Pietro Rizzo, bar director at The Aubrey, Mandarin Oriental, toasts his passion for Japanese culture, his favourite ingredients and shares a recipe for a festive punch
Raise your glass: Pietro Rizzo, Bar Director at The Aubrey
What is your professional background and how did you end up as bar director at The Aubrey?
I have been working in hospitality for almost two decades: I launched Mr Fogg’s Society of Exploration by the Inception Group, as well as the Looking Glass Cocktail Club in Shoreditch and the fabulous Four Degree, a French-Japanese fine dining restaurant with a dedicated whiskey room. In each instance I’ve been exploring and growing my knowledge in different aspects of this industry.
Over the past five years, I have been the Europe brand ambassador for Mancino Vermouth and I have consulted for a number of bars and brands before I heard of the opportunity to launch The Aubrey. My love of Japanese refined flavours and liquids, and the craft and attention to detail, really resonated with me and so here I am.
Can you explain more about the Omakase Cocktail Experience and what this entails?
Omakase is a Japanese phrase used when ordering food in restaurants that means ‘I’ll leave it up to you’ – it has evolved to refer to dining experiences where the master chef serves their choice of dishes to guests. At The Aubrey. this has been re-imaged to be an Omakase bar, where myself or one of our senior mixologists will take you through a highly personal journey of cocktails that they develop based on your favourite spirits and flavours.
It’s the first of its kind in the UK, and I don’t know of any in Europe either that have been developed with the elegance of ours.
It is a real journey through Japanese flavours and ingredients and exploring Japanese drinks culture. The cocktails often utilise sake, shochus and awamori. No experience is ever the same, as it is very interactive between each of the (up to eight) guests, and the mixologists. It is totally tailored and something we are proud to be perfecting at The Aubrey London.
How do you refine an izakaya experience to suit a five-star establishment like the Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park?
Izakaya is made up of three kanji with the meaning, in order, “stay-drink-place”. It is classically a type of informal Japanese café-bar that serves simple comfort food. The Aubrey has refined all of these kanji to create uniquely beautiful, elevated and comfortable spaces. We have done this through attention to detail, where we address everything from the height of the chairs and tables, to the hand-picked Japanism adorning our walls, where we source our ingredients from and how we respect the traditional ways of preparing each dish or drink. Our glassware and tableware are stunning and rare, to ensure the dishes are presented to you at their very best.
We have respected the teachings of the past but evolved them to suit our time, our guests and our friends. For the bar programme, I have looked at the traditional serves and interpreted and elevated each element in a cocktail. For example, a chuhai is a style of cocktail served in Japan, made simply of shochu and soda.
Our Tori chuhai cocktail is made with Toyonaga Honkaku rice shochu, fresh and light, round and creamy with floral notes. Rice shochu offers an incredible complexity to a very simple serve. Our homemade grapefruit soda is freshly squeezed daily, clarified, adjusted with citric acids and a touch of sugar and then carbonated. The drink is topped with Peychaud’s Bitters to give a tart finish.
From the glasses we import from Japan to the solid hand-cut ice blocks, to our daily freshly squeezed grapefruit soda and the choice of shochu, every single element is chosen carefully in order to provide an incredible journey from scent to sips that respects a past but is presented in a modern-day elevated cocktail.
And how does the Japanese influence impact the cocktails you create?
The Aubrey’s creators, Maximal Concepts, based out of Hong Kong, are leaders in their field of North Asian cuisine, as well as culinary sustainability pioneers. The Aubrey is a project born of an obsessive love of Japanese culture. We didn’t think a pseudo-Japanese theme with bonsai trees and geisha in every corner would pay the respect we want to show.
The ingredients and North Asian flavours are some of the essential elements at The Aubrey. We spend a lot of time sourcing the best ingredients, while striving for the minimum carbon footprint. We study the Japanese style, techniques and arts to draw lessons and inspiration.
Are we seeing a lot more Japanese or Asian influences on modern bars in London these days?
Absolutely yes, it is a brilliant, beautiful thing to see the world’s palate embracing this.
It means our guests are already so aware and passionate about Japanese flavours, and that often gives us the treasured opportunity to gently educate them further by giving them more experiences and knowledge in the way of these amazing Japanese crafts.
It’s an opportunity to get more and more familiar with shochu, sake, awamori and umeshu spirits, and also to explore the Japanese-made versions of gin, whisky, or “champagnes” in the form of sparkling sake.
I believe this will be a growing trend for bars in the west, and I’m excited to be at the forefront of this.
What would you recommend from the cocktail menu at The Aubrey?
We have cocktails that suit every palate, but for me, I love The Salome, my twist on a dirty martini, made with sweet potato shochu, umami bitters, sake and clarified tomato liqueur. Garnished with smoked oil. But for my real favourites, you’ll have to wait another few weeks for our Yellow Book cocktail opus to be unveiled!
What are some of your favourite ingredients to work with?
Currently, shochu and awamori; they are incredibly rich in flavour and so different to each other, and to other spirits that are prevalent in the western markets.
With shochu and awamori, it is a category of spirits that have such a huge range and variety of flavours. Did you know that there are more than 55 ingredients that shochu can be officially distilled from? Rice, sweet potato, barley, cane sugar… the list goes on! This offers an almost infinite amount of variations and personalisation between all the producers.
What’s your tipple of choice?
I love low abv drinks like umeshu and tonic or vermouth and tonic (I’m Italian after all).
Aside from The Aubrey, do you have any favourite shops, bars, restaurants etc in Knightsbridge that you could recommend?
I love Baccarat Bar in Harrods and Amaro Bar in Kensington is an off-the-beaten-track gem. Both are very nice places with a great team and caring staff. I do love shopping a little more than I should, and I have a very varied style, from classic Italian-cut suits to Versace, AllSaints and Off-White.
Finally, if you could mix a cocktail for anyone, who would it be and why?
Oh, that’s easy, his art has delighted me since I was a kid, so it would have to be Salvador Dalí. I love the way he saw things in his life, his point of view is so unique and artistic and is a constant inspiration to me to keep thinking differently with my drinks. It would be an honour to delight him with one, or two, or a lot of my creations.
Japanese Christmas Punch
35ml Rice Shochu,
25ml Lychee Juice,
15ml Red Currant Cordial,
20ml Yuzu Juice.
With a Gypsophilia flower ‘snow’ garnish
Blend the ingredients together in a cocktail mixer and pour into a glass over ice. Add a gypsophilia flower as a “snow” garnish for a festive finishing touch.
Visit The Aubrey at Mandarin Oriental, 66 Knightsbridge, SW1X 7LA; theaubreycollection.com