Agostino Perrone: at the top of the world’s most famous bartenders’ charts, tells how the #2 World’s 50 Best Bar in London, the Connaught Bar, heads up.
Passion, dedication, responsibility, and family: These are just some of the words that describe the soul and work of Agostino Perrone, known today as one of the best bartenders in the world.
Many are the stories contained in the Connaught Bar, born eleven years ago inside the Connaught Hotel, that was founded in 1815 and brought with it many transformations in history. Still, two are the elements – that Agostino wants to emphasize – have remained the same: the clock and the wooden panels. “If these walls could speak who knows how many stories they would tell,” says Ago.
The bar, designed by David Collins, is a perfect mix of the Old British and modern style. Cozy and warm, it invites you to sink into the leather sofas, getting lost in the words of the impeccable service, able to describe the cocktails in detail without ever getting bored; to welcome you in the bar as if you were always a customer.
Agostino, Director of Mixology, is the conductor of a perfectly symphonic, elegant, and enveloping orchestra. Giorgio, Head Mixologist, Riccardo, bar manager, and Maura, Assistant Bar Manager, are the fundamental instrumentalists to compose the most harmonic of symphonies, played by a total of 20 instrumentalists. “For me today, the Connaught is home. Here there is something magical about the feeling of being welcomed into a large family. It’s like the spirit of Christmas but 365 days a year.” says Maura smiling. The secret ingredient to a perfect cocktail is, therefore, the human aspect, without which the Connaught would not be distinguished, not only for the costumer’s experience but also of the staff.
Ago, what brings you to the Connaught Bar?
I was born and raised in Como. I’ve always been a dreamer, a traveler, and a fan of photography. I finished school at the age of 19, starting work in a bar in my city, known as the best bar at the moment. Here I became interested in mixed drinking and became curious about the origin of different spirits from all over the world, thus enriching my culture. After other experiences in Italy between Sardegna and Arcore, the opportunity of London arrived. It was 2003 and wasn’t one of the most exciting destinations for me, so it was traumatic, but at the same time exciting. It’s a city that tests you, especially from a personal point of view, so I recommend it to everyone because it creates an extra layer on the skin. Thanks to experiences like Dusk in Battersea, followed by Notting Hill’s Montgomery Place, I had the chance to grow up, receiving awards as CLASS Bartender of the Year in 2006. In 2008 they opened the Connaught Bar and called me to direct it; I was invited to be part of this concept that had to be revolutionary from the beginning. Until 2008, there was a substantial distinction between hotel bars and independent bars. The idea was to have a cocktail bar inside the hotel, as never before done, supporting the old clientele and inviting the new, thus creating something classic but also modern. Our aim has never been to be famous, but to make sure that the client could have a memorable experience: whether they order a glass of water or an extravagant cocktail. We have always educated the staff to be in touch and intuitive with customers and understand their needs without being intrusive, keeping the distance but being at the same time friendly. The atmosphere of the Connaught is relaxing and quiet: there is something in the air that makes the customer feel at ease, a particular harmony. The sophistication of the cocktail is undoubtedly a part of which we work a lot, but the same commitment we put on the communication of this.
What drove you to the world of cocktails?
Everything happened a bit by chance in Como, then London certainly was a turning point because I came up against realities never seen before: I had arrived from Italy with an American bartender school education, very methodical and structured. Here I began to attend the Lab, a bar that among the first began to use fresh fruit and exotic ingredients and was one of the leading destinations for bar tours in London. Working with them was an opportunity to test me and improve professionally. I will always remember a client with whom I talked about what he thought was the most crucial cocktail to make for him, and he told me “to know how to talk to people.”
How do you become one of the best bartenders in the world, and how do you stand out from others?
I’ve always looked at mine, trying never to be a copy of anyone else. You have to remain confident with who you are and know and be patient. I think that my attitude to be focused on me has helped me to keep the focus on my path without having distractions. This attitude I have also poured into the philosophy of the Connaught, managing to resize the worlds’ hotel bar for both customers and staff. From the very beginning, we focused on the customer experience without being distracted by the current global trends. We are classic, elegant, we have our creativity, and we focus on the customer. I have always managed to protect my vision from external distractions. The consequence is that the guys who work with me embrace this vision: it helps a lot. This simplicity of approach is the most challenging thing, but it has also helped us in the longevity of the Connaught Bar.
How do you educate costumers that to drink well you have to spend more, and how do you make accessible a good drink?
We try to give our customers an experience, not just a cocktail. It’s a path that the customer takes: surely having a cocktail here or another in a more chaotic place helps you to involve all the senses. So we don’t want to educate the customer but to make him feel comfortable and can naturally use his senses. We take great care in the research of the product, of the technique, but always linked to entertainment: this is the secret that helps the customer to be involved. Maybe those who come here for the first time start with a glass of wine, then become curious and open to the experience of cocktails. Bloody Mary and Martini were created to maintain the personality of the classic cocktail without changing it too much, then adding an extra touch of elegance and uniqueness: we like to play with colors, texture, and smells. We’ve managed to convert people who don’t drink Bloody Mary or Martini to drink them. So it’s not a question of education itself, but of making the customer a part of the experience.
How important is the relationship with costumers for a bartender?
Here at Connaught, we have a very classic, old-fashioned approach: professional, but friendly. The client wants to be treated uniquely but also in a friendly way. We have created customer loyalty through the hotel, but we have to let the process be natural.
Not sitting at the bar was a choice; we wanted to leave the bar bare to create a stage from which you can see the harmonious atmosphere of the work behind a cocktail. We spent a lot of time with the client trying to explain the details of the cocktail, always without being too intrusive.
From a sensory and emotional point of view, what do you want the customer to feel?
The sensory experience starts with the atmosphere: the view of the cocktail, the smell, the texture, and the external environment. We try to find a balance between familiar flavors and the more exotic and unusual ones so that the customer wants to come back to discover something more. We want the customer to be free to feel the emotions that the cocktail arouses, without stressing him. With each customer, the skill lies in being able to understand how deep you can go and how much you can involve them in the story. The sensory experience is there, but it is not guided, without making the customer aware of it.
Food pairing – cocktails. How necessary is the knowledge of cooking for a bartender?
The knowledge of the world of cooking has helped a lot in the last 20 years to improve techniques and understand the quality of products. Another important aspect of the cooking world is the door to the relationship with the consumer. As far as the matching with cocktails is concerned, it must be well thought out, and there is a risk of making the experience too heavy.
Have you ever had a four-handed experience with a Chef?
Yes, with Giovanni Passerini there was immediate agreement. Every time I make four-handed events, the cocktail becomes the protagonist: I think about the kind of people the event is directed to, and the chef creates the dish around the cocktail. We always try to respect each other’s work and find a balance between food and wine. If there is harmony between the chef and the bartenders, the collaboration becomes perfect without even having to see each other and try it out. Food, however, is always the door between the cocktail and the experience with the customer: it is a formula that, if done well, is optimal. In the end, however, we believe that what remains most imprinted of the experience is the feeling of how you were, even if you do not remember what you ate or drank.
One of the most beautiful memories of your work?
One of the moments that always makes me proud as a bartender was making a martini for James Bond. The first time Pierce Brosnan came and asked for a Martini, there was a moment of panic.
After some time, he came back with his wife, insisting that she also heard the story of the Martini. The very last time, he asked explicitly about me; these are the satisfactions that make me happy to do what I do.
The cocktail of your heart?
A symbol of Connaught is certainly the Martini. Mulata Daisy, however, is one of my signatures: it was created eleven years ago at the Connaught Bar for the first edition of the Bacardi Legacy, where I was the winner. That is the cocktail now associated with my name as it in about twentyish bars’ lists around the world. Then we have to say that all the cocktails on the menu are like children.
The distillate you like to work with the most?
Gin has always been my passion, so much that we’ve created the Connoughts’ one for the bars’ tenth anniversary. I am a lover of the classic London Dry Gin, and I wanted to honor the English of Connaught, my collaboration with the Master Blender, and finally to challenge my palate. We distill, bottle, and label by hand the ten botanicals’ gin. I wanted to create a classic recipe with ten botanicals and a wine distillate inside. The shape of the bottle, then, recalls the shaker.
In which direction do you think the world of cocktails is going?
Surely it is growing a lot and is developing more consciously. Social media today is a double-edged sword: everyone sees what is on the plate and not what is behind it, and depending on the country, people are more or less aware of the finished product.
How to prepare a perfect Mulata Dasy:
- 40 ml Bacardi Heritage 44% rum
- 20 ml of lime juice
- 1 tablespoon of pumpkin
- ½ tablespoon fennel seeds
- 20ml of cocoa cream
- 10 ml of Galliano l’Autentico
Put all ingredients except Galliano to the shaker filled with ice and shake. Pour Galliano to champagne Coupe rimmed with cacao powder and double strain over drink from a shaker.
Enjoy the drink!
Thank you Ago and all the beautiful Connaught family!
The Connaught Hotel is a 5-star luxury hotel in the heart of Myfair, London. It includes three bars and a two Michelin stars restaurant.