Foodie at large
Earlier this year I accompanied Salvatore Calabrese on one of his famous cognac buying sprees to Sotheby’s. You may remember Salvatore, ex-Lanesborough Hotel now head barman at Fifty St James’s, and his famous lessons in “liquid history”, where those with deep enough pockets can savour, say, a 1789 cognac and mull over what was happening in the world that year.
Well, you can still buy old and rare cognacs and single malts at his former stamping ground on Hyde Park Corner, but his successor at the Library Bar, Giuseppe Ruo, has brought an added dimension, which allows you, literally, to see history go up in smoke.
Where Calabrese’s passion was brandy, Ruo’s is cigars, and since he arrived at the Lanesborough last year, he has built up one of London’s most impressive collections. When I see him he is flushed with excitement after a foray to Christie’s, where he secured, among other things, a box of Davidoff Dom Perignon 1980s – “the strongest and most expensive Davidoff ever made” – some pre-Cuban embargo Romeo y Julieta Belvederes and a box of Sancho Panzas from 1970.
“I hunt around the world for rare, limited-edition cigars. I’ve got connections in Cuba, California, Gran Cayman… Everything comes to me exclusive,” he says, in his heavy Italian accent.
Cigars apparently have vintages in the same way as wines and spirits, and like them have a realistic life of up to 70 years. The oldest in Ruo’s collection is La Flor de Morales crop of 1918, yours for just ?100 each, but his pride and joy is the Trinidad Diplomatico. “These come straight from Fidel Castro and were made as gifts to official visitors. In 1994 30 boxes came on to the open market and we managed to get one. They are the best in the collection if you are talking about Cuban history. I’ve got 12 left at ?500 a stick.”
One of those and a 1786 cognac and you are talking about ?2,500. “Yes, but I wouldn’t recommend Trinidad Diplomatico with a 1786 because the flavour and taste of the 1786 is too robust for the gentle, light smoke of the Trinidad.” He’d go instead for a single malt, the Macallan 1953 at ?600, whose mild, sweet finish echoes the cigar. “But this is not a cigar for beginners, you understand. You need a technique to smoke it because it is long and thin. If you smoke it too fast, it becomes too hot and sour. You need to take a couple of puffs, let it rest, relight it, take your time… To be honest it is not a very good cigar for me either, as I am a very strong smoker. I always take double puff.”
For a lightweight like me (financial and bronchial), he’d recommend an Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No 2 (?18.50) and 25-year-old Talisker at ?50 a shot. “Lighting a cigar and taking a couple of puffs is very simple. What is more difficult is to understand how the flavour can develop in your mouth, how your knowledge can grow. It’s not easy, but the more you smoke, the more you feel it.”
Most nights, he says, there will be someone smoking at every table. “Customers sometimes say to me, ‘Tonight Giuseppe, when I go to bed I won’t brush my teeth.’ Me, I couldn’t get away with that. My wife would make me sleep outside.”
The Government won’t let him get away with it either, quite soon. Next July sees the introduction of the much-vaunted smoking ban. Does it not worry him? Will we be treated to the sight of his wealthy guests huddled up outside the hotel entrance, pulling desperately on their Cohibas?
“Cigar-smoking is a pleasure and you must be in the right environment to enjoy it. Let’s just say we are working on finding a very special place for them,” he says with a smile.
Source: Times Online