The combination of cocktails and flowers isn’t always a positive thing. In the wrong hands a drink that describes itself as ‘floral’ can sit uncomfortably between perfume and syrup. Thankfully, this is never the case at Dandelyan.
The Mondrian’s Thames-side cocktail bar is helmed by none other than Ryan Chetiyawardana – the drinks industry’s man of the moment. Having launched his own groundbreaking bar (where all drinks are pre-prepared and there are no perishables) in 2013, he has a slew of awards under his belt, attesting to the fact that he is widely accepted to be one of the best bartenders in the world.
Launching in 2014, within the Mondrian Hotel’s first stylish site on the Southbank, Dandelyan is based on a concept of modern botany. Informed by Chetiyawardana’s nomadic lifestyle and background in biology and philosophy (he studied both at university), he came up with the idea of seasonal field guides. The first featured a profile of cereal, vegetable, mineral and floral creations. The Mondrian’s new menu, launched at the beginning of March, investigates the human side of botany within four distinct sections: Hunter, Gatherer, Shaman, and Explorer – referencing a discipline through which botany has shaped history.
It’s a formula that’s working. Last year Dandelyan won ‘Best New International Cocktail Bar’ at Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Awards 2015 and the Observer Food Monthly’s ‘2015 Best Place to Drink’ award.
Alongside interesting ingredients like pandan, plant haemoglobin and zedoary root - which was historically used as an antidote to cobra venom - many of the drinks use the whole of the plant and their roots. Mimosa, zedoary and parsley are used in their entirety. Shells and skins of plants – think cocoa husk, pistachio-shell, orgeat and mummified citrus – also make appearances.
We spoke to head bartender Aidan Bowie about the process of crafting drinks according to a modern botany philosophy, in one of the best bars in London.
Tell us about the initial idea behind Dandelyan. What was the concept? How did this relate to the rest of the hotel?
Dandelyan takes the concept of “Modern Botany” which amongst many things, means we try to take a practical approach to sustainability. Think nose to tail but for plant life, using every element and manipulating flavour to get the absolute most out of whatever we bring through our doors. Beyond that it takes the same considered approach to drinks that all Mr Lyan projects embody, as well as that relaxed atmosphere with attentive service that the company has always prided itself on.
How does the design of the bar and visuals reflect this?
With a Tom Dixon designed bar we always knew it was going to make a statement. The flora and fauna elements are strongly represented in more modern textures. The beautiful green marble bar really is the feature of the room and sets a strong presence in the room
What is it like working with Ryan - can you describe his approach?
It’s great working with Ryan and I am delighted that he had asked me to work with him. He is really chilled out and happy to help out whenever he is around. He is obviously an extremely busy guy but, if you need anything, he will be the first to lend a hand which is great. Ryan will also take a step aside and allow us to run the bar for him which is cool.
How have the concepts/starting points of each menu evolved over time?
Our first menu was quite a literal interpretation of Modern Botany, with the menu sections taking quite literal headings such as Vegetal and Mineral. For the second menu, we got more specific, looking at trees. The third menu, which we’ve just launched, is by far our strongest to date and looks at the human element of botany, with headings of Hunter, Gatherer, Shaman and Explorer. We have still kept a section with some of our favourite drinks from previous menus there as well, under a Classic section.
As you examine flavour profiles, do cultural or even mythological meanings of plants ever come into play?
Most definitely. We’re encouraged to always think laterally, not literally about any topic or story. This allows us to have greater interpretation and in turn creativity. The current menu features drinks looking at everything from the mummification process to a botanical once that is thought to be the anti-venom of a cobra bite, to how bee colonies protect the hive and produce honey.
Do you feel like Dandelyan aims to challenge preconceptions at all?
Absolutely, and while the drinks are very forward thinking, our biggest aim was to challenge the notion of what a hotel bar could be. We’ve always said Dandelyan is a neighbourhood bar in a luxury hotel setting and we aim for that wherever possible. From music styling to standards of service to even something as simple as no stuffy suit jackets, we really want our bar to be a place you can come for any occasion, from a special night out to a quick drink on the way home from work.
Can you talk us through this season's menu particularly - what is unusual about it compared to past menus?
This season’s menu, as mentioned above focuses on the human element of botany. We sat down after a busy London Cocktail Week and the team were tasked with researching interesting stories, ingredients or ideas from four different sub headings. I think that while the last two menus had been quite restrictive or suggestive in the headings, with this menu we could go in with a completely open mind. It was a really interesting process, the team have many different skill sets and ways of thinking so the stories and ideas initially were very different.
What are some of the more unusual flavour profiles you have delved into for drinks?
When I first moved to Dandelyan I was using ingredients that I had never thought about using in drinks; Clay, concrete or, more recently, kefir. Working with unusual ingredients initially was challenging but I guess now it has broken boundaries that I maybe had before, in terms of how drinks should be made. We are all encouraged to be a bit more open minded with ideas. Obviously there has to be a certain level of restraint. There have definitely been a few disasters with ingredients but it’s a good learning curve and I guess it’s important to make mistakes to make something better.
Are there ever any practical considerations/difficulties with the ingredients?
For sure, whilst the produce available to us in London is great and vast a lot of the ingredients we want to use are seasonal or come in through a variety of different countries, changing the taste or the appearance. We try to build good relationships with our suppliers to maintain the same ingredients all year round. We change our menu once a year so it’s important that our guests get exactly the same drink all year round. Being in a hotel we get repeat guests who maybe only visit a few times a year, to give them the exact same drink they had six months ago is pretty cool.
What is your favourite drink on the menu and why?
I guess it changes depending on what mood I’m in but I always recommend the Iberico Sour to guests when they come in, it’s a great example of what we do at Dandelyan. The drink contains Acorn Ham Mezcal, Tapatio Reposado, lemon, endive and oak honey. It’s basically a pimped up Tequila Sour but with much more going on – the acorn gives the drink a tasty nuttiness and the endive and the mescal work really well together in giving a brilliant vegetal aftertaste. It tastes delicious but it also looks great and has a cool story behind it.
Do you buy flowers, and if so when did you last do this?
I like to buy flowers as gifts definitely. We were always brought up as kids to bring something round when you went to a friends for dinner etc and where I lived in Glasgow we were right next door to an awesome florist. Both my parents have always loved being in the garden so I guess it’s something I have always tried to do.
I went back home to visit last month and brought a bunch of flowers for my mum to say thanks for having me. I let the florist pick the bunch though, they were beautiful so went down well.
What is your favourite flower?
Would be really cheesy to say Dandelion right? I guess my favourite flowers are crocuses. Although I know that they can blossom all year round I am used to seeing them blossom in the Spring time and in my garden specifically at home were always the first to appear after winter, it’s a sign that Spring is coming. The garden always looked beautiful with the crocuses in full bloom.
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