Shh, it’s our little secret!
The 1920’s-style prohibition bootlegger bar Is the brainchild of award-winning cocktail-maker Steve Pineau and Master Sommelier Dimitri Mesnard who, between them, designed and built every aspect of this unique venue. The statement bar was hand-crafted from drawers and painstakingly covered with two pence pieces (rumour has it there is a single Irish penny amongst them, if you spot it in 30 seconds you get a free glass of bubbles!).
All the wonderful, comfy, mismatched, vintage furniture was hand-picked and the low, dark beams, flickering candlelight and soothing misty jazz help to set the mood. Fabulous old black and white photos and newspaper clippings from the era provide the context. You can feel the love that’s gone into the place and people can’t help but smile as they reach the top of the stairs and take it all in. Needless to say, it is a welcome change from the clean lines and minimalist aesthetic that is all the rage these days.
Get lost in the drinks menu
The vast drinks menu boasts over 500 wines and 300 spirits to suit all budgets. You can even purchase your own bottle of spirit and “lock” it away behind the bar. The small passionate team work all week, other than Tuesday when they are closed (the cheek of it!). Their commitment to the theme is admirable, with staff wearing braces and bowties, and even the odd herringbone flat cap.
French inspired small plates
This is a bar first and foremost but the food is not an afterthought. The menu is small but perfectly formed and based around steak, charcuterie and cheese. The headline steak is 38-day aged wagyu, slow-grown and grass-fed at nearby Trenchmore Farm. If you are vegetarian or the menu doesn’t suit your tastes, just ask and the kitchen will do their very best to accommodate you.
We arrived with a thirst on so asked them to whip us up a little something to get us started.
After checking what we liked they brought us cocktails tailored to our tastes.
Andrew got a warming rum-based cocktail and I got a delicious, fruity, refreshing, rhubarb creation, packed with ice chips and decorated with a little dried rosebud and a sprig of mint. Once we’d finished our cocktails we settled on a bottle of red to accompany our meal. Sommelier Stefano suggested Los Vascos, a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon from one of Chile’s oldest wine estates. A fruity, full-bodied, silky wine with a hint of spice.
Simple and Stylish
Our food was served on beautiful antique crockery. My husband Andrew had the homemade duck rillettes with Armagnac plums. It was moist, rich and moreish, served with slices of delicately pickled onions and fresh sourdough bread.
I chose the salmon gravadlax, a Nordic dish of raw salmon, cured in salt, sugar, and dill. The slices were so exquisitely thin that you could see the design on the plate beneath. My starter also came with bread and a healthy dollop of cool, dill-infused yoghurt and a little lemon zest.
The Star of the Show
It’s no great surprise that we had steak for our mains and to help us eat it we were presented with the meanest looking steak knives I’ve ever seen. If you want, you can have one personalised for your use alone and displayed in a dedicated glass-fronted cabinet. Chef obviously feels the steak speaks for itself as, when it arrives, it is the sole resident on the plate. The lovely crispy, hand-cut, skin-on chips arrive on a separate plate. I had mine naked (the steak not me, that’s a whole other dining concept) but Andrew opted to have his with a thick creamy béarnaise sauce.
The steak was a perfect, well-rested, lightly-seasoned, rare and had a distinctive slightly sweet, almost cheesy flavour.
To follow Andrew had a slice of full-flavoured Fourme d’Ambert, a semi-hard French blue cheese, one of France’s oldest no less, allegedly dating back to Roman times. I went for a little Comté, a firm, supple cheese with a mild flavour. They were served with more fresh bread and some fabulous paper-thin, crisp, salty, pane carasau, a traditional flatbread from Sardinia.
I couldn’t leave without trying something from the prohibition cocktail menu, so I went for a Mary Pickford named for the Canadian-American film actress of the age. It was a very grown up blend of Havana 3, pineapple juice, Maraschino and grenadine syrup with three 80 proof cherries on a cocktail stick. Utterly delightful! Andrew amused himself with an Irish coffee presented in not just two but three impressively distinct layers.
I would strongly recommend that, at some point in the very near future, you take the opportunity to step out of your life for an evening and let the expert mixologists transport you to a bygone era. Just hope the cops don’t arrive to bust the joint! Wink.See the listing for L’Atelier Du Vin Brighton