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Bartenders’ secrets

From guessing what a guest will order to which is the most underrated spirit, Mandarin Oriental mixologists reveal tricks of the trade – and what they themselves drink


BY JOHANNA DERRY
Johanna Derry writes about food and drink for newspapers including The Telegraph, The Guardian and The Independent.

 

Meet the mixologists

William Perbellini is the Property Mixologist at Mandarin Bar at Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas. He has been a bartender for more than 12 years.

Yukiyo Kurihara is Manager of Bars at Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo and has more than 20 years’ experience as a bartender.

Hamza Saoui is Head Bartender at LingLing at Mandarin Oriental, Marrakech.

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Is a good cocktail greater than the sum of its parts?

William Perbellini

Ingredients really matter. Often when it comes to classic drinks, people don’t take the care they could. A good bartender will go back to the original recipe and make it to perfection, using the best and freshest ingredients, and house-made syrups with fresh juices.

Yukiyo Kurihara

Lots of people accidentally make a different cocktail by mistaking the quantity of ingredients. It’s crucial to get the balance right, so that it’s not to acidic and not too sweet. And there are ingredients that are difficult to use: highly fragrant liqueurs can make other ingredients ‘disappear’.

Hamza Saoui

Using organic ingredients makes a good cocktail great. All the herbs, fruits and vegetables we use in our drinks come from our kitchen garden.

How do you recommend the right drink to a customer?

William Perbellini

You can understand in a few seconds from the body language of the customer if they’re looking to open their mind to unique flavours, or if they have had a bad day and want a drink. I won’t make a fancy cocktail for someone who just wants a vodka martini, but I will try to make that vodka martini the greatest they’ve ever had.

Yukiyo Kurihara

I recommend something that’s seasonal and special to us, with their favourite base spirit or fruit flavours. If there’s nothing appropriate on the menu, I’ll create something.

Hamza Saoui

I start by asking their favourite spirit, then talk them through our menu based on that. If someone knows they like gin and tonic for example, I might recommend a cocktail that’s gin-based, but has other flavours, too.

Which spirits have an unfairly bad reputation?

William Perbellini

Asian spirits can be intimidating on menus. There’s one called Baijiu, that’s from China, which is similar to vodka, but has a predominantly peaty, smoky flavour. Ingredients like that are a little uncomfortable for some, but I would encourage people to try them.

Yukiyo Kurihara

In the past, mixologists called tequila a ‘drinks killer’ and avoided it. But bartenders became more creative and clever with how they use it, and that in turn changed its image.

Hamza Saoui

Gin used to have a dreadful reputation but that’s completely changed now. We have 13 cocktails on our menu that are gin-based.

What do you drink to finish the day?

William Perbellini

A Negroni Sbagliato, which uses prosecco instead of gin. Bitter, sweet and sparkling, it has all the flavours to open up your appetite for dinner.

Yukiyo Kurihara

It has to be a Negroni for me.

Hamza Saoui

A perfect martini, with Belvedere vodka and a slice of lemon.