On 4 February, the on-trade’s movers and shakers gathered together in the lush, greenery-laden Restaurant Ours for the Imbibe Personality of the Year Awards. Back for their ninth year, the awards recognise the people who make the on-trade the innovative, idiosyncratic industry it is. So, without further ado, here are this year’s winners…
A massive thank you to our sponsors for providing a fantastic array of drinks to ensure optimal hydration throughout the evening:
Restaurant Personality of the Year
Marcis Dzelzainis & Michael Sager, Sager + Wilde & Fare Bar + Canteen, London
In times that see far too many closures, it’s truly a feat to create a flourishing restaurant business. This year’s Restaurant Personality winners have not only kept their Sager & Wilde offerings consistently on point while opening Fare, one of 2018’s most buzzed-about venues, they’ve managed to do all this while maintaining a fiercely independent and innovative approach.
Both Sager and Dzelzainis bring a wealth of on-trade experience to their east London pursuits. Dzelzainis helped to open Quo Vadis, Zetter Townhouse and Satan’s Whiskers and worked at 69 Colebrooke Row, honing his reputation as one of the best bartenders in the game. He also led the team at Dandelyan as general manager when the venue won best new bar at Tales of the Cocktail in 2015, before joining Sager + Wilde to oversee its cocktail programme.
Meanwhile, Sager developed a passion for wine working under the tutelage of big-name somm Raj Parr in San Francisco. He returned to open Sager + Wilde as a pop-up wine bar in London in 2012. Since then, Sager + Wilde has evolved to encompass two locations, a wine bar and a restaurant. Sager and Dzelzainis also opened the doors to Fare, an all-day dining and drinking concept, last autumn.
The duo run all three venues without outside investment, shaping them into powerhouses for quality drinks and food. They consistently elevate casual dining and are resolute in making independence a priority.
‘There’s real creative thinking here. Whatever they do, they do it well,’ said restaurant consultant and Imbibe Personality of the Year Awards judge Martin Lam. ‘They have an uncanny ability not just to tap into trends, but also to lead them.’
Bar Owner of the Year
Bobby Hiddleston & Mia Johansson, Swift, London
In a category filled with some of the most brilliant personalities in the on-trade, husband-and-wife duo Bobby Hiddleston and Mia Johansson ultimately scooped the title. Since opening their Soho bar Swift in 2016, they’ve fashioned it into a go-to spot for industry training – and for a damn good Irish Coffee.
The pair have funnelled boundless energy into each of their endeavours. Hiddleston made a name for himself at Callooh Callay and New York’s Dead Rabbit, while Johansson got her start at Mark’s Bar at Hix London. They worked together at Milk & Honey in Soho, then created the bar programme for Lafayette Grand Café in New York before returning to London to launch Swift.
Our judges were particularly impressed with the way Hiddleston and Johansson support their bar team and serve as key figures for education within larger bartending community.
‘Bobby and Mia are standouts,’ said judge Sam Fish, who is also operations manager for Mojo. ‘Swift is excellent and consistent, but they’re also focused on helping the industry’s next generation.’
Bar Team of the Year
The Edgbaston, Birmingham
Some say a great bar team works like a well-oiled machine, but that description doesn’t do justice to The Edgbaston team’s unpretentious attitude and next-level hospitality. Yes, they’re efficient. Yes, they make great drinks. But what blew our judges away was how, through their engaging personalities and panache, The Edgbaston team have established their bar as one of the best in the UK.
The bar’s location, in a boutique hotel tucked away in a Birmingham suburb, isn’t necessarily the first place you think of as a hub for world-class cocktails. Yet its seats are filled every night – a testament to the team’s hard work and resilience.
‘I had goose pimples just sitting at the bar watching them work,’ said de Féral, drinks consultant and judge. ‘To see that strength in a team whose venue is a little off the map is remarkable.’
Bartender of the Year
Dan Bovey, Hyde & Co, Bristol
According to Sam Fish, our Bartender of the Year is ‘not your standard bartending nerd’. He’s seen the industry from a variety of angles in his 15 years of experience, and has demonstrated that high-quality bartending can be fostered at any type of venue, from bar chains to independent cocktail lounges.
Bovey got his start at Sahara bar in Reading. He became general manager there while also proving himself in the realm of cocktail competitions. After Sahara was purchased by Be At One, Bovey went to work for the bar chain. He helped to open its first site outside of London, as well as its Bristol location, and continued to hone his skills in comps.
‘I [wanted]to prove that it’s personal drive that sets bartenders apart, not necessarily where you work,’ Bovey said.
Now he serves as bar manager at Bristol speakeasy Hyde & Co, where he’s known for his engaging style.
‘When Dan’s behind the bar, he absolutely comes alive, and he gets involved in everything he can. He cares enough to go and develop his own knowledge,’ Fish commented.
Sommelier of the Year
Jan Konetzki, Ten Trinity Square, London
This year’s Sommelier of the Year shortlist had a strong showing from professionals across the country, and it was difficult for our judges to pick just one from the group of standout somms. However, our winner received some incredibly high praise from the panel, with one judge even dubbing him ‘the most influential sommelier in the UK’.
And with one look at Konetzki’s CV, it’s easy to see why he’s worthy of such a title. In his multi-faceted role as director of wine at London’s Ten Trinity Square, Konetzki oversees the drinks offerings for a variety of renowned restaurants, including La Dame de Pic and Mei Ume.
Unsurprisingly, he’s known for his impeccable tasting ability and exciting wine lists. But beyond these accomplishments and attributes, it’s his commitment to service that really impressed our judges.
‘I believe whatever awards you are lucky enough to win, you are only as good as the last table you served and the last bottle of wine you suggested,’ Konetzki commented. Spoken like a true champion.
Pub Personality of the Year
Joint winner: John Azzopardi & Aaron Burns, Brooksteed Alehouse, Worthing
Since purchasing Worthing micropub Brooksteed Alehouse in 2017, married couple Azzopardi and Burns have transformed the venue into an inclusive community hub. Brooksteed is the pair’s first foray into the on-trade, but they’ve already made an impact on the industry.
They bolstered Brooksteed’s drinks offerings beyond real ale to include local ciders, perries, spirits and wines. But even more importantly, their dynamic personalities have created a welcoming atmosphere, drawing more people to Worthing. When Azzopardi and Burns took over Brooksteed, it was one of two micropubs in the town – following their example, four more have opened since.
‘They’ve taken a spit-and-sawdust real ale place with an 80:20 male:female split and built it into a community centre with a 50:50 split,’ commented drinks educator, beer and cider sommelier and judge Jane Peyton. ‘In doing so, Azzopardi and Burns have revitalised business for the whole area – not just for the street they’re on, but for the whole town.’
Joint winner: Jonathon Swaine, Fuller’s
Fuller’s empire boasts almost 400 pubs, and Swaine leads the charge as managing director of the lot. Harnessing his 20 years’ experience in pubs and brewing – 13 of them at Fuller’s – Swaine has helped the company achieve remarkable growth and shaped many a career in hospitality.
One point that kept coming up with our judges was how Fuller’s has raised the bar for what a pub can be (no pun intended). With Swaine at the helm, Fuller’s venues have managed to find the sweet spot between consistency and individuality.
‘Fuller’s does a lot of good things across not just one estate but many of them, which is a real achievement. Their team always seems to be right on trend without ever looking like they are trying too hard,’ said Lam.
Tapster of the Year
Andy Davies & team, Beer Merchants Tap, London
In the short time that Beer Merchants Tap has been around – it opened its doors in January 2018 – the taproom and craft beer shop has proven itself as a hub of great brews and beer knowledge.
The venue’s excellent beer offering is no surprise. It is, after all, the first physical outpost of beer merchant Cave Direct. But what truly sets Beer Merchants Tap apart is the team behind the taps, led by former BrewDog stalwart Andy Davies.
Davies and his staff have a deep understanding of the category and all it has to offer. They also have big plans for the taproom, hoping to bring their training offering to others in the trade.
‘There were lots of good entries here, but Andy and his team stood out for the way they’ve managed to really make a difference beyond the product and into the wider business and community,’ said Peyton.
Educator of the Year
Hannah Lanfear, The Mixing Class
Hannah Lanfear’s CV is enough to inspire awe in even the most seasoned of bartenders. She spent her early days on the cocktail competition circuit, put in time behind some of London’s best bars, founded a distillery – and that’s just for starters.
Now, harnessing her 17 years of experience in the industry, Lanfear is single-handedly changing the way the on-trade learns about spirits. In 2017, she set up The Mixing Class, an independent provider of spirits courses for the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET). She works as a key spirits educator for the WSET school, and she’s played a crucial role in the development of its forthcoming Level 3 Spirits certification.
To further her educational mission, Lanfear is also working on a social enterprise project called The Mixing Class Collective, which aims to provide hospitality training to students from diverse and disadvantaged backgrounds.
‘Hannah’s educational style is great. She goes to new levels as she teaches, and she keeps on improving and learning herself. Truly a key figure in elevating spirits training in the UK,’ said de Féral.
Innovator of the Year
Dawn Leeder, Norwich City of Ale, Norwich
Each year, our winners demonstrate that there’s always a new and creative approach to be taken to drive the world of drinks forward. This year’s champion, Dawn Leeder, has channelled her own expertise in technology and large-scale collaborations to do just that.
Leeder founded Norwich City of Ale, a celebration of pubs spanning the city of Norwich, with Phil Cutter back in 2011. She set up the festival following a career in academia at Cambridge University, and applied her skillset to develop a database for real ale taste comparison. Since then, she’s grown Norwich City of Ale to include 48 pubs on its ale trails, driving tourism and local business.
In 2018, Leeder once again proved herself a true innovator when she created the British Beer Cities movement and forum to showcase the many beer weeks taking place throughout the UK (following Leeder’s example, of course). She plans to turn Beer Cities into a marketing platform for the country’s beers, pubs and breweries.
‘Dawn’s work in Norwich is an inspiration to other towns and cities, giving them confidence that a beer week will succeed and encouraging people to drink and understand beer,’ Peyton explained. ‘Her work is about the cities, the tourism and the culture – the whole package.’
James Bowker, The Wilderness & Nocturnal Animals, Birmingham
Though this spicy category is always comprised of influential names from the on-trade’s under-30 set, winner James Bowker could hold his own against bartenders twice his age.
Bowker started slinging drinks at the ripe old age of 16 and he hasn’t slowed down since. In between his time as head bartender at The Edgbaston and his current position as group bar manager for Birmingham restaurant The Wilderness and restaurant and bar Nocturnal Animals, Bowker travelled to Tokyo and staged at Bar High Five under famed bartender Hidetsugu Ueno. There, he wrote a whisky training document for the bar’s staff.
On his return to Blighty, Bowker developed an innovative, playful menu for the launch of Nocturnal Animals. Now he’s developing his own gin, collaborating on a whisky and running the show at that aforementioned Birmingham bar. Did we mention he’s 26?
In lieu of recapping the entirety of Bowker’s CV, de Féral put it this way: ‘People look up to James even though he’s quite young. He has the trust of his team, and they really respect him. What he’s already accomplished and the levity he brings to the scene is really commendable.’
Christine Parkinson, Hakkasan Group
Few figures command as much attention and respect in the world of restaurants as the inimitable Christine Parkinson.
In her years in the on-trade, Parkinson has seen the industry from all sides. She established herself working as a head chef, then moved into various operational and management roles in restaurants before turning her full attention to wine. Back in 2001, she created the first Hakkasan wine list and climbed up the ranks to become the 13-strong restaurant group’s head of wine, overseeing operations worldwide.
Parkinson’s work at Hakkasan has earned her a reputation as a force of nature in the worlds of wine and saké, but her innovation extends far beyond these areas. She ensures that the restaurant group’s offerings are always ahead of the curve. In 2018, she and her team introduced a truly impressive alcohol-free drinks list across all of Hakkasan Group’s London sites,which took two years to develop.
And, as with anyone worthy of the title of ‘legend’, Parkinson’s positive impact on her community is exceptional. Hakkasan has rolled out her education courses at its sites internationally, and she’s had a hand in teaching some of the industry’s best. ‘Training is my passion,’ she explained. ‘I would like to see hospitality as a top career of choice.’