Ryan Chetiyawardana creates a ‘house party’ mood at his Thameside bar
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
One of the first alcoholic drinks Ryan “Mr Lyan” Chetiyawardana tried was a Snowball, a cocktail made from lemonade, advocaat and lime, that he sneaked at a Christmas party as a kid. “It’s minimally boozy,” says the mixologist, “but there’s something about the set of flavours – creamy, citrusy and bubbly – that feels festive.”
That memory is the inspiration behind Chetiyawardana’s welcome drink: a Snowball “base” topped up with Laurent-Perrier champagne. It’s the first of many kitsch treats offered throughout the evening at his Thameside bar Lyaness, which also includes punch, parsnip “sausage” rolls and prawn-cocktail tarts.
An enthusiastic host, as happy at home as he is in one of his professional spaces, Chetiyawardana sets the mood with candles, plush sofas and moveable stools. He likes to keep things intimate: like “a great house party”, albeit one with a free-flowing and abundant bar. Guests – a mix of Chetiyawardana’s friends, colleagues and creative collaborators – include photographer Christina Kernohan, Mr Lyan co-founder Alex Lawrence and Chetiyawardana’s sister Natasha, who arrives six months pregnant in an emerald green dress. The punch is “boozeless”, a citrine-toned liquid – made up of Seedlip Garden 108, white tea, pine sherbet and sparkling kombucha – that takes centre stage in a large silver basin.
A selection of spirits and garnishes are on hand for those looking to up the ante: Glasgow Blend whisky and thyme sprigs to compliment the “fuller notes” of the punch; Porter’s Orchard Gin and cucumber to bring out the “green”. “Any preferences? Any aversions?” Chetiyawardana asks the group, a tea towel hanging out of his back pocket. All are happy to go with his suggestions.
Group serves and customisable drinks are key features of a Chetiyawardana party. Snacks, inspired by Sri Lankan “short eats”, range from homemade pastries and cod croquettes to chips and padrón peppers. His music choices are eclectic, spanning R&B, hip-hop and 2000s French rock. The goal is to be “as real as possible”, he says. Not that Chetiyawardana is a careless host – rather, a quietly fastidious one. “The idea is to map out an evening,” he says. “You want to be able to give a framework – with the idea that things will take their own path as you get into the drinks and conversations.”
The final stage of Chetiyawardana’s plan is the arrival of his “Nuked Negroni”, a seasonal take on the cocktail that he infuses in a microwave and then cools before serving. The drink is designed to be drunk slowly; large cubes of ice are in order. “Serving Martinis to a big group is a) lethal and b) loses its finesse quite quickly,” says Chetiyawardana. “This is something that has breathing room.” At this point the host can finally take a seat. A batch of croquettes have been served; more bottles of Nuked Negroni are in place. Guests pour freely throughout the rest of the night.