When Neil Millington opens the lid and smells the contents, a serene smile breaks out across his face. He offers the cigar box to me across the table. “Try one of these,” the Lanesborough’s new Cigar Sommelier says. “I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.” This is what Millington is best at: finding the combinations of drink/cigar/mood and personality that ensures a visit to The Garden Room at the London hotel is always something special.
On a stunning spring morning, I’m sitting in Knightsbridge with Neil and Garden Bar Manager Davide Guidi. We’re enjoying espressos and the 2005 San Cristobal La Fuerza and I’m finding out how this little corner of civilisation always manages to give so much pleasure. “It’s all about finding out about what your customer likes, of course, but also knowing about cigars and drinks; what’s smoking well, what’s not, what pairs well with which particular cigar,” says Millington. “It’s a never-ending process, and I love that part of the job.”
It’s certainly a business Millington knows a thing or two about. He’s previously run cigar concessions and nightspots from Selfridges to the legendary Che Bar in Mayfair and has even written a book on Havanas. When the opportunity arose for fresh blood at The Lanesborough (former Garden Bar sommelier Giuseppe Ruo has moved a few yards up the road to The Wellesley) Millington and Guidi decided it was time to reunite an old partnership. “We have some fabulous customers here, many of whom stay in the hotel regularly, and many of whom have been enjoying the Garden Bar for years,” says Guidi. But there is always an influx of newcomers, both to the bar and to cigars themselves. It gives us enormous satisfaction to introduce clients to something that surprises and pleases them.”
The Garden Room’s humidor is legendary, with sticks ranging from current production classics to original Behikes costing thousands. Add to that an astonishing range of vintage wines, ports, whiskies and Cognacs dating back to 1770 (expect to pay £4,000 a shot for that little slice of history) and you have an epicurean’s heaven. Food is offered in limited form; Wagyu burgers, caviar, salads and cheeses. But you come here to smoke and drink, let’s make no bones about it. “We do not take bookings,” explains Guidi, “So it is advisable to come early. There is a minimum spend of £25 and we are very happy to offer advice and recommendations.”
The Garden Room’s cigar and cocktail pairing menu is perhaps a good place to start, with a selection of fine cocktails and suggested cigar pairings. But today, I’m happy enough to talk shop with these passionate cigar men and enjoying the aged cigar they’ve recommended.
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Summer Edition 2013. Read more