Cocktail Masterclass at Rules

June 10, 2010


Rules Bar

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

Rules on Urbanspoon

For information about the Rules cocktail master class, contact Brian at brian@rules.co.uk 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.

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  • Avatar
    Reply Rachael Curzons June 10, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    What a lovely post, I’m totally with Brian on the yuk fruit purees issue.

    Also, I have never heard of Jenson’s Old Tom Gin – would it be barbaric to add tonic – is it an ice only affair? (This is definitely fine, I just want to be clear on the kind of drinking we’re talking about!)


  • Avatar
    Reply Helen June 10, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    Hi Rachel, i reckon go ahead and put the tonic in. Brian uses it in cocktails so I guess it’s ok to mix. I would use a decent tonic though if you can. Something like Fever-tree which doesn’t have quinine in it. x

  • Reply Tweets that mention Cocktail masterclass at Rules — Food Stories -- Topsy.com June 10, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by FoodStories and Chris, Dionne Smith. Dionne Smith said: RT @FoodStories: New blog post: Cocktail masterclass at Rules http://bit.ly/bj3xHt Brian Silva – LEGEND! […]

  • Avatar
    Reply Chris June 10, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    If you’re going to do a Rules post, you could at least have the decency to make it worse than mine.

    All these interesting and funny posts are making me feel all inadequate and that.

  • Avatar
    Reply Neil // YetAnotherGin June 10, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    Sounds like you had a lovely time Helen, and indeed the drinks are pretty accessible, and if you can grab a spot at the bar you get to talk to Brian, Gabriella and other fabulous barstaff.

    My thoughts on the place, from a drinkers perspective are here:

  • Avatar
    Reply Katie June 10, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Sounds like a classy affair Helen. What a great gig! These are the kind of skills that will get you a long way in life!

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    Reply gastrogeek June 10, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    Oh yes!! I do heart Rules, and agreed, Brian is a legend and a half.

  • Avatar
    Reply Billy Abbott June 10, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    I visited the Rules bar for first time the other week and one of my drinking buddies tucked a masterclass advert into my pocket before we left, giving me instructions that I should look into it. I met Declan on Monday and now you post this…I am most tempted.

  • Avatar
    Reply Becci June 10, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    Sounds marvellous. I worked as a cocktail bartender all through my degree (at Browns) and absolutely loved putting together classic cocktails. Obviously nowhere near to these standards, but knowing cocktails has stood me in good stead ever after… always a hit at parties, after dinner cocktails can warm up even the coldest of crowds.

  • Avatar
    Reply Dave June 10, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    I’ve always been a bit coy about going into Rules. I think it’s the decadence of the place that puts me off. But may have to pop in for a dry martini and take it from there…

  • Avatar
    Reply Huey June 11, 2010 at 9:54 am

    just to say, I am more than slightly envious of your job!!!!

  • Avatar
    Reply An American in London June 11, 2010 at 10:32 am

    Your post and Cheese & Biscuits’ post make this sound like a class worth paying for . . . but Monday or Tuesday *afternoon*? You’d have to take a day off from work *and* pay 135 quid. Tough sell. Why not Monday or Tuesday evening, instead? Still relatively slow nights, and whatever paying customers they turn away could be made up for by the 135 quid pricetag?

  • Avatar
    Reply Brian Silva June 11, 2010 at 11:04 am

    The course is run from Monday to Friday , not just Monday and Tuesday.
    I can’t run it in the evenings as we also service the Restaurant drinks and customers.
    Fridays are the most popular day for obvious reasons.
    Hope this clears this up.
    Any Saturday requests would be considered but only for 4 people.
    I would also like to stress that the course is led by what the customer wants to learn in addtion to the classic cocktails taught.

  • Avatar
    Reply Helen June 11, 2010 at 11:13 am

    Thanks for the update Brian and sorry for the misinformation! I will edit the post.

  • Avatar
    Reply Helen June 11, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    Also Brian, I’m not sure if you know this but on the leaflet you gave us, it says that the classes run on Monday and Tuesday afternoons only.

  • Avatar
    Reply tobias cooks! June 12, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    Must have been a fun event. Thanks for sharing.

  • Avatar
    Reply Tv Food and Drink June 12, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    Beautiful post and great pics. I am going to re-tweet it to friends! Thanks – Gary

  • Avatar
    Reply Greedy Diva July 3, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    Terrific write up Helen, and fab photos. I really liked the look of the bar when I visited Rules for dinner lately (thanks for your comment on my post!) and let’s just say you have now utterly convinced me I need to have a martini there sooner rather than later. Watching a martini being made properly is always such a soothing experience.

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