He’s been quietly manning some of the best bars in London for decades, and now Brian Silva has finally released a cocktail book.
Called Mixing in the Right Circles at Balthazar London, the mild-mannered American who’s tended bar at The Connaught, Rules and Home House before coming to Balthazar almost four years ago says that this tome is the culmination of his years of experience working behind the bar.
'I’d been asked to do a book for the last three or four years,' he explains. ‘I thought there were too many books on the market, and then I did a reckoning of my material. It was all in boxes, recipes on napkins and then recipes written on paper, and typed up recipes. It was like going through layers of time – there was my Home House layer, my Rules layer. I had recipes going back to 1984.
'I did 180 recipes out of 300 [in the book]. I found that I had seven Aviation recipes, and they were all different over the years because my palate changes and times change. But the nice thing about it was seeing how everything stayed the same but was so different as far as people's palates, people's tastes change, why they liked this or drank that at the time.'
This is a book that espouses the art of simplicity in bartending. 'Everything's based on classics, why they’re so great and why you’ve got to have them in your repertoire,’ Silva says. ‘This book is about me and my drinks, it's not about the all-encompassing bar book. It's more about dilution than distillation for me. In other words, why does the drink work? And a lot of it is down to stirring and shaking.'
This is a man that certainly likes to play variations on a theme, with 11 Negroni recipes included in the book alone. And speaking of Negronis, he says that the recipe used at Balthazar is 35ml/25ml/15ml. 'You look at all the ingredients, and I still stayed true to the drinks, but I just balanced it differently,' he says. 'I looked at the old classic recipes and thought, they’re hiding the gin, because it's crap in those days – they hid a lot of stuff with sweetness and bitters – so I remove that element and say that with today's modern palate, these gins, bourbons or tequilas are so good you want to make it sing.'
When asked why he has put Balthazar’s name on the book as well as his own, Silva merely replies ‘It’s here that I’ve put the finishing touches to my drinks, where they’ve been tweaked.'
For now, he says, he has no plans to move on, and loves his current workplace, the New York French brasserie based in Covent Garden. 'It's very American, I feel like I work in New York and live in London. It's got that genuine feel of a good bar. This is like Rules on steroids for me. I’m still doing what I did in Rules, but in a different way. I kind of have a dream team at the moment, there’s no egos on the bar, everyone's the same… it makes for a nice working environment.'
And when asked about plans for retirement, he dismisses the notion point blank. 'Oh no, when I leave this profession, I'll be stirring a drink and then…' he mimes a heart attack.
We hope it won’t come to that, but it certainly is reassuring to know that he’ll be manning the bar in his own inimitable style for quite some time to come yet.
As Mr Silva says: ‘I have a lot of rules, and it’s stood me well over the years – how and why I do what I do.’ So here’s a few he was happy to share…
- ‘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 [the drinks] 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.'