Gung Ho – a unique Brighton bar
With ardour, and insider intel, it’s possible to find a good cocktail bar in most cities. But nowhere, as far as I’m aware, has a cocktail bar quite like GungHo. It’s been on my list of expert destination recommendations for years, and I’m still surprised when locals haven’t heard of it. But then also, I do like a well-kept secret, despite my big ole blabbermouth suggesting otherwise.
Opening its doors in 2017, GungHo has earned itself a wall full of awards. And proprietor, Julien, is respected in the industry as something of a master mixologist. He’s been called the Willy Wonker of cocktails, concocting wonders with foraged herbs, fruit and veg. Downstairs in his kitchen (let’s call it his ‘lab’), there are always new batches brewing, fermenting and soaking.
Gimme gimme some cocktails and dim sum
More recently Julien has turned his genius to adding a small menu to accompany drinks. In keeping with the cocktail menu, it uses foraged and seasonal produce, supplied by Urban Forage from Stanmer Park. The current menu is dim sum, which is a perfect post-work, or pre-night out, way to start an evening with drinks.
I asked about the process of creating the menu and Julien explained, rather simply, that Chris (the forager) presents him with ingredients and he (Julien) decides what to do with them. That’s it. Simple enough sounding until you realise the ingredients include the likes of hogweed, wild garlic and nettles. Then, all of a sudden, it becomes a more challenging thing to do. Something of a mash-up between Ready Steady Cook and I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here (but thankfully, with fewer celebs vying for a comeback and much more booze).
We turned up on a balmy Wednesday afternoon and took the window seat to watch the colour and drama of Preston Street in all its glory. We were first in but the bar slowly filled up with people who, like us, thought perfect, potent cocktails and flavoursome dumplings were a very good idea.
Drinks to start
The cocktail menu kicks off with Revised Disco Drinks. Here you’ll find things that are familiar enough not to send newbies running for the hills in pursuit of a Long Island iced tea. Torsten opted for a Basil Grande which arrived topped with a creamy and smooth froth. The beautiful aroma of basil was met with a fruity zing and it disappeared without much effort. I went for the Melon Sour, which was a pale amber colour, sparkling almost phosphorescently with a sprinkle of matcha. Not too sharp, this was a lovely refreshing summer tipple that sneaks up on you with the stealth of a ninja.
Lubricated and chatting away happily, we ordered the dim sum. Currently, there are three dim sum on the menu and you can get a basket of six (two of each flavour) for a very reasonable £10.
The morel mushroom ragu was first up for me. It tasted like a bolognese with the ‘shroom giving a meaty umami flavour. I’d say this was the entry-level foraged dim sum, familiar enough to encourage braver and deeper delves.
Next up was nettle and sweet potato. I do like nettle, one of nature’s underrated superfoods. The natural, earthy, nettle and sweet potato melded perfectly with a good kick of garlic. Lastly, we devoured the hogweed and wild garlic. Wowee, what a thing! This felt like a sort of confit dim sum, the gentle wild garlic is nowhere near as astringent as cultivated sort and the hogweed worked well with leafy green flavours, of earth and iron.
With these, we enjoyed a piquant Pea Shoots, made with pea shoot vodka, foraged elderflower and Benedictine foam. And a Raspberry/ Hazelnut with Busker single malt, hazelnut liqueur, pine sap and carbonated raspberry. Both were off the seasonal menu and perfect summer drinks.
Last orders and a warning for the wise
After our feed, we teetered over to the bar to watch Julien at work. For Torsten he went off-piste (which he’s happy to do), creating a surprising, but delicious mix of smokey whiskey, cool coconut and coriander. I had Julien’s take on the Bloody Mary, which will be featured on the new menu. This was greenhouse tomato vodka, mezcal, manzanilla sherry, vine tomato cordial, pickled greenhouse tomatoes and Bloody Mary spices. It was as pure as mountain spring water with a kick that could put you into orbit.
And herein lies the warning I give everyone I send to GungHo. These cocktails are so filled with healthy natural flavours you’ll be semi-convinced you’ve had a couple of super smoothies and are fit and ready for a Zumba class. You’re not. You’re drunk. But in a really good way.