We hate being invited to review new menus. Strike that, hate is too strong a word, what we mean is, the prospect makes us extremely nervous. Don’t get us wrong, we know that we’re incredibly lucky to be asked and in truth, we love the buzz that an all-singing, all-dancing menu brings with it (as a rule, we don’t get the call unless there’s a bit of razzamatazz going on). That said, we get incredibly anxious that we might not like the concept or heaven forbid, the drinks. Never underestimate the work, passion, creativity and energy that goes into getting everything from the drinks to the glassware and the physical menu itself to align. Which is exactly why we’d be gutted if once there it all felt a bit ‘blah’.
Fortunately, that wasn’t the case with Paradiso in Barcelona… There are so many things to like about it. Starting with the man running the show, Giacomo Giannotti. You’d be right if you thought the name has an Italian ring to it. Giacomo is proudly Italian but happily settled in Barcelona with his fiancé Margarita who runs the floor like a boss.
Giacomo presents his Great Gatsby, smoked with vanilla and chocolate tobacco
Having represented Spain in the World Class Global Finals in 2014, Giacomo is a man who definitely knows his way around making statement drinks. But Instagram-friendly cocktails alone do not a profitable bar make. Fully embracing the fact that Paradiso has to appeal to a relatively naive cocktail market – Barcelona is the home of the ‘gintonic’ after all – Giacomo and his team have worked hard to win over the home crowd’s palates. And they’ve succeeded by the looks of things. That’s the first big tick in our book, the second one comes with the other notable consumer-friendly consideration. Open the oversized menu and instead of straining your eyes trying to read the descriptions in a dimly-lit bar, it conveniently lights up – just like that. Oh the joy!
It’s thoughtful touches like these that made us settle into our stools much more comfortably. We spent two nights there, the first one taking everything in – from the sinuous wood panelled designed room (very Gaudi) which you enter via a pastrami shop (worth trying out too, or order at the bar), to the way the team seamlessly deliver their elaborate cocktails to the packed room. And obviously we spent a good deal of time sampling the clever creations as well…
What can we say? Drinks such as the Great Gatsby, their version of an Old Fashioned, is everything and a little bit more than you want a whisky cocktail to be. In the glass there’s white truffle honey, amaro and lavender essence, all dramatically presented under a smoked cloche – it’s a stunner both in looks and taste. That’s a showstopper but so too is the Mediterranean Treasure, their sour/savoury drink served in a conch shell and presented to the guest in a smoke-filled treasure chest. There’s also the Prohibition Apple beautifully framed in an apple-shaped glass, and if you’re a Martini lover like us, don’t even think of leaving without experiencing the wonder that is the Super Cool Martini.
Prohibition Apple (Torres 15 brandy, bitter gentian liquor, apple ketchup and cider)
You could say that having so much going on is a gimmick – who needs all the frippery when all you want is a drink? True. But take away the shells, horns and wooden horses (yes those do appear) and you’re still left with damned tasty concoctions. Besides, there’s nothing like a bit of theatre to make you feel like you’re getting value for money. And from what we could see the packed crowds at Paradiso can’t get enough.
We spoke to Giacomo on the second day of our visit to find out how he’s made it work.
First off Giacomo, where does the name for the bar come from?
It’s the name of the ice-cream shop my parents own in Tuscany. When I was growing up, I used to help out – mainly running about and mixing up new flavours, even then I knew that I wanted to work in hospitality. When it came to opening the bar, I didn’t know what name to use but I knew that I wanted something that I could be proud of. Paradiso fitted perfectly.
The exterior – be sure to order one of the sandwiches, either here or in the bar
For those who haven’t been to your Paradiso, please describe it in your own words.
It’s a speakeasy style bar that you enter through a fridge door in a pastrami sandwich joint. But essentially it’s a place to enjoy good cocktails.
And we have! It’s a very welcoming, inclusive design; stylish but not intimidating with a very distinctive look. What was your inspiration?
When we took over the space it was very dark and we wanted to make it cosy and welcoming. We came up with the idea of bringing in soft light, warmth and an inclusive feel by using lots of wood, particularly in the first part of the bar – it’s like a cave in that respect, it makes our customers feel very cosy. We then introduced the wavy effect by using laser-cut wood to create some movement in the design, it felt quite static before and we didn’t want that. The main part of the back bar is inspired by the American Bar at The Savoy in London, it was one of the bars that most inspired us about the history of the cocktail.
Tell us about the idea for the illuminated menu?
There were two reasons: the main one was to surprise our guests. We like playing with unexpected effects to give our customers something to remember. When they open the menu, they have a ‘wow’ moment – they’ve never seen a menu like it before. The second point is, having a menu that lights up is a necessity. When it gets late, we turn down the lights in the bar to make it more cosy but when you sit at the bar, it’s very dark. So the menu is extremely practical as well, although we do have to charge them every night. Then there’s the size of it – it’s purposely large so they don’t get stolen.
How long did it take you to come up with the mechanics for it?
We came up with the idea last July and finally perfected it in March this year – it was inspired by a book we found in a musuem. We took it to an agency and after five to six tries and over a period of eight to nine months, we managed to make it work.
The illuminated menu
Moving on to the inside, what’s the story?
The idea was to include cocktails and paintings together. The first idea was to match the flavours – fresh and fruity, umami, sweet and creamy and virgin cocktails, we also have little drawings of the vessels that the drinks are presented in so people can order that way if it’s easier for them to remember the drink – like the apple for instance.
We also wanted to highlight the strength of alcohol and match it with some colour. We wanted the menu to be very easy to the customers – it was important that it wasn’t confusing. I made that mistake with the first menu which was made up of all the cocktails that I’d created in previous competitions. The customers didn’t understand them. So when it was time to come up with the new one, all of the team went out for lunch and I asked them what they thought the process should be.
The main focus is on the Mediterranean. We divided the drinks into various categories – straight up, tiki and aperitifs and each bartender was given a category of drink and a spirit to work with. The senior bartenders got two drinks and the younger bartenders got one but we worked on them altogether, with me overseeing it all. The main thing is that everybody is really proud.
Troy Horse (Macallan whisky macerated with baklava, calvados, fig liquor, Olorroso sherry and Aveno amaro)
How do the vessels fit into the picture?
They all have their own stories. We have a personal relationship with a company called 100 Chef so we often ask them to create something bespoke for us, or they might have an existing vessel that we might want to do something with. But we find things where we can. For instance, the Where is the Daiquiri? glass was made by fellow World Class Global Finalist Dennis Zoppi.
We go for the surprise but the presentation is important, it’s part of our DNA. If you see something with a great garnish or in a really interesting vessel, you want it, but the taste has to be very good as well.
Mezcal Mary (Vida Del Maguey mezcal macerated with basil, clamato, tomato juice, olive oil, Garum style spiced sauce and green pepper air
Do you think of Instagram when you’re creating the drinks?
To be honest, no. We do it because we like it and after two years people recognise these kind of serves as our style. We believe that to have a cocktail like the Calypso Apple and serve it in an apple is as it should be. Everything has to make sense but first and foremost we do it because we like it. We also know that some people choose a particular drink because the glassware that it’s served in makes it instantly recognisable – more memorable.
Have your customers changed in the two years that you’ve been operating? Have you helped them to be more adventurous in their drinks choices?
Yes, the customer has changed but so have we. Our first menu was very straightforward and we were working with much simpler ingredients. The vessels were strange and different but the ingredients were quite easy on the palate. Now, with the second menu the ingredients are more sophisticated – like our guests. After two and a half years they’re ready – they expect it, they want to try something new.
We noticed the flavours and the vessels obviously but also the intricacies of the garnishes – little bits of cheese here, a drizzle of honey there – do those details take as much time as creating the drink itself?
We take the whole drink into consideration, sometimes the glassware might come first, sometimes it’s the recipe. The garnish is important but it needs to connect with the drink.
Talk us through some of your favourites from the menu?
The Super Cool Martini is definitely one. We researched it for a year and it took 8,000 tries to get it perfect but we’re thrilled with it (see Giacomo creating the Super Cool Martini below).
I also have to mention Calipso, one of Andrea’s drinks. He started as a bar back and has been with us for two years. This is a twist on a Cosmo, inspired by the Greeks who Andrea says were the first culture to use perfume. The vodka-based drink is based on perfume with peach, dramm pepper, tonka bean and lemon going into the mix.
Another favourite is Sotobosque which is like a Boulevardier but with mushroom essence, hazelnut and chestnut honey and served in mushroom glass. Then there’s the Troy Horse which is one of my signature drinks. It’s emblematic for the idea of the Med as we infuse baklava in Macallan and a sous vide mix of calvados, fig liquor, Olorosso sherry and Averno amaro.
There’s also one more secret space within the secret space behind the shop front. What’s the story behind it?
It’s for private parties and special guests. I wanted to have a space for industry friends – it was very much inspired by something I saw at Callooh Callay in London. It’s a secret room that you enter with a code – we’ve partnered up with Macallan on it and there are elements like the copper-coloured tops that are reminiscent of the copper still, wood because of cask – touches like that. There’s a shared table with the bartender at one end and guests at the other. It’s very close and intimate.
Next time you’re in Barcelona, be sure to check it out: Paradiso, Carter de Rera Palau 4, 08003, Barcelona. paradiso.cat