I don't write much about drinks.
I think this silence stems from a stint, in 2003/04, as a reviewer of bars in Shanghai. Even in my mid-twenties, with an ambitious liver and a thirst for discovering new places, this was not a great gig. Most bars are not very interesting, when one is forced to write about them. Even less so with a research headache. The cocktail scene in Shanghai, circa 2003, wasn't terribly interesting either (it is more so, now).
But over the last few months at Soul Food the bar and I have become bedfellows, so I thought I'd write a bit about it. The reason we're so well acquainted is because it's difficult to find a decent bartender in Bangkok. The kind that cares more about making good drinks than juggling shit or unsnapping beer bottles with an unnecessary whip of the wrist.
The tender of the bar has more responsibility that that of floor staff. You must trust -- or at least think that you might be able to trust -- your barman. And I have gone through several, including one who called himself Beer, both for lack of trust and an abundance of flourishes. Beer also drank a lot of beer, I presume, because he arrived at work late in the afternoon with eyes like maraschino cherries. Beer didn't last long.
Nor did Ken, who quit after I pinched him in secret, below where the customers could see, for sneezing on his hand as he cut fruit. His feelings were hurt, he explained later that night, because I had gotten upset and asked him to wash his hands. A pinch and a whisper can be dangerous. Because Ken never returned.
I bartended full time here for about ten weeks before training Chai, a server who was trustworthy and intelligent enough to take the slippery reins of the bar. But Chai had to return to his village last week, in the moutains of Burma between Thailand and China. He's getting married, and is gone for almost a month. Chai hadn't been home in seven years, and I let him go so that I can have him back.
And so here I write, again behind the bar, on a quiet Sunday night.
A lot of people come to Soul Food to drink our cocktails, which are made strong and (usually) sour. The drinks are designed to complement the food -- which is strongly flavored too, and sweet and sour and spicy.
That's not the cocktail below. It's one made with chili, lime and tequila.
But as complicated or fussy as that may sound, the philosophy at work behind this bar is to push simplicity and quality. A subtle tweak or two on a classic that is unique and familiar at once. That's what I'm aiming for, though sometimes guests see lemongrass or chili or kaffir lime leaves and don't realize they're really drinking an Old Fashioned with ginger, or a Tom Collins with a Thai herb or two.
And so I thought I'd share with you a drink made on this simple premise. One that I really like, and one that you can easily recreate at home. It's called The Lemongrass Daiquiri. Use good rum, a double shake, and a strainer for best results. The egg white is optional, but I like the body it adds and how it tempers the acidity a bit. See my recipe below:
The Lemongrass Daiquiri
6cl Havana Club Silver (or any good, white rum)
1 stalk lemongrass, peeled of outer layer and sliced thinly
4cl fresh lime juice
3cl sugar syrup
Dash egg white
First, take a martini or daiquiri glass, and chill it by filling with water and ice.
Slice one stalk of lemongrass, place it in a cocktail shaker, and muddle it until the fibrous herb is smashed up. You can't muddle too hard. Beat it up.
Add the rum and lime juice and sugar syrup to the shaker, and the dash of egg white.
Shake the mixture -- WITHOUT ICE -- 4 or 5 times. Then add ice, and shake vigorously again, for about 15-20 seconds.
Strain into the cold glass, making sure you get all the foam out of the shaker by shuffling it side-to-side over the glass.
Serve (or better yet, drink it).