Interview by Elijah Attard, Head Chef at Maybe Sammy & host of the Roots Hospitality podcast. @roots_hospitality
Bouvardia, 2/169 Bourke Street, Melbourne @bouvardiamelbourne
When I first stumbled upon Bouvardia, I was taken aback by its wildly creative approach to showcasing their cocktails. I’m a huge fan of combining art and hospitality (it’s the fine dining chef in me), so when I saw drinks being set on ceramic blocks before the drink is poured in, or fresh melons quartered and stacked upon each other with the cocktail drizzled over – to represent the flavours of that drink; I couldn’t help but take notice.
While I was at it, I decided to dig deeper and talk to Abjar Kasho (Owner/Operator) about the unique take on his new cocktail bar.
I’ve noticed a new direction from Bars in how they have to market their drinks. From a restaurant sense, it’s very easy to show the public what produce they are using, because you can see it on the plate. But for bars, saying words and seeing them in a drink is a hard grasp. So to market those flavours better, bars are creatively showcasing that cocktail with the fruits and flavours by its side to emphasise the components. It’s a unique approach, so where did you get that inspiration from?
A: That’s exactly it. We wanted Bouvardia to be in its approach. To provide the guests with a point of difference that will showcase our passion for the world of art and cocktails in one space. The inspiration is from the incredible restaurants like Attica that are around us promoting amazing produce, and art and we want to do the same.
How did you come up with the current clever cocktail theme and approach for this current menu?
A; We did not start with classic cocktail templates or spirits like you typically would. Instead, we started with a concept, then reverse-engineered that into a drink. Take the Major Tom for example, it’s not really based on any classic cocktail to build from, it’s just doing its own thing. Definitely one of our prouder drinks on the menu.
When I saw drinks being set on ceramic blocks before the drink was poured in, or fresh melons quartered and stacked upon each other with the cocktail drizzled over – to represent the flavours of that drink; I couldn’t help but take notice.
What I found intriguing was the level of detail given for every cocktail when you look deeper. It’s almost like you’ve gone for a more scientific approach to communicating the elements of every drink, by including the pH levels or ABV. Where did that come from?
A: For that, we took inspiration from chefs like David Zilber and Rene Redzepe. We admire their work a lot here are Bouvardia. Especially my business partner Ben Martini and Venue Manager Jack Tennant, who dived deep into fermentation and preserving methods to elevate the flavours of the produce. After buying the Noma guide to fermentation, I think the team here have been a little obsessed with trying to learn as much as possible. We found the addition of pH and ABV would always raise eyebrows and lead to a conversation, which is what we want anyway – customer engagement.
Art and drinks are an important ethos of Bouvardia. I’m curious, do you see Bouvardia bringing that relationship closer when showcasing cocktails? For example, getting beautifully custom-made ceramic cups or mugs for one of your drinks. Then the flavour of the cocktail and the art of the ceramic can both stand on their own, but both work uniquely together.
A: Absolutely. It’s funny that you say that because I’m currently talking to a ceramicist at the moment to create some beautiful Japanese cups for a new cocktail. It’s a direction I’ve been wanting to take for 2 years now and we’re slowly getting there.
You love to showcase local artists as well, tell us about that?
A: We’re currently hosting monthly exhibitions showcasing a range of local artists through an in-house Curator James Heenan who’s curated for places like MONA and DARK MOFO. We have the artists all come in on the first Thursday of every month for an opening night. Whether it’s ceramicists like Claire Ellis, visual artists, oil canvases and even an augmented reality night, which was insane to host. It keeps things fresh and fun which we hope the guests will enjoy too.
Also, I have to say, those trapezium coasters are crazy cool. I’ve never seen anything like that and I love it.
A: Those coasters are actually made out of reused aeroplane tires. The sustainability approach is another point that is a core to our ethos. In little ways, we try to find cool touches to various aspects of Bouvardia that can be designed to be more environmentally friendly.
How do you see the future of Bouvardia evolving?
A: From a cocktail standpoint – I want to further build on the techniques while producing punchy and fun flavours. From an artistic standpoint, definitely work towards creatively expressing those cocktails individually and incorporating the art we’re showcasing as inspiration. But at the same time, I have this habit of wanting to just change the decor really sporadically – so don’t be alarmed if you come in and the green has completely gone too!
“We did not start with classic cocktail templates or spirits like you typically would. Instead, we started with a concept, then reverse-engineered that into a drink. Take the Major Tom for example, it’s not really based on any classic cocktail to build from, it’s just doing its own thing. Definitely one of our prouder drinks on the menu.” – Abjar Kasho
As always Abjar, I have to finish on the big question! Tell us about the funniest or craziest time you found yourself in the shit while bartending.
A: I’ve been doing this for 13 years so that’s a tough one but to be completely honest, I don’t think I’d still be doing this if I didn’t get a little thrill when 5/6 of my staff all have COVID at the same time and I’m going into a busy weekend – true story by the way. If you have the right attitude, the challenge of always finding a way forward is addictive and calling in a bunch of non-hospo friends who have never carried a tray to help can be a laugh too.
Thanks for your time Abjar!