Sometimes, I just don’t feel like having wine with a nice multi-course meal. And I’m not the only one. There are various reasons why one might say no thanks to the waiter’s wine recommendation. Perhaps it’s only noon time and you’ve still got things to do afterward that demand your full concentration, or you avoid alcohol for health or religious reasons. Pregnancy is a pretty good excuse, too. But that’s beside the point. No one should have to apologise for their choice of whether or not to have wine with a meal. But those who fancy more than a glass of water or diluted juice with their meal are faced with a meagre choice, often having to content themselves with the children’s drinks menu instead of more interesting pairings. And who wants a soft drink with a six-course dinner created by a Michelin star-rated chef?
My interest was piqued when a friend of mine raved on about the non-alcoholic drinks his girlfriend had with her meal at a new restaurant, going so far as to say that they were much more exciting than his wine. The wine, he said, was no doubt excellent, but the alcohol-free drinks simply knocked his socks off. Homemade kombucha with seasonal fruit and vegetables, dairy drinks similar to Turkish Ayran, tea and select juice compositions.
It isn’t surprising that gourmet restaurants are much more open to such novel creations than the majority of regular restaurants. The top restaurants have always experimented with unusual ingredients (molecular cuisine has its roots here). Trying out new things is the raison d’etre of innovative cuisine, after all.
In some parts of the world, they were even forced to do so.
Creative gourmet cuisine
Three weeks ago, I visited Tim Raue’s new restaurant Dragonfly on a trip to Dubai. As most people are aware, travel in Arab countries usually comes with certain restrictions regarding alcohol consumption. As a result, the Dragonfly’s team had to be creative, given that a license to serve alcohol was out of reach. And so the Jines were born – a made-up word combining juice and wine. As an aperitif, a fizzy drink with elderflower was served. “A beverage is composed like a meal”, the head chef explains. Take the “Cucumber”, a drink combining cucumber juice, blanched celery and Japanese Yuzu, for instance. In another drink, rhubarb juice is combined with rose and pepper for a very stimulating creation. The restaurant has created 14 different Jines. What I liked best of all was the “Whisky” that was served at the end of the dinner. On a basis of black tea with apple and quince juice and malt syrup, chips from Japanese oak are used to add a peaty flavor, rounded off by a touch of mandarin peel.
Other chefs show a great fondness for experimentation as well. Berlin restaurant Horváth’s Sebastian Frank serves a milk from parsley roots, tarragon and sea salt to complement his bitter salads. Fried veal liver is paired with a tomato juice spiced up with goulash seasoning and roast vegetable oil, and venison is served with a juice from radicchio with elderflower oil and nutmeg. Among the other creations found on the menu is a mixture of whey, cameline oil, horseradish and honey.
Shrubs and flavoured water
A shrub is a drink consisting of fruit, vinegar and sugar. Although digestif vinegar has fallen under the radar here somewhat, vinegar is one of the oldest known conservation methods. In English-speaking countries, by contrast, drinking vinegar has been making a comeback for years. A shrub is less sweet than lemonade and allows for multidimensional taste sensations. Sharpness, a fresh acidity as a harmonious antagonist to the sweetness, and aromas of fruits, herbs and even vegetables. Making a shrub at home is very easy. All you need is ripe (ideally overripe) fruit, sugar and vinegar. If you’re short on time, you simply bring all ingredients together to a boil and let them cool off. The “cold” approach makes for a more intense taste, though. With that method, you mash and sugar the fruit, add the herbs and wait till the sugar gently pulls the aroma from the fruit. This takes about a day, but you’ll be rewarded with a wonderfully aromatic syrup which you then mix with a mild apple vinegar.
What goes well with what?
Fried poultry - shellfish with Quince juice and thyme
Teriyaki duck with Flavoured water with pear, plum, grapes and ginger
Creamy goat cheese with Green tea with toasted rice (genmaicha)
Parmesan cheese with Jasmine tea
Asian summer dishes with Coconut water with pineapple and mint
Indian potato curry with Pea shrub with cilantro
Hot curries with Flavoured water with Thai basil, galangal and pineapple
Bavarian pork with knuckles Digestif vinegar with vermouth
Barbecue Tomato with jalapeno shrub
Chili con carne with Kombucha with hibiscus
Recipe for a pear and lemon balm shrub
4 ripe pears
80 g fresh ground ginger
2 stalks of lemon balm
200 g sugar
220 ml apple vinegar
Maple syrup to taste and still water to fill up
Peel the pears, remove the core and cut into small pieces. Mash with a fork. Mix with ginger and lemon balm leaves in a bowl. Add sugar. Cover it and let it rest for a day.
The sugar extracts the juice from the pears and ginger.
Stir occasionally to ensure that the sugar dissolves completely.
On the next day, strain the mixture through a sieve. Mix the pear syrup with apple vinegar and pour into a tightly sealable jar. Shake hard so that the remaining sugar dissolves. Let it rest in the fridge for a week.
Before serving, sweeten to taste with a teaspoon of maple syrup (alternatively use birch or agave syrup) and dilute with still water if you like.
This new trend has arrived direct from the United States, not riding on the back of a product or a technique...
The “treasure” of a chef engaged in civic activities for the rebirth of his country.