Photography by Simon Difford
Words by Simon Difford on 17-May-2019
23-25 Heddon Street, Mayfair, London, W1B 4BH, United Kingdom
Website: Not supplied
Hours: Mon-Thu 17:00-01:00, Fri-Sat 17:00-02:00, Sun 17:00-00:00
Style: Lounge bar
Recommended for: Cocktails, Food, Romantic, Decor
Price guide: Middling
Owned by: Erik Lorincz
You can take the boy out of the five-star hotel but you can’t take the five-star hotel out of the boy! Erik Lorincz’s new bar, Kwãnt, operates to standards beyond five-star.
One of the world’s most highly regarded bartenders, Erik Lorincz perfected his craft at the Connaught Hotel and then for nearly eight years as the Head Bartender at the world-famous American Bar at The Savoy. Now the proud owner of Kwãnt we can finally see what his dream bar looks like. A bar which offers all the standards you’d expect from a five-star hotel but without the starchy restrictions and formality attached to such institutions. I was privileged to be one of the first to experience what will surely steam straight into a high ranking in the World’s 50 Best Bars. Here’s some of the reasons why.
Kwãnt, phonetically from 'quaint', something unusual or old-fashioned. The word from old French meaning clever and wise, so, as Erik says, “cleverly using ingredients and wisely enjoying cocktails.”
Kwãnt nestles in the basement space under Momo restaurant on the most iconic corner of Heddon Street, a narrow cul-de-sac just off Regent Street, London, best known as the location for the front cover of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album cover. This upmarket corner of Mayfair is part of The Crown Estate. Yup, Erik’s bar is owned by the Queen.
So, this is not just any basement. For years it was the renowned Kemia Bar, a Bedouin tent-like cave of a space which formed an intimate party venue for the stylish and famous who sipped on Momo Specials.
Backer & landlord
Erik is fortunate to be backed by Mourad Mazouz, the Algerian visionary behind not only Momo but Sketch and it's (in)famous egg-shaped toilets. Over the decades Mourad has consistently surprised London diners by combining design and culinary experiences that dare to be different. While Kwãnt is Erik’s vision and concept, Mourad’s eye for design is evident in this refurb of his restaurant’s basement.
Erik told me that when he walked into the Moroccan restaurant and down the narrow staircase into the basement “the first image I had in my head was the Casablanca movie.” He set out to “create a twist on a classic bar that makes you feel like you're really somewhere else, not in London.”
The interior has a tropical feel but more colonial gentleman’s club in the topics than Tiki tropical. The intricate, back-lit lattice bamboo ceiling was Mourad’s idea and it brilliantly disguises the basement’s low ceiling by giving the appearance that warm golden sunlight is glinting through the gaps in the bamboo.
French artist, Artist Alain Grandne, hand-painted the foliage on the walls to complete the tropical look but the glossy black bar, tan leather sofas and low oak panelling, as Erik says, “gives you this very classy feeling, that you are really in a perfect bar.”
A built-in oak and glass corner cabinet filled with Erik’s collection of vintage bottles completes the juxtaposition.
Erik says the menu “is really a journey through our experiences. We are working with different tools and equipment to take a modern approach using culinary techniques to take our drinks in completely different directions. When you look at the bamboo ceiling you might expect a drink scene with Tiki mugs and umbrellas. Actually, we respect a very simple and elegant way, more reflective of the wooden panelling.”
The menu, presently featuring 24 alcoholic and five non-alcoholic serves, will develop and expand but opening drinks include (quotes straight from the menu):
“Ketel One Vodka with rose water, clarified strawberry water and topped with soda water.”
“Ron Zacapa 23 stirred with Mr Black Coldbrew carob and banana water.”
“Patrón Silver tequila shaken with Cocchi Rosa, lacto-fermented purple carrot, Tio Pepe Sherry, Vida Mezcal, agave nectar and freshly squeezed lime juice.”
“Tanqueray No. Ten stirred with Cocchi di Torino, Campari and coffee aroma.”
“Copperhead Gin with Fallen Pony, lemon juice, spirulina and London Essence Tonic Water.”
“Hendrick’s Gin stirred with Cocchi Americano and Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth with Jerusalem artichokes.”
I’ve been lucky enough to taste all the above and they are all stand-out cocktails. However, my personal favourites are the Sunflower Martini and the Coffee Negroni. Made by sous-vide cooking the other ingredients with Jerusalem artichokes, the Martini is delicate and elegant while the Negroni, made by pushing the other ingredients through ground coffee in an Aeropress, delivers exactly what the name promises. The Mr Banana is perhaps more coffee than banana in flavour but to fully appreciate this drink you must first try the clear banana water with which it is made. Delicious, intense banana but being a clear liquid makes the flavour unexpected and surprising.
Erik grow up in western Slovakia so naturally struck up a rapport with Rona, a high-end Slovak glass company renowned for their elegant stemware. Working with Rona, Erik has designed a range of bespoke glasses exclusive to Kwãnt, each shape named after the classic cocktail it is designed to hold.
Vieux Carré = rocks glass
Garibaldi = highball glass designed to hold 1 part spirits to 2 parts mixer.
Sazerac = a stemmed deep bowled coupe
Clover Club = a small but curvaceous coupe
Martinez = designed to hold a 4:1 Martini (60ml gin, 15ml vermouth = bitters and dilution)
Gabriel = Wine glasses named after their designer. These were not designed by Erik but are from the same maker and are universal, for white, red, rose and sparkling wines
“I wanted to use very simple garnishes that really add something to the drink.” Accordingly, Erik uses micro herbs packed with flavour which are hydroponically grown from seed in the bar. What at first glance is a back-bar fridge is, in fact, a virtual greenhouse. The Evogro cabinet is remotely monitored 24 hours a day to deliver 18 hours artificial light followed by 4 hours of darkness. This produces around three-quarters of the bar’s garnishes.
Erik has a good eye for talent and what ambitious bartender wouldn’t want to be part of Kwãnt? Hence, Erik has assembled a dream team with the legendary Rusty, the ex-barback at The Savoy, ensuring a steady supply line. All eight bartenders will rotate between the bar and floor service – three shifts on the bar and then two on the floor. Erik says, “I want to have a perfect balance of experience so guests sat at the tables benefit from the same bartender knowledge as those sat at the bar. When you have a floor server without that knowledge suddenly you have a big gap between the experiences.”
Even the best five-star hotels don’t have a “prep uniform” for their bartenders to wear while they set-up the bar prior to opening and donning their crisp white waistcoats. They do at Kwãnt.
Sharing a building with the full kitchen of Momo means the bar snacks at Kwãnt are also a cut above that of your average bar. Along with perhaps the best hummus in London, this includes Moroccan salad, oysters, grilled octopus, spiced crab, falafel and tahini, and beef tartare.