Tucked away in the Barkers areas of West Bay, Ristorante Pappagallo has been serving high-quality Italian food for more than a quarter of a century. For the last few years it has also been serving some of the most imaginative cocktails on Grand Cayman.
Mixing good drinks requires technique.
That’s what Franco Centola, the bartender at Ristorante Pappagallo, insists.
But calling the friendly Italian a bartender doesn’t really do his skills justice; he’s really a mixologist, someone who puts knowledge and art into making a cocktail in such a way that it becomes an experience to drink.
Like any good artist, Centola, who bar tended at the famed Cipriani hotel in Venice for many years before coming to Cayman in 2008, wants to put his own touches on even the recipes for classic drinks.
Take the Negroni for example, the well-known Italian aperitif cocktail made of roughly equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari. Centola’s Negronis are made with Campari that has been infused with shell-on roasted peanuts and sweet vermouth that has been infused with fresh artichoke leaves. As a result, there’s a subtle taste difference in Centola’s Negronis that make them his own.
Then there’s the rolling stir.
“This is a very new technique,” Centola explains.
Instead of shaking or stirring with a swizzle, his Negronis are made with a rolling stir where the cocktail is mixed by pouring it back and forth into another glass. This method doesn’t ‘bruise’ the spirits the way shaking might, but mixes the ingredients more than a simple stir would.
With Centola behind the bar, Pappagallo has introduced more than a dozen signature drinks, ranging from the simple Canaletto to the very elaborate Caramba.
Centola, along with colleague Andrea Lupo, hosted a bartending class on 13 August for a group of eager participants. Much like a cooking class, the duo showed how to make six cocktails,including three from signature drink menu.
The Canaletto, named after the famous 18th
Century Venetian landscape painter, was a take-off on the Bellini. Instead of using peach puree, the Canaletto is made with fresh raspberry puree.
Fresh raspberries are blended with a little sugar, a little water and just a squeeze of lemon and then gently pushed through a fine strainer to catch the seeds. Chilled Champagne flutes are then filled about one-third of the way with the puree. Prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine, is then poured into a bar shaker or a large glass and allowed to rest for a minute or so.
“This kills some of the bubbles,” Centola explains, adding that if this wasn’t done, the Prosecco would foam so much in the Champagne flute it would take several minutes to pour each glass.
With the bubbles reduced a little, the Procecco is then gently poured into the flute and served, without stirring. The result is a fabulously festive-looking cocktail, that would be excellent for the holidays or any Sunday brunch.
Like any serious bartender, Centola uses a variety of bitters from all over the world. For the Caramba, he uses rhubarb bitters, along with Patron silver tequila and pomegranate juice, and tops it all with a foam made from egg whites and St. Germain elderflower liqueur,
The Caramba requires a cream whipper canister that used nitrous oxide charges, so it’s not a drink that can easily be made at home, but it’s fascinating to watch in any case. After the drink is poured and topped with the foam, Centola uses a pressurised sprayer to flame green Chartreuse over the foam.
The result is almost as delicious to look at as it is to drink.
The Ristorante Pappagallo bar is equipped with all the latest and best bar tools.
“Most of the best bars are using tools from Japan,” he explains, showing his class an array of gold shakers, stirrers and strainers.
Also adorning the bar is a wide assortment of fresh fruits and berries. Lupo tells the class to pick an ingredient and blackberries are chosen.
Centola then makes Brumbles, one of Pappagallo’s signature drinks, a take-off on one of London’s most popular cocktails, the Bramble. Although the recipe is pretty much like the London version, Centola puts his touch on it by crushing four blackberries with a bar tool called a muddler in the bottom of each glass. The glasses are then filled with crushed ice.
Instead of using only lemon juice,as the Bramble calls for, Centola uses a homemade mixture of fresh lemon and lime juice.
Because of the crushed berries in the drink, the Brumble has a thicker texture than a Bramble and the lime juice helps keep the drink from being as sweet as the London version.
Other signature drinks
Ristorante Pappagallo’s signature drink menu has influences from all over the world. The Cubana is a Mojito with an
Italian twist – a float of Prosecco.
There’s a couple of drinks that use honey – the Honey & Raspberry Collins and the Grapefruit & Honey Sour.
Several of the drinks use bitters of some sort; there’s grapefruit bitters in the Casanova; Angostura and Peychaud bitters in the Sazerac; and Angostura and orange bitters in the Rum Crusta.
Fresh fruits are also used in many of the drinks: there’s the Blueberry & Thyme Martini; fresh raspberry puree in the Canaletto and Honey & Raspberry Collins; and fresh lemon, lime or grapefruit juice in nine different drinks.
If one of the 13 different signature drinks doesn’t suit a customer’s fancy, Centola will whip up something that does.
The smoking drink
As Centola begins to prepare his finale, which he refers to as “the smoking drink”, Lupo quickly prepares the Pappagallo version of two Cayman favourites Cayman, the Bloody Mary and the Bloody Caesar. He starts with some diced fresh tomatoes – which he says can also be the canned variety – and adds some roughly torn fresh basil. Then, similarly to the way it’s done with a Mojito, Lupo uses a muddler to mash the fresh basil and tomatoes together in a shaker.
After adding some various spices, he tops the Bloody Mary with tomato juice and the Bloody Caesar with Clamato juice, shakes it and then strains it into a tall hurricane glass. He crowns the drink with a fresh basil top and slides in a straw.
“It tastes like a salad in a glass,” comments one participant.
Lupo isn’t totally happy with the drink the way it is, saying that if he were making it for himself, he’d spice it up with hot sauce and horseradish.”
Centola is now ready for his finale, a smoked version of an Old Fashioned, which Lupo says should be called a “Franco Fashioned”.
He starts by using some small apple wood chips that are put into a smoking gun that burns them and releases the smoke in a tight stream. He then fills a crystal decanter with the wood smoke, adds the basic Old Fashioned ingredients and shakes the decanter lightly. When poured over ice, the drink has a delightful smokiness; so unusual in a drink.
Although the bartending classes aren’t a regularly scheduled activity, Ristorante Pappagallo owner/operator Vico Testori says they would gladly host more if there’s a demand.
Judging by the happy faces of the participants of this class, he might get more demand than he imagines.