Pearls of cocktail wisdom

Mixologist, Gustavo Bertolucci serves up a luxurious selection of cocktails at London’s Pearl Bar.

Pearls of cocktail wisdom

Mixologist, Gustavo Bertolucci serves up a luxurious selection of cocktails at London’s Pearl Bar. With a flair for flavour combinations, his cocktails are laced with passion and serious amounts of style. iLoveMyGrub talks to the man who knows his drink.

When I take my seat at the Pearl Bar, Gustavo Bertolucci is creating a killer cocktail: The Aphrodite. Its ingredients include fresh raspberries, muddled and then shaken with Belvedere vodka, fresh pineapple juice, a touch of elderflower cordial and a sprinkle of pearl dust. With over one million hand-strung pearls adorning Pearl’s restaurant and bar space, it’s only fitting that the theme extends to the cocktail menu. It’s one of Pearl’s best sellers and offers itself up to London’s discerning drinkers, slinking around in the stylish confines of a martini glass.

As I sip and nod with approval, Gustavo starts talking through the rest of the cocktail menu. “We did a twist on a wasabi martini,” he says as he points out the ‘Wasabi Boost’ on the list (sake, Belvedere vodka, Midori and fresh lemon juice shaken with wasabi). “We added some lemon juice and some melon liqueur to give it a different finish.” Pearl’s cocktail list is extensive and varied to boot. “You know why?” asks Gustavo. “We’ve always had vodkas, gins, and different vermouths, but now there are more quality spirits available, and a bigger range.” And Gustavo is quite happy to play with a bigger range – it’s what he does well.

We sniff and sip our way through different liqueurs, from tequila through to Cachaça, tasting the difference between the sometimes searing acidity of cheaper brands, and the smoother, more established notes of the top end labels. So, with all this choice on offer, where does a mixologist get his inspiration from when it comes to creating a cocktail menu? “You need to read, to know what’s on the market and of course taste what’s out there,” says Gustavo. “Tasting is really important. With cocktails there is a main rule: you need to find a balance. The balance can be quite difficult sometimes, especially when you use vodkas as they’re high in alcohol content, but a neutral spirit – so you just taste alcohol basically. It’s not oaked or aged, or smooth, so this is where quality comes in. With cocktails, generally you have a strong spirit that serves as the heart of the cocktail and a weak part, made up with a juice or a mixer. Then you have the sweet or sour slant – perhaps sugar or lemon for instance. Finally you have something to put it all together in the form of a liqueur.”

There are also plenty of current trends that impact on a mixologist’s creations. “Fruit purees are amazing,” says Gustavo. “You have their full flavour, so you don’t need to use a lot.” Mango, raspberry, strawberry and peach all wind their way into Gustavo’s creations and add a fruity burst to the cocktail list at Pearl. He was also responsible for the introduction of the Nicotini Cocktail, devised for all those smokers still reeling from the arrival of the smoking ban, and he was recently awarded third place at the 2007 Global Angostura Cocktail competition. Sake also features regularly on Pearl’s cocktail list as with many other UK bars at present. “At the Bar Show this year, one third of the show was sake or Japanese spirits,” says Gustavo. “At the moment, it’s about vermouths and herb liqueurs. Drinks come in and out, just like fashion.”

Pearl itself is a decadently stylish affair, with pearls strung everywhere, decorating the bar and restaurant with their creamy shimmer. The Pink Pearl is the bar’s signature cocktail – made with Remy Martin VSOP, elderflower and spiced berry cordials, brown sugar and topped with pink Champagne - it’s the epitome of luxury drinking.

“Mixology is quite a complicated thing, “ says Gustavo. “You need to keep up to date on a daily basis.” Seasonality plays a big part on the restaurant menu at Pearl, and the same goes for the bar. “Everything’s always changing,” points out Gustavo who frequently updates the cocktail list to reflect what’s happening seasonally. “Pomegranate was a big success this year,” he recalls. As for winter, the man in the know has yet to decide on his big ingredient of the season, but as a bouquet of deep purple orchids are delivered to the bar for him to play with, you have a feeling that whatever Gustavo settles on, it will leave your mouth feeling decadently fabulous.

To make Pearl’s signature ‘Pink Pearl’ cocktail, read Gustavo’s recipes: