As Hakkasan Group expands in London and overseas, Mark Ludmon visits Chrysan to meet senior bar manager George Matzaridis
Over the past 11 years, the Hakkasan name has grown from being one Chinese restaurant and bar in London’s West End to a global empire that stretches to San Francisco, Abu Dhabi and Mumbai. Alongside this global expansion, London has not been forgotten, and this autumn sees new restaurants and bars coming onto the scene, with no dilution in the company’s high standards of bartending and cocktails.
The latest venture is Chrysan in the Broadgate West development on the eastern edge of the City of London. This Japanese restaurant is a joint venture with Michelin-starred chef Yoshihiro Murata and, after opening in September, it will be followed in December by the opening of Chinese banqueting concept HKK next door. While much of the focus has been on the food, Chrysan has a separate bar called NeNe which still needs some final design touches but is already serving up a sophisticated menu of cocktails and spirits.
An Asian flavour can be seen in the cocktail names and a few of the ingredients, but NeNe’s list is about well crafted drinks, although there is a Japanese-style attention to ice. They include the Chrysan Shinobi, made with plum sake, Diplomático Reserva rum, raspberries, pineapple, pomegranate and ginger bitters, or there is the quirky Himitus combining a citrus vodka with blackberry and raspberry liqueurs, maple syrup and Marmite. Mexican mezcal Del Maguey Vida is used in the stirred Pearl River Rock, mixed with ginger, pear liqueur and peach bitters.
As with all the group’s bars in London and the Middle East, NeNe is ultimately headed by Swedish-born senior bar manager George Matzaridis. He was at the first Hakkasan in Hanway Place, Fitzrovia, at the start, apart from a three-year spell running his own bar, Cinco Lounge in Lisbon, before returning to the fold in 2007. He now looks after the bar operations for Hakkasan in Fitzrovia and Mayfair, which opened in 2010, as well as Chinese restaurant Yauatcha in Soho, which opened in 2004 before founder Alan Yau sold his businesses in 2007 to Abu Dhabi investment company Tasameem.
George also looks after the bar at Japanese restaurant Sake No Hana which Tasameem bought from Jamie Barber last year. The luxurious bamboo-clad bar was relaunched as Ni Jū San (pictured above), which means simply “23”. Here, the list includes the Kiki Sakura, made with Shiroku yuzu sake, cherry liqueur, Elements 8 Platinum rum and apricot, as well as the Charentais Breakfast which combines Hennessy Fine cognac, tamarillo fruit, sweet vermouth, yuzu marmalade and apricot.
The latest development in London is back where it all began at Hanway Place. From November, the restaurant will “morph” each evening into a late-night lounge concept called Ling Ling – the name given to the bar area when it was first opened by Yau. This concept, featuring top DJs and animated artwork, is said to be inspired by the Parisian-style late-night lounge concept at places such as Hotel Costes that in Paris are “destination nights for an achingly fashionable crowd”.
Alongside champagne and spirits by the bottle, the drinks list will offer over 20 of Hakkasan’s signature cocktails including the Lychee Martini and the Hakka – Belvedere vodka, Akashi-tai sake, lychee juice, lime, coconut and fresh passion fruit. If this takes off, the concept will be extended to other Hakkasan sites, which can now be found in New York, Miami, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and, before long, Doha in Qatar.
While George flits around London and the Middle East, he says creation of cocktails is now devolved to individual bar managers at each site and their team of bartenders. “If they have a good idea, we don’t want to stop it,” he says. “If they have something good going on in the Middle East, we will bring it back here, and the other way round. We want to encourage them to develop and grow. We never stop looking at ways to improve, whether it is glasses, menus, spirits or cocktails.”
Originally published in the November 2012 edition of Bar magazine.