Tasting Summer: Brunch with St-Germain
Some things just go together. Daisies and chains, flowers and crowns, meadows and mysticism. Drawing into the sun-lit spectrum of Summer, we seek to sprinkle extra-golden hours with longer laughter and lots of friends. Freeing the flavours of fresh harvests, our food is destined to marry its perfect liquid partner, right?
Turns out, perfection is a precarious state. That halcyon vision of gloriously matched plates-and-sips is kinda hard to come-by. Yes, we’re fed a vague imbibing mantra; bold and red is meaty substance, light and sparkling is fish and risotto, dry and acidic is for quashing-down veg. But for creative minds, this foodie formula isn't exactly adventurous. The walkways of wine are tried and tested but the flavours are immutable; they lack free-range for experimentation. The Hedonist in me craves the more daring territory of cocktails!
I’m gathered at an intimate brunch. Henry Holland and Gizzi Erskine are effusing over the wondrous pairing of prawns with elderflower. To be precise, their delight derives from a dish of delicate charred prawns sitting with black radish and fleshy citrus pomelo, paired-up with a Classic St-Germain Spritz. This unlikely match results from the pioneering force of two taste-evangelists, cook Anna Barnett and mixology maestro, Camille Ralph-Vidal. Over a 4-course brunch, the duo meld ideas, dancing dishes with St-Germain cocktails and unfolding complex layers.
Cocktails, by nature, give carte blanche to play-around. Like cooking, mixology is an act of meticulous alchemy. Naturally, when the two work in tandem, potent powers emerge. But perfecting the art of food-pairing, requires some foundations; a single ingredient capable of mingling with multiple plates. Which is where St-Germain comes into its element. Referred to as the ‘bartendder’s salt and pepper’, Anna and Camille root St-Germain as their exploratory conduit, inventing, tweaking and enriching endless foodie combinations.
Post-prawn and we’re onto our second pairing. Course one slipped down, susurrating the secrets of a feast built through balance. For all of its light treatment, our second plate is a piquant hit. Delicate tomato is sliced to form petals in a blossom-shaped medley. Like a floral Lolita, each slither strips to reveal plump, tangy interiors. It’s oh-so-pretty but oh-so-punchy with a sudden kick of chilli and sumac. Paired with Camille’s Brin Vert martini, a powerful yet easily drinkable sip, the flavours ripen with each bite. Here St-Germain mingles with a great slug of gin, Tio Pepe sherry, coconut water, absinthe and celery. Bitter-sweet, this clear-coloured little number is one I’m inspired to mix up for friends at home.
Our tongues awash with sharp flavour, it’s time for a smooth refresh. Anna has us covered with the arrival of our third course; Chilled cucumber consume with tuna ceviche, lime and fresh cucumber ribbons. There’s a feeling of exploration to this dish; crossing topographies, it tantalises with ingredients that span continents. Japanese favourites including black sesame seeds and sesame oil bring a Unami twist to the energising zest of a Peruvian classic. Perhaps this dish’s exploratory nature is how it melds almost lyrically with The Free Lane, Camille’s mixology homage to Henry Holland himself.
As a meditation upon the freedom of artistic creation, The Free Lane is a whimsical entanglement of St-Germain, Grey Goose Le Poire, rhubarb, grapefruit and lime. As bold and vibrant as Henry himself, this drink is highly seductive. Each sip calls for another with its careful harmony of honeydew allure and cheeky bitters. There is something unexpected about this cocktail; some kind of ingredient that elevates it to another level. Beyond fruity, the floral notes of St-Germain take it to a place that bears an uncanny sense of familiarity and unknownness all at once. With its typically French nod to Surrealism, the table muses over The Free Lane’s intrigue.
Conversation flows, laughter lingers and finally our last course is here. We crack through blackened oranges, crystal-cooked with elderflower before sinking spoons into the creamy flesh of rich, rose panna cotta. An aesthetic treat akin to a pastel tea party, it is fitting that the denouement to our four-course feast is The Rouge; a flowering blend of St-Germain, rum, roobois tea and lemon essential oil. Synaesthetes note the murmur of taste marbling into texture: the compelling phenomena of lightness losing mass; panna cotta capitulating to the cocktail wash.
Magic formulas don’t come easy. Some claim they don’t exist. Quick to be discovered, they evaporate, never permitting identikit results again. For curious minds, the never-ending formulation of reformulated formulas is the allure of experimentation. Our St-Germain brunch ends and the world whispers outside. Somehow, after this hour and forty-five of sipping, tasting and chatting, we’re one ingredient closer to food-cocktail alchemy.
Soirees are made for dressing up in pyjamas.