Did you know that Salvador Dali wrote a cookbook Called Les diners de Gala? Neither did we. That is, until we visited Artesian earlier this week. Alex Kratena and Simone Caporale fell in love with the book, which Alex says ‘contains food and a few drink recipes which deliver everything you would expect such as visual flair, a disregard for accepted norms, and a heightened feeling for the absurd. This is what we wanted to bring to our cocktails’. Fuelled by this, they let their imaginations loose and came up with their new surrealism menu; ‘we wanted to really challenge ourselves and our guests by creating and developing completely new drinking experiences, playing with flavour, texture and glassware as our three fundamental variables’, explains Alex.
The Artesian bar at the Langham Hotel has won Best Bar in the World three years running at the 50 Best Bar Awards, and was named Best International Cocktail Bar at this year’s Spirited Awards – no wonder – it has a perfect mix of stylish decor, impeccable service and excellent, innovative drinks.
In a departure from its usual eccentric menus (previous editions have been printed on inconceivably expensive Japanese paper, or are a spinning wheel of cocktails), the presentation of this surrealist menu is surprisingly simple: gold type on dark wood. This really lets the cocktails themselves shine. There are 19, and each is playfully named, unique, and comes with its own assigned hashtag to describe the mood of the drink, and to help you share them (Artesian doesn’t have its own social feeds, and believe us: you will definitely want to share these drinks!). There are too many to work your way through in one sitting, but we managed to try the big-hitters. We started off with Spring Drifting Into Summer (#FeelingAwesome); Ketel One, shochu, artichoke, coffee, passion fruit and coriander. It sounds, well, surreal, but tastes incredible – the savoury artichoke and rich coffee playing with your perceptions in their combination with the lighter, fruity notes. It’s served in a silver dish, moulded to look like a landscape – the idea being that as you cup and drink it, the intricacies of the vessel are revealed. Don’t expect any normal glasses for any of these cocktails.
Join The Colony (#FeelingExcited) is one of the real show-stoppers. In surrealism, the ant represents decadence, and this cocktail delivers. One cup carries a granola mix of freeze-dried strawberries, pistachios and salted corn, while the other holds a malty mix of Absolut Elyx, wheat, almond milk, juniper and bergamot, classic Nordic flavours with a decidedly modern serve.
Boxes convey secret desires, and for Fast Money Comes at a Dangerous Price (#FeelingSurprised), the liquid – Johnnie Walker Gold, chamomile, vetiver, sandalwood and kombucha – is served in a golden box hidden beneath a scattering of black pebbles topped with the most intense parmesan crisps we’ve ever tasted. The straw is also hidden, but once you get to it, the cocktail is more than enough reward; a fantastic blend of flavours with the punch of the whisky blending seamlessly with the more floral notes of chamomile and other aromatics. Another cocktail that uses this motif is Chameleon Crystals (#FeelingAmazing); Tanqueray 10, pisco, chilli and soy is revealed from a cloud of smoke as you open the lid of the golden-footed box.
More obvious symbolism is at work in the sensual Your Room, Or Mine? (#FeelingNaughty). Wrap your hands around the fur collar and inhale the floral scent of Hermés Jardin de Monsieur Li spritzed onto the fabric before taking a sip from the (18ct gold-coated) cup. This will play with your mind. The scent is undeniably girly, but the drink – Glenfiddich 15yo, becherovka, pineau de charentes – is deep, bold and somewhat masculine. Star of the social media, though, will be the Anti Hero (#FeelingLikeARockStar), a powerful, punchy mix of Don Julio Reposado, muscat, verjus, smoke and bloody orange that comes served in a huge Lego elephant – used to denote dominance in Dali’s works. Alex and Simone managed to crash the Lego website for 24 hours while ordering the 700 components needed for their creation, but that shows just how far they’re willing to go, and we’re glad of that. The whole experience takes cocktails to another level. Get dressed up and prepare to be blown away.
The #Surrealism2015 menu is available now. All cocktails £18. Artesian-bar.co.uk
By Sarah Kingsbury
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