The man behind two of Birmingham’s most forward-thinking cocktail experiences, Robert Wood, opens his new venture Atelier, a creative drinks studio and cocktail bar, in the city’s Jewellery Quarter this month. Amy Norbury got the lowdown from the award-winning drinks creator ahead of the launch
Housed in a restored factory in Newhall Square, Atelier is a bar as singular as its guardian. Like a true atelier, the space will be a workshop that offers complete creative freedom, allowing Robert to express his ever-changing interests and ideas through drinks. Open for just a few nights a week for a handful of guests each evening, and with each menu available for a limited time only, guests can expect a constantly evolving experience.
Where have you drawn inspiration for the bar and experience from?
My almost 20 years in the cocktail world have brought me to this point. Both Smultronstalle and 18/81 (my previous bars) are direct inspiration points – our former fans will find much that is familiar – but Atelier will take things a step further.
Each menu is available for just a short time (around eight to 12 weeks) and will be a laser-focused expression of my current creative interests. The first, ‘Terroir’, is a celebration of the native pantry of the British Isles. It will be available from September 22 to November 12, after which I will completely reinvent the menu, starting afresh with the freedom to create entirely new drinks around whatever inspiration next strikes me.
My direct influences in the food and drink world are Gen Yamamoto, Luke Whearty, Doug McMaster and Ryan Chetiyawardana.
How important is the Jewellery Quarter location, and the building itself, to the overall concept?
The JQ is super important to our plans. Our building has tons of history – it dates back to 1838 and is the former home of one of the city’s most important manufactories, Elkington Mason & Co. We have allowed the natural charisma of the building to be part of the process and it’s played a part in directing the design. The concept has definitely been shaped by the building and the Jewellery Quarter itself, the historic home of many of Birmingham’s finest designers, makers, workshops and studios.
How long has Atelier been in the pipeline?
We viewed and fell in love with the building over two years ago. It’s been a long road to this point and we can’t wait to share the space with our guests.
Tell us about the wider team behind Atelier?
Kyndra (my long-term professional partner and fiancée) and I will be your hosts, but we have an entire team of people who have made Atelier happen. Alex Claridge, my friend and long-term collaborator, has been a huge support behind-the-scenes, and we’re lucky to have a team of creatives that really share our vision and have helped bring it to life.
Tell us about the first menu, Terroir? What sort of thing can guests expect?
‘Terroir’ is a celebration of the native pantry of the British Isles. There will be three ‘Terroir’ experiences to explore, a seven-course cocktail tasting experience that takes guests on a journey across the UK celebrating a plethora of landscapes and their esoteric flavours and ingredients, house cocktails from the a la carte menu, and a four-course tasting menu that offers a concise, but tailored experience that reflects British seasonal changes.
Do you have any particular favourite ingredients to use?
I really love introducing new flavours to people. It brings a sense of intrigue rather than expectation. Whether that be acorn or sandalwood or even bamboo, new experiences seldom come along for foodies, so I take it very seriously.
Will there be any ingredients which guests might find unusual?
Every single drink should have something familiar and something unusual about it. ‘Terroir’ will really test people’s dependence on overused flavours like passionfruit and strawberry. Instead, we want to show people awesome flavours like gorse flower, birch, meadowsweet, sea buckthorn, quince and oak moss.
How has your passion for drinks creation and cocktails developed over the years?
20 years of cocktail making has culminated in what I hope is a hybridity of approachability and iconoclasm. I want to change the way people think about cocktails, and offer them flavours and experiences that push the boundaries. However, the experience has to be inviting and welcoming – the success of experimentation only comes from building trust with your guests, bringing them on the journey.
What are your main influences when it comes to constructing a new drinks experience?
Fine dining restaurants, 100%. Kyndra and I eat all over the world and we take a lot of inspiration from restaurant culture and those experiences.
Reservations are now open for the first Atelier menu, ‘Terroir’, which runs from September 22 to November 12, and can be made at www.atelierbyrobertwood.com. Atelier seats just 26 guests and is open Thursday to Saturday, with advance booking highly recommended.