Dita Von Teese teeters through a crowd, swan-like, in a pearly, feathered gown, flanked on either side by two soldiers and armed with a bottle of Cointreau.
We’re standing behind the Sofitel’s opulent Le Bar. The burlesque star has made an impression. A group of male guests are slack-jawed while kitchen staff have appeared, staring in fascination.
We watch the new face of the French Triple-Sec breathe and whisper her appreciation of the Side Car, a Cognac heavy, citrusy 1923 classic.
The short video is the introduction to an hour of mixing, shaking and stirring – part of a cocktail master class with the hotel’s suave Brazilian mixologist Pedro Williams. For him, as for her, appearance is all.
“You have to look great when you’re pouring a drink, it’s all a bit of a show. You have to show the guest it is amazing.”
In Phnom Penh for a week to reinvigorate the Sofitel’s cocktail list, the Brisbane-based bartender is hosting cocktail classes every night until Saturday.
The country’s capital certainly has no shortage of heady bars for those with a penchant for the saccharine. Williams, however, believes that the scene should be bolstered with high quality, local ingredients and professional shakers.
“There are too many places sticking to the cheesy Pina Colada type basics, and there are so many wonderful local ingredients, herbs and fruits to work with. I’m working on a couple of recipes using rambutans, basil, egg-whites, lemon and sugar for a Basil Sour.
“There are many ways to make cocktails a local thing, such as presentation – bamboo glasses, sugarcane sticks, lemongrass sticks, serving cocktails with chopsticks, so they can dip the fruit in a liqueur with chopsticks,” he says.
We jump straight into an attempt to replicate Von Teese’s Side Car, glazing the rim of a martini glass with lime and plunging it into a bowl of sugar.
We splash into our shakers the booze and half a shot of lemon juice, and shovel in ice – lots of it.
“The ice reduces the dilution because it drops the temperature and it breaks down the alcohol.”
After an incredible amount of shaking, we prise apart the shaker and strain our brews into the glassware. Before I even have a sip, Williams dips a straw into my concoction and frowns.
“The measures are perfect, but it needs to be broken down more – the art of a great cocktail is all in the shaking.” He has another go, and the final result is a velvety smooth, ice-cold tipple.
We work our way through the basics of a good, potent Margarita and then a Cosmopolitan, burning and squeezing an orange peel to release a subtle hint of the fruit’s aroma.
For the finale, our coach shows us his signature, flaming drink, the spicy Tikki Blazer.
Balancing two Cognac glasses over two small teacups – full of boiling water – into the glasses goes Rum Zacapa, Dom Benedictine and Frangelico. The booze is then set alight and tipped from one glass to the other. Coffee and cinnamon are added in. Rich spicy fumes waft around the room.
When the flames peter out, a cinnamon stick is delicately rested on the glass and an orange peel is once again burnt, oil dripping into the drink. It’s an impressive act.
Pedro’s classes run every night until Saturday from 6-7pm at the Sofitel’s Le Bar for $30 per person.
To contact the reporter on this story: Claire Knox at [email protected]