Georgia Billing is head bartender at Sexy Fish in London. She makes two cocktails for us, one with Calvados and Apricot Brandy and the second with Gin and butterfly pea syrup.
Georgia introduce yourself
I am Georgia Billing and I started bartending more than 10 years ago whilst I was doing my archaeology degree. I travelled a lot during my degree for excavations and I’ve always been interested in local booze like Amarula in South Africa, rum in Belize, Pisco in Peru, and beer brewed in ancient styles in Egypt. After I finished my degree, I was volunteering in Buenos Aires and began working in a bar where they infused their own liqueurs. Each bar I worked in was slightly bigger and slightly better and I was on a gradual learning curve. I got a scholarship for my PhD in nutrition even though my academic background was archaeology, so moved back to Cambridge in the UK. I worked in The Gambia and in Cork for some of my PhD, then came back to London to write my thesis. After I graduated, I started from scratch as a barback in East London, because the level here is way higher compared to where I had previously worked. I was the Assistant General Manager within six months, and co-wrote two storybook menus where the drinks were inspired by ‘Alice in Wonderland’- the two cocktails I am making today are from the first adaptation.I left that bar to become a brand ambassador for Black Cow, a vodka distilled from cow’s milk. I studied milk in depth for my PhD and was able to contribute scientifically to the training material. During that year, I did some freelance bartending and competitions until I had my interview with Xavier Landais and Jérome Allaguimette for the head bartender position here at Sexy Fish. I grew up working in my parent’s fish and chip shop so I feel like my hospitality career is circling around a theme! It’s challenging to join an existing team, but they are great people, and extremely talented, and we move forward together every day. My PhD has influenced me as a bartender because when I create a cocktail I try to have a more scientific approach than an intuitive one.
Our new menu is based on a recipe book, so the idea is that customers can use the book to recreate our cocktails at home. Of course, some are easier than others so you have an indicator of the difficulty. Inside the menu you also have a flavour and strength guide, including mocktails. You can purchase some of the distillates we produce here on our rotovap, and the syrups and cordials are simple enough to be made yourself. If people have any questions or problems with the recipes, they can come to the bar and talk about them with us.
The classic you want to show us
50ml of Calvados
25ml of Homemade Vermouth
10ml of Apricot Brandy
4 drops of Rosemary’s Bitters
The bar you dream of
My dream bar would have a lab behind a window in the bar, so customers can see a mini-distillery and we would be able to produce everything ourselves. The bar would not be too big, speakeasy style, candles, with around 50 seats with loads of wood and shelves like a museum where you can see historical vintage bottles. There would definitely be food and I’d like to do breakfast and brunch too, especially for bartenders on Sunday mornings after their service, there would probably be some form of Argentinian empanadas, or more likely- fish! My sister is an architect and I sometimes think about repairing old buildings and converting them into bars, like those abandoned 1930s cinemas you see around.
What do you do in your time off
I try to go salsa dancing when I can. I discovered salsa when I lived in South America and it’s something I need in my life, like pisco sours, one of my favourite cocktails. Thinking again about my dream bar, there would probably be a hidden dancefloor in the cellar!
The spirit you like the most
I love whisky. I was in a competition organised by Auchentoshan where I had to make my own bitters to mix with my drink and showcase it. For the prize, I went to their distillery with 11 other bartenders from around the world to work on a new expression, the first edition of The Bartender’s Malt, it was a great experience to work with master blender Rachel Barrie on bringing this project to life. I love scotch whisky, but I also enjoy American whisky like the Minor Case Rye Whiskey finished in a sherry cask. There are so many categories of whiskies, they are so versatile, you will always find a perfect one for your mood. At Sexy Fish of course, I have a wonderful opportunity to study the Japanese whisky sector, too.
What makes a good cocktail
It’s all about the balance, that’s why I think cocktails with fewer ingredients like a negroni work so well. I find these days the style of a drink can sometimes overtake the substance. Just keep it simple… you don’t need a drink served on the wings of an angel garnished with virgin tears!
What ingredient do you enjoy using in cocktails
I love bitters because they are like the seasoning for a cocktail. They really change a drink and I think they are the bridge between the different ingredients that may not ordinarily combine.
The signature cocktail you want to show us
Shrinking Violet Number 2
25ml of Roku Gin
10ml of Butterfly Pea Syrup
Top with Champagne
Orange and Peach Bitter Spray
Where do you think we need to go to interview another bartender
Go to see Matthew Hall, one of my mentors now based in Shanghai, he works for the Hakkasan Group as the Asia bar manager. If you’re in South America, find Fede Cuco at Verne Buenos Aires, and Daniel Biber at The Beer House Experience- I’ll never forget their hospitality. Here in London, my former colleague Tommaso Cicala is at Nine Lives, and definitely talk to Michele Reina at The Palm Court and ask him about the Space Glass…