I’ve long been a fan of the hidden-behind-a-bookcase, up-a-staircase-you-wouldn’t-know-was-there-unless-you-were-searching-for-it cocktail bar. And Mr Fogg’s Society of Exploration (in Covent Garden, just a swift turn off the Strand) is without a doubt now my new crush on that front.
The ‘hidden’ entrance itself is an eccentrically Victorian affair decorated with piles of vintage suitcases, 1800s portraiture and just a touch of steampunk. There is a charming and achingly elegant doorman (in a white fur coat and top hat ensemble I would gladly steal for my own) to welcome you down the stairs with a smile. And on reaching the bottom you may as well have skipped back a century or so to the gin parlours of yesteryear! Low lights, oil lamps, velvet armchairs and dark wooden tables combine to create an aesthetic dream of a bar. Busy but not packed, elegant but not stuffy, themed but in no way kitsch, Mr Fogg’s Society of Exploration ticks all this reviewer’s boxes from the off.
We were lucky enough to be there to sample their very latest experience the Mr Fogg’s Grand Gin Tour (£34pp, or £45pp incl. nibbles). Advertised as beginning every Tuesday at 7.01 pm sharp, ‘travellers’ to the Society of Exploration are taken on an interactive masterclass, sampling some of the world’s most interesting and unusual gins.
Lasting around an hour and a half, the experience was led by one of Mr Fogg’s convivial and extremely knowledgeable barmen. We began with an exceptionally tasty Gin Gimlet and were then invited to sample a further four gins (a less conventional brewing of that old favourite Bombay Sapphire, an Old Tom, a Whitley Neill and a Roku) whilst we were taken through the origins of gin, the brewing process, each gins unique flavour profile, and the perfect pairing of garnishes to complement the notes of each gin. Now I love my spirits, but as far as this particular spirit goes I certainly wasn’t expecting the marked differences between them that we enjoyed. From the sweetly delicious Old Tom (my personal favourite) to the spicy Roku (almost more like whiskey) there was a genuine ‘journey’ of taste. And just when our heads were beginning to really spin (with both booze and information) we were offered a delicious mezze board of cured meats, cheeses, bread and crackers to soak everything up. After which, one final bespoke Gin and Tonic made with our favourite gin – and choice of garnishes, rounded things off beautifully!
Though possibly not for the faint of heart (or those who haven’t lined their stomachs first) Mr Fogg’s Grand Gin Tour was a revelation. The venue was an atmospheric delight, the staff were friendly and as warm as you could ever want, and the experience unique enough to recommend to every gin-lover in your (and indeed my) life. Slip off the Strand and down the stairs to see for yourselves…