The consumption of absinthe is almost the equivalent of the Japanese tea ceremony in Europe, except that the Green Fairy doesn’t expect as much highbrow pomp and circumstance to win her wiles.
The ritual, however, is quite intricate. A classic reservoir pontarlier glass is needed if one is to enjoy the beverage, classic Bohemian-style. A specially designed perforated absinthe spoon is then suspended over the rim of the glass, cupping a sugar cube. About 30 ml of absinthe is poured over the sugar cube, which is then immediately set alight. The sugar cube remains on fire for a minute and before it caramelizes, it is doused with ice-cold water from a brouilleur device. The hot-but-not-burned sugar is now stirred into the absinthe and is ready to take its designated tippler into his version of a heavenly Victorian court with its heady anise aroma and wicked Spring-Heeled Jack kick.
Such was one of the experiences I had at the Refinery, a coffee, wine and liquor bar on Joya Drive in Rockwell, Makati City. Now don’t get me wrong: intricate absinthe rituals aside, this is not some rarefied establishment requiring top hats, evening dresses and gilded monocles. As a matter of fact, the idea of coming-as-you-are is the main personal draw of co-owner Carlo Lorenzana. “This was something I always wanted to do and be in,” he revealed. “This is my favorite place. It’s nothing too uptight. We want everything casual. We wanted a neighborhood cafe. Whether you’re in the mood for coffee at midnight, a Bloody Mary for breakfast or an Orange Screwdriver for lunch, you can have it here. We won’t judge you.”
Although I’m no coffee drinker, Lorenzana bade me to try a steaming cuppa Kenya Kikai brew. The exhilaratingly brisk essence of caramel complemented the smoky yet lemony taste of the African beans. He gave me a small, guileless smile as I took in the coffee, black and feisty. “We sell the good stuff,” continued Lorenzana. “We won’t give you anything sub-par. We offer coffee, wine, beer and other liquors that you won’t find just anywhere.” Indeed, the coffee selection was one intriguing array of offerings such as Midnight Jazz, Bliss Espresso, Colombia La Laguna and Guatemala Pulcal Carmona from Lamill Coffee, a Los Angelesbased gourmet coffee wholesaler.
The other beverage selections were no less impressive. Off to one shelf was a candy store selection of beers sporting various unfamiliar labels with beguilingly colorful names such as Stone IPA, Road Trip, Double Trouble, Midas Touch, Mad River Steelhead and Sierra Nevada Torpedo. The liquor cabinet suspended over the bar boasted several different brands of rum, gin, vodka and whiskey, most notable a trio of internationally lauded Suntory Yamazaki single malts.
I’ve always believed that good drink needs good food to keep it warm and fuzzy. That task is the purview of Chef Hatch Bodegon, another coowner and Lorenzana’s partner. “Although we started out as a beer and coffee place, we eventually saw the need to offer things like breakfast and brunch,” said Bodegon. “We figured on comfort food, the dishes closest to the hearts of the partners here at Refinery. We also wanted to make sure that the food we offered would pair off nicely with our drinks. This would make it easier for people to enjoy our drinks more and educate them about the different kinds of coffees, beers, liquors and things like cider and absinthe. We wanted to show them what other good things are out there, to tell the stories of the different drinks we’ve got.”
I got to sample that firsthand as Bodegon’s eager staff brought in the Banana Nutella French Toast. Stuffed with mozzarella and accompanied by a generously filled bowl of vanilla cream, the French toast was thick but light—a great way to start a day or end it.
The Sardine Pasta followed, linguini pasta with Spanish sardines, sun-dried tomatoes, basil and garlic. It’s a simple dish on the surface but the noodles were properly al dente, and I’d never tried a seafood pasta dish that had sardines cooked in olive oil. Definitely a breakfast treat one shouldn’t miss out on. Good things come in threes, and my monstrous breakfast was capped off with The Refinery Benedict. This variant of the classic eggs benedict was a brace of poached eggs, wafer-thin prosciutto ham, arugula, and hollandaise sauce on a fluffy, freshly baked muffin with a side salad of lettuce and cherry tomatoes drizzled with balsamic vinegar. For fish lovers and the health-conscious, the Salmon Benedict replaces the prosciutto with succulent salmon, but either version is worth getting up at the crack of dawn for. Just the satisfaction of popping a poached egg with the edge of your spoon and watching the yolk run down the muffin like a golden stream is enough to set your mouth a-watering.
For more perennial all-occasion fare, The Refinery Burger is a must-try. Composed of a premium Kitayama beef patty with a broad slice of cheddar, some tiger slaw, potato wedges and a pinch of rock salt on the side, this burger may seem on the modest side, but packs it in where piquancy and body are concerned. The fries are coated with a thin batter that gives a toothsome crunch that you normally don’t find just anywhere. For dessert, the Feel Good Fudge is pure rainbows-and-unicorn-ssunshine-out-of-my-meth-addled-brain; it is a warm, soft bed of puffy brownies in a hot skillet topped with Madagascar vanilla ice cream and candied walnuts. Washing it down was a tall glass of Rooibos Milk Tea, a not-too-sweet beverage with just the right bite and the fragrantly yummy Kool-Aid flavor that authentic African bush tea is known for.
FILL ’ER UP
A friend of mine once told me that the absolute best beer in the world is craft beer—especially the stuff that comes out of microbreweries. Despite the premium price (craft beer is three to six times more expensive than St. Michael’s ubiquitous brew), most times, you get what you pay for: a beer with character, body, richness and liveliness you normally don’t experience with the tried-and-tested cookie cutter beers. Brewmasters of craft beer aren’t afraid to experiment with using unusual ingredients and botanicals, and the results can be delightful. At the Refinery, here are some that are worth topping up:
Old Rasputin Imperial Stout Holgate. Named after the selfsame mad monk who toppled the Romanov dynasty and imperial rule in Russia, this dark, rich and devious elixir will give you unholy ideas with every sip.
Brewhouse’s Mt. Macedon Ale. This hazy amber potable is a fish-and-chips must-pair-with. Light, but distinct with a wheaty aroma, this one works well if you’re looking for something between dark beer and pale ale.
Magner’s Irish Pear Cider. For some, cider is the alcopop of beer; it is light, sweet, bubbly and preferred by dainty gentlemen who drink with their pinkies extended. I don’t care. This is good stuff, and I’m man enough to admit I enjoy it.
Holgate Brewhouse’s Pilsner Draft. Light, crisp and refreshing, this draft beer is a welcome sight after a long, hot day in the sun and goes well on its own or with any meal, any time of day.