Super Lyan, bar review: Cocktails are still king, but there's more to come

David Ellis
All about the drinks: the bar is all about what it serves, rather than it's looks: Maja Jaworska

The Lyan is dead, long live the Lyan.

White Lyan, when it opened in 2013, was a revolution. You hear that word a lot, but let’s be clear: on the scale of its impact, it was more Russian than Beatles’ B-side.

Ryan Chetiyawardana’s place didn’t do ice, brands, citrus, sugar, fruit. There were no perishables. In short, everything a bar needed – everything everyone thought a bar needed – was done away with.

Chetiyawardana, billed as Mr Lyan, was pulling off an experiment, and almost single-handedly changing London’s drinking. And here’s the thing, anyone can experiment: I’ve been to enough places doing ‘something different’ and drunk glasses fermented this, basically piss that. But while Lyan’s mixes were odd, they were delicious. They needed to be: if you’re going to put sperm whale in a drink, it’d better knock your horrified socks off.

Now, after a 12 month chameleonic victory lap, it’s over. The doors to the black walls and mirrors are locked; Hoxton’s little slice of 80s Narnia is gone. Something new is coming on the same site – the charming Chetiyawardana remains tight lipped on exactly what, but expect more than a paint job. It will sit on top of new basement bar Super Lyan.

Highlight: the El Diablo has a great punch of flavour (Maja Jaworska)

Unlike the old upstairs, or the Mondrian’s Dandelyan, Super Lyan is not a looker: neon lights shine on bare bricks and strip-joint booths, which face a pole running floor to ceiling. Don't worry, there aren’t dancers (it’s not that sort of place, but not even a stripper would choose this place for a boogie).

Super Lyan’s approach to drinking is different, too. Chetiyawardana says he was inspired by friends coming to his old place wanting “classics, but bitchin’ classics”. You can see it across the menu: things kick of with an Army & Navy, there’s a twist on a Clover Club, they’ve got fizzes and sours and Manhattans and Martinis. All are done expertly, and they can make just about anything.

The staff are slight of hand masters: bottles are grabbed, spoons are stirred, glasses rattle and out come the drinks, all done from scratch in front of you, and still a mystery.

Not everything is perfect – the Doctor Manhattan (Martini Ambrato with Riserva Vermouth, bourbon, bitters and leathered cherry) tastes, basically, like a dead owl – but for the most part, everything is graphically flavoursome: the El Diablo (tequila, gooseberry, ginger and ginger ale) has an exquisite punch, the tequila bold and biting, the ginger fresh. Likewise, gin syrup, chambord, lemon and Guinness are not flavours I’d expect to match – hell, lemon with Guinness alone seems vaguely Satanic – but the Dog’s Nose Clover Club is a demonstration in inspired thinking. Good looking, too. The Man on Fire, a blend of whiskey and mezcal with spicy liqueur Ancho Reyes, lemon and pine honey, reads like a recipe from the hipster manual to suicide but tastes like divine intervention touched the glass.

Best of all, there drinks are all around £9 – £10. Given far, far too many bars think that £15 is acceptable for a cocktail (it’s not, really, unless you’re the Savoy, or Scarfes), it’s refreshing to see a bar that prices itself honestly: places need to charge appropriately for the quality of the drinks and also for their surroundings.

It’s actually terrific value as the ingredients are all first rate, mostly interesting bottles you’re unlikely to have had elsewhere, but Chetiyawardana is smart enough to know most Londoners, no matter what they Tweet, would rather save a few quid on a drink than shell out for something that looks fancy but tastes the same when its folded into a drink. After all, don’t we all know drinks prices are mainly marketing? Haig Club, anyone?

Super Lyan is not the revolution of its predecessor. It’s not doing anything especially new, but I’m not sure it needs to be: it’s excellent as it is. Plus, it’s no secret more is coming. So deep down, if I’m honest, it’s difficult to be convinced this is more than a holding pen for cocktail lovers waiting on the new White Lyan to open upstairs. But if that’s true, it’s probably the greatest holding pen in the world.

Open Wed – Sunday, 5pm till late, 153 Hoxton St, N1 6PJ, superlyan.com

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