Q+A with International Bartender of the Year Ryan Chetiyawardana
At just 31 years old, Ryan Chetiyawardana, a.k.a. Mr. Lyan, has gained international acclaim for his trailblazing bar White Lyan—the world’s first bar with no perishables—his book, Good Things to Drink with Friends, and his bottled cocktails. As if that wasn’t enough, he just took home two big awards from the Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Awards. His newest venture, Dandelyan, inside the Mondrian London at Sea Containers, won the title of Best New International Cocktail Bar and Mr. Lyan himself was named International Bartender of the Year. We caught up with the globe-trotting cocktail impresario to get the scoop on his menu inspiration, his go-to spots in London and where he’s off to next.
How did you approach the task of creating a cocktail menu for Dandelyan?
The initial menu was a good 18 months of research, but the concept came partly from Tom Dixon’s vision of the building and the theme of trans-Atlanticism. We focused on botanists who were often the first on journeys during the golden age of travel and we built around their natural curiosity. It allowed me to refresh my biology background.
The initial menu looked at the 'designations' of ingredients, whilst the second chapter looks at the fundamental interconnectedness of our ingredients.
Do your travels inspire your cocktail recipes?
Absolutely! I always think food and drink is the best window into a culture and I love to be able to experience new things through this. Often it might be a flavor or ingredient, or other times it might be a ritual or occasion, but seeing new places and meeting new people always stimulates creativity.
When you're not at your own bars, what are your go-to spots in London for a great drink?
I love some of the hotel bars here—the Savoy, the Connaught, the Artesian—as we do them better than anywhere else in the world and I love visiting them for an incredible and grand experience. I also love the bars in East London as they bring an amazing warmth and atmosphere. Happiness Forgets and Satan's Whiskers do excellent classic cocktails in a relaxed atmosphere and Sager + Wilde remains one of my favorite spots to grab a delicious glass of something.
How would you describe the changes in London's cocktail bar scene in the past few years?
It's certainly lost its bravado—people are creating drinks because they love them and have lost the need to shout about their passion—which reached some unfortunately arrogant points previously. That's all but passed and people are happy to create what they love and there's an interested audience excited to experience it.
Where else have you encountered an exciting bar scene?
Athens blew me away—great people and wonderful bars. Paris is gaining in strength and of course Sydney and Melbourne are home to some of the most talented bartenders and incredible bars in the world.
What are your top 3 favorite cocktail bars in the world?
Bramble in Edinburgh definitely takes top spot despite the obvious bias (I worked there years ago), but it remains relevant, unrivalled and most importantly it's fun! A simple combination of great people, amazing cocktails and killer tunes.
Baxter Inn, Sydney. I love whisky so it's easy to think this bar made the list for its extensive collection, but it’s the willingness to include their guests that makes the bar so worth seeking out. Great drinks from some of the world's leading bartenders—served with passion of course—but an unpretentious and fun space.
The Clumsies, Athens. I was invited out to talk with the team here and was blown away. Great attention to detail, an embrace of local products and a space that changes throughout the day.
What's your go-to cocktail?
Whisky and soda and when I need something richer, a Manhattan. I drink to mood and setting though, so I like to be given recommendations!
What's the next trip on your agenda that you're really excited about?
I'm always excited to be back in Scotland, but I'm visiting the bodegas of Hidalgo la Gitana in Sanlúcar de Barrameda soon; I've been obsessed with sherry for years and the chance to see how wonderful manzanilla is made is very exciting!