Bar Review: Oriole
There's something brilliant about arriving at a 9pm-ish, empty Smithfield Market in search of Oriole. It looks like nothing from the outside, a nondescript entrance set into the shadowy silence of East Poultry Avenue. And Oriole might be worth a visit for that alone — the loveliness of having that expressionless door swinging open, and Delta blues drifting up the dark stairwell to you.
But the bar's got more loveliness going for it than that, including their live music programming and their experimental, explorer-themed cocktails. The night we're visiting those are covered by Pinstripe Reduit on stage — a swing quartet in keeping with Oriole's 30s decor — and a handful of choices from their high-concept cocktail menu, divided into New World, Old World and The Orient categories.
Some are gentle twists on known quantities — like the Blackrock Martini, with gin, whisky and a charred juniper infusion, grassy and slightly bitter — and some far more unusual like the clarified octopus milk and espresso stout syrup warring in the Skyefall.
We come across a couple we're less convinced by: the pumpkin tahini in the Oaxaca mug feels overpowering halfway through, and the Finca Filadelfia's durian foam has a heavy, cheesy flavour that's not for the faint of heart or sensitive of nose. But for the most part they're pulling it off with serious flair, left-field drinks served up in beautiful, theatrical vessels — the Marine Drive an hourglass of lab equipment, spilling smoke, as delicious as it is complicated.
Food offerings are a relatively new thing for Oriole. And a welcome one, the strength of the cocktails leave us craving something substantial to snack on. Our lamb chops and onion bhajis aren't really that: small's the operative word with these small plates, though there's a lot of craftmanship crammed into the tiny, delicately-fragrant bites. You'd have to order everything on the menu to approach an actual meal, but it's enough to tide us over and spin out the evening longer.
There are more straightforward places to spend an evening — Oriole's ornate, from the decor, to the booking system, through to the cocktail menu with a two page glossary attached. But there can't be many better places in London to cocoon yourself with blues, booze and Old World splendour.
Oriole Bar, Smithfield Market, East Poultry Avenue, EC1A 9LH.
Last Updated 05 October 2017