Nocturnal Animals brings neon nostalgia to Birmingham cocktail scene

Kate Malczewski

Kate Malczewski

25 October 2018

Forthcoming restaurant and bar Nocturnal Animals is slated to inject a healthy hit of 80s glam straight into Birmingham’s bloodstream.­­

The latest project from The Wilderness chef Alex Claridge, Nocturnal Animals has striking graphic interiors, futuristic furniture and ample neon lettering adorning the walls. It could easily be confused for the set of a George Michael music video, and it’s got drinks to match.

‘The concept of the venue is a pastiche of the 1980s, so we've taken that through with the cocktails as well,’ said beverage director James Bowker, who developed the cocktail menu. ‘The drinks look almost neon – what you would expect if you went to a crappy bar in the 80s and got yourself an Appletini – but the flavour profile underneath that is much more delicate, much more complex.’

Bowker based the menu on six different colours, with flavour profiles inspired by what he thought each colour would taste like.

‘Every colour has three different cocktails you can choose from: a short drink, which is a stirred, boozy, intense-flavoured drink; a long drink, which is refreshing, light and easy-going; and a sharp drink, which is a little bit more acidic, a little more citrusy and a little more intense in flavour profile.’

Bowker pointed to the menu’s orange cocktails as an example of the concept. He selected whisky, mango and blood orange to encapsulate the colour orange, then chose to pair these main flavours with subtle hints of sushi ginger and rosewood.

‘Based on these flavours, I think how can I make a short drink or how can I make a sharp drink with that profile? You come out of it at the end with three completely different drinks that are approachable for three different consumers who like the same flavour profile but want to drink things very differently.’

This format, Bowker explained, is meant to make the process of selecting a cocktail more straightforward, giving guests two different paths for finding their perfect drink. They can either choose a cocktail based on a style they know they’re partial to – short, sharp or strong – or they can choose an appealing flavour profile based on a colour and work their way from there.

‘[These approaches] give people an anchor, which is: I know that I like this, and I’m willing to try something that’s a little bit different but also similar in many ways.’

Bowker has put a great deal of thought into the psychology of the menu, but the whole experience is still light-hearted at its core. Case in point, the cocktails were designed to accompany Nocturnal Animals’ ‘unabashedly badly behaved’ Barbie-themed afternoon tea.

‘We’re using these elements of colour and vibrancy to tie into the fallen Barbie-girl image,’ he said, pointing to a neon-blue draught cocktail meant to taste like a WKD Blue ‘with a great amount of complexity’.

The bar will also feature a cocktail vending machine stocked with three different prebatched aperitifs, as well as a bartender’s table, which is like a chef’s table, but boozier. From the cocktails to Claridge’s East Asian-inspired junk food menu, Nocturnal Animals aims for nothing if not outrageous, nostalgic fun.

‘With the new venue, the whole philosophy is to make food and drinks that are super approachable at first glance and then have some interesting things hidden behind the scenes,’ said Bowker.

Nocturnal Animals opens 4 November.

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