Imagine finding the local Indian herb ‘mulethi’, used for treating cough, in your cocktail. This was the scene at Taj Palace’s Loya when mixologist Hemant Pathak took over the bar. A cocktail with a purpose and an ode to culture of the northern part of the country was what the bar takeover was all about.
Pathak’s philosophy for Loya’s cocktail menu was simple and rooted in ‘panjj or paanch’, meaning ‘five’, with the five tenets being — Harmony, Experimentation, Authenticity, Reverence, and The Spirit that come together to signify the HEART of the North. Hailing from Uttarakhand, he sought inspiration from the north’s botanical abundance, time-honoured techniques and heirloom ingredients to curate a unique concoction of cocktails—vintage paloma, mulethi (mulethi-flavoured gin cocktail), gulab (blended with vodka), masala whisky which is a blend of bourbon whisky, house masala syrup, orange bitters and smoked star anise, and himalayan negroni which is infused with gin, campari and timbur.
A mixologist/bar manager at Junoon, a New York-based restaurant redefining Indian gastronomy, Pathak says, “Loya is a project dedicated to the heart of north India, from the Hindu Kush to the north west frontier and the foothills of the Himalayas. Since I am from Uttarakhand, it was easy for me to think about what ingredients from this region feature in history and then come up with a menu.”
The mixologist takes cues from traditional home kitchens and their long-lasting bond with spices and herbs. “Our entire mixology is based on spices, herbs and exotic fruits. For the first cocktail menu at Loya, when we were doing the research about the north, two ingredients stood out for me. The first is mulethi, which my mother used to give as an antidote to cure mild cold and cough. The second is gulab (rose) which has been blended with cardamom, vodka and citrus for a sour cocktail.”
Talking about Delhi’s cocktail palate, he says, “Delhi, certainly has a very sophisticated palate and I have served in Delhi for five years between 2007-2012. Delhites are well-traveled and know exactly what they want.”
The ode to the northern part of the country is not limited to the cocktail menu. The food menu at Loya, the restaurant brand of Indian Hotels Company (IHCL), is a culinary tour through ingredients, dishes and cooking techniques from Punjab to the Kangra Valley and the Garhwal hills. The restaurant’s subtle yet ancient grandeur takes one back to the simpler times when cooking was slow and sustainable. The seating arrangements remind one of the ‘khatias’ of northern villages and the chefs use slow cooking techniques to keep the flavours intact. The menu draws heavily from the cuisines of the soldiers of the north, the native tribes, and warriors.
To add to the appeal, the restaurant recently launched its own album created by musician Shreyas Patkar, which is a collection of classical, indie, and instrumental sets.