By Don Douloff
When he set about designing the cocktail program at East, the restaurant/bar located in the brand-new Renaissance Montreal hotel, Lawrence Picard had a broad, and exciting, thematic canvas from which to draw.
“The inspirations for East’s concept and design are the Old Shanghai World, the cultural exchange, and Asian openness to the Western world during the early 1930s,” said Picard, who, six years ago, founded Nectar & Mixologie, based in Montreal, specializing in developing bar designs and concepts at restaurants and nightclubs. For East, however, Picard developed the cocktail menu only, and did not participate in designing the space. Renaissance Montreal opened Jan. 18.
Although East’s drinks menu is designed to appeal to a broad range of palates, “the attentive connoisseur will notice the classical structure behind each cocktail,” said Picard.
“My approach to mixology is to offer signature beverages that are fun, flavourful and affordable. We have chosen to create a cocktail list that will draw attention to any audience, by combining carefully calculated techniques and ingredients,” he said.
Hewing to the theme of East’s pan-Asian food menu, Picard’s cocktail program (the launch menu features seven of his creations) draws on Chinese influences, along with flavours and ingredients from throughout Asia.
For example, the East signature cocktail features Hennessy VS cognac, sake, lime juice, lemongrass syrup, pomegranate, egg white, and “is not gender-specific, and blurs the lines between male and female,” said Picard.
Another cocktail takes its name from a term, “Hai Pai,” coined by a group of Beijing writers in 1920 to criticize some Shanghai scholars and the styles of embracing or admiring western capitalism and western culture. The Hai Pai Fizz features Appleton rum, kalamansi sour, mango purée, ginger beer and ginseng bitters.
A variation on the Negroni, Asian Boulevard combines Glenmorangie 10 Year Old Scotch whiskey, Campari, Martini Rosso, sake and kumquats.
For the Shanghai Politain, Picard created a drink targeted at “Sex and the City fans who love Cosmopolitans.” Those Cosmo-loving guests will experience a cocktail made from Belvedere vodka, sake, ginseng bitters, lime and a purée made from dragon fruit, elderflower and raspberry.
Rounding out East’s drinks menu is a list of about 60 wines; a handful of champagnes; a short list of beers and aperitifs; and spirits.
Picard took great care in developing East’s cocktails. Beginning in summer, 2015, he began consultations with the hotel about the cocktail program, and typically, for each creation, undertook five rounds of tasting and fine-tuning.
In addition, he trained East’s six bartenders and 15 servers on how to make each cocktail, as well as how to produce key drink ingredients such as juices and purées fresh, from scratch.
As an additional service, Picard offers what he calls three “30-day warranties,” whereby once a month, he will monitor East’s cocktail list and make any necessary tweaks.
Also going forward, he will evaluate the list, every summer and winter, keeping the two best-selling drinks and jettisoning the rest, with the aim of keeping East’s cocktail list fresh.
Winter cocktails, for instance, are heavier, and feature more citrus elements and no seasonal fruits. In summer, Picard plans to take full advantage of seasonal fruits, such as berries and peaches, to create lighter cocktails appropriate to the season.