Seed Library: Analogue cocktails and elemental flavours in London’s East End / Food & Drink
Seed Library: Analogue cocktails and elemental flavours in London’s East End

In One Hundred Shoreditch, the Seed Library is the latest bar by Ryan “Mr Lyan” Chetiyawardana

In One Hundred Shoreditch, the Seed Library is the latest bar by Ryan “Mr Lyan” Chetiyawardana

The new boutique hotel One Hundred Shoreditch, which replaces east London’s trendy Ace Hotel, opened at the beginning of 2022. The venue is home to six restaurants and bars that offer everything from rooftop views, a street-facing takeaway hatch and intellectually curated drinks. It is down in the basement that you’ll find Seed Library, a cocktail bar created by Ryan Chetiyawardana – otherwise known as “Mr Lyan”.

Designed as a retreat from the vibrant thoroughfares of Shoreditch, it recalls the moody atmosphere of a 70s bar or jazz club; all red velvet and caramel tones, low-slung furniture and soothing lights. Bare breeze blocks and leatherette banquettes. The focus is on “lo-fi, analogue” cocktail making, using a stripped-back approach that takes inspiration from classic cocktails and the stories tied up in their flavours but with a twist. The menu changes almost weekly and has non-alcoholic iterations too.

Seed Library at One Hundred Shoreditch is Ryan’s first new bar in three years and marks his return to his east London bartending roots. With setups in London, Washington and Amsterdam, his unconventional, award-winning bars frequently appear on the World’s Best Bars lists and span the Atlantic.

As Seed Library welcomes its first guests, we chatted to Ryan about what they can expect to experience, where he gets his inspiration and what he plans to include on his menu of crafted cocktails.

© Jennifer Chase

Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I'm a bartender who's been full circle when it comes to studies and work! Born to Sri Lankan parents, I've moved from Birmingham to London to Edinburgh and back to London. I spent that time exploring the arts and sciences, while at the same time, trying to work in all aspects of food and drink. Since getting my master's, working for a variety of venues, and travelling the world for my job, I've been developing the Lyan side of things for the last decade.

What is your vision for Seed Library?

We wanted to create a venue that both reflected our journey through different approaches and concepts, as well as geographically. We wanted a space that felt reflective of how attitudes and needs have changed in a universal sense of late. Seed Library is very much an East End bar, but it’s not simply a cocktail bar. It explores the warmth that comes when you bring together food, music, drinks and design that feels like it holds a sense of craftsmanship, imperfection, fuzziness or simply a maker's touch. It's a really warm space, led by some of the team that have worked with us on various projects, and provides an escape from the madness of the high street.

Why the name “Seed Library”?

This underground bar is all about exploring origin points and new knowledge sets, so the name perfectly sums this up. Seeds represent the encapsulation and an idea of needing or changing given the environment and setting they find themselves in. And a library is not only an important societal anchor, but it's a repository of knowledge – particularly about topics you might not already be familiar with.

© Caitlin Isola

What’s on the menu?

We have a list of nine unique cocktails that will evolve regularly. We also have a small but curated selection of beers, and wines – including small-batch sake and ciders— as well as a selection of snacks that still have the same lo-fi approach to them.

What do you mean by “analogue” cocktails?

We've always loved creating with a restricted choice of ingredients and have long employed a process of deconstructing to get to the core of a drink. With Seed Library we're taking this a step further – stripping back language and the variety of elements to reach back-to-core-flavour points. But, this doesn’t mean the drinks will be unpolished.

But we're also not polishing it back. If White Lyan was a “digital” exploration of subtraction – no ice, cocktail shakers and very few bottles of liquor beyond its own house spirits – Seed Library keeps the fuzziness. It embraces natural variance and the pops, squeaks and imperfections that make an analogue version so warm and alluring.

How did you get into cocktails and bars in the first place?

I started as a chef. I grew up cooking – and drinking – and wanted to explore professionally before heading off to art college. I fell in love with the setup but hated the lack of interaction. My best friend jokingly suggested I work in a bar if I wanted to work with interesting ingredients but chat with people at the same time. I immediately took to it and it became the perfect channel for my interests in science and the arts.

How does the London cocktail palette differ from New York? Do you have to change the menus and offerings much?

There is such a twinning between London and New York so there is a constant back and forth. Historically, New York has had a more spirit-forward profile to their drinks and a more classical approach to cocktails. Londoners, on the other hand, preferred longer drinks, and the ingredients used reflected the influence of the city’s multiculturalism.

© Caitlin Isola

We certainly used some of this insight when we had the Lyaness New York City residency in 2019, but at the same time, these are snapshots of balance and tastes – preferences naturally evolve over time. When we were in New York, we looked to marry local and British traditions – a desire to be different that has become commonplace in the city now. During my last trip to New York, I noticed more unusual ingredients and serves featuring on menus. Similarly, there's been some of the New York influence cropping up this side.

The Lyaness menu is highly unusual –  with its pig's blood and oyster shells – will Seed Library be similar?

Lyaness is our pioneering spot, and it will always feature flavours and ingredients that I can confidently say are unique to anywhere in the world – bar or restaurant wise – but Seed Library will purposefully be a different focus. We will offer something that feels distinct in the landscape and will carry the mantle of our meticulous ingredient processing and efficiency but will do so in a more hands-off manner, letting the natural flavours of the base ingredients shine through. There might be ingredients that are new to you, but they will be easy to understand and will channel the story of a producer, more than they would reflect the transformation and refinement as we do at Lyaness.

Of all your bars and restaurants, which has been your favourite?

That's always a hard one! But probably White Lyan at a push. It set out our vision as a company, and there would be nothing that followed without it. And I think it was important – it brought alternative techniques, sustainability, and the consideration of the role of ingredients to the fore for the food world. In 2017, Robert Simonson put it as "perhaps the most important bar to open in the last decade" which was a lovely recognition.

© Caitlin Isola
© Caitlin Isola

And which has taught you the most?

Probably Dandelyan. It was such a beast in terms of scale and it was the first foray into partnerships. It let us take our approach and insights and apply it at the next level. We were able to work with so many amazing people, challenge the notion of a hotel bar, and push collaborations in a totally different way.

What do you drink at a bar?

A scotch and soda is my all-time favourite cocktail, but I tend to leave it to the venue and their recommendations. Asking for the venue’s recommendation is my favourite way to eat or drink. That, or just order the whole menu.

How do you keep your imagination going?

By surrounding myself with brilliant, diverse people, continuing to embrace what I don't understand, and exposing myself to things outside my comfort zone!

© Caitlin Isola

Who do you admire in the creative world?

My sister is a real tour de force, so her for sure. I admire anyone who's able to be themselves, to push, and not believe the hype or get too comfortable.

What’s your best recipe for entertaining at home?

Either my croquette cutlets from my book, Good Together, or a bubbles recipe I riff on a lot that uses a base, then gets topped with a dry sparkling wine as guests arrive.

Can you tell me about some of the collaborations you’ve done over the years?

We've been fortunate to collaborate with super talented people, both from within the food and beverage industry like the head chef of Silo Doug McMaster, flavour guru Dr Arielle Johnson, master fermenter Dr Johnny Drain and microbiologist Dr Rachel Dutton. We’ve also had the opportunity to work with people outside the industry too like fashion designer Audrey Louise Reynolds, designer Kelly Wearstler and hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan! The thing that excites me is the newness that comes from these collaborations – it's quite distinct across the board. For each iteration, it needs to be meaningful, and we want to make sure it benefits everyone but it's allowed us to create wholly unique projects or ideas and has challenged us to think differently, so it's an aspect of our work that I'm constantly looking to delve into in more ways.





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