Hollywood star Stanley Tucci almost broke the internet last week with his lockdown cocktail-making masterclass. The home video of him making a negroni for his wife – literary agent Felicity Blunt, sister of actress Emily – went viral, and spawned a seemingly endless array of appreciative comments, notably about his fashion sense and forearms. But what about his bartending skills? We asked Mickael Perron, the manager of London’s august Library Bar at the Lanesborough hotel, to cast his critical eye over Tucci’s performance…
‘The first thing to say is that Stanley Tucci doesn’t strike me as a guy who is new to this. He’s not just come from reading a recipe sheet two minutes ago – this is a guy who is making this drink day in, day out. So he has my respect straightaway.
‘He starts off by telling us he’s going to be making it straight up, as opposed to the more traditional on ice. This is highly unorthodox. 99% of times, a negroni is served on the rocks. But the thing with cocktails is that it’s about the little tweaks you make to tailor the drink to your taste. It’s like a croque monsieur. Recipe books will tell you that you have to use bechamel sauce. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t taste good with mayonnaise. (Continues after video).
‘Tucci obviously likes his negroni straight up – which has the benefit of making the cocktail quicker to drink. And he seems to me a man who likes to drink quickly. So again – respect to him. I’m glad to see him putting ice in the shaker though – this is essential for balance and temperature. He advocates using your hands to handle the ice as the most hygienic method. I’m not sure I’d agree with that – certainly I don’t think customers would appreciate this approach at The Lanesborough, so we’d be using tongs. But he’s not auditioning for the World Mixology Championships – he’s just fixing a drink at home, where hopefully he’s confident of the hygiene levels and his wife isn’t going to ask him if he washed his hands after going to the bathroom.
He’s not auditioning for the World Mixology Championships – he’s just fixing a drink at home
‘Negroni purists will usually ask for an equal measure of gin, vermouth and Campari, whereas Tucci evidently prefers a more robust approach, since he doubles the measure of gin. if you haven’t tried a Negroni before, I’d suggest starting with an equal part of the three ingredients, and then adapt it to your taste by playing with different ratios. Nevertheless, Tucci’s stronger version might well become the new standard during lockdown…
‘I don’t mind the fact that that he suggests using vodka instead of gin. Again, purists won’t like this, but juniper – gin’s predominant flavour – isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Having said that, vodka can be a bit dull, so I’d encourage Stanley to add a frisson of excitement by experimenting with some of the flavoured gins on the market – raspberry, elderflower… Just avoid gin liqueurs – they’ll ruin the balance of the cocktail.
‘At The Lanesborough, we even play with flavoured ice – we serve our St George’s Negroni with one large Rooibos Tea ice cube. Or you could try orange juice ice cubes. Part of the art of the bartender is to play with recipes, something Tucci is obviously comfortable with. In the US, the hip drink right now is a Boulevardier, which is a negroni made with bourbon. Is it a negroni? Maybe not. But will it make for a nice refreshing aperitif? Yes.
‘When it comes to the vermouth, I agree with him that Martini is best avoided. I see he was using Carpano Antica Formula, which is a fine choice. We use it too, so he obviously has great taste. It’s got the strength of flavour of a port. In fact we sometimes use port instead of vermouth; others use marsala or even PX sherry. It’s the same with the Campari – some people find it too bitter, so they use Aperol instead.
‘When I started bartending, you had to be a daredevil to have the guts to shake a negroni, as Tucci does. But he’s American, and shaking at home is part of the cocktail culture there. Also, his descendants come from Calabria, so he can pretty much do whatever he wants. Ultimately, his technique and control is assured. Or at least put it this way – I didn’t see any of the drink on the floor.
‘I noticed he served the drink in a coupe. A martini glass would be more traditional for a gentlemen, but he was making it for his wife, and the coupe – being modelled on Marie Antoinette’s breast – is perhaps more feminine.
‘All in all, it was an impressive performance. As a bartender, you have to earn the trust of the customer by making the first drink perfectly to their taste. Then you can experiment. It’s also important to consider not how a cocktail tastes to start with – but how it tastes when you finish. Because you want the cocktail to be finished relatively quickly. He looks like he’s earned his wife’s trust – and I’m fairly sure that negroni was finished pretty quick.’