"WHAT MAKES THE LONDON COCKTAIL SCENE SO STRONG IS THAT THERE ISN’T A TENDENCY TO FOLLOW TRENDS, RATHER WE HAVE A LOT OF VERY DIFFERENT PEOPLE DOING THEIR OWN PERSONAL THING.” These are the words of Alex Kratena of Artesian – they are echoed by many a UK bartender, who seem philosophically intolerant of the word ‘trend’.
Indeed, no one wants to be put in a box. So let’s see what these feral ’tenders are up to bar by bar – and if we might pin them down on the direction of the industry.
Captain of innovation Ryan Chetiyawardana of White Lyan and Dandelyan is a good place to start. “We’re continuing to work with microbes and fermentation, but I am seeing a lot of minority spirits and liqueurs start to feature in bars – aquavit, gentian spirits, kummel, of course vermouths etc. Pine and sea buckthorn seem to be cropping up too.”
Aromatised wine exploration is high on the intrigue list of Hawksmoor’s Alistair Burgess – that and the enhancing properties of salt in syrups. At Connaught, Ago Perrone and team put ‘guest experience’ above all else, but on the ingredient side are working with types of shrubs, particularly for their Julep-style cocktails. The chaps at Talented Mr Fox are fans of rotary evaporators – back-bar machines which infuse ingredients with neutral grain spirit. Burger and black pudding distillates are just two of their creations.
Jess Cheeseman of Worship Street Whistling Shop and Ally Martin of Peg & Patriot also operate rotavators, but Martin tells us he is experimenting with a carbonation system and trying to develop non-alcoholic cocktails. At the opposite end of the scale and UK is Edinburgh’s Bramble, which says its focus is scotch “for everything, on good days and bad days – scotch solves all ailments”.
At Nightjar, Marian Beke is into low-alcohol products such as cherry liquor, ratafia, honey mead, chilli wine, speciality ciders, raspberry beer and chocolate stouts. Exotic fruits come in the form of physalis, star fruit, kiwano and kumquat and vegetable purées from roasted sweet potato and baked tomatillo.
Wood and sea-sponge ice are somehow making their way into cocktails while smoking rosewood chips are sometimes placed in a strainer before liquids are double strained. Beke says oils are “great affordable fun”, although probably not the truffle oil used for deepening the aromas of sorbets. Coconut and cacao oils are his choice for coatings to give an “illusion of ice cream textures “. If that sounds a little sober for Nightjar, throw in some insects for good measure.
At Zetter Townhouse they work very closely with the kitchen’s head chef. Matteo Malisan tells us: “Rather then buy a syrup, cordial or purée, we make it. All the fermentations, infusions, macerations and re-distillations are made in-house, using modern equipment to improve great classic techniques.”
Beke says a bartender’s imagination is everything and that communicating your own style is important in a competitive environment, though he cautions against prioritising drinks over service. “It makes me sad seeing young bartenders getting tattoos of cocktail recipes on their chest before they have made that drink once for their guests.”
Elliot Ball, of highly anticipated new bar Cocktail Trading Company, spies a return to “a focus on standards, not unique selling points.” And Erik Lorincz, of the American Bar, tells us one trend is the creation of destination bars in “unexpected parts of the city”.
Service has never been the strongest suit of UK hospitality. But then, at its white-gloved best (Artesian, American Bar and Connaught), it can’t be beaten. The creativity of the London scene cannot be doubted and as the new generation of bartenders make the leap to ownership, there are even fewer barriers to innovation. Except perhaps the guests’ comprehension of what it is exactly they are they are paying to ingest.