Leading bar and restaurant operators Jamie Barber and David Ponté are making us rethink cachaça. With their two “Brasilian barbecue restaurants” Cabana in London, they are showing that Brazil’s national spirit, made from fermented sugarcane juice, is far more versatile than just Caipirinhas. Jamie is best known for Villandry, Kitchen Italia and Hush while David, whose background includes Mocato and Momo, brings hands-on knowledge of Brazil having been born in Rio de Janeiro. They opened their first Cabanas at the end of last year in Westfield Stratford City in east London and in the new Central St Giles development in the West End, where the site includes a bar area.
Alongside a menu of Brazilian street food, they have taken the bold step of creating a cocktail menu almost exclusively using cachaça. Operations manager Matt Oreschnick, who was formerly at Latin American restaurant group Las Iguanas, explains: “Overall it’s an amazing spirit and great for using in so many cocktails. The Caipirinha is still what everyone wants to have, but there are so many things you can do with a Caipirinha.” The list is headed by a classic Caipirinha made by adding cachaça to muddled lime and caster sugar with crushed ice, but it offers other original recipes developed by Matthew with mixologists Simon Mainoo and Andreas Tsanos, both formerly at Momo.
The cocktails include the Dream Team 1970 – named for Brazil’s World Cup win – which mixes cachaça with Green Chartreuse, fresh passion fruit, vanilla and citrus, topped up with prosecco and served in a glass mug. The Garota de Ipanema is a version of the Bloody Mary using cachaça, while the Canopy Crush combines unaged cachaça with dry sherry, green tea, rosemary, sugar and citrus, garnished with cucumber and fresh herbs. The Toucan Tea Punch is made with aged cachaça, Pimms No 1, maraschino, fresh citrus juice, camomile tea, pineapple, raspberries and mint. However, Matthew says they were careful that they came up with drinks that would still appeal to their customers. “We don’t want things that are too out there which people won’t enjoy. We want something that is going to captivate everyone.”
Other cachaça drinks include shooters and versions of classics such as the smoothie-like Strawberry Batida, the Mojito-like El Draque and a Brasilian Mule. Traditional Brazilian drinks include a Quentao, meaning “hot one” in Portuguese – a warm blend of cachaça, fruits and spices normally drunk during the winter Festas Juninas. The Leite de Onca, meaning “jaguar milk”, is associated with the pagan summer festival and contains cachaça, milk, crème de cacao and orange blossom water.
On top of this there is a list of non-alcoholic “refrescos” which can be cheered up with a shot of cachaça, such as a Cool Colada made with fresh pineapple blended with coconut cream, coconut water and citrus, or a Bacana Berry containing fresh berries, vanilla sugar, pink grapefruit juice and sparkling water.
The bars also stock a strong line-up of aged and unaged cachaças such as Leblon, Sagatiba Pura, Pitú, Ypióca, Abelha and Velho Barreiro. Matt says they are continually bringing in guest cachaças, such as Mangaroca and the citrus-flavoured Salto. Customers are encouraged to try them as a neat sipping shot at the end of a meal, or added to a coffee to create a Café Cabana.
“I don’t think people are educated enough about cachaça,” Matt adds. “Our staff are educated about cachaça to a pretty good level. The first question that a lot of people ask is what is cachaça as they don’t know what it is. It’s hard work but the cocktail menu is fantastically popular. It’s good to grow and evolve the industry rather than sit on our laurels. We have done our own thing rather than go down the boring route.”
Cabana, 5 Chestnut Plaza, Montfitchet Way, Westfield Stratford City, London E20 1GL Tel: 020 8536 2650
Cabana, 7 Central St Giles Piazza, London WC2H 8AD Tel: 020 7632 9630