There’s a new trend in London: edible cocktails. Obviously, we’ve had the Bloody Mary for a while now, just like everyone else. But in skyscraper Heron Tower’s branch of Sushisamba you can now sample a range of “culinary cocktails”, the pick of which, I’d say, is the Tom Yam, a mix of coriander, ginger, lime leaf, chili and vodka, and served with an turbot nigiri.
Over at the new branch of Ottolenghi in Spitalfields, where the food is inspired by a number of Middle Eastern cultures that I would say were always more about the food than the drink anyway, Yotam Ottolenghi has deliberately instituted a cocktail menu for, he says, people who “don’t normally order a cocktail”, where the drinks have the same flavours as his dishes. You could choose a martini flavoured with sumac or sage, a saffron take on a champagne cocktail, or a chili and hazelnut Old Fashioned.
There seems to be a particularly large number of breakfast cocktails out there at the moment in London. Perhaps this trend has something to do with Londoners’ bizarre mix of brazenness and guilt when it comes to all kinds of sin, and how we tend to see breakfast as both a redemptive recovery process and another dose of naughtiness.
I remember hearing about marmalade martinis being served at an illicit, yet bright and early, pre-Field Day party a few years ago, and now we have the Walk of Shame from the bar at The Jetty (which I wrote about in my last post) which is described on the menu as, “a London breakfast, infused smoky rum shaken with strawberry jam”. I tried it, and I can confirm it’ll certainly fix you up and mess you up, all at the same time.
Then there’s the most extreme breakfast-inspired food cocktail option which, thinking about it, was always going to happen, given all the faffing around with albumen for Pisco Sours there’s been here in recent years, and everybody’s longstanding obsession with bacon (bacon and maple syrup cupcake anyone?). Yes, it’s the bacon and egg martini. Invented at the London Cocktail Club, it’s a mix of smoked bacon-infused Jack Daniels, egg white, maple syrup, lemon juice and bitters. Yum.
Now, wouldn’t it be good, you might be thinking, if there were food cocktails like this in New Orleans? (There may well be already, and I’m just not looking hard enough…) It’s the birthplace of the cocktail, after all, with the best food in the world. How about a Bananas Foster daiquiri? A spicy gumbo martini? Or, I don’t know, a po-boy…something?
In my view, no. Some things shouldn’t be changed. A Sazerac at the Carousel Bar. $0.25 lunchtime martinis at Commander’s Palace. A Bleeding Heart at Bacchanal. And food in New Orleans is generally good the way it is already, and doesn’t need to be shaken up.
I love London, but I sometimes find it stressful that here, unlike in New Orleans, it feels like people want things to change all the time – house prices have probably gone up, and probably by enough to buy a good few of those lunchtime martinis, just while I’ve been writing this. Yet at the same time nothing changes. We’re all engaged in a constant treasure hunt for the newest and best thing, that is usually also supposed to somehow also be the most authentic and simplest thing, but all too often turns out to be quite similar to whatever the last newest and best thing was, and not simple or authentic at all.
Recently I’ve found myself going back to the same old places, trying some things twice, and hoping to see the same people. This more circular way of life – I don’t regard it as necessarily “slower”, though that doesn’t need to be pejorative – is what some of the New Orleans residents I’ve known over the years have sometimes told me life in the city is like. Having never lived in New Orleans, I wouldn’t know. But if the stars ever align to put me in a position to find out, I don’t think I’ll be pining for a bacon and egg martini.
Images: Rob Greig/London Cocktail Club