Wilson Pires, award-winning head-bartender of restaurant Gusto at the Conrad Algarve, Portugal, popped by the London St. James Conrad for a masterclass to show what the Algarve has to offer in it’s 18th century palace seaside surrounds.
Inspired by Faro, a pocket of tropic green overlooking the Gulf of Cadiz, Pires insists that all his cocktails come with a story, or make it as much of a multisensory experience as possible – including ostentatious garnishes, presentation, or incenses.
The first drink from the Conrad Algarve menu, the Senhorita – driven by Pires’ perception of the feminine: lemongrass and grapefruit are mixed in small amounts into the lime juice, then the primary ingredient, the sweet raspberry puree is contrasted against the spicy/sour ginger juice, ending with the Portuguese Medronho fire-water brandy (Aguardente de Medronho) Castelo Silves.
Primarily a sweet drink, the raspberry dominated the palate, followed by the kick of ginger, the sourness of the lime mix lingers in the sidelines. The medrenho, powerful and ruthless when drunk neat, is tempered well into this cocktail, though the Hoodooist wishes it had a bit more of a presence, so as to not soften the cocktail *too* much.
Inspired by the Algarve itself, the Europe’s Best Kept Secret mixes Beefeater 24 gin, honey, bee pollen, eucalyptus tisane and grapefruit, accompanied by pine incense. The incense and the eucalyptus tisane provide a cooling balance to the other warm flavours. The warm bitterness of the bee pollen and the herbaceous eucalyptus are pronounced, resting on the most prominent grapefruit flavour. Initially an odd concoction, but a summer beach would bring this cocktail to life.
Finally, the Saudade attempts to condense the emotion into a cocktail by mixing Ginjinha (or simply Ginja) sour Morello cherry liqueur, Madeira wine, honey, salt water, and Port bitters. Continuing on Pires’ favoured theme of contrasts and opposites working together, Saudade attempts to bring the deep, bitter-sweet flavours linked to distant memories to life in the sweet-sour Ginja and Madeira, contrasted by the salt water and the similarly ambiguous Port bitters.
The result is the closest to what the Hoodooist might order of the three: a dark, intense, short cocktail that one really must take their time with, as it can be bit of a handful. The cherry hits first, but then seems almost softer in comparison to the stone-fruit and raisin heat of the Madeira. The salt water and Port bitters are not immediately perceptible, but notably affect the overall drink, adding width to the flavour profile.
The cocktails are notably different from what London normally has to offer, and certainly deserve a dry Mediterranean heat and sea salt spray to bring them to life – and very well will, in Wilson Pires’ inspired hands.
Gusto @ Conrad Algarve
Estrada da Quinta do Lago