Or, Don’t Try This At Home…
Centrifuges, sous-vides, and distillers– Oh My! Floor to ceiling shelves crowded with bottles, jars and vials of such esoteric substances as essence of damp earth, desiccated peas, aroma of the sea, and a 1910 rum. Lab-coated technicians wielding electronic pipettes and digital scales buzz around us as I ponder the genius of Tony Conigliaro’s Drinks Factory. This is the lab where he manipulates flavour, aroma and texture in order to deliver a full sensory experience with a buzz. Cocktail alchemy.
Such was the Masterclass that I attended last week at 69 Colebrooke Row. We were first treated to a tour of the nearby Drinks Factory– a glimpse inside the mind of the mad scientist himself. Tony spoke about the demons that drive him and the science that tethers him to ground. Aromas were circulated, machines reverently caressed, champagne cocktails sampled. His passion is evident in every tiny detail.
We moved on to 69 Colebrooke Row, or the Bar With No Name for the second half of our Masterclass. Intimate and unpretentious, it was the perfect venue for mindful tippling. We were presented with a cocktail in a bespoke ceramic shell called a Prairie Oyster, inspired by Liza Minelli’s character in Cabaret. It’s a hangover cure she drank every morning consisting of raw egg, brandy, Worcestershire sauce, tabasco, salt and pepper. Tony’s version introduces the more modern post-hangover flavours of a Bloody Mary whilst retaining the unctuous yolky burst of a raw egg and smack of a briny oyster. You have to slurp it, not sip it. One of the single best things I’ve had in my mouth. Ever. I was shocked to discover that there is actually no egg and no oyster in it.
In Tony’s book Drinks, Unravelling the Mysteries of Flavour and Aroma in Drink, he provides the recipe for his take on the Prairie Oyster. Here is a synopsis of step 1: Pour boiling water over tomatoes, peel them, blitz in a blender, sieve them, then put through a centrifuge and add dye. Pour into hemispherical moulds and freeze. Make a vege-gel solution (to precise temperature specifications), spike the frozen tomato spheres with a pin, dip into gelatine twice, place on greaseproof paper and freeze. If you haven’t lost the plot yet, steps 2-5 include making the horseradish-infused vodka sauce, whipping up Worcester “air”, and slicing the borage leaf garnish, etcetera.
The point is, sometimes it’s far better to yield to genius than try to understand it. The Bar, the Book, the Bearded Man– they demand and deserve respect. You could do worse things in life than to cast yourself adrift in the Bar With No Name and experience liquid alchemy in its sublimest incarnation. Unless you own a centrifuge, just don’t try it at home.
The Bar—- http://69colebrookerow.com
The Book—- http://tinyurl.com/nplwax9
You can also sample Tony’s cocktails at The Grain Store near Paddington and the Zetter Townhouse in Clerkenwell.