We at The Holborn would like to introduce to you one of our idols, Tony Conigliaro, master bartender, molecular mixology pioneer or as the Evening Standard described him ‘one of mixology’s global poster boys’. Quite simply the godfather of all things molecular Heston Blumenthal describes Tony as ‘a revolutionary’. He worked alongside Blumenthal on the cocktail menu at the Fat Duck, the much-feted restaurant famous for snail porridge and unlikely ice creams, and also has worked with El Bulli, the famous Spanish restaurant who often beat the Fat Duck to No.1 restaurant in the world in Restaurant magazine’s annual Top 50. Tony has worked in many top bars including Isola, Shochu Lounge and the Atlantic. Though in 2009 he opened his own bar 69 Colebrooke Row, also known as the bar with no name. As Tony says in his new book ‘Drinks‘ the bar was designed as a 1950’s style Italian Cafe with film noir touches, whilst retaining a ‘living-room’ feel to encourage an intimate, friendly atmosphere. 69 Colebrooke Row is also base camp for Tony’s wider operations, with his lab ‘The Drinks Factory’ just round the corner in Pink Floyd’s old recording studios.
The bar is where The Holborn finds itself taking shelter from the pouring rain in this festive period. Though not discussing who has the best made socks or where is best to get a wet shave while sipping on a few Tom Collins’ late on a friday night after a long day in the office. No we are here with the winter sun still shining through the vaguely art deco windows on a weekday afternoon, no we are not discerning delinquents, we are in attendance at Tony’s Cocktail Masterclass. The Masterclasses are run by Tony himself and come in different forms, we’ve got our eyes on the ‘Gin based cocktails’ in Februrary or the ‘Mad Men Drinks’ in March. They last for two hours and cost £40pp and are worth every penny.
This Masterclass was structured around taking us through Tony’s new book, and provided a wonderful opportunity to hear about Tony’s approach to mixology. Trained as an artist and with a childhood interest in perfume and aromas, and brought up in a Sicilian family surrounded with flavour packed home cooking, these different interests and experiences began to blend into his work as a bartender. Tony explains ‘The majority of taste is smell and this is why the way in which we enjoy cocktails can have so much in common with how we enjoy perfumes as well as food’. One look at alot of the cocktails Tony devises and you can see the artist in him, he believes this sense of artistry in drink is very important, partly because of alcohols frivolity, you don’t need to have a cocktail, in the way you need to eat, but it’s fantastic when you do.
We were presented with the ‘drink’ below on arriving at the masterclass, it is Tony’s take on the Prairie Oyster. That’s not an egg you see it is in fact a ball of vodka and tomato dyed with food colouring, constructed using a centrifuge. Combined with an oyster leaf, sherry and shallots one takes the drink in on go like an oyster and the result is a different but delightful drinking experience. Over the course of the afternoon we are taken through a group of different cocktails, each’s story is told (often it takes two or more years to perfect the cocktails) and we sample them and are offered to have a go at making them ourselves. I got up to make a liquorice whiskey sour, made with a liquorice syrup and garnished with ground liquorice. We were told that the best way to make whiskey sours was discovered by accident, a bartender friend in New York broke his back and upon returning to work struggled to do the head to shoulder shaking motion required to mix this particular drink. So he did half the shaking motion without the ice and the second half with to lighten to load. This created much better whiskey sours, it was later discovered this was because of the way the egg white reacts to the temperature of the ice, introducing the ice later allows the egg the better combine with the other ingredients.
So we recommend for anyone with a passion for cocktails to attend one of these materclasses and to buy Tony’s latest book which is so much more than your usual cocktail book. Or pop into the the bar with no name and sit back, relax and enjoy the fruits of Mr Conigliaro’s labour. We leave you with the man himself in a video by Cool Hunting.