Brian Silva. What a legend. This guy is what you call a ‘serious’ barman. He is most definitely from the old school. His cool, smooth, easy manner oozes the quiet confidence of experience – 30 years of it. Soft, Anglicised-American tones soothe you into your bar seat as he mixes, muddles, shakes and pours. The man seems part of that bar and it is his own, really; he was coaxed from The Connaught to re-open an historic space – once the favourite hideaway of the Prince of Wales and Lillie Langtry; ’tis the stuff of lore and misty daydreams.
Which all makes me feel even more embarrassed that I said the word “fuck” in front of him. Not intentionally you understand, it just slipped out. I was nervous, you see – jittering together a Margarita ‘the Rules way’ (with a touch of Cointreau) – Brian’s mellifluous instruction guiding me and my foul mouth towards green, salted nirvana. The alcohol had loosened my tongue – we’d had rather a lot by that point, being two thirds of the way into a three hour class which had started with a straight liquor tasting.
The classes take place on weekday afternoons between 2 and 5pm and cost £135 per person for up to four people. It’s a lot of money. So how much bang do you get for your buck? Well, first Brian shows you around behind the scenes; the bar varnished and twinkling with promise of alcoholic alchemy, framed by dark wood, gilt mirrors and animal horns. He whooshes you through spirits; garnishes; the speed rail; the glasses, tools and potions and curios of his own creation. And then it’s down to consumption. You learn how to make at least four classic cocktails, and finally one or two of your own choosing.
Declan McGurk, supplier of liquor (Speciality Brands) to Rules bar, had started the session with a little spirit tasting. Jensen’s Old Tom Gin, made in Bermondsey, was first to blow me away. Jensen developed the recipe by combing the history books and found that traditionally ‘Old Toms’ were never sweetened with sugar (too expensive); the raucous spirit was instead tempered with extra botanicals, which is just what you get from Jensen’s – a sudden spicy thwack on the nose and lengthy herbal flavour. Grant’s Morella Cherry Brandy was another stunner; a scarlet sweetheart, smelling powerfully of Bakewell tart – all almonds and cherries and sticky summer fêtes.
The ‘classics’ were the best I’ve tasted. There are just 10 on the menu – all Brian’s recipes and all with subtle twists. Of course he can make anything you like, as long as it doesn’t contain any kind of fruit purée, or tacky garnish. In the back room he shows us a plastic bag full of paper umbrellas, which he keeps for the people who hack him off; receiving a drink from Brian topped with such a vulgar appendage could only ever be intended as an insult. Martini’s are always stirred, never shaken and come served in traditional, squat conical glasses. A Blue Moon, made with crystallised violets tastes vaguely of the parma sweetie versions I used to neck as a kid. Brian rolls his eyes when I say this and as well he should – this drink is elegant, mysterious and very grown-up. These cocktails, from this bar, made by this man, are the antithesis of a jug of ‘sex on the beach’ during happy hour at the student union.
There will never be any throwing of bottles, neon lighting or even music in the Rules cocktail bar. It’s the very definition of understated glamour, an oasis amongst the gaggles of teenage tourists, street performers and gift shops of Covent Garden. If you’ve got the money, this city is your playground and if you can afford this class then I urge you to go. If your budget has more in common with mine, then I recommend you treat yourself to a cocktail every now and then – much more accessible at around the £12 mark.
As we were released back into reality, fuzzy warm and unsteady, eyes blinking through the shock of sunlight, I felt as if I’d emerged from the set of an old movie; the star of the show – Brian Silva.
35 Maiden Lane
Tel: 0207 836 5314
For information about the Rules cocktail master class, contact Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org and please see his comment below.
Classes costs £135 per person, take place on weekday afternoons from 2-5pm and you can have up to 4 people in a class.
I was invited to try the masterclass free of charge.