Think of one of the most exquisite ingredients in the world. Got it? Good. Now think of the perfect drink to get a night out going.
If caviar and vodka came to mind then congratulations, you are officially versed in the Friday afternoon of a millionaire. Fortunately a seven-figure bank account isn’t an automatic requirement for L’Orbe’s new Caviar infused vodka (well, obviously it wouldn’t hurt).
After five years in the making L’Orbe have released the most sophisticated vodka you can get your hands on. Combining the finest of spirits with the rarest of delicacies to produce a drink so refined it would make Sir David Niven feel a tad oikish.
Whereas dark spirits are known for intense flavours, typically due to the aging process, white spirits have a reputation for rough nights out and horrific hangovers – hence infusions began as a way of advancing white spirits.
L’Orbe has taken this technique one step further, collaborating with Michelin-starred chefs and visionary mixologists to not only elevate the ingredients but the infusion process. With caviar from the South of France and vodka from Poland, this is a cosmopolitan bottle for cosmopolitan tastes.
L'Orbe is best served fridge temperature to enhance the caviar's impression
The caviar is encapsulated within a unique pearl technology, then sealed in a bespoke glass vial. (The pearl protects the caviar and enables its flavours to infuse into the vodka.) The entire process occurs within the bottle, taking six weeks for the flavour to naturally develop. Unlike most vodkas this is best served fridge temperature to enhance the caviar's impression, making this vodka more like an appetizer than drink.
And caviar is just the start. Next, the brand plans an ‘earth’ infusion: experimentations with pata negra pearls have already begun. (We’ll be on the lookout for that one.)
Shaken not stirred – Alessandro Palazzi of Dukes London talks L'Orbe (and more)
In Paris, we met with a notorious rebel and avid Martini drinker – no, not Bond, but Alessandro Palazzi, resident mixologist at Dukes London. He may not shake his martinis but he is a revolutionary behind the bar, serving the signature naked martini first invented at Dukes. This is a man you can trust when it comes to a good drink.
So what do you enjoy most about bartending?
I get paid to party every night, simple as that, especially where I work in central London. It's amazing. It is difficult but I love the contact with people.
How did your career get started?
Originally I wanted to be a journalist because I loved to travel, but when I was a kid I met this guy who had a restaurant and thought I'd start from there, but he couldn't keep me because his business wasn't going well. So he recommended me to work in another hotel, and they put me in a bar. Obviously I didn't start doing cocktails, it was mainly coffee and everything else.
Then I decided to go to catering school to be able to travel – travel is another one of my passions. I enrolled in this two year course in Italy and then I came over to France in 1975. Everything I learnt was in French and I didn't speak a word of English, and for a bartender English was very important, especially if I wanted to travel. So I came to England to be able to learn English (I'm still learning!) and to be able to travel.
Dukes is a traditional hotel. Do you have any creative freedom when it comes to the drinks menu?
Yes, but you don't have to be traditional that's why I bought the uniform. [Gestures to his stylish suit adorned with a martini glass pin in the pocket, a tennis tie pin and bespoke shoes with an embroidered martini glass. Very on-brand.]
The menu is mine, I came up with all the recipes. Well, with the help of my team, it's all about teamwork – I put forward an idea and either they help me or say forget it – and I carry on developing. It's like when I introduced L'Orbe in the beginning, the guys said, “it's just another vodka”, and I said, “no, no, but this is fantastic!”
It's not fair that you go to some bars and all you can see is the same brand
What bar would you have your last drink at?
I like the Dorchester. There is this wonderful man Giuliano Morandin who used to work at Dukes before all of us and has been there over 30 years – he always looks after us.
We live in an era of arrogance. If you think you’re a star there's a place for you, it's called Los Angeles. I remind people that we are in the service industry, you can buy a bottle and drink at home. If you come to this venue we try to make a club atmosphere: there's no music there's no food – just us. And when people come in, you don't know if they have had a good day, we start working when people finish work. So if you come to the bar with your boyfriend, husband or with your friend, you may have had a bad day, you may have had a good day. Who am I to judge?
My job is to make sure you have a good evening because if you made the effort to come to us you are obviously there for a reason. So it's not rocket science. For me, in a bar, 30% is the drinks 70% is the place.
What drink do you make yourself the most?
Negroni, gin martini and a manhattan. But I make mine a different way, for example I make cocktails with certain whiskeys, like a Negroni with whiskey. I was a rebel when I was at catering school, like I said we have to have rules but I always break the rules.
What is you go-to drink recommendation?
It depends. Obviously martinis is what I'm known for. Some people come and ask if I know how to make an old fashioned, which really bothers me. I'm a cocktail bartender, of course I do! But it depends, the first thing I introduced at Dukes was different gin companies, I like to work with small brands, so I started introducing all these up-and-coming brands.
We're a free bar, we don't belong to any drink company unlike some other bars who have contacts with, say, Bacardi. It's not fair that you go to some bars and all you can see is the same brand. No, we put different things on the trolley.
If you come for a drink, I always say, “what would you prefer as a base, gin, vodka, whisky? Vodka. OK. Do you like something sweet, something dry...” So we tailor our cocktails. Because the cocktail are all about flavors, and personally, as much as I love chocolate, I don’t like sweet drinks, so most of my cocktails are not sweet at all, they’re usually quite dry.
Do you have any stories of memorable customers?
I am crazy but with certain things I'm classy – what happens in the bar stays in the bar. For me, the memorable customer is the customer who comes in after a bad day and leaves with a smile.
To be a perfect customer at Dukes, how should you behave?
You just need patience. If you come you can stay two hours on the table, you can stay for one hour. It is difficult because it's a small bar and sometimes I have people queuing.
L'Orbe is the first flavoured vodka I’ve introduced that we haven’t made at Dukes
How were you introduced to L'Orbe?
It was through Matthew, the brand director. He knows I always try and do something different. I was already trying to work with fish, with bottarga, but it didn't really work anyway I wasn't pleased with it. I infuse my own stuff so I don't buy flavoured, this is probably the first flavoured vodka I’ve introduced that we haven’t made at Dukes.
What is your favorite drink to make with L’Orbe?
My martini, definitely!
What mixer would you pair it with?
For me it's either a martini or another cocktail. Probably the only one I can think of, and now you made me think, is ginger beer. Ginger is a good pairing with L'Orbe.
What other luxury ingredients would you like to see infused with vodka?
Well I'm interested in the new infusion L'Orbe is working on, with the pata negra. More than interested, because I'm always trying to find new flavors. What you said before about Dukes is true: we are classic so we cannot do, say, a dandelion infusion. But I can be modern. I do infusions with truffle, with ginger, with hibiscus.
So is innovation why you still enjoy being a bartender?
Of course! I started legally 1975 illegally I started when I was 14 – I wouldn't do anything else.
Alessandro Palazzi L'Orbe martini recipe
If you ever want to attempt Alessandro Palazzi L'Orbe Peal Baeri Martini now you can, with detailed instructions to the cocktail and precis measurements from the man himself...
10ml Dry Sake and extra for marinating
Frozen martini glass
Marinate the cocktail onions in dry sake with a dash of the onion brine for at least 24 hours. Fill the mixing glass with ice, and add a bar spoon of the liquid the onions have been marinating in. Stir the ice around the mixing glass several times until the glass is cold, then drain the liquid. Add the sake and L'Orbe and stir, pour into the frozen martini glass. Garnish with 4 cocktail onions on a cocktail stick
And there you have it – class in a glass.
L'Orbe retails at £49.50; sohowine.co.uk