Look closely at this all-day King’s Cross café-bar, and it’s like a museum to drinking. It’s filled with vintage bottles and the posters that once advertised them, but vermouth in particular is this place’s kink. Rows of the stuff decorate the backbar, looking like a red-and-green light installation, and there’s a load of spiel at the back of the menu about the historic link between Italian booze brands and road cycling teams. It’s nerdy, but it’s a good look to champion – let’s face it, the Italians always nail it in the style stakes.
It was early in the week but all tables – in intimate proximity to each other – were taken, so we sat at the bar hoping for the best service in the house. But we struggled to catch anybody’s eye and staff seemed rushed when we did get their attention. They’d also run out of one of two vermouths on tap. But those niggles aside, I really liked the menu – an encyclopaedia of vermouths and amaros split out by sweetness and including vintage collections.
All are served in 50ml measures over ice, and on-menu descriptions help you meet your match: the bianco (the one on tap) lived up to its charming description – ‘rose, jasmine and chamomile’ – and cost £4, like many other drops (you could quite happily try a few flavours without blowing your budget). Salty, robust dishes inspired by the Med went well with bitter flavours – from a chickpea and octopus stew flecked with lemon zest to a creamy burrata topped with delicate shavings of pear.
Spritzes will come into their own in the summer, from classics – including a ruby-red, bitter and bubbly Veneziano – to a build-your-own option that makes full use of that vermouth list. A pretty courtyard at the foot of Coal Drops Yard is festooned with strings of lightbulbs and is surely just counting down the days to what is sure to be a heaving summer.