As a drinks blogger I rarely get invited to visit restaurants, so when Bonds asked me along to a bloggers dinner last month, I accepted with alacrity. As if the promise of fine dining wasn’t enough, the invite also offered inventive cocktails…sold.
I mentioned in my acceptance that I’m interested in food and cocktail pairing and that’s when things got even more exciting. Inspired by this casual comment, Bonds new bar manager, Brian Calleja (formerly of L’Atelier de Joel Rebouchon), constructed a cocktail menu just for little ol’ me. That’s quite a challenge when you think about it, as the drinks needed to work with each course regardless of what I ordered but Brian definitely rose to the occasion.
Most of the drinks I had are part of the bars recently refreshed menu so although this is not a usual offer, you could recreate the experience if you wanted to. I wouldn’t suggest doing this for each course if you wish to leave the restaurant sober – I shared my drinks with a table of eight intrigued food and wine writers and even then we didn’t finish them all. But for one or two courses it’s a fun option and a definite conversation starter. Just be ready to share.
Sensual Cherie – Aperitif
On arrival we were given an ultra girly champagne cocktail. Originally designed as a Valentine’s offering, it was a fru-fru mix of rose eau de vie, goji berry liqueur and champagne garnished with a morello cherry marinated in bourbon. As a rule I’m not overly keen on Kir/Bellini style drinks but this was actually quite nice, with the goji adding extra dimension.
It certainly went down well with the rest of the group and started the night off on a pleasantly luxurious note, if not quite an appetite sharpening óne. The cherry was pretty damn delicious though – I am LOVING this trend of home-made cherry garnishes.
Lavender Martini – Starter
I was keenly anticipating the next cocktail, a Lavender Martini (Vodka, lavender eau de vie, black pepper), as lavender in drinks is, again, very on trend. I chose my starter of smoked eel with horseradish cream, potato salad and beetroot as most likely to complement the vegetal, sweet yet spicy notes lavender brings and it proved a magic combination with the unctuous sweetness of the eel. Luckily the horseradish cream was very mild so didn’t overpower the delicate flavour balance between glass and plate.
Brian told me the cocktail was originally designed to go with beetroot so I plumed myself on my canny ordering while enjoying, what is for me, a rare vodka-based drink. A vodka martini is usually too bland but with this showed me how you can spice it up without losing the drink’s clean mouth feel – I’d be tempted to replace some of the eau de vie with lavender bitters when making this at home.
Threadneedle Street – Main
For a main course I chose halibut with jerusalem artichoke puree, king oyster mushrooms, potato gnocchi and jus. Halibut is a lovely meaty fish and this was complemented by the combination of earthy accompaniments but what kind of cocktail could go with this? Brian’s solution was house cocktail Threadneedle St. Consisting of gin infused with rosemary, shaken with a muddled granny smith, Drambuie, lemon, honey and apple juice. Less sweet than it sounds, it was long and refreshing with the rosemary a predominating flavour.
Perhaps a cautious choice on Brian’s part but I have to agree with it – long drinks are a wise way to go at this stage of the meal. For home experimentation I’d suggest a Collins. Lengthened with soda water, it can keep pace with a main course without becoming cloying (like some fruit juices would), and the palate cleansing properties of the gin and lemon base can always be enhanced with herbs or fresh fruit (as in the Inamo mule in my previous post).
Like a cheesecake – Dessert
Initially my heart sank when Brian brought over this very pretty dessert offering. I find rich desserts overwhelming at the end of a long meal and Like a cheesecake (Goslings rum , blackberry, vanilla cream, creme de mure) looked heavy on the cream. However Brian pointed out it was really two drinks in one. Served with a straw with the cream floating on top and the rum and blackberry below, the idea was that initially the drink would be strong and fruity but as you sipped, the cream would start to sink giving you a rich, creamy mix.
Ingenious but this would easily satisfy me as a dessert in itself – to compensate I ate my half of tarte tatin without its creme fraiche side and let the cream of the drink do its job instead.
I would say that this is probably the easiest course to match drinks to. Many restaurants suggest matching dessert wines cocktails so why not list matching cocktails? Any restauranteurs reading this, do let me know if you’re already doing this.
Le Fume – Aperitif
I love both smoky and earthy flavours and I love Islay malts, all of which the final drink of the evening incoprorated – Le Fume. Blending 12-year-old Islay, lapsang souchong syrup, black truffle vodka and vanilla it promised a mouthful of flavour. Surprisingly, then it was an exceptionally light if well-balanced and palatable drink.
I was a little disappointed but Brian explained he wanted it to deliver a light, elegant finish to the meal. Fair enough but I would have preferred a shorter, stronger drink with intensified flavour – an espresso version if you will.
Overall my first bloggers dinner was a lovely experience and one that proved matching cocktails to food is not only a fun challenge but one that can really enhance the food. Bonds is not hip in any way but everything was impeccable from the spacious elegant dining room to the choice on the cheese trolley.
Best of all was how interested and knowledgeable all the staff were and how well looked after they made us feel, especially Brian. His enthusiastic, even obsessional love of his craft, willingness to experiment and to share, are the hallmarks of a great bartender. Although in the heart of the City, I can easily imagine popping in to chat about what he is currently working on.
Bonds is definitely a good option in this neck of the woods if you fancy a cocktail – try a Manhattan as this is the bar’s speciality. The bar is not so beautiful a space as the dining room (formerly a bank) but welcoming. It’s also not cheap (where is in the City?) but the drinks are quality and it’s not as hectic and braying as other nearby watering holes.
And the food is rather good too.
(Sadly I didn’t have a camera that day so the phone quality of the pictures don’t really do the drinks justice)