db drinks: Brigadiers

db‘s Phoebe French heads to Brigadiers for a tropical cyclone mango IPA, a restaurant-bottled whisky soda laced with fenugreek and a Champagne cocktail served in a vintage absinthe fountain.

The concept: Brigadiers is the latest offering from JKS Restaurants, which has the likes of Michelin-starred Indian restaurant Gymkhana and Sri Lankan pancake specialist Hoppers under its umbrella. An Indian barbecue, beer and whisky joint, it is inspired by the army mess bars of India, with lively sociability fuelled by food and drink at its core. It doesn’t stop there – Brigadiers is an ambitious endeavour which also combines live sport, whisky and beer vending machines, a pool room and card tables spread across seven rooms and an outside terrace. Add to that its location at the heart of the City of London, cosying up to members’ club The Ned (itself home to 10 restaurants) and joining a growing list of gastronomic outposts including A Wong, Caravan, Koya and Ekte Nordic taking root in the Bloomberg Arcade.

For the Sethi trio – brothers Karam and Jyotin and their sister Sunaina – the owners of the growing JKS restaurant empire, Brigadiers has a personal connection too. Their grandfather served as a brigadier in the Gurkha 4th Rifles Regiment, his portrait hanging proudly over the mantlepiece in the dining room, surveying the tribute that his grandchildren have made to him.

With television screens in every area except the dining room, guests can also hire out one of Brigadiers’ two private rooms and all or part of the pool room for group bookings. An average sports bar and restaurant, it is not.

The décor: Brigadiers’ Art Deco-inspired interior, designed by Brady Williams studio, is dominated by a colour scheme consisting of dark brown and maroon lifted by flecks of gold. Boasting 140 covers, and an additional 34 outside, each of the seven rooms has a different personality which complements the overall theme, from the relaxed environment of Blighters with its central bar surrounded by maroon leather banquets to the black-walled unrestrained blokeyness of the Pool Room, decked out in a leopard print carpet.

The tap room, where we spent most of our time, is both modern and traditional with counter-top glass stands, brass rails, stained glass and a black board, scrawled with a list of beers on tap. There’s a lot going on but staff are slick and make it work, moving seamlessly from one area to the next without creating a hold-up.

The drinks: Group bar manager James Stevenson walked us through the well put together drinks list, paying particular attention to the beer and whisky on offer. With 10 beers and two cocktails on tap, this is a restaurant doing things differently.

The drinks list itself is divided into a number of different sections which include draft beers, draft cocktails, bottled beers and cans, cider, classic cocktails, Champagne punch fountains as well as whisky, wine and other spirits.

Of particular note are the bottled whisky sodas. Using different Johnnie Walker labels, Stevenson explained that the idea was to let the whisky shine through, yet to make each sip approachable at the same time. Taking the key flavours of each whisky, Brigadiers creates its own flavoured soda water in-house, adding a measure of whisky then bottling and labelling the cocktail. The Flora Dora, for example, combines Johnnie Walker Black Label, raspberry and ginger with the whisky’s characteristic smokiness coming through right on the finish.

Care has also been paid to the beer menu, which while regularly changed, still retains a number of house beers. Brigadiers has collaborated with two UK breweries, Thornbridge in Derbyshire and Harbour in Cornwall, to create two beers which pair particularly well with the highly spiced bars snacks on offer. On my visit there was a pleasant selection from the UK, the US, Denmark and Belgium in a range of styles from lagers, saisons and sours to stouts, wheat beer and a rather punchy 9.1% Limoncello IPA. A few of those on offer are collaborative brews, such as Siren and Hill Farmstead’s Limoncello IPA, giving guests a chance to try beers that are otherwise more difficult to get hold of. There’s also a bottle and can list with larger 750ml sharing-style bottles available from Burning Sky and Wild Beer.

Behind the tap room bar it is also hard to miss the vintage absinthe fountains, with a stylised silver Rolls-Royce-esque female figurine supporting a large glass container filled with a fruity concoction. Designed for four people to share, there are three Champagne and punch cocktails to choose from: Bergamot Sangria (£50), Champagne Pimms (£60) and Pineapple Cobbler (£70).

Signature sips: Start off with the light, citrus-dominated 4th Rifles pale ale (4.5%), specially developed by Thornbridge brewery and Brigadiers to compliment the food. The Tropical Cyclone Mango IPA, the other collaborative brew made with Harbour Brewing, is all ripe orange fruits without being too sharp and abrasive.

Of the whisky sodas, the Golden Duck comes out on top, with subtle spice from the Fenugreek complimenting the pear and the mouth-coating waxiness of the Johnny Walker Gold Label. If beer and whisky don’t float your boat, there’s a small yet interesting list of other cocktails on offer. The tongue-curlingly zingy Paloma is livened up by the addition of a rhubarb shrub and lime leaf while the Dark and Stormy is elevated by the addition of another home-made soda water, this time flavoured with coriander seed.

The food: Bar snacks at Brigadiers are definitely worth seeking out. From the classics such as cheese and onion bhajias and pappadums right the way through to ox cheek vindaloo samosas and chaat masala pork scratchings. The masala chicken skins are wonderfully addictive, the deep, rich spice lifted by a yoghurt and pickled onion with salt from the crispy chicken skin coming through at the end. The mess mix is also the perfect accompaniment to a beer – think Bombay mix turned up a notch.

Who to know: Responsible for all the group’s drinks lists, James Stevenson is a busy man, but if you are lucky enough to catch him, he’ll guide you through the menu with ease. Staff are very approachable, and if you do get stuck, there’s a helpful whisky flavour map on the drinks menu that will aid the selection process.

Don’t leave without: getting your shoes polished, there’s a resident shoe shine attendant in reception. Grabbing some takeaway mess mix for the journey home may not be the done thing, but it’s highly recommended.

Last word: If there’s one word that encapsulates Brigadiers, it’s ambition. On reading the brief, it sounds almost mad. With so much going on in a relatively small space, it’s inevitable that some areas, for example the pool room, feel a little cramped.

That said, if you wade through what’s on offer, you’ll start to see that JKS have, in fact, been very clever. While the City is still by no means packed at weekends, a growing residential population and local attractions like the Ned means there’s increasing demand for seven-day venues, particularly those that serve great food and drink with live sport.

Bottled cocktails can be hit and miss, but all those I tried at Brigadiers were very much in the first category, expressing balance and understanding in the choice and quantity of flavourings used. Restaurants all too often neglect their beer offerings but Brigadiers’ refreshing approach shows what can be achieved when grain is given as much respect as grape. If anyone can tie all of these elements together, and make it work, I’d put my money on JKS.

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