A recent straw poll among my female friends on the topic of ‘what’s most attractive in a man’ (taken for professional not personal reasons, honest) yielded some surprising results. A GSOH and a way with shelving may not be as essential as I had been led to believe – the three most desirable male characteristics are, according to my impromptu focus group, ‘thick wrists’, ‘punctuality’ and ‘the ability to mix a decent cocktail’.
The first I am already blessed with, and the second is already a lost cause, so if I could master the third then I could become at least 66.6 per cent The Perfect Man.
Now any monkey can dribble some vermouth into a class of gin and call it a martini, but it takes skill, practice and Shaolin-monk levels of concentration to actually produce a drink worthy of the sequin-draped sophisticates that I fully intend to start hanging around with. Luckily for the likes of me, one of Mr & Mrs Smith’s most elegant London hotels, the St James’s Hotel & Club has arranged monthly cocktail masterclasses, designed to turn even the most spillage-prone glass-smasher into a mixologist of mighty mettle. Costing £79 for a session including champagne, four cocktails, and gourmet nibblings, it’s just the ticket.
The man behind the muddler is bar manager Joel Lawrence, one of London’s finest mixologists. His particular claim to fame is being the creator of what was the world’s most expensive cocktail – a £30,000 affair that he created while heading up the bar at the InterContinental. Personally, I reckon using diamonds as ingredients is cheating, but Joel insists that the bulk of the price tag came from the spirits themselves. He sold one – to one of those Russian billionaire playboys that I plan to become as soon as I’ve learned to mix a mojito.
The class begins with a glass or two of champagne, a cone of the hotel’s famous flavoured popcorn (a surprisingly palatable curry today) and a quick tour through cocktail history, touching on the fact that no one’s very sure where the word came from (decorative feathers in glasses? Sticks used to beat chickens to death? Mexican bar spoons? Who knows…), and dipping into James Bond (his penchant for shaken vodka martinis apparently comes from Ian Fleming’s wish to make him the polar opposite of his gin-swilling, stir-loving American contemporaries).
It’s a small group and a chatty atmosphere, which makes for an intimate, friendly evening. I’m surprised to discover that everyone else doing the class is female. (Clearly I’m going to have a massive advantage over the rest of my fellow men.) Each participant is given their own station to work at, and is armed with a selection of premium spirits, ample ice and lemon, and a selection of the tools any self-respecting drinksmonger requires (bar spoon, muddler, shaker, and, um, the springy thing you pour stuff through (sorry Joel, I think I still have a way to go). Joel takes us through the preparation of each drink, with welcome intervals for canapés from the St James’s Hotel’s gourmet restaurant. On this occasion, we covered the classics (martini, mojito, cosmopolitan) but the line-up changes according to the season – juleps are the taste of summer, autumn brings the poire-tini, and winter is hot toddy time.
I studiously follow Joel’s instructions, counting out the gin (hardcore mixologists measure their, um, measures using only the power of numbers rather than pansy-assed jiggers), adding a splash of vermouth, and lovingly depositing the icy liquid into the glass.
The martini has always seemed to me to be a way of giving a rhino-sedating quantity of neat alcohol a veneer of sophistication – but, my goodness, this is delicious. It tastes clear and crisp, with a syrupy depth, and a slow-growing warmth to it. It is also exceedingly alcoholic. Yum.
Next up is Hemingway’s Cuban love affair, the mojito. Unfortunately, I’ve barely finished my vigorous mint-lime mash-up when I’m summoned to answer a phone call in the bar. Now this is a new one for me. I thought only Russian billionaires and people in films received phone calls in luxury hotel bars, so I’m interpreting this as some kind of sign of my ascension to the elite. I’m looking forward to returning to the class and telling my fellow students, ‘I’m so sorry. Something has come up. I must go to Geneva at once.’
Not Switzerland, but Hackney. It emerges that my lame but wayward cat has picked a fight with a moving car and needs escorting to animal A&E. Damn.
Reluctantly, I make my goodbyes, take a longing look at my unfinished mojito masterpiece, and head for the door. Joel stops me to present me with a certificate informing the world that I have passed the St James’s Cocktail Masterclass. We both know that, really, I haven’t, since one and a half cocktails do not a mixologist make, but , hey, who needs actual skill when you have written proof that you’ve mastered the most desirable talent a man can possess?
Had I stayed, I’d have also learned the dark art of the cosmopolitan and enjoyed the competitive climax of the evening when Joel’s pupils get to try their new-found mixing skills behind the bar – the maker of the night’s best cocktail gets a bottle of St James’s whisky to take home. As it is, I’ve pulled out early – not a good trait in The Perfect Man. I resolve to come back and finish the course another day.
But until then, at least I have the faintest glimmer of ‘an ability to mix a decent cocktail’. And a certificate to prove it.
St James’s Hotel & Club’s next masterclasses:
Combine your class with a stay at the hotel and enjoy St James’s modern take on the old-school Mayfair gentleman’s club. Rooms start at £345 a night, but, crikey, they’re worth it.
PS The cat was fine. Which is almost more annoying.