Why Sing for your Dinner, when you can Smoke a Cigar Instead!
I smoked my first cigar before I’d even finished reading the book which inspired me to begin smoking in the first place; it was The History of Habitat, by Terence Conran. It was 1996.
I had bought my first home the previous year and I was enthralled by this world of interiors and architecture, and quickly became a Habitat devotee. Terence Conran became a huge inspiration, both professionally and personally – some years later I would eventually work for Terence himself at The Conran Shop.
If the second summer of love was the best year of my life (which I spent at college in the St. Martins building on Charing Cross road right next door to the now defunct Marquee Club), then my inaugural year at Habitat on the Tottenham Court Rd, was the second.
And with my first paycheque, I clearly remember the short walk from TCR (as we referred to Tottenham Court Rd), to the cigar counter at Selfridges, on Edward Mews, where I procured my first cigar; it was a petit H. Upmann. It was a revelation and was the beginning of a love affair which has taken me to Cuba and back, inspired me to design the perfect cigar ashtray – which Terence himself assisted me with – and sparked many enjoyable conversations around the world. What it had never afforded me, however, was the fabled cigar dinner: until now that is.
As an enthusiastic novice, I read myriad accounts of cigar dinners between the pages of Cigar Aficionado magazine. I longed to be part of some clandestine smoking club that enjoyed evenings spent recounting cigar anecdotes whilst feasting on exquisite food and drinking fine wines. And last night, I did just that.
Brown in Town opened it’s doors in January of this year inside Hotel du Vin’s old cigar humidor, which for this particular cigar aficionado, is still the greatest coup d’etat in our companies short history. Seldom have I been afforded the opportunity to partake of my favourite pastime as oft’ as I am in my new residency, albeit outside in the courtyard; damn that smoking ban! Nor have I met so many like minded partakers, some of whom have become customers of Brown in Town, not to mention an introduction to the UK importer of all Cuban cigars, Hunter & Frankau.
And so, 18 years after my journey began, my cigar smoking prayers were answered by a cigar dinner at Hotel du Vin, hosted by Hunters Frankau and enjoyed by guests of the hotel, Brown in Town patrons, and Hotel du Vin’s own cigar aficionados alike. And what’s not to like;
We were first treated to an Appleton Rum V/X, mixed expertly by none other than Hotel du Vin’s bartender extraordinaire, Nathan, with Angostura bitters, Oloroso sherry, apricot liqueur and Aperol (and whilst Bristol’s local tailor may suffer from an acute intolerance to most spirits, we managed to sip our way through this wonderful concoction) to accompany one of Cubas more modern brands, the San Cristobal, El Principe. The El Principe is somewhere between a corona and petit corona in size, and is light to medium in flavour. And what a lot of delicious flavour it packs; coffee notes, and sweet top notes make this an easy smoking cigar and one I will seek out in the robusto and Churchill sizes.
To accompany the starter of Applewood smoked duck with baby spinach and pickled walnuts, we drank a very well paired Planalto Douro Reserva, which, whilst not a quaffable wine, was a perfect accompaniment.
When you consider that Cotes du Rhone is typically an easy drinking red (and one of my personal favourites), the Les Couteaux Cote du Rhone Villages 2011 more than held it’s own against the duo of braised short rib and roast sirloin of beef, served with root vegetables, tobacco onions (I see what you did there chef) and celeriac puree. We were encouraged to take this remarkable wine with us out onto the terrace to enjoy with the second cigar of the evening, the Montecristo, Petit Edmundo. A fine looking cigar (I really like the shallowness of the cap), with a toastiness rarely found in a Montecristo, and a good handle too.
The dark chocolate torte with orange sorbet, was quite simply the most incredible torte I have ever had the pleasure of eating. As effective a palate cleanser, as it was rich and chocolatey; there is, in my mind, no better way end to an exquisite meal. With the coffee served strong, and from a cafetiere, Hotel du Vin really did surpass themselves.
But the best was yet to come! Hunters & Frankau had selected one of Cubas oldest cigar brands to complete the evening in the form of the Ramon Allones Specially Selected (robusto) for the final plume. And what a plume it was; full bodied, fruity, coffee and rum notes with a smooth finish, and hands down cigar of the evening. Paired with Appleton Estate Old Fashioned, mixed, again by our Nathan with orange bitters and demerara sugar. A marvellous finish to a perfect evening.
And what could be more befitting than to don my grandfathers smoking jacket, typically worn by our Douglas at the door to the humidor.
In the words of Andrew our head barman, I was feeling a little dusty this morning, but I am already looking forward to our next cigar dinner with eager anticipation. And I would not be surprised if the next one does not take 18 years to orchestrate!