• 10.-12. October 2022
  • Exhibition Centre Berlin

20 July 2022, by Jan-Peter Wulf

Drink Pairing at the Bonvivant Cocktail Bistro in Berlin


With its hybrid concept giving equal status to the bar and restaurant, the Bonvivant Cocktail Bistro quickly made a name for itself after opening in 2019. Now the establishment is offering mixed drinks tailored to the items on its menu – usurping a role traditionally played by wine. How does it work? We paid them a visit to find out.




 

© Jan-Peter Wulf

It is mid-week in the late springtime. The day is sunny and pleasantly warm as the first customers make their way into the Bonvivant Cocktail Bistro. It goes without saying that most of them look for a place outside – after all, as a centre of food and hospitality, Schöneberg’s Goltzstraße is a great place to sit. And that is great for us, as it gives us the chance to go inside and enjoy a nice chat about cocktail pairing. Although word has gotten around that a mixed drink also tastes great when enjoyed with a bite to eat, this still continues to be the exception, or only in conjunction with specific dishes. At the Bonvivant Cocktail Bistro, however, it is practically the default option, because every item on the menu is accompanied by a suggestion for a suitable mixed drink. For example, a drink made from sherry, apple verjuice, herbs and Ume Su is the beverage of choice for oyster mushrooms served with hazelnuts, horseradish, kohlrabi and pine cones. Another pairing on offer: a cocktail featuring rum, red beet, mint, and maple syrup to be served alongside red beet with Shiozuke rose blossoms, white chocolate and rooibos.

 

© Jan-Peter Wulf

The drinks with no names

Two things stand out. Firstly, the drinks are very ‘culinary’; in other words, they feature numerous ingredients with which we are familiar from the culinary sphere. And secondly: the drinks have no names. This was a conscious decision. Elias Heintz, who came to Berlin following a stint at the bar of the Travel Charme beach hotel on Rügen and who has been running the bistro’s bar for the past year and a half, explained: “Here, we serve the drinks as an accompaniment to the food.” When he first arrived at the Bonvivant Cocktail Bistro, he wondered why there were cocktails to be consumed before or after a meal, but nothing designed to go with the food itself, and he set out to remedy the situation. “We spent a great deal of time thinking about how we could make this idea a reality. I talked to other bar managers and sommeliers and shared ideas, and finally we decided to offer a separate cocktail menu for the dishes we serve. We want our bar to really stand out from the crowd and to give our customers a truly exquisite experience. The aim of our drink pairings is to support the efforts of our chefs – our kitchen is the focus here.”

Systematic drink pairing

That is why these drinks have no names and no garnish. The result: all the attention goes to their flavour. In conjunction with the dishes, they perform an important function. We want our cocktails to do more than simply go well with a meal – we compose them systematically to play an active role in the experience. Heintz: “We create different types of pairings.” Sometimes they serve as a balancing force, as when a hearty dish like spring onions with potato galette and intensive alpine cheese is juxtaposed with a refreshingly light drink comprised of Riesling, verjuice, parsley and carrot. Or, as is the case with the first course – a delicately creamy, lightly roasted celery schnitzel with finely grated fresh celery, fresh ponzu, earthy pine needle powder and buttery walnut purée – which we coupled with a drink based on spicy vermouth, aromatic vetiver and apple brandy infused with Douglas fir that is topped up with a fizzy herbal mixture for a sparkling finish: the carbonation cleanses the palate after the creamy dish so that it is ready to appreciate the next course.

 

Varied and exciting

Pairing can also be used to heighten flavours. Heintz: “A good example of this is when we complement a drink containing red beet with a cocktail that also contains red beet.” Another type of complementary pairing, for example, would be for a dish containing peach to be matched with a drink featuring the flavour of nuts – or vice versa. Customers are also fascinated by ‘cultural pairings’. Heintz: “One such pairing is an adaptation of the margarita that we served with a summery Mexican dish last year.” He is convinced that the range of approaches they take towards pairing helps to make the concept more exciting and varied for customers – with a result that offers patrons more creativity than would be possible with wine.

 

 

Pairings are the result of a creative interplay

How exactly are these pairings created? Here too, the principle ‘Kitchen first’ takes precedence, as well as an approach that is every bit as systematic. The process begins with Kitchen Manager Nikodemus Berger sharing an idea for a new dish with his colleague: the ingredients, the flavours, and the texture. Next, they ‘do their homework’, developing some initial ideas for the drink to be served as an accompaniment. Then, during the following week, they get back together to present the results of their efforts so far – i.e. the Kitchen Manager takes a sip of the drink, while the Bar Manager enjoys a bite of the dish. Are their creations a good match? Are both of them heading in the same direction – and are they on the right track? “Sometimes we are able to come up with entirely new creations in a single afternoon,” said a smiling Elias Heintz. In the meantime, his colleague Nikodemus (who previously worked in the two-star “Reinstoff” restaurant that has since closed, and at “Le Faubourg”) had joined in the conversation, and he added that: “It’s great when you can design a new dish and supplement particular flavours, even acidic notes found in the food, with a suitable drink. It is a very nice addition.” And at the end of the day, the result is a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.


Continuous dialogue and jointly gathering ingredients

Thanks to the fact that menu items are continuously being added to, subtracted from, and rotated in and out of the menu, there is a constant need to design new drinks – meaning that the kitchen and the bar are engaged in a continuous dialogue. Something that is also the case outside of the establishment, by the way, because collecting their own ingredients for use in the glass and on the plate is an integral part of their concept. As a result, joint trips to spots both within and outside of the city to collect natural-grown ingredients are not exceptional occurrences, but rather a frequent activity. Pine cones from the nearby ‘Gleisdreieck’ park, for example, are used for desserts, while we use pine needles for our bar syrup. Elderberry, lilac, walnut leaves, mugwort, winter purslane, wild parsnip and wild carrots from remote or rural locations – we are able to harvest a great deal ourselves.

© Jan-Peter Wulf

A good sour does not require lemon

In addition to a strong reliance on local ingredients wherever possible, the Bonvivant Cocktail Bistro also utilises regional suppliers. They also largely do without ingredients sourced from more exotic locales – including lemons. According to Elias Heintz, “We are able to produce our own acids that allow us to make great sours without any lemons whatsoever.” Even the refreshing iced tea that we enjoyed with our chat contained not lemons, but rather kitchen offcuts that were left over from making the quince-and-apple purée that is part of the Bistro’s very popular weekend brunch. In the same way, hazelnuts that are caramelised and boiled for the bar syrup are not thrown out, but rather integrated into the brunch. Although Elias Heintz does not believe that it is possible to use 100 percent of their ingredients, they do everything they can to help the kitchen and bar work together towards that goal.

 

Start off with low-ABV products

He also had some advice for anyone looking to pair food and drink: “Start off with products like vermouth or sherry that do not contain a lot of alcohol and go forward from there. And make sure to find out what your customers think. This approach has helped us reach a whole new level compared to when we first started out.”

Exclusively for readers of the BCB blog: the current pairing sheet from the Bonvivant Cocktail Bistro – including sales recommendations for service. 
Download it here! 

 

Bonvivant Cocktail Bistro

Goltzstraße 32, 10781 Berlin

www.bonvivant.berlin