Most cocktails have a garnish of some sort these days, but for some bartenders, a lime wedge and salt rim just won't cut it. Marian Beke and his team at Nightjar in Old Street, central London, pride themselves on the creativity, extravagance and beauty of their cocktail garnishes. We think they're among the best around.
Better yet, while these garnishes look like they were specially created for competitions and have a real wow factor, they all feature on the drinks menu on a daily basis, and such is the level of organisation and commitment to perfection, that Marian, along with head bartender Luca Cinalli, his brother Carlo Cinalli and Martina Breznanova, have incorporated the prep work into their daily routines in order that they don't add 15 minutes to every drink order.
For Marian, a garnish is more than just a gratuitous final addition to make a drink pretty. They are an inherent part of the taste profile of each cocktail that also happen to be a real visual spectacle. "They are definitely part of the drink and in fact every part of the garnish relates to the drink. Your garnish should support the colour, the smell of a drink, it should work with your eyes, your nose, just as much as the taste. And of course it should look beautiful."
Garnish preparation takes up to three man-hours per day, and a further two hours on average after each session, with the pastry chef making chocolate spoons, Aperol jelly, homemade sugar bowls that dissolve in Old Fashioneds as you drink, and the bar team cutting, carving and dehydrating different elements of each garnish.
In addition, the garnishes make some pretty extreme demands on the team such as 4am visits to Covent Garden market after they've finished their shift. "We're all tired by then of course, but it's a lot of fun," says Marian. "Most of the time bartenders hate the chef and vice versa, but it's good to be a friends."
The bar now owns four different types of scissors, pastry moulds sourced from Japan, bamboo straws from Jakarta, Marian has also specially learned origami, ice carving and sugar spinning, and worked with herbalists and perfumiers in order to create better garnishes.
For some drinks it can cost significantly more to create these extravagances. Some elements cost 50p, such as miniature pineapples, real dried starfish or sea shells. Dry ice is obviously expensive (around £25 for 10kg). But does the bar make the money back? Well, it all balances out really, as other elements of garnishes are economic and no drink is more than £10 with the exception of the house Martini which has a relatively basic twist. Rather than charge vastly more the idea is basically to have a greater impact on the customers and encourage word-of-mouth about the way drinks are served.
"Creating these types of garnishes is an extra headache for us - organisation and preparation is key - but the competition is fierce and there's the need for more and more effort. If everybody did what we do I would be upset that we weren't doing enough. But I see already bars trying to copy us, so I know it's working."
Rum, Nightjar Shrub, Lemon Juice and a Galliano Balsamico Float, served on cinnamon bark that is set alight with over-proof rum, decorated with icing sugar, and garnished with seasonal berries that reflect the ingredients of the shrub, with a bamboo straw.
Dark and Stormy
Rum, Lime, Sugar Syrup and Ginger Beer on cracked ice, served in a mug classic navy mug and garnished with bamboo slivers dressed in charcoal salt, rosemary dusted with icing sugar, half a gooseberry and a rose bud.
Armagnac, Byrrh aromatic wine, a whole Egg and Nutmeg, served with a duck's egg containing a coffee foam of egg, brown sugar and coffee, with a chocolate spoon, a coconut bird (Nightjar's logo) and an icing sugar crusta.
Rum, Cognac, Gin, sherry, orange and lemon juices and orgeat, served on crushed ice with dry ice, a slice of dehydrated pineapple, a mini pineapple, a cherry soaked in kirsch and Mozart Dry liqueur and a column of fresh pineapple marinated in rum.
Old Tom Gin, Sweet Vermouth, Orange Bitters, Deep Ocean water (water from Japan that is so rich in minerals and salt it lowers the freezing point), absinthe, served on a sea shell with a real dried star fish, a green olive and a walnut.
Name of the Samurai
Whisky, Ginger and Raisin sake, Lime, Lavender and Vanilla sugar, served in a china cup inside a traditional masu box, and garnished with a Matcha green tea biscuit, an Origami bird sprayed with perfume held with bamboo and Nightjar-branded playing cards.
Mozart dry, cranberries, vanilla maple syrup, fresh squeezed lime, Nightjar electric bitters (made by macerating Szechuan flowers in 90% abv. spirit), mixed berries liqueur and red wine, garnished with a coconut bird, ice bowl containing seasonal fruits macerated in Galliano Balsamico, a cinnamon stick dusted with icing sugar and chocolate shavings.
Sour-style drinks are garnished with caramalised meringue (using a blowtorch), orange zest cut with pinking shears, a slice of raw sugar cane, a cherry and a wire-tied bird.
Rum, Honeywater, Lime juice, Champagne, garnished with a kumquat cooked in agave nectar, dusted with dried hibiscus, a sugar rose and stickers from the Post Office.
Vodka and Bloody Mary mix made from seven kinds of vegetables (up to three varieties of tomatoes , carrot, beetroot, cucumber, basil, coriander, seasoning, vinegar), garnished with dehydrated carrot, corn and cucumber, a bamboo straw from Jakarta, a pasta shell and cherry tomatoes soaked in Galliano Balsamico.