If you want to be recognized with a bar concept in London, we wish you the best of luck! You sure will need it! The bar landscape of UK’s capital is probably the toughest of them all. Not even a city like New York can compete with London’s tremendous density and plurality of world-class bars. Just take a look at the familiar rankings and you will notice that this city is the cocktail capital of the world – hands down. That said, old Frankie’s famous line ”if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere“ may also apply to London. Ryan Chetiyawardana, better known as “Mr. Lyan“ (we’ll stick to his alias for obvious reasons), has definitely made it here. Since 2013, when he opened his first venue “White Lyan“ in Hoxton, he quickly gained reputation for his new approach to mixology, cocktails and hospitality.
His dedication and hard work got around within the industry. Only two years later he was awarded „International Bartender of the Year“ – in retrospect another milestone of his career as an entrepreneur and creative mastermind. At the time „Dandelyan“ was already making big waves. To those who aren’t that familiar with London’s cocktail scene, let us explain what Dandelyan was. At first glance it was obviously a hotel bar and on closer examination it was the best. Situated within the equally famous Sea Containers hotel (formerly Mondrian) with an unbeatable view of the Thames and Blackfriars Bridge, Mr. Lyan created a hotspot for mixologists and new bartending techniques, Thanks to his background in biology he never shied away from using uncommon natural ingredients or supposedly weird flavours.
Besides all the creativity, Dandelyan raised the bar with regard to the overall bar experience by getting rid of outdated elements, implementing modern techniques and focusing on the individual guest. In 2018 Dandelyan finally came in at first (!) place at the much acclaimed „World’s 50 Best Bars Awards“. But instead of resting on his laurels Mr. Lyan announced on the same day the closing of Dandelyan. Not many saw that coming! Honestly, we were baffled too. His idea was to turn the World’s best bar Dandeylan into a new place called „Lyaness“, honouring its famous predecessor while simultaneously starting a new chapter in mixology. And that’s exactly where we are right now!
During our last trip to London we booked a table for the „Fancy Tea“ at Lyaness. Of course, this place is more than a safe bet if you want to spend the evening with meticulously crafted cocktails in a truly elegant setting. At the weekends Lyaness’s house DJs take over, transforming the laid-back daytime vibes into a party scenery (we absolutely have to come back for this). In broad daylight Lyaness keeps the promise of a true beauty with its electric blue interior, the golden décor and the green marble bar that is a prominent leftover from Dandelyan. And while the bar could get very busy in the evening, we really loved the more relaxed atmosphere during tea time.
The tea itself is a modern, playful update to a British tradition with different sweet and savoury treats like eclairs, little cakes, sausage rolls and devilled eggs. No English tea service would be complete without some tasty sandwiches. At Lyaness they make you poached salmon on dark rye bread and roast beef on focaccia. It’s delicious finger food that we enjoyed even more thanks to the sophisticated cocktail pairing (there’s also a boozeless tea service available). You will get more than a glimpse at Mr. Lyan’s award-winning, creative approach to bartending if you opt for the full Fancy Tea experience, which we highly recommend.
The drink menu is based on different key ingredients, some quite uncommon for a cocktail bar (a similar approach can be found at Tayer+Elementary). Rather than building a drink around a spirit, Mr. Lyan and his team use house-made ingredients as a starting point for their often botanical creations. Motivated by a curiosity to find new flavours and to look beyond the obvious the results are truly unique and bold. Their „Jasmine Gimlet“ is an eye opener even for seasoned Gimlet connoisseurs. The jasmine treatment adds a softer, floral taste. It’s so good, you have to order at least one! Another drink from the Fancy Tea pairing is the rum based „Cold Brew Palmetto“ that plays with fruity and nutty flavours.
While doing his research on different ingredients and new bartending techniques Mr. Lyan is also on the forefront of the sustainability movement in the industry (he should connect with chef Adam Handling). He is not only raising awareness for a more sustainable path, collaborations with acclaimed chefs and other bartenders are also very important to him. You can find another Mr. Lyan project in Shoreditch. The Cub restaurant is a partnership with zero-waste pioneer Doug McMaster. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to Cub (another reason to come back to London). With Cub Mr. Lyan wants to „bring people together through great food and drink“. In a world like ours this might be the only solution to overcome prejudices and nationalism. People who share a good time will not hate each other. We get the point, Ryan! And we hope that you will succeed.
Finally we like to share Ryan’s thoughts on different aspects of his job, the status quo of the bar industry and his favourite London bars:
You were awarded „World’s best bartender“ and you owned the „World’s best bar“ with Dandelyan. After being „the world’s best“ what happens next?
Ryan/Mr. Lyan: We were very thankful for all the awards and recognition, but our real goal is to try and affect positive change in the wider industry, so we have plenty of plans on the horizon to continue to push and see what we can challenge. Some of these are through the venues, and some are events, talks, collaborations, anything and everything we can do to expand the ‚boundaries‘ of what food, drink and hospitality can be about.
Do you sometimes think that other bars try to become copycats?
Ryan/Mr. Lyan: The food and drink world is a tight industry, and as a result, there is lots of sharing of ideas, and this helps elevate the offering, and communicate it more effectively to the public so everything grows. However, at the moment, there does seem a propensity to default to what is established, comfortable, or classical – or what has been successful – and this can lead to some homogeneity, which I think is a shame. Sharing of ideas is natural, and wonderful, but it should always also be honest, personal and with integrity. People jumping on a bandwagon is inevitable in any industry, but we as stewards of our profession should call this out and encourage others do make something their own.
We came to Lyaness for your „Fancy Tea“ and we were blown away not only by the food and drinks but also by the overall atmosphere and hospitality. How important is the latter for a modern bar?
Ryan/Mr. Lyan: Great to hear! To us, what is in the drink, or on the plate is secondary. We try and help people have a better time out, or to have a better or more effective gathering with their friends and family. Are drinks and dishes are tools for this, but so is the decor, the music, the lighting – everything we can effect. We want to focus on hospitality and helping people gather, and we’re very proud of having a team that cares about this aspect, rather than just simply drinks.
We’re pretty sure that many could benefit from your experience. Do you have any advice for other bartenders or bar owners (what to do or to avoid)?
Ryan/Mr. Lyan: Don’t believe the hype, make it personal, keep learning, and find what you love and are interested in! And never be afraid to ask for help
London’s cocktail landscape is a one-of-kind. Which bars (besides your own) are your favourites?
Ryan/Mr. Lyan: I think London has the best food and drink in the world right now. From classical venues like The Connaught, The Savoy, Satan’s Whiskers, Happiness Forgets & Swift to eclectic modern venues like Three Sheets (and Bar Three), Tayer + Elementary, Coupette and Mint Gun Club, the scene is pretty unrivalled!
Thanks Ryan for your insights and of course for your time!