Award-winning mixologist Simone Caporale (formerly of London’s Artesian, World’s Best Bar for four consecutive years; and International Bartender of the Year 2014) is in town for a three-day pop-up at M bar at Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, and we caught up with him to talk about his impression of the 852, all things mixology and his alternative career as a gangster-concierge.
Words Iris Wong
1. What was the first cocktail you’ve ever made, and when was that?
The first drink I have ever made while working at the bar was when I was 16. I was working as bar-back between two senior bartenders. One of them had to leave the bar for a few minutes, and I found myself alone there. A client asked me for the same cocktail as the one he previously had. Obviously, he didn’t know I was not the bartender who served him before. So I had to improvise a recipe which had the same colour as the few drops of cocktail left at the bottom of his glass. I felt very sorry for that guest. Definitely, my first cocktail was not something that made me proud. Maybe he liked it. Maybe.
2. What is your favourite cocktail?
I like them all, but not all at the same time. It really depends on the time of day, location and season. I love the feeling of drinking water too.
3. What is your favourite spirit, and why?
I don’t have a favourite one as each of them is so different and special. At this moment, I would choose a London dry-style gin.
4. When you’re not creating and mixing drinks, what do you do?
I like to do gardening. I am planting a variety of citrus fruits such as bergamot, chinotto and yuzu. I like to read also, and I do yoga every day.
5. Will you be visiting any bars in Hong Kong while you’re here? If so, which one(s)?
If I do have time, I’d love to visit VEA Lounge, The Old Man and other ones that recently opened.
6. What is your impression of Hong Kong’s bar scene?
It’s a challenging environment because of rentals. I heard that rentals always go up and do appreciate those who have the courage to open a bar there.
7. What are the inspirations behind the drinks you’ll be serving at the M bar pop-up? Where do you usually get inspiration from when creating new drinks?
I want to show the compatibility between flavours that generally don’t sound great together, but in the reality, they do.
8. What is your favourite bar in the world?
My favourite bars are those where I feel like home.
9. Why did you move to London? How did you end up joining Artesian?
I moved to London in 2009 because I was told that it was the capital of cocktails. Therefore, I tried and I never thought about the consequences. Alex Kratena, former head bartender at Artesian, asked me to join him for a new and anarchic change within that bar. We have never looked back since then.
10. Has anything changed since you became International Bartender of the Year in 2014?
Yes, I have damaged my lower back. This is the real award I have been presented with! It’s not important to win awards. It’s better to know which open door to choose after that recognition.
11. How does it differ working for a hotel bar compared to a standalone bar?
Hotels have the advantage of having many sources of funds and a continuous flow of international guests who bring in new drinks requests, and from there, you can spread internationally the news of what’s happening at the bar, but the negative thing is that, in a hotel, the matter of urgency and hierarchy of management system turns everything into a very slow process of progress.
On the other hand, communications within standalone bars are more efficient as they’re run by a smaller group of professionals. There’s more flexibility for changes. The drawback is that the rental is borne by the bar itself but at a hotel, the bar just plays one part of the whole business. Anyhow, both offer great working environments and are good for gaining experience.
12. How is mixology different in London compared to other countries you’ve been to?
Every country is different especially when new trends arrive. Sometimes a new trend is called so because it has been developed for the first time ever. But once it reaches another country, although the fact is that, it’s something new there, it’s nothing new on a global scale because it has been done before somewhere else. If you want to be first, don’t follow any trends. Create your own.
13. How can one best enjoy a cocktail?
Be in good company, feeling looked after by the bar team, and eventually with a tasty drink.
14. What is a typical day for you?
I wake up at 9am. I drink chamomile tea. I work at the computer, and cook lunch for my wife. I work at the computer again. Then I go to my material workshop where I can work out new shapes or formats that drinks could be transformed into. I do yoga around 7pm, cook dinner at 9:30pm, read a book at midnight, and fall asleep after five minutes of reading. As you can see, now my lifestyle is more balanced than when I was bartending every day.
15. What is the hardest part about being a bartender? What do you love most about being a bartender?
The hardest part is not having a regular sleep time, non-regular meals, generally consuming more alcohol than what is recommended, not having much time to spare for yourself or your hobbies. Despite all these, I love to be behind a bar and take care of people, creating new flavour combinations.
16. If you were not a bartender, what would you be?
A concierge or a gangster.
17. What was it like working with Jamie Oliver and being on Drinks Tube?
It was interesting because I have learned how to explain to the general public what cocktails are, which is very different from the bar community. Jamie is a very nice human being – very generous, very busy, very sincere and curious about cocktails!
18. What’s next for you?
I am going again to the Amazon forest of Peru, where I have dedicated some funds to buy a piece of land to be donated to an association of single mothers who make a living by cultivating native cocoa and palm fruits, such as snake fruit or ungurahui. I will donate that piece of land in order for them to make a better living.
Want to try Simone’s cocktails for yourself? The London-based Italian mixologist will take a three-day residency at M bar from October 26 to 28, shaking things up with five creative concoctions. We’ve got our eyes on the Banana-Fernet Martini with Grey Goose, banana juice and alpine herbs. For more info, call 2825 4002 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
When: October 26 to 28, 2017, 7pm to 11pm
Where: M bar, 25/F Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, 5 Connaught Road Central, Central
How much: no cover charge. Each cocktail is priced at $168 + 10%