Monday, 7 June 2010
Brian Silva's Cocktail Masterclass at Rules, Covent Garden
Food bloggers are often accused of a herd mentality, of obsessing over the latest fads and new openings and of flooding the blogosphere with identical reviews at the same time. Of course, when the national critics do the same, as when Bar Boulud and Roux at Parliament Square opened in the same week and every single paper contained a review of either one or the other, nobody seems to care. I'd like to think it's because people are so used to the stunning variety and engaging, impartial comment on the best food blogs that any similarities in content stand out like a sore thumb, whereas nobody really reads the national press to find out what a restaurant is like; the actual subject matter is secondary to a good read.
I've been as guilty as anyone in the past for writing "Yet Another Lobsterfest Post" or "Yet Another Ham School Post", but the point is, I still wouldn't write about anything unless I really wanted to. After all, I'm not getting paid. And here is the fundamental difference in the way that professionals and bloggers operate - they write because they have to, and we write because we can. And if that means that you occasionally see the same event or restaurant written up across a handful of different blogs then it generally only means that it was really worth writing about - good or bad.
The reason I begin with this protracted bout of navel-gazing is because the last time a handful of bloggers were invited out for a class together (at Allen's of Mayfair), we all, each and every last one of us, wrote it up. The reason for this was quite simple - it was fascinating and enormous fun. We didn't co-ordinate our response or decide upon a collective plan of action, we just went home with our big bags of meat and sat down and wrote it up. And with that in mind, I expect this won't be the last post you read about Brian Silva's Rules bar. It's already not the first.
Brian Silva is, and I don't use this word frivolously, a legend amongst barmen in London. A few weeks ago I and a few other Martini fans embarked on a Martini tour of London, taking in drinks at Bob Bob Ricard, Mark's Bar at Hix, Duke's bar in St James and ending up at the Connaught. We deliberately avoided Rules that day as Brian doesn't work weekends, but in conversation with all the other barmen at these equally prestigious venues, including the highly-regarded in his own right Alessandro at Duke's, it turns out that Brian is regarded as something close to a god amongst those who do this kind of thing for a living. After a few minutes in Brian's company, it's hard not to see why. Affable and charming yet fiercely passionate (and frighteningly knowledgeable) about his chosen trade, the bar at Rules is an alchemist's lab of strange liquids from faraway lands, home-infused wormwood liqueurs and jars of multicoloured crystals. They're not just for show, either - each spirit, tincture and aromatic is used, either in one of the house cocktails (there is a very short list just as a prompt for new customers) or for use in anything Brian makes up on the spot. He does this a lot, and they're always brilliant. It's a gift.
But Brian isn't one to keep his gift to himself. On Monday and Tuesday afternoons from 2pm-5pm, he runs a cocktail masterclass, giving customers paying £135 per person the chance to get behind the bar and learn from the master himself how to mix the perfect martini or muddle a magnificent Caipirinha. Myself and a couple of other lucky bloggers were invited down to test out the course and spent a happy afternoon getting slowly sozzled on some of the best drinks it's possible to order in London, and to learn more about the effort and dedication that goes into running a bar like Rules.
As part of the class, Brian had organised a tasting by the guy who supplies many of the Rules spirits, Declan of Speciality Drinks. Declan had brought along an interesting selection of his products, including a gin-based liqueur from France, an English cherry brandy, a sweet vermouth and a rum from Venezuela. My personal favourite was the extraordinary cherry brandy, which tasted like Bakewell Tart.
As far as the rest of the afternoon went, it was divided more or less equally between us staring grinning and enthralled at Brian as he produced yet another stunning concoction, or being gently cajoled into coming around the back of the bar and having a go ourselves. The many drinks we got through would no doubt make a very interesting list were I able to remember them all; alas by the time I had a Black Mojito, a Blue Moon (using crystallised violet, very Tom Cruise that one) and a Tanqueray 10 Martini lined up in front of me my powers of recall took second stage to my ability to keep myself upright. All you need to know is that, if anything, Brian's own recipes tasted more exciting than age-old favourites like Margheritas or Caipirinhas, and that the attention to detail that goes into every drink is mind-blowing. To give you a small example - they have a special ice-making machine from Japan which produces not only perfectly clear ice cubes of uniform size but special crushed ice which won't melt before you've finished your drink. Clever stuff.
I can wholeheartedly recommend the cocktail masterclass at Rules, and along with the Allen's (and the Ginger Pig's, which I've also heard great things about) butchery courses and the Brindisa ham school it joins a growing list of interactive hands-on classes in London that are a fantastic way to spend an afternoon. £135 may seem like quite a lot to shell out in one go, but for 3 hours in the company of London's greatest barman and more booze than anyone should ever really expect to drink in the middle of the day, you won't feel short-changed. So before this becomes Yet Another Rules Post, and you get sick of reading about how great it is and wish all these bloggers would just shut up and start paying for things for a change, go and try it out for yourself. Brian is waiting.
I was invited to try Brian Silva's Cocktail Masterclass. Classes run on Mondays and Tuesdays from 2pm-5pm and cost £135 per person. Many thanks to Ben Bush for the photos.