Friday, 8 April 2011

Tales of Killer Cocktails

By Faye Armstrong.

I almost died twice last week. Dramatic huh? This story is the stuff of epic novels and blockbuster movies. Intrigued? Let me start from the beginning of this ill-fated tale.

On emerging from the maze of underground tunnels my eyes adjusted in the haze of the afternoon’s fading light, and across the hive of buzzing engines, I focused on the silhouette of Holly. Peripherals and hearing lost, my feet worked in unison, tracing the invisible line that would lead me to my companion and oldest friend.

In quick succession, the temporary loss of senses came flooding back as the sound of blaring horns, angry yells and screeching brakes forced my eyes to break their gaze and instead notice the Harley Davidson skimming past my now immobile feet. It came out of nowhere, honest. Today’s lesson kids: don’t cross the road until the little man turns green. Even if the traffic is at a standstill.

Raising my eyes to the sky in a silent prayer (it’s surprising how even the most unfaltering atheist suddenly finds faith when an eternity of damnation lays before them), I continued, cautiously, to Zenna Bar in Soho, below notoriously good Indian restaurant Red Fort.

Dan Thompson, Zenna Bar’s head barman and skilled mixologist, seated Holly and I at the sleek looking bar. Other revellers happy – a mix of couples enjoying the dim lighting and secluded booths and men in suits enjoying spending the money they’d spent the last 9 hours earning – Dan started explaining Zenna’s unique cocktail menu.

The cocktails - which, all but one, Dan himself concocted - are all inspired by, and use, Indian ingredients. Masala Mojito, I hear you ask? Well no, thank God - for the second time that day. The influences are subtler than that, aided by Dan’s travels through India and his exposure to the food, drink and people of the land. The menu reads like a journey too, each page has a feel, a theme, an aspect of a certain place or spice.

Keen to showcase all of this, Dan insists we try a cocktail from each page. I knew this particular journey was likely to lead to an 8am headache, a large pint of water and couple of paracetemol.

Page 1:
House Nectar – Zenna’s secret house recipe. Whatever the secret is, I want to know it.
Coriander and Lychee Daiquiri – Chairmans Reserve Rum, Lychee Juice, fresh lime and Coriander. Yes, we too were sceptical at first but the coriander is just an initial hint, to the nose more than the taste buds, it’s the Lychee that wins out and has the lasting taste.

Garden Martini – Bombay Sapphire Gin, mint, lime, apple, cucumber, Elderflower cordial and apple juice. Imagine drinking grass. Imagine drinking grass and enjoying it. That’s the Garden Martini.

Vita – Lemongrass infused Vodka, raspberry puree, Chambord, fresh lemon and Lychee juice with a dash of soda. Holly hardly spoke to me whilst drinking this. Lost to Vodka, it’s how many a sad family tale ends.

Page3: Zenna signature Spicy Cocktails:
Bee Sting – Honey Vodka, Honey Liqueur, lemon juice, Jalepeno peppers, peach liqueur, white peach puree. Probably the best ‘spicy cocktail’ to try if you the type of person who orders a Korma. The sweetness of the honey conquers the heat of the Jalapeno’s but the combination is shockingly good.

Illiana (The Golden Dragon) – Billed as the worlds spiciest cocktail, I was made to sign a waiver form before drinking this cocktail which comes served with a fire extinguisher. Yes, we have come to the part of this tale where I almost die for a second time. On taking a sip of this man-killer made from Chairmans spiced rum, orange Curacao, Orgeat syrup, lime juice, orange juice, and a drop of secret spicy sauce, my throat constricted, my hands grasped the side of the bar, my eyes watered and my face flushed. Downing the alcoholic ‘fire extinguisher’ – an additional cocktail made from Bombay Sapphire Gin, sugar and lemon – as though it was water, I concluded death by motorcycle mangling would be a less painful and more dignified way to go.

Page 4, Lassis, served alcoholic or non alcoholic:
Banana Lassi (alcoholic, obviously) – fresh yoghurt blended with banana, banana syrup, Zubrowka Vodka and Creme de Banane. Smooth, creamy and refreshing, a saving treat Captain Banana himself would recommend to save the day and my burning mouth.

What have I learned from my night at Zenna Bar? Tired of life; try crossing the road when you shouldn’t or necking a few dangerously hot cocktails. Tired of the standard, run-of-the-mill cocktail; try Zenna Bar.

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