03 January 2011

n.d.p. in london: ECC chinatown, soho

In London I met up with my New Zealand-via-Paris friends P and Z*, and since we all share an interest in good cocktails, we took the opportunity to check out the new Chinatown location of the Parisian bar group Experimental Cocktail Club.

ECC founders Romée de Goriainoff, Olivier Bon and Pierre-Charles Cros have lassoed a really tremendous site for their first cross-channel endeavor: it's a former nightclub with a 3am license located above a Chinese restaurant on a mobbed street just south of mobbed Soho. Once you claw your way in the unmarked door (which, confusingly, opens outwards but has no handle), you find yourself ensconced in the plush cushions of capital L-luxury, two ambitious floors of it.

So, as much as the lack of signage might hint at the sort of low-key elegance that typifies the original ECC location on Rue Saint-Saveur, the new bar is in fact another grand ante-up beyond Prescriptions, ECC's most recent, and most vulgar, bar in Paris' 6ème arrondissement.

Of course, I can't really blame the co. for exploiting the momentum of their success to the fullest extent. ECC are pretty much the be-all, end-all monopoly of proper cocktails in Paris. I just would have taken things in a different direction, had I been involved. (Less mass market, less conventional, possibly less profitable...) To me, the same foreigner naïveté that would inspire the name "Experimental Cocktail Club" in the first place is evident, in a less charming form, in the bar-group's de facto association of cocktails with dead-obvious luxury environments.  Ooh-la-la, etc. Every bar these folks open gets successively larger, grander, and less distinctive. I'm waiting for them to open a cruise line. 

I will, however, admit to being impressed with the sophisticated mirror use in ECC Chinatown. From where we were sat in the corner, it was possible to gaze into the surface of our table and see, in double-reflection from the bar's mirrored ceilings, the bartender mixing our drinks. It probably makes for a very nervous panoptic working environment, but it's a great show nonetheless.

The drinks themselves were predictably excellent, with the exception of P's selection, "Autumn In Normandy," wherein that most manly of spirits, Calvados, was somehow repurposed in service of a froofy sparkler-floated ditz-drink.

I had a "Stone Raft," a delightfully subtle blend of sherry, chili-infused tequila, mezcal, agave nectar, and celery bitters. It was part of a series of cocktails selected from the lists of famous North American cocktail bars, although I forget from which bar this particular drink derived.**

We had shown up early, precisely at opening actually, and were greeted with what is by now a familiar shock at ECC establishments: wonderful customer service. It perhaps helped that P and Z were acquainted with the manager from his time at the Paris locations, but excellent hospitality really is the norm at these places. Along with cocktails, it marks ECC's second monopoly in Paris, and represents a service convention that, unlike overpolished luxury snazz, I continue to admire.

* I'm afraid this sentence verges on self-parody. "Then we all dashed off to Mumbai to eat Korean BBQ with the Princess of Monaco," etc. 

** I like this particular trend in cocktail bars, wherein they pay homage to / express solidarity with the ever-expanding international cocktail scene by including other bartenders' drinks. It's a cute trend, one that helps educate customers by establishing which bars are considered peers of the bar in question. Anything that causes the great drinking populace to demand more than mojitos and dirty martinis is fine in my book. 

ECC Chinatown
13 Gerrard St.
London W1D 5PS
Tel: +44 20 7434 3559

Related Links:

Izrael, a good place to scout out cocktail supplies in the Marais, 75004

A review of ECC Chintown @ NewLondonCocktailReview, in which the author detests the "Stone Raft" I found so enjoyable.
A review of ECC Chinatown @ NYTimesTMagazine

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