The Gibson in Old Street: Edwardian extravagance with a modern spin
The Gibson is a lot of things. At first sight it’s an Edwardian-themed parlour, its menu sporting an elaborate time-travel theme and illustrated with mustachioed men on penny-farthings; but then the menu also seems rather interested in a carefree mix of Anglo-Saxon and medieval vocabulary; as you browse, you notice the highly theatrical, Instagrammable drinks which come with LED lights, cat-shaped glasses, and rainbow garnishes; further investigation reveals no small obsession with pickling and fermenting; and finally there’s some serious 80s pop music on the soundtrack and live piano after 8.30pm. I’ll admit to not being entirely sure how it all tied together, but I didn’t really care, it was all so enjoyable.
The Gibson is a tiny space, frequently packed with a crowd of escapees from the Old Street offices. The Edwardian idea isn’t overdone in the surroundings, but the shiny copper fittings, mirrored tables, and vintage glass and cocktail-ware give it a comfortable turn of the (20th) century feel. The theme really kicks off in the menu, where the extensive list of drinks (there are around 50) is categorised by month of the year, each month accompanied by an instalment of a time-travel novella featuring a Jules Verne-esque explorer. Fortunately, the staff are absolutely lovely and will happily guide you through and make recommendations.
The drinks which emerge from this menu are generally excellent. The presentation is slightly gimmicky but never less than entertaining: we watched the aforementioned cat-shaped glass go by with a rainbow fizzy stripe sticking out of its head, shortly to be followed by a Mai Tai proudly enthroned in a miniature inflatable unicorn.
The Electric Earl, came in a light bulb-shaped glass, illuminated from within by a tiny LED and garnished with a Szechuan peppercorn flower to make the mouth tingle as preparation for the sweet and sour gin and citrus concoction.
The Garden of the Sun King from the August menu turned out to be a strong, smoky Scotch-dominated drink with a glorious crown of dried roasted peppers, while the Hour of Stardust presented itself as a healthy green smoothie in a flowery garden setting, only to be revealed as a delightful blend of gin with foraged greens and lemon.
Pickles, vinegar, and fermented things are very much the order of the day here; the signature drink, the Gibson Martini (highly recommended), is a martini which features a pickled onion as garnish. Here, the pickled onion is double-pickled in both balsamic and wine vinegar, and this is only the start. The food (“vittles”) menu offers substantial portions of roasted salmon, beef tartare, and pheasant terrine with flambé armagnac (among other things), all accompanied by something pickled: mushrooms, quail eggs, onions – if it can be pickled, it has been, and why not? The bar is also developing a line of barrel-aged and double-distilled martinis, in line with this interest in preserving and ageing.
The Gibson takes its name from the image of the Gibson Girl, the icon of Edwardian female modernity who could combine an old-fashioned elegance with progressive education and a breezy, confident approach to life. Maybe that’s what ties all the disparate strands in this bar – a little of the old, a little of the new – together. Like a good Gibson Girl, they’re certainly pulling it off in style.★★★★★Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Photos: Filippo L’Astorina
To book a table at The Gibson, 44 Old Street London EC1V 9AQ, call 0207 608 2774, or visit their website here.