15:50 GMT // 14 Jun 2011
Address: 2 Varnishers Yard, Regents Quarter, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AW
Tel: +44 (0)20 771 38229
Hours: Mon-Thurs 5pm-1am; Fri and Sat: 5pm-2am
Type: Cocktail bar
VOC stands for Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, which is a bit of a mouthful so we can understand the abbreviation. It translates as the Dutch East India Company, which gives you more of a clue as to what's on the menu - punch and other old-time drinks. It's in the newly created Regent's Quarter - that's King's Cross to you and me - in the same courtyard as Camino, which you might be familiar with.
The drinks list has been conjured up by Fluid Movement, the drinks consultancy run by the boys behind Purl and the Worship Street Whistling Stop, so that explains the historical bent and the barrel-aged cocktails that evoke life on the High Seas.
In practice, that means there are small wooden casks - some former sherry butts and some new oak - displayed on a suspended shelf above bar and on the shelves behind, containing grogs and punches. Other cocktails are pre-mixed and aged in wax-sealed glass bottles, reached by a rather rickety ladder, plus there are various quirky concoctions and infusions, though there are freshly mixed options too.
Granted this bar has had no publicity yet, and only officially opens today, but on our visit the hordes of beer-drinkers frequenting Camino and its hole-in-the-wall sibling Pepito were paying no attention to VOC - perhaps drinks of this complexity are just too much for the local area, maybe it's because it was a nice evening and they wanted to stay outside. For our part, we see value in VOC adding to the ongoing debate about the merits of aging in wood, glass or whatever, and think that those beer drinkers are missing a trick.
We found we kept wanting to try more and more things - so we did: Genever aged in new oak with tea, lemon oils, bitters, cloves and honey; arrack rested with coriander seed, cloves, cinnamon and sugar; gin with porter, horseradish, apple, vanilla sugar and spices; cognac in ex-sherry casks with orange curacao, sugar and liquorice bitters.
Do they all work? Some more than others - there's far less complexity in some drinks than you might expect from having spent time in wood. All-in-all we like the experimental nature of the place, but for all its historic references it is experimental - no doubt the list will be honed as we all become more familiar with the effect of aging cocktails.
Address: 2 Whitehall Court, London SW1A 2EJ
Tel: +44 (0)871 376 9033
Type: Cocktail bar
Equus bar is in the Royal Horseguards Hotel - Equus is Latin for 'horse'. It's just had a refit, part of a massive upgrade to the hotel which has seen it emerge with five stars and this new gentleman's club-style bar.
Don't expect that you'll chance upon the bar - not only is the hotel on a back street that's less frequently travelled, the bar is a long walk from the hotel lobby through the lounge (turn right at the grand piano).
The decor and drinks dictate that this bar is likely to appeal to a fairly narrow clientele - that is, older, and male at that. On the former, we're talking posh fabrics, thick carpets, bas relief wall mouldings and portraits of the Duke of Wellington and the like - so no wood panelling but grown-up nonetheless. It's quiet, unless sounds from the resident harpist drift in from the lounge.
The drinks menu has been compiled by 'TV Mixologist' Andy Pearson and again is targeting a mature male drinker. They are all pretty stiff concoctions, named after weighty historical figures, epitomised by The Churchill, an Old Fashioned-style drink combining Maker's Mark, Ardbeg, homemade tobacco syrup and a homemade cigar-infused bottle of Maker's Mark that's sparingly used as a tobacco bitters. If that weren't enough, it's served in a cigar-smoked glass. It's a massive drink, easier on the palate than the nose, though it is probably what Churchill himself smelled (and tasted) like.
A short list of classic and modern classics, from the Mai Tai to a Russian Spring Punch, means there are at least some longer and fruitier little numbers.
In reality, this bar is a little bit tucked away and quiet to have much broad appeal, but there we go: it's on your radar.