If you love your cocktails, Balthazar’s head barman Brian Silva is a bona fide London legend: shaking and stirring across the capital for over 20 years, Silva has run the bars at The Connaught, and London's oldest restaurant, Rules. It goes without saying that Mr Silva’s name is synonymous with a million hangovers, so we caught up with the Boston native to talk Bloody Marys ahead of Balthazar’s 4th of July celebrations this weekend.
Which drinks are particularly popular at Balthazar at the moment?
I’d say the Gin Fizz is one of our most popular drinks. It’s a take on a Ramos Gin Fizz, but lighter. The Spiced Cardamom Negroni (above) is also popular; everybody likes the idea of a Negroni, so customers are always curious to try ours. We replace the Campari with Sacred rosehip liqueur and use Sacred spiced vermouth instead of sweet vermouth: a British twist on a classic cocktail.
Which tipples are your favourites?
I’ve always been partial to a Manhattan, but I’m also a fan of the aperitivo. At the moment I’m really enjoying Regal Rogue vermouth from Australia and The Collector from Somerset. They both are great as a straight serve or used in vermouth-led cocktails.
Which do you think will be the next big drink trends?
I think that grappa is going to be the next big thing. Mezcal (produced in the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico, from several varieties of agave) is really popular right now, and grappa shares many similar qualities – they are both artisanal and tend to be produced in small batches. It’s more about the craft and the value rather than mass producing and industrialising it.
Aside from Balthazar, do you have a favourite London bar?
Rules is one of my all-time favourites, and not just because I used to work there. When you go to Rules, you’re transported back 100 years, but in a good way. There’s no music, which means you can actually have a conversation without shouting over each other. And the cocktails are great – it never fails to impress.
If you’re a fan of tequila or mezcal, I highly recommend Mexican bar El Nivel (above) above La Perla on Maiden Lane. Food also plays a big part in this bar, but we’re not talking nachos and enchiladas – a lot of their tapas dishes have an underlying Asian influence.
What do you make of the current London bar scene?
London’s bar scene is hard to beat and new bars are opening all the time. London bars are good at experimenting with different ingredients, themes and generally thinking outside the box. Having said that, only a handful of bars will ever make their mark in the long run.
What was the most significant thing you learned from your time at Rules?
Never ditch the classics. That’s something I took with me to Balthazar. It’s all about aperitivos and balanced cocktails, not overpowering them with large quantities of mixers. These are serious, grown-up drinks and great fun to concoct.
Which is your favourite London restaurant?
It has to be Café Murano (above) on St James’s Street, their pasta is wonderful. I’m pleased they’ve just opened another Café Murano on Tavistock Street, as it’s round the corner from Balthazar.
How would you celebrate 4th July if you were in the US?
Back in Boston, we’d organise a barbecue with friends and family on the Cape. If I was there I would go down to the Charles River Esplanade for the Boston Pops Orchestra concert, followed by fireworks. Half a million people gather each year to celebrate this event.
What’s next for you? Anything to tell?
Ask me in 6 months…
Brian clearly has something in the works, but for now, you can see him in action at Balthazar. This weekend he’ll be turning out his celebrated Bloody Marys (in 12 litre Balthazar bottles) as part of the 4th July brunch menu, 10am-4pm Saturday and Sunday.
This article was published 29 June 2015