A friend was recently elevated to becoming the chief bean counter at a lash factory. Mindful of everyone’s favourite Michael Fassbender/Keira Knightly fantasy I was looking forward to a discount on a cat o’ nine tails until it was pointed out that the lashes in question were stuck onto the eyelids of ladies from Essex. Apparently there are ladies in Essex although I have yet to meet one. Nevertheless, this was an occasion for celebration and multiple drinks. Like sparrows (one for sorrow, two for joy) a singular drink is a sorrowful thing so I always have mine in multiples of two. We lined our stomaches with a large repast at the Dean Street Townhouse in Soho – an outpost of the Soho House empire with fine cocktails and a predictable but consistent menu.
For the main event we moved round the corner to Golden Square – one of the oldest squares in London, dating from the 17th century. City squares first became fashionable in 17th century Paris. In its day however, Golden Square in Soho was distinctly unfashionable. Referred to as Lord Craven’s Pest Field it consisted originally of hospices for the poor funded by the said Lord Craven and was also a dumping ground for the dead during the Great Plague. Later referred to as Geldings Square on account of the stables that dotted the area, its name was changed to Golden Square as aristocrats and Huguenot immigrants moved in. Mindful that we were treading on ground hallowed by some 4000 souls who once lay buried underfoot, we searched for a drink with some urgency.
Golden Square is now a trendy advertising and media district. Absolute Radio, Sony Pictures and Saatchi Advertising are headquartered here. The local restaurants and bars cater to a clientele who are a cross between Mad Men and angst ridden black turtlenecks. I ate here recently at Bob Bob Ricard with Snow White. My friend Snow White is so called because of her fantasy about the seven dwarfs but this is a family blog (I think) so we won’t speculate on the futility of her fantasy given that neither Bashful nor Sleepy are likely to engage. Bob Bob is owned by Russians with some kind of weird fascination with Texan men’s names. It’s a bizarrely decorated place – “Liberace’s bathroom dropped into a Texas diner,” said one critic. Its like Marmite, making it into various critics top ten lists and to others worst restaurants list. I like it. Louche, with attractive waitresses in school girly waitress uniforms it has an outrageous call button for more champagne at every table. It’s an easy button to push.
On this occasion we went to the Graphic Bar, also on Golden Square, which boasts of almost a hundred gins – the largest collection in the UK. They have a generous team behind the bar who are more than happy for you to taste a flight before you decide. The Graphic is not fancy. It’s a hangout for media types with school house furniture, an all day food menu and wifi. There’s a DJ stand with a couple of turntables for later. For some I suspect it’s an alcoholic alternative to Starbucks. A few sofas are scattered about and there are brightly painted corrugated metal walls to add interest to the decor. 3PM is early to start a gin tasting but Snow White, Long Tall Sally, Mini Me, the Total Flanker and the Lasher were present and thirsty.
We ordered a selection of gins served in classic martini cocktails. Ferenc, our expert South African waiter made the call on the garnish depending on the gin we were having. Our favourite was Gin Mare, a newish Mediterranean gin brewed in a small fishing village on the Costa Dorada in Spain with very prominent olive and brine top notes. Our Gin Mare martinis were served with a few sprigs of rosemary as a garnish which added a heady perfume and brought out the Mediterranean flavours. After a few of these, Snow White was waxing lyrical about warm islands, olives, feta cheese, whitewashed walls – and those infernal dwarfs. Gin Mare has a very unique flavour though, so it may not be to everyone’s liking. Ask for a taste before you dive in.
We also tasted Aviation Gin from Portland, Oregon. Aviation is the result of a unique collaboration between a distiller (House Spirits) and a creative bartender (Ryan Magarian). It’s a Dutch style gin so its less juniper led than a classic London dry gin. The leading note here is Coriander in a drink that is soft and citrusy. Aviation gin is named after the classic early 20th century Aviation cocktail (gin, lime juice, maraschino liqueur and creme de violette for a sky blue colour). I am sure that Aviation gin tastes good in an Aviation cocktail. It is soft, light and perfectly drinkable in a dry martini.
Number 3 gin was a revelation. A classic London Dry Gin made by Berry Brothers and Rudd at No. 3 St James’s Street this gin makes for the perfect classic dry martini. Berry Brothers has been in the business of pushing spirits since 1698 and has a storied history. Curiously, it also had some of the most accurate weighing scales in London, used to measure body weight by Lord Byron, William Pitt and the Agha Khan amongst others.
The taste of No. 3 gin leads with juniper, which had an extraordinary clarity of flavour, followed by coriander and cardamon which develop in the mouth as you sip. There is pepper on the nose and after notes of cardamom linger. This is possibly the best gin I have tasted in a dry martini.
London is full of history and Golden Square has seen a goodly slice of it. Apart from its use as a burial site during the plague, it was at the centre of the cholera epidemic in the 18th century and featured in Charles Dicken’s Nicholas Nickleby. It’s a mass of contradictions, but that is London. Go to the Graphic Bar if you like Gin. Go to Bob Bob Ricard for a bonkers champagne celebration.