Words by: Ian Cameron
Oskar Kinberg is bar manager at Dabbous in Fitzrovia, central London. The bar opened late last year and its cocktail list boasts a list of fresh botanicals that the Natural History Museum would be proud of, where the likes of shiso leaves and manuka honey are staples alongside esoteric homemade modifiers such as cigar, hawthorn and acacia syrups.
Not everyone wants a lost and forgotten, brown and stirred drink. There are so many speakeasy-type places these days but I think many of them are aimed at an industry market. I'm more interested in moving forward and discovering new things rather than dwelling on what has gone before. There is a reason why classics are classics, but it's a bit sad to think the best things are in the past and not the future.
I'd rather cater for average drinkers who don't have too many preconceptions. If you order a fruity, vodka cocktail you won't get a sarcastic comment from me. That said, I think the main player should always be the alcohol in a drink. A typical drink here would be the Dillusion - gin, elderflower cordial, cucumber, dill, lemon and sugar.
We use a lot of different home-grown ingredients, things you find in the garden. We've actually got a bar-back who grows herbs for the kitchen, such as shiso leaves and lovage, like a botanist behind the bar. Finding new products, new vegetables and fruits, and being inspired to make new drinks is what keeps the job challenging. And it's what consumers expect these days.
It's important to have your own original drinks. I think it's boring to go from bar to bar and see the same drinks on the list. I figure my customers have come here to drink my drinks, so you're going to see things that are to my own tastes. I make no apology that our cocktails are lighter in style, and with more gin, rum and tequila than anything else, and probably even more gin as we come into summer. But I'm not an egomaniac - the first menu was down to me but I want everyone to get involved in the next one.
I don't want to over-complicate drinks, and I've mainly worked in clubs so I think speed is extremely important. I think i would leave after one drink if I had to wait too long for one. Bartenders always be chatty and friendly but sometimes you just have to bosh through the drinks.
Bartenders shouldn't force their knowledge down customers' throats. If you catch the right customer they're inquisitive and curious, and if they show interest, we talk them through the drinks and give them samples. I don't think they expect that sort of thing from a restaurant bar - we're more like an independent bar within a restaurant.
It's really positive to have such a good working relationship with the kitchen. Ollie Dabbous and I worked together four years ago at Cuckoo Club, and that's where we came up with the idea of opening a bar and restaurant together. I think we've taught each other about our roles - there's definitely an appreciation of each other's art. In a lot of places, the kitchen and the bar staff don't even know each others' names. That said, there are boundaries - the kitchen is accommodating but we don't actually get in there and make our syrups ourselves.
The mainstream media is more interested in restaurants than bars and, to be honest, I can understand that. The food interest is so big in the UK that people will more willingly travel for food than drink. But we can capture a lot of people that come to the restaurant and, if it's fully booked, they'll stay for three or four drinks and then we've got 'em, they'll come back.
I think this area of London is quickly evolving into a great night-time scene. Our neighbours are Shochu Lounge, Bourne & Hollingsworth, London Cocktail Club and the Riding House Cafe. When we were picking the site this was one of the first ones we saw, but it came off the market. I was so pleased when it came back on. I always wanted to be here.