Knokke, love it or hate it. I got mixed feelings about it. It is the last place on earth where people still tie sweaters around there neck, preferably in hues of pink or baby blue, making an untasteful match with their equally wrong coloured chinos. Topped off with a very, very uncertain look in their eyes, driving around in golf carts, holding back the ferraris trying to reach the casino.
Anyway, I was interested in the Bombay Sapphire pop up bar, called Imagin. It is located in an old antiques shop on the Elizabetlaan and I must say very cosy indeed. We arrived just in time to see the special presentation of Dominique Persoone, world famous chocolatier and Eveline Hoorens, barrista and wife of famous artist Panamarenko and their personal interpretation of a G&T.
To be honest, I’ve really had it with G&T, but I was really curious what a Dominique Persoone would do with it. I mean chocolate and tonic, you had to be there.
It was a very special G&T indeed. In fact if it didn’t need to be a G&T, it would make a great cocktail. Kick out the tonic and you’re left with a delicious combination of cacao, gin, porto, angostura and…eggwhite. At least the recipe promised eggwhite, but I didn’t see any in the preparation. Equally interesting was the garnish a special, devilhead-shaped praline on a stick. The moment I sank my teeth in it a strange sensation took over my mouth. It was as if my jaw got electrocuted or I swallowed a firecracker. Apparently a certain substance was put in the praline to achieve that effect on purpose. Nice touch.
Eveline Hoorens’ G&T was a very fancy drink, almost too fancy for me. Then again, the taste was very good. Three things were important for her cocktail: the colour red, herbs and a little robot, affectionately called Robby. She had turned red berry fruit and hibiscus tea into sprakling red ice cubes, which made the taste of the cocktail gradually change over time when they started to melt. The rim of the glass was decorated with red sugar and a copious amount of pink peppercorn floated around in the drink.
We’re not there yet, more garnish, Eveline must have thought. A bouquet of herbs was strung together and added. Last but not least Robby the robot – disguised as a tea holder- was sentenced to drown in the fiery red G&T. Finished! Thank God, there was a straw, if you drank it without one you’d hurt your face.
The interior was amazing: a cosy ,chaotic bunch of antiques parafernalia crammed together in a room almost too small. We happily received a guided tour by Marc Colfs, Bombay Sapphire ambassador. He showed us that their was method in the apparent madness. It’s all about the spice trade and the ships that brought the goods in. When you enter the room from the hallway, you’re standing in the Captain’s Cabin, a rather chique and larger room, complete with Chesterfield, old maps, drawing table, boat models and countless clocks. There’s a separé used to give tastings. There’s an African space and an Eastern space. The bar is a real beauty, countless 17th-18th century muskets hang suspended in the air together with as much bottles of gin.
The backbar is a gorgeous piece of antique topped with a stuffed monkey. We strongly advise you not to refer to the “monkey behind the bar”. Jan Van Ongevalle, the Imagin bartender, might take it personally, grab one of those muskets and hit you with it.
Jan fixed us a great Anejo Highball with Bacardi 8 and Fevertree Ginger Beer and a rather strong Manhattan with Jack Daniels Single barrel.
The Manhattan reminded Jan of something and he instantly disappeared behind a black curtain. We heard some strange noises and shrieks of wild jungle animals.
Quickly we reasoned that the shrieks belonged to one of the beautiful waitresses.
Suddenly Jan returned with a glass.
-“Drink this,” he said.
– what is it? I whispered
– Excuse me?
– I know, it sounds crazy, but it’s amazing.
Apparently, Peter De Clercq (World champion BBQ 2003) chopped up an empty Jack Daniels barrel, set it on fire and put the thusly gained charcoal in a Bombay Gin bottle. He then put it away for a couple of days and filtered it out. Very craz…, creative I mean. Resulting in a heavily smoky gin/whiskey – firewater- as Jan described it.
Conclusion: it’s great fun, go and visit it. Talk to the bartender and the ambassadors. Ask for the specials.