The private cabinet of Restaurant Bronda is bursting with excitement as the Dandelyan workshop is about to begin. Ryan Chetiyawardana gets big round of applause from the full house of bartenders when he tells that this is actually the last workshop that they are doing with Dandelyan.
– When I started bartending it was a very different landscape than today. That time it would have been difficult to get the kind of ideas that we have today to resonate with people, Chetiyawardana tells.
The Lyan team has experimented with many groundbreaking concepts and ingredients. Even when introducing new ingredients like concrete into their drinks, they have never compromised on the safety of their guests.
– When we started doing our explorations we decided to have safety as the first guideline. I have a scientific background so it was very natural to me.
An innovative bar does not necessarily need an army of scientists in its team though – there is plenty of information available in the internet.
– We are lucky to have people around us that are really smart about these things. But a lot of things you can just find googling!
Chetiyawardana reminds that most of the ingredients that bartenders end up using in drinks have been used in food processing before. The laws regarding those products are much more strict so usually there are plenty of research available in the internet. One has to be careful with what they believe in though.
– One of the things that worry me a bit is that there is are people putting a lot of pseudo science out there.
Self-governing is the aspect that he hopes more from bartenders when it comes to safety of drinks.
Growing a menu
– When we first started to develop the menu for Dandelyan it was just me and Iain Griffiths working together. It took us almost two years - it was done in secret while White Lyan was still running.
The second menu planning was a bit quicker – it took 9 months.
– In the third menu we wanted to add all of team to the research project.
Dandelyan started with a team of 18 people. In four years it has almost doubled – now the number of staff is 31. When the team was growing, the creative atmosphere also got more diverse.
– We work closely as a team – it is not about me putting my drink on the menu but bringing different stories together.
Alex Lawrence, the head bartender of Dandelyan tells more about the process of their menu developing. The first step in the designing of their menu is defining the categories and themes.
– After that we start by asking our staff to do research on their own. All the thinking has to be lateral, not literal.
For example if the team want to do drinks around flowers, they don’t look for information just about the flowers themselves but look into how they are seen as symbols, what is the etymology of their names and so on. To manage the creative process, they meet on a weekly basis.
– We meet every Wednesday as a team to have a creative meetup. Creative process is a very fluid thing - we are never on time with our schedule but it helps to have guidelines.
After the research period they start to draw flavours from the stories that have been gathered. At this point the development has already taken several months without actually testing any drinks.
– Our process is never a set thing, Chetiyawardana adds.
Besides their weekly meetings they have tools and apps that help the staff to be creative on their own. Creativity can not be forced to happen on specific time so it is good have the possibility to get creative whenever the inspiration strikes.
A different approach
The venues of the Lyan family have been from time to time seen as a protest against the industry traditions. Chetiyawardana sees it differently himself.
– Our grounding in the industry is that we fell in love with it and sticked with it. We want to offer a different approach to people. I love classic bars and love to visit them, but for us there is no point to redo that, we want to do something different.
Chetiyawardana has been travelling a lot for work and it has changed the way he sees the world and drinks.
– Food and drink is such a great window into understanding the people and their culture. It is a reflection of what is going on in the other parts of the world.
There is a lot of travelling ahead for Chetiyawardana in the future also: the team is opening two venues abroad in 2019. Closing some of their venues in London, re-opening a couple and opening new bars across the sea is a mammoth task: Chetiyawardana calls it a “military operation”
– We are closing Dandelyan in March and opening the new bar Lyaness in the same venue in the end of March. It is planned to the minute and in a way that we should be able to do a lot of changes in that small amount of time.
– What we achieved with Dandelyan was amazing, and we certainly want to continue the legacy, but what started out as boundary pushing had become more common-place, and we always want to continue to innovate, so a evolution seemed appropriate. We'll be building on its foundations – and Dandelyan will always remain part of the family and history – but we’re excited to be creating something completely new.