“Do you know what we need to bring back in this house? Cocktail hour!”
Developing recipes for cocktails is something I work on with my husband, James, who is Director of Opera at Opera Holland Park. If you like opera, going there is a very pleasant way to spend a summer’s evening in London. And if you like cocktails, this is where we bring the two worlds together.
We have created cocktails for each of OHP’s productions since the 2013 season. For 2015 and 2016 we have hosted events at Opera Holland Park about the drinks, the operas and how they came together – with much sampling done too!
Each drink that we do is a combination of James’ opera and mixology knowledge with my flavour know-how. The recipes have an emphasis on flavours that connect with the operas. The intention is also very definitely that they work as delicious drinks in their own right, operatic influences aside. I’ll be putting a few of the recipes here.
Venus of Moscow (for Queen of Spades)
Vodka was the no-brainer starting point for this so very Russian opera. We then got to thinking about varenya, the sweetly spiced black cherries that are the traditional way Russians would sweeten tea. For this cocktail that idea has been translated to coffee. Espresso steeps overnight in the sweet cherry compote and really takes on a subtle, rounded cherry flavour. The addition of Tia Maria gives the drink extra depth. It is a very delicious take on a martini.
25ml Tia Maria
25ml coffee varenya*
Simply stir over ice and strain.
* To make the coffee varenya: cook 100g sweet cherries for 5-7 minutes over a medium heat with a 1½ tsp of honey and 2 tbsp water. Crush the cherries partway through. Steep the cherries, stones and syrup in 150ml fresh espresso overnight. Strain and store in a sterilised bottle in the fridge.
The Angelica Martini (for Suor Angelica as part of Il Trittico)
Puccini’s evening of three one-act operas calls for a trio of cocktails which suit their differing moods whilst also complementing each other. For Il Tabarro we created this sharp hit of pastis smoothed out by amaretto; a take on the Corpse Reviver was too good to pass up for Gianni Schicchi; and then there is Suor Angelica:
3 raspberries – the sweeter and tastier the better
A cap of Lillet Blanc
4 dashes of lavender bitters
Muddle the raspberries in a cocktail tin. Add ice and then the gin, Lillet and lavender bitters. Stir and finely strain into a chilled glass. Finish with a sprig of lavender.
Angelica is one of the core ingredients of many gins so that had to be drink’s base. In the libretto we are told that: “Sister Angelica has always a good recipe made with flowers; She will find a blessed herb to soothe and cure the pain.” And then Angelica hands over some flowers, singing “Now this herb is something fine! Aromatic more than pine! It will help, used as a lotion, And with this you’ll make a potion.”
I am convinced that she means lavender. So this martini uses not just a sprig of lavender as a garnish but also lavender bitters which bring many other roots and botanicals that Angelica might have been potioning with. Muddled raspberries are included as a nod to the treats that the Sisters are excited to receive and because they go really well flavour-wise with the lavender. Even more importantly, they give the drink its delicate pink colour which with the purple lavender makes for one of the chicest cocktails I’ve enjoyed in a while.
Featured as the Telegraph’s ‘Cocktail of the Week‘. It’s based on the bellini made famous at Harry’s Bar in Venice. That one was for Giovanni the renaissance painter. This Bellini is for Vincenzo – the composer of ‘Norma’. It’s gooseberry puree with elderflower cordial added, and then topped up with sparkling wine. Both the gooseberry and the elderflower connect the cocktail with the opera’s druid storyline.
Il barbiere (for The Barber of Seville)
100ml manzanilla sherry
50ml home-made lemonade concentrate
0.75tsp orange blossom water
50ml sparkling or soda water
Dry mix (ie without ice) the manzanilla, lemonade concentrate and orange blossom water. Pour into an iced high-ball glass and add the sparkling or soda water. Stir. Garnish with a sprig of lemon balm.
One of the great things about this drink is that the quantities are easily multiply-able to make a pitcher of it. It’s inspired by the rebujito that James and I have loved for years as a hot-day thirst-quencher at a festival we go to near Seville. (The home-made lemonade is a nod to the Victorian setting of the Opera Holland Park 2014 production. The Victorians loved a bit of homemade lemonade – and added a slug of sherry to theirs too.)
Bly House Martini (for Turn of the Screw)
150ml vodka suffused with rosemary
20ml orange muscat
4 dashes of orange bitters
a twist of orange
Prepare the vodka by steeping the herb in it for 24 hours. A sprig of rosemary is enough for 350ml of vodka.
The vodka, orange muscat and bitters all go into a cocktail tin packed with ice. Stir and strain into a chilled martini glass. Finish with a twist of orange zest.
50ml pomegranate juice
dash of rosewater essence
150ml English sparkling wine
Pour the pomegranate juice, amaretto and rosewater into a cocktail tin packed with ice. Shake well and strain into a champagne flute. Cut the strawberry in half, crush it gently and add to the glass. Top up with the sparkling wine.
The Unknown Friend (for Les Pecheurs de Perles)
50 ml gin
20 ml Ceylon Arrack
20ml Ceylon tea – iced in advance
Dash of orange bitters
2 pearl onions (one on a bamboo cocktail stick)
Mix the tea with the gin and Arrack in a cocktail tin over ice, and shake. Add a dash of orange bitters for extra depth and shake well again. Strain into an iced Martini glass and drop in one of the cocktail onions so it sinks to the bottom (the pearl to be “fished” out at the end of the drink). Put the other onion onto a cocktail stick and stir the drink with it to suffuse with the flavours of the cocktail. Eat the onion before tasting the drink – the sharpness of the onion will enhance that first sip of the cocktail.