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Cocktail masterclass at Rules

June 10th, 2010 — 11:48am

Brian Silva. What a legend. This guy is what you call a ‘serious’ barman. He is most definitely from the old school. His cool, smooth, easy manner oozes the quiet confidence of experience – 30 years of it. Soft, Anglicised-American tones soothe you into your bar seat as he mixes, muddles, shakes and pours. The man seems part of that bar and it is his own, really; he was coaxed from The Connaught to re-open an historic space – once the favourite hideaway of the Prince of Wales and Lillie Langtry; ’tis the stuff of lore and misty daydreams.

Which all makes me feel even more embarrassed that I said the word “fuck” in front of him. Not intentionally you understand, it just slipped out. I was nervous, you see – jittering together a Margarita ‘the Rules way’ (with a touch of Cointreau) – Brian’s mellifluous instruction guiding me and my foul mouth towards green, salted nirvana.  The alcohol had loosened my tongue – we’d had rather a lot by that point, being two thirds of the way into a three hour class which had started with a straight liquor tasting.

The classes take place on weekday afternoons between 2 and 5pm and cost £135 per person for up to four people. It’s a lot of money. So how much bang do you get for your buck? Well, first Brian shows you around behind the scenes; the bar varnished and twinkling with promise of alcoholic alchemy, framed by dark wood, gilt mirrors and animal horns. He whooshes you through spirits; garnishes; the speed rail; the glasses, tools and potions and curios of his own creation. And then it’s down to consumption. You learn how to make at least four classic cocktails, and finally one or two of your own choosing.

Declan McGurk, supplier of liquor (Speciality Brands) to Rules bar, had started the session with a little spirit tasting. Jensen’s Old Tom Gin, made in Bermondsey, was first to blow me away. Jensen developed the recipe by combing the history books and found that traditionally ‘Old Toms’ were never sweetened with sugar (too expensive); the raucous spirit was instead tempered with extra botanicals, which is just what you get from Jensen’s – a sudden spicy thwack on the nose and lengthy herbal flavour. Grant’s Morella Cherry Brandy was another stunner; a scarlet sweetheart, smelling powerfully of Bakewell tart – all almonds and cherries and sticky summer fêtes.

The ‘classics’ were the best I’ve tasted. There are just 10 on the menu – all Brian’s recipes and all with subtle twists. Of course he can make anything you like, as long as it doesn’t contain any kind of fruit purée, or tacky garnish. In the back room he shows us a plastic bag full of paper umbrellas, which he keeps for the people who hack him off; receiving a drink from Brian topped with such a vulgar appendage could only ever be intended as an insult. Martini’s are always stirred, never shaken and come served in traditional, squat conical glasses. A Blue Moon, made with crystallised violets tastes vaguely of the parma sweetie versions I used to neck as a kid. Brian rolls his eyes when I say this and as well he should – this drink is elegant, mysterious and very grown-up.  These cocktails, from this bar, made by this man, are the antithesis of a jug of ‘sex on the beach’ during happy hour at the student union.

There will never be any throwing of bottles, neon lighting or even music in the Rules cocktail bar. It’s the very definition of understated glamour, an oasis amongst the gaggles of teenage tourists, street performers and gift shops of Covent Garden. If you’ve got the money, this city is your playground and if you can afford this class then I urge you to go. If your budget has more in common with mine, then I recommend you treat yourself to a cocktail every now and then – much more accessible at around the £12 mark.

As we were released back into reality, fuzzy warm and unsteady, eyes blinking through the shock of sunlight, I felt as if I’d emerged from the set of an old movie; the star of the show – Brian Silva.

Rules
35 Maiden Lane
London
WC2E 7LB
Tel: 0207 836 5314
www.rules.co.uk

Rules on Urbanspoon

For information about the Rules cocktail master class, contact Brian at brian@rules.co.uk and please see his comment below.
Classes costs £135 per person, take place on weekday afternoons  from 2-5pm and you can have up to 4 people in a class.
I was invited to try the masterclass free of charge.

18 comments » | Bars/Pubs, BOOZE, London, MARKETS | FOOD EVENTS |CLASSES

My top two London restaurants

June 6th, 2010 — 6:37pm

The Ledbury and Chilli Cool. Couldn’t be more different. I often have a little mental wrestle with myself about which style of food is ultimately more satisfying; is it the exacting refinement of fine dining or is it the generosity and un-fussed comfort of home-style? I find it seriously hard to answer that question.

The Ledbury is Brett Graham’s elegant double-starred restaurant in Notting Hill; Chilli Cool is a cheap, slightly scruffy and oil-slicked (literally, all over the floor – be careful on the stairs) Sichuan joint in King’s Cross. The sleek theatre of the higher-end restaurant is addictive, but there’s something about the less formal meal that feels so nourishing. It zooms in on your comfort zone and harpoons it, right at the heart.

My recent birthday lunch at The Ledbury was exquisite – squid in ravioli sounded weird but was just the right kind of bouncy, like an understated Thai-fish-cake-bouncy. Teeny ribbons of wild garlic peeped through skin thin pasta; crisp baby radishes bobbed in sweet squid consommé. It looked like a plate made for a princess. Duck was just the softest meat I’ve ever eaten, garnished with glassy slices of sweet and sour grape. A honey and gingerbread souffle was, well…just look at it. The most perfect tower of eggy fluff I ever ate; whipped through with nuggets of gingerbread, the honey waiting golden and sticky down below. Thyme ice cream steadily pervaded, perhaps a little too much. This was all the set lunch by the way (£27.50, 3 courses), although you still feel as special as if you’d ordered the tasting menu.

While The Ledbury coddles and cossets your belly to capacity, Chilli Cool hits it running. Crispy fried chilli pig’s intestines anyone? Tubular chunks of pork bomb, plain and simple. The best pieces crunch then yield to a gelatinous chewy interior. Contrast is everything in Sichuan cuisine. A typical table bears the weight of hot and cold dishes. Shredded raw potato is lustrous and slippery; dry fried beans, blistered and hot; chunks of grouper and tofu swim in the oil of a fiery hotpot while cold slivers of pork belly suck up a mashed garlic sauce which will stain absolutely anything indelibly. Fiery and numbing dishes buddy up with cooling cuke salad and wobbly fungus dappled with sesame oil. They do things with aubergines that make me want to shed a little tear of joy. Oh, and I’ve never spent more than £20 in there, including beers.

There’s no hint of pretension or ego, the food has serious complexity and above all it’s a blast. This is what my top two have in common.

Consider The Ledbury’s celeriac baked in ash – ceremoniously cut open at table before plating; an exciting little show. Bacon and onion mini brioche rolls are to die for and have that sugar and swine combination that makes me giggle with delight; think Bompas and Parr’s bacon doughnuts, or candied bacon ice cream. Their strawberry and hibiscus Bellini and doughnut at last year’s Taste of London was the dish that hooked me in; we giggled and chattered over it like a pair of excited monkeys.

So many places disappoint with the mundane. Food may be perfectly cooked and yet duller than the thud of the neighbouring fat cat’s wallet hitting the table. And don’t get me started on atmosphere; I don’t care how life-changing the food is supposed to be, if the place is stuffy, I won’t be visiting. I need it to make me smile. The best restaurants are playful but not gimmicky; confident and slightly cheeky. In the end I suppose I’ve managed to answer my question: it’s not really a case of preferring either style, but one of accessibility and heart and most of all, fun.

Chilli Cool
15 Leigh street
WC1H 9EW
0207 383 3135
www.chillicool.com

Chilli Cool on Urbanspoon

The Ledbury
127 Ledbury Road
0207 792 9191
www.theledbury.com

The Ledbury on Urbanspoon

15 comments » | Chinese, Chinese, Modern British, Modern British, NORTH LONDON, Restaurant Reviews, WEST LONDON

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