You know when you jokingly make up your perfect job title? Like Biscuit Inspector or Kitten Snuggler.
Well last Thursday night I was offered the chance to be a genuine, bonafide Cocktail Taster and you just know they’ve got the right girl for the job. I was transported down to local wedding venue Middleton Lodge, near Richmond in North Yorkshire, to sample the creations of newly hired Head Mixologist, David Ball, and help decide which ones end up on the final menu when their new boutique hotel, bar and restaurant, The Coach House, opens in the grounds in October.

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The courtyard is currently still mostly a building site but once the construction equipment moves out the venue they leave behind is going to be something special. Eventually there will be nine individually designed en-suite bedrooms, overlooking the old paddock and croquet pitch, but this particular evening we’re there to test out the bar, or what ‘bar’ currently exists. The room we were hosted in is already a wonderful space. The team behind Middleton Lodge have kept the interiors very pared back and let the original character of the old stable block create the mood. Soft slate tiles underfoot and exposed pale sandstone and brick walls leading the eye up to the solid wooden rafters above. Opposite what will be the new bar area rows of large French doors stop the ‘snug’ from feeling too, well… snug. For this soirée though every available surface has been scattered with candles and tea lights, giving the nearly-there location an intimate feel as dusk draws in outside. It does however make for some pretty grainy photos. Apologies for that. But I’m pleased to report The Coach House have their priorities right and, though it may not be quite finished being built yet, the ‘bar’ already boasted an impressive selection of booze, bottles glittering the candlelight, all lined up, ready for tasting. Luckily Lauren Archer and I had come straight from work, meaning we were extremely thirsty and happy to oblige.

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By way of introduction David breaks out his chemistry kit; conical flasks and measuring beakers galore, which he used to turn a 50ml syringe full of Chambord liqueur into solid little alcoholic pearls. He then sprinkled a spoonful of the soft ‘caviar’ into prosecco and handed the glasses around our small group. The carbonated bubbles in the fizz mean that the Chambord beads dance around your glass but when you take sip the two ingredients combine creating the taste of a classic Kir Royale. It’s a beautiful and simple creation which I’m learning is the order of the day here at The Coach House. Indeed, talking to both David and his new boss, James Allison, you get a real feel for the what kind of a venue this will be. Both James’ family home, Middleton lodge, and his new venture have kept the luxe to a minimum and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Nothing here is over the top or showy, but rather a masterpiece of quiet quality. I’m told that both the bar and the restaurant will be opening with an initially limited menu that will echo this ethos. James and his new head chef Gareth Rayner plan to keep the focus on good flavours and local ingredients with plans to change it seasonally.

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For his next trick David uses his own homemade citrus bitters to create his delicious take on the classic Cosmopolitan, shortly followed by my personal favourite; the Bramble. Layers of subtle flavour – mint, cucumber, Chambord and Botanist gin – compliment each other perfectly. This is my idea of the perfect drink. As I’m sipping this he’s already demonstrating the next drink, something containing honeyed bourbon and a fresh cherry, and then the next; a surprising concoction involving gin and Tabasco. Each one is better than the last. The cosy atmosphere and delicious cocktails make guests feel at ease, as I’ve no doubt they will once the bar is officially open too.

With this warmth evident at every turn it’s easy to see that for James this isn’t just a business venture in the coldest meaning of the word. He grew up in the main house and now feels passionate about restoring and renovating the estate’s other buildings to make a go of things independently of the Lodge’s wedding hosting success. He plans to create a relaxed home-from-home retreat. Somewhere people will come to cosy up by the fire, to read a book and stay a while, or to share a bottle of wine, enjoy a meal and never want to leave. Certainly, from what I saw the House shows plenty of promise and I’ve already packed my bags in anticipation. Just for another Bramble if nothing else.

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The Coach House is now taking dining and room bookings, dates for both are available from the beginning of October. To make an enquiry or a booking visit the Middleton Lodge site here.
Disclaimer time. This exclusive evening, the chatter, the nibbles and, most importantly, the drinks were of course complimentary so thanks to James, David, Rowena and everyone else involved for a warm welcome and a charming evening. Regardless of who didn’t pay for what this pre-launch review is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. As stated before, there just isn’t enough time in the day to waste my life writing lies about mediocrity.

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