Behind the bar: Vincenzo Pagliara

Italian native Vincenzo Pagliara is the head of mixology at the newly opened The Sukhothai Shanghai hotel. Having cut his teeth working for Montgomery Place, The Fumoir Bar at Claridge’s Hotel and most recently at the award-winning The Connaught Bar in London, the talented young bartender is now heading up the The ZUK Bar inside the new hotel. In the interview with dbHK, Pagliara lauds his favourite spirit, tequila, and wishes the industry would stop putting excessive emphasis on glassware and garnish.

What led you to be behind the bar?

When I was young, I used to listen to stories about the ‘bar life’ from my parents who owned a pub, and that has somehow ignited my passion to become a bartender. It was 10 years ago that I started fully immersing myself in this career path when the cocktail mixing trends were on a rise in Europe, and where I had the privilege to work at prestigious places such as Montgomery Place, Claridge’s Hotel and the Connaught Bar.

Which spirit ignited your passion?

Tequila. Not everyone can accept tequila. Unlike gin and vodka, it is an acquired taste when consuming on its own. To me, tequila is an interesting and versatile spirit, when concocting with the right ingredients, it can lead to a beautifully crafted cocktail. I always get my inspirations from using tequila. Drop by Drop (available at The ZUK Bar at The Sukhothai Shanghai) is one of my creations using tequila, white chocolate liqueur, geranium water and blackberry and licorice shrub.

What are the best and worst things about the industry?

In my opinion, the best thing in this industry is the opportunity to meet new and different people and have different experiences each and every day. However, on the darker side, many of us lead an irregular lifestyle which may potentially limit or affect our personal lives.

If you had to be a particular cocktail or spirit, which one would you be?

I guess it had to be Daiquiri. A Cuban cocktail with a mixture of rum, lime and sugar. Very simple, easy to drink and down-to-earth, just like me.

Lime or lemon?

I would say Amalfi lemon since I am Italian.

Complete this sentence: the last time I drank, I…

…had a lovely conversation with some Mandarin-speaking strangers, even though I don’t know Mandarin.

What are your favourite seasonal cocktails?

It’s one of my creations for the summer – a refreshing citrusy drink with a bitter note, made with tequila 8 blanco, agave and aloe, artichoke bitter and lime. Called Agave, it is available at The ZUK Bar at The Sukhothai Shanghai.

Where is your favourite place in Asia for cocktails?

I must say it is Atlas Bar in Singapore, with a stunning European décor. Drinks are flavourful with simple presentation that hits the spot.

Name one cocktail trend which is hot in Asia right now?

Exploring more interesting ingredients in curating local and Asian-inspired innovative cocktails. For example, I used tomato and Sichuan cordial, ‘oxidated’ mancino ambrato, geranium water (that is produced in-house) and clear grilled lemon juice in some of my cocktail creations.

What’s one cocktail trend that you wish the industry can get rid of at the moment?

Excessive presentation in the form of glassware and/or garnishing that is not related to the drink itself. People get intrigued with picture-perfect drinks and I love that too! However, I am more an advocate towards simple yet meaningful presentation that adds up to the overall flavour or the inspiration and story behind the drinks.

Please share one of your favourite recipes?

Tahona is a refreshing cocktail with a hint of spice.

50 ml Mezcal

25 ml organic cherry and green tomato, sichuan pepper and agave cordial (produced in-house using the rotary evaporator device)

15 ml fresh lime juice

Fermented pineapple beer (freshly produced in-house)

  • Pour all the ingredients (except pineapple beer) into a shaker, using the cocktail throwing technique to chill down the drink
  • Pour into a high ball glass
  • Top with fermented pineapple beer
  • Garnish with dry tomatoes and a spoon of salty lime sorbet

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