Frankie Zou tells us how his experience in restaurants inspired the green-fingered cocktail making at Botany. As told to Shadow Fu.
Botany opened after a 15-day soft opening starting in mid-March this year. The bar started as a project in 2009. It is located in an apartment building so it’s sort of a speakeasy. It’s sort of an extension of the traditional bar, as we add herbs and other botanical ingredients. We have a lot of homemade bitters and infusions and we want to emphasise the idea of the bar as an artisanal place – a bit mysterious. Only people who are really interested know where it is. The space is quite small – 110sqm, accommodating 40 people at most – so we encourage guests to make an appointment in advance. At this stage, we don’t want to “commercialise” it because we want to maintain quality. The interior has no plant or garden elements in the design.
Although I love gardens, I won’t make my bar look like one, because there will be mosquitoes and it’s difficult to control the humidity inside the house.
I used to work in the bars of some of Asia’s top restaurants such as Maison Boulud, Temple Restaurant Beijing and Domus in Beijing and Singapore’s DB Bistro & Oyster Bar. When I worked there, I always studied these types of ingredients. That was where the inspiration came from. I worked with a very talented team led by Daniel Boulud, the owner and chef of Maison Boulud. We always shared perspectives on food and culinary techniques. I think every mixologist should impart his or her own expertise and character to what they create – and French cuisine is my thing.
Many of the ingredients in our drinks remind people of food, like the black truffle in the Black Truffle Martini. I also spend a lot of time making ingredients in-house. Now we have 14 different plant-based bitters, a homemade vermouth, syrups and a ginger ale. They are all carefully crafted. I have one bartender and one bar-back. I also mix drinks but mainly I focus on creating these homemade ingredients. A lot of my guests are interested in this and find our drinks to be quite unique – for example, we extract natural colours from the plants, like beet and basil. That is how we position our bar – a craft bar where a lot of stuff is handmade and innovation is both praised and required.
There are three sections on our drinks menu: seasonal, classic and popular, and signatures. I created and named all the drinks, some back when I was working in Singapore. The average price is ¥85, but some have rarer ingredients, like truffle, so they might be a bit more expensive, ranging from ¥120 to ¥180. The most popular drink is Tokyo Bay – made with vodka, passionfruit, dry perilla leaves and pepper. Though, personally, I’d recommend Amortentia, where rosemary smoke adds to the homemade chrysanthemum aperitif. The drink is subtle, layered and delicious.
Many of our guests work in hotels and bars. They come to our bar as it’s a very new thing. Today there are very few people doing new and risky things, which I take a great interest in. But it takes a lot of time and energy to create house-made ingredients and the idea is still quite new to guests. So that might be part of the reason for those industry guests coming to our bar. They want to see how an idea works and how the market reacts to it. The guests that have come to Botany since it opened are very professional. And they like to ask a lot of questions. We want to give our guests a unique experience, where you drink something and never forget the taste. Some of the botanicals are imported, some are bought at the local market. But I hope that one day that I can have my own garden.
Botany / 1209-2 Yongli International Service Apartment, Gongti Bei Lu,Chaoyang district, Beijing / +86 10 6463 6091
This article first published in Issue 44 of DRiNK Magazine.