Everyone needs a dose of Mia Johansson in their lives. She’s the epitome of the perfect host. Always attentive, always smiling and always but always welcoming, she’s truly one of Soho’s brightest stars. Born and raised in Sweden, she now calls London home. Luckily for us. Find her at Swift, the award-winning bar she co-owns with her husband Bobby Hiddleston.
Mia says she has “always wanted someone to ask me desert island questions. I always see people answer such odd stuff and I always go – ‘you wouldn’t survive a day on a desert island!” But before stranding Mia on her island, and checking out her survival tips, we spoke about some of the key moments in her life and career including learning how to pour pints in Oslo, the influence of Dick Bradsell, her love of whisky and Negronis, and how it felt to open Swift.
So Mia, what was the first record you remember falling in love with?
The first ever CD I bought, was the single Mambo No. 5, by Lou Bega. I used to play it on repeat in my bedroom. I know at that time it probably should have been something more like No Doubt or Oasis; but no, Lou Bega was the first track I clearly remember falling in love with, closely followed by Limp Bizkit.
What drink sums up this song in your mind?
I want a drink that showcases the fun and flirtatiousness of the music. I’d go for a Pisco Punch, but made with honeydew melon instead of pineapple, because I’m allergic to pineapple.
What was your first job in hospitality?
My first proper job, was in 2008 at a lovely restaurant in Oslo called Al Dente. My fantastic bosses were two gents in their sixties. They taught me how to pour a pint and would tell me about how they travelled the world in the 1970s on cruise ships, making all these fun, colourful cocktails. They were without a doubt the first people to show me what true hospitality was. They taught me about the importance of kindness and good banter. If you see this Jakob, you are a bloody hero.
What drink sums up this time in your life?
I would have to pick something that honours Jakob. He loved a good aquavit, and he was the person who first introduced me to it, so I definitely owe him. He loved a Bitburger pilsner, so I would pick an aquavit shandy made with lemon sherbet.
What record captures this time in your life?
Me and my girlfriends at this point were going through a huge rock star phase, and Def Leppard’s, Pour Some Sugar On Me was my jam.
What was your first bar job in London?
It was in 2010 and the fantastic Nick Strangeway was my first boss in London, and I was working at the new and fancy, Mark’s Bar at HIX in Soho. One day he trusted me with the bar which was nearly empty – I reckon we only had two guests in the place that evening, and one of them happened to order a Negroni, and I had no clue how to make one. My amazing friend Bea Bradsell’s dad was working across the street from me, so I ran over and pleaded with Dick Bradsell to show me how to make a Negroni. He pointed at some bottles and told me if anyone asked, or questioned the recipe, to tell them it was a Nick Strangeway twist. And it worked. I think I owed my rent that month to Dick!
What song and drink sums up this period in your life?
The song would have to be Beyonce’s, Love On Top. We used to dance a lot at El Camion, and I remember evenings spent drinking Negronis all over London. Those nights made me fall in love with this fantastic bartending city.
Tell us about another formative moment in your career?
I’ve always loved my whisky. Through my teens I had the love, but not the knowledge, and mostly drank Jack and Coke. In 2011, I started working at Milk and Honey, and I not only found my husband there, but also my geeky fascination for all things grain based. Compass Box gave me a real helping hand in this regard and my first ever training was with my now dear friend, Dave Broom. So I guess you can say I left Milk and Honey with a Scot and a whole bunch of Scotch.
What song represents this time in your mind?
John Lee Hooker’s, One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer. Whenever I hear it I can almost smell the incense.
What drink sums up this time in your mind?
A neat whisky, and make it a Compass Box Great King Street.
What’s one of the most special memories you have of your bar Swift?
A big moment was when that first drink went over the bar. I remember that scene so clearly in my mind. You’d never be able to guess who was served our first ever drink? It was our own Senior Bartender, Max Wolff beautiful grandmother – how magical is that? And I remember making it while Bad Moon Rising by my favourite band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, was playing through the speakers.
What was the drink you made?
The drink was ihe Piccolina. It’s one of the drinks I am most proud to have invented, I sometimes question how I did it. It is such a simple cocktail, but it has so many layers. Here’s the recipe:
50 ml white port
25 ml Amontillado sherry
12.5 ml crème de figue
3 dashes Angostura bitters
Method: Stir, and serve with a big green olive.
If you could only take one spirit with you on your desert island what would it be?
Gin, because I would be trying to make all kinds of tonics and shrubs to help keep myself alive.
If you could choose one cocktail that you could have on your desert island what would it be?
A Martini, because I suspect that my tonics and shrubs probably wouldn’t be that tasty; so if I could have a good clean Martini my will to survive this island adventure would probably stay intact.
What would be the one song that you would pick to accompany on your desert island?
My absolute favourite song is probably Blinded By The Light, by Bruce Springsteen. It’s such a fantastic song.
What luxury item would you take with you on your desert island?
If I can’t bring Bobby then I would have to stick with my survival theme and bring a Morse code machine.
Want more tunes from Mia Johansson? Check out her playlist here:
Interview by Miles Watson