What? Hidden behind an unassuming door on Old Compton Street (there is no sign so keep your eyes peeled) is Swift, a cocktail bar from husband and wife team Bobby Hiddleston and Mia Johansson who honed their cocktail skills at Milk & Honey, Dead Rabbit and Callooh Callay. They’ve joined up with Rosie Stimpson and Edmund Weil of Nightjar and Oriole the award winning bars.
New? Yes, it only opened at the end of November.
Where? 12 Old Compton Street, Soho, W1D 4TQ, www.barswift.com
On the Menu: Upstairs you’ll find classic serves and a selection of aperitifs focusing on Martinis whilst downstairs is all about whisky and cocktails such as the New Lace made from Plymouth, Martini dry birch eau de vie, Mastiha and St Germain. When it comes to eating, the menu is succinct with just a handful of options including native and rock oysters, choripan and steak tarare.
First Impressions: As with Nightjar and Milk & Honey, it’s easy to walk past Swift if you don’t know it’s there. This is no sign, just a small bird but this didn’t stop it being packed. Visiting any bar in the week before Christmas you can guarantee it’s going to be busy with last minute catch ups (we go the rest of the year without seeing friends for a week at a time, why we all suddenly have to do it before Christmas I don’t know), colleagues toasting the end of the year and festive Tinder dates. Visit a bar in Soho the week before Christmas and it’s going to be even busier. Swift was no different, except that they keep the upstairs bar open for walk-ins and the downstairs bar for reservations, so no one was turned away and somehow it still felt relaxed, you didn’t feel like you were playing a game of cocktail fuelled sardines -which is always nice.
The Look: With exposed bulbs, gold frames, mirrors and light coloured the walls, the upstairs bar is much brighter than its moodier, darker downstairs counterpart. With more space for standing, the upstairs bar is inspired by the Art Nouveau movement and features a bright ornate bar and monochrome tiling – it’s here that you come for a quick drink before you head home or move on to dinner or the theatre. Downstairs is more intimate, the sort of place where you can settle in for an evening, rather than have one drink and move on. Low ceilings, a curved Art Deco-esque bar, dim lighting and dark blue bar stools are joined by black lacquer, deep red, crescent banquettes and sofas to sink into.
What We Ate: We started with the punchy steak tartare – it’s got a kick to it and you’ll want to order more crostini to scoop up every last bit. Balance it out with the fresh aubergine dip, it comes topped with cool yogurt and a zingy chilli sauce. The Guinness Welsh rarebit is sheer perfection though. It’s anything but dainty, it’s too be enjoyed for all it’s cheesy, caramelised, comfort food glory. It’s the sort of thing that when you first take a bite, you and your friend both look at each other as if to say ‘it doesn’t get much better than this’. Safe to say we swiftly ordered another plate.
What We Drank: If, like me, it doesn’t get much better than an Old Fashioned but you’re looking for something a little different then try the Amber Cane. It brings together flavours of chilli, chocolate and orange with Swift Jamaican rum blend, Madeira, Benedictine, orange curacao and Molé bitters. I highly recommend it. Or if you’re looking for something fresher, then try the Mountain Spring, Absolut Elyx is mixed with pine aquavit, sake jasmine, cucumber and topped with soda.
Bringing together coconut which I haven’t been able to get enough of this year and whisky is the White Water. Great King St Glasgow Blend whisky is mixed with coconut falernum, a sweet syrup with a tropical taste and banana. Lying somewhere between a pudding and a cocktail, an Irish coffee rounds of the cocktail menu, with just the right amount of sweetness and more subtle than you think, it’s made with Jameson Caskmates, demerara syrup, coffee, cream and nutmeg.
Go With: Don’t waste these cocktails on someone who 1) doesn’t like cocktails 2) thinks a strawberry daiquiri is the height of cocktail sophistication, go with someone who will truly appreciate them. Downstairs also makes for a great date spot.
Final Word: If there is a group of you and you want to sit downstairs then we suggest you book a table – it’s busy and whilst they do keep bar seats aside you can’t guarantee space. I also have to say that it’s the best service I’ve ever had at a bar, they’ve met their aim of being like a friendly local pub and then some, they treat you like old friends