London calling

17 July, 2017

Luca Cordiglieri has been on the central london bar scene for 20 years – Hamish Smith found him a little closer to home


BARTENDERS from Shanghai, Tokyo, Hamburg, Paris, New York and San Francisco have graced this page. But sometimes, you need not look far to find a star of the bar. Luca Cordiglieri, the president of the UK Bartenders’ Guild and a man with a CV so extensive it requires a zip file, has just opened up shop in my neck of the woods. Honor Oak to be exact, a Zone-3 neighbourhood of south east London, not famed for its cocktails. The locals wouldn’t know it, but they have a veteran of London’s high-end bar scene serving them their morning coffee or after-work Old Fashioned. Two Spoons is a sign of the times – in search of affordable premises London’s cocktail scene is stretching its legs.

For Cordiglieri, Two Spoons is a notable departure from his career in the city but this is a chance to breath after a long career in the Smoke. His new coffee and cocktails bar is not the Dorchester or Harvey Nicks, but he is contented – for once it is his own.

It all started for Cordiglieri, as for many London bartenders, in Italy. Home was Santa Margherita Ligure, near Genoa on the north west coast. His father was in the business – a five-star hotel background with bars of his own as Cordiglieri was growing up. Before long the young Cordiglieri was lending a hand. Quite literally – at 12 he lost the end of his finger to an ice crusher, but it didn’t stop him. Once out of school and military service, Cordiglieri was waiting on tables in a local restaurant before joining his father. At Il Fiocco Cordiglieri’s father made the drinks – classics such as the Bamboo and Adonis, Negroni and Martini. But a successful career demanded more than a classical education. Cordiglieri needed to learn English, French and German – his father insisted.

In 1992, Cordiglieri left Italy. His father had a hook up at the Hyde Park Hotel (now the Mandarin Oriental) in London – a position with bed and board but no pay. The planned six months became a year, then two when he landed a position at Harvey Nicks’ fifth floor bar.

His English was improving but Cordiglieri at 25 was just washing glasses. “I doubted myself – I thought, what am I doing? But I was listening and learning.” It was a case of taking a step back to take two forward and, within a year, Cordiglieri was supervising the bar. He was just becoming established when he was called back home to fill in for his father, who was taken ill. “It was something I had to do. I dabbled with the idea of staying and one day taking over but I decided I wanted to go my own way.”

The next stop was Switzerland’s Beau Rivage Palace to learn French. “I started as a commie because I wanted to learn the language and have a Swiss five-star hotel on my CV.” Within three months Cordiglieri was making drinks.

The third language – German – never happened. “After a year I decided London would be my home.” He returned to the comfort of Harvey Nicks, but not his old job as supervisor. “I had to step back one position at first,” he says.

Codrieglieri longed for the customer interaction that came with bar management. A brief spell at Hush in Mayfair was followed by a bar manager’s job at Ku de Ta. The Waldorf Hilton came next, a hotel where he could really hone his management skills.

Then came the role with which he is most associated – bar manager of the Dorchester’s China Tang. Although not at first – it was a step down to part-time assistant manager. In his seven years at China Tang Cordiglieri became the face of one of London’s most famous bars. A brief spell at Soho’s 68 and Boston followed. “I enjoyed the opening and stayed for 10 months but the late nights – home at 4am – is a job for a younger man.”

Which takes us to Two Spoons – a chance for Cordiglieri to work for himself, to be number one, without taking a step down to take a step up. “No,” he says with a smile. “This is really my partner Rosy’s bar. I’m just helping out.”

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