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Mixologists are the new chefs

The blurring divide between kitchen and bar is throwing up cocktails worthy of awe. Lucy Shaw speaks to mixologists making drinks with the same complexity and seasonality that chefs seek to instil in their dishes.

Fera’s Simon Rogan

Mixologists are the new chefs. A sweeping statement perhaps, but giant leaps are being made in the way bartenders approach their craft with a number of London’s most revolutionary mixers now taking seasonality into account in a serious way.

As a result, the lines between kitchen and bar are becoming increasingly blurred, and the separate spheres of food and drink are colliding like never before with glorious results. Interestingly, a seasonal approach to cocktails isn’t restricted to the capital’s coolest drinking dens.

The trend also appears to be taking hold at a number of London’s top restaurants, and none more so than at Fera at Claridge’s, run by foraging fiend Simon Rogan, who took over from Gordon Ramsay at the Mayfair hotel restaurant in May. While a large chunk of the ingredients that go into Rogan’s intricate dishes are sourced from his farm in Cumbria, the cocktail list has been shown equal care.

Rogan and his executive head chef Dan Cox have collaborated on the cocktail menu with the mad scientist of mixology Matt Whiley, who worked closely with Cox on the final line-up using ingredients sourced from the farm. “A lot of the cocktails were the result of what the chefs were passionate about,” Whiley begins. “One of the chefs is obsessed with apple marigold, as the farm is the only place in the UK to grow it, so that had to be weaved in somewhere.

La Perla de La Mer – Duck & Waffle

I wrote a lot of notes about the flavour profiles of the herbs and flowers and discovered that shiso perilla tastes a bit like bubblegum. While trialing out different drinks, we found that some of the herbs worked better as infusions, while others suited being distilled,” he adds.

After weeks of development, the result is a 10-strong, £15 a pop, “seasonal” cocktail menu that simply lists the drinks’ ingredients rather than grouping them by style. “Seasonality in cocktails is really important.

People want different drinks at different times of the year and ingredients need to be fresh in order to taste good,” outlines Whiley, who is perhaps the most proud of his pea-infused vermouth with apple marigold.

Other cocktails in the opening list at Fera were a twist on a Bellini using parsnip liqueur and straw honey, and a lovage Sazerac with herb sugar.

One of the more “out there” cocktails on the list blends vermouth, bitters and gin with a mineral solution taken from a Perrier recipe from the early 1900s. “A lot of the cocktails have savoury elements to them but it’s more about balance and adding as much length to the drink as possible,” Whiley explains.


Dandelyan’s Seamus Mullen and Ryan Chetiyawardana

Also experimenting with minerals is Ryan Chetiyawardana, who runs bottled cocktail venue White Lyan in Hoxton and is the man behind the cocktail list at Henry at the Hudson Hotel in New York.

The minerals in question, however, will be served at his latest venture, Dandelyan, due to open at the Mondrian hotel on London’s South Bank this autumn. Inspired by botany and the British countryside, the bar will be serving cocktails made with locally sourced fruits, vegetables and herbs from nearby Borough Market.

Chetiyawardana is passionate about using cocktails as a means of evoking the character of the four seasons and hopes his drinks inspire nostalgia. “Spring is all about new growth, while summer is about fertility and bounty, and autumn focuses around colour with the turning of the leaves from green to gold. I aim to capture that feeling in my cocktails,” he says.

Cocktails at Dandelyan are grouped into seasonal “field guides”, with categories including cereal, vegetable, floral and mineral. “I’m fascinated by texture and so I’m working with textural elements that create complexity on the palate, from chalks and stones to clay”, Chetiyawardana explains.

“The idea was inspired by a flint cocktail Tony Conigliaro and I developed while I was working at 69 Colebrooke Row.”


Marmite Black Velvet – Duck & Waffle

Having trained as a chef, he takes a culinary approach to cocktails, breaking all the ingredients down to their chemical elements in order to discover which pair best with one another.

“I understand modern cooking techniques and how ingredients react so I guess I’m manipulating nature in an honest way,” he says. While the concept of food and cocktail matching is still in its infancy, Chetiyawardana believes the advantage of pairing a dish with a cocktail over a beer or wine is the flexibility cocktails allow.

“Cocktails are a moveable feast. You can change every element from the texture to the flavour to pair specifically with a dish, so you can work on the concept together rather than it all coming from the chef,” he says. Whiley agrees that there is a lot of scope for food and cocktail matching but that in order to do it successfully, chefs and bartenders need to work very closely with one another.

“There’s more opportunity for creation with food and cocktail matching, and it’s something I’ve been looking into. Within a year I hope to open a specific site that focuses around the idea,” he reveals.

For Rich Woods of Duck & Waffle on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower in the City of London, a seasonal approach to cocktails is a natural evolution of the trend in cooking. “Chefs have been using seasonal ingredients for some time, so it makes sense for bartenders to do the same.

It’s a great way of getting consumers to appreciate the flavours that are flourishing at a certain moment in time,” he says. Woods is so passionate about seasonality that he regularly visits New Covent Garden market at dawn in a bid to get his mitts on the cream of that day’s crop.

He recently came second in the Bombay Sapphire World’s Most Imaginative Bartender competition with a foraged beetroot cocktail, and believes the appearance of Fera’s Simon Rogan on the UK judging panel perfectly illustrates the blurring of lines between food and drink. “Simon said he loved my culinary approach to cocktails, which was fantastic. I aim to bridge the gap between the liquid and culinary worlds to show that the two work well together,” he says.


Matt Whiley of Peg + Patriot

Woods’ cocktails often marry unusual ingredients, offering a balance between sweet and savoury.

His summer cocktail menu includes a chocolate and blue cheese Martini made with a Stilton distillate; Marmite Black Velvet, which blends Marmite, Guinness and Champagne; a Coco Pop Old Fashioned, and the divine sounding bacon and salted caramel Manhattan.

Other libations on offer at Duck & Waffle veer heavily on the savoury side, from the bone marrow Cosmopolitan and the celery & wasabi

Bellini to La Perla de Mer, featuring Grey Goose vodka and oyster-infused Noilly Prat vermouth. Proving popular at the bar this summer has been the Mind Your Peas and Qs, which blends minted garden pea gin with chicory tonic and a sprig of mint that customers are encouraged to sniff throughout their drinking.

A similar drink is on pour a stone’s throw down the Square Mile at City Social — Jason Atherton’s latest venture on the 24th floor of Tower 42. Devised by group bar manager Gareth Evans, the summery Pea-Lini blends pea cordial with citrus acid, sugar, mint, lemon juice, absinthe and Prosecco.

“Seasonality is becoming a lot more of prevalent in cocktails, particularly at restaurant bars where the drinks list is expected to complement the food to a certain extent,” believes Evans, adding, “We talk to the kitchen a lot about flavour combinations and the pastry chefs help us out with some of the syrups, so there’s a healthy level of interaction between the kitchen and the bar.”

However, he reveals that “some of the chefs can be a bit prickly about sharing their knowledge.” A degree of snobbery towards bartenders still seems to exist at some of London’s more traditional restaurants, with bars and kitchens remaining largely independent.

“To some chefs, bartenders are the bastard children of hospitality — we’re not always looked upon favourably. In order for the collaborations to work, you’ve got to have a very understanding chef.

I’m lucky as our head chef Dan Doherty and I work very closely together on the food and drink offering. I don’t tailor my drinks to his food, but I know what dishes are coming up so aim to make them harmonise.

I’m fascinated by the science of cooking and have more cookery books at home than I do cocktail books,” says Woods, who reveals that he and Doherty are working on a supper club that explores the idea of impromptu food and cocktail matching, where Doherty will be challenged to create a dish around one of Woods’ cocktails and vice versa.

“It’s never been done before but I think we’ll see more of that kind of thing in the future”, Woods says. “We’re starting to see the full arc now where an ingredient will be taken from the kitchen, transformed at the bar and then sent back to the kitchen. I recently stewed a pig’s head in mulled wine, which went down a treat in one of my cocktails, offering a savoury element.”


Smashed pea smash – Henry’s on the Hudson in New York

Evans meanwhile believes bartenders are still playing catch up with chefs in terms of fully grasping their craft.

“The most exciting thing about my job is learning ways of incorporating cooking techniques, from foams to gels, into our drinks. We’re miles behind chefs but it’s a different ball game. We have to be ready to be able to make 500 drinks on the spot. We just don’t have the budget to be able to justify spending two days developing a garnish,” he says.

Chetiyawardana advises bartenders to treat their workspace as a chef would his kitchen, making sure they get their mise en placeready before starting work. “Bartenders are starting to work more closely with chefs but it’s battle of egos”, he says. “It’s really important for bars to realise that they can give back to the kitchen.”

Evans is equally optimistic about the blossoming relationship between restaurant kitchens and bars: “I’m looking into a project that focuses on it. The more confident bartenders get with cooking techniques, the further we will push the boundaries of mixology,” he says.

In the battle between bartenders and chefs, Whiley believes bartenders have the upper hand as it’s easier for them to get their heads around cooking techniques than vice versa.

“The more we can speak each other’s languages the better. Chefs can use our equipment for a lot of things and bartenders would be crazy not to look at what’s going on in the kitchen,” he says.

At the Typing Room restaurant at the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green, where Whiley runs cocktail bar Peg + Patriot, head chef Lee Westcott has been asking Whiley to distil things for him.

“He cured salmon with a Tequila I distilled the alcohol out of it recently. It works well as we can use the distillate and the chefs can use the by-product,” says Whiley.

Taking the lead from the likes of experimental chefs Ferran Adrià and Heston Blumenthal, bartenders are increasingly adopting a scientific approach to cocktails.

And with bartending being taken more seriously as a profession, the investment into research and development in cocktails is increasing massively. For Whiley, the only obstacle to progress is the bartenders themselves and their tendency to closely guard recipes so as not to be ripped off.

“As bartenders, we need to be exchanging ideas in order to improve and to grow together,” he says, adding, “Of course there will be a bit of stealing but every cocktail comes from somewhere — it’s incredibly hard to create a completely original drink.”

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