It’s an icy, wet evening at the end of an icy, wet April the night we’re heading for Victory Mansion. In the twenty minute walk from my flat to their spot at the end of Stoke Newington High Street we pass roughly twelve places that I know to be great, and about a hundred more that might or might not be great but almost definitely have central heating.
Victory Mansion will have to be very warm and, actually, resplendent, to make up for how cold my hands are.
The name talks a big and grandiose game, but it’s actually one borne of their spot where Victoria Road meets Manse Road. It’s literary in theme – as well as the Orwellian name, the cocktail list’s split into Beatnik, Gonzo, Dystopian and True Confessions sections – and it’s flawless in credentials: Head Chef Sam Wilkinson’s ex-Ottolenghi, the group of founders are (self-described) ‘a collection of London bartenders and chefs who raided their piggy banks’ to open this odd, sweet place.
It’s not that busy when we arrive, far less so on a Thursday evening than it deserves to be. But they’ve hit a balance – the lighting dim but not gloomy, the music something more than background noise but far from pounding – and the lack of crowds makes it feel intimate rather than tumbleweedish. Nina Simone and Sinnerman beats on as an undercurrent. Palm-fronded wallpaper across one wall, Ye Olde-Time photos and ornaments hanging from another, and a lot of beautifully Art Deco lacquered wood and dark green leather in between: I want this to be my new living room, not least because this visit’s really highlighting the sad lack of ridiculously charismatic bartender in my existing living room.
The literary cocktail list’s all alluring but Beatnik is where all the best things are happening. We start with the Straight Outta Plumpton (gin, Yorkshire tea, dry orange, peach and Cinzano 1757), and the Mexico City Blues (Calle 23 tequila, mezcal, capsicum, lime and chilli bitters). The first is like a Waugh-era garden party in a glass, deceptively delicate and thunderingly alcoholic, the latter heated and lovely, like a dirty weekend on the Equatorial line – both are full of brilliant things, painstakingly brought together.
That goes for the food as well, each dish on the short menu sounds adventurous, borderline weird in its pairings – a dish of brined and charred leeks comes drizzled with agave and chilli yoghurt; tea smoked quail’s served with juniper aioli, pickled cucumber and shards of braeburn apple. When they arrive at our table, each combination feels like it couldn’t have been any way other than this: of course Padron peppers are turned into goats curd-stuffed, Panko-crumbed echoes of Jalapeno poppers; of course the beef brisket’s been Korean-spiced and comes with a thick, bright sludge of wild garlic and whole radishes, peppery leaves still on.
At a much higher price this would be great value for money. From Tuesday to Saturday five sharing dishes will set you back £25, and the house red’s a Portuguese Douro 850 that – at £19 a bottle – feels like a crazy pricing mistake working to your advantage.
So it’s a conundrum. On the one hand I want everybody to know about Victory Mansion, and for it to be full most nights but on the other hand I only want it to be full with people I’ve chosen, and sometimes not that full to keep it feeling secluded for date-nights. Basically I want a controlling interest in the bar and constant access to the Korean beef brisket and cocktail list.
In the basement parlour, at least, that’s an achievable dream. No less appealing than the upstairs space, it’s available for group bookings to take over – currently with no charge and no minimum spend.
In the interests of being thorough with the Beatnik cocktails, we do circle back to the Divorced in Mexico later (a twist on a negroni, the gin shunted out in favour of tequila and allspice), to go with our freshly-baked cookie dough madeleines. That ticks off the last of that cocktail subcategory, though thankfully there are three other sections begging to be mined another time.
Which I will, and soon, because this place is very lovely. Resplendent, even.
Victory Mansion, 18, Stoke Newington High Street, N16 7PL 0203 4416900. Website.