It was Matt's birthday a couple of weeks ago, and I excitedly launched myself into planning an excellent day for both of us. I know, I know, his birthday should be about HIM, but I want to have fun too! It was always going to be difficult to top the Burger Crawl - truly one of the best days ever - but I worked hard to turn it into a great experience.
After brunch at home, we headed to Duck & Waffle for a late lunch, which I will write up at a later date (but I was super impressed). And then - BYOC. BYOC is a cocktail bar with a twist, as they don't have an alcohol license. Instead, they have a room full of unusual mixers and the guests are tasked with bringing their own spirits. I LOVED this concept when I read about it on Curious London, and felt pretty confident that Matt would too so I booked us a couple of places. It's £25 a head, plus whatever booze you choose to bring, and they aim to give you five cocktails each. Five cocktails for £25 in Covent Garden is pretty much a bargain, even when you're supplying the alcohol.
The only downside with doing BYOC as a surprise is that I had to carry the alcohol around with me all day - thank goodness for my little leather rucksack! The rule is that bottles need to be sealed, but miniatures are absolutely fine. I bought a mini bottle of prosecco, a couple of gin miniatures, a small bottle of dark rum (Tesco's own) and a small bottle of Jura whisky. Fairly heavy, despite my best efforts to go small. But it was a good selection, which is what I wanted - I didn't want us to be limited to one spirit all evening.
The experience of BYOC alone is a great one. Its entrance is actually inside a juice bar, which gave it a real speakeasy vibe. It was also hilarious watching Matt get more and more confused as he wondered what on earth I had in store for him (at one point he really believed we were making smoothies). Downstairs, it's completely different - dark and cosy, lit with candles and furnished with lots of dark wood, leather, with book-lined shelves and little tables. It was so dark down there that our mixologist had to use a torch to make the drinks, but it really added to the atmosphere.
Because we got there at 5.30pm on a Tuesday, it was totally empty, and we had the full attention of the mixologist for most of our two hour slot (another couple came about an hour before we left). We showed him what we'd bought, he established if there was anything we especially liked or didn't like, and then went off to make us a couple of cocktails. It's way more efficient for mixologists to make the same cocktail for everyone in the group, but I'm sure you could request different ones if you had very different tastes. We were happy to drink the same, though.
Cocktail number one was a fruity little number, with gin, passion fruit, pineapple and hibiscus, topped up with prosecco. It was refreshing and tangy, although probably my least favourite of the five (because they got so much better!).
Next up was an Old Fashioned - the sole reason I bought the whisky along, as these are Matt's favourites. I'm not normally a fan - they're usually too strong for me, but this was more diluted than I usually see them. It's what's called a cloudy Old Fashioned, because the orange zest has been muddled into the drink, and I was a fan. It was still strong, but much more drinkable, and the citrus complemented the smoky whisky perfectly.
Hello, Dark & Stormy. This was our mixologist's take on it, anyway. I loved this one - a combination of dark rum, ginger beer, lapsang tea and pineapple juice. It tasted almost sherberty, and, well, I guzzled it down. YUM.
Our penultimate cocktail was by far the most different. This was what I really loved about BYOC - rather than getting overwhelmed by choice and just ordering a mojito like I normally do, we put ourselves in the mixologist's hands and he created unusual combinations that we loved. So much more interesting than going to a normal cocktail bar! This drink had rum, whisky, tabasco and a little coconut - so it was short and strong. But he'd also added chocolate bitters and topped it with chocolate shavings, so while the first taste was sharp and alcoholic, the aftertaste was pure chocolate. It was AMAZING.
Next up - free cupcake! The benefits of wearing a flashing birthday badge, I tell you. We got something free to mark Matt's birthday at all of the three places we visited on the day (Loch Fyne, where we went for dinner, gave us a glass of prosecco each!). It was a lovely touch, and also the cupcakes were really tasty.
Our last drink was a refreshing number, perfect to finish up the experience. It was a combination of gin, cucumber water and lapsang tea - very strong on the cucumber, but a great palate cleanser after so many strong and sweet cocktails.
BYOC was an amazing experience, and before we left we were already talking about going back with a bigger group of friends, everyone bringing a different spirit along. It's not big, so you could easily book out the whole place! I understand it gets quite crowded on weekends, but that's hardly surprising. I'd recommend booking in advance (which you can do on the website) and going in the week, but most of all, I do recommend going. It was so much fun, and we were both more than a little wobbly when we left - the thing with supplying your own spirits is that there's no need to scrimp on measures! But at least my rucksack was a lot lighter...