Strolling into Bantof, you can immediately see yourself spending the whole night there. Smooth-edged, art deco drinks shelves glow gold; a thick slab of tawny marble tops a carefully buffed bar; mirrored portions of wall glint in the corner; and velvet-smooth, forest-green banquettes invite you to lounge next to complete strangers. The first impression is of a particularly slick cocktail bar, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
It may have the polish of a swanky member’s club, but in fact this two-level hangout’s owners want to bring back the spirit of historic Soho – a place for art, late nights, networking and, dare we say it, bad behaviour. The star of the show is its cocktail menu, with ever-changing creations alongside house classics including a gin martini and espresso-based cocktail.
Kinks are still being worked out, however; on our visit, the Doublewood Old Fashioned is a little too “doubled” with the strong scent and taste of sandalwood, oud-y enough to be a Middle Eastern airport’s duty free fragrance section. More exciting is the chilli-topped Margarita Verde, fizzing with capsaicin; a strawberry-laced Negroni; and the pineapple-infused Pina Quintas. Each drink is prettily served in delicate, minimalist glass tumblers and Nick and Nora glasses; the flavour pairings well thought out, with some conversation-starting choices on the menu.
There’s also food, and plenty of it. We start with the house taramasalata, as recommended by the charismatic bar manager. Even for this fish-roe connoisseur, it doesn’t disappoint – freshly blended, creamy and tangy, served with dense brown bread on a Scandi-feel platter. Just as good is a purer-than-the-driven-snow burrata with oil-drizzled heritage tomatoes in bright greenhouse colours. Both mix well with our savoury-leaning cocktail choices.
We move on to a series of tiny sliders, called “Rainbow Mini Burgers” on the menu – these come in chicken and vegan style, some with cute green buns, a nice touch given today’s dining habits. A generous black truffle pizza is generous with truffle oil and slivers of mushroom, and would have been more than enough between the two of us on its own to soak up the cocktails we’ve sunk so far (three chic mocktails also have you covered if you wish to switch back to low and no).
A key idea of the owner is that art will be shown upstairs, with pieces on sale to support London’s emerging artists. At the moment, Bantof is showcasing the work of painter Pitca, renowned for work inspired by toxic masculinity, fairytales and the LGBTQ+ community. DJ sessions make it more of a party on Fridays and Saturday nights, but weeknights are a great time to put the world to rights with a good friend.
Look out for the developing “Soho Stories” section of the cocktail menu. Inspired by artists and flaneurs who have swanned around or worked in the area, they are designed to tell a story unique to this devilish late-night district. The idea wasn’t fully developed on our early-days visit, but this feels like the direction Bantof should go in – channelling the local characters and one-offs who have left their mark on this grid of streets.
If it plays its cards right, this will become a legendary pre or post-night-out hangout, a place to stop by, soak up the style and line your stomach with some fresh and delicious sharing plates.