London Cocktail Week is here. For us gin-swiling miscreants here at The Holborn this is our Glastonbury. In celebration in-between copious whiskey sours and French 75s we have sought out some of the men and women behind some of our favourite watering holes.
We headed over to Soho to the famous and historic Quo Vadis. The Bar, Restaurant and Members Club was founded in 1926 by an Italian named Pepino Leoni. Now under the stewardship of Sam and Eddie Hart, also the owners of Fino and Barrafina, the establishment has gone from strength to strength. We sat down with Bar Manager Fin Spiteri to find out more about life behind the bar.
Quo Vadis, 26-29 Dean Street, London, W1D 3LL
LCW Cocktail: Fatmans Negroni: Bombay Sapphire gin, Martini Rosso vermouth and bitter aperitif.
Where did your love of drink come from? When did it start?
I remember joining the team at Quo as a waiter and being astounded by the level of care and attention that went into the drinks offering here. Zdenek was the Bar Manager at that time and his attention to detail was second to none and this was my first experience of cocktails at that level. When he offered me the chance to join the bar team and learn the trade from him I jumped at the chance.
How long have you been bar tending?
I’ve been behind the bar now roughly 3 years, and lucky enough to have spent that time here at Quo Vadis, the home of the classic cocktail!
When did you decide to make bartending your career?
I started working at Quo Vadis straight from University and haven’t looked back, I’ve worked as a waiter and restaurant manager here as well as behind the bar and enjoy all aspects of the hospitality industry.
What’s the concept behind Quo Vadis?
Our approach to cocktail craft is very classical. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it as they say and we wholeheartedly agree. Painfully cold martinis and delightfully fresh and salty margaritas are the order of the day!
What makes a good drink?
The most important thing is balance. It doesn’t matter what you mix, sour flavours or bitter, sweet, dry etc as long as you can balance the overall flavour. It is one of the first things I learnt and consequently one of the first things I teach any aspiring bartender.
And what makes a great bar?
I think people do, customers and staff alike. Each contribute to the atmosphere of a place and are at least as memorable as the drinks, if not more so! This is especially relevant in the members club here and personality plays a vital part in our recruitment strategy.
What is your and Quo Vadis approach to sourcing ingredients for your drinks?
We’re lucky enough to be attached to an amazing restaurant here with a great Chef in Jeremy Lee who is pretty instrumental in making sure we receive only the freshest and best produce, both for our food and our drinks. Huge, beautiful pomegranates and juicy blood oranges as well as sweet peaches are the norm and we stick to mainly seasonal ingredients. The cordials coming out of that kitchen are unparalleled.
What’s your process for creating a new cocktail?
For me it depends on the spirit I am using, as the flavour of this particular spirit should lead what else goes into the drink. I start with this and think about the style of the drink I would like to make, also what’s in season at the moment or whether or not there is an ingredient with a historical or geographical link to the spirit which might work well in a cocktail. Alternatively sometimes I start with a really great name!
If you could mix a drink for anyone dead or alive who would it be?
Mixing a Brooklyn for De Niro would be pretty amazing, or anything for Jose Mourinho!
How does Quo Vadis stay competitive in a city awash with great bars?
I think we do the simple things well, this is an ethos that extends from the kitchen up, take the best ingredients and allow them to show themselves. Classic is classic for a reason and as long as we stay consistently good at what we do there will always be a place for us in London.
Interview by Morgan Hamilton-Griffin