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Harden's has a drink with Matt Whiley

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picture of Matt Whiley

Ever since Nuno Mendes founded Viajante at the Town Hall Hotel, Bethnal Green has been firmly on London's foodie map. His departure in February for Chiltern Firehouse could have caused something of a gastronomic void that far east, as the area has no other real destination restaurants.

But, thanks in equal parts to Mendes' reputation, to a community now comprised of equal parts hipsters and City workers and perhaps to a touch of East End cool, the hotel has not only quickly found a replacement for Viajante (in the form of Jason Atherton and his unstoppable empire) but also attracted mixologist extraordinaire Matt Whiley to run the Peg + Patriot bar.

Our online editor, Karen Moss, caught the central line out east to meet Whiley in his new (albeit currently empty) surroundings. The builders have definitely been in and the bar has been gutted, along with the former Viajante restaurant next door. Tables, chairs and fixtures are all gone and the empty rooms are waiting for their makeover ahead of the big relaunch in mid April.

Whiley, who is one half of the duo behind The Talented Mr Fox at One Leicester Street (the Town Hall's sister hotel), is also a founder of Fluid Movement - the people responsible for Purl in Marylebone and Shoreditch's über-hip Worship Street Whistling Shop. But he says competition for the Peg + Patriot will be stiff, with cocktail bars like Satan's Whiskers and Bistroteque on its doorstep.

“Bethnal Green is definitely the place to go in London if you're into cocktails,” he said. “I've been on the lookout for a place here for the last eight months so when I found out that Nuno Mendes was leaving Viajante and that the bar would be available I immediately put my name forward. I'm under no illusions though, I know how high a standard we are going to have to reach. There's a lot of competition but I think we're going to have a great proposition offering unique and interesting cocktails that taste amazing.”

Whiley has been heavily influenced by the Peg + Patriot's east London setting and the history of the area around Bethnal Green. Many of his cocktails use ingredients that are bought locally, like his Salt Beef Sazerac which uses salt beef beigel (from the famous Brick Lane Beigel Bake) flavoured cognac. What's next - jellied eel junipers and pie and mash pisco sours?

“Well, actually, I did consider it.” Whiley said with a smile. “I've always been very historically-influenced when it comes to creating cocktails and of course the East End was famous for its pie and mash shops. Even the name of the bar, Peg + Patriot, is inspired by the past. The Town Hall Hotel sits on Patriot Square and 'Peg' is an old-fashioned word for a shot of liquor.”

He added: “Although some of the combinations in my cocktails may sound odd they have been rigorously tested and carefully balanced. I do this because I love it, I'm not creating whacky concoctions for the sake of being different - these are genuinely flavours that I would want to try together.”

As well as running The Talented Mr Fox in central London and opening up his new East End haunt, Whiley also has his own gin company called Moonshine Kid. Many of the gins his company makes will be brewed on site and served at the Peg + Patriot, including Dog's Nose, a gin flavoured with hops, and Lisle Street gin flavoured with jasmine and currants.

The bar will also serve a special Marmite Vodka Martini using Whiley's own Marmite vodka and served with lots of house made dry vermouth. And his signature drink at One Leicester Street, the Bloody Mary (vodka distilled with pigs blood served in a glass rimmed with bacon powder), will also appear on the Peg + Patriot's drinks menu.

A food menu will also be available at the bar from Jason Atherton's restaurant. Likewise drinks from Whiley's bar will be served inside the restaurant, which won't have a bar of its own. “Cocktail bars are becoming very important to the London restaurant scene, they are a part of the dining experience,” Whiley explained. “It can be a challenge to work closely with chefs, but also very informative. We can tap into their knowledge of flavours. They have such refined palates because they are tasting food all day long, it would be crazy not to take advantage of that.”

And if you think his Salt Beef Sazerac, Bloody Mary or Marmite Martini seem pretty 'out there', then wait 'til you hear about Whiley's cheeseburger cocktail. It's made with burgers supplied by trendy chain Honest Burgers. Beef, bacon and bun are instilled into the vodka, which is then cut back into bourbon and served as an Old Fashioned. ”It's just a drink that makes me smile,” Whiley said.

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