For Tokyo's celebrity bartender Atsushi Suzuki, it is food that inspires his cocktails

New Delhi, May 21 (IANS): We first ran into Atsushi Suzuki in the elevator of a five-star hotel and mistook him for a student visiting India in his gap year, but moments later, we met again and realised that he's the celebrated bartender from Tokyo on his first visit to India.

The presiding deity of The Bellwood, a bar rated among Asia's Top 50 in Tokyo's vibrant and trendy Shibuya district, Suzuki speaks about bar trends that seem to be straight out of some film set in the future.

From cocktails on tap to drinks inspired by food (from your favourite pizza to mango sticky rice, as is being offered at New York's celebrated new bar, Double Chicken Please), the future meets the present in Suzuki's wondrous world.

Suzuki, who has worked in such trend-setting bars as Angel's Share in New York, was in New Delhi for a Beam Suntory event, One Night in Toki-O, at Khi Khi, which is a favoured watering hole of the city's young and happening crowd. And it may not be a coincidence that he works closely with another celebrity bartender, Shingo Gokan, whom IANS had met when he was also in New Delhi not very long ago.

Suzuki's bar, which has become quite a pilgrimage for cocktail lovers in Tokyo, is influenced by the culture of jazz cafes known as 'kissa' (a term familiar to us, but the meaning is quite different!) dating back to the era of Japanese history (1912-26) coinciding with the reign of Emperor Taisho.

These upscale cafes were all about good food, creative cocktails and hip-swinging jazz. The Bellwood recreates this tradition with a seasonal menu of 18 cocktails, each one inspired by an element of the 'kaiseki' spread, the multi-course expression of Japanese haute cuisine, and Suzuki's own inspirations.

His newest is his take on the classic Negroni (gin, sweet vermouth and Campari). Suzuki's 'New-groni' consists of, apart from gin and Campari, a cherry blossom vermouth, lacto-fermented strawberries and distilled Tabasco vinegar -- the sweetness of the Campari balanced by the tartness of the strawberries and Tabasco vinegar.

Suzuki serves the New-groni with rice crackers and a dollop of jam. The drink reflects his love for gin-based classic cocktails, but, as in his bar, where the classical and the contemporary co-exist happily, he keeps experimenting -- his latest love being a Japanese BBQ-inspired martini.

Even the high-end nigiri sushi served in one exclusive corner of The Bellwood has elements of the cultures Suzuki got to know in the course of a working life that took him to New York, Shanghai, Toronto and London. The nodoguro (Blackthroat seaperch) nigiri, for instance, comes with a topping of flakes of the famed New York cheesecake!

On his first visit to India, Suzuki couldn't stop talking about the "super warm hospitality" of the people. It reminded him of the small town near Tokyo where he comes from -- Katsushika, where, contrary to what people believe the Japanese to be (formal and reserved), "every grownup was my mum and dad ... it was like one large and happy family, where all of us knew each other and about our affairs!"

During his brief stay in Delhi, Suzuki visited four well-regarded bars -- Sidecar, Hoot, PCO and Rick's -- and met one of the city's most celebrated chefs, Yutaka Saito, a Japanese married to a Delhiite, at Home, an exclusive restaurant at the PVR Ambience Mall.

Suzuki's most memorable meal in Delhi was at the Gulati restaurant, which has become an institution at Pandara Road, where he had biryani, butter chicken and fish tikka. Maybe Suzuki will be inspired by the meal to concoct a butter chicken-inspired gin cocktail!

As our conversation progressed, I couldn't help but ask Suzuki about the Japanese Highball cocktail -- whisky, soda and ice (just like how Indians imbibe their whisky) -- a favourite at Japanese izakayas, or informal bars where drinks are served along with snacks.

Has Highball been inspired by Indians? Suzuki smiled and said that is the only way you can imbibe whisky and not get drunk because the soda dilutes the alcohol content! At izakayas, Suzuki added on a more serious note, people have their whiskies along with food and the only way not to let your whisky overpower your food is to dilute it with soda.

So the next time you have your whisky, splash it with soda topped up with ice, and forget the classicists, who insist that whisky tastes best when drunk only with a little water served at room temperature.




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Title: For Tokyo's celebrity bartender Atsushi Suzuki, it is food that inspires his cocktails

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