Cocktail pairing. ‘People don’t drink without eating.’
WORDS POLA ESGUERRA DEL MONTE
If wine is to meat and scotch is to cigars, then a cocktail is to never-ending possibility. There are no set rules when it comes to mixed drinks, which can be bitter, sweet, salty, sour, or any and all of those flavors at the same time. In a bar crawl organized by Diageo and a visit to Madison’s Bistro Moderne, bartenders and pub owners presented their approaches to creating the perfect cocktail pairing.
Sip and munch
Long Bar in Raffles Makati, styled after Raffles Singapore’s original bar concept, offers signature cocktails and “reinvented pub favorites.” Behind the 10-meter bar, Rian Asiddao mixes drinks and suggests suitable edibles. After pouring the Makati Luxury Sling, a blend of Tanqueray No. TEN, Grand Marnier, Benedictine, and fresh lemon, he urged a sampling of pork rinds rubbed with chili and tamarind.
"It’s chicharon so it’s for munching. You sip and munch. Plus you don’t need vinegar because of the tamarind,” he said, adding that spicy and salty flavors blend well with the sour/bitter cocktail. Mr. Asiddao, who has competed in and won several bartending events, makes it a point to use gin. Filipinos are, after all, the top consumers of the classic English tipple. Gin is the main ingredient of Long Bar’s Manille Calamansi, a fruity concoction that goes down well with Filipino favorites like chicharon and tawilis.
"In the Philippines, people don’t drink without eating. The food in this bar takes a bigger role than in other parts of the world," said Joern Schwaiger, director of food and beverage of Long Bar in Raffles Makati. He added, however, that the cocktail will always come first when planning the menu and not the other way around: "We make sure that the selections complement the drinks."
European classics with a twist
At Niner Ichi Nana, a Houdini-inspired bar at The Fort, duck is a favorite. Foie gras nuggets and duck fat fries accompanied the Drop of Life (a cocktail of guyabano and calamansi mixed with Ketel One vodka) and the Eurasian (Johnnie Walker Gold Label reserve married with smoke and a refreshing blend of chili and cucumber).
"When people talk about gastropub food, not a lot of people understand what it truly is," said Niner Ichi Nana co-owner Erwan Heussaff. A "proper" gastropub menu isn’t a collection of international appetizers but a drastic reinterpretation of European classics. Take, for example, Niner Ichi Nana’s foie gras nuggets. No self-respecting European would ever deep-fry foie gras, but to adapt to local taste, Mr. Heussaff’s chefs do just that: after being seasoned with Kikkoman barbecue sauce and infused with pomegranate and sweet chili, the chunk of duck liver is plunged into hot oil. The result: golden foie gras nuggets with a Japanese twist. Meanwhile, duck fat is used for deep-frying Niner Ichi Nana’s fries, giving them a much crispier texture. These fatty duck-based items complement most of the cocktails, which are astringent and citrusy.
Drinks that are on the sweet side, on the other hand, are paired with dry-preparation foods such as crisp vegetables or salads. The lesson here is that cocktail pairings must balance each other out. “If you have a complicated milky drink, you don’t want a fat-infused dish. You want something more fresh to balance things off, so you order a salad or something with cheese,” said Mr. Heussaff. “But if you have a bourbon drink, or a tart, citrusy drink, then you look for something fatty.”
Over at Madison’s Bistro Moderne, executive chef Giovanni Sias has strong opinions about hors d’oeuvres and bar chow. Hors d’oeuvre are bite-sized luxuries, he explained, while bar chow—pizzas, cheese and cold cuts, sausage—are merely things that “support your stomach while drinking.” “Hors d’oeuvre is a more elaborate thing. You work on a tiny thing like this, you put three, four ingredients and decorations. It takes patience to make it nice,” he said. Trained in Bond 45 Italian Steakhouse Restaurant and the prestigious New York Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, Mr. Sias uses tweezers to create details so minuscule that fingertips just won’t suffice.
In every hors d’oeuvre menu, the chef makes sure that he balances fish, meat, breaded things, fried things. Dreaming up the particulars is a “crazy creative” exercise: “Doing the same thing is boring,” said Mr. Sias, who has stuffed squid with chorizo and put together a basil panna cotta with tomato sauce. At a competition, he presented a tomato Genoese with eggplant parfait with the intent of creating something so mind-blowing that judges would call him crazy. The parfait was mind-blowing enough to win silver. Until rules are written, bartenders and chefs have the grand opportunity to experiment and go crazy with cocktail pairings.
Every year, the Diageo Reserve World Class Bartender of the Year is chosen among world class bartenders from all over the world, including the Philippines. This year, Great Britain played host to the 2014 Global Final from July 28 to August 1. Visit www.diageo.com to see who grabbed the crown. Long Bar is located at Raffles Fairmont Makati, 1 Raffles Drive, Makati Ave., Makati City. Niner Ichi Nana is on the ground floor of The Globe Tower, 32nd St. corner 7th Ave., Bonifacio Global City. Madison’s Bistro Moderne is on the ground floor of Edsa Shangri-La Hotel, Mandaluyong City.