Zoe Fryday visits London rum bar Laki Kane, where guests are getting a true taste of the tropics
From the lush, verdant palm trees, bamboo and vivacious floral displays that greet inquisitive customers as they walk through the front door, through to the signature rum selection and vibrant tiki-style cocktails, you won’t find much at Laki Kane that isn’t enchanting and exotic. As we pass into the dark, frosty winter months, what more could you want than to escape to the paradisiac islands of the tropics? The best part is, the experience is now within reach – available right in the heart of London.
The fascinating new venue on Upper Street, Islington is the brainchild of founding partners Georgi Radev, Steve Kyprianou and Sam Robson. Drinks aficionado and owner Georgi, who ran London cocktail bar Mahiki for a decade, has worked with rum for many years and has an intimate adoration for tropical destinations. “I love the idea of tiki and living your life like you are on an eternal holiday,” he says. “I travelled all over the world learning and teaching people about rum, tiki and cocktails, and I got to learn about all of the unique tropical fruits, herbs and spices that we previously knew so little about.” Laki Kane pays homage to Don the Beachcomber. Established in 1933, it is one of the earliest and best-known tiki bars which inspired a concept that took over the world. Laki Kane aims to bring tiki into the 21st century, while adding its own special touch and unique twists.
All of the drinks are born from Georgi’s travels across the tropics, and have been created to bring lost and unknown ingredients such as cherimoya, sousop, cupuacu, jackfruit, and tamarind, back to life. “Steve and I fell in love with the easy tropical lifestyle – the stunning nature, delicious fruits, gorgeous beaches, music – but most of all, the harmony of living. We wanted to take this with us and bring it to London. We want everyone to be able to experience it any time of the year, without purchasing a plane ticket!”
Laki Kane combines all of the exotic destinations across the tropics. As you walk over the rope bridge at the venue, on the right is the Caribbean and on the left, Polynesia. Moving forward, guests enter Thailand and Indonesia. Tables are named and represented by different islands from the regions – the cocktails are inspired by the islands too. Today you could be drinking Bajan Punch in Barbados and tomorrow savouring the Thai flavours on the swinging chair in Ko Samui.
Boasting to be the first bar in the world that doesn’t use refined sugars to make its syrups, Laki Kane embraces the tropical principle of utilising raw materials. For the cocktails, the team use the sweetness of fresh fruits, sugar cane juice, honey agave and date syrup. The light, complementary food offering has Thai, Indonesian and Polynesian influences to match. Popular snacks range from sweet corn cakes and chicken satay skewers to steamed pork dumplings and tai-style crab & prawn balls.
Whether it’s the bar’s signature Laki Kane cocktail, made with Bacardi Cuatro, sapodilla, cupuacu, sugar cane juice, coconut water and citrus, or the light and fresh Fatal Attraction, with Bimber London vodka, lychee, aloe vera, homemade granadine and fresh lime, the list is extensive enough to satisfy all palates. Inspired by the Polynesian pearl divers who risk their lives to discover the ocean’s natural treasures, the Jewel of the Sea combines Pusser’s Blue Label rum and Peirre Ferrand Curaçao liqueur, mandarin juice and a gardenia mix.
The Guinness Punch in Manhattan is perhaps the most complex cocktail on the menu, taking over ten hours to make just one batch. The talented bartenders make their own Guinness, date syrup and pimento leaf reduction, which is then added to Pusser’s Gunpowder rum, chinotto, cynar and milk, and reduced further. The velvety and aromatic concoction is served in a coupe glass with a home-made chocolate and sea salt basket filled with raisins, skilfully positioned on an ice cube. A miniature Laki Kane golden spoon is provided to encourage customers to pour the liquid into the chocolate cup, before tucking in to their sweet treat.
It’s not just the taste that’s important. Georgi and the team are strong believers in aroma and presentation; in creating a complete sensory experience for their guests. Like many others, they recognise that theatricality is key in order to appeal to a generation of social media devotees. All of the eye-catching drinks vessels are hand-made and designed exclusively for Laki Kane by acclaimed Parisian mug designer Baï.
An array of tropical spirits, such as pisco, arrack, aguardiente and sake, are used to create the cocktails. However, the core focus is most certainly on rum. Laki Kane is quickly establishing itself as a destination that draws crowds for its signature rum offering. “When we opened, the most frequently asked question was if we’ll have the biggest rum collection. My answer was that we will have the best one,” explains Georgi. “There’s no point having 500 rums when you use only 50. We’ve selected the best from each category. The bartenders have a great knowledge of rum and we rotate them regularly, to ensure we always have something new and exciting.”
Guests in the search of the bespoke can indulge in Don Q’s specially selected rum which has been aged from six to 15 years in American white oak barrels and blended exclusively for Laki Kane. The bar also houses a number of rare and expensive expressions such as Brugal Papa Andres, Black Tot, Caroni 21, New Grove Solera 25 and English Harbor 1981.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any more exciting, the venue also has its own mini distillery located on the first floor. Here, the team create their own rum, which features within a variety of the cocktails. The venue has recently launched a unique re-distillation session called Spiced Dry Rum Club, where guests learn about the history and production of rum, and have the opportunity to design and create a one-of-a-kind bottle of rum from an array of different spices to take home with them. The base spirit for Spiced Dry Rum Club, a single blended white rum distilled from Caribbean molasses, is provided by Bimber Distillery. To create the rum, the molasses are fermented into a unique specification which is then distilled using a combination of column and pot methods – the perfect foundation to experiment with different flavours.
The journey and sense of tropical escapism Laki Kane delivers is guided by everything from the decoration, cocktails, food and staff, to the music and even the aromas. In a nutshell, for Georgi and his team, it’s all about “spreading the love of rum, tropical feelings and happiness world-wide.”
Laki Kane,144-145 Upper St, London N1 1QY
Behind the scenes
Interior design and furniture: DI Concept
Carpentry and building works: NJ Richards, Brittania, Interior Contractors
Flooring: Batten Carpets, Wordworx Flooring, Creation Flooring
Lighting and electrics: Kay Electrical and Security
Plumbing: MNK Heating
Sound engineering and installation: Sound Services
Manifestations and printing: Onward Display
Kitchen fit-out: Vision Kitchens
Painting and decorating: Complete Interior Projects
Originally published in the November 2018 print edition of Bar magazine.