Artigiano is a mini-chain, cafe/bar hybrid on Broadstreet which, I’m relieved to say, is nowhere near as ghastly as that makes it sound. I ventured in when it first opened and, while there was nothing particularly wrong with the place, there was nothing which filled me with a burning desire to hang out and have a drink on Reading’s main shopping drag either. 18 months later, and what better excuse to see how the place has managed without me than the announcement of a gin festival.
Not unpromising. What appears to be the 7 regular gins may not be overly imaginative but it is a credible range of traditional and modern classics from which most people could find something they wouldn’t mind throwing a bit of Fever Tree over.
And added to this we have the festival line up which may lack deptch, but does contain a couple of gins I’m not overly familiar with and, unless I’ve missed something, you’ll not find in your local supermarket branch.
Tarquin’s Gin – I’ve given my brief view in my Gin Festival 2016 – The Packhorse, Mapledurham post and I thought the Bohemian Mule would suit it well, but tonight was not for such fripparies. I had new gins to sample!
Hawthorn’s Gin (41%) – This is one which looked familiar, but that may just be the generic bottle design. It’s a well balanced gin which their website reveals is inspired by a Naval ancestor and the oxymoronic “four corners of the globe” which he visited. They keep their 10 botanicals close to their chest only revealing “nutmeg grown in Sri Lanka and Indonesian Cassia Bark”, but I think we’re safe in adding coriander and juniper to that list. It firmly falls under the ‘modern take on traditional gin’ banner with good citrus flavour and satisfactory juniper backbone making it ideal for a refreshing G’n’T.
At its launch the distillers made it clear they wanted to be on every supermarket shelf claiming “…nobody is producing a gin that comes close to the quality of Hawthorn’s for the same price,” (Jamie Taylor, 180East) and, having tasted it and seen the RRP, this may not just be an empty boast, although it did make me question why I was paying £4.75 for a shot of it.
Salcombe Gin – This was the other newbie for me. From Devon, it has solid small batch credentials, being crafted in a traditional still with a humble 65 bottle capacity. Surprisingly, for its 44% strength, its taste also has much to be humble about: softly spoken and overly polite, it wears its juniper as lightly as it does its other 12 botanicals, but this lightness of touch remains balanced. Spend a bit of time with it and its charms are slowly revealed, although it’s subtle flavour means I wouldn’t recommend adding anything with more flavour than a cube or two of ice.
G’Vine Floraison (40%) – This was the other gin I wanted to drink tonight, as I’ve been enthusiastically exploring their Noraison at home and was keen to compare. The nose on this really is lovely: Floral and fruity, you could just sit and slowly inhale all evening; after 10 minutes or so that started to weird out my companions so I thought I’d better give it a taste. Nice and silky with a soapy mintiness, which may imply cardomom is quite high up in the mix here, but that is all a little overwhelmed by a strong, fruit tang, like a ripe banana. This is all a bit overpowering when neat, however there’s plenty of character underneath which is able to get on more of an equal footing in a G’n’T: this gin’s true calling. Given the option I’m happy to stick with its sibling, which shares many characteristics but ultimately offers a darker, spicier experience.
Artigiano seems to have attracted a relaxed crowd who were enthusiastically lining up for the gin cocktails. They enjoy a bit of live music here and tonight was no exception. This can make group conversations difficult, but there is a large area upstairs if you want to get away from it a bit, although maybe bring a torch as their business model clearly includes spending as little as possible on lighting in this area.
The decor is still a bit too new for the post-hipster, coffee shop look it’s been landed with; lots of bare wood and subdued lighting which, with a bit of wear and tear, could, if the venue survives and they resist the urge to refit every couple of years, start to feel less try-hard and more relaxed.
The staff were a real plus: They beavered away keeping the crowd supplied with pizza, cocktails and other drinks in an efficient manner, often missing in such places. They even served every drink to my specifications and responded swiftly and cheerily to my periodic requests to add something to it 5 minutes later; I could barely discern the gritted teeth behind the smiles.
So overall an evening well spent in a relaxed environment and in the company of some pleasant gins and a selection of members of The Reading Out and About Meetup Group, who seem to start the ‘weekend’ here pretty much every Thursday; check them out if you fancy broadening your social horizons with a friendly and welcoming bunch.
I suspect this will never be a frequent haunt for me but, while it doesn’t offer the cheapest drinks in town, I’ll be more than happy to pop in when passing to enjoy a drink or two and check out if there’s anything new on the menu. If you’ve not been it’s certainly worth seeing if it’s your bag or not and, if you have, then you’ll probably already know the answer to that question.