You’d be forgiven for missing Basement Sate as you walk down Soho’s Broadwick Street. Only a small, gold, name plaque adorns the understated entrance – no doubt a deliberate choice to attract a certain clientèle. The subdued décor matches the outside, creating a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere. At first glance it’s easy to say this place is pretentious, another gimmick in the London landscape of hipster bars, but it is quickly apparent that this isn’t the case. It’s a dessert and cocktail bar that, while taking itself seriously, isn’t so ridiculous that only a select few can enjoy it.
Here, drinks are not served in the dreaded Mason jars; they are in simple, elegant glasses that complement each cocktail. The furniture isn’t recovered or upcycled, they are of good quality leather and wouldn’t look out of place in a magnificent study. Intimate booths are tucked away at the back for evening sessions and the walls are a classy combination of exposed brick, an almost-military green and a patterned wallpaper on one side. The lighting is low enough and a small candle light dances on the table: it’s the perfect place for couples and first dates.
Our waitress knows Basement Sate’s concept well. We opt for the Menu Degustation, a platter of three smaller desserts and three cocktails, available every Tuesday and designed for two to share.
We begin with a strawberry, lime, and pistachio mousse with a sponge base. It was soft and delicate, held together by a thin, enrobing layer of jelly. Neither of the flavours dominated each other and are combined fascinatingly. This is complemented by a peated whisky, lime, and vanilla syrup cocktail. In contrast to the desserts softness, it is sharp. And the whisky has a smoky touch that whips into the pistachio aroma of the mousse.
Next is a blackcurrant macaroon with a raspberry and yuzu plum compote. Let this not come across as a hyperbole when you hear that chef Kelly Nadjarian’s macaroons are some of the best: crisp on the outside but so soft in the centre with a delightfully sweet compote. The Scotch whisky, red fruit syrup and ginger ale cocktail paired with this dessert is much more subtle and acts as a cleanser, rather than trying to compete with the sweetness of the macaroon. It’s clever and makes you eager to try the next: a chocolate ganache accompanied with raspberries.
The ganache is dark and stormy, even the sweetness feels tempestuous in your mouth. It is the most satisfying of all three desserts on the plate, giving a taste that is mature – entering the territory of an adult dessert. A cocktail of rye whisky, Scotch whisky and French bitters, swirl the darkness even further. This drink is strong which explains why it comes as the smallest of the three on this platter. The dessert and cocktail work perfectly together and are arguably the best pairing from the trio.
Before leaving, you won’t be able to resist another macaroon or cocktail. Basement Sate’s menu is constantly evolving and is set to change in July, but before it does, we try Thunder Cloud: a mix of tequila, Aperol, blueberry and lemonade. As tequila-based cocktails go, it is not your average “party” drink. The addition of Aperol makes it more robust; it’s as though wild child tequila has finally found the partner it wants to settle down with.
And that’s the overwhelming sense you get from Basement Sate: it’s grown up. You feel comfortable there and can easily make a drink last longer as you take in the atmosphere. Next time you’re in Soho, look for their little gold sign and head downstairs to add a little sophistication to your evening.