Does London need another bar? Not really. But we’re greedy so and so’s – particularly when it comes to hot, new, independent openings from the most respected and influential bartenders in the world. Step forward Erik Lorincz, former Head Bartender at the American Bar at The Savoy and Alex Kratena previously Head Bartender at Artesian, joining forces with the delectable Ms. Monica Berg: three powerful names in bartending circles and the names behind two of the most eagerly awaited bar openings in recent years.
Both Kwãnt and Tayer + Elementary the bars in question, have been three years in the making. One is East, the other is West. One has an all-day, laid-back vibe, while the other is more of a night time affair – dark, sexy and exotic. Both are dead certs for being the most visited bars in London. With good reason. They really do live up to the hype.
Erik was first off the starting block with Kwãnt, which opened on 20th May. Nestled underneath iconic Mayfair restaurant Momo, it sees him partner up with Mourad Mazouz, owner of Momo and Sketch in London, to open his first solo venture.
We checked in ahead of opening time to talk to Erik about his new baby.
(Tayer + Elementary review coming soon).
Let’s start at the beginning, how did the association with Mourad Mazouz come about?
I learned that if you ask you get, if you don’t ask you don’t get, so while I was still working at the Savoy I started letting a few friends know that I was looking to open my own bar. One of the people I mentioned it to was Douglas Ankrah [creator of the Porn Star Martini] and the next morning he called me and said he had someone to introduce me to. That was Mourad. We met on a Friday afternoon, he said that he liked me and really wanted to do something but someone had just signed the lease for the space. However, he kept in touch with me throughout the lease period just to let me know that he was still serious about us working together. Eventually, the lease ran out and here we are.
How many iterations did you go for before you decided on the name Kwãnt?
Actually, Kwãnt, which is the phonetic spelling of ‘quaint’, was the second name I came up with. The first one was too easy – it didn’t have much meaning behind it. Plus when I started seeing the way the room was taking shape, the name worked even more – it’s old fashioned but different.
For those who’ve yet to visit, how do you describe the bar?
When I first saw it I imagined it as a Casablanca styled bar, it has a similar feel to it. From the moment you walk into the restaurant upstairs, you no longer feel like you’re in London, you’re transported somewhere else, then you come downstairs into this amazing space.
I didn’t want it to be a classic gin joint, my vision was for the bar to have an element of luxury to it, some British class but with a tropical twist. I think it’s worked very well. It has a very warm feeling and even though it’s a basement bar, it doesn’t feel claustrophobic. It’s very much a blend of both mine and Mourad’s styles, particularly with the lovely wooden panels mixed with the north African-inspired walls that were hand painted by Alain, a very old friend of Mourad’s.
The main space is like your living room and at the rear we have the garden room, which is mirrored to give height. Once or twice a month we’ll have a live pianist. The overall feel is of British class with a North African twist.
It’s one thing designing menus, how does it feel to apply that creativity into a space? Your own space?
Now it feels good but when I was confronted with the enormity of it, I was thinking of so many things in so many ways. It wasn’t just cocktails. Or at least I was thinking cocktails but totally differently. Things like: “is this the right thing we want to put on the wall, is this the right colour for the wood and what about the tables?” I didn’t want to have small tables. I wanted to make sure that people are comfortable. You have to space for drinks, water, some food – I want to make sure people don’t feel crammed in, it’s important that they can breathe.
That’s the aesthetics, what about the drinks? Starting with the cool cabinets of vintage spirits…
These are bottles that I’ve built up over my whole career, they’ve been stored at my home for years. There’s a Caperitif from the original aperitif wine produced in South Africa and featured in The Savoy Cocktail Book, it’s one of only five bottles. The oldest I have is a 1930s brandy from Spain with Grand Fine champagne on label, there’s also a selection of Bacardí rums from different eras and distilleries, plus discontinued Havana Silvers.
Our guests can try them in the six drinks that we have on the menu, including a White Lady, a Dry Martini (we have a good selection of vintage gins and vermouths) and a Negroni. We also have a Brooklyn as we have a selection of good ryes from the 1960s. Alternatively, our guests can build their drink from our choice of vintage spirits.
And moving on to the cocktails. Was the menu dictated by the space or were the drinks something you had in mind previously?
The menu is very much inspired by the things I’ve explored, tasted and brought back from my travels. There are 24 cocktails in total, 80% of them I already had on paper before we moved in – some I still had to change. But all of the team have a drink on the menu as well, I wanted to give them the space so they’d be proud when they serve a drink. I didn’t want them to feel it’s Erik’s bar, Erik’s drinks – everything is Erik.
What was the brief?
We spent a lot of time together at my home before the opening. On one of the days I prepared a six-course barbecue and we discussed the drinks. I told them the various spirits I wanted them to work with and the style of the drinks I was looking for and they got on with it. They had a lot of room to play and they’ve all done a fantastic job.
Is there a hero drink on the menu?
No, because that would mean the others aren’t as good. But the Sunflower Martini is a great drink [we can concur that this is an absolute stunner and one we’ll be ordering every time we visit. Which will be a lot]. The base is Hendricks gin, with dry vermouth, Cocchi Americano and Jerusalem artichokes. All of the ingredients are cooked together in a sous vide for four hours. Like all of the drinks on the menu, it’s about respecting the ingredients and products that we’re using.
Tell us about the team.
I’ve got the most brilliant team – they’re all so passionate and I feel privileged to be working with them. There’s Stefano Agostino who was with me at The Savoy, Rastislav Kasar who was also at The Savoy, Giovanni Tavano was part of the opening team at Sexy Fish, Celia Bugallo Jurado, our prep mama was at Mandrake, along with Jumpei Yamamoto, and there’s Gabor Bajusznacs, formerly head bartender at Zetter Town House. They’ve all worked so hard. The team is very strong. One of the key things is that they all do everything, from prep to service, cutting of the ice to creating great drinks, so they can all step in and do anything.
They’ve got plenty of cool kit to play with. Can you tell us about some of the things behind the bar?
There’s the lab which Celia loves and spends most of her time in but we’ve got lots of gadgets outside of that, including an Evagro system that allows us to grow 80% of our garnishes in-house by seed. Currently we have basil, marigold, coriander, shisho, lemon balm and tarragon on the go, they’ll be ready in two to three days.
The glassware is pretty special too.
Yes, it was specially designed for us by one of the oldest glass companies in Slovakia.
What was your brief to them?
Make glassware for cocktails! Actually, I gave them the specifics such as how tall the glasses should be, how thick the walls should be, how deep etc for each particular drink so we have a Sazerac, Vieux Carré, Garibaldi, Clover Club and a Martinez glass. The etching at the bottom of each glass is the symbol of an agave leaf, I’m a big fan of agave.
How has opening your own bar been?
This is the sixth bar that I’ve been part of the opening, including The Connaught and the American Bar at The Savoy. In all of them, my role was just to make the drinks. Here I’ve had to think about everything from the uniforms [the natty white jackets above], to the logo and the design of the glassware, which can be more demanding than you might think, as well as overseeing the design [by Bambi Sloan].
One of the things I really wanted in this space was room for three stations – one for a dispense bartender, another for a bartender to make drinks for the bar and the third for guest bartenders, the friends from all around the world in whose bars I’ve guest bartended over the years. I wasn’t able to reciprocate when I was at the Savoy but here I have a dedicated space where they can make their own menu and chat to guests. The first shift will be on 21st June when Orlando Marzo, the current World Class Global Cocktail Competition champion will be behind the bar. I’m really looking forward to it.
Kwãnt, downstairs at Momo, 23-25 Heddon Street, W1B 4BH. momolondon