Once upon a time I was a fresh faced seventeen year old pondering what on earth I was going to do for the rest of my life. The grown ups will tell you that ‘the world is your oyster’ but in the very next breath go on to rattle off a list of their ‘approved careers’ which will give you what they consider stability and status. Common inclusions in such lists: lawyer, doctor, accountant, engineer… all options I was given, all admirable professions many of my friends engage in now.
But what didn’t make the list? I went to a fairly traditional girls’ school and despite the ‘girls can do anything’ mantra, encouragement into trades were unheard of and anything in hospitality was somewhat frowned upon. Now, a bit over ten years later, I have no doubt that those traditional professions will still be encouraged but I wonder if careers in the food and drink industry have gained a higher status these days given society’s gastronomic obsession. I certainly hope so because I truly believe it’s a highly competitive industry which requires just as much ambition and dedication if you want to be at the top of this food chain.
Given I regularly wine and dine, force a certain someone to wait while I quickly take some snaps of said wining and dining, then spend several hours a week ranting and raving about our experiences to you all, I think it’s safe to say I have a lot of respect for people in this industry. There is however, one role which has taken some time to win me over: the bartender. Or are they mixologists now?
This is how it works in my mind: a bit of booze, a bit of non-booze, shake it all up and voila, cocktail complete. Can you tell I don’t often make my own drinks? Unless pouring wine from bottle to glass counts, and even then a certain someone has usually got me covered. So it was probably about time I went to a cocktail masterclass to learn a thing or two about the ‘easy’ job that bartenders have.
What struck me when I first stepped into Mint Leaf was how much it screamed ‘I’m a cocktail bar’. I know there’s a restaurant too but my goodness the bar space is sexy; it’s dark, sleek and just calling out for couples to cosy up over a few drinks. But I digress, no cosiness in this instance, once I had enjoyed my peach bellini there was some serious drink-making to be done. Our little party took our seats at the bar and got ready for our masterclass with Mint Leaf’s Bar Manager, Javed.
To kick things off, Javed demonstrated how to create three different cocktails, each time giving us a bit of history about how the cocktail came about, a bit about the different spirits used and their varieties, and of course the step by step of actually making it. The first cocktail of the night was a mojito, something I thought was a basic as they came, but in reality there were discussions about which rum was best, how not to muddle the mint, and how quickly you had to drink it before it turned to a terrible slush. For the record, it’s EIGHT minutes everyone… drink faster!
We sampled a few types of gin, tasting is an integral part of learning I say, before launching into the Mean Thyme, one of Mint Leaf’s signature cocktails. We loved it… from the subtle thyme and vanilla notes to the theatrics of the flame, this was unanimously voted our favourite. Finally Jadev pulled out an odd contraption and started meticulously slicing a block of ice before combining whisky, syrup and smoke in all sorts of complicated steps to create the Woody Haleine. No laughs here, this cocktail means business!
At this point our responsible hosts brought out platters of nibbles for us to enjoy because there can’t be all that drinking without some eating! Head Chef Raj and his team prepared for us paneer tikka and seehk kebab (minced lamb) both served with mint sauce, kalonji jheenga (tiger prawns sprinkled with onion seeds and spiced yoghurt), murgh tikka (chilli, lemon and fenugreek chicken), and kurkure asparagus (tempura asparagus with chilli and garlic sauce), and warm naan bread. I’d eat all of it all over again in a heartbeat but my absolute favourites were the juicy prawns and the ingenious asparagus, definitely good enough to give the potato chip a run for its money!
Then finally, it was the moment we were all waiting for… The Shake Off! Each of us would get behind the bar and have a go at making our own cocktail. I stepped up to the plate first… Barely reaching over the bar to see what I was pouring where, Javed helped me put together a Deadly Berry of vodka, my old friend Midori, juice and berries. I take back all those times I sniggered at the bartenders shaking that mixer like crazy…
Firstly, it’s sort of hard work and secondly I needed to shake it quite well to get those berries all smushed up! Of course I’m going to say it tasted good, my own handiwork after all, but seriously if you’re into the fruity cocktails like me, the Deadly Berry is the thing to get. I loved the fact we all got to make something different, according to our tastes and preferences; Frankie had a Bramble, Michelle braved the raw eggs whites to make the Pinky, and Laurie got a little spicy with the Tikki Takka.
So at the end of this intense, and intensely fun masterclass, what did I learn? A truly professional bartender must know his spirits and ingredients inside out, have an extensive repertoire of the classics but also be creative enough to develop his own concoctions, and do it all with a certain style. So not as easy as it seems; I most definitely will not be making a career change anytime soon!
Mint Leaf’s Cocktail Masterclass costs £30pp or £50pp if you include their delicious canapés, full details can be found on their website!
I was a guest of Mint Leaf but as always, all opinions are mine, mine, and mine alone!