Drinks maestro Ryan Chetiyawardana, whose accolades include International Bartender of the Year, focuses on service as much as what’s in the glass, and has little time for mixologists who leave guests waiting while they create the perfect drink.
The new Lyaness, in the same space as Dandelyan, in the Sea Containers London hotel, revolves around just seven flavour groups, with three drinks options for each.
The relatively short list has enabled Chetiyawardana, who also goes by the name Mr Lyan, to take time to develop each drink and to streamline service in order to cut serving times.
“There is something wonderful about somebody in front of you mixing a martini or shaking up that drink, but that should not be at every bar and it certainly should not be the case that if you are sitting down with your friends that you need to wait for that whole rigmarole,” he says.
“We make sure that we can get out the drinks quickly. Five minutes is our top of what we aim for.”
He hass developed a system based on the practice in professional kitchens, where much time is spent on preparing and organising the ingredients before service, the so-called mise en place, so that they can be assembled at speed once an order is received.
“We set up the bars that we have several people working on the drink,” Chetiyawardana says. “We have a pass. We have somebody checking the drink. We have somebody on the floor side making sure that it is perfect, so not only can we be sure that they are coming out consistently but they are coming out very, very quickly as well.”
He has been known for some quirky and challenging cocktails with unusual ingredients such as snails. At his first London bar, White Lyan, he banned all brands and all perishables, including ice and fruit. But he’s constantly evolving, almost routinely closing venues and reinventing them.
There were more than a few raised eyebrows when he closed Dandelyan after it won the World’s Best Bar award. For Chetiyawardana, raised in the UK by Sri Lankan parents, it fits a pattern. He shut White Lyan after the New York Times called it “the most important bar to open in the last decade”.
At Lyaness, he has eschewed the practice of grouping cocktails around particular spirits and zeroed in on core categories: Infinite Banana, Purple Pineapple, King Monkey Nut, Onyx, Aromatised Milk Wine, Old-Fashioned Whisky, and Ultra Raspberry.
Chetiyawardana dissects and explores ingredients, rather than just reproducing known flavours. His raspberry, for example, reflects the fact the berry shares characteristics with more savoury cousins such as tomatoes. It’s less sweet and fruity than you might expect.
Onyx is a collaboration with Empirical Spirits distillery in Copenhagen, building on Helena, a double-fermented clear koji spirit. One option is the Rosa Daiquiri, which features wheat vodka, blackened koji berries and a birch-and-hibiscus kambucha. It’s light, fresh and not too sweet. There is a noticeable chocolate flavour, mixed with the tartness of fresh lime juice.
I tried it, along with Highball, basically a Scotch and soda with spice fruit and honey. It’s also light and fresh but this time with a pear flavour somewhere at the back, and there’s grain soda in there for a hint of creaminess.
“When we first opened Dandelyan, we were looking at this idea of being inspired by nature,” he says. “How could we delve into the wonders of our ingredients to reflect something unusual?
“We were very fortunate to have people that were excited by the idea of taking something weird and wonderful but lots of my friends who would cook and would drink amazing wines were still put off the idea of having a cocktail.
“At Lyaness, we want to find a way of bridging those worlds and showing we can have something that ticks something for the wine drinker or gets people to think about cocktails in the way they would their food. I believe in the magic of the cocktail.”
If you are not in London and want to try Chetiyawardana’s cocktails, he is opening bars this year in Amsterdam, and Washington, DC.