Gin Joint summons up images of a Hogarthian drinking dive and den of depravity. Indeed according to Brian Martin, manager of this latest relaunch of the normally rather staid Searcys restaurant in the Barbican Centre some of the new bar and restaurant’s inspiration did indeed come from some rather nefarious establishments which used to grace, if that’s the right word, the area in times past when the residents of Cripplegate, just outside London’s city walls to the north, were perhaps a rather more deprived, and perhaps depraved, population than the Barbican residents of today. Indeed Martin told us, when we warily ventured into this ‘new’ drinking and eating den that the area at one time was reckoned to support some 500 illegal gin stills!
But aficionados of the old Searcys need not worry too much. Despite a summer-long refurbishment the new restaurant looks remarkably like the old one – indeed the shape of the space does not lend itself to a great deal of change. The tables are well spaced, the chairs are comfortable. The old semicircular booths along one of the walls are still there. There’s no sign of spit or sawdust on the floor – indeed soft furnishings serve to keep the noise down, noise being one of the problems at many modern restaurants for those of us as we get older and hearing at some ranges tends to become more difficult.
The pleasant views over St Giles church and the lakes are, of course, unchanged as are the big windows which make the ambience light and airy during daylight hours. In short those who liked Searcys as it was will probably be perfectly happy with its new persona, despite whatever the new name conjures up. And if they like gin as a tipple then that would be a real bonus as the bar listing includes over 30 different varieties of London Dry Gin (including refrigerated gin on tap), plus Plymouth Gin and, of course some very interesting gin based cocktail offerings – pricing dependent on which premium gin is selected.
The menu has definitely changed though, but again there is plenty there to satisfy most tastes, plus some unusual – and fairly low priced – main course offerings, alongside a number dishes prepared on the restaurant’s charcoal fired Bertha grill, which is designed to bring that chargrillesd special flavour to meat and fish prepared on it.
The bar area remains much as was – perhaps a few tweaks. It does seem to be doing reasonable trade, but then perhaps gin is the spirit of the moment. Also one should point out that Gin Joint does indeed serve other spirits and other cocktails which are not gin based, as well as wines and beers.
When we visited, on a Tuesday evening, the restaurant was not that busy – perhaps less than half full, but when there are concerts or theatre performances the number of covers served can be quite high, and there is a special, reasonably priced, pre-theatre menu to cater for this (£16 for two courses and £20 for three), so if eating early on a day when there are performances in the Concert Hall or theatres it might be advisable to book. But it is a big space so there is a good chance they’ll be able to squeeze you in anyway.
Our experience with the new menu is definitely positive, For starters we had a half lobster and crab cakes – both excellent. Crab cakes can be a bit hit or miss at a number of even top rated restaurants, but the ones served at Gin Joint are packed with crustacean meat and nice and moist in the middle and served with a great jalapeno salsa. The half lobster was succulent and really tasty. Other starter options include smoked salmon, prawn cocktail, foie gras, a cucumber and gin gazpacho, veg salad , mushroom and shallot.tart and a seafood platter to share which we understand from other reviews to be ample and excellent.
From the grill there is a selection of steaks available at reasonable prices by London standards, rack of lamb, a couple of fish options and whole lobster. We chose a rib eye steak, medium rare and the rack of lamb. Both excellently cooked and very good. They come with triple cooked chips, or new potatoes and a choice of a variety of herb butters or sauces. Perhaps worth ordering a side as well. We had baby spinach and nutmeg – very well prepared.
In addition to the grills there is an interesting selection of ‘main’ courses available, although in a way some of these could almost be described as ‘pub food’, although no doubt prepared and presented rather better. For example there is a take on bacon , egg, beans and chips, although there are some more traditional sounding dishes too: grilled pork collar, chicken and three vegetarian options – cauliflower cheese rarebit, braised artichokes or a beetroot falafel.
And so to dessert. Again a good choice from sticky toffee pudding to baked spiced pineapple, plum and almond crumble, a gin and tonic granita, ice creams and sorbets and a good cheese serving. The usually excellent quality of the Searcys food has not been diminished under the new Gin Joint branding!
There is a fairly small wine list with a number available by the glass of half litre carafe. Bottles range from around £21.50 (A Chilean sauvignon and merlot) up to around £75. We had a carafe of the sauvignon and a glass of rioja. Both good.
There is a pre-theatre menu, served from 5 pm to 7 pm, which comes in at £16 for 2 courses and £20 for three with a reasonable selection of dishes available – all off the main menu. There is also a special express lunch menu at £10 for the main course and £5 for either starter or dessert .
There is also a Sunday night dinner menu served from 5 pm to 10.30 – again with starters at £5, mains at £10 and desserts at £5, and this provides a choice of five starters, five mains and five desserts.
For Barbican residents, to have this on one’s doorstep is great. And for visitors to the Barbican Centre it would be a great place to have a special meal. No doubt it will also be a popular venue for the surrounding offices for entertaining clients for a business lunch – at least they’ll be able to hear what each other is saying!
There have been a number of comments on the barbicantalk.com web bulletin board and all appear to have been strongly favourable, as have been comments from other I have talked to. All in all, Gin Joint deserves to be a success.
Opening hours are from 12 noon to 2.30 for lunch Monday to Friday and from 5pm to 10.30 pm Monday-Sunday for dinner. The restaurant is in the Barbican Centre on level 2. Call 020 7588 3008 for reservations. Barbican residents may receive a 10% discount. Gin Joint by Searcys is a contributor to the StreetSmart restaurant charity for the homeless with an optional £1 added to the total bill during November and December to support homeless charities at Christmas.