Qin XieThursday 2 Nov 2017 12:00 pm
If you’ve been keenly following the London bar scene, or indeed, the bar scene anywhere in the world, the chances are, you’ll have heard of Ryan Chetiyawardana.
Known as Mr Lyan, Chetiyawardana burst onto the scene in 2013 with his first bar, the super sustainable White Lyan.
The concept meant there were no perishables under his roof – no fruit, and crucially, no ice. Branded spirits were also off the menu and replaced with tinctures and liqueurs made in-house.
It was an innovative move that quickly got him acclaim in the media and in the industry; a second bar, Dandelyan, which was named the World’s Best Bar at the Spirited Awards earlier this year, and book deals soon followed.
Except of course, he was winning awards long before then, having scooped the Diageo Reserve Class UK Bar Tender of the Year in 2009 as well as coming top three in the world in the same competition.
This was followed by UK Bar Tender of the Year in 2012 at the Havana Club Grand Prix, where he also came in second place in the global contest.
But now Mr Lyan has turned his hand to food through a collaboration with Doug McMaster, chef of Brighton’s zero waste restaurant Silo.
The old space for White Lyan, which closed earlier this year, has been split into two separate venues for his new concept.
Super Lyan – a cocktail bar focusing on the classics with a twist – is in the basement. And in case you were wondering, ice and citrus are now on the menu though perhaps not used as liberally as some venues.
On the ground floor is Cub, the new restaurant. Except it’s not really like any other restaurant because the booze is as much a part of the menu as the food.
Let me explain.
Although you can go a la carte, and there’s a small menu of bites, the main option is the set menu.
This features around 10 separate items that refreshes every week.
But rather than offering food and drink matches as separate entities, as would be the norm for a restaurant tasting menu, both the food and the drink are considered courses.
So you might have a cocktail, followed by an edible item, before being presented with another drink as the third course.
On the night I visited, five of these courses were cocktails (one was non-alcoholic), albeit small ones, while the rest was food (also small).
Up to now, Cub sounds a bit like a bar disguised as a restaurant and you certainly get a sense of the subtle fight between the food and the drink. After all, it’s essentially two separate teams behind the food and drink.
But, according to McMaster, ‘the relationship between food and drink is equal’ and the concept is all about merging the two worlds.
The courses came in quick succession, meaning there was a definite overlap between the courses.
This, says McMaster, is intentional as the effect is a ‘waterfall of drink and food’ where the experience just sort of ‘flows out’.
Take the first few courses I had as an example.
A coupette of Krug champagne with herb jelly was followed by a tomato dish with grapes and then a chervil top cocktail – three unusual combinations and three separate ideas.
But as you march on with the menu, it starts to come together – largely because of the ethos of sustainability that forms the backbone of the food and drink.
Like Chetiyawardana’s White Lyan, McMaster’s Brighton restaurant Silo is all about sustainability too – their interiors are upcycled as much as possible while the food follows a nose-to-tail philosophy.
They also compost any waste they produce and make their own loaves of bread from heritage flour, which they milled themselves.
At Cub, this sustainability comes to life with the meat-free menu; they haven’t found a sustainable way to serve it yet so a chicken bone broth is offered instead as the carcass would otherwise go to waste.
It’s also found in the marriage of cocktail and food; the root of the chervil that was used for a cocktail earlier in the menu appears later as part of a savoury dish with apple (and that apple appears later still as part of a dessert).
To make this work, the staff on both sides have to work closely together to create a menu each week where each course is distinct but also complements the others.
The result, they hope, is what they call ‘bridging’, where each food course bridges two drink courses and each drink bridges two food courses.
Does this actually work?
Well, bar tenders have been playing with food in their drinks for years, whether it’s actually putting it into alcohol (like Skittles vodka) or serving it on the side (bacon topping anyone?), so combining food and cocktails is certainly nothing new.
If you enjoy intellectualising your food, Cub will certainly make you question what you knew about the tasting menu format. And if you see it from their point of view, you will spot the ‘bridges’ throughout the menu.
And of course, it’s certainly a must-visit if you’re a cocktail enthusiast.
But if you arrive hungry for a feed, you might find yourself leaving tipsy but still unsatiated.