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March 14, 2018

The Distillery Presents… a London dining experience like no other

By Jack Rear

The Distillery, the official home of Portobello Road Gin, is the sum of quite a few moving parts. A lot more parts, it must be said, than most other gin distilleries.

Located on Portobello Road itself, the Distillery is a grand, sumptuous building.

Easily recognisable from a distance due to its elegant livery which matches the label on every bottle of Portobello Road Gin, the Distillery is quite something.

The ground floor is home to the Resting Room, an elegant, modern bar, softly lit with warm yellow light. Behind the bar are bottles and bottles of Portobello Road Gin.

There are bottles of the original flavour gin, limited edition variants, and special versions created just for the Distillery. The bar staff all experts and their serves are as excellent as you might expect.

Below the bar is the Ginstitute, part historical gin parlour, part classroom. It’s the home of another of Portobello Road Gin’s unique experiences where guests learn the history of gin before going on to make their own personal gin.

Upstairs is Gintonica, a Spanish-themed restaurant, complete with yet another fully-stocked bar. Head chef Greg Lewis serves a British take on traditional Spanish dishes to great effect.

The top floor of the building is home to the Distillery’s most well-known selling point: hotel rooms. These are sumptuously decorated with elaborate tiling work in the bathrooms and the softest pillows you’ll ever find.

True to its branding, rooms in the gin hotel come complete with a complementary bottle of Portobello Road Gin.

All this is to say, there’s a lot going on at the distillery. It’s a hotel, a bar, a restaurant, a working distillery, and a museum.

It would be fair to ask, what more could Portobello Road Gin possibly hope to add to its arsenal at this point?

The answer, as you may have guessed from the title of this piece, is The Distillery Presents…

What is The Distillery Presents…?

To use its own words The Distillery Presents… is a “multi-sensory historical journey; regaling stirring stories that are brought to life by a fantastical five course feast of food and drink, created by The Distillery’s executive chef, Greg Lewis”.

It’s experiential dining.

For those who haven’t come across the term, imagine the classy cousin of dinner and a show.

Guests sit down for a five-course dinner, and listen to short lectures or stories between each one.

These stories cover a variety of topics but each one educates and illuminates diners about the dishes they are about to tuck into.

A specially curated playlist helps set the tone as the presenter delves into the complex history and philosophy behind each dish.

While this might sound like a rather dry affair, nothing could be further from the truth. Each short speech is punctuated by jokes and brought to life with a specially curated playlist.

Plus, in true Distillery fashion, each course is paired with an alcoholic drink matching the theme of the meal.

The best part about the whole thing is that the menu isn’t revealed ahead of time. Each course comes as a total surprise, so diners get to speculate on what will be revealed next as they listen to the accompanying lectures.

Of course, helpfully, the host isn’t speaking constantly. Not only would that be tiring for them, but it would probably be exhausting as a diner. Guests can eat without interruption which is a wonderful experience to chat about the information that has just been offered and the food itself with fellow diners.

The Distillery’s boardroom is where the whole thing takes place; a single table with twenty spaces, so there really is a social element as you chat to fellow diners.

What does the experience offer?

The experience that Verdict tried was titled 5 Centuries: An Edible Adventure Through The Ages.

It’s one of three different options currently on offer. The other two are Tales Of Glamour And Excess: The Drinks And Dinners Of James Bond and Alexis Soyer: (Re)Introducing The World’s First Celebrity Chef.

Further options are planned to launch this summer including an exciting-sounding option based on the history of food and drink on the silver screen.

The experience offers five courses with each course representing a different century, all accompanied by a matching drink.

In addition, it’s worth remembering that (despite a few dalliances across the pond) this history lesson is mostly based on English habits and history. Considering British cuisine has historically been a bit of a laughing stock, this attempt to rehabilitate it is more than welcome.

The experience began back in the 1700s where cider was the drink of the day.

Each guest gets a modern take on a snakebite (blackcurrant juice and apple cider.) Meanwhile our host, the Distillery’s Chief Gin Instructor, Jake Burger, explained the history of cider and it’s significance to British culture. The accompanying dish was delicious modern take on gruel.

We won’t go through every single dish and drink but safe to say, there are some real treats. The third plate, ostensibly the main course, came completely out of left field, but actually made total sense.

The final course was also suitably wacky, taking diners into the future as we imagined what dessert from the 22nd Century would look like.

The highlight of the drinks selection was a champagne coke. Verdict‘s dining companion noted “tastes like someone whispering ‘coke’ to you while you’re drinking a sparkling water”.

An odd, yet apt description.

Overall impressions:

The Distillery Presents… ends up acting as a sort of greatest hits compilation of everything that makes The Distillery experience so great.

The depth of knowledge and strength of research from the Ginstitute’s historical section, executive chef Greg Lewis’ fiesty and quirky cooking, and of course, Portobello Road Gin’s expert mixologists combine to form a brilliant evening that highlights what makes The Distillery so special.

The whole experience definitely achieves its goals. It’s educational, fun, and every guest we saw left with a smile on their face.

The Distillery Presents… costs £90 per head. The sessions take place on selected Friday and Saturday nights throughout 2018. You can book here.