As the Bristolian two-thirds of The Dram Team’s co-founding trio (the third being Greg himself), we have a professional duty to keep on top of Bristol’s top spots for imbibing delicious drinks.
As such, we were already rather familiar with Her Majesty’s Secret Service (aka HMSS) and their quirky and extremely well executed cocktails (and also with their modest-but-excellently-curated selection of whiskies!). So, when The Dram Team were invited (via GreatDrams.com) to try out their brand new “Travel Guide to the British Isles” cocktail menu, we jumped at the chance.
Accompanied by fellow Bristolian whisky aficionado, Rob, of www.therealdram.com, we entered HMSS in the usual way: via the iconic red phone box which acts as miniature foyer of sorts. Upon entering, we were greeted by not only the always-on it and friendly serving staff, but also by their impressive array of secret service-themed memorabilia and the funky soul grooves they play, which always form an excellent backing track for cocktail consumption. The joint oozes atmosphere, and you instantly feel at least two to three notches cooler than before you passed through the phone box.
Settling down to perch at our table, complete with monkey nuts to nibble on, and Jenga for the more adventurous (Watch out: for some reason, it gets harder the longer you stay), we’re presented with the beautiful new cocktail menu. Printed on delightfully expensive-feeling textured vintage paper in the style of a war-era pocket travel guide, the menu is a visual delight. Each cocktail is based on a specific geographic location in the U.K., and gets a double-page spread featuring a colour illustration, an ingredients list, and an entertainingly witty and poetic blurb.
So, could the drinks possibly live up to the menu itself? Here’s what we tippled on and what we thought of it:
Drink: Greenhouse Project
Location: The Eden Project, Cornwall
Thoughts: As you’ll see from the photo, this was a stunningly presented drink. Possibly the best-looking thing I’ve ever laid my taste buds on! This was a sophisticated liquored version of the best homemade lemonade I’ve ever tried, more than living up to its looks. The flavour was refreshing, with a lot of lovely citrus and not too sweet at all. I even had the greenery as a chaser, as the whole lot was edible, and I do like the Eden Project quite a lot for its vegetation. As I commented at the time, while labouring wrongly under the impression that the drink was called The Garden of Eden; “If this is the forbidden fruit, then I’m an original sinner”. I stand by my enthusiasm!
Drink: Major Oak
Location: Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire
Thoughts: Rich enough to put it at the top of Robin Hood’s hit list, this riff on a Brandy Manhattan oozed flavours of dark sugar, dried fruit, apple and nuts. Less showy than most, the Major Oak looked classic and tasted classy.
Drink: Loch Ness Mobster
Location: Loch Ness, Scotland
Thoughts: This was an even more flamboyant-looking cocktail than The Eden Project, unnaturally bright green and foamy (which explained the 9g of laughing gas on the ingredients list!) and topped with edible flowers too. “Green, fluffy , monstrous” proclaims the menu, which is a very accurate synopsis. You could really taste the tequila, thought the overall palate was perhaps a little sweet for a hardened whisky drinker. Still, loads of fun, and once again I enjoyed eating the greenery.
Drink: Green Manalishi
Location: Stonehenge, Wiltshire
Thoughts: This rum-based cocktail lured me in with the bizarre sounding additions of hemp orgeat and a dash of aloe vera oil. As I’d hoped, the flavours were herbal, floral and citrusy with an unusual depth that kept me sipping. The “chip of prehistoric stone”, wonderfully carved as it was, barely had time to begin melting.
Drink: Angel of Mercy
Location: The Angel of the North, Gateshead
Thoughts: Born in Durham and residing there until the grand old age of 1, I wanted to stay true to my Northern roots. I also wanted to stop eating salad and finish my cocktail with a lump of chocolate-coated homemade cinder toffee, which is what this cocktail was garnished with! Being a fan of both American whisky and dark “pudding” beers, this cocktail was irresistible as my third course and dessert. It was like drinking a wonderful boozy milkshake of coffee, dark beer and oaky vanilla bourbon, and the aforementioned garnish was superb – the crunchy cinder toffee forming a wonderful textural counterpoint to the creamy smooth velvety mouthfeel of the drink itself.
All in all, HMSS have gone from strength-to-strength with this new menu. The old one was fantastically imaginative and always perfectly executed, and this new one has taken that as a starting point, and elevated it to new heights with a wonderfully relatable theme (who wouldn’t enjoy picking cocktails associated with their favourite UK spots?) and even greater levels of entertaining imagination. Having a drink at HMSS is an experience in the most genuine sense of the word. So, if you’re local to Bristol, we thoroughly recommend you drop in and try it out for yourself.
(Footnote: If this review comes across as biased, we do not apologise – it is. We were not paid for this review, we just unashamedly enjoy the HMSS experience and love what they do.)