Ounal Bailey Interviews Andrea Melis

Ounal Bailey is the Co-Founder at WiseHead Productions. Having worked at Britvic for 15 years in several brand marketing and innovation roles, on brands such as Fruit Shoot, J2O and Pepsi, Ounal co-founded WiseHead Productions in 2016. 

An incubator within Britvic, Wisehead was designed to explore opportunities within the premium drinks category. She has been a driving force behind The London Essence Company, a luxury mixer brand, reborn from the archives and now available across the world. She operates with a strong belief that fostering great innovation requires focus, determination and teamwork, all balanced with a good dose of fun. 

Andrea Melis was born in Sardinia. Even if born and raised in a typical bar, his first cocktail bartending job came at the age of 18 while attending university in Italy. After graduating, he decided to use his bartending skills as a means to fund his travelling, and subsequent to a short period in Spain, he moved to London in 2012. His first job in the city was right back at the bottom of the bartending ladder, as a bar-back in Trailer Happiness.

Over the following few years Andrea rose  through the ranks to tend bar at the Lonsdale, Blind Pig at the Social Eating House (named World's Best Restaurant Bar in 2014) the London Edition and then go on to become the Head Bartender at  the Blue Bar at The Berkeley.

What inspired you to begin a career in the hospitality industry?

I was born and raised in a bar in Sardinia. Our family lived above the bar, and I remember my parents making every guest feel like a member of our family. I had breakfast with the guests enjoying their coffee, which helped me understand how important it was to connect with people. I was in an inspiring environment, surrounded by beautiful people, and it made me realise that being behind the bar could be the best job in the world.

What brought you to London?

After a year bartending in Spain, I decided to come to London in 2012 to develop my understanding of hospitality and make a career within bartending. After moving to a new country, I had to begin again, which allowed me to improve my skills from the ground up and prove myself. So, I started as a bar back in Trailer Happiness, which supported and drove for quality to further develop myself.  By 2014, I was offered a bartending role at the London Edition, which was my introduction to the hospitality of a 5 Star hotel. It was a particularly inspirational time to be in London, with the innovative ethos of bars such as The Artesian.

Tell us about the Blue Bar.

I joined as Head Bartender of the Blue Bar following its refurbishment in 2016, clearly transforming the approach. We moved from a focus on the bar’s history to a more progressive approach emphasising innovation, but always with the guest experience at heart.

The Blue Bar encapsulates the concept of modern luxury. From the layout of the bar to our guest interaction to every detail, from the staff uniforms to the glassware, we have a recognised personality and a personal approach that has been built over many years.  This has won us the regular guests who travel specially to experience the ambience and drinks and people who want to have a memorable night out.

We must offer an experience on many levels for these different guests. We chose not to impose restrictions such as a strict dress code, which could make us feel less inclusive and prevent various guests from joining us.

"Our first menu in 2017 was designed to be simple and accessible for guests but with a great deal of background research into how the body processes flavour. “Out of the Blue” was designed to create a ground-breaking experience allowing guests to sense their drink without first sipping it."

How did you introduce your signature to the Blue Bar?

Our first menu in 2017 was designed to be simple and accessible for guests but with a great deal of background research into how the body processes flavour. “Out of the Blue” was designed to create a ground-breaking experience allowing guests to sense their drink without first sipping it. We developed a tasting menu delivered through a sensory room. We controlled the scent, sounds, visual stimulation – with the drinks served in blind cups - allowing the senses to uncover the fullness of the flavours. The level of engagement was incredible, and we learnt a great deal about the preferences of our guests, all of which we brought back to the bar in our future development.

What is the creative ethos behind your menu development?

We strive to ensure that all guests enjoy their experience, providing that the delivery is engaging and straightforward, however complex the development, whilst also catering to their individual needs.

In terms of developing the menu for our bar, we do not think in terms of alcoholic or non-alcoholic, but in terms of well-calibrated flavour delivery. I am a bit of a geek when it comes to cocktails, as I believe there is a science behind creating great flavours. 

Our Meta Menu encapsulates this, categorising the menu into “fresh”, “bold”, “crisp”, and “bubbly” – with simple information, beautifully illustrated to enable the guest to select their preference.

Have you seen a shift in the drinking habits of your guests?

I have seen our guests become more knowledgeable about what’s in their glass and drink more responsibly. I believe they are now considering cocktails similar to a luxury dish rather than just a beverage. So for us, the focus remains on creating unique flavour experiences for our guests, whatever their preference.

We have also seen an increased diffusion of cocktail culture and our guests being better informed about their likes and dislikes. This trend for “comfort cocktails” for flavours and drinks which are now more familiar to guests has been on the rise, and the opportunity for us is to use this understanding to deliver new experiences to our guests.

How has the no/low market evolved, and how has it influenced cocktail development?

The first shift is that we all now have access to more information on flavours, products, and technology to help us deliver our vision.

This has led to the creation of an increasing number of soft drinks and non-alcoholic products, which are now more balanced and deliver better flavour experiences. I have been particularly surprised by the growth in non-alcoholic spirits, as I believed that the inherent impact and complexity of alcohol was something that could not be mimicked. However, I have been pleasantly surprised by how good some non-alcoholic aperitifs and amaro are.

These products have made different flavours more accessible to bartenders and made it a little simpler to create non-alcoholic expressions of classic cocktails that are an easy entry point for guests. That said, it still takes a level of skill to blend these products and ingredients in the right way to create something delicious.

However, there is also a significant number of people around the world who do not drink alcohol for various reasons. Hence, the start point for these individuals is not a de-alcoholised version of alcohol. Their expectation of flavour and taste comes from a different starting point.  In this case, more consideration for the ingredients, extraction methods, and flavour experimentation is needed to deliver an elevated experience.

"Despite that a large part of what we sell is still with alcohol, we believe that it is just as crucial that a non-alcoholic cocktail also delivers in terms of flavour."

How has this influenced your menu?

Despite that a large part of what we sell is still with alcohol, we believe that it is just as crucial that a non-alcoholic cocktail also delivers in terms of flavour.

Some of our cocktail development begins from a non-alcoholic starting point. We start with the flavour we want to deliver, consider the length of the drink and then its context in our menu. For example, if we are working on something long and refreshing, it cannot contain excessive sugar, which can tire the palate, but it must still deliver the impact of a cocktail. So, we work on delivering this by blending the aromatics, as with the London Essence Peach & Jasmine Soda in our Passiflora, and by looking at the citrus and acid balance, the sweetness levels.  For people who may never have drunk alcohol, they can still experience an enhanced flavour, and we then offer the option to add alcohol to those who would like it. 

Regarding how we showcase these on the menu, it is not enough to say drinks are alcoholic or not. We provide a conscious choice for our guests by offering information simply and engagingly. That means providing specific information on the abv or strength of a drink, which no doubt along with calories, will become a legal requirement over time.

How do you expect the non-alcoholic market to evolve?

I think drinking culture has absolutely evolved, and that shift is here to stay.  This will lead to the consistent development of bartenders who focus more on flavour delivery and a more comprehensive range of products that deliver innovative and successful flavours.

I also think the growth in non-alcoholic cocktails in the industry will depend on whether it can provide a sustainable business. There are many non-alcoholic drinks in the market, from juices to coffee. Still, there is an emotional shift when you experience an excellent non-alcoholic cocktail in a particular context. This may lead to a growth in non-alcoholic cocktail options, although this is likely governed by the number of people choosing not to drink alcohol. The bigger the market, the bigger the business.

But either way, I believe that understanding the science behind flavour will be a crucial topic within bartending to deliver to this trend. With this, we have an opportunity to make the future exciting.

What’s next for you?

The new menu at the Blue Bar will be launching in April, so we are putting the final touches on that. It will be the next evolution of our journey, although I’m not giving too much away yet. I’m not only looking forward to introducing our experience to the guests who will be able to return to us but also to those new guests who discovered cocktails during the lockdown.  They can now experience the 5 Star version of the cocktail they tried to make at home.

After all, I still believe London is a global hub. While everyone’s creativity was affected during the pandemic, we can now kick start that connectivity and inspiration again to keep driving that step-change in the industry. I am optimistic about the future.


You can check the Blue Bar Meta Menu here: https://www.the-berkeley.co.uk/restaurants-bars/blue-bar/