When we first got wind of Silk & Grain’s upcoming launch a stone’s throw from Bank station we’ll admit to being rather unexcited about the prospect of yet another new steak restaurant for the City. There’s nothing, it seems, that the folk who play with our money love more than playing it safe when it comes to food.
But, wait. The local clientele is also partial to a drink or three, and away from the kitchen there’s something really quite interesting going on behind the bar: in a first for London, Silk & Grain’s drinks offering is dedicated almost entirely to aged cocktails.
You may or may not have come across the occasional aged cocktail around town before. Drinks industry legend Tony Conigliaro has been serving the odd one for years now in his innovative Islington bar 69 Colebrooke Row, and there are a few barrel-aged cocktails on offer at Nightjar by the Old Street roundabout, too. It’s a trend that’s still in its infancy, but spreading fast.
The concept is a simple one: ageing either fully-mixed cocktails, some of their component parts, or neat spirits in barrels or other vessels so that they pick up new flavours and characteristics. Silk & Grain’s menu spans classic and newly created cocktails, all given an edge through ageing in charred oak barrels, glass bottles, metal or even leather.
Negronis are one of the most commonly seen aged cocktails; we’re not sure how it started, but it’s easy to see why it stuck. Here it’s mixed and kept for around a month in an oak barrel that’s been heavily charred so as to exaggerate its smoky flavour. The result is an utter triumph, tasting richer and more deeply flavoured for it, while the edge is taken off the bitterness it’s given by the Campari, thus creating an altogether smoother, softer and sexier drink.
Our cocktail top-spot goes to the in-house creation Leather Penicillin, made with whisky that has been aged with strips of leather, along with ginger, honey and lemon. The result is a refreshing number with sultry smoky undertones, quirkily served in a tumbler decorated with a leather shoelace.
At the more subtle end of the spectrum, a delicate vodka martini is served after being rested in steel. It’s hard to tell where the effect of the ageing stops and the sensation of drinking it out of a metal glass starts, but it does have a faint metallic taste which we reckon works to make it feel a tad smoother. There might just be a case of the emperor’s new clothes going on in this instance, though.
That we’re only getting to the food now is telling, but that’s not to say it’s bad. In fact, a starter of asparagus topped with a perfectly oozy-yolked duck egg, sharp Berkswell cheese and delicate parsley butter is a bit of a stunner in its own right. And crisp fries anointed with truffle oil and flakes of parmesan are about as addictive as substances come. It’s just that the predictable line-up of steaks which form the bulk of proceedings fall firmly into the category of fine rather than first-rate. Our rib-eye comes cooked as ordered and with some decent outer charring, but there’s no magic. In fact, we can’t help thinking that the meat is the one thing here that hasn’t been aged enough.
This won’t bother Silk & Grain too much, though. With a sleek but quirky design that treads a neat line between ‘City’ and ‘cool’, a bustling atmosphere, steaks from £16 and cocktails from £7.50, it’s a clear winner.
Make a special trip to try the bar; if you're hungry, get something to eat while you're there.
Silk & Grain is at 33 Cornhill, EC3V 3ND.