2 minutes with ‘architectural foodsmith’ Sam Bompas – who loves Hemingway and can’t bear wine

10th Sep 19 | Lifestyle

The co-founder of Bompas & Parr shares his likes and dislikes with Sam Wylie-Harris.


One half of the culinary design duo Bompas & Parr – experts in multi-sensory experience design – Sam Bompas loves to blur the boundaries between food, drink and art.

The brand’s many projects and installations include a ‘walk-in gin & tonic cocktail’, flooding a Grade-I listed building with four tonnes of Courvoisier punch, and hosting a jelly banquet for more than 2,000 people.

Suffice to say, Bompas & Parr are perfectly placed to ensure a cocktail night to remember. This is what happened when we grilled Bompas on his drinking habits…

Your desert island drink would be… Champagne with a book in a bath. What better way to celebrate life? Context and setting is crucial, shaping flavour perception by more than 20%.

Soft drink: It has to be diet or full fat… Always full fat. Excess is success.

If you’re drinking tea it has to be … Loose leaf oolong as it’s powerfully caffeinated. The leaves from The Rare Tea Company give about 14 infusions and peak on the seventh, so you can drink relentlessly. Caffeine is going to be the next stimulant to be vilified despite (or perhaps because) 90% of adults round the world use it habitually. Let’s enjoy it guiltlessly while we can!

Still, sparkling or tap… [designer] Valentino once told [director] John Waters to avoid sparkling water as the bubbles make you bloat. Who cares, the effervescence can elevate any occasion. Even a rotten commute will feel immediately classier for a bottle of sparkling water. Perrier for preference.

Ice is important or not… We are ice obsessives at Bompas & Parr. Our ice programme developed 22 distinct sorts and invented the world’s first ice stamps using super-conductors to emblazon large cubes with logos, insignias and such. Our client got to choose what they wanted the first ice stamps to say – and they went for ‘My BFF’ and ‘Marry Me’ – which lowered the tone a tad.

Dry Martini (Bompas & Parr/PA)
Dry Martini (Bompas & Parr/PA)

When it comes to making a cocktail for friends, you always serve… I’d either make sharing jugs of martinis or serve fine spirits alongside a procedure called the carburetion. This is a method hit upon by writer, drinker and freedom fighter Ernest Hemingway with three friends one hot night in 1930s Havana. After fishing for three weeks, bad weather forced them into the port town of Jaimanitas. The merry crew decided to deploy their own form of bibulous creativity to the five-dozen cases of vintage cognac salvaged from a sunken French ship.

Here’s the procedure as described by Pan Am executive and Hemingway’s friend Grant Mason: “Take a large mouthful, but don’t swallow it now. Swish it around in your mouth for half a minute or so. Hold it. Now exhale through your nose – completely deflate your lungs. That’s right. Then swallow the Cognac to get it out of the way. Open your mouth. Quickly! Inhale as deeply as you can.”

Grant noted that “it enters your lungs in a fine mist that way. Goes into your blood stream faster, like a carburetor that gives the best mixture for burning in an engine.”

And the result? They are said to have “got an entire suburb of Havana cockeyed – on the finest vintage brandy in the world. The party lasted two solid days and into a third.”

The booze you cannot stand… Wine! My palate is fairly acid sensitive. So while a glass of wine will smell delicious, it will pretty much taste of vinegar (unless a particularly sweet variety). The joy of cocktails is you can balance it perfectly for your palate, your temple of the tongue.

The beer you love the most is… We once made a beer with the detritus from down the back of Roald Dahl’s writing chair for a production of Dinner at the Twits. The brew was pugnaciously sour and a surreal experience to serve to the Dahl’s family on the 100th anniversary of his birth. Don’t leave them wanting more, leave them wanting less!

Old Fashioned (Bompas & Parr/PA)
Old Fashioned (Bompas & Parr/PA)

The drink you first got drunk on was… Scotch was the start of my spirited journey; I’ve come full circle in terms of drink of choice. As a novice alcoholist, I looked to a Raymond Chandler novel for guidance; mixing the whisky with ginger. So I learnt to drink at the knee of hard-drinking private eye Philip Marlowe, champion mentor. I woke up with my clothes on. It’s not as bad as Francis Bacon who claimed to have been ‘drunk since the age of 15’.

If money was no option, what would you drink… Hedgehogs were sometimes kept in Victorian kitchens to eat insects, an idea we are fully on board with at Bompas & Parr. The hedgehog would be welcomed to join our cadre of exotic pets from Gin the tortoise to Sable the blue-eyed leucistic python. I’d gather the menagerie round while uncorking a bottle of Scotch rescued from the wreck of SS Politician which foundered off the Isle of Eriskay in 1941.

Hold No. 5 contained some 264,000 bottles of Scotch whisky which were enthusiastically looted by the islanders. The authorities dynamited the hull to thwart further ‘rescue’ attempts but 24,000 bottles had already been liberated. Eight more were found in 1987 by local divers which went for more than £12,000 in 2013’s Scotch Whisky Auctions. I’d relish tasting a drop. Come revel with us.

The Bompas & Parr Cocktail Book by Sam Bompas & Harry Parr, is published by Pavilion Books, priced £9.99. Available now.

© Press Association 2019