Meet the Bartender: Rich Woods, Duck and Waffle

Rich Woods was recently included in the London Evening Standard’s list of 1000 most Influential People in London and it’s easy to see why. As the man behind the beverage menus at Sushi Samba and Duck and Waffle, Rich continues to push the boundaries of cocktail and blurs the lines between chef and bartender. He also came up with the Nutella Negroni. Enough said.

Nutella Negroni (image by Duck and Waffle)

Tell me a bit about your career so far?

I’ve been in the industry for 18 years, but more from the operations and bar management side of things. I loved being in bars but wasn’t really a bartender.  It was only when I was at Floridita  bars as operations manager that I threw myself in the deep end and got shaking again. I became really embedded in it and stayed there for 7 years.

Then the opportunity came up to work with Sushi Samba and I was very keen to work with an American brand. Duck and Waffle came along in 2012  and I was given carte blanche on the drinks menu. The chef team are young, very open to ideas and collaborations and I just naturally evolved my approach to cocktails.

Some of your drinks are extremely complex to create, do you have background in science?

No! I’m creative and I’m willing to learn. I probably have ten times more cookbooks than I do bar books at home and I certainly use them more.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Everything! Just being out.

You run a 24 hour bar! How do you get time to go out!?

Well I’m here all the time, but I take myself out for walks. I’ll have a think and I’ll write something down in one of my many notebooks.

One of the drinks the blue cheese and chocolate martini which was my winning cocktail (alongside Mind Your Peas and Q’s) from the UK final of the Bombay Sapphire World’s Most imaginative Bartender Competition.

One night I was getting a late night cab ride and ended up falling asleep before I got a chance to get some food.  All I had at home was some blue cheese in the fridge and a couple of chocolate digestives. So I just ate them together. It was like a scene out of Ratatouille as I realised how delicious it was.

The next day I fat-washed Bombay Sapphire with blue cheese and then made a dry chocolate cacao vermouth and so the Blue Cheese Chocolate Martini was born.

Blue Cheese and Chocolate Martini

It all sounds very labour intensive?

Yes, it is!

But that doesn’t come across on the menu?

We just list the ingredients because I think sometimes people are put off by long descriptions. I don’t want people to look at menu and think “oh god I’m going to have to wait half an hour for that”.
It’s like a wine book, I’m lost after the first two pages. I don’t care, just tell me what I should be drinking.

Besides, if two people sat down and read a detailed description of a cocktail, both of them would imagine something completely different. When the drink arrives, at least one person will be disappointed because it won’t be how they imagined it. This way, no one really knows what to expect and hopefully there is a wow factor when the drink arrives.

For example we used to have a nitro G&T on the menu (it came off as it was too popular!)

It was nitrogen frozen Hendricks and elderflower lime sorbet served in a champagne flute with tonic water and a yuzu foam. We listed it as gin, tonic and yuzu, It looked nothing like a regular G&T and people loved it!

Gin- Tonic-and-Yuzu-Duck-and-Waffle
Gin, Tonic and Yuzu Duck and Waffle (image from Duck and Waffle)

How long does it take to get from crazy concept to being ready for serving to a customer?

Never! {laughs} I am my own worst enemy. I’m a nightmare to work with. I’m never happy. The drinks continue to evolve. I’m always looking at new ways to serve or deliver on flavour.

What’s the best thing about your job innovation or the service?

I’m all about front of house. We don’t differtitate here between bartenders and floor staff. Everyone here serves and makes drinks. Everyone is a bartender. They rotate.

No server in a restaurant can describe a dish like the chef that created it, so the same is true of a bartender.  I’m trying to create a flow of service that is uninterrupted. Our menu is slightly out there but we’re here to answer questions and help people choose.

What’s your favourite thing to drink?

Beer! {nervous laughter from me}. Someone once said that their favourite drink is whatever is in their hand at that time and to a certain extent that’s true. At one point or another these drinks on the current menu will all be a favourite.

If I ever have an evening off (a rare occasion) my first drink would be G&T then a beer, but I always end my night with a martini.

Do you have a favourite spirit?

It probably is gin.I find it very easy to mix as it goes so well with so much.

For instance, a Negroni is a rich drink, but you still get the gin. Gin and an olive is my favourite martini.

If I think I need a spurt of creativity. I’ll play with something and then give it to the guys to try, and they’ll say “it tastes great, it’s gin again isn’t it?”

I recently made a Pink peppercorn lemonade….clarified lemon with peppercorn gin, pine needle and rosemary and I thought, OK I’ll try it with vodka, but it just didn’t work. Gin gives something extra.

Where are your favourite bars?

White Lyan, definitely. And then the Artesian. I think Simone and Alex have done a fantastic job of creating a welcoming, non-pretentious bar in spite of its 5 star hotel setting.

What’s next?

The pipe-dreams change daily but I’d like to open a place of my own one day.

Follow Rich on twitter and instagram.


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