White Chocolate and Chilli Martinis with Ryan

In this week’s edition of Tales of an African Bartender, Ryan takes a look at a couple of local bars and events that have been shaking things up with their innovative drinks on the local cocktail scene as well as the recipe for the perfect chocolate and chilli martini, check it out…

So I’ve been a little quiet of late but there’s been no shortage of exciting things happening on the Durban cocktail scene. We’re nearing the start of the festive season and many bars and restaurants are using the post-world cup lull to build up their service levels, cocktail programs and new menu’s…good news for you if you’re planning a night out!

One example of this was a recent initiative by the Oyster Box Hotel to find the “Oyster Box Bartender of the Year” an intense training program culminating in a lavish competition in the Pearl Room of the Oyster Box Hotel. I was lucky enough to work with the bar team over five weeks, making sure they were up to scratch for the big night and they put in a lot of effort to make sure they didn’t disappoint!  For most of the guys it was their first bartending competition and the excitement was high as they took to the stage in front of a crowd of invited guests and hotel management to prove their skills!

One of the perks of my job is that “work” sometimes entails drinking cocktails all night and this was certainly a tough night on the job! The eight finalists (selected from the Oyster Box’s twenty strong bar team) supplied me and the other judges with a steady stream of cocktails throughout the night with some really great drinks being created. The focus of this competition was on creativity and originality and some surprising but delicious combinations came from the competitors – a personal highlight being Selvan Govender’s amazingly complex, Sherry based “Flamingo Heights”.

The winner in the end however was bartender John Shabalala, a nearly twenty year veteran of the Hotel and a favourite character amongst guests, with his White Chocolate and Chilli Martini.

If you’re looking for a great place to enjoy some delicious cocktails and a spectacular view, I highly recommend you pay a visit to John and the team at the Oyster Box Hotel. The lack of good hotel bars in Durban is something that has always puzzled me and the Oyster Box is going a long way to improve this with both the service and drinks being some of the best you’ll find in the country.

As well as the title of Oyster Box Bartender of the Year and a host of other prizes, John earned the chance to represent the hotel at this year’s Design Durban’s Drink Competition, my next tough day on the job (aka drinking cocktails) as MC and judge.

The Design Durban’s Drink Competition is an annual event to showcase and develop cocktail culture in Durban and has been growing steadily over the last few years. Held in September at the SMME Fair at the Durban Exhibition Centre, it featured both amateur cocktail enthusiasts and professional bartenders competing for the title of Durban Cocktail of the Year in their respective categories. With a host of celebrity judges joining me (including Deputy Mayor Logie Naidoo), this is always a fun event and will hopefully be even bigger next year!

This year’s Durban cocktail of the year was awarded to Kevin Ngwerume of Jilera Restaurant and Cocktail Bar in Morningside and his take on the Kiwi Martini delighted the judges and earned him R5000 and bragging rights for Jilera as home to Durban’s favourite cocktail!

Over the next few months there are plenty more exciting cocktail related events coming up including the South African National Cocktail Competition finals, being hosted at the Good Food and Wine Show at the end of November (in Durban for the first time since 2005) where the best bartenders in the country will compete to represent South Africa in Warsaw, Poland at the World Cocktail Championships next year. On a related note, I will be representing South Africa in Singapore in November for the 2010 round of the same competition so stay tuned to the Socialite for updates on that!

That’s about all I have for this week but I’ll leave you with a recipe for John Shabalala’s Chocolate and Chilli Martini, delicious as an after dinner warmer, but maybe not quite the same when served without his enormous smile.


White Chocolate and Chilli Martini

John Shabalala (2010)


50ml Stolichnaya Vodka

25ml Giffard White Chocolate Syrup

15ml Lemon Juice

¼ Red Chilli (adjust to taste)

Combine all ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker and shake well.

Fine strain into a chilled Martini Glass and garnish with a slice of red Chilli

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