In 2006, Hackney-based film-maker Dan Edelstyn stumbled upon his grandmother’s memoirs hidden away in his family attic. What he uncovered was a fascinating story, revealing Maroussia Zorokovich’s privileged upbringing in Ukraine, her troubles during the Russian Revolution in 1917 and subsequent emigration to the UK.
In 2008, Dan visited the Ukraine and discovered his family’s vodka distillery still up and running in a remote village. Caught up in the idea of bringing back the struggling vodka brand produced on his family’s site, the young film-maker decided that, despite his complete lack of business experience, he would revive the brand and bring it back to London.
All the while filming the project, Dan’s documentary charts his lessons, mistakes and triumphs as he reclaims his heritage, becomes an unlikely vodka baron and helps economically depressed town Douboviazovka revive its struggling economy.
Now stocked in Selfridges, not to mention a stack of trendy East London bars including LoungeLover, Off Broadway and Jaguar Shoes, we’re putting Dan under our London Grill to find out his favourite London spots. Not only that, the vodka king himself has kindly given us a bottle of his fabulous Zorokovich 1917 Vodka to one lucky winner. Head over to Twitter to be in with a chance of winning!
Seeing as you’re a vodka connoisseur now – where’s your favourite place to get a cocktail in London?
That’s a political question; if I say one of the Zorokovich bars, the others will get upset! There are so many wonderful ones. I love the view from Paramount, at the top of Centre Point; the sense of history & liveried doorman at Rules in Covent Garden; the 1930s Art Deco atmosphere of Skylon and the East London chic of Loungelover. But then I am leaving out important places like One Aldwych for understated elegance and Hix Soho for its hidden underground world with its sunken floor.
What’s your ultimate London pub?
I’m not really a pub person to be honest, but I love The Ship in Greenwich for its view of the dirty old Thames and its pies. I’m a pastry lover, and my wife bought me a book on how to make it, but to be honest I’m more of an eater than a chef, and they do an excellent thin crust pastry.
What do you love about East London?
I love the space, the ability to get into wild places almost immediately that seem to be way outside of the city. I love the way in this corner of town that misfits and outsiders can find a little bit of space to dream. I love the long avenue of the Hackney Road with its semi-industrial wholesale shops and the old warehouses. I love the fact that I have grown up here through my twenties and every street is lined with memories and around every corner a friend lives. I love Hackney Wick; outwardly such a morass of ugly industrial buildings built for purposes long ago abandoned, but inside those secret places it’s teeming with life. The canals, the footpaths, the myths. And looming over the top of it all, an international mega-event crouches at the starting blocks, waiting to hear the starting pistol.
Where would you take a tourist in London?
Columbia Road and Hackney City Farm. It’s Sunday morning, the sunshine is streaming through the window. My tourist is asleep downstairs, sprawled out on the sofa uncomfortably (he’s way too tall to fit on that sofa, but he has no choice). I put on the espresso maker and bang on some depressing Leonard Cohen record (Maybe ‘Bird of a Wire’, which is my favourite ever depressing Leonard Cohen record); the tourist stirs. I put the coffee into his hand and my little girl and wife Hilary are ready and raring to go. We jump in the van and we’re off to market. As we arrive, people are already streaming out of Columbia Road; they look like walking trees. Huge bushes luxuriate on the back seats of sports cars, having the ride of their lives while grannies clutch colourful bouquets of flowers. And then I think; this is London, this is great and I suddenly realise I’ve forgotten my wallet.
That was breathtaking! If you’re not making it for tall tourists, where do you get your morning coffee?
It depends. These days I’m often walking the streets of Soho, so I might pop into the French House, or the Curzon Soho (with its Konditor and Cook) has become a favourite place. If I’m in Victoria Park with Hilary and my little girl we usually frequent the Bagel place, which makes an unpretentious cup of builders’ tea, though the coffee isn’t their strong point. Nothing beats my stove-top espresso maker in the studio though; its thick black liquid usually has the effect of making me sit bolt upright and get on with some serious work. It gives me a jolt, like caffeinated lightening running through my veins and even the most arduous of adventures suddenly becomes possible.