Cigar and champagne masterclass at Ten Manchester Street

31 Dec 2009 by Tom Otley

As 2009 draws to an end, many of us need something to look forward to in 2010. A diet consisting of turkey leftovers and the chocolates no one else would eat, hardly inspires, and the first business travel trip is still more than a week away. It’s a good time, therefore, to plan some treats for the coming year, and if you enjoy a cigar, the new masterclasses planned throughout 2010 at the new cigar terrace at boutique hotel Ten Manchester Street, might well fit the bill.

Since the smoking ban came into force in the UK in 2007, public areas in hotels and restaurants have become “smoke free”. What this means is that under the Health Act 2006, anyone caught smoking in enclosed areas such as these can be issued with a fixed penalty notice of £50 (discounted to £30 if paid within 15 days from the issue of a notice) or a maximum fine on conviction of up to £200. In addition, the premises themselves can be fined.

While this has been done in the interests of public health, it still means that those who smoke are now to be found huddled outside the doorways of restaurants and bars in all weather, and cigar smokers have been particularly badly hit, since a good cigar might take an hour to smoke, by which time they may well be soaked or half-frozen, depending on the British weather that day.

Coming to the rescue are “comfortable outdoor smoking areas”, or COSAs for short. Hunters and Frankau, “importers and distributors of the finest cigars”, has a useful UK regional directory of COSAs, which can also be viewed at cigars.co.uk. As suppliers of cigars to the trade (restaurants and retail shops) they obviously have an interest in making the consumption of their products as enjoyable as possible. As it says on the front cover of the directory, quoting King Edward VII, “Gentlemen, you may smoke”. So one evening in December, I attended the first of the masterclasses.

Ten Manchester Street is an unobtrusive boutique hotel in London’s Marylebone. The 45-room property opened in October 2009 and has a cigar terrace in the courtyard at the back, warmed by gas-fired heaters, covered to avoid the weather, but open at either end to comply with the new strict smoking laws. There are comfortable chairs, magazines and low tables, and a short corridor back to reception contains hundreds of cigars in a custom-made Hunters and Frankau humidor consisting of several glass cabinets containing a selection of Cohiba, Montecristo and Romeo y Julieta brands.

Our evening began on a serious note, as the requirements of the law had to be dealt with. Simon Chase, formerly a director of Hunters and Frankau, handed out a form for us to sign saying that we had requested information about tobacco products, and could vouch for the fact that we were over 18 and of sound mind. That necessary formality out of the way, the cigar chat could begin.

Hunters and Frankau don’t sell cigars to the public, supplying the trade instead, but they do design their own cigars specifically to the requirements of the UK market, and our smoke that evening was one of these. There are 27 brands from Cuba, Simon told us, and Hunters and Frankau generally takes a lesser-known one and selects the size (the ring gauge and length of the cigar) and the blend, to create something suitable for the market. This specific cigar was designed with the smoking ban in mind, the idea being that it is a pre-dinner smoke with a lighter flavor and a shorter smoking time (given the shorter length), hence it’s name – Choix de L’Epoque (Choice of the Age) by El Rey del Mundo.

As we were shown how to snip off one end and light the other, Simon told us that the five leaves in the cigar are from different harvests, which have been aged and matured for differing lengths of time for the blend. He explained that it is conventional wisdom that cigars – if properly stored – will improve for up to 15 years and, in the first couple, may well go through a “sick period” as moisture is added and a little ammonia is let off, before then entering a maturation period. There’s also the possibility that in the early stage there can be an almost complete loss of flavor, which must make buying an expensive box quite a nerve-wracking experience.

There was a discussion of the etiquette of bands – whether they ought to be removed or not. Simon certainly said that in the past, it was considered polite to do so, since the band identifies the cigar and taking it off removed any embarrassment over someone demonstrating they could afford a cigar that their companion could not. We also learned that a cigar gets stronger as you smoke it because the leaves have been laid down so that the delicate tips are at the lit end, and as the leaf burns down to the wider part, it becomes more flavoursome. (Just another reason why the hand-rolling method of Cuba pays dividends.)

Since this was Ten Manchester Street’s luxury “cigar and champagne evening”, we were also given a quick talk by a representative of Duval Leroy champagne, while sipping a flute of the 1996 vintage (alas, almost all consumed, so future connoisseurs will be offered the 1999). Champagne houses are very keen to emphasise that bubbly is not just for pre-dinner celebrations, but can also be matched with all types of food, but on the evidence of this evening, champagne (or at least this champagne) works well with a cigar, cleansing the palate between smokes, without competing with the taste of the cigar.

The evening finished all too soon but, thankfully, there are similar events planned throughout 2010, a treat to look forward to in the New Year. There are ten dates scheduled at Ten Manchester Street – Jan 18, Feb 8, March 15, April 20, May 24, June 21, July 19, Sept 27, October 25 and November 22 – and on each occasion Hunters and Frankau will select a particular Havana to partner a particular drink.

To find out more, Hunters and Frankau have a Cigar Smokers Club at cigars.co.uk with a huge amount of information about cigars including the UK Regional Editions like the Choix de L’Epoque, regular news items, interactive blogs and information about events.

Prices: The cost of the cigar and champagne masterclass at Ten Manchester Street is £25 per person and includes a talk from Hunters and Frankau, free-flowing champagne from 6.30pm-7.30pm and a cigar.

To book, contact Suzy O’Donnell, general manager of Ten Manchester Street on +44 (0)870 111 1627, or visit tenmanchesterstreethotel.com.

Room rates at Ten Manchester Street in January started from £199 for a Superior Double, £249 for a Deluxe Double (with terrace), £299 for an Executive Double, £349 for a Junior suite and £539 for a Grand suite.

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