He makes the best Martini in the world and is the undisputed king of Dukes Bar in central London. Here Master Bartender Alessandro Palazzi tells us how his love affair with gin began, and the best way to relax at the end of a working week.
When did you first fall in love with gin?
In culinary school. The school I attended was a hotel in the summer and a culinary school in the winter; everyone was supposed to do a week behind the bar.
When it was my turn, the family who owned the bar came in and saw me reading a book with my feet on the counter. My punishment was to stay behind the bar for one month – it was the best punishment I ever got.
I was cleaning the bottles when I found a bottle of Beefeater Gin. I didn’t speak a word of English, but still, I was trying to understand what was written on the bottle. That was my first love – Beefeater if you can believe it.
What qualities do you think separate the great gins from the merely good?
For me, it’s the botanicals – that, and tasting the juniper. I’m very much in love with the classic London dry gin. Just the scent of juniper.
I love gins over 40% abv, and of a different type. Some of the gins we see today are already complete cocktails because they have so many flavours. I’ve always said you can sip gin – my first drink of the week is on Friday night when I come home from the bar and my family is asleep. I have time for myself, and if I don’t feel like whisky I’ll pull gin out of the freezer and pour a shot of pure gin to sip.
Duke’s Bar is one of the most lauded in the world. What sets it apart?
This place was on the map before I was born. People come for a special night, so you have emphasise the service.
On a busy night, we make 300 or 350 Martinis. When I worked here as a young bartender, only the bar manager would make Martinis. The first thing I did was say, no – everybody makes Martinis. It’s not just about me – it’s about my team. They may be younger than me, but they’re professionals, just like me.
I also introduce people to new gins. My customers say, “Every time I see you, you introduce me to a different gin!” It’s easy to grab a simple gin. But if you can explain, if you can show people gins from all over the world, it’s a whole experience.
I don’t do it for money – we’re an independent bar, we don’t have any contracts with gin brands. I do it for friends and family. I always put myself in the customer’s shoes. Say I come here on holiday, I want to try something, and the bartender tells me something new. That’s an experience.
When it’s time to relax, what’s your go-to gin cocktail?
The Negroni. It was one of my biggest fights in catering school. I’ve always said that you should just drink what you want, but in the old days, we had too many rules. Martinis and Negronis had to be drunk before dinner. But I love to have one if I go out – no matter if its midnight or one o’clock in the morning if I’ve had dinner or not. I’m so pleased it’s popular now, especially with the gin revival. My other favourite is the French 75.
And finally… how do you make the perfect Martini every time?
We use very few ingredients and respect the bottle from the beginning. The Martini is the simplest cocktail if you know how to treat it. The temperature – the fact that we freeze the gin and the glasses – and the quality of the gin is important. We use three ingredients: gin, vermouth, and Amalfi lemon peel.
Enjoy an Afternoon MarTEAni at DUKES London
Gin and tea are two quintessential British things and Dukes London has partnered with The East India Company to bring an afternoon of tea, martinis and tasty treats.
The MarTEAni afternoon tea experience will serve three beautifully crafted martinis created by both teams. The options are Lemon Martini to pair with sandwiches and Orange Marmalade, perfect with scones. The third is First Romance Tea Martini which is a bit more special because it's infused with The East India Company's black tea with fruits and flower petals. It's the perfect pairing for pastries/sweets
End an afternoon of sightseeing in London with a visit to DUKES London, based only five minutes walk away from Buckingham Palace. The venue even has historical ties. Ever since King Henry 8th built his palace at St James's in the 16th Century, it has been home to some momentous Royal events and occasions, from King Henry’s secret meetings with Anne Boleyn to the birth of King George IV.