One City Stories: Liam, Group Bars Manager at Hawksmoor

Nicola Sheppey

If you give yourself just one New Years Resolution, it’s to sample some of Hawksmoor’s fantastic new cocktail menu. From revamped classics to innovative new creations, it’s no wonder it’s one of our favourite selections in the City. So what goes into the making of such a creative new menu? We sat down with Liam, Group Bars Manager at Hawksmoor and mastermind behind the new menu to hear some cocktail-making tips and tricks – and why London is without a doubt the best place in the world to drink them.

How did you get into bartending and becoming the Group Bars Manager at Hawksmoor?

Liam: I used to work in bars when I was studying. When I moved to London I became a sommelier and did restaurant management, within Hawksmoor and outside of it – I opened my own restaurant-bar in Hackney and became a chef there. But in the last two or three years bars in London have got a lot more interesting than they were, a lot more diverse, so when the Bars Manager job came up here [at Hawksmoor] I thought it would be a really interesting time to get back into that side of things.

When I worked in bars before there was a very samey narrative when it comes to drinks – all the good bars served the same kind of classic drinks with the occasional twist, but it felt very generic. There wasn’t a huge amount of interesting stuff going on. There were some really good bartenders and some lovely places to go and sit, but I lost interest in the drinks-making process. But in the last few years there’s been a lot more creativity, and things have become, dare I say, a little more culinary, with more technique involved. Now it feels like a much more interesting time to be involved in the industry. It’s an exciting place to be.

Hawksmoor’s old cocktail menu is award-winning. What made you want to start all over again with a new menu?

When I first started at Hawksmoor in 2010 as a bartender, it was a really exciting place to work. We had a brand new cocktail menu at the time and it was probably the first really good restaurant-bar in London, and we had an amazing team. Because that team and that list was so good, no one really wanted to mess around with it for a long time. Any time it did change, we’d only change a tiny bit. Almost 10 years later it feels like the world has moved on a bit, and it felt like a good time to do something really different. But with Hawksmoor we’re careful because we have a lot of loyal customers – you often see a lot of familiar faces. So if you’re going to change it, it’s got to be good! Otherwise you alienate those people.

Tell us about some of the thought process behind the new menu.

I wanted the techniques behind the new drinks and the aesthetics to feel a lot more modern, but the presentation to our customers and our guests should also feel like something they really understand. Some other cocktail menus are full of words and products that are almost deliberately designed to mislead or bamboozle people a little bit, and I really didn’t want that. In a nice way, the good thing about Hawksmoor is knowing what you’re going to get: a nice steak, some nice food, a delicious bottle of wine, and a cocktail you know you’re going to like. The idea of creating drinks that are deliberately weird didn’t make sense to me.

I think anyone who goes out and drinks cocktails a lot will recognise some flavours they find in everything. I find citrus juice is usually in a lot – say in margaritas, daiquiris or mojitos, there’s lots and lots of lemon and lime juice. The flavours start to merge into one after a while. For a number of different reasons we really tried to cut down on that style of drink and tried to think about other ways of making the drinks sour or tart, because the citrus can be quite heartburn-y and also make the drinks taste the same, which means the other flavours are much less vibrant as a result.

When you’re tasting new cocktails, what’s really interesting is that it’s not so much about tasting drinks but about drinking drinks, and when we do so much tasting, we sometimes forget about the drinking experience. You get so used to that process that you’ll think everything tastes amazing, but the drinking experience is so important.

What’s your favourite from the new menu?

The Ginza Highball is my favourite (pictured below). It really sums up what the new list is all about – it’s based on something simple, a Scotch and soda, which everyone knows and most people like, but we put a lot of technique behind it and some interesting flavours in. If you give it to anyone, the immediate reaction is always going to be ‘that tastes really nice’ – it’s as simple as that.

We use scotch, apple, this weird stuff we found in Copenhagen which is like a quince kombucha distill which gives it this nice pear-sweet flavour, verjuice which is an unripe grape juice that gives it the sourness, and then the whole thing is carbonated. It’s delightful. Blended scotch is such a good cocktail ingredient, and whisky sometimes puts people off, but everyone loves this one.

What kind of interesting, unknown techniques went into the new menu that the average cocktail drinker might not be familiar with?

One of the main new techniques we used was carbonation. A lot of times when you’re mixing drinks you might top them up with something fizzy, such as a gin and tonic or a cocktail topped up with champagne or prosecco, but the fizz doesn’t necessarily do what it’s meant to do. When you carbonate the whole drink, however, it dries it out and means you don’t need to use as much lemon juice. It makes the whole thing a lot drier and lighter.

The other thing that sounds way more exotic than it is is that we used something called an ultrasonic aging machine. It’s basically an electric water bath that shoots really fast ultrasonic waves through the water. Its original use was to clean jewellery, but in terms of drinks, it acts as a homogenising machine so it changes the whole feeling of it in your mouth.

With our martinis, we pre-batch them, put them in this machine and let it do its thing, then add some water and put it in the freezer, and when you pour it out it’s the perfect texture and consistency. It brings it all together and makes everything taste really round, it’s really lovely, and is a really simple process. It’s just the little techniques that make the drinks more special, rather than concocting everything in some huge lab somewhere.

What’s your daily routine like?

It’s pretty varied. We have eight restaurants in three cities and are about to open a new one in New York, so there’s lots to do. I think when you get to a certain age in life you realise what kind of pattern of work you like having. Variation works for me – I’m in the restaurant sometimes, we have an office in Spitalfields where I’m sometimes at, sometimes I’m training, sometimes we’re doing R&D on new cocktails, working with different brands who are really fun to work with – no two days are the same. 

For a couple of months a year we create new drinks, which is the bit I enjoy the most. When we did the Ginza Highball, Adam our Bar Manager at Spitalfields and I must have made 50 or 60 versions, just adjusting each one very slightly. It’s nice because now when I taste it, I know it’s perfect and I know it’s never going to need to change. That’s also something that has changed massively from when I first started bartending – it used to be that you’d just throw stuff together. Nowadays it’s much more scientific, in a good way.

What do you really like about working in London?

London is without any doubt the best place to drink cocktails in the world, by some distance. Anyone who says otherwise is mad. The best bars here are better than the best bars anywhere else, and the variety and number of good bars is huge. I don’t think that’s always been the case, I think definitely over the last couple of years it’s become that. 

It’s a city with such diversity, you have people here from all over Europe and all over the world who come and work here, and larger groups like Hawksmoor as well as tiny experimental bars – it really does have everything. There is nowhere else like London, it’s the centre of the world when it comes to cocktails.

Where are your favourite cultural spots here?

My favourite place where I try to go once a year is the Wellcome Collection, which is amazing. I have a lot of nieces, nephews and godchildren so I see a lot of parks these days – my favourite is Bushy Park, it’s really beautiful. I eat and drink out a lot less than I used to – I’ve got to be more careful getting older! – but fortunately I love to cook, which is my main passion outside of work. I’ve also got an events company that puts on food and drink pop-ups at sporting events, that sort of thing – that’s my side hustle.

What advice would you give someone who’s considering a similar career?

There can be a slightly old school attitude in this industry which comes mostly from chefs, which is that you have to have done your 10, 12, 15 years of service behind a bar or in a kitchen before you can do anything good, and that’s complete crap. There are people in their late teens and early twenties who have great ideas around food or drink, and restaurants are clearly not the be all and end all any more. They’re a really important part of the fabric of the food and drink world, but there’s so much more exciting stuff going on out there. Don’t believe in that ultimate mentality which says you have to do your years of service, try a bunch of different things out. And try to have as many interests as you possibly can outside of food and drink – that’s really important.

In the City, find the new cocktail menu at Hawksmoor Guildhall, 10 Basinghall Street, or Hawksmoor Spitalfields (and its basement bar Spitalfields Bar), 157 Commercial Street. Click here to read about our five favourite cocktails on the menu.

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Four of the Best Burns Suppers

Nicola Sheppey

If there’s one good reason to get stuck into fantastic Scottish grub in January, it’s Burns Night on 25 Jan – the 200-year-old festivity celebrating the life and works of Robert Burns, one of Scotland’s (and the world’s) most beloved poets. Whether you’re a born-and-bred Scotsman or are just looking to get in on the fun, you’ll find plenty of celebrations in the City next week; below, we’ve rounded up four of our favourites:

Thursday 23 Jan:
Burns-Inspired Supper at Fortnum’s Bar & Restaurant

Dust down your kilt for this celebratory supper in the glittering courtyard of the Royal Exchange. Fortnum’s are throwing a Burns-inspired dinner featuring a four-course menu of Fortnum’s Piccadilly smoked salmon with soda bread, neeps and Arran Victory tatties with whisky sauce, and plenty more – including haggis, of course. Begin with a Glenmorangie Whisky Sour or a glass of Fortnum’s champagne, and enjoy each course paired with Fortnum’s wine or Glenmorangie whiskies. Tables are available to book from 6.30pm, and you can enjoy live music from 7pm. Click here to book and learn more.

Details: Taking place at Fortnum’s Bar & Restaurant, the Royal Exchange | £75 | Thu 23 Jan, available from 6.30pm | click here to book

Friday 24 Jan:
Laphroaig x Guildhall Supper Club

What better way to celebrate Burns Night than with a glass of top-range Scotch whisky? Hawksmoor are throwing a unique supper club this month in their beautiful private dining room in the Guildhall venue, where you’ll get an introduction to the world of Laphroaig – the cold-smoked whisky – via a Triple Wood Highball, a special cocktail created for the event, alongside traditional-inspired food including haggis nuggets, smoked salmon & soda bread, and a selection of 35 dry-age cuts (it is Hawksmoor, after all). Click here to view the full menu.

If you can’t make the 24th, don’t worry, you won’t be missing out on all the celebrations – Hawksmoor are offering a Laphroaig Popcorn Old Fashioned cocktail for £6 throughout January (pictured above). Made with 10-year-old whisky, popcorn syrup, pink saline drops and chocolate bitters, it’s a drink that Robbie would be proud of.

Details: Taking place at Hawksmoor Guildhall, 10 Basinghall Street | £95 | Fri 24 Jan, 6pm | click here to book

Saturday 25 Jan:
Burns Night Dinner at Bread Street Kitchen

You’ll find plenty happening on the night itself – including a four-course Scottish feast at Bread Street Kitchen, with each course paired beautifully with a different Laphroaig whisky. Featuring some of the Scottish classics, including Cullen skink and a variety of canapés, haggis lovers will also be thrilled with Bread Street Kitchen’s twist on the famous dish – combining it with venison loin to create the Highland Venison & Haggis Wellington. Click here to view the menu and learn more.

Details: Taking place at Bread Street Kitchen, 10 Bread Street | £65 (£50 without pairings) | Sat 25 Jan, various start times | click here to book

Saturday 25 Jan:
Burns Night at South Place Chop House

Keep it simple at South Place Chop House with a fantastic classic three-course menu – Cullen skink, traditional haggis with neeps and tatties, followed by a Scotch whisky trifle with toasted oats and highland honey. Wash it down with Harviestoun beer and be sure to save room for a sing-song – you’ll toast the night with a rendition of Auld Lang Syne. Click here to view the menu and learn more.

Details: Taking place at South Place Chop House, 3 South Place | £35 | Sat 25 Jan, 5pm | click here to book

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How to Do Veganuary in the Square Mile

Nicola Sheppey

It’s the start of a new year and a new decade, and veganism has never been more popular. Whether it’s about saving the planet, improving your health and fitness (thanks to certain Netflix documentaries) or sparing the animals, there are plenty of reasons to get stuck into a plant-based diet this month. And it’s good news for 2020 vegans – gone are the days when the only options at restaurants or cafes were measly salads. Below, we show you the best ways to stick to a vegan diet and enjoy truly delicious food without compromising your social lifestyle in the City. Who knows? You might become a lifelong convert after this.

Lunch

Veggie Prets are springing up in the City and supermarkets are getting more creative, but don’t rule out the fantastic independents for lunch. Sandwich kings Sub Cult (Watling St) are always serving up their delicious vegan Black & Blue sub, filled with seared seitan, portobello mushroom, truffle mayo, onion jam and more.

Sushi enthusiasts don’t have to shake up their diets either; new favourite City spot WAKA (Houndsditch) have unveiled – that’s right – vegan sushi. It looks like fish, tastes like fish, but it’s completely plant-based. Truly has to be experienced to be believed.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t made your way down to Stem + Glory (Barts Square) before, there’s no time like the present. Voted best vegan restaurant in London*, it specialises in a variety of healthy and tasty lunch and dinner options from tapas to bowls to curries and burgers – there’s even a weekend bottomless brunch.

*DesignMyNight 18/19

Dinner

Bread Street Kitchen have brought a twist to their iconic Beef Wellington with a Beet Wellington – a beetroot version of Gordon Ramsay’s favourite Welly. Enjoy it alongside an extensive vegan menu, or learn how to make your own at a fantastic one-off masterclass on 18 Jan – click here to book.

A large variety of Indian food is typically vegetarian or vegan, so look to the City’s favourite Indian restaurant Cinnamon Kitchen (Devonshire Square) for beautifully spiced vegan options. This month they’ve brought a special vegan tasting menu to the restaurant, including kale & quinoa kofta topped with date, ginger and tomato lemon sauce, and bharwan courgette filled with spiced vegetable ratatouille.

At luxury rooftop eatery Coq d’Argent, indulge in a six-course tasting menu including Betterave, red beetroot tartare, black truffle, raspberries and a mango yolk, followed by Pot au feu, winter root vegetable stew, puff pastry, tofu and saffron. Treat yourself to an extra special dining experience by booking into Lodge d’Argent, the cosy chalets in situ until the end of February.

Sweet Treats

For some, Veganuary might be about being healthy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t treat yourself to the occasional sweet snack (especially if you’ve got a birthday approaching). Thankfully one of our favourite City bakeries Cutter & Squidge have assembled delicious cakes and treats including blueberry lemon cheesecake, chocolate caramel cake and strawberries & cream loaves. Gone are the days when fruit salads were the only things to satisfy a vegan sweet tooth.

Find all of the above on Instagram: Sub Cult | WAKA | Stem + Glory | Bread Street Kitchen | Cinnamon Kitchen | Coq d’Argent | Cutter & Squidge

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Video: The Ned Club Spa

Nicola Sheppey

Beat away the January blues and treat yourself to a spa day at the Ned Club Spa, in the heart of the City. Complete with a traditional Moroccan hammam, 20 metre pool, sauna, and eight Cowshed treatment rooms –there’s something for everyone. Psst – you can even get 25% off your first treatment with a Cheapside Privilege Card – click here to learn more.

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New Year’s Eve in the City

Nicola Sheppey

Christmas may not have arrived yet, but if you’re anything like us, you’ve got 2020 vision and are looking at what to expect for the year ahead. So why not get things started with a bang? Below, we’ve listed five of our favourite New Year’s Eve parties taking place in the City.

Great Gatsby Party at Sky Garden

See in the 2020s with a nod back to the Roaring 1920s – Sky Garden are throwing a party Jay Gatsby would be proud of. Dining packages are on the table in all of their eateries, including Fenchurch Terrace, Darwin Brasserie, and the Sky Pod Bar, and live music from a swing band will keep you dancing until the early hours. Don your three-piece suit or flapper dress and get ready to welcome in the new year with one of the best views of London.

Tickets from £125pp; click here to book

Studio 54 Disco at the Ned

Back on ground, shoot forward in time to the 1970s and dance to funky disco past midnight. The iconic hotel are throwing a Studio 54-inspired party (featuring a big disco ball, of course) with free-flowing alcohol and an all-you-can-eat buffet. There’ll be live music and entertainment plus sets from special guests. Do the hustle!

Tickets £250pp; click here to book

20/20 Vision Party on Madison Rooftop

The vision starts here. For iconic rooftop views of the City it doesn’t get much better than Madison, so party by St Paul’s with live music and DJ sets, Madison-style. Need we say more? 

Tickets from £135pp; click here to book

Absolut Decadence NYE at Oriole

Underground, super slick bar Oriole have partnered up with Absolut Elyx for the Absolut Decadence party, with a one-off special Elyx cocktail menu. The best burlesque and cabaret acts will be taking to the stage for the night, alongside fantastic New Orleans jazz from Oriole favourites the Dixie Ticklers (pictured).

Tickets £85pp; click here to book

Rollplay NYE Special

Electronic music curators Rollplay are bringing some of their finest worldwide acts (plus special guests) to South Place Hotel this year. Dance music favourite Brawther will be among them, alongside a special duo yet to be revealed. Roll on the new year!

Tickets £35pp; click here to book

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