Modern makeover…and a Jigger of Gin
Beverly Stephen - November 2013
San Francisco—When guests check into the Mandarin Oriental San Francisco, the first thing they see on their left now is an inviting casual restaurant and lounge/bar. Who needs a lobby?
Brasserie S&P, named for the nearby intersection of Sansome and Pine Streets in the heart of the financial district, is the hotel’s answer to guest demand for something more approachable than the luxurious Silks restaurant, which it closed a little over a year ago when it undertook a head to toe renovation for its 25th anniversary.
“In its heyday, Silks was amazing,” says Brasserie S&P executive chef Adam Mali, “but it was getting a bit tired.” Indeed, a number of notable chefs manned its stoves—Ken Oringer, David Kinch, Joel Huff. Hidden away on the second floor, it was luxurious and subdued, with linen napery and supple silk draperies, and long drawn-out meals. “It wasn’t The French Laundry,” says Mali, “but it was a long experience.” There was a Lilliputian bar on the lobby level.
Now everything on that level is wide open. The kitchen is still intact on the second floor, and food is sent down by dumbwaiter to a finishing kitchen on the ground level. “Part of the design was to add a full-size bar and lounge,” Mali says. “If you build it, they will come, and they came.” Like a number of other high-end hotels, the Mandarin found that guests were looking for a lively lounge and bar and a less formal restaurant.
The 90 seat Brasserie S&P can accommodate a business lunch crowd and the enlarged bar a bustling happy hour throng. “We’re head and shoulders above what we were doing even two years ago, both in terms of volume and revenue, even though the check average is more approachable,” Mali explains.
The cuisine itself is contemporary American, with an emphasis on updated San Francisco classics such as crab Louis, Dungeness crab cakes, and cioppino. “My cioppino is not really a seafood stew,” Mali explains. “It’s more of a composed plate with a smoked tomato compote and locally sourced shellfish.” Like all good California chefs, Mali is devoted to the best local ingredients, whether you’re talking protein or produce, and they do the star turns on his plates.
The bar focuses on Gin & Tonic, stocking anywhere from 35 to 40 gins, some local. They make a lot of their own tonics, called Sensei, but also use Fever Tree, Fentemen’s, and Q Tonic.
“Gin & Tonic is universally appealing to men and women,” says Nicole Kosta, events and beverage director, “and it’s much faster than the mixologists’ 15 minute drinks. Two minutes is our standard. By pre-making the tonic, we can deliver the complexity in a short amount of time.”
St. George Spirits, a local distillery, makes three different gins, which the hotel offers as a flight with a pour of Sensei tonic on the side. They also use St. George gin as a VIP amenity with the three bottled tonics.
There is a full selection of other spirits as well as beer and wine, but the Gin & Tonics are the cool kids. The most popular cocktail is an aged Gin & Tonic made with another California gin called Rusty Blade, saffron tonic, and a burnt orange peel. “San Francisco is a nautical city,” explains Kosta, “and we felt Gin & Tonic fit in with the history of the city.”