Wednesday, 27 May 2009

This Season's Must-Have Cocktail

I recently visited London, a city I used to live and work in. I met up with a couple of friends, and ate some good food.

I also went for cocktails one evening. This was unplanned, but fun. My friend and I had just eaten in Chinatown, and wandered towards Covent Garden, past a place I've seen before but never visited (its location is too obvious to be good, or so I thought). We went in.

For such a touristy area, just off Trafalgar Square, it was not crammed, just nicely busy, and had a very chilled atmosphere. The décor was sophisticated, the staff friendly and quite attentive.

Happy hour meant cocktails were £3.75 - excellent for anywhere, but particularly central London. I started with a Vanilla Cherry Royale, described as "Cherry infused vanilla liqueur charged with Prosecco & Cherry Heering", which turned out to be rather too sweet and confected, though still drinkable. My friend had a Berry Cosmopolitan, "Absolut Kurrant [sic] & Absolut Raspberry [sic] shaken with Chambord black raspberry liqueur, fresh lime juice & a
dash of sugar syrup", which was nice, but strong-tasting. My second was also sparkling, a Pear & Rosemary Bellini (I was excited to see such unusual flavours on the happy hour menu), which was delicious, but I couldn't taste the rosemary (my friend could). Hers, however, was a triumph: Katana, described thus: "Muddled cucumber & mint shaken with Bombay Sapphire gin, pressed apple juice, fresh lime & a dash of sugar syrup."

It tasted so fresh I wished I'd chosen it, so I decided to recreate it at home. I'm planning several group events this summer, nominally barbecues, and a small selection of exquisite cocktails will fit the bill.

I don't dictate spirit brands; the bar chose Bombay Sapphire, which is a perfectly acceptable gin, but anything in the £15-20 price range would do (Tanqueray, Plymouth, Gordon's white label, etc). I'm currently using Blackwood's 2006 vintage (it has an uncommonly short list of botanicals, and frankly I'm doubtful any vintage character would show through in a spirit, but it's one of the best gins I've tasted). I've fiddled with various combinations, and here's my take on the recipe:

1 measure (25ml) sugar syrup
1 3/4 measures cucumber-mint-lime juice (see below)
2 1/4 measures pressed apple juice
2 measures gin
(makes 175ml, 2 UK units of alcohol)

- Shake all ingredients over ice, strain into a martini glass. Garnish (I'd err towards something with a contrasting colour; peony petals work well, or roses later in the summer - the bar chose a pansy. Otherwise a slice of cucumber and/or a spring of mint)
- To make the juice, purée a handful of mint (I'm using apple mint and spearmint as they grow in my garden, but it makes little difference), 1/3-1/2 cucumber, and the juice of a large lime using a blender or hand-blender; pass through a fine sieve. This makes around 200ml, enough for 4 1/2 cocktails.

Admittedly, the recipe above makes a large portion - you could adjust it down to fit a smaller glass. The colour is a cloudy pale green, the taste the essence of freshness and balance. I could drink it all day, barring the price and effects of the alcohol (though I reckon a good non-alcoholic version could be made - omit the gin, and substitute good mineral water, maybe).

On price, my gin cost around £13.50, which gives 14 double measures, the apple juice £1.50 a litre (both were on special offer), the limes 28p each (you can find cheaper, though these were large and juicy, so one lime does 4-5 portions), the cucumber probably around £1, the sugar is a storecupboard ingredient (I make my own syrup as required), and the mint was free. Even buying the last two, and spending £15 on the gin it works out at around £1.50 per portion.

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