The alcohol-free trend – if we can still call it a trend – shows no signs of abating. At some of the world’s top restaurants, chefs and sommeliers are applying the fastidiousness usually reserved for menus and wine lists, to create delicious brews, concoctions and ferments that turn non-alcoholic pairings into gastronomic events. And thankfully, gone are the days of the super-sweet juice pairing. Hello salty, sour, bitter, umami and sweet.
Which restaurants offer non-alcoholic pairings?
Some of the world’s best restaurants offer non-alcoholic drinks pairings, including those on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and in the Michelin Guide. Here are some of note.
Photo: John Marsland Photography
In Dubai, where alcohol is only served in certain places, unsurprisingly, restaurants are getting highly creative with their non-alcoholic offerings. At live-fire restaurant 11 Woodfire, which won a Michelin star in the first ever Guide to the Emirate, they have a whole array of kombuchas, mocktails, alcohol-free beer, and house red and white ‘vines’ made from ingredients such as camomile, plum and hibiscus to choose from (they don’t offer a pairing as such). They even have a take on an old fashioned using roasted banana. “We’ve created a beverage program that makes you high in a different way,” jokes chef-owner Akmal Anuar. “It’s fresh, it’s healthy.”
Cutting-edge Copenhagen is soaked with non-alcoholic drinks offerings, and if you’re looking for high-level creativity in the alcohol-free space then Alchemist is your go-to. The innovative restaurant’s ‘Botanica’ offering consists of seven kombuchas and fermented, fruit-infused waters, like rooibos and mango kefir, and you can be sure that the people serving it are just as enthusiastic as you are about sampling it. “A large part of our front-of-house staff are trained tea sommeliers, and during this process, we also discovered Chinese medicine and the idea of bringing balance between the strong, sweet, sour, slightly salty, and pungent flavours – and thinking about fermentation as the tool that controls them,” says general manager Lykke Metzger, who has spearheaded the beverage program at Alchemist.
At Virgilio Martínez and Pía León’s peerless Lima restaurant, the beverage team works closely with Mater Iniciativa, the restaurant group’s research arm, to incorporate ingredients from the sea, coast, highlands and jungle, always looking to highlight Peru’s biodiversity. The non-alcoholic pairing at Central includes an avocado and passion fruit drink that helps to balance out the creaminess and acidity, or lack thereof, of certain dishes, and a drink of fermented pineapple with corn that provides texture for seafood dishes. Others combine coastal ingredients with herbs that grow high above sea level.
Trust the team at Disfrutar to find a way to remove the alcohol from wine while maintaining its flavour and aroma. Rubén Pol, sommelier at the avant-garde Barcelona restaurant, started experimenting with vacuum distillation during the pandemic, and the result has been red, whites and sherries that are similar to their boozy parents, but also a new product. According to Pol, "The ones that offered the best results are the complex wines, preferably aged, which preserve their essence and still remain balanced.” Reds have thus far come out best, with sparkling wines next on the agenda for Pol and his team, meaning that celebratory bubbles may no longer carry the morning-after regret.
“For the last few years we’ve put a lot of love and effort into our non-alcoholic pairings,” says Lukas Jaktlund, general manager at three-Michelin-star Frantzén in Stockholm. “When we moved into our new venue back in 2017, we decided that we wanted to be able to offer what, at least in our minds, was a three-star non-alcoholic pairing.” At Frantzén all the non-alcoholic beverages, apart from the beers, are produced in-house with the production mainly handled by the kitchen staff. They include, at the time of writing, a rhubarb juice infused with Darjeeling tea, muscat grape juice infused with star anise and red apple, and a drink based on none-more-Nordic spruce or pine sprout syrup.
Jaktlund says more and more – especially young – people are mixing up their drinks choices. “They might go for every second beverage without alcohol and they'd rather spend more money on one bottle of wine rather than drinking four bottles of a lower quality. I think that younger generation, they're quite keen on not getting too intoxicated over a meal.”
Anja Skrbinek. Photo: Suzan Gabrijan
At a restaurant as in touch with the local nature as Slovenia’s Hiša Franko, the non-alcoholic drinks pairing is a must-try. “Based on what we have and what nature gives us – we adapt,” says Anja Skrbinek, who’s in charge of the beverage programme. Drinks include an infusion of roasted dandelion roots and tonka bean, which is paired with a nixtamalized lamb tortilla and a dish of barley injera, onion and meat offcuts sauce, celeriac leaf and cherry, and a buckwheat amazake with cabbage water that is paired with a corn beignet and a hay-baked potato dish. “We are creating sweet or rather 'non-alcoholic' sake by fermenting cooked buckwheat with koji spores. [The] amazake is [then] combined with lacto-fermented cabbage water to give the juice complexity,” says Skrbinek.
Sebastian Frank. Photo: White Kitchen
Horváth, in Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighbourhood, is an unpretentious restaurant that takes its alcohol-free offering very seriously, with the ingredients depending on the season. This is despite the building’s boozy pre-Horváth history as a kind of Austrian restaurant meets Berlin pub – it even had beer wallpaper. "I avoid olive oil and saltwater fish, as well as exotic fruits," says chef Sebastian Frank, "and prefer to focus on regional and seasonal products." This allows the restaurant to avoid the sometimes overly sweet juice pairings offered at other restaurants, with drinks such as radicchio water with almond-lemon oil, nutmeg, and elderflower oil.
At Bogotá’s Leo, one of Latin America’s best restaurants, the non-alcoholic offering or "botanical pairings" are "based on fruits, roots, seeds and flowers from the different ecosystems of Colombia," according to sommelier Laura Hernández Espinosa. That means a ‘Dry Forest Water’ of “slowly macerated water with guaimaro bark, almond leaves, sage flower and chamomile, in guava fermentation,” paired with a round of appetisers that includes cashews, sweet potato and macambo, a variety of cocoa native to the Amazon; and ‘Caguana’ an ancestral Amazonian indigenous drink based on cassava starch that is paired with a dish of guinea fowl, tallo, maize and kipú (fermented cassava leaf).
At the restaurant Memories at Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, Switzerland, wine director Amanda Wassmer-Bulgin discovered her passion for alcohol-free pairing when pregnant. "When I couldn't drink wine any more, I asked myself how a fine meal could be accompanied in a more exciting way than with plain water," she says. Tea features prominently on the restaurant’s alcohol-free menu – Wassmer-Bulgin is something of an expert – with brews such as quince iced tea and shiitake and oolong, as well as kombuchas, wild fruit juices and lacto-ferments. "This drink offer appeals especially to younger people for lifestyle reasons,” she says.
Many people will tell you that Tokyo’s Sazenka offers possibly the best tea pairing in the world. In fact, diners often opt for tea over diving into the restaurant’s venerable cellar, while enjoying chef Tomoya Kawada’s take on Chinese cuisine using Japanese ingredients. The teas originate from both China and Japan too, and are as opulent as the food – you can expect shaved truffles in your brew when in season, and some dishes, like dumplings, can even be dressed with tea. Like many restaurants on this list, Sazenka offers a mixed pairing of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
Of course, head to East Asia, and you won’t be stuck for options when it comes to non-alcoholic pairings, as tea is a traditional accompaniment to meals here. At Shoun RyuGin in Taipei, Taiwan, tea is an integral part of the beverage programme, given the superiority of the local produce. “There are so many kinds of tea here”, says chef Ryohei Hieda, who moved over from Nihonyuri RyuGin in Tokyo. “Based on Taiwanese tea, we created a tea pairing for guests to enjoy their time at the restaurant in the same way as wine and sake pairing.”
Photo: Ingo Pertramer
At Tian in Vienna - Austria’s only Michelin-starred vegetarian restaurant - the team takes inspiration from all over the world for their non-alcoholic pairing. Diners can enjoy mahewu, a traditional south African concoction, made from sprouted, fermented millet, with currant juice and kombucha; a buckwheat, lemon and fig leaf drink inspired by pozol (a Colombian fermented beverage made of nixtamalized corn); and kwas, a typical Eastern European lemonade usually made from rye bread that Tian creates using sourdough and oats.