New on the Lisbon block: interview with beautiful Belarusian head barman at Decandence
This interview has been one of the longest and most relaxed I’ve yet posted on Saucy Dressings – most of it occurred while Olga Brit and I were having dinner together at Insólito – the next-door, sister restaurant to Decadence where she’s head bartender. If some details seem a little hazy….reader, please bear with me! Towards the end of an evening of enthusiastic and painstaking research I regret to say my notes have become almost illegible.
Making a Smoke Me
Olga has ordered a Smoke Me. It arrives and is poured with a billow of swirling smoke. “This is Dewars’ Irish whisky,” she explains, “infused with green apple and thyme. Then a little lime juice and simple syrup is added. The whole lot is put into a smoked and smoking glass. If you were trying to make this at home you could try burning the thyme inside a covered glass to capture the smoke. I’m not quite sure how that would work!”
On ‘flair’ bartending
Sophisticated techniques involving smoke and dry ice are one thing, but Olga is scathing about ‘flair bartending’ – there’s a time and a place for it she says, but real bartending is about a lot more than just fancy tricks.
And this doesn’t just apply to the juggling acts that some barmen get up to. Mixology has reached a turning point. “In fact the trend is well away from fancy in all kinds of respects. People now are wanting cocktails which are as simple and elegant as you can get. There’s been enough, maybe too much, innovation. Take the Gin Tonica for example, it’s not a G + T, it’s a fruit salad. People now are returning to the simple classics.”
“Take the Gin Tonica for example, it’s not a G + T, it’s a fruit salad.”
Trends in Portugal and the influence of the Gin Tonica
On the other hand the Gin Tonica has resulted in a step change in the attitude to cocktails in Portugal. “Five years ago here a man wouldn’t drink a cocktail – cocktails were considered unmanly,” says Olga, but the Gin Tonica was ubiquitous in neighbouring Spain – the Portuguese males were persuaded to experiment.
Nevertheless, it’s important to question the status quo, to remember the goal – a beautiful, balanced, cocktail served at the perfect temperature. “Again, think of the Gin Tonica. It needs to be cold. Here at Decadence we serve our Gin Tonicas in thick, chilled ribbed highball glasses which keep the drink crisply cold”. The drink warms up unenticingly, she explains, when served in a hot country in the traditional balloon glass. “Once we explain these advantages to our customers they never ask for the balloon glasses again,” Olga comments.
The popularity of the Gin Tonica has led to a cocktail boom, fueled by the burgeoning number of tourists, Olga tells me, “and now the market here in Portugal is over-saturated. New bars are opening all the time, sometimes there’s a good concept, sometimes not. But there is just not enough trained, good quality staff to man them all.”
Now the trend is to source locally wherever possible.
For more on the Gin Tonica on Saucy Dressings follow this link.
Olga on Portuguese gin
Olga is an authority on Portuguese gin. “Big Boss was the first gin to be made here – it’s not very good. The newest on the market is Sauvy, but my favourite is Adamus – the base spirit is derived from grapes as you would expect in this country, and the mix of botanicals is good with juniper remaining as a base taste.”
Making an Old Fashioned in Portugal
So although the trend is back to basics, back to the classic cocktails, they are now being created with a twist. Back behind the her bar at Decadence, Olga is mixing me an Old Fashioned. But it’s not just any Old Fashioned. “This was originally created by a colleague of mine, Ricardo Rodrigues, and it’s only been tweaked in a minor way for our new menu, which contains only Portuguese ingredients.” Instead of being made with Bourbon or rye, and sugar, this one is made with apricot jam, and local brandy and port.
“Instead of being made with Bourbon or rye, and sugar, this Old Fashioned is made with apricot jam, and local brandy and port.”
I can attest that it is a truly wonderful drink. So naturally enough, on behalf of Saucy Dressings’ readers, I asked her for the recipe. she very kindly sent that on, together with another classic cocktail, the Espresso Martini, also twisted into a beguiling Portuguese version.
This is what she sent me:
At the Decadente some the cocktails I really like take quite a bit of prep work that is just too much for a “do it yourself” so I’ll give you some home – friendly options.
Decadente Portuguese Old Fashioned
First, the Old Fashioned that you enjoyed so much. That cocktail was originally created by a colleague of mine, Ricardo Rodrigues, and it only suffered minor changes in the new menu.
• 50 ml Brandy Chancela (bear in mind for a spirit centered cocktail like this one the rule is simple: better the spirit better the outcome so a higher quality brandy will only do it justice)
• 1 bar spoon apricot jam
• 10 ml Tawny Port
• 3 dash Angostura Bitters
• I use a touch of orange oleo saccharum at the bar but as it is time consuming it can be skipped without much trouble.
1. Combine all of the ingredients in a mixing glass, add fresh ice and stir for about 20-30 seconds until optimal dilution is achieved. Strain into a chilled ‘on the rocks’ glass with fresh ice. Finalize with an orange twist.
Portuguese twist on espresso Martini
• 30 ml Rum Hinton 3 anos (or another good aged rum)
• 20 ml Ginja Espinheira (it’s important that the Ginja used is not acidic. Espinheira works well here as it has a milder acidity then traditional Ginja dos Óbidos)
• 8 ml Rich Syrup
• A shot of a good espresso coffee about 30 ml
1. Combine all of the ingredients in a shaker, fill with ice (really fill it, as the hot coffee will increase the melting point). Shake and fine strain into a chilled glass. Martini glass for a classic look but brandy glass works well here too. Decorate with coffee beans. For an extra treat drop in a cherry (can normally be found on the bottom of a ginjinha bottle).
For more posts on cocktails follow this link.