The Distillery, Notting Hill, London: hotel review
I first went to the Ginstitute in 2012. Back then, it was a tiny room above a pub on Portobello Road, west London, where a handful of people could squeeze in to gen up on gin. After decades in vodka’s shadow, gin was finally starting to come back into fashion. This diminutive drinking den was run by four evangelical ex-bartenders who were flogging their new London dry, named after the road on which it was distilled.
Fast-forward five years, and gin is massive – and so is the Ginstitute. In December, it moved a few doors down into a gorgeous new four-storey gin palace, the Distillery. Tasting and distilling now take place in the basement; there is a sleek cocktail bar, the Resting Room, on the ground floor; a bright G&T emporium, GinTonica, above; and three bedrooms at the top. It is London’s first gin hotel, and I couldn’t wait to check in.
My friend and I went straight to the three-hour Ginstitute Experience, a gallop through the long history of gin. We were led into a cosy wood-panelled room lined with collectors’ gin bottles and first-edition cocktail books, and handed a tom collins (gin, lemon, sugar). At £110, this experience isn’t cheap, but the “Ginstructor” doesn’t stint on drinks: two cocktails, two G&Ts, numerous tastings, a bottle of Portobello Road gin to take away and, best of all, the chance to blend your own.
We started with a base gin containing four essential botanicals. Then, after tasting lots of single-flavour distillates, from Yorkshire Gold tea to asparagus, we each picked up to six varieties to make a bespoke gin. After some exhaustive tasting to choose the perfect botanicals (I plumped for pink peppercorn, bitter orange and lavender), and samples of everyone else’s creations, I was glad I didn’t have far to go for a lie down …Twist in the ‘tail … G’Vine Nouaison gin, Floc de Gascogne vin de liqueur and plum bitters served with tonic and garnish
Checking into our hotel room was more like crashing at a cool friend’s flat: high ceilings; mid-century modern furniture; a Rough Trade-curated vinyl collection including Bowie, the Smiths and the Stones; coffee-table books on Annie Leibovitz and Alexander McQueen. There were old-fashioned cocktail prints on the wall, and a huge vase of dusky pink roses and inky tulips. The beautiful bathroom tiles, powerful shower and Neal’s Yard smellies almost made up for the lack of a bath.
In-room provisions included another bottle of gin each – taking our tally to a healthy six bottles – and a mini bar stocked with freshly made cocktails: more tom collins, negroni (my favourite) and martini. The mirrored antique drinks cabinet held the correct glasses for each drink; ice was delivered to the door.
After a rest and some much-needed fresh air, we staggered down to dinner. The Resting Room serves British dishes such as ox tongue, wood pigeon or venison (small plates £6-£11, sharers £18-£28). It was tempting, but we opted for GinTonica instead, which has a Basque-inspired tapas menu (£3-£15) alongside a list of 100 gins, served in enormous copa de balon glasses. I loved the Cantabrian anchovies, grilled prawns, braised pig cheeks and pan con lardo (pig fat on toast) – well, we had to soak up all that gin somehow. My memories of the pecan parfait are a little hazy, but I’m pretty sure it was delicious.
Breakfast will be served in the Resting Room when the guestrooms officially open on 23 January, from healthy options (five-grain porridge with caramelised figs) to bacon butties.
After collapsing into bed in a gin-fuelled fug, I awoke to the blare of a saxophonist busking outside the window, and hordes browsing Portobello Road market. This is Hogarth’s Gin Lane, 2017 – and while it might look more civilised, it’s just as likely to leave you with a hangover. There was only one solution: hair of the dog. Mine’s a red snapper, AKA a bloody mary with – what else? — gin. Cheers!• The Ginstitute Experience, dinner and accommodation were provided by the Distillery (020-3034 2233, the-distillery.london); doubles £150 B&B, including two bottles of gin and three cocktails for twoBreakfast at the Tin Shed
Hannah Sharman-Cox, founder of DrinkUp.London and Portobello resident
• EatI love Tin Shed, a little French bakery tucked off All Saints Road. Its breakfast is particularly delicious and there’s a hidden terrace downstairs which is a suntrap in the summer.
• ShopOn Goldborne Road is Lali Shop, a boutique filled with beautiful things. There are clothes, hats, jewellery and a few pieces of homeware – it’s an inspiring place.
• DrinkI’ve been drinking at Crazy Homies for as long as I’ve lived here (15 years) and met so many friends just sitting at the tiny bar. The Mexican food is great too.