EDIT: This is the original post, but I have realised that a subject as important as the Dry Martini requires its own page – see here for a continually updated version of OMAHM (and I do drink them as often as I can…)
I don’t know what it is about martinis – I don’t mean that nasty long drink that the French offer up if you stay in anything but their best hotels – I’m talking about Dry Martini, the drier the better (although I did have an off-dry one at the Eagle Bar & Diner on Rathbone Place, London the other day, which was rather tasty, although that might have something to do with who made it for me…).
My friends at The Spirit have published a guide to making the perfect martini.
Anyway, I love them. Truly. With all my heart and soul. This blog is Zoë’s idea. She’s nobody’s fool at the best of times and she nailed my passion for what the Swedes call a ‘drya‘ soon after we met. It was in the Soho Hotel and I quizzed the barman as to why the gin martinis in One Aldwych were better than his. The funny thing is that he agreed with me and assured me that it was due to the ‘special spray’ that his competitors used, which enhance the olive/citrus aromas as you take your first magical sip.
I can confirm that the barstaff at 1A do certainly use a spray, and indeed it does aforementioned trick. But it’s not necessary. The Italian magician in Dukes Bar in Dukes Hotel achieves something similar using nothing more exotic than a piece of freshly cut lemon peel, which he wipes around the rim of the glass, whether or not your preferred tipple is vodka or gin.
I always start with a gin martini – what comes next will depend on its quality. I do the same with chicken madras when I try a new Indian restaurant, or in India I’ll opt for a rogan josh (wow!). With Indian food, you never know how spicy the chefs make the food – in posh hotels in India, it’s never hot enough!
But I digress. What’s the point of this post, I hear you ask?
I feel I have a duty to spread the word when I discover talented mixology. Zoë and I already do our best with wine (which is what www.bythebottle.co.uk is all about) and I have no intention of stopping my single-handed campaign to raise the standard of in-flight plonk (I’m typing this in economy class on a BA flight from Barcelona to London and the lovely Lucy, aided by the equally lovely Natalie, has just served me a G&T made with Gordons and Schweppes, which is how it should be at 30,000 feet. I shunned the wine since there’s no proper food when you travel cattle class, although I do like the Dormen range of bar snacks that BA dish up these days…).
I’m not a purist by any means – I used to love the espresso martini that was the signature drink of former UK Mixologist of the Year Andrea Muselli for the six months I was a trial member of the wonderful Adam Street private members club. I tracked Andrea down recently – like me, he left Britain and is currently working in Australia…
But one needs to set standards in order to gauge the quality of competing offerings, so I shall start with the gin martini made with Tanqeray 10 and olive (notice that I don’t specify the number of olives – I leave that to the barman to decide).
Here is my long-awaited top ten gin martinis in London (as of August 19, 2011) together with some observations:
1) One Aldywch, The Aldwych – bloody marvellous, although I preferred it when they managed to stick three olives on the cocktail stick… Served in a lovely lobby bar (check out the oarsmen who dominate the space). The barstaff are passionate about their work and are experts on whiskies and whiskeys – if you’re quick, you might be able to sample a rare Japanese pure malt that hasn’t hit the shops in Britain yet… 9.5/10
1) The Martini Bar, Dukes Hotel - what can I say about the place that inspired Fleming’s legendary “shaken not stirred” and thus made Scottish the sexiest accent in the world outside of Scotland? Well, I can tell you to make the most of the ‘two martini rule’ that is strictly applied here: make your second drink a vesper (as in Casino Royale). Then move on to brandies, etc. ‘cos they aint gonna serve you another martini! 9.5/10
Now it gets tough.
3) Fino, the road between Charlotte and Rathbone Streets - can you believe they skimped on the olives? I paid 12 quid for a premium drink, with which they gave me a small bowl of the plumpest green olives (stones still in). But they used nasty stoned olives for the drink itself. I grabbed one from the bowl, skewered it myself and presented it back to the barman who apologised profusely for the error of his ways and promised to make amends. That was a couple of years ago and I haven’t been back… yet. Obviously, the food at Fino is sensational. 9/10
3) Soho Hotel, down that pokey little street off Frith Street - hey, what can I say? They’ve been serving me consistently great cocktails for the past ten years or so. They just need a spray, apparently. 9/10
3) Charlotte Street Hotel, Charlotte Street - amazing hotel, which has lovely private drinking dens round the back (I think they’re called libraries or something… it’s difficult to recall) where they operate an ‘honour bar’ system… boy, have I seen some dishonourable behaviour in there – RG, you know I mean you! But the martinis in the bar are very good, even if it’s difficult to tiptoe through the hoards of trendy young things who flock there of a summer evening.
3) Roka, almost next door to CSH – downstairs in the moody basement where they serve wonderful concoctions based on Eastern libationary delights. They can mix a martini. They also serve great sushi… 9/10
3) Hakkasan, Hanway Place – similar to Roka, but bigger, brasher and arguably cooler (although if they let my friend Dan Leach in without a reservation, which he claims they do, it may have gone to the dogs) and they have the advantage of having much more space. They nailed my martini. 9/10
3) PJs, Wellington Street - for me, it has to be served by Tony. Tony and I have solved the world’s problems on many an occasion. It was Tony I turned to when I was shunned by the lovely people (or rather the shysters) at Adam Street. He’s an institution and the building will probably fall down when he hangs up his boots for the last time – he can swear violently in any language on the planet, you know. I have promised to give him my brown hat. I will. When I’m done with it. This is Theatre Land, darlings, you don’t know who you might bump into if you stop for a drink with Tony…
4) Christopher’s, between PJs and 1A on Wellington Street - used to be watery (this comes from letting ice remain in the glass after it has been chilled) but they’ve fixed that. Now they just need to think about the olive… 8/10
4) Match Bar, Farringden – lovely atmospheric bar, very cute martini glasses that don’t take multiple olives, but the drink itself was slightly watered down. I switched to beer, of which they have a good selection. 8/10
And finally… a bonus goes to the Eagle Bar Diner where Julia made me a drink and remained cool as a cucumber even though I was filming her with my latest toy, a Panasonic handheld video camera – it’s waterproof, you know… just in case I get too close to my work…
Julia serves a perfect martini
I say it’s a bonus and I’m not going to score Julia’s work because the Eagle Bar Diner will probably have closed down by the time I post this. That was the sad news I was given when I popped in last week.
In short, then, this post is a tribute to the brave ladies and gentlemen at the Eagle who have served me and my former colleagues at Hill & Knowlton UK some of the best burgers, shakes and cocktails that London has ever known.
Farewell, beloved Eagle. Fly safe.
PS Thanks to Peasprout, guestlist and the online retailers whose pics I’ve ‘borrowed’…
Tags: Dry Martini