Speak In Code is back on track, with some cracking cocktails

Two years ago I discovered the leftfield cocktail bar of my dreams and alerted the world to its marvels. It felt like being kidnapped into a playground of flavours and aromas hosted by some Avengers mixology squad in their commitedly vegan hideaway. That seems a bizarre galaxy away. I’m naturally tremulous on my post-lockdown return to Speak In Code, where all its superheroes have been laid low by Covid at one point and commercial survival must have seemed precarious, too. 

Flash back to that pre-lapsarian summer of ’19 when I wrote of Nathan Larkin’s new city centre bar: “Ever wanted to kick in the tumblers all those compilers of the ‘Top Ten Hidden Gem Bars Only Cool Dudes Like Ourselves Can Let You Into The Secret Of’? Quell your wrath. Take a walk up Jackson’s Row, after confusedly seeking an entrance in Lloyd Street, and you’ll arrive at the restrainedly Gothic looking entrance to Speak In Code. 

“There’s a sign. No big secret. It’s not the portal into Cocktail Narnia, just your average Game of Thrones set much given to hip hop and the drip drop of mixologists’ tinctures, Oh and its totally vegan, too, food and drinks, which are symbiotically, sustainably linked. Order a Pornstar Martini at your peril.”

There’s still not an obvious hen party crowd pleaser on the drinks menu, but it all feels more accessible with a £10 Classics Menu occupying a quarter of the majorly revamped list. OK, it’s not your entry level Negroni you’re getting (equal parts, gin, Campari, Martini Rosso); instead it’s a blend of Chamomile Capucana Cachaça, Cynar Amaro and sweet vermouth.

Nathan is over his Covid bout and understandably excited by the new cocktail menu they have created

Sounds enticing but I’m really back at SIC to taste the more challenging elements of a record-sleeve inspired menu that styles itself Selective-Interpretation-Cocktails. Still a palate cleanser is in order, so I take Nathan’s advice and test out that sparkling Negroni offshoot, the Sbagliato. In Italian it means ‘mistake’. It was apparently created in the 1980s by Mirko Stocchetti at his Bar Basso in Milan; when making a Negroni he mistakenly reached for a bottle of spumante instead of gin.

Sbagliato, a bubbly take on Count Negroni’s classic cocktail

Prosecco provides the base bubbles here and sweet vermouth is in the mix. After which it gets more complicated. To create an amaro the team lacto ferment strawberries with non-iodised salt, a starter culture (tofu brine), and SIC’s home-made honey (from birch and quince). They let this sit for five days in an airtight bag until the bag balloons up, then they separate the juices, turn the juice into a 1:1 ratio syrup. They then reuse the fermented strawberry pulp by dehydrating and infusing into the Amaro for 24 hours for a ‘rich strawberries and cream vibe’. 

To complete it they make an oil (oleo) by peeling oranges, massaging the peels in sugar and again leaving for 24 hours for the skin oils to seep out and dissolve the sugar. PS It was delicious. 

Before a similar exploration of the further three cocktails I essayed – Track 5, Track 6 and Track 10 – a brief explanation of that ‘track listing’… I hope I got the drift, Nathan. It was a quick run through before you had to rush off to pick up your Romanian rescue dog, Cheddar. Still I was left in the safe hands of your oppo, Jamaican-Irish Brummie Connan.

Sleeve notes from Speak In Code

The new three part drinks brochure – Signatures (forward thinking), B-Sides (present), ClasSICs (past) comes inside an EP sleeve. The back cover details the plant-based food menu, which retains the cauli wings in buffalo sauce and adds the likes of ‘Neatballs’ and the stand-out jackfruit-led mock duck steamed buns. The front is a green/blue amoebic image created by placing a canvas on top of a bass amp and Nathan playing Dr.Dre – Forgot About Dre on bass, letting acrylic paints fall into this pattern. Well, I did say leftfield. But it mirrors the creativity of the cocktail offering.

The bar’s hip-hop inspiration has been there from the start and Nathan’s innovative bar career (that began with Hard Rock Cafe) has gone hand in hand with his development as a designer and photographer. Each drinks section has an appropriate symbolic image; linking to a music studio come bar; the eight B-sides (£11 each) are labelled Untitled 1 to 8; I’m here to sample three Tracks from the 16 Signatures (£12).

Track 5

Shiitake & plant butter washed bourbon; toasted sunflower sweet vermouth; corn purée, foamer; mushroom jerky

Bourbon is infused with dried shiitake mushrooms for 24 hours, strained and then melted plant butter is added before blast chilling. You’re left with a savoury, slightly sweet and salt bourbon with a creamy mouthfeel. Toasted sunflower seeds are added to a sweet vermouth, for their oil and fat properties. The strained sunflower seeds are rehydrated as part of the garnish. The house corn purée is citrus boosted to add bite, and tastes like pineapples and passionfruit. The bourbon soaked shiitake mushrooms are blended down with dark soy, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, salt and smoked paprika, then spread out on baking paper and dried out to make a bourbon mushroom jerky to garnish with the sunflower seeds. It’s a mad tropical meets umami experience.

Track 6 

Coconut yogurt washed aged rum; Spanish brandy;  Tio Pepe fino; salted vanilla & coffee bean cordial; dark chocolate & coffee coin

This is an indulgent drink thanks to the infusion of fatty, creamy, acidic non-dairy coconutyoghurt into an aged rum. For the syrup they use both roasted and unroasted coffee beans, with a pinch of salt and a dash of vanilla. The unroasted coffee brings a vegetal and earthy tone to the drink. Dark chocolate is mixed with rock salt and coffee and added to silicone moulds with the SIC logo to garnish.

Track 10

Toasted sunflower Japanese whisky;  Quinquina aperitif; Soju infused with chai and Thai basil; purple sweet potato orgeat; polenta chip garnish 

Japanese whisky this time embraces the toasted sunflower seeds for their oil and fat properties, the Quinquina providing bitter herbiness, the infused Korean Soju floral hints, the orgeat syrup an unguent texture in a cocktail that pretty much sums up the playful SIC ethos of contrasting salty, sour and sweet.

Speak in Code, 7 Jackson’s Row Manchester M2 5ND. 07767 658690. Open Sun-Thu 5pm-12am, Fri-Sat  5pm-2am.

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