It is not hyperbole to say that I have spent the better part of the last decade searching for the perfect Bloody Mary. My quest has taken me across continents: from airplanes, to dive bars, to the plushest of hotels and, of course, my own kitchen. More often than not, the Bloody Marys that have given me the most happiness are the ones I painstakingly knocked up my self. I have been known to start preparing on Friday, sometimes by asking the Korean restaurant I happen to be dining at whether they can part with some of their delicious kimchi (that’s fermented cabbage) juice with me. On Saturdays, I often hoard all the bones of whatever hunk of meat we have roasted to turn them into stock which is added in on Sunday giving it depth, complexity and oh so much savoury goodness.
My defining moment came when I discovered using fresh tomatoes. After that, no Bloody Mary was good enough for me unless someone had thoroughly blended and sieved the tomatoes.
When asked what my favourite Bloody Mary of all time is, I tend to answer: “the one that is still in my head”. I am still obsessed with finding the perfect balance of acidity, saltiness, umami and that almost undetectable sweet tang, and always feel there is a Bloody Mary out there that will be better than the last.
With that in mind, when I walked into the Balcony Bar at Villa Rosa Kempinski the other day, I was full of arrogance and bluster, fully expecting their concoction to fall well below par. Although rumour had it that their Rosa Bloody Mary really was superb, I am not one to believe rumours until I have proven them true through my own, scrupulous research.
When I informed Patrick Mutua Kioko, the Balcony Bar mixologist, of my doubts in his ability to prepare a Bloody Mary to my exacting standards, he laughed heartily and answered with a Swahili proverb which went something along the lines of: “a man who has never left his home thinks his mother’s cooking is the best”. Challenge accepted, so I sat down to observe this self-professed Bloody Mary master in his natural habitat.
As Kioko got down to the business of preparing this “Rosa Bloody Mary” (named after the Rosa Kempinski) he informed me that the recipe was created by the entire Balcony Bar team. “The truth is,” he shared with a conspiratorial whisper, “that we got the recipe spot on the first time. We all agreed that it was better to use fresh tomatoes and so went with that. The only thing we ended up changing was that we didn’t sieve the tomatoes at first and discovered the results were too thick, so that was the one change we made”.
I watched Kioko as he poured in the Kettle One vodka, added a dash of tabasco, two glugs of Worcester sauce, a pinch of pink Himalayan rock salt and some freshly ground pepper. I was about to call out “you forgot the horseradish!” when from under the bar he produced a blender half full with a green and frothy liquid. This, he announced with pride, was the “Espuma”, a foam created by blending celery, salt, pepper, lime juice, wasabi powder and a teaspoon of emulsifying lecithin. When poured on top of the tomato juice, the foam was so light it floated invitingly on the surface.
The cocktail was then served with an additional 30 ml of vodka infused with a bullet chilli on the side and a large red chilli wedged on the rim of the glass, which Kioko proceeded to char with a cooking torch in order to, I quote: “vigorously arouse the drink’s aromas”.
The result? I’m still convinced that the best Bloody Mary is the one in my head but the truth is that I was suitably impressed. With the exception of their innovative green espuma, by and large the Rosa Bloody Mary sticks to the traditional recipe yet the results are fresh and light and at the same time incredibly flavour some and multilayered.
The proof is in the cocktail!
Katy was a guest at the Balcony Bar, Villa Rosa Kempinski
This article was originally featured in Yummy Magazine
Photos by Peter Ndung’u