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Sunday, 10 April 2016

By Appointment Only, Liverpool Street


Dwarfed by Bishopsgate's rampaging glass towers, all ornate Ottoman tiling and Moorish styling with additional help from Russell Sage Studios, I'm told, By Appointment Only is set in a rare beauty I'm keen to revisit - The Victorian Bath House. Previously a nightclub, after a prolonged dry spell, the heavenly hammam has reopened as a bar-cum-events space. Tonight, the only soaks in evidence are fellow hooch Hoovers, ministered to by a liveried 'butler' in a make-believe Belle Époque gentlemen's club. It's a hackneyed theme that's elswhere been done well - at Mr. Fogg's of Mayfair - and badly... at far too many others... like the ludicrous lair that was House of Wolf on Islington's Upper Street. I invite a PR/ event organiser chum along for an evening that should be more full of Eastern promise than a box of Fry's Turkish Delight. On arrival, we're offered complimentary coupes of fancy fizz. Nice touch. Sadly, it's as watery and flat as The Fens and is to Champagne, what some hopeless howler on Britain's Got F***-All Talent,  is to Aretha Franklin. Alarm bells ring. Unfazed, our butler scuttles off and reappears with what I take to be Prosecco. "Are you ready for your cocktail adventure?' he beams. We are. Problem is, nothing on a fanciful list floats our boats. Peanut butter rum and berry juice mix? Nope! Wash, Rinse Repeat? Sounds like a root canal session at the dentist's. Classic Shambles? (I quote) 'A couple of apple pies from our neighbours at McDonalds, dropped into a vat of Somerset Brandy.' Well, would YOU? Nothing is winking at me. I'll have to go off menu.

Me: "Might I try your home-infused quince and blue cheese gin... in a dry martini, please?" 
Butler: "urm....gin in a martini glass? I don't think we can do that. But we can make you a classic cocktail if you prefer." 
Me (discombobulated): "What could be more classic than a classic gin martini?"
Butler: "Vodka and lemonade? Whisky and Coke?"

Well that's sure to stretch those 'expert mixologists' here to 'delight your palate with largesse and liberation' (sic). At their lightly stocked, panto set bar that recalls a display fixture at the Cowdenbeath Co-Op circa the Coronation and rationing books, the experts are at work. PR pal settles for rosemary and lavender-infused gin and tonic. Poured from a Tanqueray bottle, served With Fever-Tree tonic water, it's overpoweringly perfumed and strident on the nose.

 "I'd rather drink gin and Vim!" she grimaces. 

I opt for the 'modern sophistication' that is the STFH - aka 'Salted Toffee From Hipflask' (sic). Pre-made, served from a hot water bottle-sized silver flask, it is presented with something lumpy, brown and wrinkly on a glass plate (pictured).  

"Eeew! That looks like a specimen diseased adenoid" announces my date just as I'm on the point of popping into my gob what turns out to be a dried date, the ideal partner to my drink..apparently. Having spent the previous two hours sampling great single malt cocktails at excellent nearby new whisky bar, Black Rock, this recherché rinse is, to put it mildly, a bit of a let-down. To my tastes, STFH is Simply Too F****** Horrid for words. But I'll try. Imagine scotch infused with Werther's Originals and the melted contents of the not-so-select selection box your great-auntie Marjorie gave you for Christmas 1969! 'So good, it's probably illegal' trumpets the menu. 'Should be!' tut tuts date reaching for her coat. Not keen to prolong our 'by appointment' disappointment at The Bath House, she's after an early bath at home. The following day, I scrutinise the menu's florid small print. "All our house infusions are presided over by Mr. PJ Hobbs who tinkers and plays as our 'Booze Mechanic'". On last night's showing, they might as well have hired Kevin Webster, Coronation Street's resident boozy mechanic. Unless new owners Camm and Hooper - the brains also behind Tanner and Co of Bermondsey Street - up their game dramatically, I won't be diving in again any time soon.

7 Bishopsgate EC2M 3TJ  3813 7114
 http://www.victorianbathhouse.co.uk