Review – VOC

The Saturday before I left for China, my girlfriend – Emma – decided to take me for dinner at Yauatcha (review to follow soon) to celebrate my results. In order to retain some level of stone age masculinity I suggested going for drinks after – which I could pay for. We decided to go to VOC – a relatively new bar, only open for the past 2 months. It’s run by the crew behind Purl so we went expecting good things. The bar is styled on a 17th century Indian punch house and it specializes in barrel aged cocktails and modern interpretations of historic drinks. In their own words ‘a modern day interpretation of a Punch House inspired by the Dutch East India Company (or Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie – VOC) founded in 1602.’ In many ways it shares a lot in common with Dinner by Heston which opened in the New Year, focusing on bringing history back into our food and, in this case, drink.

Walking into the bar it was clear that the sense of style they were aiming for had been achieved. It’s quite a small place with lots of wood paneling, so you might expect to find it claustrophobic or dingy but it really helped create a more intimate atmosphere around the table even, despite the bar being busy. The bar itself was amazing; mysterious bottles, flasks and barrels lined the shelves practically demanding you try them all.

We had organized to meet a couple of friends there so we had enough of us to get a good sense of the menu over a couple of rounds. A surprise but welcome touch was the water on each table which contained cucumber and lemon. Whilst this might seem a minor point it was absolutely delicious. With so many things I believe that so much lies in the little details and this certainly sent the right message.

I must confess that though everyone tried all the drinks it’s difficult to get a good sense of what a drink is like without having most of it yourself. That having been said I’ve tried to take my immediate impression in hand with what my friends said to give you guys a rounded view.

A good starting point when ordering drinks at any new place is to ask the waitress and judging on what was delivered to us she did a fine job with her suggestions. I started off with a spiced rum and it absolutely blew me away. Made of a blend of three different rum,s which are barrel aged together with spices for fifteen days, it was one of the best things I’ve had in a very long time. It was definitely fifteen days well spent, rendering the rum rich and unbelievably complex and rounding out any harsh edges. The cinnamon notes worked really well, putting me immediately in mind of mulled wine at Christmas time. As I drank my rum I had a nagging sensation about what the flavour reminded me of and it was only the next day (it was that good I was still thinking about it 24 hours later) that I realised.  I used to go to on holiday to South Africa where my dad was born and whenever we had a bonfire on safari we’d wrap bananas in tin foil, having lined the skin with chocolate, and roast them. The sweet, banana, chocolate notes were all there in this drink. As you may be able to tell from this brief sojourn into my subconscious I loved this drink, and if you go to VOC (which you should) you need to order it.

Whilst I was off daydreaming of South Africa my friends were busy getting through their own drinks. My girlfriend’s Walsingham’s Interrogation (Tanqueray London Dry Gin shaken with chywanaprash and fresh mint – lengthened with apple juice and ginger) was very much like a mojito, extremely refreshing, perfect for a warm evening. My friend Matt had ordered a Veiux Carre (Hennessy VS with Old Overholt Rye, sweet vermouth and Benedictine – stirred over ice and garnished with orange oil) which, whilst being quite fine lacked the depth and sophistication of some of the other drinks we had; it was also overly dominated the orange oil it was mixed with. The Ionian Beer (Bols Genever served with fresh lime juice and home-made spiced lemongrass cordial –topped up with ginger beer and garnished with lime and mint) that Matt’s girlfriend Sarah had was nothing particularly special, it was definitely the least memorable of all our drinks though she seemed happy enough with her choice.

The next round, however, contained a real barnstormer to match the spiced rum. Sarah landed herself the best drink of the night when she ordered a Raspberry Shrub. The basis for her decision was solely aesthetic; the shelf behind the bar had a row of corked bottles containing a violent pink liquid and curiousity got the better of her. Thank god that it did because the flavour in those bottles is like pure ambrosia. The drink is Pampero Aniversario bottled with fresh lemon juice, sugar and fresh raspberries – bottle matured for at least one week.  It was like raspberry on rocket fuel, punching you right in the palette with a pleasing acidity before rounding out to a lovely sweet finish. Our waitress said it was their best seller and I can’t say I’m in any way surprised – I’d happily buy it by the barrelful.

Raspberry Shrub on the left in the small pink bottles

Having tasted the ‘shrub’ it would have been easy to be fairly disappointed in our own orders. I had a Porter Cup and Matt a Dog’s Nose, both of which went down pretty easily. The Porter Cup is chocolate porter combined with ale, brandy and home-made ginger cordial, spiced with nutmeg and garnished with cucumber and was really quite disconcerting in the first instance, it just doesn’t really taste like you expect it to. This having been said once I’d got over the initial effect it was ok. Personally, it wasn’t to my taste – the ale was too weird in a cocktail for me. The Porter Cup seemed overly spiced with cloves but was perfectly drinkable.

VOC was a great place to drink. The atmosphere was perfectly pitched, intimate yet busy, the service was knowledgeable and friendly and the drinks ranged widely with some real winners and interesting techniques. Call ahead and book a table in advance because it was totally full whilst we were there but you’ll be glad you did.

Star performer: Raspberry Shrub/VOC Spiced Rum (impossible to split the two)

Atmosphere: 8.5/10

Service: 8/10

Price: £7.50-£9.00 a cocktail

Verdict: Pretty good cocktails with some real winners, I’d happily go again to see what I missed out on with my first visit. Highly recommended

VOC London

2 Varnishers Yard
Regents Quarter
Kings Cross
London, N1 9AW

T: 02077138229

Note: All photos come courtesy of VOC-London, thank you to them for generously letting me use them.


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