11 Dec 214 Bermondsey
I’m here with Nick Crispini at 214 Bermondsey. Nick can you tell us a bit about the idea behind 214, the inspiration etc.?
I wanted to open my own restaurant and that took about 5 years. I live locally, found this venue, which was a shell, so I turned it into an Italian restaurant, I’m half Italian, and that’s on the ground floor. Then I wanted to do something with the area in the basement, basically just for my own personal love of gin, and it was also growing and becoming in vogue at the time, so I decided to open a gin bar.
So when was this?
Beginning of 2013
So you say you’ve got a love of gin anyway, is this through you know…
(Crispini cuts in with a blunt response) I like juniper.
Right, Fair enough. So it’s not a family thing, it wasn’t a student thing, just something you grew into?
No, I love food and drink. I love taste. I love lots of things, but my spirit of choice is gin for sure.
Have you got any ideas about why gin has had such a resurgence in the last 18 months or so?
Well, it stems a little bit longer than that, it’s kind of been slowly growing since Bombay Sapphire changed the image back in the 80s, but it really kicked off with a few key brands at the beginning of this century. The main thing is that it’s a wonderfully flavoured spirit: it’s so interesting and intricate. Knowing other spirits and the way they’re made, with gin, a lot of flavour comes in a different way: the technique is quite different. I mean, essentially gin is a flavoured vodka and you know, if you like a white spirit with something more to it you’ll drink gin… if you don’t like flavour then generally you’ll drink vodka.
So up until, as you say, Bombay Sapphire sort of pushed their brand, it was all really the big boys, but now it seems there are a lot of artisan stills (distilleries) popping up everywhere, have you heard of these?
Absolutely, yeah, they normally knock on our door when they come to market.
Right, so you support these young stills?
Absolutely. I mean, for example, we’ve got one of our signatures which is a gin tasting flight. Much on the same lines as you know you have wine flights, beer flights etc or ale flights. And this particular one is called ‘Tour of London’ and all three gins are small artisan gin brands from London. So I think that epitomises supporting that.
Excellent. And you briefly mentioned your own blend of tonic water or your own recipe of tonic water, can you tell us about that?
So when I first opened the gin bar, I found although there are a lot of gins, and this was 3 years ago, there were continually new ones coming out, I think it was about 3 or 4 a week, but limited mixers, obviously the main one is tonic, to go with it. And I found that the tonics available are often quite sweet and also quite bitter. And then also a lot of flavours were added to them as well, so it was kind of not showing the gin in the best light. So I set out with my colleague Laurence Mason to develop our own tonic and in essence, it’s exactly the opposite of what we found in other brands. It’s less sweet, less bitter, and the only flavour is natural quinine, which is where the colour comes from; it’s a golden colour. Quinine comes from the bark of a tree called the Cinchona tree which grows on the equator, so we actually use the bark itself and infuse it in our tonic water. We also don’t add any additional botanicals, so there’s no lemon, there’s not herbs, which is often creeping up in a lot of tonics these days. In essence, rather than mask the gin, it actually opens it up. So you’ll find when you try different gins without tonic water you’ll really notice the difference and the unique nuances of each and every gin. So that’s essentially it.
Okay so we’ll now pause to try the ‘Tour of London’ and I’ll elaborate on that if you go to the ‘Bars’ section of the website.
The trend from Spain is a Gin Tonica which is a gin and tonic served in a big open wine glass and they like to match their tonics with their gins and also have quite a flamboyant garnish as well, almost making a cocktail out of their gin and tonic. We’ve actually gone the other end of the spectrum. We say that gin is full of so much flavour, you’ll have at least generally 7-9 botanicals in every gin, right up to, obviously, Monkey 47 has 47. So why play around with, or conflict with, those flavours and actually what we’re saying is just let the gin do the talking. And that’s why we actually don’t serve it with a garnish. If you want a garnish then that’s great but you’re not going to really get that distinctive flavour. You know, its preference. It’s like if you stick cucumber in a… in anything, it will taste of cucumber, it’s a very pungent flavour. If you’d like a cucumber flavoured gin I can give you one, it’s not Hendricks, that’s actually more rose. It’s got rose and cucumber in it, but Martin Miller’s is super cucumbery and you don’t need to add that cucumber to it. But that’s obviously the preference of the drinker.
So going back to the BTW – your tonic water, I haven’t got my glasses on, have we got notes of what’s in there? Or is it a guarded secret?
No, no, the recipe isn’t a guarded secret, but it took a long time to develop. There’s actually only 4 ingredients, one of which is water. So there’s Cinchona, which is where the quinine comes from, sugar and citric acid. You always need that balance of a little bit of acidity and sweetness and water, that’s it. So it’s pretty much totally unadulterated and it’s all natural as well.
So is it only available in your restaurant and your bar?
No, you can go to BTW-drinks.com and there’s a list of places, we’re picking up new vendors all the time, you can get them in kind of specialist shops, you can buy them online, and slowly, slowly we are getting them into bars, hotels, restaurants from London to Scotland to Italy right the way to Hong Kong and last week we sent a shipment to Australia.
So is it just 200ml? Is that the standard? Just that one size?
Yeah, at the moment. It’s not cheap bottling.
But it’s all local produce or local bottled?
It’s made in Bermondsey, it’s bottled in the midlands, there’s only a few bottlers around. And the Cinchona comes from Ecuador. As I said, Cinchona, it grows along the equator, it’s definitely found in Congo and its local name is fever tree, that’s where Fever Tree got their name.
Yeah, because that seems to be the sort of tonic of choice at the moment, everyone is using Fever Tree.
Yes (begrudgingly). (interviewer laughs). It’s now owned by a fund and er… they are very aggressive.
Just going by your demeanour, I mean as you’ve got a gin bar, surely you should have a check shirt done up to the top, tattoos and a big beard?
(He laughs) Er… every other person is like that but I’m a little bit too old now.