Interview with Oskar Kinberg, Oskar's Bar in Dabbous

Oskar Kinberg. Photo ©
London is and has been a popular destination for Swedish people as long as I can remember, and in my interview series with Swedish bartenders I've presented a handful of people who have ended up mixing drinks over there - some are still spreading the gospel and others have moved on. In 2012, Oskar Kinberg got the opportunity to open Oskar's Bar in the basement of Dabbous - a hyped fine dining restaurant in swanky Fitzrovia - and it's still going strong. So, who is this Oskar anyway?

What made you pursue a career in bartending and how did you get your first bartender job?

Initially it wasn't really a planned career move and like many others it just turned out that way. I had probably worked 2 or 3 years before I realised and admitted to myself I wasn't gonna go to uni and instead pursue a career in hospitality. I got my first bar job when I moved to London in 2005 in a little cocktail bar in soho. It wasn't the easiest convincing people to hire me without any experience but eventually I was given the opportunity.

Where are you originally from, and how did you end up opening Oskar's Bar in Dabbous?

I'm from Linköping, Östergötland. After having run bars and nightclubs for other people I wanted to try it on my own. The biggest draw was the complete freedom of putting whatever I want on the menu, decide atmosphere and generally doing things my way.

Can you describe the current cocktail concept at Oskar's Bar and the story behind it?

My style of drinks generally goes to the lighter style, even with booze heavy ones. I like the drinks to make people curious rather than feel intimidated. When odd things are used in drinks its for a purpose and it's even more important then that the end result is accessible. Tasty drinks for everyone would be the quickest way to describe it.

Oskar's Bar. Photo ©
Which place/places has/have been most important regarding your knowledge and skills?

I worked with a lot of good bartenders and managers at The Cuckoo Club where I spent 6 years and this is probably where I learnt most. I still learn all the time which is something I really enjoy.

How would you describe the perfect customer?

I like happy, nice and polite customers. Funny ones are also nice.

What's the weirdest drink order you've gotten?

There's a lot of these ones. Usually a non alcoholic version of something that only contains alcohol. Like a virgin dry martini. It makes saying no while not sounding like condescending prick difficult.

What do you like most about your job?

All the different aspects of it from running a business, service, training to making new drinks. Also shit banter behind the bar and brand trips!

Do you have any special bartending skills you're extra proud of?

I have a very strong lean on the back bar pose. It's taken years to develop but now looks completely effortless.

How do you spend your spare time?

Either just relaxing at home or dinner and drinks with friends. It hasn't been a lot of this lately as I'm working on a cocktail book "cocktail cookbook" which is due for release in October.

What do you drink when off duty?

Red wine mainly.

What do you have in your private liquor cabinet?

A lot of whisky and rum. Some rarities and some for everyday use. It tends to change regularly.

What upcoming cocktail trends do you think we can expect in the near future?

No idea.

Which are your favourite bars/bartenders around the world and why?

I like Blind Pig. Solid drinks and great vibe.

In your opinon, how do London/UK bars compare to Sweden's?

I haven't been out much in Sweden in the last 10 or so years but I hear really good things all the time.

What's your opinion on cocktail competitions, have you entered any and in that case how was the experience?

I haven't entered any for many years. I appreciate the good they do but my focus is elsewhere. The guys that enter them these days are so good at competitions so I wouldn't stand a chance. There are so many more aspects than just making a good drink now so you really need to spend a lot of time to prepare and think about your presentation.

How do you come up with new cocktail recipes and what inspires you?

They're usually inspired by the ingredients I use. For a menu the balance of different styles is important as is seasonality so I know in my head what I want to achieve before I start. Then it's just finding the best way to do that.

Which of your signature drinks, if any, and what else in your career are you most proud of so far?

Different for different reasons. There is something satisfying when you create a drink that sells more than any other. This answer changes all the time. There is always one on each menu change that I'm really happy with. Currently it's a cocktail called "Adam & Eve". It's like a light and boozy milkshake with rum, banana, milk and fig leaf. Admittedly not my normal style but there is something so comforting, satisfying and moorish in all its simplicity.

Quince & The Pauper Cocktail. Photo ©
Where do you see yourself in five years from now?

Retired? Haha, I don't know. We have plans for more places but I like to take one thing at a time.

Would you like to share one of your own recipes?

Adam & Eve
35ml aged rum
35ml 1:1 gomme
1/2 banana
200ml milk
1/2 fig leaf

Method: blend everything on high speed for 15 seconds. Add a small scoop of crushed ice and blend for further 10 seconds. All the ice will melt to chill and dilute the drink.

Fine strain into a sundae glass to remove leaf bits and garnish with some banana crisps.

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