Open Mon–Sat 8am–11pm, Sun 11am–8pm
Located in the Project 109 room on Lower Ground 1 of Harvey Nichols, the Wallpaper* Basement Bar + Kitchen is a brand new bar space, a one-of-a-kind collaboration between the iconic store and Wallpaper* magazine.
There is certainly no mistaking Wallpaper* magazine’s stylistic touch here, or the bar’s intended clientele, tucked as it is into the furthest corner of the Harvey Nichols menswear department. The finish of Wallpaper* is sleek and elegantly masculine; from its pale marble floor to its dark angular seats, with a ceiling that more closely resembles a trendy warehouse than a department store (all exposed pipes and light fittings). There isn’t a great deal to look at, with the walls almost entirely bare, save a large flat screen TV (again, what could be more crushingly ‘male’?).
Unless you take one of the high bar stools, the seating and tables are all extremely low to the ground, making drinking here feel an oddly conspiratorial affair. During shopping hours you can people-watch over the store from a removed safe haven, but once Harvey Nics closes shop for the evening a partition screen is drawn and you find yourself sat somewhere even more ‘undercover’.
Naturally Wallpaper* magazine and City Guides are available to read and to purchase if you find yourself drinking alone. Though the extremely personable and attentive barmen seem as comfortable chatting to lone guests as rustling up excellent cocktails. Speaking of barmen—even they have been touched by the Wallpaper* design wand; their uniforms are all by NN.07 (standing for ‘No Nationality’). In their own words “NN.07’s dedication to pushing the boundaries of what we wear and how we behave, housed in a collection of cool and contemporary pieces is the perfect fit for the new space; non-judgemental, fun, friendly and inclusive.”
When we visited, Wallpaper* appeared almost deserted save maybe three fellow guests who had all seemingly come to watch the football (one of whom had brought his extremely excitable seven-year-old son; about as interested in the game as I was, and who insisted on tearing around noisily for 30 minutes to make this clear). So it’s hard to say who the normal ‘crowd’ is.
I can imagine it as a wonderful place to relax mid-shopping spree, so I would say it could be a good fit for all—though I personally would discourage anyone else thinking of bringing their seven-year-old! The feel of the place isn’t quite warm or comfortable enough to be good date-night material, but certainly a decent spot to meet a friend.
Wallpaper* really does have most bases covered dining-wise, at least for a bar; there is a breakfast menu that includes eggs served on sourdough bread from Hoxton’s Fabrique Bakery, the lunch menu is a selection of artisan sandwiches, and the evening menu is a variety of light bites and bar snacks. The only thing really absent is anything hearty in the evenings, so possibly not the destination to come to really slake your hunger. As we visited post-6pm we were treated to the evening menu, taking in a bit of the traditional and a bit of the unique.
From the small plates we tried three of the tortilla options; tuna tartar, sea bass ceviche, and lamb neck fillet (all £6). They arrived looking as dainty as could be, four morsels per serving, fresh-tasting and delicately arranged on mini tortillas and exactly big enough for one mouthful.
Though pleasant, these weren’t exactly hunger-stopping, so we also ordered for total contrast’s sake the pork scratchings (£3) and the mac and cheese (£4). The former were guiltily tasty, but too heavily salted, whereas the later was so creamily delicious I wished we’d ordered two.
As well as a really excellent selection of craft beers and a small but well-chosen list of wines, Wallpaper* has a cocktail menu curated from Drinks International’s World’s 50 Best Bars—and this proves its real score card.
My companion started with a Scented Negroni (from Dry Martini, Barcelona, at £13), a fresh and fragrant triumph of Bombay Sapphire Gin, Campari, Martini Rosso Vermouth, finished off with sprigs of rosemary for an truly holistic drinking experience. I opted for the Grocery and Grog Old-Fashioned (from The Dead Rabbit, New York, at £13), a smoky and resolutely grown-up mixture of Woodford Reserve bourbon, DOM Benedictine, dry caracao and Orinoco bitters—if there was any cocktail to put the macho crown on Wallpaper* it would be this one!
The Double or Nothing (from The Baxter Inn, Sydney, £13) is perfect if you fancy something sweeter; the mixture of Bacardi, DOM Benedictine and pineapple juice like a sophisticated twist on the pina colada. But by far my favourite, not just of the night but possibly of all cocktails, was the simply pitch-perfect Toronto (from London’s very own Nightjar, £13). The mixture of Woodford Reserve bourbon, Fernet Branca, maple syrup and orange blossom smoke, topped with a small cloud of candy floss, was sheer perfection!
But from great highs to great lows; Wallpaper* let itself down once and very badly, when we went ‘off menu’. Classic cocktails are “available upon request” apparently, but the two espresso martinis we ordered were thin, bitter and disappointing.
Overall an excellent place to refresh or unwind during a shopping spree, though perhaps not fully a destination in its own right. At least not yet. Though another Toronto or two would be enough to make me sit through any football game!