29th July 2019

A Cocktail Masterclass at L’Ortolan, Reading | AD

I don’t know about you but as I’ve got a little older, I’ve become choosier about what I drink. My taste has changed from drinking anything and everything to a more quality over quantity type of drinking style, and I would much rather spend more on a nice glass of wine or a cocktail made by an experienced mixologist than some cheap spirit with dodgy mixer. There’s no particular cocktail I like more than another, but if I was making a night of it then a good Old Fashioned would always be on the cards. It’s highly likely I’d have a Mojito too…and most likely a Pina Colada…and an Espresso Martini…OK. I’ll just order as much as I can…maybe my drinking style hasn’t changed that much at all!! 😉

The Basics

L’Ortolan

Reading’s only Michelin starred fine-dining restaurant based in Shinfield, near the M4’s J11, just on the outskirts of Reading invited me, along with Steve, for an evening of tasting their new Tiki cocktails. Drinking cocktails at 6pm on a Wednesday evening definitely felt decadent and I was a little worried they might be very strong, and I’d have to be careful as I’m admittedly, also a little bit of a lightweight!

A long time ago I used to live in Shinfield. In fact, I lived about a 3-minute walk from L’Ortolan and have eaten there once when an ex-boyfriend was trying to impress me. I was a single Mum at the time, and it wasn’t somewhere that was ever really in my budget, so I was very much happy to be taken along on a date there. I don’t remember a lot about the evening, which probably explains why he’s an ex, but I do remember enjoying it, and I haven’t really eaten anywhere else like it since.

Moving On

I think to blog about Michelin restaurants you really need to know your ‘stuff’ and I, admittedly, don’t feel I’m qualified enough to do the food side review of this beautiful restaurant justice. I just don’t eat at Michelin starred restaurants often enough to know what I’m talking about.

If you would like to read about other peoples experiences at L’Ortolan then you may enjoy this post by Major Foodie or this one by Rachel at Muddy Stilettos.

My work will be hosting an event later this year at L’Ortolan and I’m excited to try their vegetarian menu, so who knows, maybe I will blog about it at some point in the future.

Cocktails on the other hand…well that’s a whole different story, I’m very experienced with those 😉 However, the cocktails were accompanied with canapés so there are photos of the deliciously paired nibbles, which may help for those that are here to drool over food photos!

The welcome

Steve was designated driver for the evening. We parked up at the beautiful Grade II listed restaurant and quickly made our way around to the front door in the pouring rain. The door was opened just as we were about to try the handle and the General Manager, Marco Nardi, greeted us with a big smile and a beautiful Italian accent. He directed us upstairs to one of the smaller, more intimate, teaching rooms which are usually used for cooking lessons, so the space was perfect.

Tiki cocktail class

Marco told us that if a larger group booked on the cocktail class then they’d do it in the bar area, which I think I’d have preferred, but totally understood why we were in this room as the booking was only for four people. Oh yes, sorry, it wasn’t just Steve and me, the lovely Caroline from All That I’m Eating was invited to the class too. Her blog post about the evening is here and if you want to see what the meat version of the canapes were like, have a little read.

The Man behind the Cocktails

We then met Jayson, our mixologist who admitted he was a little nervous as this was his very first time teaching, but he was looking forward to sharing his recipes and hearing what we thought of his new concoctions. With over 8 years of experience making cocktails and a passion for ingredients from his home country of The Philippines, I had a feeling they’d be very good.

All four cocktails created are Jayson’s interpretation of some of the classics and each one has its very own recipe with subtle twists. His syrups are homemade, the spirits specially chosen from his own experiences. With ingredients like Lychees and names such as ‘Diwata’ (meaning mystical creature’), there’s a very clear Filipino vibe going on throughout.

No tacky garnishes, not an umbrella or chunky piece of fruit in sight.

A Cocktail Masterclass at L'Ortolan, Reading

Whilst Jayson mixed, shook and poured I admired all the different tiki cups and glasses in front of us. Picking up one angry-looking cup Marco told me they’d nicknamed him ‘Angry Bob’. Pretty jars were filled with dried fruits and flowers and I remember thinking how elegant, mysterious and very grown-up everything seemed.

A Cocktail Masterclass at L'Ortolan, Reading

Cocktail 1 – Caribbean Sunrise

The most popular L’Ortolan cocktail of the season is this fruity little summer number. It was also the perfect drink to start with it as it was light, refreshing and the mint gave it an extra little zing. Made with Rum, Honey, Elderflower Syrup, orange and grapefruit juice I think most people would be happy with this cocktail if it was handed to them. Sweet but not overpowering, it was the type of cocktail where you hardly notice it’s even a cocktail, it was very easy to enjoy.

The matching vegetarian canape was a flaxseed cracker with pickled cucumber and dill, and it matched the cocktail beautifully. The slate tray it was served on was a tiny bit overkill for me, the cracker looked a little lost and it took up a lot of space on the counter, but I get that’s part of the whole L’Ortolan experience and the effort is fantastic.

Cocktail 2 – Mai Tai

Now I love a good Mai Tai – surprise, surprise. The best one I’ve ever had was in Manchester and I compare all Mai Tai’s to that one. Jayson explained that this Mai Tai was a little different because he’d created it with a Tahiti inspired twist, the ingredients included Orgeat syrup (almonds, sugar and rose – and yes, I had to Google that), dark & white rum, vanilla syrup and half a lime.

And boy did it have a kick to it! It was as if the first cocktail was just a little teaser into what the rest of the cocktails were like, then we were absolutely in for an interesting evening. It was kind of creamy tasting, but not heavy. It wasn’t fruity but it was refreshing. We all instantly agreed that it was blooming marvellous and Jayson is a cocktail genius!

With an olive cracker-based canape topped with various types of beetroot, beetroot mayonnaise, radish and I think (as my notes aren’t totally clear – blame the booze) there was mushroom in their too. It was salty, not as crunchy as I thought it might be and the taste was interesting, and I remember thinking that I wanted more. One wasn’t enough!

I also remember Caroline saying her meat version (steak tartare) “was the best she’d ever had”.

Cocktail 3 – Diwata

I’m going to be upfront about this cocktail – it was the BEST of the collection and I’d happily stick to solely drinking this all evening on a night out. We all felt exactly the same about it, and I think Jayson was feeling pleased about this as it’s actually his own invention. He was also taking part in an upcoming competition with this cocktail as his signature entry – I hope he won!

Diwata cocktail

Made with Don Papa rum, pink grapefruit juice, lychee syrup and half a lemon it was mostly just one big taste explosion where your mind was jumping from one flavour to another. With the smallest list of ingredients, the balance was perfect and notes of vanilla, honey, citrus with the occasional floral taste, I absolutely know that when I go back to L’Ortolan, this is the first thing I’m asking for.

Rum

The matching canape was made from a homemade sourdough base which was crunchy on the outside and soft and light on the inside. L’Ortolan also uses local produce and these tomatoes are specifically grown for them and their head chef, Tom Clarke. The tomatoes are then cured in-house with lemon juice, and balsamic before being sliced very thin. When paired with the goat’s cheese mousse and coriander, the flavours are complementary, surprising and very delicious. In some ways, on a simpler level, and I’m not sure if I’m supposed to say this, it reminded me of a traditional Caprese salad.

Cocktail 4 – Bahama Mama

By now, because I was also sipping away on Steve’s cocktails too, I was beginning to feel a little tipsy! Our final cocktail was very similar to a classic Pina Colada and was made with dark rum, coconut liqueur, orange & pineapple juice, grenadine, and was then topped with slices of lime and freeze-dried raspberries.

The coconut wasn’t overbearing, like some Pina Colada’s can be, and it wasn’t as sweet as I thought it would be either. Probably my least favourite of the evening, but still, a nice cocktail to finish such a lovely evening on.

A pea and mushroom arancini came out for us and Steve, being Steve, came out with one of his little Dad puns which I quite rightly stole and shared on Twitter…

Conclusion

The whole experience of the Masterclass was fun, we had a lot of laughs. The cocktails were incredible and absolutely suit L’Ortolan’s reputation for being special. It was such a relaxed evening, both Marco and Jayson were incredibly friendly and answered all our questions…even my tipsy ones! The alcohol may have loosened my tongue a little, and I did say it would be nice for us to have a little mix of a cocktail ourselves rather than just watch Jayson work his magic, but at the same time it was equally as nice to sit and chat, whilst he did all the work for us.

Steve and I have always been a fan of food-related classes and in the past have taken part in a coffee art class, a pizza-making class and we can now add cocktail classes to the list too.

There’s no doubt that these were some of the best cocktails I’ve ever tried and when the need arises, I will attempt to recreate one or two at home.

The classes take place once a month and each one will have a different theme depending on the time of year and what seasonal ingredients are available. Classes cost around £40pp and there’s a discount available if you book for a group of six. Marco also mentioned they would be launching various wine connoisseur evenings with guest Sommeliers and whilst again, I’m no wine expert, the Rosé evening sounded delightful.

There’s more detail about the classes on their website here.

What’s your favourite cocktail? Have you been to L’Ortolan?

I was a guest of L’Ortolan and the class was paid for by them. However, all opinions expressed and photos taken are my own.

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