Comfy Bumpkin

London's newest gastro-pub has created a relaxing,home from home atmosphere where drinkers canfeel comfortable experimenting with whisky,as Kate Ennis discovers
By Kate Portman (nee Ennis)
Walk past newly opened Bumpkin, a stylishly rustic looking bar and restaurant in London's fashionable Notting Hill area, and you'd be forgiven for thinking it's just another one of those identikit gastro-pubs for trendy types.It's certainly not where you would expect to find a hand-picked selection of almost 1,000 malt whiskies. But then Bumpkin is no ordinary gastro-pub. It's the latest venue from Ignite Group, the savvy and successful London bar operator that has set its stall to create a serious destination for whisky.With Jamie Forbes - one of the most exciting young proponents of whisky on the United Kingdom bar scene - installed as bar manager, things look promising indeed.Style bars are one thing, but placing whisky - or more significantly, single malts - firmly within the context of a food led-environment, offers up new and exciting possibilities.With more diners now seeking out new food and drink pairing experiences, the idea here is that whisky makes an amenable dinner accompaniment for Bumpkin's menu of wholesome country food, with roasted meats and hearty pies. A table of diners can take a bottle of whisky to compliment their main course, perhaps trying a Macallan 18-year-old sherry wood alongside their leg of lamb or a Talisker with the rib of beef.Bumpkin provides a down-to-earth, relaxed environment for all-comers to discover malt whisky. The ground floor is home to the casual brasserie and hop-covered bar, while the first floor is a restaurant and on both levels an accessible list of 50 whiskies is presented alongside the choice of wines, seasonal cocktails, traditional beer, ales and organic ciders. With a selection of 44 Scotches, six bourbons and one Irish whiskey, available by the glass or bottle, the list holds appeal to new drinkers as well as malt aficionados.Conscious not to scare newcomers away, it features more familiar brand names, yet not the mainstream bottlings available in every bar. The two expressions of The Glenlivet, for example, are the 1988 and 21 year old Archive.Sampling rarer malts by the dram is also made extremely accessible - with highlights including a Springbank 1968, Glen Garioch 1967 and Highland Park 1973. These whiskies are stocked in such limited quantities the list always evolving.Upstairs on the top floor are two dedicated whisky rooms. Eclectically furnished with rugs, comfortable leather armchairs and a poker table for gaming, these intimate spaces for up to 30 people are the antidote to stuffy hotel whisky bars.The atmosphere encapsulates a 'home from home' feel that's conducive to spending the evening kicking back and enjoying the whiskies from the '900 Club.' This extensive menu of 900 malts is a selection hand-picked by Jamie, who tasted hundreds of samples with supplier Sukhinder Singh of The Whisky Exchange to source the best. The Whisky Rooms also house a collection six of the world's rarest whiskies - including The Balvenie and The Dalmore 50 year-olds.The plan is the spaces will host tasting clubs and events in the future, activities that Jamie introduced with such success in his previous role at Albannach, the Scottish-themed venue in Trafalgar Square.So what was the attraction of Bumpkin's pastures new? "So much food, so much whisky!" he replies."Also, I've got a small team and two small bars here, so I'm more focused on spending time with customers in a sommelier role to make sure they get exactly what they want," he adds.Jamie started at Albannach to create knowledgeable protégés who can spread the gospel about whisky. That's what happened with Jamie's good friend, James Wrigley, persuaded to move from Edinburgh to London to work at Albannach as bar manager there. The trouble is they still happen to be flatmates, so things have become quite competitive at home of late."We had a big scramble over six of the world's most expensive whiskies," admits Jamie. "I was at home when I got a call from David Stewart of William Grant to say a Glenfiddich 1937 had come back into circulation but James overheard me and got straight on his phone to try and beat me to it," he exclaims. "But I secured the bottle!" Jamie clearly has all the right contacts, which can only help to establish Bumpkin as a top London whisky destination.CONTACT DETAILS
209 Westbourne Park Road, Notting Hill London W11 1EA +44 (0)20 7243 9818