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Celebrate the start of 2022 in sophisticated party style with The Bottled Cocktail Company.

Making a cocktail is an art, like theatre. A bar is the stage for many performances.

The Bartender is a doctor, psychologist and psychiatrist all in one.”

Salvatore Calabrese

The Bottled Cocktail Company is an exciting new venture in the fast expanding ready-to-drink market established by Keivan Nemati and a group of friends to share their avid passion for cocktails.

Keivan Nemati, founder of the Bottled Cocktail Company

Nemati started working in the drinks industry in 2009 in London and is a former Bar manager at The Zetter Townhouse. Inspired by the similarities between the crafting of cocktails and the art of fragrance, he began studying perfumery as well as collaborating with spirits brands on developing new products.

The Bottled Cocktail Company’s mission is simple:

‘We believe that cocktails should not be relegated to cocktail bars, to bring a true mixology experience whenever you want in the comfort of your own home.’

Drink with friends – social Zoom parties during lockdown

During the Covid pandemic lockdown in the UK between 2020-21, with bars and restaurants closed (and people shielding at home), the way we consume alcohol changed dramatically.  Instead of just sipping wine over dinner, we bought spirits and cocktail shakers to concoct our favourite tipples while entrepreneurial mixologists and drinks businesses caught on to the demand and created pre-mixed cocktails in cans, cartons and bottles.

Staying in became the new going out, and the Japanese buzzword ‘On-nomi’ (‘drinking alone’) led to socialising by zoom with ‘virtual’ happy hour parties. 

But when was the first pre-batched cocktail produced?

Campari, the fashionable hot red drink since 1860

In 1860, Gaspare Campari founded his eponymous aperitivo drinks brand in Novara, near Milan, and in 1932 an attractive triangular bottle of pre-batched Campari Soda was produced, still a bestseller today. The Bellini was invented in the summer of 1948 by Giuseppe Cipriani at Harry’s Bar, Venice – Prosecco and fresh peach pureé. 1988 – the Luciano Canella winery created Canella’s ready-to-go Bellini.  

1990, USA – the Barcardi Breezer, a ready made, sweet, fruity rum punch soon brought the alcopop taste of the Caribbean to the British Isles.

Fast forward to today. The ready-to-drink sector was the only alcohol category to see growth of sales over the past couple of years, outperforming the rest of the drinks industry with UK sales in 2020 reaching £412 million.   

‘RTDs are amongst the most innovative and creative drinks in the market, forever changing, adapting and growing the potential’.  

London Spirits Competition.  (June 2021)

Welcome then to the Bottled Cocktail Company which has launched its initial range: El Presidente, Elderflower Highball, Negroni, Dry Gin Martini, Old Fashioned and Passion Fruit Spritz, with more to be released in the coming months.

The Bottled Cocktail Company inaugural collection

All drinks are ready to serve, well chilled, to be sipped either straight up or over ice.  Nemati’s professional experience both as a mixologist and his knowledge of perfumes, ensures that the finest spirits and ingredients are selected for bespoke, premium quality cocktails.  

Count Camillo Negroni who created his famous cocktail in 1919

The Negroni was invented just over a century ago in Florence, when Count Camillo Negroni decided that he wanted his usual Americano (Campari, sweet vermouth, soda water), to be jazzed up. The creative bar tender replaced the soda with gin, unwittingly creating Italy’s beloved and world renowned cocktail.    

The Silver Fir Negroni from BCC

Silver Fir Negroni, 21% abv.  

Gin, Italian Vermouth, Orange Bitter & Silver Fir 

Simply pour 80ml – 100ml into a Rocks glass over a large ice cube. Garnish with a twist of orange.

The Taste Test:

On the nose, a richly aromatic, earthy, woodland scent and then the first sip: elegantly smooth, followed by the delectable sharp, bitter orange tang which lingers on the tongue.  It is the perfect Aperitivo – meaning that the bittersweet, herbal flavour opens up the stomach to give one an appetite.  This is simply exquisite.

The Negroni – sip before dinner to whet the appetite

“About 80% of (our) perception of flavour actually comes from the sense of smell. We create our own aromatic essences and tinctures to tweak the flavour profile of classic cocktails”.  

Keivan Nemati

The crafting of a London Dry Gin is a culinary science, blending specific botanicals for the perfect balance of floral, fruit and spicy notes. Instead of drowning gin in a G&T, nothing could be more delectable than a very dry, oh so romantic, Gin Martini.   

The BCC signature blend of spirits, herbs and spices for their Dry Gin Martini

Dry Gin Martini, 26% abv. 

Gin, French Vermouth & Wintergreen Essence

The BCC suggest chilling the bottle in the freezer for two hours before serving, instead of stirring over ice to avoid any dilution.  Pour 70ml – 100ml into a cold Martini glass and garnish with a twist of lemon or green olive. 

Alternatively for a more savoury flavour, try a pickled pearl onion which creates a Gibson. This was invented at the Player’s Club, New York in the 1940s for the American artist, Charles Dana Gibson, when the bar had no olives for his Martini.

The BCC version enhances the usual recipe of Gin and a splash of Vermouth with a special wintergreen, eucalyptus and peppermint essence,“ brightening up the gin and wine botanicals, adding mouthfeel and length.”

The pure taste of a dry Gin Martini

The Taste Test:

I added a couple of green olives and took a tentative sip of this ice cold cocktail. My goodness this packs a punch – although it has a delicate flavour and silky smooth texture, beautifully cool, crisp and dry. This hits the spot in an instant with the pure, clean taste of a Gin Martini which I adore.  

As did Dorothy Parker!

As this is BCC’s secret recipe, the ratio of gin to vermouth is not given and there are many variations, according to preference.  Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) dictated 2 parts gin to 1 part vermouth, while other bar tenders say that a very dry Martini is 3.5 parts gin to 1 part Vermouth. 

Elderflower Highball  20% abv. 

London Dry Gin, Elderflower, Lime, Fresh-cut-grass Essence 

Pour 70ml to 100ml into a glass filled with ice and top up with your favourite mixer, (tonic, soda, ginger ale) for a long refreshing drink.   

The Taste Test

With a good splash of tonic and slice of lemon, this is a fine alternative to a G&T. The Elderflower liqueur adds a floral sweetness and the lime cuts through with a sharp, citrus tang.

With Nemati’s technical wizardry perfecting perfumes, the fresh-cut grass essence is so imaginative – Elderflower Highball would certainly be ideal for summer picnics and sitting relaxing in the garden. 

The Silversea cruise line has several “house” cocktails such as the Silver Spirit named after one of the elegant ships: 60ml Gin, 60ml elderflower liqueur, 12ml lime juice and 40ml Sauvignon Blanc. 

Elderflower Highball ‘Silver Spirit’

80ml – 100ml Elderflower Highball  (gin, lime juice, elderflower cordial). Top up with Prosecco.

Do try this fragrant, lip smacking gin cocktail.

Elderflower Highball fizzed up with soda, tonic or prosecco

These 70 cl bottles offer between 7 -10 serves so perfect for parties –  spend much less time measuring, stirring, mixing and shaking drinks and enjoy a relaxing time drinking with your friends.  Turn your home into a classy Cocktail Bar with your own personal ‘mixologist’ .

“To me, a cocktail must satisfy the eyes, satisfy the nose and thirdly, satisfy the palate. The perfect cocktail is a crescendo of colour, flavour and texture.”

Salvatore Calabrese

Sipping, sampling, testing and tasting these seriously impressive BCC cocktails has been a delightful, delicious experience. Keivan Nemati and friends clearly have the magical touch of the alchemist to create a fresh, modern twist to these timeless classics.

The stylish bottle design and branding, developed by the Italian creative agency HB Production, feature a geometric pattern, colour and shape to represent the concept of each cocktail.

The Old Fashioned is also in the BCC collection of cocktails

The BCC is already building up a strong fan base:

Great service and the Negroni is delicious! Can’t wait to try the rest of the range”

Ordered the El Presidente and Old Fashioned and loved them both. Really great quality, so quick and easy. Good value too.”

For more information on all the BCC cocktails and to purchase from the online shop:

www.bottledcocktailcompany.com

BCC cocktails are also sold through: Drinkinbible, Sip & Share, Wildsip, Indy Cellar & Not On The High Street

P.S.  Keivan Nemati co-wrote ‘Make Something Bloody Marvellous,’ a gin-based cocktail book using foraged botanicals, which was shortlisted at the Gourmand Cookbook Awards 2020. 

Wishing you a cool, crisp, sparkling Festive season with Codorníu Cava and Vida Wines

Codorniu is probably one of the UK’s most recognisable Cava labels and no wonder. As the pioneer winemakers behind the first ever bottle of Cava, this is the oldest Spanish winery celebrating over 450 years of cultural heritage with the famous C Logo as the iconic image.

In 1551 Jaume Codorníu founded his family wine making business producing still wines; the marriage between the heiress Anna Codorníu and winegrower Miquel Raventós in 1659 brought two wine dynasties together but Anna’s surname was retained as the brand name.

The Codornuiu family vineyards, near Barcelona

Two centuries later, Josep Raventós Fatjó came back to Spain from a fact-finding research trip around France and, copying the production method of French Champagne, created his own brand of sparkling wine.  He ordered a cave (or cava in Catalan) to be built, a labyrinth of underground cellars to store wines for fermentation at a constant, cool temperature. 

In 1872, he produced his first bottle of Cava using the same traditional method as Champagne, using a blend of native grape varieties of Penedès: Xarel·lo, Macabeo and Parellada.

The underground cellars to store the wine for fermentation and ageing

Manuel Raventós was an early drinks entrepreneur, keen to develop Cava as a successful business. In 1895 he made plans to build a new building at the winery with the Art Nouveau artist, Josep Puig i Cadafalch in charge of design and construction.  

The Codorniu Art Nouveau House of Cava

When it opened in Sant Sadurni d’Anoia near Barcelona in 1915, Cavas Codorníu became a Catalan Modernist artistic symbol of the company’s enterprising spirit and vision of the future.

Vintage advertising for Codorniu Cava in the late 19th century

Marketing Champagne Codorniu was most inspired with 1898 artistic posters by Ramon Casas.  Codorníu was also first advertised on Spanish Television in 1959 – once again a pioneering commerical promotion ahead of the game. 

In 1976 the Codorníu House of Cava was named a National Historic Artistic Monument by King Juan Carlos.

The first and very fashionable Catalan Cava launched in 1872

Since its earliest days, Raventós Codorníu winery has been synonymous with innovation and quality, using premium grapes from the family vineyard estate. The traditional method involves two fermentations of the grape juice, first in barrels before transferred into bottles where yeast and sugar are added, then sealed with a temporary closure. The wine has a secondary fermentation to convert into alcohol and a natural by-product, CO2, dissolves into tiny bubbles to create naturally sparkling wine.  The bottles are turned neck down and gradually rotated funnelling the yeast sediment (the lees) into the neck. When this is cooled, the pressure of the wine pushes out the sediment, a little sugar and wine called a dosage is added and the bottle finally sealed with a cork.

The sophistated, elegant lifestyle of Cordorniu Cava

So time to pop a couple of corks! 

Codorníu Vintage Brut 2019. 

Grape varieties:  Macabeo, Xarel·lo and Parellada. Alcohol content: 11.5%.

There is a specific harvest time for each variety of grape, Macabeo at the end of August, followed by Xarel.lo and finally Parellada, early October. The grapes are destemmed and crushed with the wines blended and bottled. A second fermentation followed by a period of ageing in the underground cellars at a constant temperature for at least 9 months. This is the traditional method.

Characteristics.  A pale straw yellow colour, an aroma of citrus fruit, almond blossom with notes of brioche and dried fruits and nuts.  A fine mousse on the palate with balanced freshness. Serve well chilled.

Ice cold Codorniu Vintage Cava

The Taste Test

Nose: lemon zest, softly floral.

Taste: the first sip is sensational, the “fizz” is so delicate and fresh tasting, crisp apple and dry like a water biscuit. The overall impression is its smooth elegance, far removed from a sweet Prosecco or honeyed Chardonnay Cava. 

If this were a blind tasting with a few coupes of French champagne, it would surely fool the judges. 

The quality is due to the fact this is a vintage cava made with grapes from a single harvest. Perfect to sip as an apéritif or with tapas and fish dishes- smoked salmon, calamari.  

(Interestingly, Sainsbury Taste the Difference vintage Cava is supplied by Codorniu so they have selected the best!).

Codorniu Rosado

Codorníu Rosado Cava

Grape varieties: Monastrell, Garnacha and Trepat. Alcoholic content, 11.5%

This sparkling wine is also made in the traditional method, the same way as Champagne which gives the wine depth of flavour, elegance and long-lasting, fine bubbles.

Characteristics: A dry, pure and bright Rosé fizz with the aroma of strawberry. Serve chilled (6-8°c)

The Taste Test

Nose:  pale cherry pink in colour with the fragrance of summer berries and blossom

Taste: light and fruity with zingy notes of raspberry, strawberry and juicy plum. Fresh and vibrant, rather than sweet, well balanced and with a crisp finish, like a dry, blush Rosé from Provence with bubbles. This is the flagship Rosado Cava in the UK.

A delicious, pure, pink fizz to sip as an aperitif – perhaps add a raspberry to the flute too. This is a celebratory toast as a charismatic change from classic Cava. In summer, (or any time), serve with a dessert of mixed berries and cream.

Pink fizz with raspberries for extra fruitiness

Proudly Catalonian, Codorníu Cava has been contemporary since 1872, constantly keeping up with trends and tastes to maintain its global reputation, producing an innovative range of sparkling wines, Anna Codorniu, Brut Codorníu, Non-Vintage Brut, Vintage Brut, Codorníu Ars Collecta Blanc de Noirs. 

Codorniu Anna – the modern taste of Cava

Named after their 17th century ancestor, Anna is the most modern expression in the range, the first to use chardonnay grapes: youthful, fresh with a unique personality, this is the brand’s emblematic Cava reflecting its fine heritage.  The perfect aperitif and an ideal partner for shellfish, sushi, sashimi and carpaccio.

Today, Raventós Codorníu has more than 3,000 hectares of vineyards, one of the largest vineyard owners in Europe; Codorníu is the best selling Cava brand in Spain and exported to 50 countries, 54 gold medals and their range of sparkling wines are served at over 50 Michelin star restaurants worldwide.

Codorníu promote a contemporary Mediterranean lifestyle – sunshine, beaches, joy, freedom; casual, spontaneous, sometimes sophisticated; celebrations and special moments in life – to share the Cava experience worldwide.

The, contemporary, Codorniu Catalonian lifestyle

Codorníu Discovery and Iconic tours in the Cava Capital

 Casa Codorníu is located 30 minutes from Barcelona in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. Learn all about the history of the family dynasty on a tour of the House of Cava, the majestic Art Nouveau building designed by the architect, Josep Puig i Cadafalch; Taste three iconic prestigious Cavas and a small aperitif.

The vintage artwork at the historic Codorniu winery

Read more about Codorníu Cava here:

http://www.raventoscodorniu.com/en

Just time to add a personal recommendation for VIDA, an exciting new wine and spirit company in the UK, highly regarded for personal customer service. 

VIDA UK is the third branch of the company, following on from Sofia & Vienna, as part of a growing family tree. The idea behind Vida Wines began about 5 years ago when a vineyard was acquired in Northwest Bulgaria, close to the medieval fortress of Baba Vida, which inspired the name.

Baba Vida Castle, Bulgaria

The region has a long winemaking history thanks to a unique microclimate.  As wine makers and importers, VIDA Wines offer the finest Central and Eastern European wines carefully curated from 15 countries to showcase the classics, new producers and exclusive wines.

Vida Viognier

Country of origin: Bulgaria, Danubian Plain

Grape Variety:  Vigonier. Vintage:  2020. ABV: 12.5%

Characteristics:  Delicate nose with great elegance and aromatic nuances of white flora, apricots, herbs, toast. Dense with fresh acidity and a slight minerality which contributes to its great quality. Long, persistent, fruity finish.

The Taste Test:

Aroma:  a delicate fruitiness, the scent of an orchard.  

Taste:  As I would often select Sauvignon Blanc (NZ), Chenin Blanc (South Africa), and Pinot Grigio (Italy), this has a fresh, dry, crisp clarity which is distinctively different. The lingering, soft apricot – peach flavour adds to the dryness with a hint of lime and spicy lemongrass. Deliciously delicate.  The viognier grape creates an aromatic fuller-bodied style of white wine and pairs well with white meats, fish, shellfish, scallops and dishes with earthy herbs, e.g. basil in a classic Italian Caprese.

On Trust Pilot, Vida Wines has received 5 stars from 92% of their customers.

Reviews from happy drinkers: Winter 2021

Excellent service, great selection of wines and superb advice, cannot fault them and will certainly be buying more Vida wines.

Great service and the wine was beyond expectations.

Vida may be a new company in the UK but they have a refreshingly old fashioned attitude to customer service and I fully recommend them.

These are a few suggestions from VIDA which will add an inspiring range of hand picked European wines for your Christmas or New Year party. 

 Under £10 wines:

•          VIDA EXCLUSIVE : VIDA Viognier 2020 Vida Wines and Spirits UK, £9.99.

•          VIDA Direct from Vineyard : Averesti Selectie Cabernet Sauvignon NV Vida Wines and Spirits UK, £7.99.

Under £15 wines:

•          VIDA Direct from Vineyard: Kristančič Chardonnay 2019 Vida Wines and Spirits UK, £14.69.

•          Angerhof- Tschida Beerenauslese 2017: Angerhof-Tschida Beerenauslese 2017 Vida Wines and Spirits UK ,£13.89.

Under £25 wines

•          VIDA direct from Vineyard: Kristančič Pavo Cristatus Classic Cuvee 2014 Vida Wines and Spirits UK, £21.29.

•          Karl Fritsch Riesling Mordthal 2019 Vida Wines and Spirits UK, £21.79.

Browse the full collection of wines and spirits here:

https://vidawines.co.uk/

Eat, Drink and be merry this Festive seaon. Cheers!

Ramsbury Single Estate Gin: hand-crafted through a blend of farming heritage and modern innovation direct from ‘Grain to Glass’.  

Ramsbury Distillery is renowned for its speciality spirits and the Single Estate Gin is a modern twist on a classic London dry gin.  Distilled in a copper Still using their home-grown Horatio wheat, nine botanicals including locally picked quince to create a crisp, full bodied gin with fragrant, floral and fruit notes.

The Ramsbury Farming Estate and Distillery

The Ramsbury gin and vodka makers are also farmers on the 19,000 acre estate across North East Wiltshire, West Berkshire and North Hampshire with rolling wheat fields, a traditional well for fresh water, wheat mill, orchard, woodland and a lake.  Spirits are produced with the lowest environmental impact through copper stills generated by a bio-mass boiler which burns wood from chopped fallen trees.  Once the distilling is complete, the spent grains are fed to the farm animals and waste water is funnelled back through reed beds to provide natural filtration.

Hand picked Quince from the Orchard

When experimenting with the final selection of botanicals for the Single Estate Gin, they wanted to create a distinctive sweet fruit flavour and picked quince from the orchard which was, as they say, “a stroke of magic – Ramsbury Gin went from perfect to outstanding.”.  Healthy too, enriched with an essential dose of Vitamin C.

They dined on mince, and slices of quince,

Which they ate with a runcible spoon.

And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,

They danced by the light of the moon.

From ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ – Edward Lear

The Owl and the Pussycat dined on mince and slices of quince…

‘Ramsbury is only one of four distilleries in the UK that operates a grain to glass approach with each bottle traceable back to a single field on the estate.’  

Mikul Kalyan, Ramsbury Single Estate Spirits’ Global Brand Ambassador.

The creative, eco friendly distillation process from grain to glass

On the label, as well as the Rams head logo, there is the exact geographical location of the single field on the estate where the wheat was harvested that year for each bottle of hand crafted gin.  Ramsbury is one of only a handful of global distilleries to create truly sustainable, eco-friendly, natural, single estate spirits.  

Ramsbury Single Estate London Dry Gin (40% ABV)

Ingredients: Nine botanicals – juniper, fresh quince, cinnamon, liquorice, oris root, dried lemon peel, dried orange peel, coriander and angelica.   

Nose: Juniper gently infused with the grassy and fruity tones of quince. Lighter citrus notes  coupled with a woody fragrance from the angelica, complemented by the spices of cinnamon to create a balanced and complex aroma.

Palate: Floral tones and crisp quince fade into savoury juniper with a refreshing finish and a touch of spice ….and charming character. 

Ramsbury distillery suggests the perfect serve for a G&T is to add a classic Indian tonic, slices of apple and lime and plenty of ice.  

Ramsbury Single Estate gin from wheat field to bottle – refreshing and clean tasting

Rave reviews for Ramsbury Single Estate Gin:

‘Lush’ said one happy drinker.  ‘The gin is complex with a nice finish – highly recommended.’

Fantastic gin. Unbelievably good. Great twist with the quince, satisfying and refreshing’. 

‘Delicate, sophisticated and delicious – perfect in a Martini‘.

Yes indeed.  In my view, this smooth, fragrant gin is perfectly partnered with a dash of dry Vermouth and served ice cold. 

Gin Martini

60ml Ramsbury Gin
10ml Dry Vermouth

Add gin and vermouth to a mixing glass filled with cubed ice, stir until well chilled. Strain gently into a martini glass. The suggested garnish is lemon zest and a sprig of rosemary. An olive also works well to my taste as shown in the image above.

The mouthfeel texture is elegant and silky smooth and the gin combines perfectly with the similar citrus and spicy botanicals of the vermouth for this delectable, very dry, classic cocktail. 

The perfectly crafted Ramsbury dry Gin Martini

The Vesper

This is the drink which James Bond orders in “Casino Royale” by Ian Fleming (1953), named after the seductive double agent Vesper Lynd. The original ingredient Kina Lillet is no longer available so now substituted with Lillet Blanc or dry Vermouth. Bond specifies that the drink be shaken until very cold, although it’s best gently stirred as shaking it tends to create a more diluted drink.

50ml Ramsbury Single Estate Vodka​
25ml Ramsbury Single Estate Gin​
20ml Lillet Blanc​
Lemon slice​

Mix all ingredients in a Martini glass or a Coupe over ice and garnish with a twist of lemon.  This certainly packs a punch, perfectly balanced, bittersweet and stylish for a glamorous occasion – a literary legend of a cocktail.

The Vesper – the literary legend of a Cocktail.

And what could be better than a a spicy and sparkling party cocktail for the Festive season.

Farmhouse Fizz

35ml Ramsbury Single Estate Gin
25ml Clementine juice (or 3 wedges of clementine)
10ml Sugar syrup
10ml Lemon
Top up with Champagne
Sugar & Spice rim

Roll the rim of the champagne flute in lemon juice.  Add all ingredients (except Champagne) to a cocktail shaker, shake with ice and strain into a flute. Top up with champagne and add a sprinkling of cinnamon powder & white caster sugar around the rim of the glass.

Farmhouse Fizz – Festive sparkle and spice

Merry Christmas!

The Ramsbury Estate is also home to a brewery, smokehouse and a shop selling honey and rapeseed oil made on the farm. The brewery was launched in 2004, followed by the distillery, a smokehouse in 2014 and an oil press in 2015.  

The Bell is a 300-year-old former coaching inn in the village of Ramsbury and today is a welcoming country pub with guest rooms, serving homely British food based on local produce from the Estate – and, of course, their own speciality Ramsbury Single Estate Gin and Vodka.

For more information, Distillery tours, stockists and online shop:

www.ramsbury.com

The Bell at Ramsbury:  https://thebellramsbury.com/

The Bell Inn at Ramsbury

Experience ‘Christmas at the Botanics’ this festive season – a sparkling, starlit walk through a winter wonderland

The bare winter trees illuminated with sparkling colour and light

The night before Storm Arwen roared into town, it was a crisp cold dry night for the launch of ‘Christmas at the Botanics’ at the Royal Botanic Garden. Returning for its fifth year, this one-mile illuminated trail is inspired by the beauty of nature through the avenues of trees, plants, meadows, ponds and waterfalls with dazzling visual effects.  

Follow the not-so-yellow brick road – (lions and tigers and bears, oh my!)

As you set off on the adventure through the magical forest, the creatively curated, amplified music soundtrack will immediately put you in festive mood.  As you walk around, hear snatches of lyrics from a medley of all the famous, classic songs, Walking in a winter wonderland,  Michael Buble, Driving Home for Christmas, Chris Rea, White Christmas and Let it Snow, Bing Crosby, O Holy Night, Il Divo and Waltz of the Flowers by Tchaikovsky

The lake beside the Chinese Garden sparkles with colourful lights over the waterlilies like a Monet-esque painting.  ‘Digital Rain’ is a dazzling show of slender LED lights hung from the branches to give the effect of a shimmering, dripping rain shower.

The amazing water effect of Digital Rain

A fabulous flutter of ‘Fireflies in the Woods’ is a dance sequence of 100 fairy lights flitting between the branches is like stepping into a Disney animated movie. Truly magical but impossible to capture on camera as they disappear into the dark night in an instant!

You never know what’s around the corner, such as this surreal woodland of Teepee trees like alien spaceships.

A surreal collection of Teepee Trees

Enjoy a slow stroll along a meandering path with decorative sculptures to depict milkmaids, geese, partridge et al. for the carol, The 12 Days of Christmas.

Sculptured figures, birds and animals dramatise The 12 Days of Christmas

 The ‘Aquastell’ installation features seventeen luminous arches with beams of light flashing like shooting stars across the night sky.

Beside the Rock Garden is a mesmerising scene of trees, plants and bushes around the blue-tinted waterfalls

The Waterfalls tumble over the rocks by moonlight

Visitors walk through the dazzling domed canopy of the ‘Christmas Cathedral’ featuring thousands of individual flower buds on long ribbons of sparkling lights.  

Christmas Cathedral

Warm up as you wander around the edge of the ‘Fire Garden,’ a grassy meadow dotted with flaming torches and lanterns; a peaceful spot to pause to observe the flickering light and silhouette of trees, as you listen to Robert Burns’ Auld Lang Syne, a global anthem to reflect the end of the year and the start anew.

The warming flames of the Fire Garden

If you love to trim your Christmas Tree with old tinsel and trinkets, you will be inspired by the collection of Giant Baubles, 3 feet high or so, glittering gold and silver balls lying amongst the bushes. 

A highlight of the trail is ‘Sea of Light’, an audio visual spectacle to recreate the swirling rhythm of the waves of water flowing in harmony to the music, a special sound installation created by ITHACA. 

Swirling waves flow around the Sea of Light

The magnificent mansion, Inverleith House appears in the darkness like a huge Doll’s house with superb imagery lighting up the windows with pictures of wreaths, gifts and Christmas cards through a medley of songs, Jingle Bells, Papa Elf and Home Alone.

As you experience the joyful music and dazzling installations, it’s the technical wizardry which impresses with theatrical sound and vision. A few statistics: 17 kilometres of power cable, 650 LED lights (to keep energy output low), 1,500 string lights, and 4,950 candles in the Fire Garden.

Adults and children alike will enjoy this leisurely winter walk through the garden, transformed with razzle- dazzle festive decorations; drinks and snacks available around the trail and the Terrace café. 

Father Christmas welcomes you beside his log cabin

‘Christmas at the Botanics’ runs for 32 nights on selected dates from 25 November, 2021 – 2 January, 2022. Tickets are on sale from www.rbge.org.uk/christmas.

Adult £20, Member £17, Child (4-16) £14, Family £66. (Children under 4 and carers, free).

‘Christmas at the Botanics’ by Culture Creative and Raymond Gubbay Limited, a division of Sony Music, is one of 14 illuminated trails across the UK presented in partnership with the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh.

Photographs courtesy of Kenneth J Scott

Image of ‘Christmas Cathedral’ by Mandylights

‘From Spring to Spirit’ 1881 Distillery at Peebles Hydro: natural, hand-crafted, refreshing Gins

Peebles Hydro Hotel

The 1881 Distillery, located in the grounds of Peebles Hydro Hotel in the Scottish Borders, is named after the year when the Hydropathic Spa first opened here, offering Therapeutic treatments using water from its own Shieldgreen Spring.

Peebles Hydropathic Spa before 1905

The Victorian Spa tragically burned down in 1905 but was rebuilt, and with an ethos for health and wellbeing, became a popular tennis destination.  In the 1920s, Peebles Hydro had more tennis courts than Wimbledon and hosted tournaments and the Scottish Championships.  

Peebles Hydro Resort the home of Tennis championships in the 1920s

It was this tennis heritage when G & T was served on the lawn in the summer sunshine, which inspired the idea a few years ago to create a Gin distillery at the Resort.  Built above the former swimming pool, the 1881 Distillery opened in October 2019. 

Gin makers, Lauren Appleyard and Dean McDonald with “Felicity” the copper Still

Charlie Leckie, Brand Manager, is a sixth generation member at the family hotel: “We’re proud of the heritage of Peebles Hydro which is embodied by the 1881 Gin, a blend of carefully chosen Scottish botanicals and distilled in the heart of the Borders.”

Stephen Leckie (CEO,Crieff Hydro hotels) with his son Charlie

With the tagline, ‘Spring to Spirit,’ water is sourced from the local Shieldgreen spring which had traditionally been used for the Hydropathic Spa treatments. ‘Felicity’, the copper Still makes five distinctive gins – London Dry, Pavilion Pink, Honours, Rafters and Tiffin, each with their own logo and bottle illustration paying homage to the heritage of Peebles Hydro.  Tonic 81 is also made at the Distillery, Premium, Light, Pink Grapefruit and Elderflower, the perfect mixer for each gin.

Floral, fruiity and spicy botanicals for the diverse range of gins

Hydro London Dry Gin (40% ABV)

The botanicals include juniper, bay, hawthorn berries, cardamom, cassia, birch bark, fir needles, grapefruit peel, grains of paradise, milk thistle – many grown in the Peebles Hydro gardens – then blended with the pure Spring water.

Distillery notes:

Nose: Fresh, piney juniper and fir, with grapefruit citrus and aromatic cardamom.

Palate: Hawthorn, birch and fir back up an initial wave of juniper, giving way to warming cassia and bay.

Finish: A long, smooth, citric finish with bay leaf and subtle earthiness from our local botanicals.

Serve: a large measure with a wedge of pink grapefruit and a splash of premium tonic water.

RTD 1881 Hydro Gin and Tonic in a can

The Hydro G&T is available RTD in a can, perfect from summer picnics to Christmas parties. 

The Taste Test:  If popping a cork of Champagne should sound like a maiden’s sigh, my ice-chilled can of G&T opens with a loud fizz, which I poured into a large glass over ice and slice. A subtle flavour at first with floral and earthy juniper notes but then an underlying aromatic ginger spice kicks in, which is sharp and refreshing.

1881 Pavilion Peebles Pink Gin (40% ABV)

The 1881 Pavilion Pink Gin is a classic gin with the addition of wild Scottish red berries and a hint of floral hibiscus, named in honour of the hotel’s historical tennis pavilion.

Distillery notes:

Nose: Silky red fruits, juniper, spice and citrus

Palate: Fresh raspberry complemented by strawberry, hibiscus and gentle spice from cardamom and grains of paradise

Finish: Creamy fruit fading to citrus, pine, red Berries

Serve: A few fresh raspberries, a sprig of mint, tonic and ice.

The 1881 Pavilion G&T is also available ready to drink in a can.

The Taste test: Floral, fruity and fragrantly perfumed with a honeyed sweetness. An ice cold summertime drink or served with dessert: raspberries / strawberries & cream, Eton Mess, Strawberry Pavlova, or Scones and jam for a decadent Afternoon tea.

The tragic fire of 1905 at Peebles Hydropathic Spa

Rafters Subtly Smoked Gin (40% abv)

In the Summer of 1905, a spark in the roof space caused a devastating fire at Peebles Hydro. But within a few years the hotel was thankfully restored with grand Edwardian architecture and art deco style. To commemorate the Phoenix rising from the ashes is Rafters Subtly Smoked Gin, with its stunning image depicting the hotel billowing with smoke.

Distiller’s notes:

Nose: Subtle but distinct sweet oak smoke, followed by our signature profile of juniper, cardamom and grapefruit.

Palate: Warming smoke and spice intermingle to create a savoury gin suitable for sipping or mixing. The palate develops into juniper freshness backed by citrus.

Finish: A lengthy finish of warm citrus and wisps of smoke draw you back for another sip.

Serve: Sip neat, over ice, or in a G&T with a wedge of lime and a slice of chilli pepper.

The Taste test of pure, neat gin: The aroma of oak smoke followed by earthy juniper and citrus sweetness. Then the first taste – distinctive bonfire wood smoke and a blend of spices to create a savoury gin with a lingering juniper freshness. Warming cardamom, fruity citrus and delectable smokiness.  

Wow! This has the X factor, utterly divine and one of the most delicious, dynamic, dramatic gins I have experienced.

The verdict from the Masters of Malt

Distilled using a variety of gin botanicals including piney juniper and tart pink grapefruit. An undertone of smoke supports vibrant grapefruit citrus, a touch of cinnamon and a strong juniper finish. Best served over ice with a classic tonic to enjoy the complex, smoky spirit with a garnish of lime and ginger.  Subtle hints of smoke on the palate make this a distinctive spirit which stands up particularly well in cocktails, including a Negroni.

1881 Rafters Negroni

50ml Rafters gin, 25ml sweet Rosso vermouth, 25ml Campari.  Orange garnish.

1881 Rafters Gin for a distinctively different Negroni

The simplest of cocktails to make at home without the need of a shaker – just pour all these ingredients into a chunky Rocks glass with a large ice cube. Stir gently and add a wedge of orange.  The bittersweet aroma of the Campari blends perfectly with the Rafters gin to make a delicious and very special smoky Negroni.  The Count would certainly approve!.

1881 Dry Gin Martini

50 ml Rafters gin, 15 ml dry vermouth.

1881 Rafters Gin Martini has an elegant, sophisticated flavour

Add to a cocktail shaker with lots of ice and stir or shake gently. Pour into a cocktail glass or champagne saucer with a garnish of olive.  The smokiness enhances the typical bone-dry punch of a Martini with such an elegant, smooth taste. 

As we are heading into dark, chilly nights of winter, why not ring the changes of a Whisky hot toddy and add Rafter’s gin instead ?

Hot Gin Toddy

300ml water, 1 ginger teabag, 2 cinnamon sticks, 4 cardamom pods, 4 whole cloves, 1 tablespoon clear honey, freshly squeezed orange juice, 100ml 1881 Rafters gin (serves 2)

Hot Gin Toddy – the perfect winter warmer

Add the water, ginger teabag, cinnamon, cardamom pods and cloves to a saucepan and simmer for 5 minutes; stir in the honey and citrus juice and gently heat for few more minutes.  Remove from the heat and add the gin. Strain off the spices, if preferred, or keep the cinammon stick to stir and pour into two large mugs, with an orange or lemon garnish.  A winter warmer after a bracing walk in the snow.  

1881 Distillery news:

Gift box sets of four gins (5cl and 20cl)

This festive season, the 1881 Distillery offers gift boxes of four gins in two sizes, 5cl and 20cl. – Hydro London Dry, Pavilion Pink, Rafters and Honours Navy-strength Gin.

Silver award for 1881 Tiffin Gin, Scottish Gin Awards 2021

1881 Distillery won Silver award for Flavoured Gin of the Year at the recent Scottish Gin Awards 2021. Tiffin Gin incorporates light aromatic, warming spices to achieve its distinctive taste, with notes of cumin, cardamom, and kaffir lime.

Visit the 1881 Distillery and Gin School

The 1881 Distillery gin school

The 1881 Distillery at Peebles Hydro has the largest residential Gin school with a classroom of 26 mini-stills, offering a range of day and overnight Experiences to learn about distilling gin and craft your own spirit, Tours and tastings.  

For more information on Peebles Hydro, 1881 distillery, on line shop and the Gin School:

1881 Distillery,

Peebles Hydro, Innerleithen Road, Peebles, EH45 8LX

info@1881distillery.com

www.1881distillery.com

www.peebleshydro.co.uk

Peebles Hydro Spa Resort, Scottish Borders

HOME – Art and Design to decorate your home from the Green Gallery and Author Interiors at the Dundas Street Gallery

This is a most timely and inspirational pop up show bringing together two Scottish companies to present a colourful Aladdin’s cave of paintings, decorative arts, furnishings and festive gifts for your family, friends and your own home.   

Scottish paintings, glassware, ceramics and a duck foot lamp at Home

The Green Gallery was established 29 years ago by Becky Walker’s parents, and continues to present an ever-evolving selection of established and emerging artists across two venues in Buchlyvie and Dollar. These galleries showcase the art based around an interior design concept:

“Paintings are aligned with objects to create a more domestic setting, working with interior designers, furniture makers and glass blowers so clients can see how the work will look in their own homes.”

‘An interior is the natural projection of the soul’ Coco Chanel

For the HOME exhibition, Becky has collaborated with Jane Adams of Author Interiors in rural Angus, an online shop and home design studio. The ethos is about slow, sustainable and ethical, hand-crafted British furnishings and homeware sourced from St Ives to the Scottish Highlands.

“All are luxury items .. unusual and unique created with love by artisans …sophisticated, exquisite interior classics designed for modern living to love for a lifetime.”

The Home show of art and design at the Dundas Street Gallery

Step through the door of the Dundas Street Gallery to view a marvellous and magical collection of paintings – land and seascapes, portraits, still life, flowers, birds and animals by such artists as Mhairi McGregor, Simon Laurie, Jane Blair, Lucy Campbell, Caroline Bailey, Margaretann Bennett, Garry Harper, Erraid Gaskill, et al.

‘Spread your Wings’ by Lucy Campbell in this treasure trove of art and decorative homeware

Unlike a conventional open gallery space, there’s a warm and welcoming homely environment featuring coffee tables, chairs, cushions, ceramics, glassware, candles, ornaments and vases.  The display of art and décor has been beautifully curated to complement colour, shape and design.

Let’s take a browse around to pick out some highlights around the gallery, packed full of enticing objects.

A stunning, serene landscape immediately caught my eye – a calm winter scene, Sunset Loch by Rosie Playfair.

Sunset Loch, Rosie Playfair

This is a masterly, atmospheric composition where the eye is drawn through the woodland of slender Silver Birch trees with bare, tentacle-like branches, down to the shoreline, the still water bathed in a soft salmon pink hue across the horizon at dusk: a moment of peace and tranquillity.   

Vintage travel trunks full of artwork and mohair throws

Placed below this painting are vintage ocean liner travel trunks, stuffed full of art frames and oh-so-cosy, mohair throws – just what we need to wrap ourselves up in this winter.  Araminta Campbell is a renowned weaver of Scottish textiles in cashmere, lambswool and alpaca for scarves and home accessories, and has been commissioned to design bespoke tweed and tartan for such luxury hotels as the Waldorf Astoria, Fingal and Fife Arms. 

Isabelle Moore is an Edinburgh-based furniture maker including decorative, practical tables with a round, removable tray made from laminated oak and solid oak handles.  Gilded 24 ct porcelain vases are wheel-thrown by Jo Davies in her East London studio, with either a black or satin-matt stoneware glaze.

Neatly juxtaposed beside ceramics and coffee cups is the still life, Stove by Simon Lawrie which reflects his signature observation of household objects – kettles, coffee pots and fish – in a symbolic pattern. Also on show is Another World, a semi abstract design of geometric shapes to depict a vase, plate, flower and playing card.  

Pears, apples and figs sculptured in bronze by Pomaris of Suffolk using the lost wax casting method, capture every natural detail of the fruit. They are so tactile and heavy – the perfect paperweight or attractive ornament around your home.

This year why not hang unique, artisan decorations on your Christmas tree with delicate handblown glass baubles crafted by Elin Isaksson at her studio in Dunblane – select from wine red, amber gold and dark purple glitter balls tied with a satin ribbon. The perfect family heirloom.

Hand blown, colourful and glittering glass Christmas tree baubles to treasure

The quirky portraits by Margaretann Bennett are immediately recognisable for their caricature faces with a dramatic narrative to express emotion, remembrance and loss. In Forage one is not quite sure what this red haired lady is thinking but a serious expression plays around her wide, mascara-lash eyes.

Forage, Margaretann Bennett

Karen Gibson at Red Earth Designs, Northern Ireland creates painterly ceramics including these Ramekin dishes from Porcelain Flax clay with a honeycomb textured design and decorated with hand drawn bees and a gold lustre rim.

Buzzing Bee painted ramekins

Figurative studies by Catriona Millar often include an animal as a companion: Monique is a bold and vivid characterisation with humorous wit, as she poses in a garden, a dog on her lap and a bird perched on her shoulder. Surrounded by flowers, her sideways glance with a perplexed look is enhanced by her plum-painted cupid lips and blushing cheeks.

Monique, Catriona Millar

The Green Gallery has a knack for sourcing new and interesting artists .. you can always find something surprising and unique. – Nick Nairn

Love, love, love Green Gallery! Forever brimming with an inspirational mix of work from a vast spectrum of artists .. that tug at the strings of temptation! – Jenni Mcallister

Jane at Author Interiors has an extraordinarily good eye, inspiration on a new level with every detail being thought about and meant. – Caroline and Hugh Black.

Author has been absolutely brilliant at sourcing of some really unique pieces – priceless pieces of art that will undoubtedly be passed down the generations. – William Frame.

At the preview launch for HOME, the hospitality was also curated with sophisticated style, serving the elegant, fresh and floral Kinrara hand-crafted Highland gin with a splash of tonic. The distillery is located amidst the wild landscape of the Cairngorms, an area of outstanding scenic beauty and nature conservation.

HOME @ Dundas Street Gallery, 6 Dundas Street, EH3 6HZ

A pop up show by Greengallery and Author Interiors

Exhibition open:

Thursday 25th and Friday 26th: 10am-8pm
Saturday 27th, Sunday 28th, Monday 29th & Tuesday 30th November: 10am-5pm
Wednesday 1st December: 10am-1pm

For more information:

www.greengallery.com

www.authorinteriors.com/about-author/

www.kinraradistillery.com/

Be inspired for festive gifts and for decorative arts and crafts for your own home.

Experience a fun, cultural, foodie, city break in Manchester this Festive season

Having visiting Manchester a few years ago, I planned another trip recently to find out what’s on, where to go and what to see during the festive season.  Instead of a seasonal sleigh, I had a smooth, comfortable journey on a brand new Nova Tranpennine Express electric train from Edinburgh. There are five carriages, with 264 seats in standard class, 22 in first class, complimentary wifi and a power socket at every seat. Trolley service for refreshments and snacks, and storage for 4 bicycles. The Nova 2 trains run between Edinburgh and Manchester Airport so the ideal route if planning to jet off somewhere exotic.

The sleek new Nova 2 Transpennine Express train from Edinburgh to Manchester Airport

As I headed south to Manchester, meanwhile my sister, June, was speeding north from London Euston on an Aviva train: the itinerary for our Christmas shopping and cultural city break began with perfect synchronicity, the two trains arriving on time, just four minutes apart at 1.23pm and 1.27pm respectively.

Take the train from around the country to Manchester Piccadilly

Manchester’s Christmas Markets have been attracting thousands of visitors to the city centre every year since 1998 to add a sparkle to the winter chill.  Staying at the Mercure hotel was a great central location on Portland Street, Piccadilly Gardens, which has been transformed into the ‘Winter Gardens’. This is a pop up village of Christmas market stalls and log cabin bars such as Apres Ski & Off Piste where you can warm up with an Alpine Ale, mulled wine, prosecco, cider, Nordic Glogg, Hot toddy and a Bailey’s coffee.

The Alpine ski-themed Winter Gardens, Piccadilly Square

The markets are also located across St Ann’s Square, Exchange Square, New Cathedral Street, King Street, Market Street and Cathedral Gardens which will entice the skaters to the ice rink. A central stage with a series of live music events will entertain the crowds.  Sip Gluhwein and sample apple strudel around the traditional German stalls, and, of course, Bratwurst – perhaps best to share the half a metre sausage!   

The half metre Bratwurst German sausage

Dine around the world from  Little Spain – paella, chorizo rolls, patatas bravas and hot sangria to Mexico Joes Ltd – Chicken flatbread, falafel, and halloumi fries. Eat Greek – halloumi fries, pitta bread, Elsie Mays for warm brownies and milkshakes. French, Sicilian and Dutch dishes too.  An American feast at Triple B -Pastrami Burger and a huge Turkey Reuben bagel.

The best of British at Porkys of Yarm serving Hot roast pork rolls, Hydes beers, local cider, English wines  and Clowbecks for Cumberland sausage, bubble & squeak, tatties, mulled wine and lager.  Porky Pig  Yorkshire puddings wraps. Battered pigs in blankets. For vegetarians and vegans, Panc is a plant-based stall offers meat free sausages, burgers, fried chick’n and more.

And of course, the Markets are the place to buy innovative gifts galore – from chocolates and cheese, to toys and games, arts and crafts, soaps, clothing, socks, hats, gloves, leather bags and wallets, jewellery.

The Markets are open until Wednesday December 22, 10am to 9pm daily with some stalls continuing around the Winter and Cathedral Gardens into the New Year.

A night at the theatre to see the musical, Waitress at the Opera House, originally The New Theatre, which opened on Boxing Day, 1912, then renamed the Opera House in 1920. It was a cinema in WW2, then a bingo hall before launched as a theatre again in 1984, renowned for touring musicals such as Barnum and Phantom of the Opera.  Waitress is a comedy drama set in an American diner and after the ten day run in Manchester, it’s now on tour around the country so do catch this heart-warming, feminist, feel good show if you can.  

The pantomime at the Opera House this year is Aladdin, starring Alexandra Burke, with flying carpets, a genie, an evil sorcerer, magical effects, song and dance.  

Warmly recommended for a pre-post theatre lunch or supper is Bill’s Spinningfields which is perfectly located a two minute walk away from the Opera House.

‘Our passion for great food, cooked with care in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. Whether with friends, family or an intimate dinner for two, from breakfast to bedtime and everything in between.’ 

Bill’s started 20 years ago, when Bill Collison opened his Greengrocer’s shop in Lewes, East Sussex and soon added a café, a concept for seasonal local food which has gradually grown into a collection of restaurants across the UK.  

The modern, stylish menu changes seasonally – quality, gastropub, homely food with generous portions and is very vegetarian-vegan friendly.  I selected crispy calamari, perfect finger food, dipping the rings into the creamy aioli.  Then a veggie burger, Halloumi, avocado and roasted peppers, with sweet potato fries.  My sister nibbled a few olives to start and then enjoyed a real, juicy meat burger, cooked to her liking, with rosemary fries (we declined the bun to reduce the calories). With our meal we sipped one of the house wines, the South African, Journey’s End Chardonnay – deliciously crisp and dry.

This Christmas season, with the witty Wizard of Oz theme, There’s No Place Like Bill’s, you will be tempted by the enticing seasonal food and cocktail menu such as Pigs-in-blankets,  Christmas Truffle Cheese Fondue Burger,  Boxing Day curry, Truffalo sprouts and for dessert,  sugar-sprinkled Snow Nuts or Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, a red berry cheesecake with chocolate tree, stars and baubles.

Time for party cocktails: Gin-gle Bells (Whitley Neill Raspberry Gin, Chambord, fresh pineapple), Passion Fruit Spritz and the Strawberry Margarita.

After the theatre, it was back to the Mercure hotel for a nightcap at the Level 3 Lounge Bar overlooking the bright lights of the Christmas market.  The ‘seasonal’ cocktail list includes a Summer Mojito (not quite right for a chilly winter night!), and, disappointing that there was no Campari in stock for the Negroni. I chose a classic Gin Martini (but no olive garnish available), while June sipped a Nojito, a minty, fruity tipple without the rum.

Gin Martini and Nojito at Level 3 Bar, Mercure Hotel with city views

Art lovers should visit the Contemporary 6 Gallery, 37 Princess Street, owned by Alex Reuben who selects a series of inspiring shows of paintings, modern prints, (Picasso, Kandinsky, Matisse), ceramics and sculpture. Throughout November is the eclectic artwork of Jim Moir (as seen on Sky TV, Celebrity Portrait and Landscape Artist), ranging from a flight of birds to quirky portraits.

For a marvellous day out for all ages, take a trip to the Trafford Centre, five miles from the city centre, and easy to get there by metrolink tram. This is very much like This is very much like an American shopping mall with designer and high street stores, not least a large branch of Selfridges, as well as a cinema, bowling alley, Game arena and Legoland.  After browsing the shops or seeing a movie, time for refreshments, but signage needs improved as where to eat and drink is difficult to find. The Orient is designed around the replica of a pool deck on a classic ocean liner featuring numerous bars and bistros from All Bar One to Zizzi. A huge marble staircase modelled on the Titanic leads to the Great Hall and features the largest chandelier in the world.

The marble Titanic staircase at the Great Hall,Trafford Centre

Drink, eat and stay at the Kimpton Clocktower which was named recently in the Sunday Times as one of the best 100 hotels in the UK. Founded in San Francisco in 1981, the cool, quirky Kimpton brand focuses on art, wellness, modern cuisine and playful style while reflecting the heritage of each destination. 

The landmark clocktower above the Kimpton Hotel, Manchester

The majestic Victorian red brick and terracotta building was initially the The Refuge Assurance Company (1890), which opened as the hotel on 1st October 2020. In the lobby, a bronze horse sculpted by Sophie Dickens illustrates the turning circle for the former Hansom cabs and carriages; original features include ceramic tiles, stained glass and wooden staircases juxtaposed with contemporary furnishings.

The lobby at the Kimpton with horse sculpture

Bold colourfully designed bedrooms and suites are draped in velvet with bespoke decor and artwork by Scottish company Timorous Beasties, while vinyl records of Manchester’s famous bands from the Stone Roses to Oasis can be played on a turntable. Guests can take use of the in room yoga mat, the complimentary tuck box and many bathrooms boast a classic roll top bathtub.

Signature suite at the Kimpton Clocktower, designed by Timorous Beasties

Relax over a drink or Afternoon tea in The Winter Garden, an interior glasshouse blossoming with plants and trees and wine and dine at The Refuge by Volta. The Refuge Bar and Dining Room is a vast but elegant space of interconnecting salons where on a Friday night the lounge area was buzzing with happy drinkers and around the corner, the fabulous Restaurant with well designed, comfy banquette seating and half moon booths.  

Refuge by Volta – stylish, soul food for sharing

An innovative menu of Soul Food for sharing is neatly divided into Meat, Seafood, On the Side and Vegetables, inspired around the global travels by the DJ -Restaurateurs, Justin Crawford and Luke Cowdrey.   

First of all it’s time for finely crafted cocktails – the Drinks list is most enticing with a celebration of gin and modern twists on the classics. Like a revamped French 75, is ‘Glamour of Manchester’:– Malfy rose gin, lemon, hibiscus syrup, Champagne.  There’s an innovative selection of spirits especially speciality gins for the perfect serve such as Aviation, Gin Mare, Malfy Rosa, Monkey 47 and Ramsbury Single Estate Gin.

The pure, smooth taste of Ramsbury Single Estate Gin (Wiltshire) for the perfect Martini

My Gin Martini was a masterclass of the art which hit the spot with lip smacking delight. Across the table, June selected The Queen’s Peach – Spiced rum, peach, lime, mint with a splash of prosecco – for a refreshing taste of the Caribbean.   

Masterly curated Cocktails at Refuge by Volta

Advised to select four to five dishes for two, we chose the ras-el-hanout scented chicken, salt cod croquettes with tartare aioli, tenderstem broccoli, chargrilled cauliflower and chickpea daal, for an eclectic Middle Eastern, Asia and Spanish culinary journey.  The vegetables were perfectly cooked almost al dente and the creamy daal in coconut milk was mixed with apricots and dates. For dessert, a sticky toffee pudding was the perfect finale to a superlative meal. Hospitality by Jake and James was exemplary.  

As well as sipping a delicious Sartori Pinot Grigio, the wine list tours the world to France, Spain, South Africa, Australia and Lebanon.  With DJs in charge of the ambience, you can expect a lively vibe with a soothing, sassy mix of jazz, swing, funk, soul and house.

Superlative, modern cuisine at the Refuge by Volta: soul food for sharing

Experience the magic of Manchester this Christmas at the Kimpton Clocktower. Treat yourself to a stay in one of the gorgeously styled rooms or suites and enjoy a three course Christmas Day lunch with a glass of fizz and festive snacks in The Refuge, breakfast each day is included and chill out for a leisurely 3pm checkout on departure.  

Enjoy a fine feast of Brunch at Refuge by Volta

Hope this all whets your appetite to plan a magical, cultural and shopping trip to Manchester soon.

Links to help you research your visit.

https://www.visitmanchester.com/

https://bills-website.co.uk/restaurants/manchester

https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/aladdin/opera-house-manchester/

https://www.contemporarysix.co.uk/about-us/

https://traffordcentre.co.uk/

www.kimptonclocktowerhotel.com

Waitress: a feel-good, feminist, rom-com musical as sweet as American blueberry pie @ Opera House, Manchester (and on tour).

This popular and very successful stage musical is based on the 2007 movie, Waitress which was selected for Sundance Festival, became a box office hit, making nearly $22 million on a $1.5 million-dollar budget. 

Written and directed by Adrienne Shelly, it tells the classic American tale of Jenna, a small- town girl who works in a diner but has big dreams for the future.

When producers Barry and Fran Weissler saw Waitress, they knew it would make a great Broadway show: “I saw the movie and thought, ‘This is heart-wrenching, touching and funny.  An all-female creative team behind the book, music and director led to four Tony nominations including Best Musical, Best Original Score and Best Actress.  It then played in London for a year until forced to close in March 2020 for lockdown.

Becky (Sandra Marvin), Jenna (Lucie Jones), Dawn (Evelyn Hoskins)

Bouncing back again, the UK tour stars Lucie Jones, Sandra Marvin and Evelyn Hoskins who reprise their West End roles. The realistic stage set depicts the colourful Joe’s Diner with counter, stools, tables, booths, blackboard menu, and outside, a panoramic rural scene of telegraph poles against a blue sky.

The show kicks off in a colourful, rousing manner with a medley of songs, as we are introduced to the terrific trio of waitresses, Cal, the diner manager and old Joe, the owner, who loves to try the speciality dish of the day. Jenna is a talented baker devising her own Couch Potato and Polka Dot Peach Pies. She plans to enter a local Pie contest with the chance to win $25,000 which would solve her financial worries and escape her domineering husband Earl.

Earl (Tamlyn Hendrson) and Jenna (Lucie Jones)

Jenna, Becky and Dawn are close workmates and loyal friends, offering advice on life, love, romance and marriage, woman to woman. With her vivacious, sunny pesonality, Becky cheers the girls up, boosting their confidence. Petite, with a high pitched girly voice, the cookie, cute Dawn is rather naive but keen to find a man on a dating site. She just needs to find someone who likes History’s Mysteries on TV.

Jenna the star baker of Joe’s Diner

The song lyrics drive the storyline along such as the upbeat, What Baking Can Do in which Jenna remembers how she made cakes with her mother, who encouraged her to do well in pursuit of happiness.

So with flour on my hands
I’ll show them all how
Goddamn happy I am
Sugar, butter, flour ..

Jenna cracks eggs into a bowl, sifts flour and rolls out pastry dough while she acts and sings, all at the same time with neat, multi-tasking talent.  

Another passionate song, A Soft Place to Land, sung in perfect harmony by the three girls, relates how they are all determined to change their lives for the better.

Dawn (Evie Hoskins), Becky (Sandra Marvin), and Jenna (Lucie Jones)

The arrival of a new doctor in town quickly sparks an immediate romantic interest although unfortunately he is married. And so is she.  Think ‘Brief Encounter’. She seduces him with delicious cakes and as the intimate scenes with Dr. Pomatter (Matt Jay-Willis) are often in slow motion in a shimmering light – is this really happening or a fantasy of her imagination.? 

Jenna (Lucie Jones) and Dr. Pomatter (Matt Jay-Willis)

The topical narrative centres around Jenna who smiles happily, serving cakes in Joe’s diner, hiding the dark secret of Earl’s bossy, bullying behaviour at home.  She is vulnerable, lost and afraid but has a strong-minded spirit illustrated in a beautiful ballad, She Used to be Mine: Lucie Jones is a true opera diva, showing off her soaring vocal range and deep emotion, enhanced with an echo effect.

If I’m honest I know I would give it all back
For a chance to start over
And rewrite an ending or two
For the girl that I knew.

Lucie Jones is a true diva star as Jenna in Waitress

Sassy, smart and soulful, Waitress is a feel good, feminist, musical comedy with strong, dramatic punch.  Fine characterisation, sharp dialogue, charming songs, witty lyrics and moments of LOL hilarity, it all flows along to the lively score performed on stage by the six piece band.  Slick choreography too for the ensemble numbers with high flying pies galore. 

Imagine The Great British Bake Off as a musical: expect a sweet and savoury dish, a chunk of cheesy romance and a sprinkling of hot spice, the recipe for a perfectly baked show as delicious as American blueberry pie. No wonder there was a standing ovation at the Opera House, Manchester.

Show times:

Opera House, Manchester 8 – 20 November, 2021

https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/waitress/opera-house-manchester/

For a pre-theatre supper, Bill’s Spinningfields is warmly recommended. Just a two minute walk from the Opera House

Waitress on tour:  https://www.waitressthemusical.co.uk/

The cookie, cute Dawn (Evelyn Hoskins) and her admirer Ogie (George Crawford)

‘Evocative Skies’ magical vistas from beach scenes to city panoramas – an exhibition by Jamie Primrose @ Dundas Street Gallery

Since 2003, Jamie Primrose has presented artwork at over forty solo exhibitions, specialising in city, land and seascapes from Scotland to the South of France. This new showcase focuses on the dramatic beauty of skyscapes along the East Lothian coastline and across Edinburgh.

East Lothian seascapes by Jamie Primrose at the Dundas Street Gallery

The ‘Evocative Skies‘ exhibition is well laid out following a geographical route from the sandy beaches of North Berwick to Tyninghame and Yellowcraig, around the gallery to the rolling hills, high spires and streets of the Capital.

A selection of panoramic sunsets across Edinburgh, by Jamie Primrose

The introduction to ‘Evocative Skies,” describes the artistic theme:

The transient nature of light onto water and land to create luminosity and atmosphere, the dream-like quality of glorious streams of light reflecting onto the sea and iridescent sands; these sweeping cloudscapes depict the ever-changing play of light above sparkling, tranquil shores’.

The glowing, glimmering luminosity of fading sun is clearly illustrated in Late Afternoon looking towards Cove, in which the viewer feels they are standing on the sand to observe the immensity of the clear blue sky. This impressionistic scene is captured in striated layers where the sea meets the sand, and a line of white cloud hovering over the distant hills.

Late Afternoon looking towards Cove, Jamie Primrose

The iconic pudding shape of the bird sanctuary takes centre stage in Looking towards Bass Rock from North Berwick Beach, given a perfect perspective between the lapping waves on the beach and mauve-tinted clouds; a realistic sense of a brisk breeze whipping up over the sea and sky too.

Looking towards Bass Rock from North Berwick Beach, Jamie Primrose

Another majestic view of the craggy island in Clouds passing over North Berwick depicting a more blustery day. Again, the sky takes prominence, spanning over two thirds of the painting, with just a slither of sea on the edge of the sandy beach. 

Clouds passing over North Berwick, Jamie Primrose

The Stevenson lighthouse on the island of Fidra is the focal point of Reflections on Yellowcraig Beach. Robert Louis Stevenson (who spent holidays in North Berwick), is said to have been inspired by the rocky shape of Fidra for his map of ‘Treasure Island’.

Treasure Island – perhaps inspired by the island of Fidra

This is such an evocative and tranquil study of Yellowcraig beach after the tide has ebbed away leaving glistening wet sand with slender shards of sunlight below the billowing cloud.

Reflections on Yellowcraig Beach, Jamie Primrose

The fading light at dusk is captured with such a delicate, pale palette in Tyninghame Reflections – the thick brush strokes sweep a soft dusty pink across the sky reflected with an impressionistic flourish on the waves and shoreline. Such an atmospheric, contemplative composition.

Tyninghame Reflections, Jamie Primrose

This is almost reminiscent of the artist’s previous abstract landscapes such as Tierra de La Luz (Costa Rica, 2003).  The translucent sheen of blue, indigo and tangerine, with Rothko-esque expressionism, depict the horizon over the sea at sunset with stunning simplicity.

Tierra de La Luz, Costa Rica, Jamie Primrose

Perhaps, Jamie Primrose might be inspired to experiment again with his earlier, masterly artisic style to express these seascapes in similar abstract mode and manner, through blocks of pure colour, shape and light.

There’s an almost photographic perspective snapped in Shimmering light over Edinburgh from Longniddry, looking across the Firth of Forth.  There’s a painterly pattern here: the foreground stretch of rocky beach is echoed in the long, low lying dark cloud, and also in the distance, the rolling mound of hills in a shadowy silhouette. 

Shimmering Light over Edinburgh from Longniddry, Jamie Primrose

A seasonal, gold tinted cityscape is portrayed in Autumnal drama over the city from Blackford Hill, one of Primrose’s ambitious, signature, panoramic views with such architectural detail of the city skyline. The afterglow of sunset is sinking towards the west, turning the sky a shimmering salmon pink across the flow and flurry of clouds.

Autumnal drama over the city from Blackford Hill, Jamie Primrose

Around the gallery is a diverse range of other iconic skyscape views of Edinburgh, depicted from dawn to dusk – Duddingston Loch, from Calton Hill, the Castle and around the Old Town.  

Limited Edition Prints

As well as over fifty original oil paintings on show, there’s also a selection of exclusive, limited edition prints: East Lothian beaches, Arthur’s Seat, city sunset skylines, colourful Old Town scenes, and more. 

 ‘Evocative Skies’ paintings by Jamie Primrose

Magical vistas in East Lothian & Edinburgh

The Dundas Street Gallery, 6a Dundas Street, Edinburgh EH3 6HZ

Friday 5th – Saturday 13th November 2021

Open daily, 11am – 6pm. Saturday 13th November, 11am – 5pm (last day)

View the ‘Evocative Skies’ collection of original oil paintings online:

https://www.jamieprimrose.com/latest/index.html

Limited Edition Prints:

East Lothian seascapes: http://shop.jamieprimrose.com/shop/3/12/index.htm

Vibrant sunsets: http://shop.jamieprimrose.com/shop/2/26/index.htm

The 29th French Film Festival is on the road – 30+ movies across 30+ cinemas around the UK from Aberdeen to Belfast and Plymouth

The French Film Festival is back, running from 3 November to 12 December 2021, offering another fabulous programme of new and classic movies screened in cinemas throughout the UK and on line. 

 “Bienvenue! We’re overjoyed to welcome back our faithful audiences to one of the most diverse line-ups, from award-winners to new talent. Thanks to our partner cinemas for showing enthusiasm and ingenuity and our sponsors for their unwavering support. Vive le cinéma! -Bon Festival.”

Richard Mowe, Director FFF UK

The FFF UK is the only festival dedicated to French and Francophone cinema in all its diversity, variety and vitality.  This is a brief overview of a few highlights in the programme which will delight all movie fans who adore the intimate, dramatic mood and elegant style of French movies. 

Deception (Tromperie), based on the novel by Philip Roth, relates the story of an American writer also called Philip (Denis Podalydès), who is working on a new book in London. Here he meets and becomes romantically involved with a married English woman, (Léa Seydoux), while his wife is back home. But is this literary affair real or a figment of the author’s imagination ?

Léa Seydoux and Denis Podalydès in Deception

In 1789, before the Revolution in rural France, fine cuisine was exclusive to the aristocrats.  Delicious (Délicieux) is about the fine art of gastronomy. When a talented cook called Manceron, (Grégory Gadebois) serves one of his invented dishes at a dinner hosted by Duke of Chamfort, he is dismissed. Moving to work at a country inn, he is inspired to develop his creative passion for food to become a renowned chef.  Bon Appetit!.

A lavish Baroque banquet is served in Delicious

Starring the inimitable Catherine Deneuve, Peaceful (De son Vivant) is about a son in denial over a serious illness while his mother faces the truth. A real-life cancer specialist, Dr Gabriel Sara is cast as Dr Eddé, expressing genuine, personal empathy as a medical and spiritual advisor.

Catherine Deneuve in Peaceful

Inspired by true events, The Big Hit (Un Triomphe) is a comic drama about an out of work actor who gives drama lessons to high security prisoners, hoping to inspire them to perform a production of Samuel Becket’s Waiting for Godot. ‘The outcome is worth the wait, a naturalistic, well-balanced, satisfying social drama,’ says one critic.

Isabelle Huppert as a powerful Mayor in Promises

In Promises, (Les Promesses) Isabelle Huppert portrays an ambitious Mayor of a Parisian suburb towards the end of her second and, expected, final term of office. Working with her Chief of staff, their mission is to secure a financial subsidy to save Les Benardins, an apartment complex from increasing urban decay. A power-grabbing, political game of chess ensues.

Obsessive jealousy in a lesbian love triangle is dramatised in Olivia (1951)

A neglected, feminist classic, Olivia, (1951), adapted from Dorothy Bussy’s autobiographical tale, captures the awakening passions of an English girl at a finishing school near Paris. The rather naive Olivia develops an infatuation for the headmistress, Mlle. Julie, sparking obsessive, jealous feelings in another teacher. ‘Gothic atmosphere, unspoken desire.…a landmark of lesbian representation.’

With perfect topicality in the race to save the planet, Hello World! (Bonjour le monde!) is a whimsical animated study of a fragile ecosystem.  Papier-mâché puppets with a colourfully painted backdrop depict the life and natural habitats of a pike, beaver, bat, salamander, turtle, dragonfly and birds.

This charming film will appeal to all ages and is also part of the educational programme for children, Lécole du cinema.

As always in the FFF programme, there’s a selection of Short Cuts, mini-movies of between 8 and 24 minutes.

A special double bill features a mini-musical, Belle Étoile about a Vietnamese woman who has arrived in France to be married but her life turns upside down.

Leanna Chea and Camille Le Gall in Belle Etoille directed by Valerie Leroy

This is partnered with a vintage thriller, The Sleeping Car Murders (Compartiment Tuers 1965), starring Yves Montand as a detective in charge of finding a killer on a train, akin to Murder on the Orient Express.

After the welcome innovation and popular success of screening FFF movies @ home during lockdown, there’s a choice of nine films to watch from the comfort of your own sofa.  

Another crime drama in The Enemy (L’Ennemi) follows the investigation when a politician is charged with killing his wife. 

Jérémie Renier and Alma Jodorowsky in The Enemy.

A classic from 1961, Vivre sa Vie, directed by Luc Godard, features his cinematic muse, Anna Karina as Nana, an aspiring actress who has a different role in real life, a lady of the night.

Anna Karina stars in Vivre sa Vie, directed by Jean-Luc Godard (1961)

Thrillers, romance, wartime drama, politics, animation, documentaries – take your pick of the 29th FFF programme.

Browse the full selection of films, list of cinemas and screening dates on the website: frenchfilmfestival.org.uk