At the age of 20 years old, Matteo Belkeziz decided to leave his hometown of Florence, Italy armed with a one-way ticket to London. There, Matteo found himself working at some of the city’s most iconic bars, rubbing shoulders with celebrities and all the while working his way up the ranks.
Now, Matteo can be found heading Bar Machiavelli in Sydney, Australia. Matteo shared some insight into how bar cultures differ across the globe, spoke about how he found himself in Australia, and spilt the beans on serving celebrities.
Drinks World: How did you get started in the industry?
Matteo Belkeziz: I started as a club promoter. At the beginning it was just for fun and to get some extra money for my everyday needs, but then I really liked the night scene. I decided to sign up at a bartender school in Florence and learn some new skills. That was the moment when my passion for drinks, cocktail and service exploded.
DW: Have you had any mentors during your career?
MB: I have had, and still have, many mentors. Each of them has been able to show me a different aspect of the job and the best way to achieve outstanding business performance.
In 2011, the cocktail guru dubbed “The Maestro”, Salvatore Calabrese, was opening a new sophisticated bar in London in collaboration with Playboy and Caesar Enterprise, and I was asked to take part in that project.
I worked alongside one of the best vintage spirit collectors, who I gained an in-depth knowledge on cocktail history from, as well as vintage and forgotten spirits, and up-selling techniques. We are still in touch and he’s always up for a laugh and a good Negroni cocktail together.
During my short time in Las Vegas, mixologist Francesco Lafranconi gave me new inspiration, and plenty fun times. As they say, “What happens in Vegas stay in Vegas…”
DW: Of the countries you’ve worked, which was your favourite and why?
MB: London has been my favourite spot so far. It’s the place I called home for more than ten years, that taught me so much, and made me fall more and more in love with the hospitality industry.
DW: What are the main differences in the bar and drinking culture between these countries?
MB: During my travels, I’ve been able to spot so many differences between drinking cultures, bars and way of life. When you’re working in big, cosmopolitan cities, a good bartender needs to know how to adapt himself to the audience in front of him without judging.
The ethic of drinking is different from country to country, but the environment where you work and the clientele that attract will be a key aspect of your job.
Times, traditions and tastes change, but drinking is always an act of pleasure, fun and relation.
DW: Have you ever served any famous people? Who were they and what did they order?
MB: I served many celebrities, from Stevie Wonder to Metallica, Kate Moss to Johnny Deep, Madonna to Dennis Rodman, Huge Hefner and many, many more. London was the place to be, and working in such places as Playboy Club helped a lot.
DW: What were they drinking?
MB: Well, trying to interpret their moods and give them the right drink was probably the hardest part. But with a good chat and a bit of humour, the results were always guaranteed.
DW: How did you find yourself working in Australia?
MB: The working holiday experience was my first approach to living in Australia. I had left London to spend a few months in America to recharge my batteries, but Australia had been in my mind for a long time…
One day I just took the opportunity and bought a one-way ticket to Oz. I really didn’t know what to expect, all I had on my mind was the idea of the sun, ocean, surfing, relaxation and a good time by the beach… like all Europeans expect when they come here.
At this stage, I can definitely say that everything I was expecting is here, but the time I have had to enjoy it all is has been very limited, especially in the beginning working late hours and double shifts at numerous venues at one time.
Now that everything is more stable, I’m certainly enjoying the Sydney vibe.
DW: Tell us about a little about Bar Machiavelli and what sets it apart?
Bellinis, fettuccine and cosy vibes.
What was once a tyre factory, the heritage site now offers a fun and casual dining experience where you can indulge in a selection of mouth-watering Italian dishes and cocktails.
The moment you step foot inside, you’ll notice large projected images flash across the high brick walls. Soak in the cool vibes, you get to choose from an extensive wine list with Italians, French and Australian labels and a sophisticated cocktail menu built on Italian classics with a Mediterranean twist.
It has a relaxed atmosphere and friendly staff ready to guide you through a sensorial journey. We use only the best ingredients we can find and believe every single detail makes a difference.
DW: Where do you draw inspiration when coming up with cocktail menu?
MB: Inspiration can be found everywhere. What I believe is really important to achieve great results in term of sales and guest satisfaction is the ability to understand the venue where you work and especially the clientele that it attracts.
We all have great ideas that sometimes don’t succeed. Most of the time it’s not because the idea wasn’t good, but because we are not able to make it happen in the right place at the right moment.
In cocktail creating, I’ve found the name of the drink is a huge sales drive. An appealing name will trigger your guests’ curiosity, then you can gain their trust satisfaction. Let them ask questions and let them feel part of everything you do.
Charisma, energy, creativity and good ideas, selected ingredients and knowing what a right balance are the key aspects for a successful cocktail menu.
In saying all that, your fantasy is the only limit.
DW: Finally, what is your favourite drink on Bar Machiavelli’s list and why?
MB: With no doubt, one of my favourite drinks on our current list is The Prince VS The Count, a twist on a classic Negroni.
The inspiration for this cocktail came from Machiavelli’s name and his Italian tradition. Niccolo Machiavelli was a politician, philosopher and writer from Florence. His most renowned work was The Prince. Years later, the iconic Negroni cocktail was mixed in the same city, Florence, by Camillo Negroni or better known as “Count Negroni”.
For this variation, I decided to enrich the gin with grappa, Italian eau de vie, before ageing it in an oak barrel for complexity and smoothness. The cocktail is served on a crystal ice rock and completed with Campari dust on the rim.