BEHIND THE BAR
Mikey Robinson of Wild Tavern
Behind the bar: Mikey Robinson of Wild Tavern
Upgrade your cocktail-making skills with tips and advice from the UK’s best bartenders. First up, we hear from Cheshire-born Mikey Robinson – the man behind the bar at Chelsea’s Wild Tavern.
Tell us about your bar…
Wild Tavern’s a neighbourhood restaurant from the people who set up Burger & Lobster. It’s cosy. It’s welcoming. You’ll feel right at home. The food’s Italian inspired – lots of fresh pasta, great steaks. And the drinks reflect that too. We work with vermouths, aperitivos, bitters, amaros and Italian ingredients, such as blood orange and bergamot.
Why did you get into bartending?
I started out as a pot-washer in this restaurant back home, near Chester. The manager there noticed that my work was really clean, tidy, fast and efficient. He said I’d be perfect behind the bar. So, I thought about it. And the bartenders there, they had this look – black shirts, braces, sleeve garters – which I liked. And they had fun. So, I thought, ‘Why not try something new?’ I’m a shy guy. I was bricking it. But I loved it.
How did you learn your cocktail skills?
I’m self-taught; I learned from the people around me – bartenders from Leads and Manchester. And I learned from going out to bars and watching bartenders, talking to them. Learning on the job. I think it’s the best way.
Tell us about Nicholson Gin…
It’s my kind of gin. I love the history of it, and the branding. It’s a classic style of gin, which is great. And it’s very versatile. It’s great in everything. Gin & Tonics, Martinis, cocktails – everything.
And what’s your favourite Nicolson serve?
Aside from the classics –it’s great for Negronis and Martinis – we have this cocktail on the menu called an Amalfi 75. It’s based on a French 75. We take nice organic Amalfi lemons, which are super bright, fragrant and citrusy, and use them to make a lemon cordial. It’s sweet and sharp and very fragrant. The finishing touch is Jasmine essence. For the drink itself, you combine Nicholson Gin, the Amalfi cordial and top with Champagne. Summer in a glass.
What’s the secret to a really well-made drink?
Ice. People don’t really think of it as an ingredient. But it makes the difference between a good drink and a really good drink. If you’re using cubes, make sure they’re all the same size. Don’t use any shards – stick to the nice, well-made pieces. The bigger the better to keep the drink colder for longer. We use huge blocks of ice at Wild Tavern.
How do you go about inventing new cocktails?
I like to work with what’s fresh and seasonal. It’s always interesting to take inspiration from what’s in the kitchen. We’ve got a really good local grocer, Andreas, so it’s always good to go and have a look what’s in there.
Whose opinion do you want when you’ve invented a new drink?
My team. The other bartenders, every time.
When you walk into a bar, what tells you if it’s going to be good?
The bartender. You walk in: the bartender makes eye contact straightaway, acknowledges you with a “Hey, how are you?”, a glass of water and a menu. It’s all about the first impression and the welcome.
Tell us about the last time a cocktail blew you away.
There’s a bar in Manchester called Speak in Code. It’s all low light, brick walls, hip hop music. The cocktails are laid out like tracks on an album. Track 15 is Scotch based with tobacco and prune – it really made me stop. A proper “wow”.
What’s your perfect soundtrack for mixing drinks?
I love hip-hop. My favourite bar in London is Satan’s Whiskers. The drinks are amazing. They’re classic, solid drinks and the atmosphere is so good. They play classic hip-hop music. That’s my kind of soundtrack.
Any tips for making cocktails at home?
Have fun. Experiment. Look around to see what you have that could work well – or go out to your local market to look for inspiration.
When you’re relaxing at home on a night off, what are you drinking?
I keep things simple: a great Nicholson Gin & Tonic or a Scotch & Soda.