Thursday, 13 November 2014

The London Gin Club at The Star at Night

We went to the fair on Monday. 

Despite the rain that persisted, we gamely surveyed the stall upon stall of utter tat that lined Cardigan's main street - and some of the side roads too, before heading to the main attraction - the rides.

Now, somewhere along the line, in the last few years, I have clearly become significantly more risk averse and middle aged than I thought. I was, until Monday evening, labouring under the clearly false impression that I was still, essentially, about 23 at least in my outlook in life if not in the stomach muscle department. But clearly this is not the case.

I used to utterly love fairs. I'm not talking 'theme parks' here - tame beyond belief, however thrill inducing the ride - but travelling fairs. Here for a week, on to the next town the following week.

And what did I love? Well, where to start?

The noise: banging dance music, generators roaring, the exortations of the ride 'masters' to "scream if you want to go faster", (incidentally, I don't know if 'ridemaster' is the correct term, but it seems appropriate) - and, of course, the screams... 

The smells: of chips, of doughnuts, of diesel... 

The total visual overload - lights, people, the cool emanating from the lads operating the rides, spinning the Waltzer carriages whilst smoking fags and eyeing up the talent (not me - I hasten to add - I was never in the 'talent' bracket - my mum would never let me wear that much make up...), the hormones whirring round the teenage gaggles... 

And last but not least, the rides themselves. My goodness, but I loved those rides. The faster, the more spinning, the more screaming, the more adrenaline and risk of whiplash the better. 

But, apparently, no longer.

As I walked into the swimming pool car park in Cardigan on Monday night, transformed into a seething mass of humanity, I could only wonder in horror at the health & safety regime that means Councils ban games of conkers, and yet allow travelling fairs to cart rides like this around in pieces on the back of a lorry, to be reassembled in various small towns around the country.

Seriously, this thing was scary - a long arm with the seating on the end which rotated at the same time as the arm swung backwards and forwards high over the crowds. Despite a turn on the Waltzer, being spun by some nonchalant youth, screaming like a good 'un, despite the hook a ducks, the chips, the doughnuts, I spent the whole time we were there terrified that this construction would somehow collapse in the manner of some dreadful B movie causing tragedy.

It didn't help that the Husband started to tell me how his H&S colleague at work refuses to allow her kids to attend these kinds of fairs because the number of accidents are so high.   

So given that I am clearly now so blimmin' middle aged, a far more appropriate outing perhaps was my trip to London at the weekend to the London Gin Club. 

Quite a mission for me, involving a drive to Carmarthen, a train to Swansea packed with Welsh rugby fans and more cans of lager at 10.30 in the morning than you may ever have seen... (there I go again - so middle aged... could I purse those lips any more?), then another train from Swansea all the way to London, but which became like a different train once the lager and rugby fans were disgorged upon Cardiff... 

But one Gillian Flynn novel (Sharp Objects - very, very good), and a stop in Earlsfield for a few cuddles with my (unutterably cute) nephew and a reapplication of mascara  later, and I was in central London for a date with some of my lovely Hampshire friends, and GIN!

The London Gin Club occupies the Star at Night pub on Great Chapel Street just off Oxford Street.- "dedicated to tracking down the finest gins for your drinking enjoyment" I can certainly agree with that.

We'd booked a table to which we were duly escorted, provided with menus and given a brief introduction. It's a small, intimate bar and we were downstairs in a cellar like alcove. Very convivial for catching up and raucous cackling.

They have an impressive range of gins, served with your tonic of choice (Fever Tree in all its delicious forms, Fentimans and of course good old Scchhhhhhhhweppes, plus 1724 which I 'd never come across before) - and with tailored garnishes depending on the gin.

We all chose tasting menus to start with - I went for the blind tasting which entailed 4 different gins, 4 ice filled 'Copa' balloon glasses, 2 bottles of Fever Tree and a delicate dish of possible garnishes. As instructed, those of us taking this option tasted the gin neat on ice before adding the tonic, tasting again and then deciding on an appropriate garnish. All a bit of fun, you may say, but tasting the gin neat on ice and then with the tonic and actually taking time to think about what the gin tasted of instead of simply seeking a slightly fuzzy feeling on a Friday night, was a genuinely interesting experience. I also loved that the 4 gins on the blind tasting were very very different, and tasting them next to each other really demonstrates that gin isn't just  - well, gin. It was also a revelation how different garnishes can really bring out the different flavours of the gins. I'll admit that having the tray of potential garnishes made me feel a little like I was back in play school, mixing up 'potions' - but in a good way you understand.

As you might imagine, there was much chat, and sharing of glasses - I was a little disappointed that none of the gins on the blind tasting menu were pared with the herbs that I saw on the menu - you might not think that gin goes with mint or with coriander, but you'd be wrong. Pared with the right gin (in this case, Pickerings with lime peel and coriander, Becketts with mint) - totally, mouthwateringly, delicious. Forget travelling fairs, this is the kind of living on the edge I can handle.

Tasting menus done, we had time for one last drink before sedately (ahem) venturing out for dinner. The London Gin Club offers an array of gin cocktails which I'm pleased to say proved to be as delicious as they sound - as did my glass of Botanist & tonic garnished with lemon and thyme...

Now this was all very delightful - luscious gin served in great and convivial surroundings, with helpful advice and discussion with Sarah our waitress - but what about the cost. Well, it's a long time since I've done any drinking in London and I was prepared for it to all be quite shockingly expensive. May be I'd over-estimated but the blind tasting menu was £26 - that's £26 for 4 G&Ts made with premium gins and Fever Tree tonic, plus a tray of garnishes to play with in a great venue. It felt OK to me.

So the sights, sounds and thrills of the fair or the chat of good friends, the sound of tonic on ice and the tastes of premium gin. That along with the very tasteful and pretty visual spectacle of the Oxford Street lights and it's clear that what counts as a cracking night out has changed for me. 

But that's not necessarily a bad thing!


  1. I laughed at this Sally! I too avoid the fair at all costs. I drive long, long ways home so Lily doesn't spy it when it pitches up in town! I did not laugh at the gin tasting! That.Sounds.Brilliant! What a great idea. Love the thyme. Saw a recipe for something similar with Hendrick's and thyme. Worth the cross country trek I think...

    1. :-) You must go to the London Gin Club, Sarah - you would love it. Warner Edwards is represented on the extensive list of gins too - although no rhubarb version when we were there...

  2. Think I need a gin education! Sounds like such a fun evening Sally. Much better than funfairs - I've always been a chicken about rides, so, no change there really - but I'm definitely getting more anxious and middle-aged about things that never used to bother me at all. Hate it!

  3. This would be the place to go to, Tracey! Lots of fun. Hope all's well with you xx

  4. So with you on the fairground thing. Here the fairs tend to be at the bier fests, why you would want to go on anything after consuming vast amounts of bier is beyond me anyway! I love love love the sound of the Gin Night though, how fantastic! :) x


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