Words by: Ian Cameron
Paul Mant, former bar manager of Quo Vadis, original team member at Mahiki and one half of drinks consultancy Heads, Hearts & Tails, on leaving London for a new job in charge of 31 bars in Sydney, Australia.
I'm living in a hotel in Sydney for the first few weeks of my Australian adventure. I get up at 7:30am and hit the gym first - I'm running 5km five days-a-week on the treadmill at the moment - then I shower and head to the buffet for breakfast. The jet lag's been the worst thing so far, not helped by spending three weeks here then heading back to the UK for a week. But the hotel - the Establishment - is a great example of my new world - it has seven bars and restaurants, all totally different, and is something of a flagship for my new employer Merivale.
I'm at my desk at 8:30am - which is a bit of a shock, bearing in mind I used to start work from bed. Now I wake up to probably 60 emails from our various sites with reports about their daily performance. I've spent much of my first few weeks visiting all our sites. I'm managing 31 bars in total and hundreds of bartenders across the city. It's a huge job - it's become almost comedic that everyone I tell about it sucks in their breath and purses their lips, but I've come here to work hard. I've been walking between sites - I'll hear birds in the air and look up and see a couple of parrots flying along. That brings it home how far I've come from London and the Tube and the pigeons.
I had things really good back in London. I was almost too comfortable. But after Henry Besant passed away - just a few years after Gregor de Gruyther - I had a moment of clarity and decided to take stock of my life. I realised London was not going anywhere and that I should take a risk. My friend Mike Enright did this job before and I knew he was on to a good thing, plus there was the quality of life. So I just decided to do something else.
I'm working with a great F&B director Frank Roberts who wants me focused on the cost of goods, margins, retaining morale, that sort of thing. There's a lot of work going into emphasising the support structure we offer. Merivale doesn't have a problem turning out good drinks but I'm keen to get bartenders focused on creativity too, especially while we're working up our Spring/Summer cocktail lists.
I've spent a little time looking for flats around Bondi (I'd like to learn to surf) and Potts Point - I've decided I'm going to have to have either a view of the sea or the Sydney Opera House. Kind of puts Kentish Town in the shade. There are some really beautiful Art Deco buildings here, but rental property is very expensive, so I reckon I'll be getting a small but kick-ass flat.
The Sydney bar scene has changed so fast since they changed the law and smaller bars started opening up. When I first came here in 2007 only a handful of bars were making good cocktails. Today they're smashing it. I've already noticed some huge cultural differences in the way people drink. Every single person who works in alcohol has to pass a Responsible Service of Alcohol course. That doesn't exist in the UK. It absolutely drums the message into people about irresponsible retailing because staff can get fined thousands of dollars if they serve someone who is under 18 or clearly drunk. I'm in awe of it.
The climate helps you live more healthily here. It's winter right now but it's 26 degrees outside - sometimes it's a little rainy, and everyone comments on how 'miserable' it is. Weekends are great, and I've had them reasonably free so far. There's something regarding fitness wherever you go here. I had started to change my tune on health at the beginning of the year. That said, the focus on Australian sport is almost comical, especially on TV. I've been told I'm being dragged to an Aussie rules games soon.
After long days, I'm in bed by 10pm. I'm totally work-focused at the moment. It sounds sad but it's good to have a lonely existence sometimes. Anyway, it's too easy to be out in bars every night. So I go to bed and start thinking about what I'm going to be doing tomorrow, and just what I'm going to have off that buffet in the morning. It will take a bit more time before I start preferring Vegemite to Marmite though.