Review - The Plotting Parlour

Review – The Plotting Parlour

My cocktail arrives in a very 70s bowl-shaped glass with a tall, emerald stem. A wooden honey stirrer dipped in homemade lemon and lavender marmalade, and adorned with fresh borage leaves, lies across its rim. I stir it into my “Beekeeper” (Wild Turkey Honey and lemon), take a deep sip, sit back and announce to my friend: “Right, I need to review this place. Mainly so we can come a few times and try everything on the menu.”

The Plotting Parlour is one of those hidden Brighton gems that people want to keep secret, yet shout about at the same time. It’s just won Best New Bar at the Brighton Bartender Awards, and deservedly so. Tucked away down Steine Street, off the main drag in Kemptown, it’s one of my favourite places – cosy and candlelit with an air of old-school glam.

With its red leather theatre seats, deep, plush armchairs and dim lighting, I can’t think of a better spot for a romantic, naughty rendezvous. There are Renaissance-style frescos on the ceiling – a bit camp and oh-so-Kemptown – while light fittings made from gramophone speakers, and a soundtrack of jazz, blues and rockabilly, give it a very cool, speakeasy vibe.

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Fabulous cocktails aside, what makes this place so appealing – especially to a lady of my vintage – is that it’s table service only. Booking is essential, meaning you’re unlikely to be able to drop in for an impromptu weekend tipple, but it does mean you’re guaranteed a seat. No jostling for space at the bar, no perching at the end of tables with strangers – it’s very civilised, grown up and high-heel friendly.

“Table service was a decision we made early on,” says manager Luke Loddo. “Guests are shown to their seats on arrival, given a jug of water and a menu, and can relax for the evening. Being such a small, intimate venue, we wanted to focus on the quality of our service and cocktails, and this way we can give both the customers and drinks the attention they deserve.

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“We have a really mixed clientele, too, which we love: gay and straight, students and OAPs, locals and tourists,” he adds. “We don’t want people put off by the nice setting and fancy glassware – yes, we take our drinks seriously, but not ourselves. There’s no pretence behind the bar and everyone who works here genuinely cares about making sure each customer has a good time.”

Plotting Parlour’s cocktails are inventive and fresh, using unusual ingredients like thyme syrup, homemade raspberry vinegar, hop syrup and caramelised pineapple juice. I love the Hemingway Daiquiri: Ron Abuelo, maraschino, grapefruit, lime and grenadine, served straight up with a torn-out page from “For Whom the Bell Tolls” clipped to the glass. The “White Crush” – Koko Kanu, Chambord, Frangelico and cream – is served in a milk bottle. Love or loathe gimmicks, it’s all good fun.

The Stratford Sour is another winner – gin, pomegranate liqueur, coriander, black pepper and egg white – and has a fantastic savoury edge I really like. They’ve also been experimenting with beer cocktails, which may sound odd but the Cascade Collins – gin, grapefruit bitters, lemon and hop syrup, topped with Route 1 IPA instead of soda – is a taste sensation.

And if you’re of a ghoulish nature, Luke reckons the bar has a resident ghost. “The staff all insist the building is haunted,” he says. “They swear they’ve all heard their names being whispered when nobody else is around. I’m yet to be convinced!”

The Plotting Parlour – 6 Steine Street, Brighton BN2 1TE

Originally printed in the Brighton & Hove Independent – Friday 25th September 2015