Wandering Spirit

Iain Griffiths has achieved a lot in a short space of time. Hamish Smith tracks the path backwards from White Lyan and Dandelyan


IN ABORIGINAL, the name translates to ‘place of many rocks’ – which typifies what was going on there,” says Iain Griffiths, one of seven brothers and sisters brought up on a farm in the small town of Molong on the quiet side of the Australian Blue Mountains. “It was cattle dog and kangaroo territory. In my childhood we helped manage a farm of a couple of thousand head of sheep. I’d collect and cut up wood for the fire and by nine I had learned to kill and cut up a beast. Farm life gave me respect and discipline – you were a shit-kicker until you were told otherwise.”

Griffiths, speaking from his metropolitan idyll, Dandelyan at Mondrian London, has come far in all senses. “My mum always championed us to be individuals,” he says.

At 15 Griffiths and family moved to Brisbane – “swapping farming for surfing” and a few extra degrees in winter. Griffiths played baseball, volleyball and rugby to state level and was even school captain, making history as the first to be elected and removed from his position. Bright, creative and impatient, Griffiths did well enough academically but the slow coach to success wasn’t for him. “I was always drawn to tangible rewards,” he says. Pull the leaver and achieve the result – Mr Whippy was his first job. There followed a part-time butcher’s position – child’s play for a farm boy.

Two days after his 18th birthday Griffiths became a bartender. He says it was the money – a well-paid profession in Australia – but perhaps also genetic memory. His grandfather ran a pub for 32 years and employed his father as a bartender. Griffiths had his dalliances with other professions – real estate, fitness instruction – but always had one hand on the stick.

At 20, Griffiths and friends ran a 2,500-capacity club in Brisbane, learning the ropes of business early. But when he met Ryan Noreiks, a bartender at the award-winning Lark bar, he transitioned. “I got sucked into cocktails and it’s been that way ever since,” he says. Restless, Griffiths moved to Melbourne and studied to become a property valuer. His attempt to “clean up” his life after a “debauched time in Brisbane” lasted four months before hospitality called once more. By 2011 he was bartending at the legendary Black Pearl.

Less than a year in, Griffiths’ grandmother passed away and he inherited some money. It was time to travel. “I knew if I didn’t go, I’d be there forever – Black Pearl was such a great place, a family.” There was one last stop before the off. “I didn’t want to tap out before doing Sydney, so I spent six months at Eau de Vie.” Griffiths also found time to get engaged and, with fiancée, upped sticks to Edinburgh, Scotland – the country of his ancestors. “I had a real fascination with Scottish culture. I also didn’t want to be just another Aussie bartender in London.”

Edinburgh meant Bramble and, while professionally this was a defining move, at times it was not a happy period personally. He split with his fiancée and spent too much time on the wrong side of the bar. But halfway through his two-year visa he met Bramble alum Ryan Chetiyawardana, by then ensconced in London. The pair meshed and in the ensuing years created the drinks, concepts and bars that make them the darlings of the London drinks scene.

Unintentionally Chetiyawardana seems to attract more of the credit for the pair’s achievements – notably White Lyan and Dandelyan – but Griffiths isn’t the type to care. He repeats his mother’s mantra: “There’s no limit to what you can achieve as long as you don’t mind who gets the credit.”

Bar-side at Dandelyan, one of the world’s best bars, talking of his feats and still just 29, credit seems the least relevant of currencies.