Who are Hoxley & Porter? You won’t find them pulling pints, but a squint at the website suggests a back story about one of them being a Victorian explorer. For this is another theme bar on Upper Street. Not mock Mexican, cod Cuban or faux-Oirish this time, but one that hangs on to the petticoats of the 19th-century colonial explorer look.
So there are potted palms, uniformed staff, patterned wallpaper, vintage lighting. A long restaurant area at the front is intended to evoke an upper-class dining carriage, which serves the period dishes such as devilled liver on toast as well as the more modern-sounding barley and mushroom risotto with pecorino, or chocolate crème brûlée with popping candy.
What makes H & P worth a trip back to the age of steam, however, are the cocktails, which look to the West Indies for inspiration. Many preparations, liqueurs and bitters are made in-house – try the Regal Roberts, made with earl grey-infused gin, vanilla sugar and lemon; Our Grog, a Caribbean mixture of rums with falernum syrup and bitters, will have you drooling in the right way. All are served in striking cut glasses, all are strong, suave and precise.
After years as an arid desert with few oases for discerning drinkers, this bit of Islington is beginning to see some more interesting bars worthy of exploration – there’s Taproom, John Salt, House of Wolf and Smokehouse over on Canonbury Road. Even if the vague Victoriana at H&P isn’t worth crossing continents for, it’s good to see another bit of the atlas coloured empire-pink.
Reviewed by Euan Ferguson