After spending three years working as bartender in London’s uber-cool Beach Blanket Babylon (where?) and the luxurious Mandarin Oriental (rings a bell), Bruno Vilas came to his senses, applied, was offered and accepted the role of Bar Manager at Grasmere’s Forest Side, finally packing his bags and venturing north with girlfriend in tow. Well-versed in serving over 250 cocktails an evening down in the Smoke, this quietly-spoken Portuguese chap has gladly accepted a calmer and more amicable role in what he describes to me as ‘one of the most beautiful spots in England’ (who am I to argue?). What’s more he’s just won Seasonal Serve of The Year 2016 at the inaugural UK Bar Menu of the Year Awards hosted by The Spirits Business at London’s swanky Kensington Roof Gardens… so yet more congrats are in order for the Forest Side.
Bruno, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Firstly how are you finding Cumbria given that we cannot offer you the glorious sunshine of your home country?
I love it! (right answer). Yes it rains but when it does it’s gorgeous. I love this feeling of being closer to nature and my girlfriend (Assistant Restaurant Manager at Forest Side) actually feels closer to Portugal because back home her family live in the countryside – drier perhaps, but here is still a stunning place to live and work.
How are you finding our Cumbrian hospitality?
People are definitely friendlier than down in London. Everywhere you go here someone says hello – it’s a much warmer feel.
You’re now a member of the ‘dream team’ here at Forest Side. Tell us a bit about your award-winning cocktails.
Well, first and foremost, we make almost every drink here, from tonics to colas which not many hotels can claim. Also, I am really lucky to be able to work with an array of herbs that I can literally pick each day from our kitchen garden.
So basically, both yourself and Kevin (Head Chef) Tickle create your signature dishes and drinks from foraging right here on the hotel’s estate?
Yes, indeed. I produce a seasonal menu which comes about with precisely what is growing within the hotel’s kitchen garden. So for example, mint is in season from May to the end of September but unknown to most is the sheer variety of this herb. Just off the top of my head, we grow Elderberry Cream, Tangerine, Peppermint, Mojito Mint, Eau de Cologne and Chocolate Mint – all different varieties of the mint plant.
Wow! I didn’t know they all existed. How do you manage to give some clarity to your menu without confusing the guests?
Essentially our cocktail menu is comprised of classic cocktails with a twist. So for example, we will offer a variety of three Margaritas or Negronis. The base of a Margarita will always be tequila but by taking selected herbs which are in season, we can make a classic drink taste unique and truly amazing. This month we have a Spicy Margarita which is infused with lovage. One of our Negronis contains the little-known herb apple marigold which adds a fruity, autumnal flavour. I’ll always make sure that we cater to both the sweet and sour cocktail drinker and of course, we are always on-hand to answer any questions our guests may have.
Do you create your own speciality or signature cocktail from scratch?
Yes, amongst others I have created a mean Milk Punch which is my take on Baileys. The basic ingredients include milk, rum, cinammon, star anise and a lovely floral, vanilla herb called Meadow Sweet. I also make a fabulous Fat Wash…
A Fat Wash is when you add an oil or liquid to a spirit at room temperature and then chill it to extract the solidified fat off the top. I’ve used this method to experiment with coconut oil and whisky and the end result is fantastic. Here, I’ll show you…
Whoa!! The smell is divine and the peatiness of the whisky works really well with coconut! (I promise I’m not over-gushing here – it’s truly an awesome mix and tastes great)
It’s good to be aware of trends and at the moment, people seeking a healthier lifestyle are massively into coconut oil. The response to this twist on an original Fat Wash has been really positive.
So what now for yourself and the future here at Forest Side?
Keep on learning! With the kitchen garden and our recent Michelin Star, nothing is ever boring here. I love changing the seasonal menus and finding new tastes. Aside from the cocktails, I’m attending a WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) course in January which I’m really looking forward to.
To say that I have been educated in the art of mixology here at Forest Side is an understatement. It’s clear to see that both the bar and Bar Manager stand apart from other cocktail bars. The benefits of foraging enable Bruno to experiment and continually challenge the hotel’s cocktail menu with the freshest and most unique ingredients right on the door-step. His obvious love for the art of mixology together with a calm, determination to continue researching and creating amazing flavours from all that nature has to offer, might just create a world-famous cocktail in years to come. I’ll certainly be back for a Forest Sling… just give me the nod.
The Forest Side Hotel & Restaurant, Keswick Road, Grasmere, Cumbria, LA22 9RN
www.theforestside.com T 015394 35250