House of Coco sat down with the charming Elias Yiallouris of The Polo Bar Mayfair last week to chat about getting into hospitality, challenging Pierce Brosnan on his drink of choice and trends in food and drink. It went a little something like this…
HOC: Lovely to meet you in this rather snazzy bar, tell us a little about how you got here?
EY: In the old days hospitality was made of people who dropped out of school and to succeed you had to have a real passion for the industry. I was exposed to the industry when I was quite young and I started working at 14, completed a foundation course in hospitality and work my way through being a bar back, bartender and so forth.
It was probably only five years ago that immediate family started seeing this as a serious profession! Hospitality is often seen as something you do while filling time until you do the next thing.
I’ve worked in Claridges, Harvey Nichols and I’ve been here for 10 years in August. I still really enjoy it, here we have chance to try new things and keep pushing for excellence.
HOC: We’re meeting late morning on a weekday, I guess this place is quite different at the weekends?
EY: You wait, we’re always full at lunchtimes. We have our own kitchen serving sushi, foie gras, caviar. It’s a lot of people entertaining their clients and who I like to call ‘Mayfairians’ – people who live and work in this area. I like to claim territory here, it’s another pocket of the city; everything slows down and there’s a different pace of life.
That’s the beauty of London – there are different bar scenes depending on the postcode; Shoreditch, Notting Hill, Clapham all have their own approaches.
HOC: Outside of your bar, who do you think is doing great work in the bar world?
EY: If you want glamour and service, you need to look to the hotels. Claridges, The Connaught know how to balance taste, service and glamour. Sometimes service is the thing that suffers and why would you come out for a drink if you can make it at home if there’s no great experience?
Here our clientele are the people who make the city tick; the doctors of Harley Street, the lawyers. They don’t come here to be seen, they come here to be discrete.
HOC: What do you think of new trends in food and drink?
EY: We’re never content to do the same thing, we always need to keep pushing. We already change our menu by the season and aim to provide more ‘Wow’ factors. We’re looking at the design of the bar, running cocktail dinners and working on a new drink concept using sense and textures to choose your drink! The plan is that a box will come to your table full of fabrics for you to choose your fabric which is paired with a drink.
HOC: That sounds amazing, how do you think our relationship to alcohol is changing?
EY: We do seem to enjoy alcohol more now. There’s a real appetite for micro brewed beers and crafted cocktails. People’s education is changing and there are more chefs on TV which opens the imagination. People are also more adventurous when they are entertaining.
There’s also a trend for ‘healthy’ drinks which, I’ll be honest, is not something we’ve explored. I feel that if you are coming out for a good time, you can worry about it on Monday. I think you should think ‘I’m out for the night. I want to spoil myself’.
HOC: That’s a refreshing way to look at it! Thinking about the places you’ve worked you must have met some amazing people?
EY: Oh yes, I’ve been blessed with meeting many famous people. I once made a specific margarita for Paul and Stella McCartney which required a whole squeezed orange and no Cointreau. Madonna used to ask me to make her Cosmo whenever she came in with Guy Ritchie. Pierce Brosnan used to drink with us – a vodka martini with an olive. I remember telling him that he was taking the Bond role too seriously!
I do remember one night when we had Gwyneth Paltrow and a friend on one table, Madonna and Guy, George Clooney and Matt Damon, Bryan Adam, Paul and Stella all in the bar at the same time. I tell you who is the most gentlemanly of them all; The Lord of The Dance himself, Michael Flatley.
I always have believed it’s ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentleman. So it’s hard to get starstruck except for when it’s a real legend. We had Al Pacino staying in the hotel a little while back and he was a real gentleman; we closed the bar and stayed chatting with him a while.
HOC: Do you have anyone you’d love to make a drink for?
EY: I’ve never had the chance to service the Queen, that would really be the top of the London chain! I imagine she’d take a gin, a very dry, juniper-heavy, London gin.
HOC: Finally, what spirit tips do you have for the House of Coco readers, what should we be trying?
EY: Gin is still very dominant and summery – there seems to be a new gin every week! The days of asking for a Gordon’s, Bombay or Tanqueray are over. People want spirits that are artisanal, that more care has gone into. One I tried recently which was actually brought to me by a guest was The Botanist. The question is though, when does a gin stop becoming a gin if it has so many botanicals in it!
Japanese whisky is also on the up, its the fastest growing sector. There’s Nikka, Yamasaki, Hibiki – wonderful drinks!
On that note we wrap up and I am presented with some nibbles and a wonderful gin (hurrah!) cocktail with lavender. This #TeamCoco writer may become a ‘Mayfairian’ yet!