At Masque, the newly opened farm-to-table restaurant in Mahalaxmi, the bar looks oddly empty. You won’t find the usual suspects: orange syrup, green syrup or blue syrup bottles. Instead, the shelves are lined with thick glass bottles labelled with numbers and a few steam extractors, reminding us of a science lab.
Head chef Prateek Sadhu proudly claims, “Go ahead, open our refrigerator, you won’t find any branded bottles in there.” Because everything at Masque is made in-house, including the syrups and alcohol for its cocktails. Here, you can make your own gin (and even give it your name). So, the next time you visit, you can order your personalised drink with unique flavours. Sure, it gives you ample bragging rights, but restaurants seem more than keen to explore the world of evolved cocktails — complete with house-made syrups, complex bitters recipes, and preparations made using the freshest of ingredients.
Straight up, no more
You may have heard of Angostura bitters. Internationally, this mysterious blend (the secret recipe is made with over 40 ingredients) is a big deal at high-end bars and is used in many cocktails — both classic and modern. At The Bombay Canteen, Yash Bhanage (partner) and his team tried to recreate the recipe, but like many who have tried before, they couldn’t get it right. But that didn’t stop them. The team now uses orange and berry bitters (of course, made in-house) for its cocktails.
“We also make our own marmalades, tinctures and infusions. For instance, for our cocktail, Jugaad (a play on the classic American cocktail called fix), we use home-made rose tincture with bourbon,” he says. It can take up to a month to make a batch of this tincture.
Fresh and local
Apart from adding a unique flavour to otherwise super-sweet, standard cocktails, house-made syrups and juices lend in loads of freshness. At Masque, papaya syrup is made using locally sourced fruit from its farm near Pune. Similarly, pineapples are sourced from a grower in Coorg. “Everything on the menu revolves around seasonality, which keeps it fresh,” says Sadhu.
Bhanage of The Bombay Canteen agrees, though with a fair bit of caution. “I see a lot of bars use bottled pineapple juice, whereas India gets pineapples through the year,” he says.
When Dimi Lezinska — popular mixologist and host of British TV programme Cocktail Kings — moved to India, he was disappointed by the lack of quality cocktails. “Fast forward to a few years later, bartenders now seem to have a better understanding of ingredients. They also benefit by attending global competitions where they see their peers come up with unique combinations,” he says. Since then, Lezinska has created the bar menu for The Good Wife (in Bandra-Kurla Complex) and more recently, Koko (in Lower Parel).
According to Lezinska, the trend of gimmicky cocktails with molecular twists is short-lived. “The time has come for creative flavour matching, especially using Indian ingredients,” he adds.
At a time when there is an increased conversation around locally sourced ingredients, the cocktail menu, too, will benefit from this movement. “People are asking questions like ‘Where are my drinks from?’ or ‘Where’s this ingredient sourced from?’ They are curious about the source,” says Sadhu. So shall we raise our glasses to good times to come?