There’s something inherently suspicious about the concept of ‘foraged ingredients’, as if something you found growing down the bottom of the garden is likely to be more appealing than the sort of crops we’ve put effort into actually cultivating. We’ve found plenty of mushrooms growing in dark places out in the wild, but we’ll probably still stick with Tesco’s for now.
Still, setting scepticism aside, there are presumably a few wild plants in London that aren’t either revolting or poisonous (or both), and that’s what Nightjar is counting on with its latest invention. In collaboration with The Botanist gin, bartender Nikolett Maczo went scrounging around Haggerston Park for rowanberries and mahonia flowers (nope, us neither) and, armed with a handmade infuser, came up with the ominously named Druid’s Botanist Cup.
It probably won’t surprise you to hear that Botanist gin forms the base of the drink, but this is no crisp spin on a martini. Instead Caol Ila Whisky and Unicum Plum liqueur build a warm depth to the drink, while damson jam, bee pollen, and lemon balance the spice with sweetness.
It all arrives spewing smoke (as cocktails at Nightjar seem wont to do), served in a pine cup accompanied by toasted Irish moss. “It’s edible,” the enthusiastic waitress assures us, and I suppose that’s technically true, but why one might choose to eat it is beyond us, tasting as it does mostly of stale, burnt tobacco.
It’s a blessing then that the drink itself is more encouraging. It’s sweet but never cloying, spice and bitters maintaining a delicate equilibrium. The damson jam seems to clump at the bottom of the cup, resulting in a slightly mealy-mouthed finish, but overall it’s a warm, complex joy – and a welcome final farewell from some wintry flavours.
Of course, you’d expect nothing less from Nightjar, which has a well-deserved reputation for never knowingly being dull. A Beyond the Sea comes served in a conch shell the size of a head, and whether it’s simply the power of visual association or something more, does carry more than a hint of the seaside on the palate. Other cocktails around us appear to be glowing, pulsating, and once even on fire. The table next to us order something served to them in a giant metal top hat. Suddenly our smoking pine cup seems rather rote by comparison.
The Druid’s Botanist Cup is available at Nightjar until the end of March, with £1 from every order going to Refugee Action.
Words by Dominic Preston