Bristol’s range of speakeasy style bars and drinking dens has become well known in the past few years – no longer are these places only known by a select few, or deliberately hidden from public view, but they’re now branching into bigger events and brasher menus.
Her Majesty’s Secret Service was one of the later additions to the cocktail scene and one I was slightly suspicious of at first, as rather than the mysterious and sophisticated vibe of its cousins Hyde & Co or Red Light, this place went for unusual combinations of flavours in playful vessels, such as one cocktail in a takeaway noodle box (topped with crispy noodles), or a sharing cocktail in a miniature toilet bowl.
It wasn’t until I actually paid the place a visit that I realised that these guys are about far more than gimmicks (and hot damn do I love a gimmick) – the cocktails are flingin’ excellent too.
As well as delighting me with their creative concoctions in the bar, they’ve also provided me with some fun drinks at Bristol Cocktail Week, Cocktails in the City and Bristol in the Sky this year – and I’m always amazed at what they manage to pull of the bag (sometimes quite literally; I’ve even had a cocktail served in a fake broken egg!)
I’ve been a regular at HMSS for a while now – although less so since I made the decision to move from nearby Redland to south of the river. So it was with a spring in my step that I made my way up Whiteladies Road to try their bang-spanking-new menu.
As you’ve probably worked out by now, surprises are always part of the deal at HMSS – so even after I’d opened up my mini map book of the UK (each of the cocktails on the new menu are themed after different areas of the country), I still had no idea what to expect from the drinks I was about to order.
Luckily I’d decided to go with fellow boozehound Nat so that we could divide and conquer as much of the menu as possible.
Our first round was an Angel of Mercy (Walnut-Jack Daniels, coffee-stout reduction and sweet vermouth) for me and a Loch Ness Mobster (Patron Silver tequila, peach wine, lemon juice, spritz absinthe and laughing gas) for Nat – take a look at these beauties:
My Angel of Mercy was inspired by the North East – taking its name from the looming Angel of the North sculpture outside Newcastle. Let me tell you, this drink was the closest cocktail equivalent to ingesting a steel girder that I can think of. The creamy sweet stout with its Jack Daniels kick made me think of a Guinness with a sturdy depth charge in it, and that shiny rock on top? Well, I won’t spoil the surprise, but that ain’t a lump of hard granite my friend.
Nat’s Loch Ness Mobster was like drinking sherbert air – a much more satisfying experience than I’ve made it sound. The flavour was sweet, sour and intense – seriously moreish, but also so light that it dissipated almost immediately, like boozy candyfloss. Bizarre, but it worked.
Our next round was a Cliffside Royale (Giffard Menthe Pastille, caraway & fennel liqueur and lemon juice, topped with sparkling wine) for me and the Greenhouse Project (Sugar snap Hendricks, British dry white wine, 1 spear asparagus and a dash of celery bitters) for Miss Nat.
The Cliffside Royale was more in line with the sort of cocktails I usually order – short, powerful and complex, which incidentally is how I like my men*. The fennel liquer and lemon juice added a fair bit of syrupy sourness, lightened by the sparkling wine, with a weird light minty finish – it sounds all kinds of wrong, but I’ve never drank anything like it, and I quaffed it down far quicker than I should have.
I wasn’t too fussed about Nat’s Greenhouse Project – the flavours were nice and fresh but not quite impactful enough for me. It looked great on the table though – just don’t try drinking it whilst still in its leafy box like we did…
And here are some much nicer pictures not impeded by low lighting:
As ever, our night at HMSS was silly, surprising and seriously tasty. Every cocktail packed a mighty punch, both in terms of strength and flavour, and it never ceases to impress me how they come up with such bizarre combinations of ingredients which they then deliver in even weirder contraptions.
If you’ve not paid these guys a visit yet – it’s a Bristol must-do. And if you’re a barfly like me, you’ll be just as impressed with the latest menu as usual. Cheers fellas!
Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Whiteladies Gate (next to Clifton Down station)
Disclaimer doodle: These cocktails were free of charge, but I was not asked to send any copy in advance, and my opinion was unswayed (I already thought they were great, as you’ve read above).