Participate in an exclusive San Francisco experience in Quito, only available to guests of Casa Gangotena. Please inquire with our staff for more details.
In the lobby of Casa Gangotena, the customary aristocratic serenity is interrupted by a frisson of anticipation. A group of six or so guests have gathered and speak in hushed voices, not certain of what is about to come.
They are waiting for Casa Gangotena’s newest guest experience to begin, a tour of San Francisco monastery with exclusive access to some very special parts of the emblematic complex. And I, a privileged outsider, have come along to see what happens.
When Casa Gangotena’s bar launched a new signature cocktail menu at the beginning of September, the challenge was not just to come up with a pleasing range of drinks, but to create a complete concept that was both perfectly aligned with the hotel’s philosophy and that would push the boundaries of Ecuadorian cocktail-making.
For this, Jossimar Lujan was enlisted, a Peruvian from the historic city of Arequipa who has been elbow deep in the art, science and magic of cocktails since he was 15 years old.
Working in conjunction with Elizabeth Arévalo and Cristian Moscoso, members of the cocktail team, Jossimar began to work around the idea that the new menu had to be 100 percent Ecuadorian, take into account the restaurant’s concept of Cocina Mestiza and infuse regional products with cutting edge techniques.
He named the final result ‘Homenaje’, the Spanish word for ‘homage’.
“I decided on ‘Homenaje’ because my professional career as a creator of restaurant concepts really started here, and this was one of my first concepts. So it’s ‘Homenaje’ for personal reasons. And it coincides with the concept of the hotel, and of the restaurant menu. It’s an homage to Ecuadorian ingredients,” he explains.
One of the key ingredients particularly honoured in the concept is caña, the Ecuadorian version of aguardiente that is drunk at traditional festivities, and which has unfairly fallen out of fashion among Ecuadorians in favour of international spirits like gin and vodka.
“We are the first bar to make premium cocktails with caña,” he says. “We really want to promote caña. It’s a really good national product. As a foreigner, I say that Ecuadorians should be proud. It’s a mega product.”
In order to create a truly Ecuadorian menu, Jossimar scoured the country for unusual ingredients and iconic flavours.
“I had to investigate a lot for this concept, and go to a lot of markets. Truly, the markets are where everything happens. I’d go and talk to all the people, getting to know local chefs,” he says.
On his travels he discovered tangerines from Patate and pears from Tungurahua, raspberries and two entirely different kinds of blackberries, which all feature on the menu.
Furthermore, the bar team has undertaken to create all of their ingredients (aside from the alcohols) from scratch, from the syrups and reductions, to a clarification of serrano ham and melon, boiled together and filtered for 48 hours.
“Everything is 100 percent natural and homemade. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it to have these unique products,” he says.
The overall effect is complex journey through the flavours, ingredients and traditions of Ecuador, brought up to date with the latest techniques, and a fair amount of industrial-looking toys, including a smoke machine, giant balls of ice, and a specially designed perfume dispenser.
“People come here to have an experience, not to drink 10 cocktails,” says Jossimar.
“The idea is to drink what you want, but come and enjoy the experience of our menu. It’s like an entire dish in one drink.”
Jossimar talks us through some of the options, and the concepts behind them.
“The name comes from the fact that it is alcohol free, and has an angel design.”
“Just like the Quito neighbourhood, this drink has it all! The idea is that the flavour keeps on changing. We’re playing with your senses – you smell one thing but taste another, or see a colour and expect a certain flavour.”
“The flower is given an aroma that hits you before you take a sip. Like alchemy, it is the perfect balance of liquids.”
“This one takes its name from the black amaranth and, based on caña, is probably the most Ecuadorian option on the menu. It’s made of a concentrated Agua de Frescos, and a beaten egg white gives it a sour texture. It is finished with edible flower confetti.”
“This is a refreshing gin and tonic – Ecuadorian style.”
“This cocktail is served in a cup moulded to look like a lion, which we had especially made for this drink. It was inspired by the lions depicted on the outside of Casa Gangotena, which are known as its “guardians”. It is based on pineapple-infused rum and contains a clarification of serrano ham and melon.”
“We have created a deconstructed version of the warm Ecuadorian classic, and it comes with a smoking palo santo stick and is lavender scented.”
“This is quite like Floresta but alcoholic. It fizzes on the tongue.”
“It’s based on Peruvian pisco, and the side is dusted with a lemon biscuit.”