Thursday, 10 June 2010

Dukes Cognac & Cigar Garden

What does one wear to a Cognac and cigar garden launch in the height of summer? I opted for a purple velvet smoking jacket.

Purple velvet may seem like an odd sartorial choice for a June evening, but the weather is unseasonably awful at the moment. Looking out of my office window at lunchtime onto grey skies and grizzly rain, mother nature threatened to put a dampener on the evening's fun and frolics.

I invited my Finnish friend William along, who, having handed in his Cambridge masters dissertation the night before, was in a celebratory mood. Arriving a little late for our rendezvous in the courtyard, I saw William had dressed for the occasion too, in a Bond-like white tux jacket, navy cravat and dandyish velvet slippers. At 6 foot 8 he barely fitted through the door, but cut a rakish figure through the hotel, once frequented by the likes of Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde and Ian Fleming.

The rain having subsided, we make our way out into the canopied courtyard filled with cosy sofas and lanterns, and are presented with a pair of pink Champagne and Cognac cocktails. The courtyard soon fills up, and I get talking to the lady on my left, who is trying to decide whether or not to go to the Orange Prize after our soirĂ©e. The night before she was at the Royal Academy summer party - 'I scooped a pair of Tracy Emin sketches for £200', she beams.

Dukes' legendary barman Alessandro Palazzi emerges with a couple of Cohibas, which he sparks up for us. William is something of a cigar aficionado, and attempts to teach me the art of successful smoking. My Cohiba isn't playing ball, and keeps going out. Alessandro appears again, this time with two balloon glasses of Martel XO.

I'm not a huge Cognac fan, but the XO is seriously smooth and easy to drink, with a soft, sweet, velvety palate. It goes wonderfully well with the creamy Cohiba, the two seeming to bring out the best in each other. The evening fleeted by as the best always do, and soon it was time for William to take his train back to Cambridge. Walking back to Green Park, he admitted to me rather sheepishly that he'd spent £70 on socks that day, in preparation for a month of balls and banquets. A modern day dandy indeed – Beau Brummel would have been proud.

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