Local plants make for a taste adventure
Botanicals are brewing in Longmarket Street, Cape Town. Distilled from local herbs and shrubs, they are combined with craft gins, brandies and rums, creating artisanal cocktails that the trendiest set drink with relish.
Anthony Gird, Michael de Klerk, Jeanne Marais and Dennis Williams are the curators of Gin Bar, Marrow Broth Bar and Honest Chocolate. The first of its kind, The Botanical Bar is a coming together of two ideas: to showcase South African craft liquor makers and a place to experiment with local botanicals in different drinks.
"The first idea was born from seeing so many new, locally made spirits popping up through the existing suppliers at The Gin Bar," says Gird.
"It’s very inspiring to see so many local makers producing quality small-batch gins, rums, brandies and, of course, craft beer and wine. We love supporting our local crafters and with more options available it became obvious that we could open a bar that only serves locally made, small-batch alcohol."
The second idea began to brew after a walk through the Green Point Park Biodiversity Garden. "There’s a section with useful and medicinal local plants where you can feel and smell the different shrubs.
"The smells and textures of these plants were incredible and helped inspire us to make a few batches of bitters using local gin and whisky as a base," says Gird.
"The results were amazing, and it made me realise that we could make so many different types of bitters using local shrubs and barks."
Inspired by local producers and foragers, he pitched the idea for a bar focused on botanicals to his head barmen, Peter Lebese and Kenan Tatt.
The duo set off on an eight-month road trip around the country; meeting with botanists, traditional healers, local experts, phytotherapists and horticulturalists.
They came back with a litany of botanicals, valuable knowledge and a great story.
Putting their skills to work, the team makes botanical tinctures, bitters, syrups, vermouths and shrubs using only local produce. The tinctures, specifically, form a library of flavours from which the bartenders create whatever their imagination guides them to.
"We want to showcase local botanicals and local makers in our drinks and food.
"We want to offer people amazing nonalcoholic options. We also want to recreate classics with our own ingredients," Gird says.
The drinks menu, presented in a beautifully illustrated booklet, includes a selection of speciality cocktails inspired by region-specific botanicals.
There is the West Coast. A kelp salted, egg white capped and icy gin creation that recalls the wind-whipped Paternoster.
The Cederberg is warmer, a five-year-old brandy mingling with spicy bitters, orange and lime juice and a "Hoenderbos" syrup. The Great Karoo sparkles with grapefruit and spekboom bitters, house-made grenadine and impepho (a medicinal plant), while the KwaZulu Coast is tropical and sweet; the dark rum laced with mango masala spice, lime, pineapple and cassia bark.
They also offer a world of shrubs and bitters. Lebese says bitters are flavour enhancers served with soda, simple syrup and optional local spirit. While the blackboard of specials at The Botanical Bar changes according to what’s available, favourites include the wild mint and star aniseed blend.
Shrubs are a little more flavour-forward. Made by fermenting fruits with vinegar, the result is a delicious cordial, paired with soda and an optional spirit. The Beetroot, Cacao Nib and Wild Rosemary — a bright pink infusion — is a good place to start.
Our focus is to use local, seasonal ingredients, incorporating South African indigenous botanicals in dressings, oils, infusions and bittersAnthony Gird
The fridges of the capacious bar are also stocked with local brews, bubbly and wines from boutique producers.
There are no bowls of peanuts. Instead there is a mezze-style selection of dips, breads and pickles, with sharing plates available to people in the seated area.
"Our focus is to use local, seasonal ingredients, incorporating South African indigenous botanicals in dressings, oils, infusions and bitters," says Gird.
Small plate offerings include baby potato tostones with a smoky tomato chakalaka; light carrot, pickled grape and pea shoot salad; smoked snoek and spekboom pâté with seed crackers; and cumin oil and cauliflower dip served with the most moreish of dippers, curried paaper bites.
The samoosas are baked instead of fried, so as not to be heavy, the chicken filling is lightly curried and they are made with filo pastry served with a cooling labneh.
There are Karoo lamb frikkadels for meat lovers and buchu and orange marinated olives for the not-so-hungry.
There is brilliant attention to detail in the minimalist haven.
Tiny vials of local cuttings rest gently on clean-cut wooden tables while inked sketches and printers trays adorn the crisp, white walls. Strings of clay lamps shed their glow on velvety green benches.
The bar is separated by an arched window and rows upon rows of colourful tinctures are all on display, or pull up a seat and watch the two barmen create mixology magic.
The Botanical Bar, 160 Longmarket Street, is open Tuesday-Saturday, 4pm to late.