Mix with a twist
WHEN I ask the barman at Sling Restaurant Lounge in Brisbane’s West End for a recommendation, he grabs a box from under the counter, unclips the catches and extracts the tools of his trade: silver spoons, metal swizzle sticks, a syringe and a jeweller’s scale to measure the fine white powder. A few customers give us curious glances, but nothing illegal is about to take place. Martin Lange, one of Australia’s leading molecular mixologists, is making me a drink.
Molecular mixology evolved from molecular gastronomy, the food trend developed by French scientist Herve This and made famous by Spanish chef Ferran Adria at El Bulli restaurant near Barcelona. The gastronomic version often involves unusual flavours — think peanut ice cream with artichoke caramel — but bartenders tend to use the scientific principles for enhancing taste, texture and appearance.
The first official molecular mixology class, held in October last year at the Ritz Paris’s Hemingway Bar, played host to This and eight renowned bartenders invited to learn techniques from him. Australian molecular mixologists such as Lange rely on industry magazines, bar shows, chat rooms and experimentation.
I settle back in my chair as Lange suggests a spherification and lines up his implements and Texturas, a range marketed by Adria. These powders, most of which are derived from natural products, stabilise drink ingredients and must be measured within 0.01g, hence the jeweller’s scale. Like a chemist producing a prescription, Lange weighs and measures powders and doublechecks the quantities. Soon a beaker filled with mango daiquiri, laced with Algin and Citras from the Texturas range, and a plastic container filled with water and Calcic (calcium chloride) sits on the bar.
With the easy confidence of someone who has done this many times before, Lange uses a large syringe to slowly squirt the daiquiri just under the surface of the water, where it forms a perfect jelly-like sphere that sinks slowly to the bottom of the container.
The ravioli’’ spherification is scooped out, drained and presented on a small white serving spoon where it quivers expectantly until I slip it into my mouth. A perfect daiquiri bursts forth with an intense flavour explosion and the jelly dissolves into nothing. This is the tiniest drink I have tasted but surely one of the most memorable.
Lange explains he can also create liquor-filled caviar, triple-frozen ice, torched drinks and popcorn, a crunchy granular concoction created using liquid nitrogen (definitely not prepared at the bar).
It is not enough for bartenders simply to master techniques. Perhaps the biggest challenge is the time spent on each creation. Sling combats this by offering cocktail degustations that show off a number of techniques at once. Wild libations such as nitro brandy alexander sorbet, soda streamed gin fizz martinis, chocolate ravioli and instant nitro vanilla ice cream feature on the menu.
Molecular mixology has made its way to mainstream venues, including Bentley Restaurant & Bar in Sydney’s Surry Hills, Zeta Bar at Hilton Sydney, Der Raum in Melbourne’s Richmond and Hippo Lounge Bar in Canberra. Providore Simon Johnson even offers a Molecular Mixology Mini Kit ($396).
The elegance of Cuvee Lounge Bar at Sofitel Brisbane is the antithesis of Sling’s edgy youthful appeal. Introducing molecular mixology to the wide cross-section of customers who drink at hotels is challenging.
At Cuvee, the sole focus is foams, which add an inspired twist to more traditional drinks and encourage customers to try something new. They are also made with one of the quickest molecular mixology techniques to master.
I order a martini and watch as vanilla-infused vodka and syrup is shaken with more typical ingredients and poured into a traditional glass. The bartender snaps a nitrous oxide cartridge into the chamber of his silver canister, flips it over and squirts a meringue-like foam over the surface of my drink. An exquisite fruity aroma tickles my nose and passionfruit froth softly touches my lips. Molecular mixology could be the start of a new love affair. www.slinglounge.com www.ritzparis.com www.texturaselbulli.com www.thebentley.com.au www.zetabar.com.au www.derraum.com.au www.hippobar.com.au www.simonjohnson.com www.sofitelbrisbane.com.au