An evening with handcrafted gin cocktails, jazz and rhapsodic dancing at the St James's venue gives Daria Solomatina a taste of the Twenties.
I was let out of work half an hour early on Wednesday to arrive for the start of Giovanni's Gin Joint at Quaglino’s (my boss was very worried I would miss the cocktails and canapés). I regretted this as soon as I stepped into the welcome lounge: a quirkily-dressed and skinny gentleman of an age somewhere between my grandpa and uncle (i.e., in his fifties), not one of the staff, proclaimed that I couldn’t have a drink because I was, apparently, ‘three minutes early’. Well, not that I really wanted that gin-infused pina colada with a burnt pineapple on top (the actual name of the cocktail was Pigallecolada and ingredients included Tanqueray 10, Koko Kanu, Mandarin Napoleon, and Aperol). OK, I can pronounce at least half of those.
As the evening unfolded, my mood improved as there were more unpronounceable drinks to come: a literally stunning MissVonTeese (gin, Galliano, egg white, lemon juice, lavender and raspberry syrup) and a rather stingy GypsyBeeLee (with bee pollen – that must be really healthy, especially when mixed with gin, Lillet Blanc, peach purée, cardamom and grapefruit peel). My favourite one was still the first, probably due to the combination of taste and presentation, and yes, I did like the look of a grilled pineapple covering my champagne glass.
My friend commented on the design of the venue: mirrored walls and golden colours widened the space, filling it with ‘glamour and glitz’, as the promoters put it, and the red-curtained stage and cabaret-style of the seating layout produced the needed vibes. There were only a couple of tables free when the show started, and those were probably reserved for the latecomers. We finished our mini burgers with gruyère and harissa and our black truffle and parmesan arancini, regretting those were only ‘mini’.
The music in the background slowly transported us further and further back in time: starting with jazzy interpretations of contemporary pop songs and the likes of Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’, by the time the dancing started we were listening to 1920s hits and songs from West End musicals. The atmosphere was intoxicating, the dancers in Gatsby-style dresses were radiant and spreading the energy all around. One of the guests couldn’t restrain herself and joined in the cabaret.
As we moved from the reception area to the main restaurant with the bar island in the middle, we were approached by suited gentlemen asking if we enjoyed the cabaret girl’s voice (one of the songs from Cats could be heard in the background). I said no – because she was obviously lip-syncing. The suited gentlemen turned out to be foreign diplomats and this was a typical evening for them, though perhaps quieter than usual: normally they would go out until 5 or 6 am and still manage to keep an eye on their country’s interests in the UK (no wonder the states they represent are doing so ‘well’ in exports and GDP rankings).
With a Bond-styled evening featuring the songs from the 1990s and another Gatsby Burlesque lined up for this summer, this pop-up Gin Festival is on until the end of August. The Purl x Quaglino’s collaboration should not be missed as well: top mixologists have specially created three ‘drinks that satisfy on a multi-sensory level, using aroma, fogs, airs, foams’.