“Every drink tells a story”, says master mixologist Ulric Nijs. Leading the launch of a series of enchanting cocktails inspired by the adventures of Vasco da Gama at the Vasco Bar & Lounge, he reveals the story behind each of the uniquely crafted cocktail that will spirit you away with the tales of the legendary explorer.
Nestled at the Grand Lapa Macau, prepare to be captivated by the newly refurbished interiors of Vasco Bar & Lounge. A prominent hang-out spot after work in Macau, it’s not just your usual watering hole. The beautiful space is a place where talent and creativity thrives. From the performers, guests to the kitchen team, there’s an inspiring air of style and sophistication.
What is the inspiration for the menu for Vasco Bar & Lounge?
Portugal! Initially, I remembered when I drafted my first proposal for the management, after sending the menu, they said it was a bit boring. And, I was like, “What do you mean boring?”. So, armed with my new found vigor, it was back to the drawing board. After a lot of discussions and explorations, and research, of course, I needed to find an anchor in Portugal and there I started.
The concept of voyage and exploration was embedded deeply in the theme we had for the cocktails. I was a judge for a spirit competition where I tried a rum from Madeira. There are quite good rums from that region and bringing those rums here was the groundwork for these concoctions, it was one step at a time before all the pieces came together.
We also had somebody from a Mozambique event and they had roasted cashew milk. That’s an interesting addition to our crafted cocktails, I thought. Ultimately, I had to learn and trace back the life of Vasco de Gama and rediscover his path journey and a lot of it entailed in-depth research. A part of it that was somehow easy for me, because I am an active traveler. I was raised in Africa so I know the region well and I extracted every bit of the creation process from my own experience and gathered exceptional ingredients all over the world and used them to the full extent.
You used a lot of premium ingredients like roasted pineapple, homemade cashew milk, etc. How important are ingredients in mixology?
Your cocktail is only as good as your cheapest ingredient so if I take or use the best cognac and use it with a cheap lemon juice I bring the drink to the level of the lemon juice. We need to strike a certain balance between quality and affordability. It’s also important to take note that while I would love to use the most luxurious ingredients, they’re not always the best quality. We use good ingredients and that’s different from saying expensive ingredients. We want to create quality without driving the price of cocktails too high.
What kind of training did you give your team for the new menu?
Let’s tell it from your perspective (laughs). You walk into the bar and you open the cocktail menu, what do you usually do? Are you going to try the signature drink or will you go for your tried and tested choice?
Many people look at the menu and if its a little too complex they’ll go back to a tried and tested choice so I want to make sure that the Vasco Bar & Lounge team knows the fundamentals of the classics like the back of their hand and that they know how to mix these classics properly is as significant as the first rule.
I’ve been to some bar where a simple Margarita was a disaster or unbalanced. So, they need to understand the concept of balance and need to understand the classics taking into consideration all these ratios and combinations. I can say for certain that they’re definitely ready to take on the dining and drinking scene of Macau, now.
What’s the concept behind the presentation of the drinks?
You drink with your eyes and you eat with your eyes. The first thing you see when a drink is delivered to your table is the presentation. You make a judgment call with what you see and smell before you even drink it. That’s a fact! I make sure that the cocktails are appealing to those two primary senses before you get to taste it. And that’s when you join the journey and understand the story of the drink you’ve just tasted.
What is your favorite cocktail on the menu?
I’m a fan of The Natal Punch. I love the bold and smoky character of that drink. I love the Gate of Understanding as well. It’s inspired by Macau and simply majestic. It’s pretty strong and a drinkers choice. I love the Beirao Sling because it’s the very first cocktail that I came up with. It’s the one I would drink to relax and I’m absolutely happy with it. I wanted to introduce the guests gently to the menu by not being overly creative and yet captivating. Portugal is definitely the star of the journey and you’ll notice our use of brandy. The cocktails menu has an essential streak of Europe in them.