Following a pleasant Korean meal to catch up with Lucia, James and Dave, I was tasked with selecting a bar for us to see out the remainder of the night, and where we would meet Annabel and her not-so-new beau. Given that we were near Tottenham Court Road and to maintain the evening’s Oriental theme, I decided it was a good opportunity to try out Shochu Lounge.
The quiet basement bar is located directly under Japanese restaurant Roka and unless you are looking for Roka you are likely, as we did, first to walk straight past. Shochu Lounge is dimly lit and moody, with rather blocky decor, the bar top being carved from a large slab of wood. The bar itself and small tables on one side are available for drinkers, while the larger tables are kept for those dining (the food being supplied by Roka upstairs).
The bar’s namesake Japanese drink, a vodka-like spirit but about half as strong, is found throughout the cocktail menu both in variations on classics and in suitably contemporary options like the Final Fantasy. Given its relative weakness, the spirit’s flavour tends to vanish somewhat in cocktails, resulting in refreshing drinks when mixed with fruit juices or ginger, but somewhat bland in other drinks like my (admittedly very fresh) cucumber martini.
Although the bar was only half full on a Sunday night, service seemed rather inattentive and distant (with the bar itself often left vacant — perhaps table service was better). At least, that is, until I enquired about pure shōchū. At this our bartender came alive, producing a few small tasting bowls and explaining enthusiastically that shōchū can be made from a variety of bases but typically barley, potato or rice. He provided us with the (almost flavourless) house brand for mixing, along with some more nuanced varieties that he suggested would be drunk alone in Japan. One smelled powerfully of potato whilst lacking a distinct flavour; the other tasted like a whiskey watered down to half strength.
A pleasant experience, I don’t see shōchū becoming a fixture in my cabinet though I can see myself returning to the bar on occasion for a quiet post-dinner drink. Not nearly often enough, however, to consider purchasing one of the 4.2 litre jars which sit on a shelf with your name until you next return to drink from it. Yet at £260 they are actually a surprisingly affordable goal for those who take more of a shining to this particular spot.