Sager + Wilde Paradise Row
Not so long ago, having a good cocktail in a good restaurant outside of the United States was a challenge. Thankfully, this is changing with every passing month. In London, Sager + Wilde Paradise Row is one of the place doing stellar work to bolster this synergy. This year, they were rewarded for it with a top 4 spot in the Best International Bar Restaurant at Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Awards.
The food at Paradise Row is excellent – “well-sourced produce, imaginatively assembled and inventively served” was a recent reviewer’s apt description. As the restaurant sprung from a Hackney Road wine bar, it’d be easy to think the drinks list would solely focus on grapes. But since August 2015, when Marcis Dzelzainis (2012 Havana Club Grand Prix winner) took over the bar program, cocktails have found their place at the table: “I was a fan of the wine bar, and the restaurant had a small offering of pre-bottled cocktails. Michael Sager asked me to expand the cocktail menu, because he thought it would be a good addition to the restaurant”.
Marcis is well known for his work at ground-breaking bars such as 69 Colebrooke Row and Satan’s Whiskers (just round the corner from Paradise Row), and also had experience with bars + restaurant set-ups from his time at Qvo Vadis, so he was a good fit. “People don’t necessarily associate restaurant and good cocktails. For a lot of operators, it’s the last thing on their mind. But it can make a much more complete dining experience”, he told us. Paradise Row’s short cocktail menu (12 drinks) has been specifically designed for the restaurant setting: “Its structure is influenced by the dining experience. You need aperitifs, you need a Martini and a Negroni of some description, longer drinks in the Tom Collins style, and then the digestifs. The balance is important.”
But isn’t it complicated to push diners towards cocktails – especially if they come for the wines? “We have a very narrow window of opportunity to pique people’s interest and get them to order a drink so they have to read in a manner that’s going to be enticing”. Judging by a our visit, a lot of people are enticed… Paradise Row also works as a bar, so non-diners come in specifically for the cocktails, especially with the terrace in the summer. In the winter, it’s a special section of the menu dedicated to versions of the Old-Fashioned that draws the punters in.
A much-lauded advantage of restaurant bars is the ability to work with the kitchen. For Marcis, it’s not quite the case. “Kitchens have quite strict prep routines, they’re very busy places and if they have a bartender always getting in the way it becomes quite a stressful work environment. It was clear from the outset that we’d do our own prep within the bar space”. Obviously, both bar and kitchen share a philosophy and looking out for the environment is part of that. Sustainability is one of the values at Sager + Wilde (although Marcis doesn’t like to talk more about sustainable practices than about the drinks – “it’s not necessary to talk about them, but they need to become part of your everyday routine”), and so is building an awareness of the area where the restaurant is located. “I quite looking at London’s urban landscape and find things you can source directly in the neighbourhood, whether it’s walnuts or nettles… We tend to think of cities as restrictive, but foraging makes you look at the space around you in a different way. It’s something that bartenders in London are doing much more actively than anywhere else”.
With London Cocktail Week just getting started, you have a great opportunity to see this for yourself in the many bars that will be running special events. At Sager + Wilde Paradise Row Marcis will be on hand behind the stick to showcase his own vision of the craft. It’d be wrong not to seize the opportunity…