Words by: Ian Cameron
Stefano Cossio, fresh from leaving Bar 45 on Park Lane, on his new role as head bartender at the Corinthia Hotel's Bassoon bar, on creating a GBP4 drink for London Cocktail Week, and on the tricks of the trade he has developed along the way.
It might sound funny but I was a little nervous at moving back to the West End after so long with the Dorchester and Bar 45. But the Corinthia is nothing less than the Dorchester, with a lot of VIPs, celebrities, and here we get a free concert every night as there's live music in the bar six days a week. It was fantastic working for Wolfgang Puck at Bar 45 but ultimately I'm looking forward to having creative freedom. Like a chef wants to put his signature on the food, I want to put my stamp on the drinks here.
Bassoon is a beautiful bar, with a fantastic clientele and real prestige, but I think it deserves even more recognition and I don't think it's potential has yet been realised. I haven't worked somewhere where so much attention has been paid to the appearance of the drinks - so much work goes into the garnishes back-of-house and that's a new area for me. I won't be changing too much at first, but we make our own vermouth blend, which I've just reformulated, and our own blend of whiskey, which mixes bourbon, rye and Tennessee whisky with a vanilla pod.
The bottom line for me is service: the human touch and guests' happiness. The average drink might be £18 but I don't want anyone to be intimidated, scared or worried - we promise the ultimate friendliness, accommodating all requests almost like a concierge service. For London Cocktail Week we've created a special £4 cocktail for wristband-holders, which lets us introduce our style of service to a new group of guests - it's called the Green Line: a vodka sour with lime, mint and sugar, shaken and served in a coupette rinsed with absinthe. It's a good drink: simple and very fresh and will feature on a future Bassoon menu permanently.
The real art of hosting is to give the same attention to everybody, to elevate every guest. Sometimes it's about helping people make connections and getting them to talk to each other - that's a skill I'm proud of. One thing I do is make a joke with one guest but look at the person next to them - the conversation then just seems to flow. Hosting for me is the ability to control the room - I'm not a cop but sometimes I've felt like I'm in the secret service: I look at every detail, every little detail to try and anticipate things before they occur.
Another trick of the trade is that I keep a notebook, to remind myself guests' names, what they like to drink, something distinctive about them - everything from their height to their personality or accent. I don't always remember their names, but guests are impressed when I dip into it and mysteriously recall something about their last visit. That's particularly important in five-star hotels where we try and spoil guests staying with us.
I feel at home in hotel bars and find it very easy to relax in them. But if I'm not at work, then I love my local cocktail bar, The Loft in Clapham: every time I walk in there I feel I'm on holiday, the people are friendly, and I love the way the owner, Andrew Campana, is always creating his own infusions and liqueurs. I'm a classic bartender, not a molecular mixologist, so for me good drinks with simplicity is the key so I tend to stick to the classics. Campari Shakerato [Campari shaken with ice and served in a Martini glass], that's my drink; a Negroni; maybe a Vodka Martini. Sometimes I'll even have a beer!
When I'm not working, I like music. I release stress by creating mash-ups on my decks at home. If I wasn't a bartender I would be in the music business: I'm no musician, but cleaning the stage would be good enough for me! Whether it's Martinis or tracks, I think I always need to be mixing something!