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Pietro Rizzo of The Aubrey at the Mandarin Oriental

Italian-born Pietro Rizzo has bossed the best bars in England and worked alongside the world’s mixology elite. Here, he shares his experiences, tips and trade secrets for creating impeccable drinks.

Tell us about your bar…

We opened The Aubrey at The Mandarin Oriental in London’s Hyde Park in January 2022.
It’s still a baby – still very young in the industry. But we’re ambitious for it. I want it to be the best bar in the world. That will take time and consistency – like it would for a restaurant trying to achieve its first Michelin star.

The bar takes its name from the controversial 19 th -century artist Aubrey Beardsley. We’ve used Aubrey is the inspiration for the whole concept, focusing on the fact that he was British but obsessed by Japan.

There are so many different themes we can draw out: his travels, his collaborations with
contemporaries Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allan Poe and his art. The more I read about him,
the more ways I find to express his story. We have reinterpreted his popular magazine, The
Yellow Book, for our cocktail menu. It’s a good read while you’re waiting on your date.

Why did you get into bartending?

When I came to London around 2006, I worked in bars as a way to pay for my life. Back then, it was just glass collecting – my English was too bad for anything else.

In the next few bars, I started to grow into the work – grow to love it, to love the people. I found a passion for it. I loved the flavours, combining ingredients, researching different herbs and different combinations – because I’m Italian it’s always been about the best-quality ingredients. Once I got the chance to go to my first cocktail competition – and won it – it was the start of a new, more serious era.

How did you learn your cocktail skills?

I’ve worked alongside some of the biggest names in the industry. Now, I see it as my job to share my skills and teach others. That’s the most important part of my role as Bar Director at The Aubrey: helping my team. They give me huge motivation to do better every day.

Tell us about Nicholson Gin…

The liquid itself is incredible. It’s one of my favourite styles of gin. But for me the real thing is the story: it’s just about the oldest gin in the world; it’s still connected to the family. For me,
Nicholson combines the most important elements a gin needs. I like working with independent products – and the people who are behind them.

Nicholson is all the best things about a British brand. It’s in a niche of its own and shouldn’t really be compared with the mainstream monsters of the industry.

And what’s your favourite Nicolson serve?

I think that fresh, crisp style of gin is at its best in a Martini. It works well in a fresh cocktail like the Corpse Reviver Number Two. Or something with a bit of history to it.

How do you go about inventing new cocktails?

It depends, but mostly I work from a concept, the identity, the idea. With the Yellow Book, we worked in chapters, travelling through places Aubrey had been and using ingredients to tell that story – whether that’s France or Italy or beyond. Sometimes, though, inspiration comes from a particular flavour combination which sticks in your head – something you feel will work together. Over the last few days, I’ve been thinking about super tender slow-cooked meat – the kind that’s like butter when you eat it. I’ve been thinking that would work really well with cacao and whisky.

Whose opinion do you want when you’ve invented a new drink?

My colleagues – and, of course, the Chef.

When you walk into a bar, what tells you if it’s going to be good?

Eye contact. It’s so important. It’s the first impression, the first impact. It gives you a lot of information right away. And then – as I often tell my team – it’s good to be curious. To be interested. To spark conversation. It’s why we do the job. Working here, you hear so many stories from people who arrive from all over the world.

Tell us about the last time a cocktail blew you away.

We were recently hosted by Sidecar, the number 14 in The World’s Best Bars. They made a cocktail there with edible camphor – the perfume of it reminded me of my grandmother. It shows the power that a drink can have. The connections it can make. Incredible.

What’s your perfect soundtrack for mixing drinks?

I love creating a nice, vibrant atmosphere – different sounds for different times of the day. I prefer swing or blues when I make drinks. You know Mario Biondi? Italian jazz. That’s what I like.

Any tips for making cocktails at home?

More ice! Don’t be afraid of it. Don’t think adding more will make a more dilute drink – in fact, the opposite is true. Trust me. More ice equals a perfect, chilled drink not a warm overly diluted one.

When you’re relaxing at home on a night off, what are you drinking?

Negronis. That’s the style of drink for me.

Try Pietro’s drinks for yourself at The Aubrey at the Mandarin Oriental, 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA 020 7235 2000

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