Get the lowdown on this new experiential cocktail kitchen.
I’ll get right to the point: you’re in for a rave review.
As a pretty serious cocktail enthusiast, I’d been following this venue’s construction with much interest, and even managed a few pop-ins before it opened on 1 December. But even my sneak peeks didn’t prepare me for the dazzling experience of being at this bar.
Cause Effect is not just a watering hole, it’s an experiential cocktail kitchen where the act of drinking is elevated to a complete experience – all your senses are activated. It’s also a brandy bar, celebrating SA’s simultaneously award-winning yet undervalued potstill brandies. (Read about them here.)
Similar to The Test Kitchen, Cause Effect has a distinct ‘test bar’ feel to it. The barmen wear chef’s jackets and – over and above the standard bar tools like shakers and jiggers – they wield pipettes, tweezers, scissors, paintbrushes, chef’s torches, smoke guns and ice stamps in the mixing of their masterpieces.
The entire bar is a study in creativity. Everywhere you look you’ll see evidence of tinkering and experimentation, from the ready array of cocktail reference books to the barrel of homemade vermouth and assorted glass vessels containing dehydrated fruits and petals, bitters, infusions, syrups and shrubs.
You’ll also notice T-shirt clad barbacks in the background: participants in the bar’s apprentice programme, who further add to its scholarly atmosphere.
As the name implies, it’s all about causality here: about action and reaction. In the context of cocktails, this means quite sciencey displays of quick-freezing with liquid nitrogen and impressive vapour eruptions using dry ice. And as proponents of all things local, most ingredients are indigenous and foraged, so expect wild fynbos honey to replace sugar in your drinks.
For the first three nights it was open I was there, working my way through the menu … so yes, this is a place you’ll want to come back to. My favourites so far have been as follows:
A refreshing slider of Van Ryn’s 10YO brandy, Pierre Jourdan Ratafia, nutmeg pelargonium and raspberry-peppercorn shrub served in a Collins glass. This is a cocktail in surround sound: when you remove its wooden cover a faintly bitter juniper smoke is released; touch the glass and you’ll feel the sandy and bumpy textures of the hibiscus powder, honey and toasted sesame seeds coating its outside; then alternate your sips with finger swabs of these sweet and savoury garnishes for a taste sensation.
10/10: This drink consumes you as much as you consume it; I completely lost myself in this immersive experience.N
NELLY THE ELEPHANT
An orange-husk marmalade, medium sherry, orange bitters, Step 5 Gin and pineapple fusion served in an elephant-shaped receptacle and topped with candy floss.
10/10: Definitely the most ridiculously fun drink I’ve ever had.
A margarita-inspired delight with 100% agave tequila, verjuice, nutty sherry, orange bitters and lemon-pelargonium cordial. It’s served in a heavy mortar-type bowl with a shard of candy and small heap of citrus salt, so you sip it with both hands, moderating the drink’s acids with the sweet and salty sides.
10/10: Unusual, tactile and offering explosions of flavour, I loved everything about this sensory cocktail.A
A light umami concoction containing brandy, Caperitif and fynbos liqueur, served in a small gold-rimmed goblet with a biltong, micro herb and crème fraiche topped pastry finger.
10/10: The perfect balance of subtle and robust flavours, I found this to be a deeply satisfying and moreish drink that smacks the taste buds around in all the right ways.
The creative geniuses
Cause Effect is the brainchild of Kurt Schlechter and James ‘Trigger’ Phillips, who met around 2007. They’ve both been in the bar game since they were lighties, James coming from a long line of bar owners back in his home country of Ireland, and Kurt an award-winning South African bartender, bar consultant and bar trainer. Kurt also happens to be a judge for The World’s 50 Best Bars, so he certainly knows how to put a decent bar together.
Master flavourist Marshall Siavash – who honed his skills as head bartender of The House of Machines – holds the position of bar manager and head bartender; Justin ‘Awehwolf’ Shaw was coaxed away from Casa del Sol as bartender; and business-sustainability specialist Jeroen Vissers handles procurement and general management. The striking interior design (think wood, concrete and copper) was done by the inventive Ruzaan Schlecter.
How to experience this bar
Cause Effect offers a show in three parts.
One: go in the afternoon for aperitivo-style drinking – vermouths, bitters and tinctures diluted with soda water and Prosecco – accompanied by light food like appetizers, platters and salads.
Two: book a table from 6 or 7 and work your way through the experiential seasonal menu that focuses on the magic of drink making, perhaps ordering a main meal like a brandy-flaméed steak or homemade venison pie. As you’d expect, this menu will change with the seasons.
Three: swing by after 10 for some late-night action, imbibing timeless brandy cocktails (like Sazeracs and Sidecars) or classics with a C|E twist, like potstill-brandy Old Fashioneds and Cape Negronis on tap.
Whatever option tickles your fancy – and I suggest you try all three – expect to be entertained and surprised. And come say hi, there’s a good chance I’ll be there.
This post first appeared on Food24.com on 28 November 2017.