Call him Beijing’s cocktail tour guide. “On a clear day you can see the Forbidden City from here,” said Attila Balint, gesturing at the picture window of the China World Summit Wing's eightieth floor Atmosphere Bar, where he works as the head mixologist. That towering, panoramic view of Beijing’s most famous landmark inspired the Hungarian bartender to develop a new menu of cocktails and mocktails that are rich in both flavor and cultural themes.
Indeed this new Forbidden City inspired pop-up cocktail menu (available all summer long) is comprised of 12 drinks (eight cocktails and four mocktails, all priced at RMB 90 with a 10 percent surcharge). Each of those beverages is named after specific parts of the Forbidden City like The Meridian Gate, the Jingqi Pavillion, The Golden Water Bridge, and more.
During a recent visit Balint began, fittingly enough, by readying the set’s self titled Forbidden City cocktail. Made with tequila, hawthorn, red berries, and brown sugar, it is smooth and has a barely bitter flavor, along with a smouldering aftertaste. It was impressive to see Balint mix that first cocktail in merely a few minutes. But the real show came moments later when he prepared the second drink,The Palace of Heavenly Purity. Spreading his arms wide — bringing the bottle of campari in his left hand was as high as he could reach, and the empty shaker in his right hand was as far down as possible — he began to quickly and smoothly pour the liqueur until it looked less like a stream of liquid and more like gleaming meter long ribbon. All that, without spilling a drop.
Better still: the trick isn't a mere showy gag. “This will help give the cocktail small air bubbles, which really open up its flavor,” he says of the long “airing” pour. And he was right. The flavour is more than apparent in The Palace of Heavenly Purity cocktail, because Balint’s airing technique draws out the essence of the drink's peychaud bitters. And while the beverage's fruity hawthorn jelly balances the bitterness enough to keep it from being overpowering, this is still an uncompromising cocktail, thanks to its strong dose of tequila, which packs enough of a wallop to make nearly all other drinks seem wimpy.
Aside from the visual flair of Balint’s technique, the vivid flavor of the cocktails, and the ambitious concept of this menu’s overall theme, guests will also delight in another flourish that puts Atmosphere’s latest effort over the top. That deal sealing attribute comes courtesy of the vessels that Balint serves those cocktails in.
Rather than using simple glasses, he decided to burrow deeper into Chinese culture and serve those beverages in traditional Chinese porcelain bowls, tea cups and other such containers, giving them a look that matches the Forbidden City theme and the Beijing sourced ingredients like hawthorn jelly, chrysanthemum, teas from across the Middle Kingdom, local cinnamon and more.
“I love to collect some famous local ingredients,” Balint says. “Since I came here to Beijing I’ve been very inspired. All the culture and history have really compelled me to think outside the box.”
Photos: Josephine Tee, Kyle Mullin, Atmosphere
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