02 February 2015

Everything But the Booze: BYOC Review

BYOC (Bring Your Own Cocktail) is like many other great London cocktail bars in some respects: it is a tiny, intimate subterranean bar in which the bar tender will mix you any drink you can imagine and will be more than happy to surprise you with a mystery cocktail. The only difference is that at BYOC, you provide the booze. There is a £25 cover charge per person and you bring whatever alcohol you would like to drink, and then you can drink as many cocktails as you like during your two-hour session.

I've been wanting to visit BYOC for a while and on Saturday, a group of us went for my sister-in-law's birthday. We drank some delicious and creative drinks and had a great time, so I would highly recommend it. The entrance is through The Juice People, a juice bar on Bedfordbury in Covent Garden. Once we had paid our dues and handed over our coats, we were shown downstairs to the tiny basement bar. There is only room for about 20 people, so our group of ten took up half of the space. It's very dark downstairs, but I rather liked the cosy, candle-lit ambience and the 1920s vibe.

My friends and I are all big gin drinkers, but to keep things interesting, we each brought a different drink. My assigned drink was Champagne, which went into our first round of the evening: a round of daiquiri royales. The citrus flavours combined beautifully with the rum and bubbly, and given that it was 6 pm and we hadn't eaten, it made a potent start to the evening.

The bar tender would move his very well-equipped drinks trolley back and forth between the tables so that no glass was ever less than half full. Next on the menu for us was what was essentially a spiked green juice: a fruity cocktail that involved cachaça, lime, apple and mint. It was really tasty and even gave the impression of being not all that bad for the health (other than the cachaça, of course!). The glassware at BYOC is really beautiful — I particularly liked the chunky glass tumblers with sea shell motifs — and to save space, they are all stored on racks that suspend them from the ceiling.

My sister-in-law likes spices and she asked the bar tender to make us something spicy. We could taste the chilli immediately, but it was harder to work out the juice — the bar tender eventually told us that it was yellow pepper (it didn't help that the lighting was so dim that we couldn't see the drink's true colour). This may have been my favourite drink of the evening and it probably wasn't something I would normally have ordered, which is all part of the fun. There was also another fruity, rum-based drink (I think it may have contained pineapple), and another final drink that I forgot to photograph.

When our time ran out, we were able to take our final drinks back up to the juice bar to finish them. In terms of value for money, BYOC was pretty good. I spent about £17 on Champagne, so including the cover charge, I spent just over £40 and got five cocktails. The cocktails were also really tasty and superbly mixed and, just as importantly, it was a really fun experience. We are already planning our next visit. NB, you do need to book a table, especially if you are going with a group of people. It was nice to go as a big group because it almost felt as though we had the place to ourselves.

BYOC. Underneath The Juice People, 28 Bedfordbury, London WC2N 4RB (Tube: Leicester Square or Covent Garden). Website. Twitter.

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