If you’re looking for the legend of mixology, look no further.
There comes a time in your cocktail journey when you tend to think, “what else?”. Well if you, like us, have traversed miles in search of that perfect elixir, handcrafted by a magician, approved by the experts, you have to make your way to The Connaught Bar in Mayfair, London. Through the large doors, past the elegant hallway, at the helm of the Connaught Bar, you will find a wizard who goes by the name Agostino Perrone.
For those who have already been baptised at The Connaught Bar, you know what we mean when we say the man is a wizard. Ago has held the title of Director of Mixology at The Connaught since the year 2008, and has been pushing the boundaries of the cocktail game in London ever since.
We diligently and relentlessly pursued Ago and were fortunate enough to have him take some time off his schedule to have a chat about Italy, London, cocktails, trends, and future plans.
Read on to find out what one of the world’s best and London’s finest mixologists has to say:
What was it like growing up in Lake Como?
Como is a beautiful, small city, with a rather slow pace. Growing up in Como was wonderful. We would often meet tourists, especially during the summer months, who would share fascinating stories from their travels which inspired me to create my own. I bought a one way ticket to London and never looked back.
What drew you to London back in 2003?
I had a job opportunity so Simone, my head bartender at the time, and I decided to pursue the London dream, I never left since…
What did you notice about the London cocktail scene in 2003 that made you realise there was a huge opportunity there?
When I first arrived in London, I first noticed it’s multicultural background. The cocktail scene at the time was just starting to tap into this transcendence of culture through its service touches and quality of products.
You had wonderful choice of classic cocktail bars, where I learnt and appreciated the history of cocktails and some bars were experimenting using exotic ingredients, which ignited my creative side. It was fascinating.
I remember, during one of my first shift, once a guest told me : “ here in London you need to be a good host with the guests, the cocktail is part of the process”, this sentence still resonates in my mind every time I need to train a junior…and I want them to develop as much as possible.
What would you say is the biggest challenge faced in the cocktail market in a city like London?
The cocktail market, it never stops; once you believe you are catching up there is something coming up. The challenge is to make your own style and be coherent with it.
Would you say the number of awards, accolades, and titles being given out on a yearly basis are giving bartenders the added impetus to improve their craft, or do you think it somehow adds unnecessary pressure on the craft of cocktail making?
The awards are very beneficial to motivate the team and it is a great story to share with our guests who proudly support us. This of course in turn adds pressure for us to always deliver, but we try not to let this affect us and focus on exceeding guest expectations through our service and choices.
What, in your opinion, have been the best and worst cocktail trends in the last decade?
I was never a big fan of “shots” there is something so wonderful about enjoying a cocktail/learning about the ingredients/key skills… the best trend and a game changer was to use only freshly squeezed juices and homemade ingredients.
Who has been your biggest inspiration in the industry and why?
There are so many people who have inspired me and continue to do so through my journey.
To name but a few, Simone Maci, who was my head bartender in Italy, first introduced me to the life of bars and am forever grateful.
As soon as I arrived in London, Dre Masso was an inspiration and then I met other leading people that gave me important advice and added something in to who I am today – Nidal Ramini, Henry Besant, Nick Strangeways gave me the opportunities to be a part of important projects that developed me and gave me important contacts in the bar.
Where do you think it’s easy to go wrong when developing a cocktail menu for your bar? What are the most common mistakes, in your opinion?
A cocktail menu has to compliment the bar you are serving it in and vice versa. You want people to experience a journey, from the moment they walk into the bar. Often menus and its space can clash, which makes it very difficult to understand.
What keeps a good bartender motivated to better his craft and prevents him/her to from becoming complacent? Any advice?
Never stop your curiosity, be ready to make mistakes and pay for those.
Do you ever think of going back to Italy and starting something there? There are some great speakeasies in Rome and Venice.
Italy will always be my home. But there is still so much to learn and discover, I’m not ready to leave London just yet.
What is your favourite whisky cocktail and what do you love about it?
It probably is a well-executed Scotch sour, I like the texture and linger aftertaste. It is refreshing as well as relaxing.
I would use The Dalmore Connaught cask created by Richard Patterson and I for the Connaught. I accompanied him to Jerez, where he shared his experience in choosing the sherry barrels and then in Dalmore distillery to taste sample of different barrels. Richard is truly inspirational, professionally and as person.
Plans for 2018 that you’d like to share?
I am working on exciting personal projects and it will be the 10th Anniversary of the Connaught Bar; we are planning great activities for this celebration!
We plan to see a lot of more of Ago and drink a lot more of the cocktails he is crafting. If you’re in London, drop by The Connaught Bar.
You can follow Ago on Instagram to find out what new magic he’s creating behind the bar.