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Bombay Sapphire champions the ‘gin experience’

Gin brand Bombay Sapphire brought its gin train, the Laverstoke Express, back to London last week as it continues its focus on events and experiences.

The Bacardi-owned company teamed up with Michelin-starred chef Tom Sellers of Restaurant Story fame, to create an ‘exquisite immersive dining and cocktail experience’.

This comes after Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), told the drinks business that the ‘gin experience’ could be the next big trend.

“Consumers are increasingly willing to spend more for an experience, so this factor could come into play with gins taking on new marketing techniques so that they can gain a competitive advantage,” he said.

Bombay Sapphire launched its ‘gin train’ last year and last week it returned with added gusto in the form of acclaimed chef Sellers.

Branded ‘The Grand Journey,’ the Laverstoke Express, named after the gin distillery, took diners on a trip around the world, visiting the locations where master of botanicals, Ivano Tonutti, sources each of Bombay Sapphire’s ten botanicals.

A senior account director at Ogilvy PR, which represents Bombay Sapphire, told the drinks business that a dedicated “experiential team” – an external experiential agency called Wasserman – had constructed the train and its various interactive features at the Banking Hall in the City of London.

Complete with theatrical smoke for an authentic steam train effect, the Laverstoke Express was decked out in Bombay Sapphire blue with video screens for windows, plush leather seats and projectors that beamed graphics onto the tables. Actors paced the carriage corridor, recounting the history of each botanical, while cocktails and Sellers’ accompanying dishes were brought through at breakneck speed by a troop of waiters in train guard uniforms.

While the focus on provenance and the historical facts that accompanied each dish and drink was admirable, the actors’ voices were often drowned out by the chatter of guests, the clanking of plates and cutlery being collected and by the liberal use of dry ice – the frequent puffs eliciting further clamour from diners.

My colleagues at the Spirits Business, however, who attended the later session, had a less raucous experience, so this concept clearly has potential. A longer allocated time slot, which would reduce the perceptible need to rush, may help.

Earlier this year, Bombay Sapphire hosted a Star of Bombay dining event in partnership with Carousel restaurant’s resident chef, Ollie Templeton. The concept – pairing the ‘slowly distilled’ Star of Bombay gin with ‘slow food’ – is something that they hope to roll out across Europe. A more sedate affair which retained the brand focus shown on ‘The Grand Journey,’ the dining event was another example of Bombay Sapphire cashing in on the experiential trend.

For chef Sellers, the partnership with Bombay Sapphire gave him the opportunity to experiment with new ingredients.

“When Bombay Sapphire approached me to be part of this year’s The Grand Journey, I was excited by the concept and the challenge. The food I create at Restaurant Story celebrates individual stories, be it from memory, history or literature”.

“We wanted to translate that philosophy to The Grand Journey and create intelligent dishes that not only tell the story of Bombay Sapphire’s gin of ten journeys, but also enhance the flavours of the botanicals to work in harmony with the accompanying cocktails. Ultimately, we want to enhance this unique experience for the diners,” he said.

Tom Sellers.

Speaking to the drinks business, he revealed that of the four botanicals he got to work with (juniper, lemon, almond and angelica) “getting the balance on the juniper was quite challenging”.

He added: “I work with almond and citrus flavours a lot and the angelica dish came to me quite quickly. We had to play around with both the presentation and intensity of juniper”.

This is not the first time that Sellers has worked with gin. He told db: “For years, I incorporated gin into an onion dish at Story which worked really well. But I think it works well with lots of foods depending on the characteristics in the dishes that you’d like to highlight such as the citric, floral or peppery notes”.

Click through to view The Grand Journey menu and accompanying cocktails

Tom Sellers created a juniper and blackcurrant ice block for the amuse-bouche, served on juniper berries. Despite the challenging task of balancing the flavours, Sellers created a refreshing frozen treat to start the meal, with both components working in harmony.

The frozen ‘lollipop’ was accompanied by a Maghrebi Hi-Ball combining Bombay Sapphire gin, Moroccan liqueur, Lyme Bay winery traditional mead and water. Shimmering with edible gold glitter, the aromatic concoction showcased the flavour of coriander seeds that are an integral part of the botanical blend.

Following an ornate bowl containing liquorice scented dry ice was Sellers’ starter: hot and cold scallops. Using citrus flavours in both sections, one shell contained a scallop tartare, with preserved lemon, bergamot, crème fraiche and sliced radish. The other shell was filled with roasted scallop, vanilla, lemon butter and lemon mousseline. The cold dish was the most successful, enhanced by the tangy citrus and peppery radish. The lemon mousseline, although flavourful, was too sweet and the roasted scallop ever-so-slightly chewy.

The accompanying cocktail combined Bombay Sapphire, Briottet fig liqueur, Briottet bergamot liqueur, clarified bergamot juice, Bristol Botanicals’ violet leaf tincture and Bitter Truth’s crème de violet. The cocktail, designed to pay hommage to the orris root, was beautiful but overpowered by the violet.

After being invited to taste the grains of paradise from Ghana, guests received Sellers’ Iberico pork with almond gel, pear gel, roasted pear, fresh almond, sugared almonds, amaretto jelly and pork sauce. The best dish of the night, the pork was perfectly cooked and tender and worked well with the different textures of almond. The sugared almonds and sweetness of the amaretto jelly complimented the richness of the pork and the roasted pear was a pleasant change from the usual apple.

Sellers’ dessert was angelica ice cream with salted blackberries and bitter chocolate. The combination worked well – the earthiness of the angelica complimented the chocolate and was lifted by the sweet blackberries. The pudding was accompanied by Brewtacial: Bombay Sapphire, cold infusion of coffee and cardamom, Benedictine and tri-pepper tincture. Evoking the cubeb berry, the coffee-scented concoction certainly packed a punch.

The Grand Journey came to an end with cassia bark scented space vapour.

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