Ryan Chetiyawardana – Mr. Lyan to his devotees – was crowned the World’s Best Bartender in 2015. His sustainable ethos and signature flavors can also be found in Cub, his first restaurant. In this restaurant review, our author takes a trip to London’s East End to sample the future.
Cub is half cocktail bar, half restaurant. Drive down London’s unassuming Hoxton Street, and it’s easy to miss: in fact, only the “Super Lyan” neon sign gives a clue that one of London’s hippest, most exciting dining experience beckons behind the unmarked door.
Keen to see what the hype is all about, I arrive a tad early. As I illicitly push open the door, I bump right into Mr. Lyan himself descending into his eponymous cocktail bar below, crate in hand. I apologize and wait until two minutes later, a cheerful Ozzie waitress declares the joint open, ushering me into the ground-floor restaurant, taking my coat.
The interior is stylishly minimalist, dotted with visual witticisms. There’s a large magnetic plate behind the bar to which a jug and an array of metal utensils stick, a conic flask straight out of a chemistry lab has been repurposed to serve as a decanter of beaujolais (with a large golden ball as a stopper), and heading to the restrooms, I find that the cubicle doors and flush-buttons are illustrated with whimsical doodles.
Creative drinks – no antics
The layout is reminiscent of a diner: a row of seats lines the bar and kitchen counter, whereas most patrons sit in hip-height yellow-leather booths.
Ryan mans the bar next to an assistant chef, and if you didn’t know it, you’d have no idea that the bespectacled dude with the gentle smile is none other than the boss himself – no master-chef histrionics here, or crowd-pleasing bottle-juggling antics. Instead a comradely, industrious buzz emanates from the team, accompanied by an eclectic soundtrack of hip hop and jazzy grooves.
I have opted for the food and drink menu, booze-free tonight: It’s an affordably-priced nine-course affair in which outlandish dishes alternate with strange and imaginative drinks, all bearing the signature of the restaurant’s founding team.
I start with a Superfly: a melon-based, slightly fizzy cocktail with jasmine and olive oil. At the bottom of the high-stemmed glass is a jellied capsule full of flavor that explodes in an entertaining final flourish. Over the next two hours, I am treated to a succession of textures and flavors that surprise and expand my culinary vocabulary with unlikely combinations.
Paying homage to the zero-waste, sustainable ethos, the almost-veggie menu makes use of “volatile cheeses” that would normally have been thrown away, whey – a by-product of making cheese – citrus husks discarded by Super Lyan, “ugly gooseberries” and feta made by a Greek family in North London.
The team at Cub combine this with honest-to-God staples such as the most delicious home-made bread and home-made butter. The chicken broth is made from discarded chicken bones and – by some unknown magic – combined with seaweed-flavor. Who knew that such odd bedfellows could create such a pleasing result?
From chervil root that usually lands in the bin to tender Apple slices frozen and then thawed for a baked texture (having been immersed in a vitamin C bath), the list of novel ingredients is ever-changing. On the drinks-side, the highlight must be a delicate palate cleanser made of white tea with plum, followed by an absolutely delicious Square Mile coffee, translucent, dark caramel in color.
If modern art could be ingested, it would look and taste like this – not surprising, perhaps, as Ryan once studied at London’s prestigious Central Saint Martin’s art college.
Sustainability without sacrifice
The final, delicious praline – made of molasses from leftover bits of fruit – leaves me both sated and enthused. “Sustainable living doesn’t have to be about sacrifice,” says Ryan, “and luxury doesn’t have to be about waste.” In creating a daringly new dining and drinking experience, the team around him has more than lived up to this vision.
Gone are the days when a good conscience came at the expense of enjoyment – when sustainable products were, in some way, inferior. Cub is the embodiment of new, solution-oriented thinking, a new approach to luxury.
Click here for more information on Cub.