Words by: Jane Ryan
Robyn Wilkie is a native New Yorker earning her bartending stripes in London's thriving cocktail scene. From fun and games at LCC she's graduated on to the city's hottest new opening The Library but not before she snagged the grand prize for ting's Mixologist Award where her faultlessly balanced drinks, calm presentation and engaging smile won over the judges.
"I started off my bartending career in the pubs of Manhattan, and I've always had a natural affinity to the world of hospitality. Five years ago my intended career, fashion public relations, brought me to London for university but it was in this city, famed for its cosmopolitan drinks scene, that I ended up falling for cocktail bartending instead. I haven't looked back since.
Going out for cocktails was always a real pleasure for me, more so than any of my friends at university or otherwise. My cousin would come down from Scotland and we would go around all the latest London openings. My usual port of call was always The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town, after dining in the restaurant I started to notice all these people wandering into the fridge. Convinced I couldn't be that drunk I decided to check it out and continued to do so on a very regular basis coming for this great champagne and raspberry cocktail they did alongside great bartender banter.
It was after I decided to do a master class to learn more about mixed drinks at London Cocktail Club (LCC), in Shaftesbury Avenue, that Andy Mill, the groups bar manager at the time, offered me a job. Waitressing on the floor for the first few months I graduated to bar pretty quickly and had an intense training, firstly with the drinks on the menu and through that classics started to fall into place. I was lucky, I had a natural palate for balance and as soon as I started playing around with new creations I was able to produce pretty decently balanced cocktails.
LCC is a party-orientated bar but I fell into that scene very easily, I can certainly be a bit sassy behind the bar, maybe because I'm a New Yorker. I was trained with a few different people at LCC, sadly Andy Mill left almost as soon as I was hired but my initial cocktail training came from Liam Broom and Sarah Mitchell. When Joey Medrington came to the company I certainly felt inspired from his drinks style and knowledge. We probably talked more about cocktails when we went out drinking than when we were at work.
It was at a house party in my old flat where I was first introduced to ting. Someone brought it along and was drinking rum and ting all night, and seeing as none of us had seen or heard of the product before we spent a lot of time that night trying it out. LCC didn't have ting when I first started but about a year ago we started having stock for bartenders and to use in the Paloma. There was also a high demand from the staff who used to drink a lot cans on shift.
photography by Jeremy Enness
When I heard about the competition I had already been working on a drink with ting for the new menu. So I tweaked that and played around with the formula, moving from pear vodka to grapefruit to compliment the ting, but knew I wanted a sour shaken with ting rather than topped up like a fizz. It makes the drink super smooth with such a palatable texture.
Wining the competition was huge surprise for me. There were two rounds after presenting my drink, with the final one asking for us to use the pomelo, the parent fruit of the grapefruit. Being presented with an unknown ingredient is always challenging but I did know what one was at least, having done my research into the grapefruit.
I've done four competitions so far, so I'm relatively new to them but I finally decided to harden up and start entering a few. I still get the shakes but it's fun and I'm usually the only girl which is great when I get to kick all the guys' butts. I'll read the call to entries and if I think up something on the spot I'll enter but if nothing comes I won't force it, and I'm only interested in brands that I actually like to work with as well.
After being part of the team at LCC for two years I got a call from Geoff Robinson about a new project which he wanted me to come on board with. The Library is very different to LCC, I feel like JJ Goodman's rebellious child there but it's great learning a new style of service. I certainly won't be four bottle pouring anymore.
I was in New York in June this year with my boyfriend and we went to all the bars. It was interesting noting the very different styles of drinks, in New York they're intricate but relatively simple in comparison to the crazy stuff Londoner's get up to. Bars like Peg + Patriot wouldn't exist there.
When I first started out in pubs in Manhattan I thought maybe I would love to have my own pub. Now I'm working in cocktail bars it's definitely more of an ambition to have a cocktail-focused venue. That said what I started off thinking I would want last year is very different to what I'm thinking now. I know I don't want to be a haggard 40 year old woman still making drinks.
I'm a big foodie, like every bartender, but I wouldn't ever venture into a kitchen professionally. I'm very much behind the bar. In London I'll usually be found at Blind Pig or Milk and Honey in Soho or Callooh Callay in Shoreditch but I am starting to spend a lot of time in Peg + Patriot and Satan's Whiskers in Bethnal Green, I really love what both those bars are bringing to the London scene. I naturally tend towards gin and citrus cocktails and my all-time favourite is a Martinez, but if you see me ordering one it's probably time to send me home."
SomeTings Gotta Give
Glass: Grog tin
Garnish: Grapefruit zest, cherry and cocktail umbrella
Method: Double shake ingredients and fine strain into cup.
35ml Finlandia grapefruit vodka
20ml lime juice
20ml sugar syrup
5ml Yellow Chartreuse
Robyn's SomeTings Gotta Give will be available all month at Mahiki.