Saturday, 16.12.2017

The Martini Maestro

[21/10/13] 

In an age where bartending has reached absurd heights of molecular this, gastronomic that, and affected monikers for those behind the bar like ‘mixologist’ and ‘tapster’, it’s a pleasant surprise to come across a real bartender who strips it back to old school basics when it comes to the tipples he shakes up.

But that’s exactly what Alessandro Palazzi does. Head Barman at London’s famed Dukes Bar, Palazzi takes a firmly no-nonsense approach to cocktail-making, yet manages to introduce levels of creativity and flair to his drinks that many of his counterparts lack, in spite of their fancy names and flashy styles. “I’ve been behind the bar 40 years and I’m still learning!” Palazzi quips in his lilting Italian accent as he mixes up a classic martini for the NecesCity team.

Palazzi is famous for his martinis. In Hong Kong to celebrate the Mandarin Oriental’s 50th anniversary, he’s acting as Martini-Maker-in-Residence at the hotel’s legendary Captain’s Bar, and will be whipping up the heady cocktails October 21-26, as well as hosting an exclusive martini-making event on October 26.

Whether you like it shaken or stirred, with vodka or gin, and finished with a lemon twist or olives, indulging in one of Palazzi’s martinis is the epitome of elegance, so it comes as no surprise that James Bond, the world’s most famous martini-lover, is the inspiration for Palazzi’s many variations of the cocktail.

Call it coincidence or destiny, but Dukes Bar, where Palazzi mixes up his superlative silver bullets, is actually famous for its ties to the slick superspy. Legend has it that Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming, used to frequent Dukes Bar, and that it was in this drinking den that he found inspiration for the now-classic line, ‘shaken, not stirred’.

Creating the perfect martini is an art form in itself, and while he might have a bit of fun creating some inspired takes on the classic cocktail, Palazzi is a traditionalist. “Many people still think that martinis are traditionally made with vodka. What they don’t realise is that at the time the martini was created, the only places that drank vodka were Russia and Poland!”

That’s not to say that he isn’t accommodating to personal preferences. “Vermouth is an essential in a martini, but the right amount of vermouth is a question of taste. I personally like a lot of vermouth,” Palazzi muses as he free-pours his custom-made, not-commercially-available amber vermouth into a chilled martini glass.

Palazzi credits Ian Fleming with popularising the martini by making it the go-to drink of choice for 007. “The martini used to be the drink of the elite. It was enjoyed only by certain people, and usually as an aperitif. But when it became James Bond’s drink, that’s when it became really popular and everyone started drinking it at any time. We all want to be James Bond. We want to wear a tuxedo, drink a martini, and feel very elegant.”

During his residency at Hong Kong’s Mandarin Oriental, Palazzi will be shaking up 007 themed cocktails as an homage to Fleming’s suave British agent. Each delectable cocktail comes with a great Bond story that inspired it, so make sure to ask. Try the Ian Fleming Classic Vesper, made of No.3 gin, Potocki Vodka and Palazzi’s own amber vermouth; the cocktail was described in Casino Royale, the very first Bond novel, and uses a Polish vodka as a sly wink to the fact that Fleming was inspired to write about the cocktail when he met a female Polish spy while working for British intelligence.

Alessandro Palazzi might not be 007 himself, but he can certainly shake up a martini James Bond would relish as he banters with his next conquest.


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