World’s 50 Best collaboration challenges preconceptions about taste

By , 13 December 2022



Barney O’Kane of Little Red Door.

All the cocktails served at the recent once-off lunch hosted by La Colombe were provocative in their own way, but it was the beetroot rendition served with the lamb course that was the most unexpectedly enlightening of the day.

This was a collaboration between the Constantia Nek restaurant, which earlier this year placed 56th on the list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants with Little Red Door of Paris, number five on the World’s 50 Best Bars list and Cause Effect Cocktail Kitchen of Cape Town, number 53 (both lists owned and organized by data and events group William Reed).  

Little Red Door’s success is not predicated on classicism but rather innovation, their aim being to “compassionately place the producer, produce and product journey at the centre of (their) guest experience, transforming directly sourced produce into liquid products that form the core of each cocktail”. Essentially, it’s a farm-to-glass model that’s intended to reconnect people to the things they consume.

Little Red Door co-founder Timothée Bonomy and team are now embarking on travels around the world both to seek inspiration and to encourage their international counterparts to adopt their philosophy. And so, for instance, the kelp cocktail made from a maceration of fresh kelp foraged from the beach at Miller’s Point, kelp pickled in gin and a tincture of black olive and seaweed, this served with a tomato, aubergine and pine nut dish and about as far away from a Cosmopolitan as it’s possible to get.

The likes of Chamomile (flowers and stems of chamomile, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc-based vodka and Rémy Martin 1738) and Fynbos (fynbos steeped in vodka, gin and fig-leaf soda) were just plain delicious but as mentioned at the outset it was the beetroot cocktail that proved to be a revelation.

Using beetroot skin macerated in alcohol, juice made from soaking beetroot in water and orange liqueur Cointreau, Little Red Door bartender Barney O’Kane had, consciously or unconsciously, come up with something that tasted extraordinarily close to an early-pick, wholebunch fermented Swartland Syrah.

Wine novices often struggle with descriptors but here was a reminder that there are different aromatic chemicals that exist across all food and beverage types and combine in such a way as to give a particular sensory experience. The uninitiated find it hard to connect smells and tastes with words but the point is that it’s not an entirely fanciful idea.

The Little Red Door beetroot cocktail is revealing on another level, too, in that it may explain why Syrah is not more commercially popular than it is. The cocktail, with the earthiness of the vegetable and the bitter-sweet tanginess of the liqueur, was challenging in the sense of being quite far away from flavours that most people like innately such as sweet ripe fruit or chocolate or vanilla.

This cocktail wasn’t particularly peppery, but pepper is a key attribute of many examples of Syrah. Rotundone is the compound that gives peppercorns their pepperiness and is found at varying levels in the grape variety. The first question to ask is: How many people really want their wine to smell and taste piquant and pungent? In any event, it appears that are people that are “smell blind” to rotundone, so can’t have the peppery experience of drinking Syrah at all, which must surely affect the way they feel about the variety.

Consideration of the beetroot cocktail aside, what a treat to enjoy this lunch. It was fascinating to see how the respective physiologies and levels of experience of my fellow guests affected their relative enjoyment of each pairing but essentially, we got a thrilling afternoon conducted by some of the most proficient food and beverage creators in the world – increased knowledge of what we are eating and drinking can only enhance the enjoyment thereof and this was a masterclass by flavour junkies for flavour junkies.


1 comment(s)

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    Kim Hoepfl | 14 December 2022

    Sold. Beautifully and insightfully written. I don’t live in Cape Town, but when next there I am going to make a deliberate stop at each of these joints. Thanks Christian.

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