1073 Cocktails and 238 Bars now listed
Welcome to Communion, London’s newest artisan cocktail bar, tucked away in the heart of south London’s thriving Camberwell Church Street.
Adorned with beautiful handmade stained glass windows, depicting different biblical scenes, the bar is dressed with church candles, church furniture, colonial tiling and Latin washed walls. It’s a bar where every table has communion wafers and complimentary communion wine, and where drinks are served in handmade vessels and cups made by master potter Chris Lewis.
We’re sitting on a heavy oak bench the colour of melted chocolate. On the table in front of us are little discs of communion wafers, and a tiny glass of blood-red wine. Looking right, we can appreciate the stained glass glory of Moses parting the sea, or the Worshipping of the Golden Calf, glowing with a jewel bright vibrancy.
But you’re not likely to hear the choral melody of hymns here – a much more funky and modern playlist provides the musical backdrop. And instead of an alter, there’s a gloriously stocked bar to worship at.
We are on Church Street, and the reason is to try the cocktails at Communion, a brand new drinking establishment in Camberwell from the sibling duo Mel and Jose Raido, who brought us the Church Street Hotel and Angels and Gypsies Tapas restaurant.
The completion of the ‘Holy Trinity’ is this basement bar that is decked out with hand-crafted detail, including the colonial tiling and Latin white-washed walls. The effect is one of ecclesiastical tongue-in-cheek kitsch mixed with contemporary cool.
But it’s the cocktail list we’re most interested in, and it promises to be something special. Rob Krajewski has worked in various cocktail bars for almost a decade, and finally gets to exercise his talents in the menu here. We’d almost expected various plays on the ‘holy’ tone – (Bloody Hail-Mary, perhaps? A Moses-jito?). But it soon transpires that the theme is something completely different – with a focus Caribbean and Asian flavours, and a definitive nod to the local South West London community.
‘We were both inspired and influenced by the wonderful array of flavours that abound in this part of London,’ Rob told us. ‘It really gave us an opportunity to be creative, experiment with different ingredient combinations, and offer customers something a little more unique.’
Unique is definitely one way to describe the list, and the result is an intriguing and exotic approach to various libations. In fact, it’s one of the most eclectic cocktail menus that I’ve seen in a long time.
Ingredients available to play with include fresh Granadilla, Nigerian guiness foam and Chestnut honey from Catabria. I can see it’s going to be great fun working my way through, and I’m glad I’ve brought a friend, as there are 18 unusual drinks to try.
So where to start? Sometimes it’s good to see how bars approach the ‘twist to an old classic’. For that reason I opt for a Daisy Flower Martini and Alice, my partner, goes for a Black Rice Old Fashioned.
The Daisy Martini comes served in a beautiful little coupe glass with the thinnest stem, so elegant and dainty (almost like the flower of its namesake). It’s made using Daisy Infused Lillet Blanc stirred with Snow Leopard Vodka over broken grapefruit zest. I’m not sure I get an exact taste of the daisy (not that I remember chowing down on one recently) but there’s a definite zing from the grapefruit that is then followed by a floral lingering on the palate which is the taste equivalent of fresh washing. It’s not got the wincing kick of alcohol that some Martini’s have, and whether this is because it’s wet rather than dry, or just the premium vodka, then it slips down very easily.
I didn’t expect to get cocktail envy straight off the bat, but when a gorgeous amber Old Fashioned arrives in an impressive cut glass tumbler, and I finally get a chance to take a sip, then I want to do break one of the ten commandments and steal it for myself. We’re told that the Black Sticky Rice liquor is brought specially from one shop in Elephant and Castle. There’s a definite sweetness, but nothing too sugary – it’s rich and fabulous and almost like the whisky has been infused for ages. It’s gone in a couple of sips and is one of the best whisky cocktails I’ve ever had.
So far, so very impressive. Next we decide to go off piste with two more adventurous drinks. I choose a Dry Cherry Illegal. This is Ilegal Mezcal (the name of the brand, not a dodgy black-market liquor snuck in over the boarder at midnight), as well as the juice of grilled Sicilian lemons, Cherry Marnier and Bitters. When it arrives it’s in another larger martini glass, and has a frosted rim of ruby crystals that transpire to be an Amarena Cherry sugar rim. The taste of the bright red drink is amazing, and pops with the same intensity as the colour. The flavour will transport any girl who ever wore cherry chapstick (or any guy who kissed a girl wearing cherry chapstick…), and although there is a slightly medicinal aftertaste from the Mezcal, I thoroughly enjoy it. It’s also good to play the classic game of ‘try not to lick your lips until the end of the drink’, and then enjoy the sweet n’ sour sherbet kick of the encrusted glass. This definitely adds an extra dimension to the flavours.
Alice has gone for the very attractive sounding Pretty Little Shanty Town. This is dark rum, Velvet Falermurn, lime, ginger, orange bitters and molasses. The result is a very tasty rum cocktail nicely balanced by the ginger and orange, made slightly more rich and even cinnamon-esque by the molasses. It reminds me of Christmas drinks and walking through forests kicking up leaves. I like it.
I’m inspired by Alice’s rum choice, and so I ask to try the first choice on the menu, the Uncle Mauby. This is made using fermented pineapple wine, fresh Granadilla (which is a Columbian passion fruit), white and dark rum, Mauby bark syrup and lavender sugar. Well that ticks off quite a few ingredients I’ve never tasted before. When it arrives it’s in another lovely glass – a heavy ceramic vessel, with half the Granadilla glistening on the top and a wee little spoon to scoop out the flesh. The taste is powerful and (unsurprisingly) rummy, with a lovely fruity base that isn’t too sweet or watered down.
Alice goes for a Galangal Rose – prosecco, Juniper Gin, fresh lemon and galangal ginger. This arrives fizzing in a flute. I am not a huge fan of bubbles, so even though I can appreciate the delicate flavours then I’m not wowed. I don’t remember being bowled over by the ginger, either.
Next up and by this time I’ve had enough cocktails to be really daring and try something I would never usually go for – a concoction incorporating Carlsberg Special Brew. Yep, that’s right – the Grass Arena is a drink inspired by John Healy’s tale of homeless alcoholism and chess. So I’m basically ordering a cocktail fit for a tramp. Again, the delivery is fun – a flask bottle with the slightly dubious looking liquid inside. The rest of the ingredients are chilli infused Dewar’s Whisky, home made cranberry syrup and Buckfast Tonic Wine. Definitely a sink or swim cocktail…
…and unfortunately it’s the former. All I really thought I could taste was the larger, albeit slightly more cranberry-y. I applaud the idea, but it wasn’t really my bag, even for the novelty. But I know that some of the list is changing, so perhaps this will be one of the drinks that is gradually phased out.
Alice went for Tannery – vodka, Araku (a rum coffee liqueur), that Nigerian Guinness foam that so intrigued us, chilli and raw chocolate. It’s rich, smooth, and I don’t taste the chilli too much but think the foam contrast nicely. We end up sharing this one as I’m kind of done with my homeless-juice.
So, time for one last cocktail before we wobble back down the aisle and out into the world. Alice goes for a Cracked Sky which is inspired by a Jim Morrison song. This is Chartreuse Green, Bristol Caribbean black spiced rum, Grenadine and Old Jamaican Ginger beer. Good choice on her part – the ginger beer is strong, spicy, and we can really taste the rum. Even better for lovers of ginger, there is a little pot of firey shavings that go right up your nose and really do enhance the taste of the cocktail.
And me? I can’t help it. I finish our session with an amazing Black Sticky Rice Old Fashioned. Mmmm.
It’s also worth mentioning that during this session we also somehow fit in time to try some of the homemade amaretto and limoncello (simply superb), and one of the only reason we’re not staggering like lepers at the end is that we line our stomach with tapas from Angels and Gypsies. This is naturally delicious, and I urge anyone visiting to give it a go.
Communion is a great concept – a bar that looks great, is slightly tongue-in-cheek, and makes for a beautiful space to relax. But what it delivers on aesthetics are certainly not compromised within the menu – this is a well thought out selection, mixing unusual ingredients with ingenuity and a true desire to excite the palate. I heartily advise anyone who loves an interesting cocktail to come and give it a go it – prices are incredibly decent, and since it’s relatively new then you’re likely to get a table and not have to wait ages at the bar – although it may not be long before this becomes the hot new place to be seen.
Importantly, there’s no tricky showmanship – just true genius combinations. As Rob the barman told us, ‘at the end of the day, it’s all about the taste.’ And while Communion also gets so many other things right (decor, glasses, presentation), then it’s certainly true that here, the taste triumphs.