by Shaun Layton | For those in the know, one of the best cocktail bars in London is the famed Rules Restaurant. The bar is actually hidden next door to Rules, which has been serving classic English fare for over 200 years. Brian Silva was the barman there who, on my own visit, turned a one drink pop-in into a multi-hour journey through the history of cocktails, tasting unique and hard to find spirits, and straight-up good times. You won’t see the man travelling the world judging cocktail competitions and he’s certainly no Insta-celeb. You’ll always find him behind the bar, even at 60, working a cracking pace.
Born in Boston, Silva landed in London in the 1980s, already fully trained in the bar arts. He’s been there pretty much ever since, toiling at the wood and well. A few years after opening the stunning bar at Rules, Silva met Keith McNally, founder of New York’s Balthazar, and was tasked with opening the UK version of the institution in Covent Garden in February 2013. Apparently it wasn’t a big enough challenge for Silva to move from the tiny, intimate space at Rules to the behemoth of Balthazar, because now he’s gone and written a book.
And it’s worth a read, especially for bartenders. With Silva it’s all about quality and simplicity. Whatever complexity there might be will only ever be found in the glass. He writes: “I’ve always believed that the first duty of a good cocktail maker is to make good drinks: made right, tasting right – balanced. Something the drinkers will ask for again.” This approach will work in any bar, no matter the size. Speaking personally, I love how he likes to use once popular ingredients that are now shrugged off by bartenders, things like Midori, the muskmelon-flavoured liqueur made in Japan. The ’80s may have killed the bright green stuff, but that doesn’t make it any less delicious!
The new book, “Mixing In The Right Circles at Balthazar”, carries this message of simplicity, focusing on the importance of quality spirits and exacting technique. There are no crazy foams; he only carries three types of bitters; and most of the cocktails are on the booze-forward side. He’s an old school kind of guy, his warm hospitality and calm demeanour reminding me of Vancouver’s own Jay Jones (minus the handlebars).
In a recent interview with Imbibe Magazine Brian shared a few of his “rules”. Listen carefully kids:
– ‘Most of the drinks have three or four ingredients, simple garnishing – there’s no fancy garnishing.’
– ‘Anything straight up doesn’t get a garnish. I don’t like things floating in drinks.’
– No homemade ingredients. ‘Everything I use, I buy.’
– ‘I find I’m using more lemon peels than lemon juice these days, because the gins and other spirits are so good.’
– A lot of it is classic stuff. I want my bartenders to sing-song: 35, 25, 15, five… and you’ll know what the five is, it’s got to be the maraschino.’
You should be able to pick up the book starting this month on Amazon or via www.balthazarlondon.com. In the meantime, try this recipe:
50ml Tanqueray gin
15ml Cinzano Orancio
10ml Poire William eu de vie
Method – Add ingredients to a mixing glass with ice. Stir to mix ingredients, strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice.