London Review : Cocktails and Nibbles at Bar20

Birley’s are legendary for their handmade deli-style sandwiches using the freshest of ingredients. Working in the City, my husband is very familiar with their brand. Which is why an invite from their PR team to review the all-day Bar20 venue and menu above their Fenchurch Street outlet was an exciting proposition.

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First, the bad news – its statement location in the city doesn’t do itself justice, due to its close proximity to the Walkie Talkie building. It gets completely overshadowed by its mighty neighbour and its illustrious resident Sky Garden which is really unfair. Other personal moans are the relatively obscure entrance and the sports-bar type look of its outside signage.

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But once you get past that, you find yourselves upstairs in a spacious wood-panelled hybrid of city boozer/modern pub/lounge bar/living room. Snug carpets, oversized chandeliers and comfy armchairs in bright, bold and colourful patterns makes this an informal and laidback space, in complete contrast to the vibeless grey, steel and glass of the cityscape outside.

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There are two very big reasons you should visit Bar20 – the cocktails and the service. If there was one overarching principle that I have learnt over the years of visiting countless restaurants and bars is that you can change the look and menu as much as you like, but service can make or break a place. And here, it is the people and their gold star service that elevates Bar20 to an even higher ground.

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Bar Manager Mariusz and his highly experienced team look after you with passion and polish. On the evening of our visit, they took care of the smallest of details. They were impeccably groomed, wearing warm and welcoming smiles, whilst maintaining a formal yet friendly demeanour. They are clearly adept at dealing with the well-heeled, moneyed crowds of the financial district. But as the evening drew to a close, we could see also see a more relaxed, honest and unassuming side to them. This is a family built on years of teamwork, passion, communication and loyalty and it’s refreshing!

So, the cocktails: exemplary, every last one of them.

We started with the Barrel Aged Negroni (£11.50) from the Classics range – Bombay Sapphire gin, Campari, Martini Rosso Riserva Speciale Vermouth. It was expertly-made, with the bitterness of the Campari balanced well by the gin and the Martini; a key to a good Negroni. The presentation was slick as well and it was every bit Kris’s favourite tipple.

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I tried the Mexican Garden (£10.50) – Jose Cuervo Blanco, rose syrup, guava and lime juice. It was a refreshing and sophisticated cocktail with sweet and tangy notes. The blue candy garnish was a nice touch to complement and offset the pink-ness of the cocktail.

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Next up for me was a Hemingway Daiquiri (£10.50) – Bacardi Blanco, Maraschino Liqueur and pink grapefruit. The Daiquiri is one of my all-time favourite cocktails and this one was delicious.

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Kris sampled another heavyweight from the Classic range – the Bar20 Old Fashioned (£11.50) – Bulleit infused with cherries, vanilla and coffee, bitters, maple syrup. He thought it was powerful and exceptionally well made. In fact, he ordered this a second time towards the end of our evening.

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I love my bubbles and the Classic French ’75 (£12.50) – Sarcey Brut NV, Bombay Gin, Lemon Juice was sparklicious.

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Kris joined me with a zingy Mango Caipirihna (£10.50) from the Signature collection – Velho Barrerio Cachaca, mango puree & lime. The mango gave this drink a false sense of security, as the underlying Cachacha made this a wonderfully lethal concoction.

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Saving the best for the last, my final cocktail of the evening was the enticing Jungle Book (£10.50) – Malibu, Midori, Banana – full of smooth, exotic and tropical flavours.

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Sustenance was provided by a selection of small plates and bar nibbles – some fabulous and some standard.

We were served an amuse bouche of Salmon Tartare and Bruschetta. The vividly orange citrus-cured flesh of the salmon was fresh and pleasing to the palate. The bruschetta had a cool, silky burrata on top, served on warm, crusty, thinly sliced bread, flecked with herbs for a bit of kick. It was heartening to see simple dishes done well.

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Highlights from the evening menu included a sublime and exquisite Beef Tataki (£8.95) –seared beef served with wild mushrooms and soy-ginger dressing. The lean and lovely slivers of beef were nicely seared; strewn with aromatic herbs and crunchy apple bits. There was a sharp and piquant, almost pickled flavour to this dish, gently grounded by the earthy mushrooms.

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A generous board of Italian Cured Meats (£14.95) had an exceptional range of hand-carved, good quality cold cuts. We could clearly see the Birley’s expertise at play here. I could gorge on those meats all day!

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The ubiquitous bar nibble of Crispy Baby Squid (£6.50) was pleasantly uplifted by the quality of the squid and the fresh, zingy herbs. The Birley Sliders (£6.95) missed the mark – a bit too butch for my liking and the meat could have been softer. The hand-cut chunky chips were crunchy but under-seasoned.

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But I thought the Pan-Fried Chilli Garlic Prawns and Chorizo (£8.95) were ace! Juicy, subtle prawns spiked up by the spicy chorizo for a bit of heat, gently laid over a puddle of garlicky, fragrant oil.

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Based on our evening, Bar20 is a great place for business meetings in relaxed surroundings, after-work drinks or a pre-dinner date. Cocktails are stellar here whilst food puts up a strong supporting cast. They are only open on weekdays and have some truly exceptional offers that will help make your wallet go the distance.

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I loved this place for its cocktails and the staff. If they can move away from some of the the more masculine, lads-pleasing dishes in the evening menu (more of that Beef Tataki please!) and create a couple of tweaks to the interiors and lighting for a more intimate evening atmosphere, it can truly become a stylish destination in its own right.

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Location: 20 Fenchurch Street, London EC3M 3BY

More information can be found here.

N.B. I was invited to review.

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