Sunday, 10 October 2010

Anise, Devonshire Square, City

Anyone looking to identify cultural differences between Americans and Brits need look no further than their drinking habits.
9 Devonshire SquareLondon EC2M 4YL
020 7626 5000

Whereas Americans, and particularly Californians, see hotel bars as a viable drinking option (and in some cases, an aspirational one), Brits tend to view them as a pre-dinner or night-cap option. Perfectly adequate, but not the type of place around which you would base your evening.
I’m not sure what either culture makes of bars attached to restaurants, but one place that seems to have the formula right is Anise in Devonshire Square, near Liverpool Street station. Situated in the old East India Company building, Anise is a sister establishment to the Cinnamon Club in Westminster - that much-loved restaurant of politicians and aging celebrities.

The bar itself is completely separate to the Cinnamon Kitchen (turn left at the entrance rather then right) and is a surprisingly large, modern industrial space with a square bar at the centre and gray sofas on the perimeter. With dimmed lighting, lashings of blacks and purple, and romantic candles thrown into the mix, Anise can seem more nightclub then bar, a feeling they are happy to reinforce with the requisite DJ, decks and That’s What I Call Music soundtrack. Outside there is the added bonus of a large courtyard, perfect for those long summer evenings.
On the drinks and nibbles front, Anise draws on its Indian heritage and offers an Asian twist on cocktails - the Cinnamon Bellini, Saffron Martini and Anise Gibson are some of their better interpretations of classics (although personally, I think the spiced Kir Royal with green chillies is a step too far). Spicy sausages, duck spring rolls, and home made tapioca crisps are the stand-out items on the snacks menu.
Yet the big draw card for this bar is not the Michelin-star-style appetisers or the school-disco ambiance that takes over the place early evening, but rather the 2-for-1 happy hour on all drinks. It sends the local credit-crunched office workers into a drinking frenzy. To their credit, the efficient and very charming bar staff serve your drinks quickly and without fuss, unlike their attention-seeking counterparts at nearby Be-at-One in Spitalfields. And if you’re organised, you can book a space that comes complete with a hostess who makes sure your drinks and nibbles are delivered to your table. No need to even stand up.

So what’s not to like about it? Despite its location, the quality of its 'product', and admirable aspirations, the bar lacks an identity. It’s not quiet enough to be romantic, but probably not energetic enough to be an outright party bar. In a nutshell, Anise feels safe and reliable. Like a hotel bar.