Gastronomic mixology: the top bars serving cocktails inspired by food

A playful cocktail trend is taking bars by storm and sees distinctive dishes – from lamb kebab to Nasi Goreng – reinterpreted by adventurous bartenders as sophisticated drinks. Johanna Derry Hall tucks in

Words by Johanna Derry Hall

The 'Pan de Yuca Sour', 'Cold Pizza' and 'Get That Bread' cocktails

At Le Syndicat in Paris, there’s a cocktail called Ossa – three mystery ingredients and Grey Goose vodka. Order one and it’s soon clear it’s an alcoholic riff on beef bone broth. ‘We have to ask people if they’re vegetarian before we serve it,’ says Thibault Massina, the bar’s creative director. Granted, the clue’s in the name; in English, the drink might as well be called Bovril, with a winky face to let you know that’s not all there is to it.

It’s just one example of a growing trend for cocktails explicitly reminiscent of particular foods or dishes. From laksa and chicken rice-inspired cocktails in Asia, through to drinks based on American fast foods via regional specialities, some of the best bars in the world are recreating dishes they love, in liquid form.

It’s no mean feat to serve something named so clearly after a familiar dish and pull it off. ‘Imitating a dish is not that easy – you have to work very carefully and liquify each individual component,’ says drinks consultant and bartender Cihan Anadologlu. ‘I’ve been working on integrating special ingredients from the kitchen into my cocktails for a long time.’

Moe Aljaff, the brains behind the recent The Schmucks pop-up in Miami, agrees: ‘When you’re making a cocktail that’s a dish reinterpreted, the challenge is to get the right notes and flavours to make something that’s firstly – let’s face it – not disgusting.’

beets cheese thyme cocktail
Bartenders are recreating foods and dishes they love – like this beetroot, cheese and thyme cocktail

‘Inevitably, if you’re going to base a drink on cabbage, or kale, or radish, you’re going to have to experiment,’ says Hugo Maclean, Beverage Director for Treehouse Hotels. The motivation behind that experimentation for him at The Nest is the drive to be sustainable. ‘We’re trying to use what’s native to where we are.’

Sustainability is also behind the menu at Juliana in Guayaquil, Ecuador. ‘We have seven per cent of the world’s biodiversity,’ says bar manager Sarah Ruiz. The bar’s Diverso menu offers financial support to the community and helps prevent the extinction of ancestral practices – sustainability in its broadest sense. ‘We’re capturing this heritage, allowing our guests to experience flavours you can only find in our homeland.’

For visitors, these drinks show off the culture of a place. The challenge of making drinks for locals is capturing, as Aljaff describes it, ‘flavour combinations that are new but also that we know and love.’

The place that’s perhaps taken this to its furthest extreme is Double Chicken Please in New York, whose entire back room menu reads like a cross between that of a diner and your kitchen on the morning after the night before: Waldorf Salad, Red Eye Gravy, Cold Pizza, French Toast.

‘The concept is inspired by “hacking design,”’ explains Faye Chen, the bar’s co-founder. ‘We break down the flavours and ingredients of iconic dishes to rebuild them into liquid forms, thus creating a cocktail concept greater than the sum of its parts.’

Himkok's 'Bun' is based on the Norwegian skollebolle

Similarly, at Himkok in Oslo, several drinks on the menu are based on typical Norwegian dishes, like Bun based on the skollebolle, a wheat bun with an egg-yolk centre. ‘We’re trying to recreate childhood memories,’ says Paul Aguilar, head of flavour research and development. ‘After all, childhood memories are extremely popular in bars.’

‘Nostalgia tastes best,’ agrees Chen. So whether it’s a riff on mango sticky rice, pan con tomate, or the simplicity of a slice of toast, drinks based on foods can offer novelty, nostalgia and surprise, with a twist of sustainability to boot. What’s not to like?

Five cocktails inspired by food to seek out

cold pizza cocktail

Cold Pizza at Double Chicken Please, New York

A play on words in drink form, Cold Pizza takes the concept of a margherita pizza and transforms it into a version of the Margarita cocktail. ‘A big part of our brand is humour,’ explains Chen, ‘making guests laugh through our menu, service and experience.’ It’s an unexpected delight of a drink, a Margarita with a definitively pizza-y twist.

nasi goreng cocktail

Nasi Goreng at Danico, Paris

Nasi Goreng is a traditional Indonesian dish of fried rice and either chicken or tofu. Bartender Nico de Soto uses rice milk and barley sotu to recreate a nutty flavour, a syrup made from the dish’s spices and tofu to give the cocktail a creaminess, before shaking everything together with a whole egg.

get that bread

Get That Bread at Le Syndicat, Paris

Amandine Chaignot, chef-owner of La Pouliche collaborated with Le Syndicat to make a drink based on the buckwheat, slow-fermented sourdough of her local baker. St Raphel Ambre aperitif, Vin d’Arbois, Armagnac, aged rum and verjus go together with a syrup of toasted bread, topped with a buckwheat foam. ‘It’s important to celebrate the local area,’ she explains, in line with the bar’s ethos of using French-only liquids.

Satir Kiyma at The Counter, London

A kebab in a glass? The delicious Satir Kiyma created by Cihan Anadologlu for The Counter in Notting Hill is exactly that, an umami drink balanced by sweetness and spice. Rye whisky is lamb-fat-washed, mixed with a chilli flake and red pepper syrup, orange bitters for body, and finally a spray of pomegranate for balance.

pan de yuca sour

Pan de Yuca Sour at Juliana, Guayaquil

Two traditional Ecuadorian breads are reimagined on the Diverso menu at Juliana. This one is based on a traditional snack of yoghurt and bread made from Yuca, a kind of cassava grown on small farms across the country. Using white rum, caña, guava, and green cardamom, it’s clarified with yoghurt to make a smooth tropical drink.