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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