If Carlsberg did birthday parties they still would not be anywhere near as good as the one I had at The Larder House and Library of Liquor in Southbourne.
I might be a walking advert for the place at times but this isn't a review, it's just what happened. Totally love the place. If you do go because of the article, then please do mention my name when booking. Not that you will get any discount, but good to know people are reading this.
Normally I don't do birthday things. Don't even like receiving cards as such a grumpy old man in that respect. Too much hassle organising, booking numbers, taking deposits, food orders and the dreaded sharing the bill at the end. Who had drinks, who didn't and all the unfairness that can entail. I do sweat the small stuff at times.
This past year someone picked up in the fact that I never do anything. The excuse of being away was wearing thin, so I decided to do something this year. Seeing as I hadn't done anything since my 40th birthday, when it wasn't even me that had anything to do with that as Angela did it all, I thought I would try and do something a bit different. It could have been Days Restaurant so the bill was known and people go up and buy their own drinks!
It really didn't take too long until the Larder House came to mind. We had a company Christmas dinner up in the Library of Liquor one year and I was thinking if we could do that, then even better. A real touch of class.
The first thing was to get numbers and ask James the owner of it was possible. We chatted over a couple of cocktails, on the house!
You might think making a Dry Martini was pretty straight-forward but the attention to detail by the team is what makes the difference. Special mention to Harry King - amazing young guy, still at school at the time of writing, but with such a mature head on him. As an employer myself, it is so great to see such capable young people that have a bit of drive and passion.
Anyway, the Dry Martini, it goes something like this. Large mixing glass filled with ice. Swirl the ice to chill the glass down before anything else, pour the water off that has been created by cooling the glass down. There's enough there to show it is worth doing to take away the residual heat in the glass and not to dilute the finished product. Next are the ingredients, top quality gin, vermouth and dash of bitters and then a good stir to chill it right down. Stirring produces a much clearer drink than by shaking.
We are only halfway there and so far we have had the visual element of seeing the drink being brought together and now the audio element with the sound of lots of ice being stirred, not shaken although I do shake mine at home.
A really chilled drinking vessel comes out. Not sure whether to call it a vessel or goblet but it's definitely not a glass. It's made up of a separate top that holds the drink, which sits on top of the stem. All matching gold colour and very heavy. This is the physical element, this makes you feel you have something serious in your hand.
Even before you get to drink it there is the aroma. I'm not even talking about the drink here. The barkeep has taken a strip of lemon and twisted the oils and aroma around the rim, and, and rubbed it down the stem. That is attention to detail. That is the smell element.
Finally, you get to drink it. A seriously strong drink to be taken slowly, that is clean and crisp but with has some weight to it, not oily in that sense but with a mouth-feel due to the high alcohol content.
The whole thing is balanced theatre and why you should sit up at the bar once in a while. Something brings together sight, sound, touch, smell and taste that ends in a nod of appreciation.
So, that was my first drink. The second was a Vermouth and Sherry based drink called Adonis that took things to the sweeter end of the scale, but I wont go into that now.
The answer from James was yes. I said I would aim to do a late lunch/very early dinner so they could get the Library back for diners for 8.30pm onwards. Job done.
The numbers worked out really well in the end. I didn't realise I had that many friends that would have wanted to come along! It was 20 people in the end and that number of seating worked out very well. The friends that shamed me into doing something couldn't even make it in the end.
To make life easier for everyone involved I said just bring out roast meats and trimmings where we serve ourselves and then some desserts. Family style. This forgoes the hassle of ordering from the menu, the kitchen staff not knowing what to prepare and it then becomes a nice surprise for us as I didn't know what was due out - but that was what I wanted. Plus a couple of vegetarians to cater for. If you are a bit of a control freak then that carefree approach might not be for you, but I knew they would pull it out the bag so that was one less worry. There was more worry getting people there on time it transpired.
Come the day, the plan was to arrive from 5pm, enjoy some cocktails and to sit for 6pm when the food would come out. Only 15 minutes late as that was our fault, a bit of miscommunication and a poorly car for some guests.
I knew having it up in the Library would be a lovely surprise for those that have never been, although most people had already seen my numerous Facebook posts from the place. In fact, even I was hugely surprised and wowed when I got to the top of the stairs to be met by the table setting.
Fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. With such a large number, there were two tables with a walkway between. Cocktail mixing stations in the middle as well. Candles lit and the rest of the Library being the Library doing its thing.
As friends started to come in I realised Angela had asked people to take a 1920's twist on their attire. I had my new birthday shirt from Edgar and Scott on as well.
I had a Dry Martini on the house, I won't go through explaining that again!
Dinner was served. Must have been onto my third martini by then so needed something to soak that up. Huge silver platters brought out with a selection of meats. The famous Larder House ham hock with crispy crackling, pieces of chicken, rolled rabbit sausage and some gorgeous slow roast beef blade. That beef was so dark and unctuous. It was so absolutely tender that when I first went to pick it up with the tongs I squashed it into two pieces. We couldn't work out whether it was cut before roasting or left whole to roast and cut afterwards as it was so neat.
What's this, skate? I wasn't expecting one of my favourite fishes to also come out. And with samphire as well, this really must be my birthday. No more grumpy old man anymore.
The kitchen team did an excellent job. Nice compliments from all the diners. There was so much left that the brother and brother-in-law got to take a whole ham hock and some pulled pork back. Shame I didn't take better photos but too busy enjoying things rather than worrying about the lighting.
Desserts were Crema Catalan with a thick caramel hard top and luxurious chocolate cheesecake. Someone sitting not too far from me had two and a half Crema Catalans.
It was all so good and these photos doesn't do the food justice unfortunately. I know I got this at a steal as well. James and his team were very generous. That's why I love the place, it just feels like home. It's like an extension that's not quite attached.
We moved to the outside courtyard to let them clear up and set the Library back up for the evening guests.
I had this interesting bottle of white wine called Xitxarel-Lo. The bottle is adorned with Catalan swear words that had gone out of use. Oh, the wine is nice too. I need to keep one of these bottles next time for home. Will make a great candle holder.
It wasn't too long before we were back up in the Library. A lot darker by now and very cosy with our lot in their taking one whole side. Apologies to the other guests that he to squeeze in. Our brothers propped the bar up and kept Harry company. Some of us sat out in the small outdoor area and talked the night away.
Towards the end we came back inside as friends began to leave. To cap off my best birthday ever, there was a couple by the bar that treated me to an Absinthe tasting. I thought this might not go too well judging by the number of Martinis and wine that had been consumed so far but, it was really nice of the couple to offer and I got to taste a variety of this misunderstood spirit.
Once home, we made noodle soup with the pork. Oh yes we did!
Well, if you are interested in hiring the Library of Liquor cocktail bar in Southbourne as a birthday venue, then give them a ring via the Larder House.