London loves a little curry in its cocktails

Times of India 06 Feb 2014

The concept of adding culinary ingredients to cocktails is not a new one. Indeed, since the term for an alcoholic mixed drink was coined in the early 19th century, experimental mixologists the world over have been mining the kitchen cabinets to create innovative tipples of all types; from the Tabasco-spiked Bloody Mary to the olive-garnished Martini.

But lately, plundering the Indian pantry is yielding novel, nouvelle cocktails that are really shaking things up. Movers and shakers like Masala Library and Indian Accent are in on the act– surprising imbibers with almost-edible drinks like the former’s martinis made with curry leaves or star anise, and the latter’s ‘Street Fruit Chaat Sangria’ and ‘Curry Collins’.

And the UK has developed a similar thirst for Indian-inspired mixed drinks – one that seems almost insatiable. Lucky, then, that there’s so much to try. Whether it’s a classic cocktail souped up with a sprinkle of magical masala or a brand-new beverage inspired by the techniques of molecular gastronomy, there’s something to suit every sipper.

London’s Babur brasserie has a quirky drinks list year-round, along with seasonal specials: the current ‘Cold Weather Collection’ includes the ‘Cornish Sour’, pairing a beer reduction with clove bitters and sesame oil. Signature cocktails variously feature spice-infused Indian teas and jasmine infused vodka, and there’s a twist on a Bloody Mary using Alphonso mango and green chilli.

When it’s chilly, there’s nothing better than a hot drink to stop shivers. Carom’s ‘Royal Potion’ is the result of a heartwarming collaboration between house mixologist Adam Spinks and Angus Denoon of The Everybody Lovelove Jhal Muri Express, adding 15 herbs and spices to a gin base that’s served up as a spirit-spiked tea.

Gymkhana is currently one of the hottest venues in town. The ‘Queens Club Cocktail’ keeps diners toasty as they toast, the hot Darjeeling Earl Grey tea base spiced up with coriander seed and clove. Over at Dishoom, they know that when mere tea becomes masala chai it warms the cockles even more effectively – more so still when made ‘naughty’ with a sizeable slug of bourbon or Baileys.

There’s more chai to try in Dishoom’s drinks – in the smoky-spicy ‘Chaijito’ and the sharing-sized ‘Bombay Presidency Punch’. The punch also appears on the menu at Gymkhana, accompanied by a nutmeg to grate on top. La Porte des Indes puts a Pondicherry accent on an ‘Iced Tea’, whilst both Imli Street and Brimingham favourite Asha’s bring ginger to the mix; respectively serving a ‘Masala Chaitini’ and the ‘Asha’s Spiced Tea’.

Beside the seaside, Brighton’s Chilli Pickle brightens up its ‘Chai Chai’ with a dash of cream. In fact, cream seems to be a theme – rich drinks like Dishoom’s ‘Badam Alexander’ can double for dessert. The ‘Monsooned Cobbler’ combines spiced coffee, cognac and cream, whilst the rich ‘Thums Up Flip’ from the restaurant’s Permit Room bar shows an affirmative love for the classic Indian soft drink.

Dishoom’s ‘Limca Collins’ also pays homage to a beloved Indian beverage brand. More tributes to less corporate subcontinental quenchers are evident in Cinnamon Kitchen’s ‘Pretty fly for a Thandai’, Carom’s spirit-laced lassi, and Gymkhana’s ‘Flutterby’; which adds Absinthe to a refreshing raita-like combo of cucumber, dill and yoghurt.

Indian condiments can also compliment a cocktail. You’ll need to visit the bars at Carom and Benares to discover where you prefer to pledge your passion, as both serve martinis made with passionfruit chutney. Tamarind chutney adds tingle to Chor Bizarre’s martini, whilst the Chilli Pickle’s signature Bloody Mary pops in the pickle juice from green chillies.

It’s not just chilli spicing up Britain’s cocktails. Cinnamon Kitchen’s ‘Spice Trader’ contains cinnamon and clove bitters and the chaat-masala-spiked ‘Masala Mary’ at Chor Bizarre gets tongues wagging. Curry leaves add savour to Gymkhana’s ‘Quinine Sour’, and are also found in Benares’ ‘Mumbai Martini’, the ‘Pondicherry’ at La Portes des Indes, and Asha’s ‘Maharaja’s Mistress’.

The latter is a sweet-savoury sensation, pairing those curry leaves with gulkand. The addition of rose is not restricted to this restaurant’s drinks list – at Carom, it mingles with myriad botanicals in the ‘Tanqueray Mogul’. Dishoom’s ‘Edwina’s Affair’ is headily aromatic, featuring rose, cardamom and fresh mint. Crowning the cocktail with candied flower petals makes this tipple really fit for royalty.

Saffron is a similarly regal ingredient; one which pairs its powerful pungency with rose’s floral delicacy in Carom’s ‘Maharajah Spritz’ and mixes with cleansing aloe vera in the same venue’s ‘Shahi Aloe’. The same superior spice gives its historical name to Gymkhana’s ‘The Sativus Soother’, and flavours Dishoom’s ‘Bombay Pimms’ and Imli Street’s ‘Twisted GT’.

Fancy a little post-meal paan? Get in it a glass with Dishoom’s ‘Paan Sour’, which the Permit Room’s menu claims ‘tastes like the scent of a temple’. If nibbling a few after-dinner dryfruits is more your thing, ask Asha’s for the ‘Aged Pisco Punch’, made with spiced rum and a melange of fruits long-steeped in port, sherry and Martini Rosso.

It’s no secret that Britain’s love affair with Indian food has been both long and enduring. But it seems we’re increasingly feeling the need to sip on a little something with a little something of the subcontinent about it, too. Applying the clever complexity of Indian cuisine to cocktail creation is conjuring some magical elixirs; drinks for which we’re displaying an unquenchable thirst.