A slightly close, damp, autumn evening in west London isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of scene-setting in a Bond film, but, well, when you’ve been summoned to enjoy a five-course meal, who’s going to quibble?
Though the summons was not entirely lacking in mystery (I knew the who, the what, the where, the when and probably even the why), there was still a certain amount about the evening that we weren’t being let in on. What I did know was that The Distillery, Portobello Road Gin’s heart of operations and an excellent boozer, was hosting a “James Bond Experience” and I was invited to see what I thought of it. The promise was of a decadent evening enjoying five courses, with matching drinks, and all tied in to Bond’s (and Fleming’s) predilections and finest moments. Beyond that, lips were sealed.
Being possessed of a short attention span, I’d not fully taken on board the “experience” part of that billing, and focused more on the “meal” part until a few days beforehand. Fearing the worst, I started scanning the surroundings at arrival for cubby-holes from whence some poor member of staff dressed as Odd Job or Jaws would leap out. Thankfully, as we settled down to some quick pre-prandial G&Ts (well, when in Rome…) it was clear this was going to be a rather more civilised affair.
The problem for me here in further reviewing the evening is the small fact that we were asked to put our phones away for the duration, take no photos and disclose no specifics of the evening to others. It would be downright churlish of me to break that embargo, so in broad strokes, and hopefully without piercing the veil of mystery desired, what can you expect?
Well, you can expect to be ushered up to their private dining room on the second floor, where a fully tuxedoed expert from their staff (Jake Burger, on our visit) talks you through each course, giving context to the dishes and pulling out little facts about the life of both the author and his creation whilst disbursing the paired drinks. They pride themselves on their food at the The Distillery, so it’ll be rather more refined and varied than standard pub fare. Alongside that, even the obvious candidates for Bond-appropriate drinks prompted delight in the manner of their serving, and there were some neat, unforeseen twists.
Given the current slew of news about the hospitality industry’s travails recruiting and retaining good staff, a special note should be made of the staff, who went above and beyond to look after those around the table. It’s the small things that make a difference in hospitality and they were professional, unfailingly helpful and considerate.
Whilst more of a casual Bond fan than some of the evening’s other attendees, I was well entertained and didn’t find it ever descending into off-putting ephemera. Judging by those others’ response, it’s also a magical evening for those who really dig the super-spy. Some neat touches, including a few multi-sensory experiences, elevated this above a rote theme evening into something memorable. So, why not leave the Walther PPK at home and enjoy something a bit different?