Swedish by birth and Greek by blood, London-based beverage aficionado George Matzaridis has had quite an exciting journey in the world of spirits and cocktails.
Swedish by birth and Greek by blood, London-based beverage aficionado George Matzaridis has had quite an exciting journey in the world of spirits and cocktails. Although he would never call himself an expert, George has spearheaded several leading beverage programs in the UK and Europe, and designed cocktail menus and trained teams for coveted restaurant and bar groups in the US, Canada, Asia, and the Middle East. If asked about his work style, he would likely say that he is “Swedish by work and Greek by character”. This effortless balance of poise and flare has earned him the respect of his colleagues and led top restaurateurs around the world to seek out his expertise.
George’s journey began in Gothenburg, Sweden at the family owned restaurant Golden Days where he worked as a kitchen porter 3 days a week while attending school. Whenever there was an opportunity, he would spend time at the corner of the bar watching the bartenders work and talking to them about what it takes to become one. His tenacity and perseverance would soon earn him a spot behind the bar on one fateful day when a fellow bartender called out sick. Little did he know at the time that he would embark on a torrid love affair with all things epicurean.
After moving to London in autumn of 1998 to study Economics at the University of Greenwich, George began working as a bartender for the Breakfast Group which owned trendy nightclub Bar Rumba, as well as The Social and The Annexe. Within just a few months he was promoted to Bar Manager where he learned the importance of speed on service. George continued his Econ studies full time and while he put his practice to good use at the bar, he fell more in love with the business side of the operation. He began pondering ways to make service more efficient and to help people learn how they could be better bartenders. George’s hard work paid off and in 2001, he graduated with honors from the University of Greenwich.
Following his learning curve with the Breakfast Group, George went on to work at then celebrity hotspot Red Square, where he was introduced to classic cocktails. This was something that excited George and encouraged him to learn more about the craft.
Later that year, a gentleman visionary by the name of Alan Yau opened a modern Chinese restaurant and bar called Hakkasan at Hanway Place in London’s trendy Soho neighborhood. George, age 21 at the time, began working there as a bartender and in less than one year was promoted to Bar Manager in view of his strong work ethic and dedication. Over the next 3 years he would become intrigued and inspired by Yau’s vision of detail, decadence, and perfection.
Just two years shy of Hakkasan’s opening, in 2003, it became the first Chinese restaurant in Europe to be awarded a Michelin star, a recognition which would draw in guest diners from around the world. With this acclaim, Hakkasan’s bar soon began to be recognized as well for its modern, avant-garde cocktail program which George and his team continued to evolve on a daily basis. Hakkasan would go on to win the title of Best Bar in 2002 by the London Club and Bar Awards and be named runner up by two other top publications the next year. It excited George to be part of a team who was constantly improving and exceeding expectations.
With 3 years heading the bar at Hakkasan Hanway Place under his belt, George felt he was ready to take on the venture of owning his own bar and moved to Lisbon, Portugal. There, together with a couple of partners, he opened Cinco Lounge in October 2004 which was an instant hit and a resounding success. Opening his own business in a foreign country proved to be a very valuable and educational experience for George. After 15 months of working hard to establish Cinco Lounge, he decided to move back to London where he was sought out to fill a position by the Ping Pong Group.
George began as Bar Operation Manager for the Ping Pong Group in 2005, creating the original Ping Pong cocktail list. The restaurants and their cocktails became very popular and the company grew rapidly. There he was promoted to Operation Manager and stayed in this position for almost 2 years. During this time George worked very closely with the directors to expand the company and played a key role in opening 6 restaurants in and around central London. Though he helped to initially develop the beverage aspect of the brand and learned a lot about operations, this had taken George away from the bar for nearly 2 years.
In summer 2007, George decided to slow down his pace a bit and took a few months off to travel and do some consulting work in the US and Canada. Throughout the next months he would stay refreshed with ideas by designing cocktail menus for such New York City restaurants as Indochine, Bond St, and Republic and Joey’s Restaurant in Vancouver, Canada. George’s experience abroad gave him a peak into different markets and by late 2007, he was ready to take some new ideas back to London.
Shortly upon returning to London, George went for coffee with his old boss from Hakkasan, who continued to work for the company. The Hakkasan bar maintained busy and it was fate calling George’s name. He decided to go back full time as bar manager and was very excited to pick up where he had left off in 2004.
In October 2010 George and his team opened the much anticipated Hakkasan Mayfair. This was a huge project and no detail was left to chance. It meant designing an innovative and cutting-edge bar program that would include new cocktails, bespoke glassware and most importantly building a great bar team. Some achievements that made George and his team very proud with the fruition of Mayfair include the fine spirits cabinet and an extensive update to the back bar.
With the Mayfair project, more and more projects came and in early 2011, the Hakkasan Group appointed George as Bar Operation Bar Manager. He went on to oversee the group’s beverage programs in the UK, Middle East, and for Hakkasan’s sister restaurants, Yauatcha, Sake No Hana and HKK. George was on a quest for excellence and by the end of that year, his success had become apparent. He was awarded the prestigious title of Best London Bartender 2011 for achieving a high level of cocktails for Hakkasan and various other restaurants around the world.
While he has thoroughly enjoyed overseeing multi locations and developing people into great bar professionals, George’s next project is sure to be the peak of his career. He plans to return to the basics, invest time into finding talented individuals and really focus on quality. In turn George will also regard what he can learn from others. He is expected to design a cocktail menu based on individual bartenders and write a book. This book will be filled cocktails, but more importantly guide readers on how to successfully manage and constantly improve a bespoke bar operation. With so many more goals to achieve, George Matzaridis has only begun to scratch the surface.