Spring finally arrived in London this week and while many in Soho enjoyed the warmth of the late afternoon sunshine, a few of us gathered in the basement bar of LAB for the UK round of the Giffard West Cup. The small group of people gradually grew in size as friends, girlfriends and fellow professionals came to see six of London’s finest mixologists compete for the honour of representing the UK in next month’s Grand Final in Angers, France. The chatter and buzz of the crowd was interspersed with nervous laughter, everyone knew at least one of the competitors and it was very clear that this challenge really meant something to them. They were there to win, professional pride was at stake and as the starting time drew near there was a palpable tension in the air.
The judging panel comprised Stuart Hudson, Ciaran McNicholas and Jeremy Kent. Stuart Hudson left Brisbane 10 years ago and now describes himself as a drinks specialist. He is champion mixologist in his own right and a former finalist in the Giffard Cup. Ciaran McNicholas played first class rugby for the Newcastle Flacons and is now Mangrove‘s man in London. Jeremy Kent has spent far too long on the wrong side of the bar and judged many cocktails but this was the first time he would do so in an official capacity.
Lots were drawn for the running order and Alex Clarke, of the Southsider Cocktail Club, set the early pace with his gorgeous Banana Split Flip. The mix of vanilla, Banana du Bresil and fresh nutmeg would be difficult to beat.
Next up was Paul Donnegan, from Barrio, with his East Meets West, an interesting fusion of Asian and Caribbean influences. The mix of ginger, chilli and coriander was both original and striking.
Elliot Davis, from Hawksmoor Bar in Spitalfields, took us to the halfway point with his Emile Giffard inspired creation, the Alchemist in Angers. Elliot blended a mixture of apricots, ginger and fresh lemon on a gin base, finishing off with prosecco and then a sprinkling of Buchu leaves to create the aroma of a Mediterranean garden.
As we entered the final three, Josh Smith, resident at LAB, brought bananas back into play with his Bananahatten. Josh described his creation as an ideal pudding cocktail for when a full pudding would be too much but going without would leave a little emptiness. There is no doubt that the Bananahatten filled the gap beautifully and rinsing the glasses in butterscotch schnapps was an inspired touch that brought out the rich rum and banana flavours.
The final pair saw Pietro Rizzo of the Wax Jambu’s pop up bar, Hogo Shake, follow Paul Williams from the Trailer Happiness/Callooh Callay. Pietro’s High Sea Sour drew on Britain’s colonial past, the Royal Navy and its long association with rum. The blend of rum, molasses, vanilla and colonial bitter gave an extra sharpness to the traditional rum sour and a strong series of sensations on the palate.
Australian, Paul Williams or simply ‘Will’ to his many friends watching, brought a touch of comedy to the gathering as he reflected on the two previous banana flavoured cocktails and announced that his creation would now be called “I’ll Split Your Banana”! Rum based once again, the mix of vanilla, banana and chocolate flavours compelled a second taste and then a third, no doubt about it, this was the winner and not for the first time, the British champion would be an Australian.
I’ll Split Your Banana!
15ml Goslings Rum
20ml Giffard Vanille de Madagascar
20ml Giffard Banane du Bresil
10ml Chocolate sauce
1 Fresh egg
1 dash of sugar syrup
5 drops of vanilla bitters
Place all the ingredients in a shaker. Dry shake, then add ice and shake vigorously again. Serve in a frosted glass and do not fine strain. Garnish with a slice of fresh banana covered in caramelised sugar.