Film producer Avantika Malik, a newly minted mixologist, and brother Vedant talk spirits and bar-hopping in London and curating an all-new cocktail menu at their Worli restaurant
This monsoon when most of us were busy battling the downpour and negotiating potholes, Avantika Malik was tumbling into the world of heady cocktails at the London's European Bartender School. Producer and daughter to media mogul Vandana Malik, the 37-year-old is back in the bay, but the hangover is far from waning. So much so, that she admits nearly missing buying a rakhi for brother Vedant. "Let me do one thing. Let me just buy the rakhi for you," ribs Vedant.
We're with the siblings at their restaurant Mizu in Worli on a balmy evening, a day before Raksha Bandhan. Their banter flows as smooth and warmly as the salmon-coloured cocktail Avantika has whipped up. "Ume Shochu Sour is a Korean liquer based-cocktail made from potatoes," she informs. "I've used Umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums) that adds a salty, savoury note to a classic sour drink." She's allergic to citrus—a regular element in most cocktails—and has finally found a way to work around it herself. The idea of using plums was suggested by a friend while discussing cocktails at the restaurant.
Ume Shochu Sour
For somebody who "has always loved booze and talking about booze", Avantika has found her calling. She is now the official mixologist at the restaurant, fronting the bar pretty much on a regular basis. In the last few months, even as rumour mills churned stories about her separation from actor Imran Khan, whom she married in 2011 and with whom she has a five-year-old daughter Imara, Avantika has found refuge in a cosy corner of the restaurant with its warm natural wood finishes, cherry blossom motifs and Japanese inscriptions.
The space has become somewhat of a laboratory for her experiments. Last weekend, she was here for over nine hours every day getting her hands dirty. In London, she even picked up a couple of flair bartending tricks. "But the bar here, is too small for that. I'm scared I might end up shattering the glasses." Each cocktail that she concocts is offered to the staff for feedback. "I've been fine-tuning my gin cocktails with inputs from my team." You can expect classics like the Breakfast Martini, Pornstar Martini, Whisky Sour and Old fashioned from her.
Vedant Malik, sister Avantika and chef Lakhan Jethani at Mizu
She's taking baby steps in a field that always intrigued her. The interest, she adds, intensified organically and gradually as she started spending time at the restaurant over the last one year. But Vedant admits he didn't see it coming. "Well, I was happy to have free labour," he jokes. Until now, it was his school friend, chef and business partner Lakhan Jethani who was overseeing the bar, but it was a job that required another resource.
"It was getting too much to handle for him alone. But to be honest, I never expected Avantika's interest [in mixology] to last," he adds, recalling the time she broached the topic with him on casually two months ago. As a child, he recalls, she was always dexterous with her hands, whether it was baking or pottery, but no hobby had taken on the seriousness of a vocation. But when he learnt that she had already scouted the terrain for the best bartending school, signed up for a course, locked the accommodation and even booked her flight tickets, it was clear—this was no ordinary fad. "I was still skeptical, pretty sure that the London stint would end up being more about bar hopping than bartending," he laughs.
The Pornstar Martini with vodka and passion fruit
For Avantika, the move was more about "making myself useful". She had had her fill producing movies and it was time to move on from the industry. "And here was a job that would tone up my arms," she laughs. But it was no cakewalk "going back to school" in her mid 30s. Back at the classroom, she was the oldest in her class and also the most diligent. Despite partying hard at night, she would be in class at 7 am sharp. "I felt young and alive!" The course was four-weeks long.
Malik is normally at the restaurant from Thursday to Sunday from afternoon up until end of service. Avantika and Vedant might be six years apart but have never allowed the age difference to seep into the easy camaraderie they share. "We've always been close. But, running a business with a person who knows you like the back of your palm, makes things easier," he says. At work, both mind their own business, quite literally. "I don't interfere with her work and vice versa. There's synergy as well as autonomy," he says. "I think I gel more with Lakhan than Vedant. We have similar tastes when it comes to understanding flavour profiles," she says. But together, they make for a robust team.
Despite its glam avatar, bartending is a back breaking job. The first day, she went back home with sore arms. "I was miserable but there was also something deeply satisfying about it." Vedant concurs. "When guests pay a compliment on how the space made them feel at home, it's the best feeling." It's a feeling that she's getting used to. Although the world still remembers her as Roma—love interest to Kunal Roy Kapoor—in 90s romcom Just Mohabbat, she's bid goodbye to it. "I'd love to shield my daughter from the industry. But if she really wants to, I won't stop her."
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