Friday, November 7, 2008

A Golden Rob Roy

Go to a foreign country and you're confronted with liquors and wines you've never tried before. Pimm's "Winter" No. 3; Havana Club Barrel Proof rum; Beefeater Crown Jewel.

During my recent trip to London to sample the new Beefeater gin called "24," I had dinner at Hawksmoor, Nick Strangeway's splendid restaurant at Shoreditch, very near where Jack the Ripper did his handiwork a century or so ago. Strangeway is a friendly, beguiling guy who smokes a great many cigarettes through a long, scraggly beard that twists as it heads toward the floor. His wardrobe has a hectic set of rules all its own; he wore a bright gold sportsjacket at the 24 launch party.

Strangeway has a admirably well-stocked bar at Hawksmoor. One thing that caught my eye in particular was a unfamiliar bottle of Noilly Prat vermouth called "Ambre." What the hell? And it was not on a shelf, but out on the bar, so it was being well-used. I asked Nick about it and he bubbled with enthusiasm. It's a newish product from Noilly, sitting somewhere between the dry and sweet vermouths in taste. According to the Noilly website, Ambre is made from even more herbs and spices than are found in the dry and rouge, including orange, cinnamon and vanilla. "It makes beautiful Rob Roys," he said.

That sounded like an invitation. Sure enough, soon he was making me a Noilly Prat Ambre Rob Roy. It was a beautiful thing. Visually, first of all, it was a glass of gleaming ore. The taste, too, was golden. If a cocktail could ever taste like a color, this was it. A great Rob Roy, no question.

There's a picture of the stuff above, to the left of a gravity-driven, ice-mold contraption that Nick had which was spellbinding all around, including the Pegu Club's Audrey Saunders. (It presses ice into a perfect snowball-shaped ice cube. Nice parlor trick.)

For those out there who are now saying, "I got to get me some of that Noilly Ambre," get ready to grit your teeth. It's only available for sale at the Noilly plant in Marseillan, France. Nick only has some because he has "a friend." Let the obsessing begin.


Anonymous said...

Nick is exaggerating Noilly Ambre's rarity just a little - it's actually available in a few shops here in London, notably Fortnum and Mason and The Whiskey Exchange (not sure about Gerry's, but they probably have it too).

Delicious stuff isn't it! Stephan Berg came up with a drink using it called the Amber Room which is just lovely.

Anonymous said...

Geez, if I'd known that I would have tried to bring a bottle back with me. I actually visited Fortnum and didn't see it there. OK, Jay, this is your assignment next time you come to the U.S.: bring me a bottle each of Noilly Ambre and Amer Picon.

Dr. Bamboo said...

Robert- come to Pittsburgh! I'm fortunate enough to have a bottle of the Ambre.

And it may or may not have come courtesy of someone named Jay Hepburn ;-)

Robert Simonson, "Our Man in the Liquor-Soaked Trenches"-New York Times. said...

I have an uncle in Pittsburgh. I'm sure I'll get there someday soon, and I'll look you and your bottle of Ambre up.

Anonymous said...

Next time I'm heading for NY I will gladly bring you a bottle over Robert. Though given the way the £/$ rate is going, I'm not sure that will be as soon as either of us might hope.