LondonThe bars scene of the bars loves trend – one season it’s craft beers, next season it’s spicy. The latest fashion, thanks to The London Edition, the stunning Marriott Group Hotel that opened in Fitzrovia in the fall of 2013, is a punch. We recently sat down with David Seget, the bar manager of the most intimate of the establishment’s four bars, Boxing room, So he can tell us why the fun and fruity drink is the most beautiful drink of the year.
The punches are back in fashion. In any good cocktail bar you will always find a punch, but we thought, “If the punch works, why not focus on it?” It’s also the size of the room we have. We wanted to have a lot of people. We wanted to make people comfortable. We wanted people to share, so we held a nice feast so we could unite all the tables. You have the punch bowl, you can start talking to different people; That’s Punch’s thing.
How are the punches different from regular old cocktails?
Punch is the British answer to the Americans who said they created the cocktail. They, in fact, created the cocktail, but the art of mixing liquor with juices, spices, water, and citrus was done long before that. The British moved to settle India and mixed this spirit from the coconut tree, arak, with lemon, sugar, tea and spices. It’s five ingredients and in India punch – Spelled with “a” instead of “u” – means five. So that’s how it all started.
How do you give this historic tip a modern edge in punchroom?
The punch today is so versatile. Between these five ingredients, there is so much to choose from. There are lots of citrus fruits: lime, lemon, orange, yuzu from Japan. Then tea. So much tea, so many different options. You can eat a smoked one like lapsang souchong, for example, or flower tea like jasmine and flavor [in the punch] Will change massively. And of course, we also add spices. In the punch room we kept the number five. We have 10 punches: five are new, modern, seasonal; And five are historic. The modern and seasonal changes quite a bit, every month or two.
Do you have a favorite?
I have two. One is the Punch Edition, the home punch. It’s nice and easy and everyone can enjoy it. We wanted something British, so the main alcohol is gin. One of the world famous cocktails is a [Tom] Collins. Everyone loves Collins because it is a very simple cocktail in taste. You have a spirit, which is Jin. You have a lemon. You have sugar. Then you fill a soda, so it’s simple, refreshing and suitable for a lot of hookers. We changed it a bit to create the Punch Edition, using gin, lemon, oak moss syrup instead of regular syrup – which gives freshness, a floral flavor – and jasmine tea instead of soda. My second favorite is the Milk Punch, one of our historic boxing fists. This is a very long procedure. It takes a lot of passion, a lot of patience, but the result is nothing short of spectacular. The texture is amazing.
Where do you get your inspiration for your punches?
We collected a lot of old books, and not just books on drinks. There are a lot of punches in books that might tell an evening story, and they will stop and talk about the punch. We fish them out in different numbers, try them out, adapt them to the modern palate. The winds then were not good compared to those we have now. There was no quality control. Now, they are going through a lot of refinements. So, the whole recipe does not necessarily work. You have to adjust it, but the idea behind it remains the same.
How did people react to Punch Room?
A lot of people were at house parties, tried punch, did not like it so they deleted it in line [beverage] category. So, we keep a large bowl full of punch changing daily at the bar. Once you are seated, we give you a small taste while you look at the menu. Since we started doing this, the response from people has changed massively. They’re like, “Wow, I love it! Do you have anything like that?” [The bartender responds,] “You can also order it.” So, this is one of our tools to get people into punch.
How would you describe the London cocktail scene now?
Massive – Probably the best cocktail scene there is. The average bar in London is the top bar in most other cities in the world. This is a good challenge for us, because when you develop something, you can not be complacent. You have to turn around and see 20 places: What do the top bars do? What can we do to help them adjust? And what can we do that is something new? What trend can we take and start doing? So it’s a lot of work but it’s a big challenge.
Photo courtesy of David Seget