Some of you out there may be doing 'Dry January' - but for those of us who are still enjoying the odd tipple or two this month's Ask the Expert interview is a perfect self indulgence. We taken the time to interview Mixologist extraordinaire Raffaele di Monaco who can be found most nights of the week shaking up a storm at the opulent Park Chinois.
How did you start out in the bartending profession?
My career in hospitality started very early as I studied in a catering school. My first experience was waiting tables in restaurants and clubs, but when I saw what bartenders do I just couldn’t wait to jump behind the bar. I then started to wash up glasses while learning the first steps. I worked hard and learned from every resource I had until I was finally confident and able to call myself a bartender. I managed a bar in Italy for two years, but I always knew that London was the city to be for the best career opportunities. The hospitality industry here has much better scenario and many of the best venues in the world.
What's the most common cocktail people ask for?
These days cocktails such as 'Dry Martini','Negroni' and 'Old Fashioned' are among the most popular and that’s because there is a general attention to cocktails that are spirit focused. However the future of cocktails will be low alcohol, light and fresh.
What unusual ingredients have you experimented with in your cocktails?
I’ve tried many unusual ingredients to catch the guests eyes and make drinks more interesting, I especially like to use botanicals such as carob or cascara tea. Although, my latest creation is Japanese Whisky Fat-washed with duck fat.
What is your favourite cocktail to make for a customer?
It’s always great to see that your signature cocktail sells well but I really enjoy making them discover forgotten recipes such as 'Remember the Maine' or the 'Japanese Cocktail' from Jerry Thomas' book.
What do you think gives a cocktail the wow-factor?
Execution, presentation, aroma, flavour and service - everything makes up the wow-effect factor. Every single detail is part of the experience, it’s not just the drink its self. Usually "out of the ordinary” serves are able to impress, they can be done with quirky glassware, unusual ingredients or just a different way of serving the cocktail.
What’s your cocktail of choice?
Gin Martini: 70ml Tanqueray 10 gin + 10ml Noilly prat vermouth with an olive. A great classic!
Talk us through a typical day in the life of a mixologist?
Bartenders usually don’t wake up early, we can all imagine why. After breakfast, an hour at the gym is what I need to get my motor running. At work we start the day setting up the bar, selecting the best fruits and flowers and cooking ingredients such as syrup, shrub, infusions, bitters. Carving ice is another fascinating duty, it’s pretty much like being a carpenter, we carve massive blocks of ice and we make beautiful shapes out of it to serve our cocktails with. Preparation in very intense, I always say it is the most important part of the day. People don’t usually see how much effort there is behind the scenes. Nowadays in some ways bars works as kitchens, ergo bartenders work as chefs. Once the doors are open, the show starts, from greeting every guest with a smile, to shaking, stirring, pouring, garnishing and shaking hands. It's all about delivering a sensational night to whoever is on the other side. All this while your brain is already working on the next creations!
What do you love most about what you do?
It never gets boring, there is so much to learn and to discover. I like to play with flavours and aromas, to find the perfect drink for every occasion and every taste. I also love the fact that I get to work with and serve great people everyday.
What is your ultimate career goal?
I’m currently living the dream, managing the bar in one of the best restaurant in London, Park Chinois. However, my ultimate goal will be my own little bar, few seats only, don’t know where yet though!
Quickfire Questions
What’s your signature holiday style?
Relaxed and lazy
Long trunks or short trunks?
Short trunks
Pool or sea? Sea
Sun cream or Tanning Oil?
Sun cream
What smell reminds you of holiday the most and why?
Sea food smells remind me of the seaside because where I come from that’s all we eat in the summer.
Where is the best beach you’ve ever visited?
Playa Blanca in the Dominican Republic
How do you adapt your diet on holiday?
I always try local products and traditional dishes, I generally like to have something light on the beach for lunch and seafood for dinner.
What’s your go-to beach activity?
Beach rackets is my favourite activity on the beach, I could play all day.
What’s the next book you want to read on the beach?
I’ve had Casino Royal on my bedside table for a while now, but I’m always too tired too read at night so that will be it.
Where are you next going on holiday and what cocktail sums up that place? Japan will be my next destination, they have great whisky and wonderful cocktail bars. I’ll certainly get some Mizuwari highballs (whisky; still water; fresh mint)

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