Xenia Taliotis has a taste of the Gin and Tonic Experience at a swanky London hotel.
Hotel bars - I love them, love their air of exclusivity, the beautiful glassware and bowls of glistening, voluptuous olives that accompany the drinks, love the pianists playing in the shadows, and love that I can't stumble in looking like a hangover because you never know whom you might meet. That George Clooney, didn't he have a liaison amoureuse with someone he met in a hotel bar? Oh, that was in a movie - never mind, a girl can dream can't she?
So I'm in the Terrace Bar at the Chesterfield Hotel in London's Mayfair, about to have a Gin and Tonic Experience. Some might say that I've had several too many of those in my lifetime already, but this promises to be something special and I'm really quite excited.
In the UK premium gin is in right now and craft distilleries are springing up all over the place, producing artisan spirits that are sophisticated, complex and infused with so many botanicals that you need some guidance to appreciate them fully. Which is precisely what the Chesterfield's Gin and Tonic Experience is all about. Guests choose from four tantalising tasting menus - comprising three different G&Ts - and get a mini masterclass thrown in.
James, my mixologist for the evening, recommends the Premium Tasting menu, and who am I to argue? I take my seat at the bar and out comes a custom-made tray carrying a balloon glass (ideal because it traps the fragrance of the gin), a miniature ice bucket, three little bottles of gin (dry, floral and spiced) and 12 jars containing some of the more common botanicals such as red and black pepper, star anise, cardamom and, of course, juniper.
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Before he mixes my G&Ts, James pours some of the gin into the glass and asks me to blow over it to help the aromas rise to the top of the glass, to breathe it in, and finally to take a smidgen of it into my mouth, allowing it rest on my tongue for a couple of seconds before swallowing. He talks me through the various flavours as I taste. First up is No 3 London Dry Gin, so what I'm getting is a hit of citrus, a bit of heat - from the cardamom - and the dryness. James then adds three ice cubes, the tonic - in this case Fentimans - grapefruit peel, to enhance the citrus flavours, and edible flowers.
Next is the floral Martin Miller's. This is distilled in the UK with 10 botanicals, including cinnamon, nutmeg, angelica root and cucumber, and shipped to Iceland, where it's blended with one of the purest waters in the world. The Chesterfield serves this with Mediterranean Fever Tree tonic, strawberries and a grind of black pepper.
We finish with a spiced G&T - made with Monkey 47, 1724 tonic and garnished with juniper berries. "This one tastes of a pine forest after a rainstorm, doesn't it?" says James. I try hard to taste what he means and yes, I do get some of the pine but there are 47 botanicals in this so there's an awful lot going on. It's a bit like listening to a full orchestra playing a symphony when you've only ever heard chopsticks on the piano. You love the whole, but you can't pick out the individual components. All I can say is, it's gorgeous.
By now I'm peckish, and the bar snacks don't get any better than this - toasted cheese soldiers, Cornish crab cakes, and, wait for it, seagull eggs. Yep, you read that right. They're available for only a few weeks of the year and very strictly regulated - the Chesterfield is one of few places in London serving them. They were the perfect end to a perfect evening. I say perfect. Actually there was one thing missing: George Clooney.
Getting there: Air New Zealand flies daily from Auckland to London via Los Angeles.
Details: The Gin and Tonic Experience at the Chesterfield Hotel, Mayfair, London, has several options, ranging in price from $45-$57.