As Dandelyan closed its doors for good at midnight on Sunday 17 March 2019, the London bar scene lost a true beacon of brilliance.
From its award-winning menus to the sleek Tom Dixon-designed interior, by way of its affable staff, it was a powerhouse on the global stage in its four short years of existence. And now it is gone, killed off by Ryan Chetiyawardana and his ‘quarterback’ Iain Griffiths, while at the peak of its power.
‘‘There’s so much I think we can do and so much we want to challenge, discuss and create in this industry that, like with White Lyan, it makes sense to burn it down, start afresh, and rise again as something brighter, shinier and more fitting of where we’re (all) now at.
‘It would be a disservice to these amazing people, and to what we have created together, to continue when we think the landscape, and the conversation, has shifted,’ Chetiyawardana said when he announced the imminent closure.
The beast was slayed while it was still regarded as the best in the world: last year it took the top spot in the World’s 50 Best Bars list, and the year before was crowned World’s Best Cocktail Bar at the Spirited Awards.
So many awards, so little time. But what were the special ingredients that brought it such adulation?...
It pulled in the money
Yes, Dandelyan dominated the global awards scene, but first and foremost it was also a hugely successful commercial operation.
With the launch of the first edition of the Modern Life of Plants menu series, Chetiyawardana informed Imbibe that Dandelyan was pushing out 1,000 cocktails a night, and that some of the bar’s suppliers were running out of a particular ingredient. ‘It’s interesting to see that something as small as a cocktail can have a big impact on food supply,’ he said.
Given that the hotel bar was open seven days a week, and the average cocktail price was £13, our back-of-the-fag-packet calculations indicates that this equates to a huge £4.6m annual turnover on cocktail sales alone, ignoring the wine, beer, soft drinks and food sales that would inevitably boost those takings.
The menu was always high-minded yet accessible
When the bar first opened, cocktails were obviously part of the wider drinks offering, but neither Chetiyawardana nor Griffiths were expecting them to be as popular as they were.
Something about the menu caught the guests’ imagination. It might have been the cute, tiny illustrations giving guests an idea of the look of the drink; or possibly the short descriptors (‘aromatic, boozy, rich’); or even the guide to what time of day a particular drink was best enjoyed. Or perhaps it was simply the fact that the drinks were great (RIP Koji Hardshake).
For those who wanted to go further and engage with the concepts behind the menus, there was plenty of substance, with the bar exploring botany, sustainability, agriculture and the industrialisation of food, to name but a few of the themes. And the team were always more than happy to explain the story behind a certain drink.
It blended east-London hip with west-London opulence
Walking into the room with its enviable views of the Thames, the huge green marble bar and the purple leather banquettes, the buzz of the space always prompted a frisson of excitement.
Chetiyawardana and his team brought a cool east-London edge to a top central-London hotel, with the help of interior designer Tom Dixon, and in doing so spawned a new era of bar design and feel that inspired many imitations.
‘I think [Dandelyan] kickstarted that notion that you can bring east London to your venue and it would elevate it,’ said former Dandelyan GM Marcis Dzelzainis when we were discussing his and Michael Sager’s overhaul of the Corinthia Hotel’s beverage programme last year.
They hired really, really well
What made Dandelyan truly special, however, was its team. The best seats in the house were in the middle of the marble bar, where you could witness the staff in full flow, pushing drinks out like a well-oiled machine, while still somehow managing to find the time to make conversation with their guests.
Some of the friendliest people in the industry worked behind this bar, and made my night with their conversation. They somehow managed to blend five-star hotel service with a slightly more relaxed, affable attitude.
Some of Dandelyan’s awards
Best Place to Drink in Britain – Observer Food Awards 2015
Best New International Cocktail Bar – Spirited Awards 2015
World’s Best Cocktail Menu – Spirited Awards 2016
Drinks List of the Year – Imbibe Drinks List of the Year 2016
Best International Bar Team – Spirited Awards 2017
Best International Hotel Bar – Spirited Awards 2017
World’s Best Cocktail Bar – Spirited Awards 2017
World’s Best Cocktail Menu – Spirited Awards 2018
World’s Best Bar - World’s 50 Best Bars 2018
The alumnus include Alex Lawrence, Kelsey Ramage, Aidan Bowie, Lorenzo Antinori, Jenny Willing and Mikey Ball, to name but a few. They have scattered across the world and continue to make their mark in hospitality. Meanwhile, other stars such as head bartender Will Meredith and general manager James Wheeler are still involved and steering the good ship towards its new incarnation as Lyaness.
It felt as if Dandelyan’s staff turnover had picked up a bit recently, with employees leaving to pursue personal projects, or being promoted within the Mr Lyan organisation, but that didn’t mean that your experience here was compromised when you visited. And that says a lot about the quality of the team, and the training they received.
Dandelyan is gone, but that doesn’t mean the team will be resting on their laurels. As you read this, work has already begun on follow-up bar Lyaness, which is set to open in 10 days. The speed of turnaround is mind-boggling. We’ve been given some insight into the menu concept, but were sworn to secrecy – so watch this space at the end of the month, when we’ll finally be able to lift the lid on everything.
Thanks for the good times, Dandelyan.
Featured image: photo credit Lateef Okunnu