I am not, by nature, a gambler. I like to be confident of the exchange rate I'm getting - for example, £5 = one glass of wine - rather than not knowing exactly what (if anything) I might get back, so whilst I can see the excitement one might get from doubling, trebling or quadrupling (or more) one's money, it's a risk I am very rarely prepared to take. Thus I am not a frequent visitor to casinos - which is a shame, as the Vega Lounge that sits in the heart of the Great Northern's Manchester 235 is actually a pretty nice place to spend a couple of hours, with lovely staff, a very well-stocked bar and a spanking brand new cocktail menu that has been designed with some thought for doing things a little bit differently.
Last week I was allowed behind that very well-stocked bar (which is, admittedly, perhaps a little less well-stocked now than before) as part of a masterclass designed to showcase some of the new drinks on the cocktail menu. Our affable (and very patient) host for the night was the lovely Filip, who bravely permitted us to come behind the bar one by one and have a go at whipping up a cocktail or two - the first few were chosen by Filip to demonstrate the range of interesting ingredients and flavour combinations on the menu, and included Twinkle Star, a dazzling concoction of gold dust, Smirnoff Vodka, elderflower cordial and orange bitters topped up with Prosecco. I enjoyed this cocktail which, unusually, actually allows the taste of the vodka to come through alongside all the other ingredients - Filip explained that the elderflower works to enhance the flavour of the spirit (plus, this drink looks VERY pretty with all its sparkle). A couple of the other opening cocktails - the Melon Gumtini and the Miss Vega, pictured above along with newly expert mixologist Louise - were a little on the sweet side for me, but you really can't fault the care and attention to detail in the presentation here (bravo, James from Rate a Restaurant).
My turn then, and I chose to make a Mojito. Filip suggested the X-Pear, and was right to do so - this was one of the best and most unusual Mojitos I've had in a long time, not because I made it but thanks to the addition of Xante pear liqueur. I'm not usually a big fan of adulterated Mojitos, but would definitely order this one again (I'll let an expert make it next time though). I got to make a Smokey Old Fashioned later in the evening as well, which involved grappling with an expanse of black rubber hosing as we tried to get the smoking gun to work (not pictured here for your own peace of mind) - alas, it was not to be, but the Old Fashioned was still my favourite drink of the evening (but then, it's probably my favourite drink of all time).
Other drinks made on the night included a very good Pornstar Martini made by Miss Pond, a pleasingly tangy Southern Bee (which was nowhere near as sweet as I thought it would be), a Toffee Apple (Smirnoff Apple Vodka, lemon and apple
juice, shaken together with caramel syrup - I would order this again), some excellent Strawberry Daiquiris and a couple of rich, dessert-style cocktails. The first of these, the Lemon Cheesecake, was a marvellously extravagant, over-the-top affair - Limoncello, Ketel One Citroen Vodka, Licor 43, lemon curd and mascarpone cheese, shaken and served in a saucer glass rimmed with biscuits and garnished with cake; the second, the Tiramisu, looked pretty fantastic too (although I didn't try this one as I dislike coffee and, as you can see, it was made by Simon Binns). We were also provided with some real, non-liquid food throughout the evening - the fish goujons you see here were particularly good.
All in all, a very enjoyable evening with some excellent cocktails and lovely hospitality. I can't say that Vega will become a regular haunt for me, purely thanks to my non-gambling proclivities, but I do like the leather booths and the slightly seedy atmosphere that comes from being slap bang in the middle of a casino (in a good way - think dim, flattering light; beautiful ladies perched elegantly on bar stools etc etc). And I must admit, I did eye up the blackjack tables on the way out, so maybe a Sharon Stone-inspired evening might be on the cards after all...
- Vega Lounge is part of Manchester 235 and can be found at Great Northern, 2 Watson Street, Manchester M3 4LP.