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I'll have the negroni, but with a shot of Frome [WFJ #32]
The hero drink at this secret bar is a nerdy riff on a century-old favourite
Welcome to The WFJ’s albeit slow-burning series on Frome’s hero dishes and drinks. So far we’ve sampled Hesperian’s scampi fries (RIP) and Lo Rapitenc’s escalivada. But now, on to the surreptitious HydeAway and their spin on an Italian staple.
Go into a bar, order a negroni, and you’ll most likely be presented with the stock version – an equal measure of gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth, over ice and with a twist of orange peel. And that’s it – a bittersweet classic, simple in its construction yet complex in flavour.
That is unless the bar you just walked into is HydeAway in Frome. Which – in case you hadn’t already been introduced to its prohibition era decor and playful but grown-up approach to its drinks list – likes to go about things a little bit differently.
This is even more true of its negronis. “I break the vermouth down into three parts,” says Adam Way, who (clue’s in the name) founded HydeAway. “I use the Antica Formula which delivers that lovely raisin versus herbalness. Then a little bit of Manzanilla sherry and a little bit of fortified wine – we use the Cocchi americano. That's a very soft, floral vermouth.”
The vermouth blend is Adam’s personal expression on this century-old Italian aperitivo, as is to it his introduction of Retribution’s navy-strength gin. Not dissimilar in flavour profile to Tarquin’s “Seadog”, Retribution’s play on the theme has the added bonus of being distilled in Frome. “Tarquin's navy was, until I came across Retribution, my favourite navy-strength gin,” Adam says. “Everything is down to the individual, but you're definitely not losing any quality in what I think is one of the best gins in the world.”
Despite that – and despite it being said a great gin makes a great negroni – the gin’s not what tends to steal the show. Rather, it starts with a pinch of woodchips, which, when set with a flame to a smoulder, smoke up an inverted glass. Once the drink is poured into its glass, and as the smoke reacts with the ice, comes the spectacle – or what Adam calls “500 percent more drama” – and another layer of flavour and aroma. “We use holm oak,” Adam says. “It’s a very light wood, but you do get this rich smoky essence that doesn't linger.”
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As for the ice blocks, even those are a bit nerdy. Adam uses directional freezing, where water is chilled from one direction rather than multiple. The result is an ice cube that looks like a block of window glass. “The clarity is what makes it so much better,” he says.
If HydeAway was an ordinary bar, with ordinary drinks and without the geeking out over freezing techniques and what wood creates the ideal smoke, it’s unlikely it would have collected the reputation it has – and in only a little more than a year of existence. Particularly telling is its “Best Cocktail Bar” win at Food magazine’s Reader Awards in June, especially as it squared up against Hyde & Co. in Bristol, Doctor Inks in Exeter, and Dark Horse in Bath, among other contenders in the South West.
This is probably no fluke either – Adam’s spent the last 25 years in hospitality, 18 of which in mixology. Among several other bars, it’s taken him from The Terrace in Exeter, to Babington House, to Ha Ha in Bristol. Even The Flying Boat Club in the Isles of Scilly. But it’s only since he opened his own bar has he been able to put his truest stamp on things. “HydeAway is an amalgamation of everything I've done – the decor, the music, the service, the drinks. I want you to try the things that I love. Anyone can put a rum and coke in a glass, but how can you blend that into something that's ultra-amazing?”
For most, HydeAway distinguishes itself for being Frome’s word-of-mouth bar, with its 1920s-inspired interior, and brow-raising drinks list. For others though, all that’s fairly irrelevant if the negronis are pouring. “We have people come here who drink it every time,” Adam says. “They're like, ‘Yeah. I come here just for that.’”
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