Cause Effect's experimental cocktails: pure genius or plain pretentious?
Ceramic elephants, candyfloss and deep-fried brandy shots took Shanthini Naidoo by surprise at a new cocktail bar in Cape Town
You might not expect a minor smudging ritual as a precursor to your cocktail. But there we were, on Park Road off trendy Kloof Street, Cape Town, in a cloud of buchu smoke. A heavy stone bowl, with a foamy white liquid in it, a piece of fynbos candy on the rim, a little heap of salt next to it turned out to be a margarita, South African style.
It is the take of the mixologists at Cause Effect, Experiential Cocktail Kitchen and Brandy Bar. When I sipped, there was tequila, sweetness from the brittle, lovely salt from the sprinkle.
"Our menu has been created to charm and bemuse, may it inspire you to drink better and laugh harder," is the tagline.
A regular said it reminded her of an apothecary with the myriad bottles and tinctures, beakers and pipettes, smoking concoctions and microherbs on the counter. But there are no mad scientists here. Definitely eclectic mixologists. They understand that cocktails are a thing right now, and the more inventive the better.
Just as I was getting used to having celery, smushed thyme and more foliage than liquid in my gin and tonic than is necessary, Cause Effect takes it further, but not in such a serious way to be off-putting.
Take the ceramic elephant topped with a candyfloss afro that was definitely not for the kids. One of us had ordered the Nelly the Elephant: orange-husk marmalade, Step 5 Gin and pineapple, and garnished with pink rosemary candy floss. It arrived like a delightful carnival creation and quite a kick.
For Valentine's Day they made a prosecco cocktail with Amarena Fabbri cherries - served in a Cutie Pie chocolate.
The issue is to decide if it is revolutionary or completely pretentious like a certain Cape Town eatery that serves poppadoms for R100 as a starter.
The owners are mixologists Kurt Schlechter and James Phillips with inventors Siavash Behaein and Justin Awewolf. Schlechter says it is a unique experiential cocktail experience. They love ingredients, and treat them well after foraging them (don't die of hipster allergy, most are pleasant and interesting).
While I did not enjoy the egg-white foam, there was a magical lavender tincture that came with hibiscus and green tea sparkling water in a gin cocktail I would go back for. The interesting use of Japanese radish, sugar snap pea shoots, seaweed, lemon pelargonium, sea cucumber, Cape fynbos, are all worth checking out, for about R95 per "sensory experience".
The botanical tinctures and elixirs added to cocktails are made from scratch, so you might go down a rabbit hole after too many, but they could also be good for your health and are definitely a toast to Cape Town.
"The cocktails are sensorial in nature, inspired by the Cape: mountain, ocean, vineyards and fynbos," says Schlechter.
"We call it a cocktail kitchen because we use modern cocktail techniques. So the best seat in the house is to sit at the bar counter and watch how we create using seasonal ingredients."