Cafe Society: A cordial welcome

A Victorian cordial made from the English hedgerows may not be the first thing you'd think of drinking with your bowl of noodles but, as Nikki Spencer found out, elderflower is proving so popular in trendy new Japanese canteens like Wagamama in Soho that manufacturers are now exporting it all the way to Japan

The combination of a 1990s food such as noodles with a soft drink dating from the 1890s is not as bizarre as it may first seem, according to Michael Haigh, sales director at Thorncroft, the company that first started manufacturing elderflower cordial 10 years ago.

"Elderflower is, in fact, ideally suited to the new wave of Japanese and oriental foods as it has a delicate flavour that complements the taste of the food, rather than overpowering it," he explains.

The company's managing director, Guy Woodall, came up with the idea for the cordial after leafing through one of his granny's old recipe books. He made a batch, took it to a few food and drink shows and was met with such an enthusiastic response that he went into production.

Other manufacturers have followed suit, with alternative flavours ranging from nettle, to ginger and lemongrass, and now the market is reckoned to be worth about pounds 25m.

As well as exporting to Japan, Thorncroft also ships elderflower cordial to The Middle East, Canada, America, South Africa and throughout Europe.

The only country that has not shown any interest so far, according to Haigh, is France. "If they want to drink alcohol, they just drink wine and if they don't, they drink water," he explains.