Could anything embody the Ticinese joie de vivre better than an aperitivo on the piazza overlooking Lake Maggiore? The ‘Aperol Spritz’, or ‘Spritz’ for short, is a much-loved classic among aperitivi, with light bitters that get the stomach going and stimulate the appetite. But aperitivi – and indeed, cocktails in general – can do much more than that. In the Eden Roc Bar, for example, cocktails tell stories. They are small, self-contained works of art that are thought out down to the finest detail. The brains behind it all? Bar manager Pantaleone ‘Leo’ Zoccali.
“Our cocktails are the result of influences and experiences I’ve gathered in bars all over the world,” says Leo. His most formative period, he says, was in London: a global bastion of bar culture. It was here that he began to experiment not only with different flavours, but with textures – dry ice, foam, smoke and more. His philosophy is that every cocktail should be surprising and thought-provoking. It is this philosophy that he brings to Ticino, to the Eden Roc Bar, where he skilfully combines it with the Moving Mountains ethos.
Deceleration is his motto – since like a good dish, a cocktail needs time to reveal itself. This is one of the reasons why he eschews large ice cubes. “They have a certain aesthetic appeal,” Leo says, “but they take the charm out of the cocktail. By contrast, there’s nothing more convivial than the tinkling of small ice cubes in a glass. In the midst of the flow of conversation, you swirl the glass; it creates movement, sound, ambience.” For Leo, the first sip of a cocktail should be an inquisitive experience. How do the individual components relate to one another; how do the aromas unfold on the tongue? Only then does it come down to the taste – where there are only two options: it either tastes good, or it doesn’t. “As a good bar team, we naturally do everything we can to ensure that each cocktail is tailored to the tastes of our guests. We want it to become a miniature highlight of their stay.”
It’s no secret that a cocktail is the perfect way to round off any evening. “A good aperitif is characterised by a slight bitter note,” explains Leo. “The name comes from Latin, from ‘aperire’, meaning ‘to open’. It prepares the stomach for the food to come. The digestif, on the other hand, rounds off the meal and promotes digestion.” Still, Leo doesn’t want to make it all about the science. “It’s about pleasure. A cocktail should be fun.”
And fun is exactly what the Eden Roc cocktails are. The menu features a mixture of classics and original creations by the bar manager, each one with a unique story behind it. “The ‘Taming of The Shrew’, for example is named after one of Shakespeare’s plays,” Leo explains. “The addition of saffron symbolises the complicated relationship between the two main characters. In the play, everything ends up working out for the best – just as the interplay of ingredients resolves itself in a most satisfying way.” ‘Operation Sunrise’, created in honour of the signing of peace negotiations after the Second World War in Ascona, stands out for its complexity. Based on the classic Negroni, the cocktail is aged for three months in the barrel – emulating its namesake, the peace negotiations, which ran on for a lengthy period.
“For me, it’s important that a drink has a connection to the place it’s being consumed,” says Leo. This is why, when creating his cocktails, he draws inspiration from the landscape of Ticino, sourcing ingredients from the surrounding region or even from the hotel garden itself. From fresh mint to lemons and berries, he personally selects the components for his cocktails and makes (almost) everything himself. “The seeds of local raspberries can be used to make a superb raspberry dust that serves as a perfect garnish for each drink,” he says. “I take mint, lemon, basil and cucumber and make them into syrup or lemonade. If good things are close at hand, why not use them?”
And good things by no means need to be alcoholic – on the contrary, in fact. The ‘NOURISH’ pillar of Moving Mountains stands for healthy, balanced nutrition, an attitude that goes perfectly hand in hand with a low- or no-alcohol lifestyle. This is why Leo is constantly tinkering with alcohol-free alternatives. “All of the guests at Eden Roc Bar should be able to share the same taste experience,” he says. “Even when my cocktails are alcohol-free, I strive to fill them with depth, surprise, inspiration. By the same token, I play with different ingredients and components to suit the situation and the dish, where one is being eaten.” The ‘Moving Mountains Virgin Cocktail’ plays with the acidity of lemons, the spiciness of ginger and the sweetness of naturally cloudy apple juice, while ‘After Midnight’ borrows inspiration from the espresso martini, with sweet coffee notes. It’s the perfect choice after an indulgent evening meal.
So, when is the perfect time for a cocktail? “Always,” says bar manager Leo. His non-alcoholic alternatives, in particular, are ideal for any time of day or evening – not only sunbathing by the pool or on the shores of Lake Maggiore, but as a little snack in the afternoon or an accompaniment to dinner in the evening. “The bases for the cocktails consist mainly of plant-based ingredients, which makes them all the lighter,” he explains. He eschews the use of egg whites in favour of aquafaba, a foam based on chickpeas, which means that almost all of the cocktails are vegan.
The exact recipes of his cocktails is something that Leo keeps to himself. “It’s about the holistic experience,” he says, “the combination of taste, landscape, ambience and view. It’s a sensory journey, a memory, an unforgettable holiday moment.” This means, of course, that the best place to drink an original Leo Zoccalli cocktail is at the Hotel Eden Roc itself.
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