El Mar at Otto e Mezzo in Shanghai. By Jethro Kang.
What is it? When picking something to drink with caviar, the default option is to go with something dry: champagne, vodka, sometimes even white burgundy or junmai daiginjo sake – beverages so brut in nature that they erase any trace of richness from salt-cured sturgeon roe. But Declan Tang of Otto e Mezzo in Shanghai has swum against the tide with his El Mar, a salty cocktail that complements rather than contrasts caviar’s flavours.
How is it made? To make his drink salty, Tang uses blanco tequila, which “has the flavour of the sea”, he says, together with sea salt and dried seaweed. A few drops of violet liqueur brings a tinge of the ocean to the drink, and lime juice keeps things in check. “It cannot be too heavy. It needs to be refreshing.” Here’s his recipe:
50ml Blanco tequila
25ml Lime juice
15ml Agave syrup
5 Thin strips of nori, torn into small pieces.
2 Pinches sea salt
Combine all ingredients together and shake hard, strain and serve in a rocks glass with an ice ball. Add dashes of violet liqueur and garnish with nori strips and a violet flower.
How does it taste? This is not a cocktail; it’s a consomme with a kick. It smells like the salt-licked air of the ocean and tastes like a seafood broth: briny, saline and umami, with an oily texture that’s reined in by bright citrus. Ceviche keeps popping into my mind when drinking this, and I half expected (and craved) to find bits of prawn floating around in my drink. Of course, there’s the caviar, but I could settle for looking at this memerising drink.