The cocktails at The Living Room, the newly opened bar at Masque, Mumbai, are as innovative as the restaurant’s food offerings. And there’s a talented bartender at the helm.
The signature smoky notes of a ‘Joven’ Mezcal with a bouquet of flavours evolving from a blend of Pisco, guava, celery leaf, sea buckthorn and mango ginger serenade the taste buds as I sip on a cocktail called ‘Gamble’ at a newly opened cocktail bar, The Living Room. The garnish is a pickled onion flower and celery salt. Ankush Gamre, the creator of this cocktail and head mixologist at The Living Room, is a chemist without a lab coat. He has a passion for creating world-class cocktails and serving them in the quickest possible way.
The Living Room is a small seating space, or one can say, a room with a bar corner in the upper deck area of one of Mumbai’s most sought-after fine-dining places — Masque. The restaurant takes bookings one week in advance and the spillover bookings go to its experiential dining space Masque-Lab where 16 guests can dine at a long table facing the open kitchen. Everything about Masque is unique and innovative. While the size of the place ensures the staff’s attention to detail, a well-stocked bar and the newly opened section offer a limited selection of carefully crafted cocktails for connoisseurs.
The menu at The Living Room is as short as the time Gamre will take to prepare your drink. However, if you are a true cocktail lover ask and you shall receive a choice of almost 24 experimental cocktails to select from. So, then what’s the reason behind keeping such a limited selection on the menu? Gamre says, “We want the guests to taste cocktails that are clean, fresh, and consistent in flavours, and we have managed to achieve that using the liquid nitrogen emulsification process.”
This technique helps preserve the protein, acidity and all the flavours of the ingredients for a longer period.
Gamre uses this process to ensure consistency in his drinks and prolong the life of a cocktail which can be preserved for more than a year. “We make around 10 litres of each at one go. Our menu doesn’t carry brand names of the spirits used, but we are happy to share it with guests if they want to know more,” he says.
From fat-washed Negronis to nitro-muddled Margaritas, the science of cocktails is constantly changing and many bars and bartenders around the world are already working on several innovative ideas. However, are Indian bars ready for something such as a Rotary Evaporator (Rotovap)? Gamre’s dream is to use the Rotovap machine to make his cocktails. “I know it’s a very expensive piece of equipment and the Indian laws still don’t allow bars to keep it in a bar. I will have to wait for the day the laws are modified.”
As we talk further, Gamre stands behind the bar to make some cocktails. The second cocktail he prepares is called -196, a heady concoction of Irish whiskey, pineapple, stone flower, gondhoraj leaf and ginger. The drink is garnished with a slice of green apple dipped in vinegar with sprinkled Parmesan cheese on top.
Gamre’s cocktails may look clean and light, but they are potent. “I tell the guests to go easy on the drinks since these lean looking, easy-sipping cocktails can be heady,” he says. The drinks are priced from Rs 900 to Rs 1,500 at The Living Room and offer a sample tasting of four cocktails.
Speaking of his journey, Gamre shares that his beginning in the bar industry was as a server and bartending only happened in later years. “I started working with XO Bar at the St Regis Hotel in Mumbai for a few months and then completed my bartending course (two-years) with the Diageo Bar Academy and cleared WSET level 2 in wines & spirits.”
He remembers fondly that his first experience of serving drinks was of holding a bottle of Patron and feeling great about it. “I never got a chance to shake a cocktail behind XO Bar. After completing the bartending course, I joined The PDT Bar at Kamala Mills, Mumbai. When Masque was just a few months old I joined the team as a bartender and am now taking care of the menu creation and leading the innovation while adhering to Masque’s philosophy.”
“Masque was and still is very much a food-centric place. It has an experimental flavour driven kitchen, which is why it is important for us as bartenders to match up to the food menu at the restaurant,” he adds, “Each dish created by the chef is very thoughtful and since the food must go with the drinks, I make sure to taste and do as many trials as possible to get that perfect pairing. At The Living Room, we serve bite-sized food from the Masque kitchen. The restaurant changes the menu every month and so does the bar.”
Gamre’s favourite spirit is tequila since it’s more versatile and fun to play around with. He is working on developing the Koji and miso drinks inside the lab. Currently, he is working on a few ideas on creating fermented drink cocktails.
At Masque as well as The Living Room, innovation and sustainability go hand in hand. After the processing of the cocktails at the bar, they emulsify the remains with spices and make garnishes out of it. Or if the mash can’t be reused, it is processed and upcycled to make interesting bar accessories.
“We don’t repeat the ingredients in our menu, so we keep pushing ourselves to do further research and find new ingredients,” says Gamre, “I believe that an understanding of flavours is key to making good cocktails and every bartender should know the correlation between flavours from food and from drinks. Only then is it easy to make innovative drinks.”
Gamre intends to increase the number of cocktails in The Living Room from the current list of 7 drinks offering more savoury choices to its guests. I will be eagerly waiting for future innovations by this talented and crafted mixologist in the Indian cocktail space. He is someone to watch out for.