No one knows a bar better than the people behind it. For “My Bar in 3 Drinks,” the people running the best bars around make and discuss three of their bar’s most representative cocktails.
It takes a lot to make a bar worth talking about in London. In a city where noteworthy bar openings seem to happen as often as it rains—which is to say, seemingly constantly—only someplace truly special can break through the noise and be considered exceptional. Silverleaf, which opened in February with minimalist drinks inspired by naturalism and the elements, is precisely that.
The bar’s decor, by famed designer Tom Dixon, is notable enough on its own, contrasting glossy dark and neutral tones with pops of color by way of candy-floss-pink banquettes matched with marbled pink-and-white tables. “At Silverleaf we wanted the bar to be playful and aesthetically rewarding,” says Chris Tanner, the bar’s general manager.
But the drink menu, developed by Tanner, whose previous role was the director of bars at renowned whisky bar Milroy’s, and Liam Broom, the former bar manager at Callooh Callay who assumed the same position at Silverleaf, is where things get truly interesting. “We were conscious of the space designed by Tom Dixon and his team, and we wanted a bar program that went hand-in-hand with that,” says Tanner.
On the menu, cocktails are described by a coded symbolic language that indicates the characteristics of the drink (for example: wood, herbaceous, dry, and so on), along with a description of the drink’s key components and a bespoke piece of art that interprets the cocktail in an abstract form. For those who prefer a straightforward cocktail menu, Silverleaf also includes a standard list with cocktails named for the two core flavors that represent each drink (for example, Pineapple/Miso), followed by the rest of the drink’s ingredients.
While the non-traditional menu design may sound intimidating, the bar’s aim was to make its drinks approachable for every type of drinker. “We tried to make our drinks as accessible as possible by always incorporating a lead ingredient that our guests recognize, then highlighting something that is perhaps less well-known—for example, Apple/Woodruff, Rhubarb/Tonka, and so on,” says Tanner.
Other requirements and standards for the bar’s drinks: All are clarified and batched, allowing for an elegant minimalist presentation, and all must be crafted employing a modernist technique or using a progressive piece of equipment. These boundaries led to clean, complex serves that mostly contain no more than five ingredients. “We use flourishes of color and garnishes on what we consider to be quite pared-back drinks,” says Tanner.
These are the three drinks from Silverleaf’s opening menu that Tanner feels best represent the bar.
Bruxo X mezcal, Silverleaf Verdant Sorrel vermouth, guajillo chili tincture, hibiscus, cacao nib
“I think the Hibiscus/Guajillo sums up our spirit of collaboration quite well,” says Tanner. “From day one, I knew I wanted to involve as many friends as possible in the project in one way or another, and we happened to start planning Silverleaf’s menu as the guys [from Little Red Door] in Paris were getting Baldoria vermouth launched.
“We knew we wanted to work together and over lockdown just kept working through samples,” Tanner continues. “The guys were working on a sorrel base and we wanted something that we could serve as-is, so we worked at it over the coming year. Liam was working on spice blends inspired from various World Class challenges, and we knew the combination of spice and mezcal would work perfectly together. It was after a lot of trial and error we added the Verdant to the recipe. This has firmly become one of my favorites, if not my number-one.”
The considered and nuanced balance of red-berry notes with mole-like flavors, spice, and an earthiness from the mezcal makes for a cocktail reminiscent of an evolved Manhattan, served down on a large rock.
“If anything, the mezcal is there to bolster the warmth and earthiness of the spice, while the vermouth brings an elegance and lightness,” says Tanner.
Craigellachie 13-year-old whisky, brown butter, Eagle Rare 10, pineapple & miso caramel
“The Pineapple/Miso was an experiment in adding fruity flavors to offset the saltiness and umami complexity of miso,” says Tanner. “We actually dove straight into using pineapple instead of another fruit, as we knew that was what we wanted from the start, as pineapple’s flavor really lends itself to those toasted, caramel notes. We built on this foundation of flavor by adding a brown-butter-washed bourbon, and once we added the elegant Craigellachie 13 as our base, our top-selling drink was born.”
The miso is balanced with the notes of flambéed pineapple in the fruit-flavored caramel, which adds an unctuous yet clean mouthfeel in this reimagined Old Fashioned-style serve. “The whole drink is clarified and gives the cocktail a leanness that makes it very easy to have more than one,” Tanner says. “It fulfills the role of an Old Fashioned without being too rich.” Served in an elegant double-rocks glass, this cocktail is a showstopper that embodies Silverleaf’s drink-making philosophy.
Ocho blanco tequila, Zubrowka bison grass vodka, Pink Lady apples, whey, verjus, Beebolin Woodruff bitter
“The Apple/Woodruff started as an exploration of apple varieties,” says Tanner. “Liam was working on different cordials and wheys that were really delicious. The whey brings a richness and a mouthfeel to the cocktail that you just can't get without it. The sweet-acid balance of Pink Lady apples really bolsters that roundness; they have such a distinct juiciness.”
Tequila—a spirit that pairs exceptionally well with apple—and vodka make up the base, lifting the orchard-fruit profile of this clean-tasting, uplifting cocktail. “This clarified drink ended up being a mashup of a Tatanka—vodka, fresh apple juice, and lime juice—and a T&T, and is now our most celebrated highball.”