A great Italy in London: the story of Agostino Perrone and Giorgio Bargiani, at the top of the World’s 50 Best Bar

The former is from Como, the latter from Pisa. Together they run Connaught Bar, number one in the world. They have an all-Italian team, with bar manager Maura Milia from Cagliari standing out

12-02-2021
Agostino Perrone and Giorgio Bargiani, the two I

Agostino Perrone and Giorgio Bargiani, the two Italians (the former from Como, the latter from Pisa) at the helm of Connaught Bar, at the top of the World’s 50 Best Bar. Photo Leonardo Filippini

There's plenty of Italy in the bar in London voted as the best in the world. Agostino Perrone and Giorgio Bargiani are at the helm of Connaught Bar, the marvellous place rocked like a diamond in the historic 5 star hotel bearing the same name, in posh Mayfair. Since November 2020, it's at the top of the World’s 50 Best Bar.

The two Italians, for years now in London, run a brigade of 16 people – all young Italians except for a young woman from Slovenia – coordinated by bar manager Maura Milia, from Cagliari. She's crucial in managing the operations and the service of the highest standards that characterise Connaught. A team capable of offering rich businesspeople, movie stars and the jet set, people coming from five continents, some moments of relax and pleasure thanks to the liquid creations that from the precious wood bar land on the tables scattered between sofas and leather chairs. The first place in the most prestigious ranking in the world for bartenders and their bars is well deserved. It is the result of a long and meticulous work of technical growth and hospitality that had been going on for many years until last January, when the world suddenly changed. A year of uncertainties, hard to handle for the top of the class. The pandemic shook London, the UK, Europe and the entire planet. Hotel halls are deserted, restaurants and bars are closed, lights are off and there's darkness everywhere. Even now, it's hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

The bar 

The bar 

Perrone and Bargiani celebrate with Maura Milia the first place in the World’s 50 Best Bar

Perrone and Bargiani celebrate with Maura Milia the first place in the World’s 50 Best Bar

«We've been closed for a long time – Perrone, director of Mixology at Connaught, born in Como in 1978, begins – and even when partially open, hotel bars and restaurants could not welcome guests. We included some cocktails in the offer of the pastry shop which we opened last September, and created a delivery service, for branding and to try to create new experiences in a complex situation. However, it's really hard to see things positively under these conditions».

There wasn't even the time to receive the award for best bar in the world, for the second time in a row: the new lockdown and closing arrived as a blow. With the British “variant” reaping infections and, unfortunately, victims. The outcome for 2021 is therefore uncertain. But we know we want to aim higher and higher, not so much in terms of ranking, as in terms of client satisfaction.

«This is our philosophy. We could call it the secret of our success – Giorgio Bargiani, head mixologist from Pisa, explains – A way of interpreting the bartender's profession that adds to cocktails an international approach mixed with Italian features: genuineness, passion, identity, communication and relationship skills. In other words, we want to build a storytelling, an overused term, perhaps, but in this case it fits perfectly. As bartenders we draw inspiration from the art, culture and history of our country, translate this in every language spoken in the world and serve it in a glass».

The team at Connaught Bar

The team at Connaught Bar

Perrone and Bargiani didn't arrive in London by chance. The city offered fame and success to many Italian professionals, like Peter Dorelli, Alessandro PalazziSalvatore Calabrese and the brigade of Connaught, of course. «The Italian school is for sure one of the best in the world – explains Perrone – because it blends technique and sense of hospitality with our products. We created the aperitif culture and after the dark years of disco-cocktail-bars new offers and young talents are blooming».

Talents who refine themselves behind the bar, as Bargiani says: «Books won't teach you the job. They theory is only relatively important. It's the bar, being in contact with clients, the right dose of humbleness and the desire to learn together with a pinch of audacity that make you top of the class. Italians know, perhaps more than others, how to take care of people. There's no greatness in just mixing ingredients and serving them. Practice and theory must be joined by an attitude for teamwork, which is as important as ever. And then finance, to run the bar more efficiently, and marketing and social networks to promote it. In other words, today on top of whim and skills there are other features that are equally important like relationship building and management».

The Bumblebee

The Bumblebee

And then there's the charm of the bars inside big hotels. Unfortunately, they are desolately empty these days, contrary to a few months ago when they buzzed with clients. «The advantage of a bar like Connaught – says Agostino Perrone – is having international, interested clients who want to try and experiment. And the barman too must know how to second and respond to these requests. Compared to a traditional bar, where taste and trends are perhaps harder to change or follow, here we must interpret different palates and cultures. Asians don't drink like the Americans do, Arabs don't have the same taste as the Europeans. It's a constant challenge, in other words, and at the same time it allows us to launch new trends. Word of mouth finds in hotels a fertile soil where the drinks of the future can germinate».

And speaking of cocktails, what are the trends and the must-try in 2021? Here's what Giorgio Bargianibelieves: «Classics come always first: Martini, Negroni, Old Fashioned. In London, Espresso Martini is very popular. Italian vermouth is always at the top. We work a lot with grappa too, and amari. But I think the most interesting trend is rum. On top of products from the major brands, there are now plenty of producers who make high quality products and are making this marvellous spirit stand out from the shades in which it had been left after the boom of gin».

Gin Martini at Connaught Bar

Gin Martini at Connaught Bar

At Connaught the most popular and celebrated drink is Martini Cocktail. So much so that in order to tailor-make it they've created the Martini Trolley, so that clients become the real protagonists of the tasting. The experience has the barman arrive at the table with a trolley with all that's necessary to make the perfect Martini. Guests can either follow his recommendations or ask for a gin-vermouth match with a personalised aromatic profile. Here's the perfect recipe, according to Bargiani: «You can make Martini both with gin, in this case the Connaught Bar Gin – a London Dry Gin which we make with fresh notes of mace and zest of Amalfi lemons - or, if the client prefers, with vodka. The vermouth is a blend of an Italian extra dry and two white ones – French and German – which can perfectly adapt to any taste. We finish with three drops of Connaught Bitter. No shaker, just a mix of the ice before serving». Iconic, silky, marvellous.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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