Dean Street is a famed Soho thoroughfare. It runs between the retail hub of Oxford Street to the north and Shaftesbury Avenue to the south.
The street has a colourful history. Mozart gave a recital here in his youth. The French House was the unofficial headquarters of Charles de Gaulle and the French Resistance during World War II. Karl Marx lived here. Admiral Nelson stayed in Dean Street the day before setting off for the Battle of Trafalgar. The New Romanticism fashion movement began at the nightclub Billy’s in the late 1970s, and the celebrated Groucho Club, a private club for media types, calls this neck of the woods home.
OK, so you might not be celebrated enough (yet) to be invited to become a Groucho member, but Zenna Bar has joined the list of worthy venues in buzzy Soho, and there will always be a space for you there. This new bar is in the basement of the Red Fort Indian restaurant. That well-established eatery was closed for a while after extensive damage caused by a fire next door. It’s now regained its popularity, and the restaurant was full on the evening we visited, and it was only a Tuesday.
Downstairs, Zenna is cool, crisp and contemporary. A huge water and flower-filled uruli welcomes the visitor. The bar has, though, avoided the temptation of festooning its walls with garish Indian handicrafts. Yes, the walls are dressed, but with muted and tasteful black-and-white photographs of iconic Sub-continental architecture and the like. The formal seating area boasts silk-upholstered chairs but it will likely be the cellaresque caverns that groups will bag for the evening. Low seating and ceilings introduce an air of intimacy.
The drinks on offer include traditional Indian lassis and Indian-inspired cocktails. They are served to those enjoying a pre-dinner tipple, but increasingly to drinkers who have Zenna as the destination, rather than the waiting-room. It’s only been open a few months but its reputation for quality cocktails is spreading. We arrived early, along with a steady stream of after-workers, a smart bunch in business suits, and the party brigade would drift in a little later. Zenna seems to be all things to all people as the clientele changes with the hour.
Zenna doesn’t take itself too seriously. Manager and mixologist extraordinaire Dan Thompson has concocted what is rumoured to be the hottest ever cocktail. It’s called the Illiana and is aptly named after a mythological golden dragon. It’s a fiery blend of spiced rum, orange Curacao, almond syrup, lime and orange juice, plus just one explosive drop of a secret chilli extract. Those daring sorts who have a burning desire to tangle with Illiana must sign a waiver… and it comes with a fire extinguisher chaser, although I would recommend a cooling lassi to quench those predicted flames.
House Nectar is Zenna’s more considerate offering. This has both an alcoholic and a virgin version, as do many of the cocktails here. Chairman’s Reserve rum, lychee juice, fresh lime and coriander contrive to make this an aromatic and refreshing choice on warm nights.
Garden Martini is a cocktail for those who want to feel noble. Bombay Sapphire gin, mint, lime, apple, cucumber, elderflower cordial and apple juice must surely constitute a couple of your five a day. The garnish of cucumber and mint wafts one to a newly-cut lawn and perhaps a swaying hammock. This might be the token Anglo-Indian cocktail.
Bee Sting is my all-time favourite. Honey vodka, honey liqueur, lemon juice, jalapeño peppers, peach liqueur and white peach puree are skilfully shaken to build a sweet yet pleasantly spicy cocktail that will entice this reviewer back for an encore. I am not, to be honest, one much driven in the direction of mixed drinks, but Dan Thompson has probably spoiled me for the less vibrant goods of other baristas.
Zenna has much to recommend it. Good location, chic ambiance, professional and charming staff and memorable cocktails. It is indeed a destination in its own right. The bar food is mouth-watering and takes its cue from the Red Fort, which should be proud of its offspring.
Basement, 77 Dean Street, Soho
London W1D 3SH
Phone: 020 7437 2525
Visit Zenna Bar here.
Bar review by Chrissie Walker © 2018