Thursday, 27 May 2010

Appleton Estate Bartender's Challenge at Floridita

It always feels decadent going out on a Monday night. There's something mischievous about it, as if it's scandalously early in the week to be getting the party started, but I couldn't resist an invite to sample Jamaican rum-infused cocktails at Floridita, shaken by the best barmen in the business.

I went with Sebastian Harguindey, who runs the über trendy Argentinian steak house Constancia in Tower Bridge. As Monday is his only evening off work, it proved the perfect excuse for a celebration. There's something special about Floridita – it transports you out of London and into the hotheaded hedonism of Cuba. Pink Martini played on my last visit.

The Cuban pleasure den had a distinct Caribbean twist, from the jerk chicken canapés and plantain puddings to the Jamaican Mule cocktails expertly shaken by the three finalist bartenders, in their respective rival bars dotted about the room.

Each bartender had to compete for our vote, by speedily shaking, crushing, stirring, swirling and eventually pouring perfect cocktail after perfect cocktail to the parched throng in front of them. We started at the Viajante bar – London's most talked about restaurant. There's a big buzz about Viajante at the moment; everyone seems to be going, talking about going, or knows someone that's gone. Head chef Nuno Mendes trained at El Bulli, so all sorts of exciting and experimental dishes are scuttling out of his kitchen.

Moving on to Milk and Honey things got a little wilder. Every few seconds bartender Josh Ivanovic would smash a glass in his ambitious, ebullient, almost theatrical performance. The more excited he got, the further away from the bar people edged, but by the end the crowd was five deep with awe-struck converts marveling in his magic. His Mai Tais were to die for. Ivanovic was deservedly crowned the winner, and will represent the UK in the final of the competition in Jamaica.

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