Japanese cocktail

IMG_5628This simple mixture of cognac, almonds and lime sounded like an interesting recipe from Harry MacElhone, but it involved making the orgeat syrup first, as my attempts to find a ready-made product suggested they were all a bit disappointing. That may seem like overkill, but I at least have an ingredient now to use in various Tiki-style recipes, as the recipe produces around 250ml of the sweet, almond-flavoured syrup which will last a month or so in the refrigerator.

The story goes that MacElhone invented this drink in honour of a Japanese delegation visiting Paris in the 1920s while he was running his eponymous bar there. The ingredients themselves don’t suggest Japan to me, as my visits to the country have not indicated that there is overwhelming demand for almond or lime flavours; the cognac might have been a nod to the French location of the drink’s birthplace.

I am not quite sure what to make of the finished drink: the combination of cognac and almond syrup is silky enough, but the lime juice is slightly too strong to my taste. Thinking on other lime-based drinks (such as the Margarita), I cannot see why it should jar here, but it does – perhaps its is the cognac-and-lime mix that seems a little harsh. Either way, the drink was not as smooth as I was expecting, and despite the sweetness of the orgeat syrup, the lime has a really attack on the back of the throat. The next time I make one of these, I plan to use a properly Japanese substitute : yuzu juice. This has the required citrus tones, but slightly less attack. I think this will balance the drink better.

Ingredients:

2 ozs cognac

1/2 oz orgeat syrup

1/2 oz lime juice

Dashes of Angostura bitters

Shake the ingredients well with plenty of ice (probably a good time to practice your Japanese shaking technique), then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lime zest.

 

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Orgeat syrup

Orgeat1

This almond-flavoured syrup, pronounced orr-zha (as in Zsa Zsa Gabor), crops up in quite few cocktail recipes, especially in the Tiki style (Mai Tai, for example). But I wanted to try a Japanese cocktail, invented by Harry MacElhone back when he ran Harry’s American Bar in the 1920s (the recipe has no particularly Japanese ingredients, but was supposedly developed to honour a Japanese delegation, visiting Paris at the time). But my online research suggested that most modern commercial versions are just sugar syrup with almond flavouring, and as a result, a bit disappointing.

In the spirit of MacElhone’s original I wanted to make my own, so I found recipes to make syrup from almonds and sugar, with the addition of some vodka and orange blossom water. The recipe I used came from the Serious Eats website, so it is only fair I direct you to them for the ingredients & method. The process will only take an hour or so, plus some overnight cooling & steeping of the almond and sugar mixture, but be warned, it is a sticky business. I used blanched almonds to get a paler syrup, but you can use skin-on almonds for a darker result (and possibly more flavour). I used the orange blossom water option (you can use rosewater, but I don’t like its perfume-y overtones).

I found the final results missed the hit of bitter almonds I was expecting, so if I made it again, I would add a quantity of good quality natural almond essence, and the ratio of sugar-to-water produces a very sweet liquid, so I would reduce the sugar as well.

As most recipes that use the syrup call for a single measure or less, the small bottle produced by the recipe will certainly last the month suggested for storage, unless you are planning a Tiki party.

Harry’s Bar, visited April 2017

IMG_3913I didn’t think there was any need to qualify this bar as being the one in Venice; there’s only one real Harry’s Bar, and it is the one in Venice. There are others: Mark Birley’s smart Italianate club in S. Audley Street, London, two others in the same city, a steakhouse in New York, and most confusingly of all, Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, to name only a tiny number. But the bar that they all owe something to is the one in Calle Vallaresso in Venice, opened in 1931 by Giuseppe Cipriani. The history is worth reading, so do visit the Cipriani website to hear the origins of this tiny and beautiful bar in one of the most atmospheric cities in the world.

I’m an unashamed fan of this bar*. I come for the drinks, the location and the history. But to read Tripadvisor, there are a heck of a lot of grumpy people in the world, who find the place not up to their remarkably high opinion of their own critical faculties. Frankly, if you’ve come all the way to Venice, to complain about the price of a Bellini, you are in the wrong bar; go somewhere where they serve giant frozen Margaritas in a novelty hurricane glass for $6. Secondly, don’t complain about the size of the place: we’re in Venice: places are tiny & you may be expecting something with the size (and atmosphere) of a hotel lobby, but you aren’t going to find it here. And finally, don’t complain about the bar being unfriendly – you brought that attitude in with you and the staff are simply reflecting it back at you.

For the rest of us, the routine is simple:

IMG_4589 2Enter the bar with a smile on your face, order nicely, watch the staff make your drink with care & serve it to you with style.

Enjoy it, order another, and enjoy that, too. Talk to your companions & look at the beautiful  woodwork.

Watch Marco mix drinks with a joy that the man who is only the ninth head barman since the place opened 88 years ago can do. Talk to him nicely, and suddenly he’ll produce some of the bottles hidden in those tiny cupboards behind the bar that have been there since 1931 & tell you their stories. Within the space of a few minutes, you have gone from being a tourist to an insider. Harry’s is now your bar, too, and you can come back any time.

You’ll walk away with a wonderful sense of place, time & the joy a well-mixed drink can produce.

And don’t care a jot about the bill. You’re in Venice & you’ve been in Harry’s Bar.

* We were married in Venice & our wedding party had a riotous night here in our wedding day.

 

Disrepute, visited January 2017

img_4764When a bar opens on the site of the old Pinstripe Club (think Profumo, Keeler, O’Toole & others of that era), it has to be worth a visit or two. Taken on by the owners of the Barrio & Sovereign Loss bars, the re-design of this underground venue has really pushed what can be achieved in a linear & low-ceilinged space, creating areas of joy and mystery in equal measure.

The central bar reminds me of the sadly long-closed Green Room club, once described as ‘designed for twenty, but hosting one hundred’, where I spent more than a few evenings pinned against the walls by my colleagues from many  (some nights it seemed like *all*) of  London’s theatres – although the bar in Disrepute is a lot more beautiful. And far less damp and dark.

img_2093The key feature of the bar is the cocktail narrative – drinks are ordered by choosing from a menu of stories, or from a separate menu of ingredients – each drink only known by their initials. I had a ‘T’ on my first order, and mysterious and lyrical it was in equal measures.

Disrepute (or DRP, if you will) will be a members’ bar in the late evening, but right now, a cheery demeanour & a pleasant smile should be enough to score you entry early in the evening; certainly, it got me seated with a friend at a fine table by the bar, and served by some of the most happy and cheerful staff I have ever met in London. Disrepute by name, but definitely not disreputable; fabulous, actually. It’s excellence has not been lost on others, either, Vogue magazine just named the newly-opened bar in its top 10 of London bars – quite an accolade for a place that has only been open since December last year.

Corpse Reviver #1 (Curious Bartender mix)

img_4162Every barman has a corpse reviver recipe: the drink they slide across the bar to the jaded customer without a word, just the unspoken understanding of what the client needs right now, right then. The recipes date back to the mid-C19th, served to young bucks who had over-indulged the night before, and now revived (if you will) for a modern generation of hungover clients.

The #2 mix is allegedly more popular these days, but this #1 mix relies of a swift punch to the kidneys with darker alcohols: brandy (or cognac) and calvados, that wonderful French apple brandy. I have mixed together the standard alcohol kick with Tristran Stephenson’s #1.1 beta recipe, found in his excellent Curious Bartender book, that uses an English apple brandy.

The drink is one you should drink swiftly. ‘While it is still smiling at you’, as they say.

Method:

30ml brandy or cognac

30ml calvados (I used Somerset apple brandy here)

30ml Italian vermouth (I used Vermut)

Stir well over ice, then strain into a cold coupe. No garnish is required – you don’t want to delay serving this drink to a customer in distress.

And in a slight, but I think important variant, I dropped a few spots of clove bitters (my recipe) into the centre of the drink. They settle to the bottom, adding a sudden & unexpected dimension as you drain the glass, and one that certainly opens the eyes. Stephenson says ‘add them if you want to break the rules’. I do & so I did.

 

 

Ampersand (dry)

img_4098Another recipe that can be made with Old Tom or dry gin – again, I am using a lighter London style in Hendricks. The mystery of this drink is why the ‘and’ in the title; the answer is in the ingredients: gin *and* brandy *and* vermouth. This sounds like a drink invented by someone ho couldn’t quite work out what to drink, so just kept adding ingredients.

But in reality it is pretty well-balanced. The gin and brandy work well together; I can’t imagine a bourbon equivalent marrying so well, it really has to be brandy. Richard Godwin describes it as having a ‘Fred Astaire sort of sweep’. I can see what he means – it seems to waltz around the tongue, rather than march over your mouth. I slipped away from the recipe by using a lime twist, rather than lemon. Why? Because I wanted to see if it worked, and the subtle citrus note seemed to be more elegant, even if the colour didn’t really work. It’s your glass: you choose.

Method:

25ml gin

25ml brandy

25ml Italian vermouth

10ml orange liqueur (I used Cointreau, Grand Marnier is more traditional)

Dash of Orange bitters.

 

Stir well over ice & strain into cold glass. Garnish with a zest twist (see above).

 

Tuxedo (dry)

img_4073Like whisky, sherry is an underused cocktail ingredient. But like its Scottish counterpart, it has to be used with a certain care – its dry, subtle flavours can add a mysterious quality, but the dryness can add a mouth-puckering quality if overused.

The Tuxedo is an old recipe indeed, dating back to the end of the C19th, and with sherry as an ingredient, is most likely from an English bartender (although some stories claim it for the Tuxedo Club, which didn’t come into existence until four or five years after this drink was first seen in print).

The recipe really calls for a very traditional version of gin, Old Tom, which is richer and sweeter than London dry styles. But this recipe seems to make no distinction, so I made it with a lighter London style, Hendricks. The maraschino adds a very subtle, almost ineffable, sweetness & lifts the drink completely – it would be very different without it, even though the quantity is tiny (half a teaspoon or so). Likewise with the absinthe – miss it out, and you miss a large range of the flavour, and the aniseed notes really pair well with the sherry.

This is a lovely, gentle drink, like a richer Martini with many more layers of flavour. Probably not one you want to drink more than one of, but as an aperitif, it’s hard to beat. I took this recipe from Richard Godwin’s book, The Spirits. As he says, ‘where are you going with this?’ The answer is in the drink.

Method:

25ml dry gin (Hendricks here

25ml Fino sherry

25ml French vermouth (Noilly Prat is highly suitable)

2.5ml maraschino

Dashes of absinthe

Dashes of orange bitters

 

Stir slowly over the largest ice cubes you have (the drink needs to be properly cold, but not diluted) & strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with lemon zest