So we were at the LaLit hotel’s newly launched pan-Asian restaurant, OKO – which is on the 28th floor of the Connaught Place five-star property and has brilliant views of New Delhi all around – and we couldn’t help getting into a chat with Ash, the mixologist, there.
Her real name is Mimi Luithui, “But everyone just calls me Ash,” says the friendly bartender. Brought up in Ukhrul, a hilly district in Manipur, by a single mother, Ash has had a long, tough journey from a small town to the big city and continues to support her family back home. But to see her confidently shake that cocktail with a bunch of global jetsetters looking on, and then to sip it for yourself and be transported to bliss, you’d think she was born for this.
Ash started her career as a hostess, and then was attracted the bartending side of things four years ago. “I love drinking, yes, especially whisky sour! But mostly, I love mixing herbs, fresh fruits, spirits and coming up with new creations behind the bar. There’s so much to learn,” she says. She has been working at OKO ever since it opened a few months ago, creating unusual concoctions and experimenting with flavours.
The eldest of five siblings, Ash has faced her own bit of discrimination in her community. “People think a girl shouldn’t be drinking or working late hours. But I find it cool. I love this job, and I don’t care for others’ judgement. This is a creative field, and I am like a chef who is entrusted with the best of ingredients, and has to come up with something distinctive and delicious.”
Working at the LaLit, which is known for its inclusive policies regarding women and the LGBTQ+ community, has sensitised Ash. “Working in a place where everyone is accepted wholeheartedly has been amazing. At OKO, I have complete flexibility and autonomy to experiment.” Interestingly, one of the all-female serving staff at OKO is a transwoman.
We sampled OKO’s signature Sangria Granad’Ash, which is a fusion of gin, vodka, orange liqueur and red and white wine. We also checked out the delectable Green-Tea-Ni (green tea with honey and plum liqueur), Muay Thai Punch (white and dark rum, with orange juice and grenadine syrup) and the Drag-Illini (gin, lime juice, Lapsong Souchong syrup and dragon ball-infusion topped with sparkling wine), and were quite happily tipsy at the end of it all.
But our absolute favourite was her Tom Yum Siam, a delicious vodka-based cocktail with coconut syrup, lychee juice, kaffir lime and a startling punch of Thai red chilli. It totally hits the spot!
You’ll need some food in you while you do all that cocktail bingeing, and we recommend the Yam Phak Krob crispy vegetables and Hunan Styled Silken Tofu for vegetarians, and the Kai Yang BBQ chicken and Emperor Roll sushi for non-vegetarians.
Go on, head to the top floor of the LaLit and get a dash of Ash in your life.