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How to mix a perfect cocktail.

by Andrea on December 29, 2010

The Cavendish Hotel's bar is one of the most underrated bars in London...and its bartender Warryn recently taught our blogger Andrea how to mix great cocktails

I always thought you needed to shake a cocktail.  And James Bond, of course, likes his Martini ‘shaken, not stirred’.  But according to Warryn who mixes cocktails at the stylish Cavendish (and recently revealed hotel bartenders’ favourite London bars), that’s the last thing you should do.

“Not shaking,” he says,  “swirling.  You want to get it going round and round, not just up and down, swirling it around and cooling it down nicely.  You shake it too hard, you break up all the ice, which is not nice.”

I was watching Warryn make a Smoky Rose – though my favourite is probably Long Island Iced Tea, I’d seen this on the menu and decided to give it a try.  It’s a tricky cocktail to make – first of all the glass has to be coated with agave syrup, then you set light to a rosemary sprig and invert the glass over the top so the smoke infuses the syrup.

Only when you’ve done that can you get on to the mixing part of the cocktail – using Herradura tequila as the base.

Not Jose Cuervo, Warryn told me.  “This Herradura is good, don’t drink anything else. Same with rum, Bacardi’s no good, you want Havana Club 7. You can’t really beat Cuban rum.”

The huge selection of bottles on the bar does include the less favoured brands, as some people ask for them, but you could drink your way through the rums for two evenings and still not finish – Captain Morgan, Mount Gay, Captain Morgan; light rum, dark rum… Warryn recommends Sailor Jerry too.

So lesson one, for me is to always seek out the right ingredients – and that doesn’t mean a bottle of Tesco’s own brand!

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There is an art to making a good cocktail - which depends a lot on buying good quality ingredients and perfecting tiny little details

I notice Warryn doesn’t use a measure for the liquids – he just pours them in.  “It’s in our heads,” he says; he and his colleagues experimented recently to see how accurate they were, and their measures were spot on (for those interested, if a mixed drink contains three or more drinks, it’s exempt from the usual weights and measures regulations).

Then the swirling – a little element of theatre, almost, as Warryn caresses the cocktail shaker into a gentle figure-of-eight loop.  I can hear the cocktail slurping and gurgling inside.  Finally it’s ready; the glass turned right way up again, the cocktail poured in, two straws and – most important – the garnish, a single sprig of rosemary laid across the glass.

“We try to garnish every drink we do,” Warryn says.  “That’s the barman’s signature.  And it makes people happy when they see a good garnish.”

Now I’ve always been a bit puritan about garnishes, perhaps because when I grew up, ‘garnish’ meant a half a tomato and a stale lettuce leaf, or a huge sprig of parsley and it was something you never ate – it was always left on the plate.  So I wonder what people do with their garnishes?

“85 percent of people eat it!”  Warryn tells me.  Maybe not the rosemary or the chilli, but if it’s fruit it disappears.  I can see why – the garnishes include blackberries, strawberries, red onion for the Bloody Mary (something I’ll definitely try at home – as is the addition of lime juice to the cocktail), huge gleaming red chillies; they look good and I’m sure they taste good.

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As well as having a great bar and a fantastic central London location on Jermyn Street, the Cavendish is also one of London's most eco-friendly hotels

So there you have it; how to mix the perfect cocktail.  Lots of ice.  Good ingredients (if you can get the night porter to squeeze all your orange juice in advance, as the Cavendish does, you’ve really got it made).  Swirl and don’t shake.  Garnish it nicely.  It sounds easy.  I have a feeling that doing it for a living might be just a bit more challenging than it sounds!

The Cavendish hasn’t always been noted for its cocktails and the way the bar is tucked away out of sight of the lobby doesn’t do it any favours; lots of guests just walk on by.  But the cocktail menu and the attention to detail are impressive – and the bartenders exceptionally friendly.  The prices are also reasonable compared to the best London hotel cocktail bars.

And how was the cocktail?  Need you ask?  Absolutely delicious of course!

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If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy our review of the American Bar at the Stafford or Antonio’s martinis at Egerton House Hotel.

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Photo credits: Cavendish Hotel.

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