The Mysterious Mr H.

We catch up with mixologist Haroon Haffajee (Brandhouse) to make a signature cocktail for the Festival. He schools us in the art of cocktail and leaves us all a little awestruck...

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The next Durban Street Food Festival Summer Edition will be held from 16-20 December at 102 Florence Nzama Road, River Town Precinct, Durban.

To enter the competition, enter your name for the cocktail/mocktail in the comments below, or check out the competition post here. Below is an account of the making of the cocktail and our encounter with the mixologist.

First Encounter

Arriving at El Toro (Mackeurtan Avenue) on the beautiful northern coast, our first contact with the enigmatic Haroon Haffajee leaves a little to be desired. He is decidedly placid, exuding a calm unbefitting of one holding the title Master Mixologist. His smile is gentle, restrained, his demeanour focused but strangely absent. Reed Hoffman, proprietor, wheeler and dealer in all things El Mexicano, introduces us. H. offers a perfunctory nod by way of greeting, still seemingly absent.

Our initial conversation is no more strained than the average meeting of complete strangers, but is made a little more eerie by H.'s strange demeanour. When we've exhausted the standard array of pleasantries and necessary-information-exchanges, a silence slightly-longer-than-acceptable turns the conversation to the Order of the Day: we're mixing a cocktail for Durban.

Transformation

If we have previously introduced Dr Jekyll, then it is at this junction we meet Mr Hyde, for H.'s entire countenance now assumed an expression that defies description. But pray, dear reader, we will try. His brow became raised, having the airs of one receiving a pleasant but alarming surprise. This lent an increasing definition to his already sharp features, which was accentuated by a subtle but perceptible raising and lowering of the shoulders. His previously neutral position assumed one indicating dominion, and it seemed as if the physical space the man occupied had effectively doubled. Each of us, in turn, noticed this strange turn in the composition of our group, and in doing so became effectively silent, save the periodical dull whirring heard from the throat of those of us not endowed with stronger constitution.

The prey, that is to say, all of us except him, shifted a little uncomfortably, and the common silence that then prevailed would be the longest of our encounter that day. H. alone had all the airs of his previous calm, but gone now was the strange absenteeism which accompanied it, replaced by a bristling excitement which now and then bubbled to the surface as its container ceded control. In a single stroke of eloquence, H. offered four words to break that binding silence, which seemed to hold the entire meaning and representation of the moment: sweet, sour, weak, strong. Then, as if to steady us who were reeling, giddy, and thirsty, he added: balance.

None can account for the time between when we were seated at the table and barracked 'round the bar, but the laws of physics dictate that that time must have existed, and so we accept now that it did. It will suffice for the reader, at this point, to take a deep breath.

At the bar with Haroon Haffajee, Mixologist

In his lab, H.'s movements are deliberate and efficient but not without flair, as he procures a distinctively shaped green bottle, itself possessed of some decoration. The bottle procures him. He flashes then a mischievous smile, and turning the bottle at ninety degrees to us, he is poised, ready to pull the trigger. H gestures to its cap in an unnecessary effort to hold our attention and notes, 'pineapple' – only found out today, adding as if chiding himself for forgetting: sweet, vanilla too. In completion of some metaphor beyond our understanding, he sets the bottle down next to an actual pineapple which evokes a murmur of approval from his audience.

We're told that blended pineapple puree and vanilla make up the sweet component of our Jane Doe, met in turn by the sour of freshly squeezed lemon juice. These are joined in weak accompaniment by coconut water and ice, whose freshness he insists upon. Fresh ice, fresh ice. Leaving only...

The Lady Herself

Tanqueray London Dry, as we're told the spirit is named, is a gin crafted from angelica root, liquorice, coriander seed and juniper berry. It will form the alcoholic base and strong component of the yet unnamed concoction whose composition H. now demonstrated to us:

  • SWEET:  Vanilla syrup 7.5%(15ml), Pineapple puree 25%(50ml)

  • SOUR: Lemon juice 10%(20ml), fresh chilli 1.25% (2 small slices without seeds)

  • WEAK: Coconut water 25%(50ml), water (from shaking process/ice) 12.5%(25ml)

  • STRONG: Tanqueray London Dry gin 18.75%(37.5ml)  

[You can find the recipe for this cocktail here -ed]

The distinction between mixologist and barman becomes apparent as H. chains a series of movements together, all the while expounding upon the subtleties of cocktail making, mixing and shaking. Here one finds no fancy flourishful flip of a bottle, nor gaudy display of dexterity, though H. be possessed of that in no small amount. Instead, H. measures his creations by the balance and subtle interactions between the four key elements sweet, sour, weak, strong, which are the culmination of what can only be called his Philosophy of Cocktail.

Haroon Haffajee pouring the Durban Street Food Festival Signature Cocktail

There's a thin white foam that settles upon the top of her dress when the final garnish of a slice of pineapple has been added. Her colour is influenced mostly by the pineapple, and she invites the gaze even before introduction to the palate, giving the impression of something to be approached with cautious enthusiasm, much like the originator himself.

Armed with H.'s philosophy, we make an expectant advance and are returned in kind with an invitation to dance. Her movements are strong, yes, without a doubt. She tempers this with a fresh cool calm, supported by hints of coconut and vanilla. Her most welcoming aspect is, of course, the pineapple, which tickles your tongue in preparation for the mischief of her lemon. And when it's all done, by way of encore – you realise that she bites.

Chilli, of course. Between expectation and deliverance; a subtle nibbling edge that keeps you on your toes as your body keeps in step with the liquid freshness oozing down your throat. You asked for something 'Durban', H. quips, gauging the chilli from only the expression on our faces, and there it is again; the mischief in his smile, 'cept now it lingers just a little longer, seeming to say yes, she has balance; she is of the City.

Durban Street Food Festival Signature Cocktail

H., leaving, surveys the scene and notes the empty glasses like some smug Cinderella an hour after midnight.

What do we call her, H.?
Ask them.
Who?
He looks around, as if to vacant air; The City you're naming this cocktail for.

#ReconcilliationWeek
#DSFFsummer

The Durban Street Food Festival Signature Cocktail will be available in Mocktail and Cocktail versions.

Submit your name in the comments below and stand a chance to win 1 of 2 sets of 5 full festival passes for #DSFFsummer if your name is chosen for either the cocktail or the mocktail!