If head barman and Martini-maker extraordinaire Alessandro Palazzi had a pound for every time he had heard the words ‘shaken not stirred’, he would probably have retired by now and be enjoying la dolce vita in his native Italy.
But then again, you can’t blame newcomers to the bar he runs here at Dukes Hotel in St James's, London, for asking. After all, this is where Bond author Ian Fleming spent many a cocktail hour and where, it is said, he found the inspiration for Bond’s killer line.
Truth is, smooth-talking Palazzi and his team of all-Italian bartenders wouldn’t shake it for you anyway. They only ever mix, on a drinks trolley right under your very nose. The result? A delectable Martini cocktail so potent they will only serve you two in a sitting.
Now, thanks to the hotel’s new Martini masterclass, Palazzi is about to spill his trade secrets along with a few Bond anecdotes, of course. We agree on a classic Vesper, named after the double-agent ‘Vesper Lynd’ in Fleming’s 1953 book, Casino Royale.
Things have changed since the original recipe first appeared in the famous novel. For starters, Palazzi replaces Kina Lillet with organic Vermouth to give a sweeter edge while the vodka has since mellowed. “Both vodka and gin are far more sophisticated today — they allow for experimentation,” he notes.
And they're able to be stored at sub-zero temperatures. To prove this point, I’m whisked off to the kitchen and proudly shown the contents of two large fridge-freezers. This is where the bottles and Martini glasses are stacked and chilled to perfection. “If the glass isn’t cold enough then you get too much of a punch off the alcohol. You want there to be a delayed reaction,” he explains.
Most of the ingredients used are sourced locally. Take the sweet Amber Vermouth, made from English wine at a North London micro distillery. The gin, Berry Brothers’ No 3, is an eye-watering 46 percent and hails from neighbouring St James's Street. There are some exceptions, of course. The rye vodka is also produced by an independent distillery — this time in Poland — while the oranges and lemons are imported from Amalfi.
Lesson over, I reach for my brimming glass. The scent of citrus oil, which floats in tiny droplets on the surface, hits me first. Next a bullet of pure alcohol shoots straight to my toes. “This is more dangerous than 007,” says the Italian, knowingly.
Dukes Martini Masterclasses with Alessandro Palazzi take place on Monday to Friday from 3–5pm at a cost of £95 a head. They can also be booked for private events or groups of four to eight people.