also some offerings from Japan and American Bourbons. To those less experienced whisky drinkers, like myself, there can be the preconceived notion the drink is dark, strong and heavy. However, the experienced mixologists of Merchant House of Fleet Street are here to change your mind, showcasing the fresh and floral side of the mighty Scotch.
The bar is located down Bride Court, a covered alley off Fleet Street dating back to the 18th century. The venue has a natural and contemporary feel, with a rustic wood and white marble bar, lots of plants and green velvet sofas and bar stools giving a subtle nod to the Highlands and Emerald Isle. Behind the bar are huge shelves showcasing the expansive whisky collection. My boyfriend (who happens to be a bit of a whisky aficionado) and I grabbed two stools at the bar as we were looking to experiment with flavours so wanted a seat near the action.
Before we began perusing the extensive menu, we enjoyed a shot of whisky for ‘Whisky Wednesday’ to kick things off. You’ll notice the menu doesn’t list any brands under the cocktail ingredients, just a rough description of the whisky so it means you focus on the flavours instead. I’m a bit of a sucker for floral flavours such as elderflower and rose so started with a Rose Without Thorns (Island Malt, Rosehip Water, Raspberry Cordial and Americano Rosa). It was quite different to any whisky cocktail I’d had before, sweet and light and went down really well. My companion opted for a Karyukai (Japanese whiskey, plum wine and smoked water), which involved the bartender getting out a blowtorch on the water – who doesn’t like a bit of bar theatrics?! Out of the three cocktails we would try that evening, my boyfriend said this was his favourite as he particularly liked the smoky flavour.
Next up, I continued the floral theme with an Émigré (Single Pot Still Whiskey, Bramley Apple Juice, Rhubarb and Elderflower) which came served with a big slice of rhubarb and tasted very dessert-like and I really enjoyed it. My boyfriend opted for something harder – a Sazerac (Cognac, Rye, Sugar, Bitters and Absinthe) which was served in a short glass – definitely one to be sipped slowly!
Finally, we finished with a Mulligan’s Travels (Poitin, Banana, Vanilla Ice Cream and Ginger Soda) and a Brooklyn (Rye, Sweet Vermouth, Picon and Maraschino). The Mulligan’s Travels was my first introduction to Poitin – essentially an Irish moonshine with potatoes as one of the ingredients. The bartender was happy to educate me and I tried a some of it straight before my cocktail. The strength hits you immediately, before the sweet after-taste comes in. When it came to the cocktail, it was somewhat of a hard shake thanks to its ingredients, with the sweetness overpowering the alcohol so it’s a good choice for those who don’t like their concotions too boozy tasting. Meanwhile, the Brooklyn was bittersweet mix served in a sherry glass, complete with maraschino cherry in the bottom.
Overall, it’s a fabulous bar for both whisky and cocktail fans alike. Those unfamiliar with whisky would do well to pay a visit and will be surprised at the variety of flavours in a whisky cocktail. For more seasoned whisky drinkers, with 500 to choose from, there’s more than enough choices to keep your glass topped up. When it came to the venue, the cosy space and the hidden location makes Merchant House particularly appealing. During our couple of hours in the bar, we were never without an empty glass thanks to the attentive and friendly bartenders, who certainly knew their stuff when it came to whisky and were happy to educate us. As well as cocktails, Merchant House also serves a small food menu and host whisky masterclasses if you want to delve in further.
- Merchant House of Fleet Street, 8 Bride Court, City of London, EC4Y 8DU. Nearest stations: City Thameslink, Blackfriars or St Paul’s. Open Mon-Fri 11am-11pm. For more information, visit the Merchant House of Fleet Street website.
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