balsamic lavender

The Great Toronto Cocktail Challenge: Balsamic Lavender

There are few names as well respected in Toronto's cocktail scene as Frankie Solarik. The owner and head bartender at BarChef has been getting crazy press for his experimentations in molecular mixology, but at the root of that curiosity is simply a whole lot of plain ol' experience and enthusiasm. It shows particularly in some of his more classic creations--classic being used very loosely here of course. When the mere lack of dry ice, coconut foam or cigar mist can place it into the classic territory, you know you're not in Kansas anymore.

The Queen West lounge is dimly lit and decorated with dark wood and comfy couches; the bar, cluttered with various coloured bottles and beakers--like an apothecary for young urban professionals.

Solarik is there virtually every night of the week and is happy to talk shop with anyone who walks in. I tell him I'm looking for something impressive and different, he suggests a Balsamic Lavender, a new addition to the spring menu and one he's particularly pleased with.

Balsamic Lavender - 2oz, $13.00

Ginger Liqueur
Saffron and cardamom bitters
Balsamic and lavender syrup
Lemon twist

Top Notes - 8/10
The Balsamic Lavender is served neatly in a champagne coupe. While some cocktails here thrive on presentation this one needs no more than a twist of lemon to brighten it up. It's that twist that hits the nostrils right away with a burst of fresh citrus even before the first sip. It's an elegant no frills approach for a sophisticated creation.

The Back End - 8/10
At the root of all the fancy shmancy parlour tricks involved in the whole molecular mixology movement, the most important aspect is still flavour. The whole quest for originality doesn't matter in the least if that cool, unique thing isn't also delicious.

Well, good news. The Balsamic Lavender is also delicious. It's a sweet and spicy mixture of flavours both familiar and totally distinctive. The sweetness of the Balsamic and Lavender syrup penetrates through as the focus of the drink, even on top of the rye and the ginger liqueur. I'd say it was just marginally too sweet for my own tastes, but that sweetness is no accident.

Solarik explains to me that the higher viscosity created by the syrup helps to coat the tongue and distribute the flavours better. That makes sense; this drink does have a very nice mouth feel, but I just feel like the sweetness might be masking some of the subtler flavours just a touch. And they are there, what's so great about this drink is that there isn't one flavour. It's something you let wash over your tongue and hold in your mouth and really concentrate on, each sip and event in itself.

Finish - 8/10
No matter which way you cut it, BarChef is among Toronto's cocktail nobility and the Balsamic Lavender is a good example why. It's a complex blend of customized ingredients balanced perfectly and served simply and elegantly. It's what you look for when you look for a great cocktail.

That being said, is it a $13.00 cocktail? Probably. When you take into account the quality of ingredients, $13.00 may seem steep for a drink, but this is more than just a drink. You don't head to BarChef for refreshments; you go there for an experience. You go there to sample and taste and learn. And likewise, Frankie Solarik isn't there to crack beers and collect tips, he wants to educate and contribute to something bigger than BarChef itself, and that's worth the price. Besides, $13.00 is a steal compared to their $45.00 Manhattan.

Final Score - 24/30 (80%)

Previously in the series

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