Bustling Strasbourg-Saint-Denis in Paris, France, boasts some of the best bars, clubs and restaurants in the iconic city. This street is equal parts gritty and sublime, filled with everyday people doing their thing. The vibe is decidedly down to earth. Yet it is also home to some world class, even world famous establishments. Unsurprisingly, this is where Le Syndicat is situated â€“ a bar that consistently makes lists of being one of the top bars in the world. And best of all, its innovative, envelope-pushing cocktail program is based entirely on French spirits and the drinks live up to the hype.
Yet, the place is incredibly unpretentious â€“ according to those who know it best! â€œThe exterior is plastered with thick layers of posters, hiding the narrow entrance to what appears to be a dive bar. Inside, youâ€™ll find a lot of gold lamÃ©, a small wellloved bartop, and plenty of tables. Most of the time hip-hop is blasting, the crew is friendly and the vibe is super chill,â€ reveals Juliette Larrouy (right), one of the establishmentâ€™s star bartenders.
Larrouy and her colleague, Ike-Sy Paquemar (left), were recently on hand in KL as part of The House of Martellâ€™s collaboration with Le Syndicat â€“ exploring the wealth of flavours that go hand in hand with the superbly stylish and sublime Martell Noblige cognac.
â€œIn Paris, first of all, cocktails are not a â€˜thingâ€™ â€“ we drink wine there mostly! The whole cocktail explosion just came to us about seven or eight years ago,â€ continues Larrouy. â€œAnd I suppose we Parisians gave the cocktail experience a bit of twist as we drink our cocktails mostly with food. A lot of the techniques that we use in making cocktails are also adapted from the tricks chefs use in the kitchen.â€
â€œI come from the resort region of Cannes and trained at a culinary school there. But when youâ€™re a student at one of these establishments youâ€™re trained quite well, so you have the option to choose either to work in the kitchen, or to work in service. I started out as a chef and did this for five years before switching over to service, and ended up behind the bar!â€
Meanwhile, Paquemarâ€™s story was a fair bit different: â€œI wasnâ€™t the best student back in the day so I ended up stopping early â€“ I eventually found my way to Paris from my hometown in the south of France seven years ago, and got a job at a big live music venue called Le Comptoir General in Paris. This is where big stars like Alicia Keys would play. Eventually, I graduated from serving to becoming an assistant barman, making mostly easy cocktails like pina coladas for guests, and found out that I really enjoyed doing this sort of work.â€
(l-r) Sazerac & Mist Cocktail; Ginger Spice and Thyme Garnish â€“ two delicious cocktails with plenty of Martell Noblige goodness!; Ginger Spice & Mint Garnish Cocktail
One day, Paquemar meets up with one of the co-founders of Le Syndicat, Sullivan Dohâ€¦ â€œAnd we got along really well when we started talking about flavours in drinks and cocktails. In the end, I was offered a job there and for the next two years, I learned as much as I could about being a very effective bartender, and also about matching flavours and making great cocktails!â€
â€œAnd Le Syndicat isnâ€™t just about drinks, mind you,â€ says Paquemar. â€œWe actually run an in-house creative events agency where we help organise special parties and events for brands like Prada or one of the many French alcohol brands. Eventually, I rose to lead this events agency and itâ€™s been awesome!â€
As part of the team at Le Syndicat, the pair got thoroughly reacquainted with the joys of cognac. Larrouy grew up knowing about cognac as a drink favoured by her parents and grandparents. â€œBut when I started to work with it, I began to discover more about the story of cognac. Besides, the Martell Noblige is such a smooth cognac that itâ€™s so easy to match its lemon, pear and prune notes with a huge variety of complementary flavours out there â€“ itâ€™s really a wonderful drink to work with!â€
Meanwhile, Paquemar first time drinking a cognac was a rather trying experience because it was not a brand that he enjoyed. â€œBut when I tried a cognac cocktail at Le Syndicat that was mixed with pineapple, homemade syrup and lemongrass for the first time, it was maybe the best thing that I have ever tried at that time!â€
Now, armed with a plethora of home-made mixers that La Syndicat is renewed for, the pair previewed a menu of cocktails featuring the Martell Noblige cognac. Among these was the Sazerac & Mist consisting of Martell Noblige, Pernod Absinthe, sugar syrup and Peychaudâ€™s Bitter. It comes complete with a mist of your choice: Black Pepper Infusion, Roasted Sesame Infusion and Absinthe. Then, there was also the incredibly refreshing Sidecar & Zest – Martell Noblige, lemon juice, Triple Sec and sugar syrup. Completing things is a zest of your choice: Lemon, Green Lemon or Grapefruit.
In the end, it was Larrouy who summed it up quite perfectly: â€œFor many, Cognac can be a bit of a mystery. The drink is so iconic that many mistake it as one that needs to be consumed in a certain way. But nothing could be further from the truth! Itâ€™s actually one of the most versatile spirits you can think of, really. So, if youâ€™re ever cluelessÂ about what to drink with your cognac, then perhaps you should stop wondering! The only limit is your own imagination now, isnâ€™t it?â€