Concoctions of Goodness

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Mixologists in India are turning to natural ingredients and serving up a storm, says Nakul Chandra

On a quiet summer evening, sipping on something called the Origin, you might find yourself transported right into the middle of the Scottish Highlands – literally. While hotels like the One Aldwych in London experiment with technology (yes, VR glasses transporting you and your glassful to a different world is actually a thing!), back home in India, cocktails are transporting you to the world of natural goodness. At the restaurant Fatty Bao in Delhi, for instance, the root-to-fruit idea comes alive as mixologists make the most of sesame seeds, wasabi root, chamomile flowers, popcorn, basil leaves, Earl Grey tea and ginseng, among other ingredients. And they make their own bitters infused with these ingredients too. Sample a cocktail with miso mustard, ginger lime, vodka and soda, and another with popcorn-infused whiskey, wasabi syrup and Earl Grey bitters, and you’ll see what I mean. They even make their own shrubs (vinegars that form the base of your cocktail) that add a completely different layer to the drink!

Mixologists in India are crafting drinks that are being made from scratch, but that hasn’t shrunk the menu – in fact, the choices have increased. They are moving away from packaged flavours, syrups and standard mixes, and are leaning towards using fresh fruits, vegetables, in-house syrups and infused spirits to create cocktails that are unique. And that has brought plenty of kitchen ingredients back into the main game – they are no longer just assigned to play garnish. Celery, green chillies, curry leaves, mint and ginger have been around for a while, and I am referring to ingredients beyond them – beetroot, carrots, bacon, coffee, ginseng and fruits such as apples and oranges, to name a few.

At Toast & Tonic restaurant in Bengaluru, given that gin is the focus of most drinks, they have taken the classic gin and tonic and turned it around. For instance, you can have gin with pomegranate and cinnamon tonic, or one that’s infused with elderflower, jasmine and grapefruit. The next thing in the pipeline at the gastropub is the production of their own tonic water. Similarly, Perch and Ek Bar in Delhi, Monkey Bar across all its outlets and One Street Over in Mumbai have also taken the cocktail-from-scratch route. Has this new practice increased prep time? Sure it has. Mixologists are working longer hours to experiment with flavour profiles and ingredient recipes that don’t need to survive on the crutches of gimmickry.

In fact, experiential innovations are on the rise too. With interesting menus and presentations, bars are giving people a story to take home. The Bombay Canteen’s Art Deco menu, for instance, pays tribute to the buildings of Mumbai that were inspired by the Art Deco philosophy, and offers a range of cocktails that embody the same spirit; PCO restaurant in Delhi requires a password for you to enter, and so on.

What’s causing this sudden flurry of innovations? I’d say – the customer. The new-age customer is welltravelled and can distinguish one flavour profile from another. But when a man walks into a bar today, he wants an experience on a par with what he has read about or encountered across his travels, and the mixologists are only too happy to oblige.

The author is the brand head of a popular restaurant chain and the views expressed in the article are his own

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