Welcome back to our series about No Holds Barred.
We just completed the third instalment – The City of Love…
Unsurprisingly, we took Paris – and France more widely – as our theme this time, as our guest bartender was the ever wonderful Jérôme Allaguillemette from Sexy Fish in Mayfair.
This flirty Frenchman was all the inspiration we needed to come up with a menu suitable for the very best romantic weekend in that most sensuous of cities.
So what did we do?
To begin, we created a menu that told the story of a young couple on a weekend jaunt to Paris who get engaged and then spend a beautiful 48 hours of romance together.
This, we printed on wonderful headed paper to draw to mind the elegant simplicity of prix fixe menus so common in bistros across Paris.
Then came the decoration of the room.
The tables we laid like a French restaurant, with white table cloths and touches of the traditional red gingham.
Decadent candelabras adorned each as a centrepiece, alongside bread baskets, Champagne flutes, espresso cups and wine glasses filled with chilled rosemary and cucumber water.
Antique French flags decorated the bar front and Parisian impressionist artwork was laid out around the walls, alongside vintage postcards. All in all, it was a sight to see!
Now to the drinks
For the last couple of events we’ve done some ridiculously tasty punch-style cocktails that each guest receives when they enter the room.
This time, we decided that this just didn’t make our lives hard enough.
Instead, we decided we wanted to create an incredible pairing for oysters – something that for our team was intrinsically linked to the sort of high-life one imagined in Paris.
But simply serving a cocktail alongside oysters would be boring so we decided to make them ourselves. Yes, you read that correctly. We made oysters… kind of.
We made a wonderful welcome cocktail with Ciroc Vodka, Green Chartreuse and Pear, all of which was lifted by oyster leaf distillate made in Roxanne (check our earlier posts about the Rotavap).
This was then made into large spheres not unlike olives using a technique called reverse spherification, which was developed at the infamous El Bulli restaurant.
These were then placed in oyster shells and garnished with borage flowers and spritzed with salted Johnny Walker Blue Label to finish the effect of gazumping the most incredible dressed oyster.
To pair with this experience, we served the guests a glass of incredible dry Normandy cider, infused with sea ice lettuce and oyster leaf.
The first ‘official’ drink of the evening was petit dejeuner. Breakfast. Because who hasn’t enjoyed an incredible French breakfast in their time? Or at the very least, has some familiarity with the concept of a continental breakfast?
We took our favourite flavours from this time of the French day and made a pair of dainty drinks with them. The star of the show was Breakfast Bubbly…
At some point or another, we have all wanted to celebrate at breakfast with a glass of Champagne alongside the usual treats, so we decided – logically, of course – that what we should do is continue the DIY theme and make our own extra special Champagne.
What was it?
Ketel One Vodka, which we fat-washed with beurre noisette – effectively burnt butter, which takes on a caramelised, nutty flavour.
We also made a brioche bun liqueur, so together you had the perfect snapshot of the boulangerie/patisserie experience.
With these, we paired clarified clementine juice, Orange Columbo and sweet Sauternes wine.
Carbonated and chilled, this was the best breakfast anybody could hope for.
But no breakfast in Paris would be complete without a shot of espresso, so alongside the main affair we served from a cafetiere a low-ABV cocktail, comprising cold brew coffee, blood orange liqueur, tonic water, Mr Black’s Liqueur, Bergamot Marmalade and Pain au Chocolat Bitters. This was topped with a lecithin air flavoured with coffee, to give the illusion of a crema on the coffee!
Second up was Jerome’s signature drink. This was inspired by Paris and France’s artistic culture, so naturally we served it in a beautiful glass alongside paintbrushes and palettes filled with edible paints, individually flavoured with the various components in the cocktail. The flavours of the cocktail were elegantly reminiscent of Normandy: Tanqueray Gin (whilst an English gin made in Scotland, the Tanqueray family were originally a religious family who emigrated from France for a better life), Suze Gentian Liqueur for earthy bitterness, lavender to provide a perfumed top note, French apricot for a rich and indulgent body that remains light and fruity, Lillet Blanc for its aromatic perfection and last up balance provided by the acidity of fresh bergamot juice!
Our third little star was us getting a little bit cheeky with the guests.
Part of the fun with No Holds Barred is the knowledge that we will throw some challenging flavours your way, all of which of course taste spectacular.
So what should a Francophile cocktail event include? Cheese and wine, of course. Merlot and Brie, no less.
Infused into Ron Zacapa rum and clarified, we matched this with rosemary tincture, truffled honey and Noix de St Jean, an incredible red fortified wine made with green walnuts.
This was served in French soup bowls with a spoon, and guests were instructed that they could drink it either straight from the bowl or from the spoon, each option utterly changing the identity and flavour of the drink because of the difference in aeration.
For a final flourish, we added aromatics by grating on top truffled nutmeg from a traditionally oversized peppercorn grinder.
The last cocktail was all about nostalgia. About memories and sharing them with loved ones.
But it was also the end of the night and the end of the trip for our couple in Paris, so it had to be bittersweet.
Hence we created a luxurious drink with Pere Magloire Calvados, a French aromatised wine with coffee and chocolate called Byrhh Grand QuinQuina, Acorn Bitters, Campari and La Birlou.
If you have never tried La Birlou, you simply must. It is the most wondrously sweet and childishly delightful liqueur France produces, made with apples and chestnuts. Like drinking autumn!
This cocktail was made in advance and served in whole toffee apples, which slowly infused the drink and vice versa, so the guests could eat them as a dessert for the end of the evening.
To see them off, we gave each guest a tipple all of our team enjoy: Pineau de Charentes and a little postcard, sending our love and wishing them well on their journeys home.
Cheesy? Maybe. But who isn’t a little cheesy when they’re in love?
18 Highfield Road, Birmingham B15 3DU. 0121 454 5212.
This is the latest of a series of great articles in partnership with The Edgbaston, Birmingham’s fabulous boutique hotel and cocktail bar.