Thursday, 21 June 2012

Kocktails for Kettner's Kabaret

Left to right, Green Fairy, Herr Collins, Perfectly Marvellous and Wilkommen

Tomorrow sees a special event in London, a collaboration between myself and Kettner’s, a long-established restaurant in Soho. This establishment dates back to 1867 and in its time has been a favourite haunt of Oscar Wilde, Bing Crosby and Agatha Christie. It was also where Edward VII used to come for assignations with Lillie Langtry—allegedly there is still a secret tunnel from the Palace Theatre next door where she was performing!

In those days restaurants did a lot more private dining and Kettner’s has two floors of rather sumptuous rooms: for this occasion we are taking over the whole lot of them and putting on a 1920s-themed event, with different things going on in different rooms. Like the Candlelight Club there will be a live band and DJ playing period jazz, plus complimentary swing dance lessons, but in another room there will also be a bill of cabaret acts, plus a vintage photo studio in another room and an absinthe bar in yet another, dispensing samples from the house of Pernod. We also have Oli Hambling, a genius at close-up magic, drifting through the venue amazing and delighting all. And because Kettner’s is, of course, a restaurant, there is also a fine dining option, with a special Germanic five-course menu plus exclusive cabaret performances for diners.

Joel Grey in Bob Fosse's 1972 film version of Cabaret
In keeping with the cabaret element, we’re giving the whole thing a Weimar Berlin theme and calling it Herr Kettner’s Kabaret. Wilkommen, bienvenue, welcome…

Of course there will be cocktails too, devised by Brendan, Kettner’s bar manager. I’ve got hold of the recipes, so I thought I would try them out at home and see what we can expect tomorrow. (I only have a list of ingredients and proportions so in terms of the actual presentation, I’m just guessing!)

15ml St Germain elderflower liqueur
5ml Funkin raspberry purée
110ml Prosecco

I didn’t have any of the Funkin purée to hand so I just puréed some raspberries (which is why it looks a bit bitty in the photo). This is a delicately balanced drink, with the elderflower and raspberry flavours clear but subtle, and they complement each other perfectly, lending the Prosecco backdrop both a floral layer and a tangy fruit layer, without adding a cloying sweetness. In fact, coming back to this drink from the others I was struck by the earthiness of the combination. If I had to choose a favourite from this collection it would probably be this one—and I believe that this is the welcome cocktail that everyone gets free on arrival, so that is just as well.

Come and unleash your inner Dietrich
Perfectly Marvellous
35ml Plymouth gin
15ml Crème de fraise de bois
50ml passion fruit juice
25ml grapefruit juice

Like the last one, this is named after a song in Cabaret. And it also presents another unexpected pairing, with the intense florality of the passion fruit juice cut through by the bitterness of the grapefruit, plus the buzz of strawberry fruit. In fact it’s striking how much passion fruit and strawberry have in common—once the idea is put into your head you can almost smell strawberries before you add any of the liqueur to the passion fruit juice. The gin itself takes a back seat, providing the engine rather than asserting its character. Again, it’s not heavily sweet like many fruity cocktails, but refreshingly dry, probably helped by the crispness of the grapefruit.

The Green Fairy
10ml Pernod absinthe
10ml Cartron crème de pêche
110ml Prosecco

Elsewhere I’ve seen a recipe that specifies an absinthe-soaked sugar cube. I’ve tried it both ways and to my palate the sugar isn’t necessary, but then I don’t have a terribly sweet tooth. But, as with a classic Champagne Cocktail, it is fun having the sugar cube fizzing away at the bottom of the glass. This is another interesting combo, partnering peach flavours (as in the Bellini cocktail—peach and Prosecco) with absinthe, with its strong anise flavour plus the earthy wormwood and herbaceous fennel. An interesting discovery that works very well.

Herr Collins
40ml Bourbon
25ml lemon juice
15ml gomme syrup
100ml soda water

A classic bourbon Collins (also known as a Colonel Collins), essentially a whiskey sour lengthened with soda water. The muscular woodiness* of the bourbon stands shoulder to shoulder with that classic cocktail building block of lemon and sugar combined, adding an appetising sweet-and-sour body.

After I took the photo, I heard that an extra cocktail had been added, known as the Green Beast.

The Green Beast
1 part Pernod absinthe
1 part simple syrup (here given as equal parts sugar and water)
1 part freshly squeezed lime juice
4 parts water
Build in a glass in order. Add ice and garnish with four thin slices of cucumber.

As the name suggests it is another absinthe-infused potion, this time showcasing the combination of Pernod absinthe, lime and cucumber. Absinthe itself can be a pretty complex drink—twice now I’ve been lucky enough to be a judge on the Spirits Business Absinthe Masters panel, and some examples unfold almost like a walk through the woods, with rooty notes followed by meadow flowers, then moss, then citrus.** So making cocktails from absinthe can enable you to pull out any of these different elements. Here the lime highlights fruit notes and adds body from the tartness combined with sweetness from the sugar, while the cucumber gives a juicy, rather floral emphasis. Not really very bestial, though—actually quite refreshing.

* OK, so something can't logically be muscular and woody at the same time but you know what I mean.
** All right, I don’t know where this wood is that combines all these things…

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