Standing behind the famous Dukes Hotel cocktail trolley, immaculate in a white tuxedo, is Alessandro Palazzi, head barman and maestro of the martini. He and his team mix up to 200 martinis a night in this luxurious but discreet 5-Star St James’s hotel tucked behind Green Park.
We’re lucky enough to be taking part in Alessandro’s Martini Masterclass in which a maximum of six guests are tutored to produce drinks of superb quality and lethal strength. Making and drinking the cocktails is great fun, but for me it is Alessandro’s consummate grace, passion for his trade and anecdotes of cocktail lore and London society that give the experience its real twist.
It was here at Dukes that James Bond author Ian Fleming came to drink and where Bond’s famous, and unusual, preference to have his martini ‘shaken not stirred’ was born. Unusual, we learn, because shaking with ice actually waters down the drink and will alter the flavour of the liquor. Not that this bothers Alessandro, whose lack of pretension is as refreshing as the drinks he serves. For him, ‘whatever you like is right’; what’s much more important is the quality of the ingredients.
Use a frozen glass, organic Amalfi lemons, olives from Puglia and high quality spirits. My favourite drink of the six or so cocktails we sampled was a vodka martini (the classic martini is made with gin) mixed with Alessandro’s favourite vodka, Chase, which is distilled in England and was voted the world’s best in 2010. Needless to say, it was delicious: strong but extremely smooth and wonderfully cold.
To book a martini masterclass costing £85 (including canapés) per head, check out the Dukes website.