In the first of our series for Meet the Locals, we talk drinks with Roberto Nigrelli, head barman at the Marina Riviera Hotel in Amalfi. A native of Sicily, Roberto has called the Amalfi Coast his home for the past 5 years. His knowledge and passion for mixology shines through when discussing drinks, and in particular his respect for ingredients and the importance of getting the simple things right. Roberto takes his craft very seriously, continuously experimenting with new flavours, bitters, and adding his personal touch to classic cocktails. An elegant and friendly character, our conversation with Roberto was a joy as he gave us some insight on his cocktail creations and life on the coast.
I like to think that drinks and my work represent what I am, where I come from, where I go, and where I live. This means that the experiences, the travels, Sicily where I was born, very much influence the way I choose the ingredients I use.
The cocktail scene has been improving on the coast over the last few years, do you think the popularity and growth in tourism has pushed many people to improve?
At an international level, customers are increasingly interested in the quality of the food they eat. This has led to increasing the level of skills in those places that want to make quality their strength. I think the same thing has been happening in the bartending world for some years now. The Amalfi Coast compared to other international regions is still a little behind in this sector and I hope I can contribute towards improving and becoming known as an area that boasts many great cocktail bars.
You’re originally from Sicily, and we’ve noticed you’re passionate about including ingredients from Sicily in your cocktail creations. Tell us more about how Sicily has influenced you.
I like to think that drinks and my work represent what I am, where I come from, where I go, and where I live. This means that the experiences, the travels, Sicily where I was born, very much influence the way I choose the ingredients I use. Since I arrived at the Marina Riviera I decided to present a menu that in addition to the great classics has a list of 10 signature drinks based on Mediterranean flavours and aromas.
We briefly spoke about how occasions such as Aperitivo and drinks with friends brings people together. What are your thoughts on this?
The aperitivo is an Italian tradition. It's that part of the day where you get away from everyday thoughts and stress to get together with your friends. It's an important moment of the day and if done with good drinks it's even better.
What are your favourite things about the Amalfi Coast?
I've been living on the coast for 5 years now. Surely I love landscapes, the small houses built on each other from the sea look almost like a crib. The presence of both a fantastic sea and the mountains with valleys, rivers, woods, and many trails that offer interesting landscapes. Of course, it goes without mentioning, the food is incredible. Excellent products with which I like to enrich my creations.
Roberto picked three cocktails and ran through the intricate details of his creations whilst preparing each one.
Marina Riviera: Amalfi Gin, cordial lemon & elderflower, limoncello basil, drops of lavender bitter.
This cocktail immediately became the house drink and is still the most requested. I used Amalfi Gin because it is infused with sfusato lemon and sea fennel that gives a fresh and citrusy note. The cordial made with lemon juice and elderflower, which I collect here on the coast, makes it a sweet-sour drink suitable for all hours of the day. Finally, I add my personal homemade limoncello flavoured with basil, and a few drops of lavender bitter.
Old Fashioned Amalfitan: Woodford Reserve bourbon whiskey, lemon syrup, angostura bitters.
The old fashioned has always been one of the most popular drinks in the world, much requested by our customers (especially our lovely American guests). I asked myself how I could add a Mediterranean touch to the most beloved distillate of Kentucky, so I simply replaced the classic sugar cube with a lemon syrup and vanilla essence, a typical note of bourbon whiskey and a generous dose of bitter angostura.
Martini Passito: London Dry Gin, dry vermouth, Passito di Pantelleria DOC, almond bitter.
The martini is my favourite cocktail and the one for which I hold a lot of respect. Simple, elegant, silky and robust at the same time. It has few ingredients, but it's easy to make mistakes in many ways. I wanted to reinterpret the martini with the aromas and flavours of my land, Sicily, famous for its sweet wines and use of almonds. So, without upsetting the ingredients and the dry character of the martini, I added Passito di Pantelleria DOC to the gin and dry vermouth for a slight fruity note contrasted by some drops of almond bitters made by myself. A union between sweet and savoury, dry and soft.
If you would like to catch Roberto in action and try one of his cocktail creations, head over to Hotel Marina Riviera's beautiful terrace bar that overlooks the bay of Amalfi.
Hotel Marina Riviera
Via Pantaleone Comite, 19
84011 Amalfi (SA)
Amalfitan recommends: Old Fashioned Amalfitan