Annabelle finds a little bit of Eden in Clerkenwell where the spritz runs free for the rest of the summer.
During the summer heatwave, I was seriously contemplating locking myself in to a walk-in freezer compartment.
So, I didn’t hesitate when the invitation to a cool midsummer ‘secret garden' party by botanical tonic water brand Fentimans wafted into my inbox.
Finding the venue was not such an easy feat. I suppose that’s the nature of a ‘secret garden.’
I asked no fewer than three passers-by in Clerkenwell if they knew where it was. They didn’t. (I’d already tried and failed to find a popup secret garden in the nearby Church of Saint John churchyard just around the corner, much to the amusement and bemusement of those sitting on benches, watching me peeking behind headstones in search of a "secret popup bar somewhere around here…”).
A wrongly keyed map and a crazily secret garden only exacerbated my anticipation and, by-now, murderous thirst.
By the time I’d found Fentimans' Secret Spritz Garden and my 'English rose' friend within it (concealed beyond a whimsical chair-swing festooned with flowers and an herbaceous courtyard) she was on to her second Spritz (“I love the Rose one best, here’s the Valencian Orange one for you to try.”
The glass had the tell-tale tried-and-tested trace of her lipstick on it, but I was too hot and parched to care. Its orange slices and ice cubes clinked with the sound of summer.
It had that unmistakable tang of citrus bitters loved by the grownups during my childhood holidays in Provence, so much that I was transported there for a sip or two... (A look at the menu revealed a dash of Lillet Blanc and 125ml of Fentimans Valencian Orange Tonic Water to be the bitterness bestowers).
A jaunty trio of jazz musicians stood twanging in the shadow of the imposing St John Priory Church’s stone facade; a surprising venue for an alcoholic drinks popup if ever there was one. Once again, I suppose that’s the nature of a 'secret garden'.
I breathed all the enchantment in, watching a waitress twirling around the flower-filled churchyard in a floaty floral dress, holding a tray of Rhubarb Spritzes out to the thirsty throng.
This cocktail held the most promise (rhubarb, my favourite!) but sadly tasted the blandest as the bitterness of Martini Bianco thwarted the subtlety of the fruit. For me, rhubarb needs to screech ‘rhubarb’ or what’s the point? You either love or hate it, and if the latter, presumably you don’t order it.
And if you do, there’s little point masking its distinctive, delicate deliciousness. For that reason, I’d have replaced the Martini with a slosh of aromatic rhubarb gin for added verve).
An excited murmur of voices and laughter rising between lavender pots, lemon trees and rose-garlanded arbours led us further towards the bar hidden within the courtyard’s cloister.
Here the barman proudly told me he worked at The Langham, presumably with cocktail expert Dino Koletsas who created this month’s popup Fentimans Spritz menu
Only five were available for us to try on the night, which was slightly disappointing as I’d never tried Fentimans’ Yuzu tonic water.
I skipped away from the bar, triumphantly holding my first Pimms of the summer (“a Pimms with a twist”! the barman called after me, I realised later because it contains Fentimans refreshing Elderflower and Rose Tonic water).
Several trays of sparkling, clinking glasses filled with refreshing Fentimans botanical infusions swooped past our table in the midst of the garlanded garden that evening.
My favourite Spritz turned out to be the Rose Spritz too (don’t worry, in the name of research I tried each cocktail, including the punchy and quickly jettisoned Grapefruit Spritz), largely because of its bubbelicious Prosecco.
This gave the star of the show space to deliver: Fentimans’ divine Rose Lemonade, which has always been my favourite Fentimans drink (I’m also a fan of its good old-fashioned Victorian Lemonade).
I’ve checked, and at the time of writing there are still places left on the Secret Spritz Garden's aromatic expert workshops this month showing would-be herbalists how to concoct your own natural perfume, as well as "herbal cocktail" masterclasses.
“Oof, bad hangover today" my English rose friend texted me the next morning. Curious – I’d had a sensational sugar rush yes, but no hangover – I mean how can you get a hangover on spritzers?
Surely their low-alcohol lightness and hydration is their point? Must have been the large glass of wine she’d had in the pub across the road while I was hunting for this oh-so secret garden.
Open till 29th August
Wednesdays – Saturdays
(including Bank Holiday Sunday 25th)
Opening times: 5-11pm Weekdays
12-11pm Saturdays & Bank Holiday Sunday