RULES: GAME ON AT LONDON'S BEST NEW BAR
HERMANO PRIMERO SPEAKS
It was a cold and wet evening. I was in London's famous West End to meet HS but being a bit early I'd whiled away some time in Stanfords looking at maps and planning our next Iberian adventure. There was still some time to kill before we met up so I went looking for a small boîte where I could have a quiet drink and contemplate life, the universe and well, everything.
All the pubs were full, packed with the lager swilling B&T crowd. As I passed Rules Restaurant I thought about DH's last visit to this famous old institution. I remembered an old guy lunching by himself. He'd been seated at what was his usual table and was brought what was his usual drink: a Martini. Very dry. Very cold. With a twist. Maybe Rules had a bar ?
I entered and enquired if I could just have a drink. The FOH motioned towards a door I'd never noticed before. I went through the door and up the stairs where a member of staff welcomed me with a friendly "Will you be joining us for a drink this evening ?". I liked this place immediately. The bar was small with just a handful of tables, some occupied by groups enjoying a preprandial glass of champagne.
I ordered a Dry Martini. It came in a chilled conical glass and was very good. I chatted with the bartender, Michael, about cocktails, unusual bitters and the like and ordered another drink. This time a Negroni, made with Cinzano Orancio and finished with some Poire William. An excellent cocktail with all the flavours coming through separately yet working
perfectly in unison. This was obviously a place which took its drinks seriously. I needed to find out more. This was obviously a job for that student (for we never stop learning) of the cocktail: Hermano Segundo.
HERMANO SEGUNDO SPEAKS
Regular readers of the blog will have noticed that HP is the less binary of DH. He is more forgiving of bad restaurants (well, some anyway) and less gushing about good ones. So, as I sat at the bar of The Cork & Bottle on Saturday, sipping on a very good but very expensive Albariño, I was surprised to receive an effusive phone call from him regaling tales of a new and “secret” bar just opened in a former private dining room at London’s oldest restaurant, Rules.
Cocktails are rapidly becoming an obsession with me to rival that of food (cut to image of image of Dr Choudry shaking head as he looks at reports of high liver enzymes) and I truly believe that the great cocktail mixers are as talented and passionate as great chefs. They are usually nicer people too, but that’s story’s for another time.
The man in charge is Brian Silva. Formerly of The Connaught and one of the revered quartet old school of bartenders that included Salvatore Calabrese, Peter Dorelli from the American Bar at The Savoy and Gilberto Preti of Duke’s, Brian has now turned his considerable skills to the revival of the bar at Rules and has created what is arguably the most interesting back bar in the city with many bottles from his own collection.
After making sure he was due to be working, DH bundled up on a cold Tuesday night to find Brian busy mixing Sazeracs, the oldest cocktail of all, for a couple at the bar and we quickly decided that we should stand at watch the expert rather than sit on the rather uncomfortable seats. Usually, I am slightly didactic when it comes to cocktails believing that the mixer’s skill in making one of five cocktails (for the record, The Manhattan, The Martini, The Sazerac, The Old Fashioned and The Daquiri) tells you all you need to know, but when presented with a man of Brian’s provenance and obvious ability I was happy to leave myself in his hands.
What followed was a happy blur of the mixer’s art. Slings, sours, new twists on Bloody Mary’s and even a slightly wicked concoction using Absinthe, which I had to push away for fear of the inevitable consequences. Like a successful tasting menu in a great restaurant, not everything worked for me but the flawless execution in the making was apparent. Also like me, Brian thinks cocktails should be about booze and balance not fruit. In an age when untrained barmen think throwing as many berries in a glass and adding 'tini at the endof the name is cocktail making, his mixing is a welcome oasis to so much of the dross out there.
It is not all flawless, but appropriately for a place that has changed glacially over the last two centuries, Rules is taking it steady and doing it properly. Some sofas are being made for those of a larger behind and gamey bar snacks will soon be on offer alongside the slabs of well kept Monty’s Cheddar already available. With cocktails beginning at £10.50, comparable to many hotels and mixing of this quality, DH have quickly marked down this little gem of a bar as one of our “go to” places when the wicked world gets too much for us.