Cocktail hour: Strangled Parrot at The Continental a twisted basil smash
The Continental’s excellently moustachioed barman Timothee Becqueriaux says the absinthe-based Strangled Parrot (HK$90) is basically a basil smash with a twist.
When we hear the word basil we can but think of Basil Fawlty (the manic, hen-pecked hotelier played by John Cleese in the 1970s BBC sitcom Fawlty Towers). Whether drinking absinthe would have been good for Basil Fawlty is highly debatable. It comes in at between 55 and 75 per cent alcohol by volume, so drinking it undiluted is probably not too far off receiving a blow on the head from a stuffed moose.
If you’re an absinthe virgin, The Continental, in Pacific Place, Admiralty, serves a 55 per cent alcohol brand, diluted down to the strength of a glass of wine. You can work your way up to another brand at 75 per cent.
The water with which Becqueriaux dilutes the spirit is infused with different flavourings – it could be lemon, cucumber and mint as on our visit, or pineapple and basil; Becqueriaux says he will change the flavours on a daily basis. That water is dripped from its absinthe fountain slowly through a cube of sugar into the drink, which turns opaque. Becqueriaux suggests one part absinthe and three to five parts water, and perhaps using one of those tin Vietnamese coffee filters to get the slow drip necessary.
The slow drip is said to release the absinthe's flavour-bearing oils more quickly.
Who knows what absinthe's famed ingredient wormwood would have done to Fawlty? Wormwood is a herb that grows in the Jura region of France and contains minute quantities of the hallucinogen thujone. Sadly for the nostalgic, absinthe has never contained enough thujone to make the hallucinogenic properties supposed to have inspired artists anything more than a fairy tale.
Parrot was the French slang for absinthe and to strangle a parrot was to have a drink of absinthe. While the Strangled Parrot sounds fairly Pythonesque itself, this bird is not a Norwegian blue and is far from lifeless. The pepper hits you first, then the basil and finally, in the background, the anis flavour of the key ingredient. Enjoy a few – just don’t start slapping the waiter.
How to make the Strangled Parrot at home
30ml La Maison Fontaine Chocolat absinthe
30ml Tanqueray gin
Small handful basil leaves
Dash sugar syrup
Pour the first two ingredients into a cocktail shaker with lots of ice. Muddle the basil leaves in the lime juice and sugar syrup and pour the result into the shaker. Shake, grind a little black pepper in and strain the drink into a rocks glass full of ice. Garnish with a basil leaf.