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Carving Martini out of ice and mixing drinks with jazz

Manja Stankovic, beverage manager of Mimi Kakushi, the World's 40th best bar, gets talking about creating new trends and Kikuchi, the refreshingly new menu that pairs cocktails with jazz

Manja Stankovic, beverage manager of Mimi Kakushi in Dubai, concocting a cocktail
Manja Stankovic, beverage manager of Mimi Kakushi in Dubai, concocting a cocktail (Mimi Kakushi)

A sip of Kiyo-Mizu is just the pick-me-up you need after a rather tiring day at work. The clean and crisp whisky-based clarified cocktail is on the menu at Dubai’s Japanese-themed Mimi Kakushi restaurant, currently ranked the best bar in the middle-east and Africa, and the 40th in the World’s 50 Best Bars list. The mixology team of Mimi Kakushi was recently in Bengaluru for a bar takeover at the ZLB23 Speakeasy in The Leela Palace. Speaking to Lounge during a brief interlude from the event, Manja Stankovic, Mimi Kakushi’s beverage manager reveals, “My team and I haven’t had time to celebrate the wins yet.” Awarded the ranking in October last year, the ranking is a significant step up from the restaurant’s 2022 ranking- it was #58 then. The twin wins, Stankovic reveals, have kept the team busy with people queuing up to try their signature cocktails, particularly the ice-encased Kori Kakushi Martini. “We are most recognised today for our iced martini that is served inside a block of ice that’s -20°C. When serving it to the guest, we carve the drink out of the ice block. It is very theatrical, and people come to Mimi just for that drink, the entire experience of it,” says Stankovic about his creation.

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Cocktails with a spot of Japanese Jazz

With greater expectations set up now, Stankovic agrees that innovating is the way to stay on top of the game. “A motto that I share with my team is that one’s got to be a trendsetter, not follow the trend,” says Stankovic. Right now, the ‘innovative idea’ that has his team and him excited is their new menu, Kikuchi, which pairs 13 signature cocktails with Japanese jazz hits. “It’s a tribute to Kikuchi Shigeya, a singer credited with introducing American jazz music to Japan,” says Stankovic. The menu design reflects the theme: a stack of 13 vinyl records are placed on a wooden holder with individual descriptions of the song written on the sleeve. The Kiyo- Mizu cocktail, for instance, is paired with Matsuri No Genso, a well-known Japanese jazz number by the band, Hideo Shiraki & 3 Koto Girls. Currently, guests visiting the bar in Dubai can listen to the selection of songs courtesy an in-house live jazz band that performs on Wednesdays, and a DJ who plays the tracks on other days of the week. There are plans to make an audiobook of the 13 songs, Stankovic reveals. 

Explaining the concept, Stankovic says, “Mimi Kakushi is themed on Japan of the 1920s. One of the biggest influences of the period was jazz. And so, when we sat down to create our new menu, we decided to create one where every single cocktail we made has an accompanying vinyl as well.” The idea behind pairing mixology with music, Stankovic explains, is to create an emotional experience for the guests by tapping into the senses of sight, sound, smell and taste.

Popularity of Japanese F&B

If Mimi Kakushi’s concept is inspired by Osaka of the 20s, ZLB in Bengaluru is designed as a Kyoto Speakeasy. What explains the popularity of Japanese F&B? “I think this fascination has to do with Japanese culture, in general. It is about how they perfect everything they do. I mean, they started making whisky some 100 years ago and today, they are a whisky empire,” says Stankovic who remembers a Japanese colleague of his sharing three books to read on—get this— how to sharpen a knife. “As a culture, their attention to detail is next level,” he laughs.

Bartenders need to know a bit of local and international trends

Talk about mixology trends and while on one hand, you have Indian mixologists infusing local ingredients into their concoctions, there are also bars like Mimi Kakushi creating potions inspired by a country 1000s of miles away. So, does being a successful bartender today entail being an explorer of local ingredients and international flavours and trends? Stankovic says, “Yes, I think the job today requires you to know a bit of both. To a bartender starting out I would say, start local and then expand your vocabulary by learning about international trends.

A mixology rule that will never go out of fashion

New trends in mixology emerge every day. But what’s that one rule that will always be in fashion? “Good hospitality,” is Stankovic’s pat response. Elaborating more, he says, “You can make a great drink but if you present it with a terrible attitude, it won’t taste so nice. On the other hand, if you make a mediocre drink and present it with a smile and charisma, it will automatically taste 50 percent better. So, I think good hospitality is what will always stand the test of time.”

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