You’ll know how much I enjoyed Bombay Sapphire’s Project Botanicals last year, so I was excited to learn that it would be returning to Melbourne from 24th June for three weeks. The menu has been tweaked and there are some exciting new cocktails created for the event from some of Melbourne’s best bars, 1806, Union Electric, Eau de Vie, Black Pearl and Gin Palace.
Gary Mehigan, Masterchef judge and the man behind the delicious dishes paired with the Bombay Sapphire cocktails, spent some time with me last week to chat about the event.
How did you become involved with Project Botanicals?
Bombay Sapphire approached me I think because they knew I was an English chef, and because we have a great venue. I think it was as simple as that.Our venue is urban and cool in quite an unknown part of the city and people from Melbourne love a secret.
And also I’m from Hampshire, which is where Laverstoke Mill, Bombay Sapphire’s distillery is located, so I think that helped!
We’re used to beer and wine being paired with food, but how different is it working with a spirit and in this case a finished cocktail?
First time around we were given flavour profiles and when you tackle a menu from a flavour profile perspective you look at the botanicals. I can look at lemon or cubeb berries and think “oh I can lock into that and fuse them into a dish”. The problem is, if the cocktail is designed around that flavour as well its overkill.
This time we asked for the finished cocktails. Andy (Wren) had used some “out there mixers”, so I had to research them and work out whether they were heavy or sweet and then I came up with around 3 dishes for each cocktail. Then we got together with the Bombay Sapphire team to do a tasting. To be honest once I tasted the finished cocktail it was obvious which dish worked.
I actually find working with cocktails easier than wine and beer. Something like an IPA can take over a dish, while a delicate wine can be very hard to work with.
What was the most challenging cocktail to match with food?
The Cassia Indian Milk Punch was a bit of a googly! Creamy cocktails aren’t to my taste so from that perspective it was hard. I thought a curry dish might work, but the cocktail is so creamy and so intense it needed something opposite. We settled on the poached chicken in lime and it cuts through the creaminess of the cocktail perfectly.
The other was the Almond Blossom Martini, a beautiful bold drink with lots of elements. This was originally matched with a jamòn croquette, coated with panko crumbs and served with a fresh slaw but when we tasted it with the cocktail, it just didn’t work, but the jamòn flavour was perfect. So we pulled it right back and made a simpler dish, making the jamòn the hero and serving it with bruschetta slow-roasted onion and charred vegetables.
What was the easiest combination?
The G&T. The spanner crab works so well. We’ve gone for a crunchy long toast and chunky avocado. The cumin and the coriander in the dukkha ties it all in together.
What’s your favourite dish and cocktail?
I love all of them but perhaps the Warm Hazelnut & Brown Butter Friande with the warm punch, it’s so wintery. When Project Botanicals said they wanted to run the event in July I was mindful of the chilly weather in Melbourne at this time and knew we needed to adjust the menu accordingly. This dessert is perfect for a cold night.
Why do you think Project Botanicals has been so successful?
Pop-ups are really popular in general but the Bombay Sapphire team was very clever coming up with this style of event. It’s very on-trend, and people love something new and unexpected. Last year we did 5,500 covers over 10 days, averaging 450-500 per night in 3 sittings. It was an amazing achievement of both the kitchen and bar teams to pull that off.
I think rolling it out to other capitals is a brilliant idea. In fact who needs capitals they should roll it out regionally!
If someone wanted to try pairing cocktails with food at home, what are the key things remember?
The key thing is to pick one flavour to latch on to. It’s not rocket science. If you’re making a G&T and your garnishing it with lemon, you start by thinking about foods that go well with lemon – it really as simple as that.
You could put lime or thyme in your G&T and then you connect it to something you are cooking. For example, you could roast your chicken with lemon wedges, thyme and pepper.
If you have a drink with an orange you need something to bind it with the dish. It could be adding orange zest to a salad, or cooking baby carrots in orange juice and reducing it down until it gets syrupy and then throwing in a few coriander seeds as a little surprise.
You also need to think about the weight of the meal. A G&T is not going to work with a massive red wine braise because it’s so heavy.
The only rule is if you drink the drink, then eat the food and then drink the drink again, the drink should taste the same as it tasted before you ate the food.
Being from the England, I’m assuming you like gin?
Yes, I love gin! Luckily Bombay Sapphire is my brand of choice, however I do like Hendrick’s and when Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin came out I tried that.
What is your preferred way to drink it?
I love a G&T. A long iced G&T is a perfect anytime drink.
However, I also really enjoy a Negroni as an after-dark by the fireplace sort of drink. I like the ceremony of coming home and preparing one. Instead of popping a cork or flipping the cap off a bottle of beer, there is a slow, relaxing process to making a Negroni, the mixing, the stirring down, the peeling of the orange. I really love that.
Bombay Sapphire Project Botanicals runs from 24th June-11th July 2015. Tickets are available here.
I am delighted to announce that thanks to Bombay Sapphire and Gary, I have an AMAZING gift set to give to one lucky reader.
The prize includes:
Two Bombay Sapphire Gin & Tonic Balloon Glasses, two Bombay Sapphire Miniatures, 2 Fever tree Tonic waters, A DOUBLE pass to Bombay Sapphire Project Botanicals on 25th or 26th June AND a Bombay Sapphire Project Botanicals 2015 Menu signed by Gary Mehigan.
All you have to do is answer the question below. All correct answers will go into a random draw. Terms and Conditions apply.
Question: What is Gary’s preferred way to drink Bombay Sapphire?
Simply leave your answer in the comments section below.