My life in food: Tony Conigliaro, Mixologist

‘I draw my inspiration from art, science and even perfumery’

Tony Conigliaro is a titan of the UK drink scene. He collects awards like others do stamps. His London Bars, the Zetter Townhouse and 69 Colebrooke Row, are frequently garlanded with titles such as “Best Place to Drink” and “ World’s Best Cocktail Bar”. He makes use of sound and texture as well as taste and smell in his creations, which he comes up with at his north London Drink Factory, and has produced a book, Drinks (Ebury Press, £25) which is half cocktail recipes and half drink autobiography. In June he will launch the bar at the Grain Store with chef Bruno Loubet.

What are your most and least used pieces of kitchen kit?

I am constantly tasting and adjusting my recipes. So the kitchen tool I reach for the most is a wooden spoon – if that can be classed as equipment. I find that everything seems to taste better on a plain and simple wooden spoon. At home in my kitchen, I tend not to use scales. I prefer to improvise, tweaking recipes depending on my mood. This is the complete opposite of how we work at the Drink Factory, my lab and research centre, where everything is weighed and considered in the finest details. Maybe being carefree about recipes at home is my way of relaxing after a long day at work.

 

If you only had £10 to spend on food, where would you spend it and on what?

The ultimate meal on a budget would have to be a steaming bowl of Asian noodles. I love exploring new places around Soho and China Town. £10 goes far there – the options are endless.

 

What do you eat or drink for comfort?

For me, pastry is the definitive comfort food, but it needs to be paired with something savoury. The combination of beef and pastry is truly heavenly, so something like a beef pie would be my perfect meal.

 

If you could only eat bread or potatoes for the rest of your life, which would you choose?

Easy. I would definitely choose potatoes over bread. I once had a potato roast-off with the conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jim Wood, for the perfect roast potato. It was too close to call.

 

What’s your desert island drink?

It would have to be Rhum JM Rum Agricole from Martinique, a drink like that could make you happy to be stranded on a deserted island – and never want to leave!

 

What’s your favourite bar?

I’m going to have to say my favourite bar is 69 Colebrooke Row. I spend enough time there.

 

What’s your favourite cookbook?

As I spend the day using and making recipes, I don’t really use cookbooks at home. I prefer to cook instinctively, but if I’m really stuck, I’ll have a look around the internet. At work, on the other hand, I spend ages searching for weird and ­wonderful books for inspiration.

 

Who taught you about alcohol?

I consider myself to be self-taught when it comes to alcohol. I have always been intrigued by the science of taste, and have spent a long time over the years experimenting and discovering new techniques. I draw my inspiration from art, science, and design, and am inspired by anyone from chefs to perfumiers. For example my new cocktail, “Lipstick Rose”, was inspired by perfumer Ralf Schwieger’s creation for Frederic Malle. The best way to learn in this business is hands-on experience, a nd keeping an open mind to trying new things.

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