Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bad Alchemy


The drinks at Alchemist Cocktail Kitchen, Shanghai’s first  molecular gastro-bar, put all the complexity of a gourmet meal into your glass 

It might look like bartender Ryan Noreiks is whipping up something in the kitchen, but don't let the apron fool you. Noreiks is bringing kitchen techniques to Alchemist's cocktails.

Shanghai restaurateur and Los Angeles native Kelley Lee’s latest venture in her self-proclaimed quest to “attempt to be at the forefront of current trends,” combines nose-to-tail gastronomy with highly refined molecular cocktails -- and one bartender who knows his way around the kitchen. 

Enter Brisbane-native and bartender Ryan Noreiks who has relocated to Shanghai to make his and Lee's cocktail inspirations into a reality at Lee's new venue, Alchemist Cocktail Kitchen (grand opening on Wednesday, November 17). 

Molecular cocktails are not new, but for those who enjoy something a bit more complex than a screwdriver -- and we're not knocking screwdrivers -- Alchemist’s drinks are a welcome addition to Shanghai's ever-improving cocktail scene, requiring more skill than the average open-bar bartender could muster. 

Watching Lee and Noreiks debate the merits of various techniques and ingredients as they refine the menu is like watching indulgent old grandparents excited to spoil their grandchildren. Beetroot gimlet or duck fat cognac, anyone?

1. Cortez sun

Alchemist Shanghai - Cortez Sun

Price: RMB 75

Ingredients: Corralejo Silver tequila, Aperol, roast bell pepper, essence of clove, wheat and mandarin skin foam.

It should be no surprise that the managing partner of Shanghai's loved Mexican joint Cantina Agave started off her new bar with a tequila drink.

“What’s unique about this one is the tequila is infused with roast red pepper using sous-vide technique, which really draws out the capsicum flavor,” says Noreiks. 

And he’s right. This is a well-balanced, albeit strong, aperitif, with an almost-sweet mandarin skin foam on the side to be eaten with a spoon. The foam balances the heat of the alcohol in the drink. 

Pair it with: The perfectly prepared Egg’wich (RMB 58) topped with sous-vide egg yolks. (For the uninitiated, sous vide is French for “under vacuum” and refers to cooking vacuum-sealed dishes under low heat for a long time.) The dish proves any fears of squirting egg at the barmen unfounded.

2. La flora fixe

Alchemist Shanghai - La Flora Fixe

Price: RMB 75

Ingredients: Corralejo Silver tequila, elderflower, absinthe, citrus, Sauvignon blanc fog.

Described by Noreiks as the bar’s “intimate take on a tequila sour,” the elderflower counters the bitter tequila and absinthe kick in La Flora Fixe, while a floating Sauvignon blanc fog softens the blow even further. 

Providing an interesting visual as well as old factory experience while you sip.

This is Noreiks’ self-proclaimed favorite drink and is definitely one to try on a date -- think wine bar experience with a twist. 

Pair it with: The Kanpachi Tartare (RMB 118).

3. Mala insala

Alchemist Shanghai - Mala Insala

Price: RMB 70

Cold hickory-smoked Four Roses bourbon, tomato, Worcestershire, celery bitters and Sichuan peppercorn.

This bloody Mary-inspired cocktail can serve as an ultra-premium eye-opener. With the celery bitters poured as a foamy floater over the cold hickory-smoked bourbon, this is not your brunch buffet bloody. 

Be warned: those looking for the spice of a bloody Mary won't find it here, but eveything else falls into place nicely, making the drink flavors almost too complex for the average palate.

Pair it with: Crispy sweetbread bone marrow and truffled oxtail “sliders” (RMB 118). Best pairing you'll have all night. 

4. Yangtze River tea

Alchemist Shanghai - Yangtze River Tea

Price: RMB 75

Baijiu, Corralejo Silver tequila, Captain Morgan Gold Rum nitro’d with citrus compote; side of spiced Jasmine tea. 

Do not balk at the baijiu listed as the first ingredient of this Long Island iced tea-inspired beverage served as a sorbet, chased with jasmine tea. 

This cocktail best expresses the concept of alchemy, turning a trashy spring-break mash into a dish you could serve at a wedding. 

Pair it with: The sea urchin blini (RMB 98).

5. Dr. Lee’s cider house remedy

Alchemist Shanghai - Dr. Lee’s Cider House Remedy
Price: RMB 70

Hot-spiced cider, Alchemist pirate rum, coffee molasses, sesame-glazed carrot foam.

The Alchemist plans to change its menu with the seasons, and this cocktail is a rich, satisfying dessert and will surely warm Shanghai’s tipplers all the way through the cold, damp winter. 

Wrap your hands around this tipple and enjoy. You'll be warm -- inside and out -- in no time. 

Pair it with: The Popcorn Pig Brain (RMB 68) hits the spot.
getting there
Alchemist Cocktail Kitchen
Sinan Mansions, Block 32 45 Sinan Lu, near Fuxing Zhong Lu
思南路45号32楼, 近复兴中路
Hours: 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. tel +86 21 6426 0660

Bad Alchemy

I dream Hermaphrodite and I sit up all night
Our eyes on the horizon of a wobbling bowl.
Heads in hands we ponder dregs
the bowl contains
a liquid's left putrescence
after being drained.
(What we feel we have to solve
is why the dregs have not dissolved)
When I wake I wonder what it means;
am I bad alchemy? It seems
I image Self unmixed, a risk,
in a dish for drinking
Fluid with a strongly stinking sediment –
is that what it meant?
Am I hermaphrodite?
Neither one nor quite the other?
(What we feel we have to solve
is why the dregs have not dissolved)

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