An Evening of Fine Wine, Dining
and Conjuring with John van der Put
Reviewed by Jez Rose
It's a real treat to witness faces of disbelief, utter astonishment and pure joy, the accompanied gasps, shrieks, rapturous applause, whistles and uncontrollable grins accompany the hubbub of praise and "how did he do that?" long after the Magi has left the table. Put these people into a gregarious and accessibly opulent venue such as Brown's on St. Martin's Lane, add sensational food and wine and pop in two of the finest magicians I've ever had the delight to watch and you have An Evening of Fine Wine, Dining and Conjuring spookily enough at Brown's in St. Martin's Lane. This is parlour magic for the masses; no pretentious black tie or stately title required, just a desire to
It sounded promising from the advert: £35 (note to reader: I believe the price is now £40 - but don't let that put you off, I'd pay more, frankly) for a three course meal, fine wine, coffee, entertainment at your table followed by an intimate after-dinner cabaret. The food is sensational - I'm fortunate enough to eat in some wonderful restaurants around the world, many awarded Michelin stars and the dining part certainly doesn't disappoint: delicious pate, mini French stick, onion chutney and a fresh, dressed crispy salad, accompanied by white wine from Eastern Australia. The second course was a succulent cut of steak in a creamy peppercorn sauce on brioche accompanied by grilled vine tomatoes and dauphinoise potatoes with, of course, a red wine from Western Australia. Fresh water is on hand throughout and the Sommelier is freely available for you to ask questions about the wine and to request more! The wine flows if you want it to and don't let the advertised line of "wine tasting" put you off - this is more sip at your own pace and as much as you can rather than swish and spit. The final course before coffee was a wonderfully light and zesty lemon cheesecake dusted, much to the delight of the woman sat opposite me, with icing sugar.
For a review such as this the next part is course the most important. The conjuring. I've been fortunate to work with many magicians on my travels, some poor, some excellent and some indifferent. John van der Put is of the excellent variety. His dry wit but instantly likable persona and warming charm means he is easily accessible to all and I'd rank him easily as one of the finest magicians in the country, if not the world. To qualify that, I have never been so shocked that I've spat out a mouth full of water before but last night was that night. If the woman sat opposite me is reading this, again, many apologies. And John - I do hope you didn't get too wet. He managed to find time to visit each of the tables (approximately 8 tables each with 10 people) twice; the first set wasn't anything sensational from a magical point of view (magicians never being impressed unless there are at least fifteen sleights involved in turning the card over) but these normal people sat around me who were perfectly in control of anything in their mouth, lapped up every second of John and his perfectly executed conjuring. And they went on and on and on about it when he'd left. But the second visit was, for me and indeed for everyone watching, truly magical in every sense of the word. John van der Put performs his own take on the Reparation (the visual restoration of a playing card). It is performed with such understated perfection and is by far one of the most magical things I, and the now slightly damp people surrounding me, have ever witnessed.
The after-dinner cabaret was a great finish to the evening and the collection of effects married perfectly. A surprise (it wasn't advertised) appearance from Richard Pinner (yes, the Richard Pinner) provided a highly entertaining and excellently magical interlude between Piff the Magic Dragon (this is Jack Dee in fancy dress with cards - perfect!) and John's own company standnotamazed finale which is the simplest, most elegant and perfect performance of the zig-zag and works brilliantly! The audience loved it (clearly, as it ended with wolf-whistling, screaming, clapping, cheers and a very excitable audience who had enjoyed themselves very much indeed and weren't afraid to show it!).
The only bad thing to say about the evening was that the microphone needed a little attention as it wasn't particularly clear (Richard Pinner proved that actually it wasn't needed) and the lighting worked brilliantly well for the meal and close-up (dim and a nice calm setting) but needed to be brighter for the cabaret as some of the visuals were lost. And that's it. How often do you go out and really have to pick to find something negative?
If you want a great night out, get yourself along to one of the monthly Evenings of Fine Wine, Dining and Conjuring. I very much hope this becomes a regular event because more than anything I've seen in a very long time, this proves that excellent magic is still very much alive. Hats off to the guys at Brown's for bagging John and Richard; I hope they realise what a great thing they've got there.
© Jez Rose, October 2008