Mixing it up: No Glory and a martini aîoli
It would be about combinations. That’s what Sin+Tax is. Now the famous mixed drinks or cocktails have an increasing number of food dishes, with their own mixed tastes. And there’s more to the sum. And to come.
The writer supports Nosh Food Rescue, an NGO that helps Jozi feeding schemes with food “rescued” from the food chain. Please support them here.
For the first time, I’m not in the lateness of the dark and delicious bar at a seat behind a low table. I’m in the still-sunny late afternoon, at an outdoor table under the immense dome of a rubber tree. If it were ever moved here by those High Hopes ants, this would be their greatest success song. Rubber plants do grow furiously, about 30 centimetres a year, but this one seems to have maxed up and out, working its heavenly cleaning of the air magic all around here. I have a tall, stemless glass in my hand.
The first time, I had to find the insignificant door in the dark, in a sort of delivery or casual parking area at the back of the main building on Bolton Road in what seems like Rosebank but is really Parkwood. The actual parking is on the next property. The spot is marked by what I call Elephant Corner because there’s always a great mural of them right there at the end of the building.
Part of the speakeasy-style fun then was finding Sin+Tax. Once I’d located the especially unattractive entrance and opened the creaking door, it was immediately so dark inside, I always missed the step down and would hurtle noisily into another dark recess, past the bar itself, where stood what turned out to be pale blue velvet couches, seemingly to receive embarrassed hurtlers. I’d creep round the corner into the dim bar lounge glittering with what lights there were, on mirrors, metal, so many beautiful bottles and glasses, limping a little, to be met by one of the elegant staff.
Over there on the now-bricked grounds, I identify a collection of those pale velvet sofas, as are many other collections of seats and tables, under this magnificent tree. It’s so different I feel I have to go and look to see if there is still an inside.
There’s now a kitchen in what was the dark recess. I believed it was something Sin+Tax thought they’d never do or have or need. Julian Short admits though that he’d secretly always lusted after one. His wonderful drinks menu changes regularly again, as it always did. Inside, Sin+Tax looks pretty much as it was pre-Covid.
But it isn’t quite as it was. Julian has a business partner and now they own the business. It had never occurred to me before that Julian was not the real, sole owner of his Sin+Tax before Covid days. His new partner is Evert de Jong of Molecular Bars fame, who also has the business Just Short, the excellent bottled mixed drinks just short of any alcohol. So, that name has nothing to do with Julian’s surname, oddly enough. More of them later. I’m still holding my drink.
My glass holds No Glory. On the flavour profile, it’s pretty close to the Tart axis. Very much to my taste. However, the parts of the drink that make up the wholeness of taste include some extraordinary reductions, tinctures and elements such as cacao nib and lemon leaf, apparently great in natural essence together, chocolate and lemon being tastes that Julian believes bring out the best of each other. Cape gooseberry with its sourness rather than sweetness and lemon thyme complete the cordial part of the mix. The alcohol in my drink is Jose Cuerva Tradicional Plata, a carefully conserved 100% blue agave silver tequila.
The whole drink beggars imagination. I discovered here and maybe two other places in South Africa (one of which is gone, Mootee) that it is true that some drinks really are experiences and that you do appreciate the art and the craft of world champ mixers like Julian and, as it has happened, Evert too. They are like the best-respected world chefs. I’ve kind of said the same thing every time I’ve been to Sin+Tax and enjoyed the excellence of drinks, that it is almost the opposite of drinking in a bar mainly for the alcohol intake. They are different things. Appreciating the most excellent dishes of food is not so much about filling your tummy fast or satisfying a sugar rush. It is the wow experience.
This is to drink for the taste. Maybe slowly. Drinking is an exciting experience here each time. However Julian has always been “quite strict”, as I tease him.
His rules still are that you receive a jug of water and a glass per person when you arrive and have been seated. They are for the thirst. The drink is for the pleasure. You also get a neat packet of mildly salted popcorn. It’s for using up the salts that are all that remain after Julian has used up everything in the no-waste, root-to-leaf tip approach to Sin+Tax’s made-from-scratch cocktails. He and Evert forage many of the ingredients, with sanction from a farm that they frequent, not necessarily of the crops that are for sale.
Another rule concerns drunkenness. It’s not tolerated. There’s no hanging around the bar either. People are always seated.
I see people meeting each other in the new courtyard or outside area. It’s timeous, just right for us in the times of Covid. Apart from my meeting a friend, a rather stylish woman behind me with a real Gucci bag meets another for drinks and snacks.
This is where the new kitchen comes in and the new food menu. It’s a new way of appreciating Sin+Tax, I think. As it turns out, my friend doesn’t drink alcohol. That’s like inviting a vegan to a steakhouse. What was I thinking?
He drinks one of the Just Short drinks of Evert’s but Mathew Calleja the very stylish waiter, who’s been discussing my evil-protection belt that I wear just for the colours, insists that Sin+Tax mixed drinks are individually created for people who aren’t drinking alcohol. I’m relieved too. The drink when it’s brought over, doesn’t have a name but it also features lemon leaf and Cape gooseberry somewhere in the cordial, I overhear, along with bitter hops, inter alia.
The food is, at present, a menu of unbelievably good snacks and two light dishes. The owners say they’re going to keep changing it and increasing the menu until it also includes good, destination dinner dishes. Well, well.
We order juniper olives, with delight at the juniper. They’re deep-fried, perfectly, ungreasedly and outrageously moreish. Especially with their accompanying martini aîoli. Now that is something outstanding and sense-making. The friend has his without the martini aîoli but more aîoli is brought to go with Gooi Mielies, delightfully charred and lime spiced corn ribs. I enjoy them, particularly because I also like eating the cobby ribs. But I think I would eat anything with martini aîoli.
Maybe because Julian is vegetarian, most of the foods are vegetarian or even vegan. It occurs to me that this may be the clue to Julian Short’s mastery, here and internationally, of drinks tastes. Drinks are pretty much vegetarian and even vegan too if one thinks about it. There’s not much of the old egg white business going on in drink mixing these days.
Evert says Julian does taste the meat dishes when they’re being developed. There is only one that I see on the Food menu so far. It’s a Rum Tum Taco of ramen braised pork belly, a champagne pickled apple salsa, rum sauce, with mature cheddar and fresh mint.
We both have a King Oyster Taco of said mushrooms, deliciously prepared with an Ancho chile sauce, tequila and pineapple salsa and something I have recently learned to respect, vegan cheese. The friend dodges the boozy salsa a little and I find to my surprise that I can continue life without more martini aîoli.
I’d spoken with Evert earlier about new drinks takes on classic cocktails. The current Sin+Tax version of an Old Fashioned is called Ye Ol’ Faithful and is a mix of Maker’s Mark Bourbon, S+T’s own tobacco-infused port and apple preserve. I was super-keen to try it, noting its position on the Soulful axis of the flavour map.
I’ve been so taken up with my own No Glory and the martini aîoli on olives and mielies that I’ve forgotten to order the Faithful. Now that the sun is melting away and the Kopano Jazz Collective is starting at seven with more specially designed Glenlivet mixes, I’d better leave and decide whether to return a little later.
It would have been interesting to me to hear more about how Julian Short and Evert de Jong made friends on a plane and a train and some taxis to Cognac, competed against each other (Evert came third) in an international cocktails contest and came back friends and potential business partners. Julian has won so many awards locally that I lost count and sequence at 15. Even Sin+Tax itself has won a world award and is placed in the world Top 100 bars.
Anyhow, I’m reckoning this brand new Sin+Tax kitchen is going to be a good thing, after all, and that there can be no better combination of people able to mix both drinks and food tastes so extraordinarily, so famously well into the future. DM/TGIFood
Sin+Tax, 4 Bolton Rd, Parkwood. 010 900 2559