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Simon meets an old acquaintance on the Boundary Rooftop

The other day I took the lift to the fifth floor of Terence and Vicki Conran’s new hotel, restaurant and café complex in Shoreditch called the Boundary. (www.theboundary.co.uk)

Emerging into the open air and surrounded by a commanding view of the City’s skyline – Gherkin and all – I went in search of an old acquaintance.

My quarry was not of the human kind, instead it was a remarkable cigar humidor known as the “Pachyderm”, which, as I am sure you all know but may have forgotten, means “a loose-skinned animal”.

I found it just around the corner positioned between the bar’s till and a monumental caste iron fireplace containing two hearths that cleverly radiate their warmth in two directions onto deep sofas.

The Pachyderm is modeled on the bow of a ship, which is appropriate enough as it has just been sheltered under an awning known as a “sail” that also stretches over the full length of a 48-seater restaurant.

However, it is a ship on wheels!

The man to explain its meaning is the Cuban artisan and designer José Ernesto Aguilera, who created it for a charity auction held in March 2007 in Havana to raise funds for the Cuban Health Service.

As the auctioneer on that occasion, I was able to consult him. José revealed that his goal was to capture the essence of Alexandre Dumas’ novel of revenge, romance and derring-do: “The Count of Montecristo”. Dumas’ hero, Edmund Dantes, started out as a sailor – hence the ship’s bow, and then journeyed through life seeking revenge – hence the wheels.

None of this, however, explained the strange half elephant, half dinosaur creature – the Pachyderm itself – that stands atop the ship’s doghouse. Try as I might, I failed to elicit its significance to Dumas’ story, Havana cigars or anything else. Nevertheless it crowns the piece and, from the very start, lent its name to the whole contraption.

How did the Pachyderm find its way from Havana to Shoreditch?

Well, in 2007 Terence and Vicki Conran attended the week-long Festival del Habano, which culminated on 2nd March with the Gala Dinner at which the charity auction took place.

The Pachyderm, filled at that time with 250 specially made Montecristo cigars, had pride of place in the catalogue because the whole evening was dedicated to Montecristo.

Cigars apart, the sheer ebullience of Aguilera’s work caught Terence’s eye and he bought it. The price was generous and the cause worthwhile.

The Pachyderm’s journey from the Gala Dinner to the Boundary Rooftop took two years and now it stands as the centre piece in what has fast become East London’s premier cigar destination.

I wandered amongst the potted olive trees and shrubs that give the Rooftop the feel of a Mediterranean patio.

The open-air, seating-only bar has room for 50 in ample garden armchairs. I picked one and ordered a well-priced Montecristo Petit Edmundo in a tube (£13) with an espresso.

As I had arrived before the midday opening time and the weather conditions were warm and breezy, but with a distinct threat of a heavy shower, I was the sole customer for a time.

One of the waitresses told me that on a fine day, particularly at the weekend, the Rooftop throngs with customers. You cannot book a table, so eager customers have been known to queue patiently for up to two hours before being permitted to take the lift to the fifth floor.

The restaurant has a short, but well-balanced menu, which for three courses without wine will set you back around £40 including service – more if you indulge in one of Conran’s signature, large crustaceans. There is a decent selection of wines within the £20 to £30 bracket.

The cigar list comprises seven Cubans mostly in tubes ranging from an H. Upmann Corona Junior at £6.80 to a Cohiba Siglo VI for £32.50 and including, of course, the Patron’s favourite Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2 at £14.50.
I must give you one word of warning though. When you light up a cigar, you will be given a monogrammed, earthenware ashtray with water in it. “Why the water,” I asked? “To stop the ash blowing all over the place”, explained the waitress. It was a good answer as the breeze soon demonstrated with the ash from my Petit Edmundo after I had poured away the water and dried the ashtray. It’s a good solution for cigarette smokers, but a lot less appealing if you have just torched up a Siglo VI only to give it a good drenching by mistake.

The Boundary Rooftop is special. London’s cigar enthusiasts owe Terence and Vicki Conran, and their partner Peter Prescott, a huge vote of thanks for providing us with such a splendid refuge from the idiocy of the smoking laws.

If you have already been there, please give me your views. If you haven’t, get on up there. The Pachyderm awaits you.

The Boundary is at 2-4 Boundary Street, Shoreditch, London E2 7JE. Tel: +44 (0)20 7729 1051. Website: www.theboundary.co.uk.

The Rooftop is open 7 days a week from midday until around 9pm.

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