We feel right at home walking into Buddha Bar, surrounded by dark black and red walls. Naturally, we head straight for the bar, where Bar Manager Antonio Matskovski greets us before steering us to a more private corner. Once settled, he asks his team to prepare the bar for a Brockmans cocktail, so Marco and Filippo begin to stage the scene.
Antonio returns to sit down with us as we ask him how he got his start. Originally from Bulgaria, he began working in disco bars back home, as he liked the idea of creating things. He packed up his creativity four years ago and transferred it to his work here in London, first as a bar back and now as head of the team. “We’re always trying something different. Because we are inspired by Asian flavours, we work with a wide range of ingredients from that part of the world, but make it relevant for the London bar scene.”
We asked him what he’s experimenting with at the moment. For now, it’s the art of storytelling. Antonio’s idea is to create a luxury cocktail page, where you can enjoy select cocktails exclusively at the bar. A cocktail whose chillies resemble devil’s horns, pistachio infusions and legends of vodka will all come with a backstory – one only the bartender can convey. And when you consider the bar serves 400 to 600 people per night, we understand the unique opportunity of stealing away one of the bartender’s for a semi-private cocktail session.
Not just home to London, there are 30 Buddha Bars around the world. Founded twenty years ago in Paris, they quickly expanded to New York, Miami, Greece and have even recently opened in Kiev, Ukraine, where Antonio will soon visit to train the team. We asked what the cocktail culture was like in all of the different cities to understand how the menus are developed or modified for each location. To that he replied, ‘We’re here to set the standard, the trend in drinks. So when we go to a new city, we present our portfolio of signature drinks, and let the local teams gain inspiration from there.” With the cocktail menu changing each season, Antonio relies on each member of his team to come up with something special.
His entire team is professionally trained in bar tending, but from our talk with Antonio, it seems like the real lessons begin at Buddha Bar. A large part of his job is choosing spirits to line the shelves. He considers the taste, what cocktail creations he can create, how the bottle looks, the quality of the drink and how much he’s selling. He’s also convinced he has the best collection London has to offer. Part of having such a wide collection means training each member of the team on the variety of brands they house. That means most Friday’s and Saturday’s Antonio runs training sessions that aren’t mandatory, but almost always fully attended as each bartender takes an interest in the flavour profiles, the background and history, and expanding their knowledge for their own careers.
By now, he must have told us twenty times how wonderful his team is. “Everyone is friends and the night goes by so fast because we communicate really well with one another. And then afterwards we all go out for drinks.” To see if he’s telling the truth, we head over to where Filippo and Marco have set up a Brockmans station. Knowing we’d like to take some photographs of the cocktail, Marco offers to take them for us, as he’s a professional photographer. Because we may have already had a few gins, we let him, and Filippo begins to create the Queen Alexandra V, our Brockmans cocktail. What ensues is like a scene out of London Fashion Week meets Comedy Central. Any idea of the bar being stuffy given the neighbourhood it’s in is shattered…
We sip on our cocktails, enjoying the bitterness of the sake cutting through the rich berries and plum while we ask Marco Negro and Filippo Valli a few extra questions…
1. Describe Buddha Bar in a few words.
Marco: The cocktail menu is really interesting, and something totally different.
Filippo: It’s the best place with a wide list of spirits. We want you to leave us saying, “Thank you for the experience.” Buddha Bar is an experience.
2. What is the best thing you have overheard at Buddha Bar?
Both Marco and Filippo agree nothing is interesting enough to say, they do indeed meet a lot of famous people, so discretion is advised.
3. Why is gin so popular?
The Spanish style really brought over a new trend and made it pretty popular. Now you see all sorts of gins with various spices and citrus flavours.
4. What about Brockmans appeals to you?
Marco: You can mix it with a lot. Give respect to the main spirit, you never want to overshadow the product and it’s hard to do with Brockmans.
Filippo: In Italy it’s super popular. Try it with vermouth and oyster shell.
5. If you could have one last drink before you died, what would it be?
Marco: Gin martini, stirred.
Filippo: a shot of tequila.
Antonio: Rum, neat.
Queen Alexandra V
- Muddle blackberries
- 50ml Brockmans Gin
- 15ml Plum Sake
- 35ml Apple Juice
- 15ml Yuzu Juice
- 20ml Egg White
- Muddle blackberries.
- Pour all ingredients into a shaker.
- Dry shake without ice.
- Wet shake with ice.
- Strain into a coupette.