Last Updated on June 4, 2021
The Last Talisman
We love Bermondsey Street in south London. Despite a host of great restaurants and bars, it’s a part of London that seems to have escaped commercialisation and it’s a great place to explore a little of London’s past; Bermondsey dates back over a thousand years when a causeway was built over what was then marshland from London Bridge to Bermondsey Abbey. By around 1700, after the Great Fire of London, it had become a wealthy garden area with a focus on the wool trade. In 1703, Queen Anne granted the Bermondsey tanners a Royal Charter. Bermondsey became famous for leather and many of the small streets reflect that (Tanner Street and Leathermarket Street for example). Today, many of the warehouse buildings still survive – The Last Talisman, a recently opened bar and Asian grill occupies what was originally a cloth factory, built in the early 19th Century. It’s the latest offering from the Breakfast group (restaurateur Eric Yu, mixologist Dré Masso and chef Tim Ross-Watson), a great addition to their portfolio of bars in London and Birmingham and something quite unique in Bermondsey Street.
The concise menu comprises small plate style food – skewered meat, fish and vegetables cooked on a Japanese hibachi grill and more Asian style dishes. There’s a carefully curated wine, beer and spirits list and a stunning cocktail list which includes some great no-alcohol options that really won’t leave anyone avoiding alcohol feeling they are missing out. There’s also a list of dishes from Ken Hom who we know from various events. We just had to try the grilled sake prawn with Japanese vinaigrette, chives and pickled ginger! Large plump butterflied prawns could perhaps have been better presented, but tasted delicious!
We ordered a pair of negroni cocktails to go with our food. The Ghost Negroni is made with Talisman gin, Suze (a delicate, vegetal and citrus liqueur), sake and vermouth. Delicious and lemony, it seemed lighter than a classic negroni, but I suspect it would still have put me to sleep for the afternoon if I’d enjoyed a few too many.
My companion was avoiding alcohol and ordered the Nogroni. He’s something of a negroni expert and was pleasantly surprised by the mix of Lyre’s London Dry, Italian Orange and Apéritif Rosso (more Lyre’s non-alcoholic drinks – the Italian Orange is a replacement for Campari and the Apéritif Rosso for Vermouth). I got the impression he really didn’t miss the alcohol and he commented that the end result was sophisticated, refreshing and beautifully balanced.
Meanwhile, more food arrived – Tempura cauliflower had a light crisp batter which revealed perfectly al-dente vegetables and came with a light chilli jam mayo. The skewer of dry-aged British beef sirloin was tender with a good char from the charcoal grill, seasoned with umami salt and served with a little dish of L&P sauce which I didn’t use at all.
The scalloped fishcake was made with minced seabass, scallop, lemongrass and lime leaf and came with a spicy fish sauce. My companion, with a wife who was brought up in Thailand, said it tasted authentic and homemade.
And we loved both the tender stem broccoli served with spicy sambal (we had ours on the side as the waiter warned us it was very hot) and the Mala chips with a Sichuan Mushroom and sesame mayo, pickled onion, green onion, chilli and coriander.
By this stage we needed another cocktail and picked the Talisman Bellini for me, with peach, raspberry, vanilla and Prosecco. I worried it might be overly sweet from the vanilla, but it was an excellent balance. My abstemious friend ordered a ‘Stallion’ which turned out to be a heady mix with hibiscus, pineapple, citrus juice, turmeric syrup and cinnamon. Again, the kind of drink that in the wrong hands could be a disasterous experience. Again, perfectly balance, he noted that the spice gave a real depth of flavour so that you might not realise it was alcohol free.
We rounded lunch off with a shared yuzu meringue cheesecake. A crunchy vanilla meringue, yuzu curd and gel, rich cheesecake filling, burnt butter oat biscuits, and sansho pepper. It was an unexpectedly delicious experience – a kind of deconstructed cheesecake on meringue with an intense yuzu curd filling. Despite the fact that neither of us were planning to eat dessert, it was polished off in a trice
Apart from food and cocktails, what more will you find at The Last Talisman? Well, a collaboration with the Wild Beast Art Agency means that everyone will enjoy their drinks and food in the presence of works by some of the world’s most exciting contemporary artists. It will be host to a mix of fine art, photography, sculpture, graphic art, urban art and illustration and will be displayed and rotated every 90 days across both The Last Talisman and Mala Madre. The launch exhibition is from renowned artist Maxim, who originally found fame in the legendary dance band The Prodigy.
Opening a new bar and restaurant in London right now is a challenge. There are very few visitors to the City and many of us are still working from home. But, The Last Talisman deserves success. There’s a stunning central bar and restaurant area, with modern industrial ceilings and art-deco inspired furnishings which can cater for up to 150 guests. And a bar within a bar – Mala Madre (which means ‘bad mother’), which brings together founder Dre Masso’s Colombian roots and his experience living in Bali to create a unique food and drink fusion. The cocktail list focusses on pisco, añejo tequila and rum…and the interior is lighter and more relaxed. It’s a bit like walking from a hip London venue into a Balinese beach bar – and although we can’t jet off to sun and sand this year after a few cocktails we suspect no one will mind too much.
There’s a weekend brunch menu that’s perfect for sharing, with a bottomless cocktail option and dishes starting from £5.00. We haven’t tried it yet, but The Last Talisman is an easy walk from home for me, so I suspect I’ll be back soon!
Address: 171-173 Bermondsey St, London SE1 3UW
Phone: 020 8189 9546
For more about Bermondsey, do check our staycation review of Bermondsey Square Hotel where you can find out more about the famous Bermondsey Antiques Market and about this historic part of London