The Chef and the Mixologist – Glass reviews Great Guns Social, Southwark’s latest food-and-cocktails venue

ONE is tempted to wonder how intense the rivalry is between Khalid Dahbi and Ash Lambert, the chef and the mixologist that propel Great Guns Social from being a dimly lit gastropub to being an assault on the tastebuds. The food and the drink joust for the mantle of “most memorable”, though the battlefield itself was designed on the night for maximum sociability: a long wooden dining table in the middle of the room invited couples and small groups to strike up conversation with strangers while reaching across for the petits plats, though anyone wanting a more intimate time could sit at the tables that lined two walls.

Great Guns Social (interior)Great Guns Social (interior)

The five cocktails on offer covered a lot of ground. Ash Lambert is clearly a passionfruit fan: surely the shapeliest of all fruits, it brought its A-game to Paint It Black (£8.50) and Bardot’s Diaries (£12.50), a short cocktail and a martini respectively. Lambert is particularly proud of the Plantation Rum he’s wangled from Alexandre Gabriel, a man well known in rum-loving circles for the tropical spirits he sources from tropical terroirs.

Having put Gabriel’s pineapple rum to excellent use in The Rum Diary (£9) – a martini that profits from curaçao (the peel is real), pink grapefruit, lime and sage syrup – Lambert plies us with neat shots of his pineapple rum shortly before the doors close. It’s nice enough by itself, but works better with company. In his element Lambert is like a child with rum and molasses flowing through his veins, and when the last patrons leave to close the place, the doors shut and we hear him yelp and jump about deliriously.

Plantation RumPlantation Rum

My companion, who still had her teacher’s hat on, described The Rum Diary as “quadratic” while the Brazilian Consigliere (£8.50), a long drink that blended cachaça with guava and lime juice and tonic, was merely “linear”. She was half-joking but I couldn’t have put it better myself: the martinis and shorts tasted richer and fuller while not sacrificing kick.

The Rum DiaryThe Rum Diary

Dahbi, a jocular man who has worked under Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver and has been a well-respected chef in France, Switzerland and Italy, did not have an easy act to follow after several superb cocktails, but delivered some inspired improvisation. Nominally inspired by Morocco, his country of birth, the menu reflects Dahbi’s cosmopolitanism: on the night, he blended a smoked aubergine zalouk and fava beans with a divine cauliflower dish, and although he and another waiter confirmed that the unusual taste of the cauliflower came from the cumin, my companion and I were convinced of a Chinese flavour not indicated by any of the ingredients on the menu. Whatever it was, it was fantastic. Being the result of spontaneity, it’s not technically on the menu, but it’s possible that Dahbi will surprise you on whatever night you choose to go. The pièce de résistance was a trestle of artfully arranged lamb shoulder, salt-baked for ten hours and accompanied by caramelised cutlets and baby herbs – out of bounds to me as a non-meat-eater, but eagerly seized upon by most of the night’s guests, who polished it off in no time.

ChickpeasChickpeas spiced with cumin and paprika

It might not be a cheap night out, but it’s worth going for the atmosphere – it’s as convivial as it gets, the food and drink do not disappoint, and if you’re lucky enough to meet the chef and the mixologist you’ll come away more knowledgeable.

Ash Lambert in actionAsh Lambert in action

by Arjun Sajip

Great Guns Social, 96 Southwark Bridge Road, London, SE1 0EF

Tel: 0203 858 0064

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