The London Bar at Gatwick Airport

I had to fly last minute from London to Glasgow.

I was in Gatwick South terminal on a Saturday night. I had come through security but I hadn’t had dinner or a much needed martini. So off I went in search of something to quench my thirst.

The expensive caviar bar downstairs in the south terminal sadly doesn’t do martinis, although it has some exquisite vodkas and accompanying nibbles. 

Instead, I wandered upstairs and came across what looked to be my oasis in the desert: The London Bar.

Martinis were on the menu for £10, with the seeming ability to choose which gin or vodka you would like it made from.

I was quickly served by a friendly member of staff who asked if I wanted gin or vodka, but this seemed to be the extent of my choice. I was served Bombay Saphire without being asked if I would prefer an alternative. I was disappointed, given that they had an impressive selection including Martin Miller’s, the Botanist and Jensens gin, although Bombay is a suitable choice. 

Nonetheless, my server earned back points by using Noilly Prat as the vermouth and the drink was stirred, not shaken, which is to my preference, although a choice should be offered to the customer.

They offered me an olive in the martini as a garnish or lemon peel if I preferred which was another point earner. I chose lemon as per usual. Anyone can drop an olive in a glass but in handling a lemon a server reveals their skill and consideration. 

My server also peeled an exceptionally generous ribbon of lemon peel and wrapped it around a straw over the glass to impart a significant amount of lemon oil into the drink.

Again, this is to my preference as I like my lemon oil, although it is customary to use a smaller length of peel. Some drinkers prefer only a finger-nail-sized piece to flavour the drink. 

Furthermore, the garnish was so large that towards the end of the drink it kept falling from the glass onto my face like an unwarranted kiss from an unwanted lover.

Personally, even though I am a lemon fan, I would usually cut and shape the garnish after squeezing its oil into the glass.

This means that it looks nicer and you don’t have to wrestle the garnish with your face every time you drink. 

The size of the glass is also worth pointing out.

It is the correct size for a larger cocktail with several ingredients, but for a dry martini it was very disproportionate.

The setting was relatively cool, but as an airport lounge it’s always going to have a natural air of excitement. I liked the lighting around the bottles. It was what caught my eye in the first place. I found the seats slightly uncomfortable after 20 minutes, but luckily “the martini had landed” by this point. Otherwise, some of the seats had plug sockets to charge your devices, which was handy.

The only other thing I would recommend for a good martini would be to at least have the house gin and glasses kept in the freezer. Of course, space is at a premium in a small bar but I would pay premium for a good martini. Otherwise, at £10 per drink I would say that it’s not the best martini you’re ever going to have, but it’s good value for your money in an airport lounge.

If you go, specify which gin or vodka you would like in advance. And don’t miss your flight. 


A Harris Gin Martini

On the day that one of the worst things ever associated with the Hebrides is inaugurated as president of the United States of America, I thought I would highlight one of the loveliest things to arise from this part of the world.

Harris Gin is so easy for me to blog about. Introduced to me by my generous cousin from Stornoway, it’s exceptional in many ways. The smooth, mellow cleanliness of the finish, the understated yet distinctive botanicals and its striking branding make it a real breakout character in the myriad of today’s craft gin explosion.

From a martini perspective it is distinctive enough to warrant a different preparation technique to other gins.

The first impression you have of this gin is its distinctive glassware. I normally prefer my bottles plain, simple and functional, but in a very competitive market the evocative watery swirls of the Harris bottle stand out well from the competition.

Made to order in Europe, they actually suffered a (non-Brexit-related) shortage of the bottles in 2016 which almost sparked panic but otherwise hopefully only made the heart grow fonder of this unique drink. I’m told that you can take your empty bottles back to the distillery and have them refilled at a reduced tat. What a wonderful idea – and great for the local population.

The company emphasises it’s community involvement, something important to me, many islanders, and increasingly the discerning consumers of the world who want to purchase sustainable, considerately-made products. I’ve also heard that their community gin-tasting events can be quite a night…

In terms of the taste, I usually say that I prefer my martinis to lead with juniper, followed by mellow citrus notes. Harris gin captures this perfectly, but with the unusual use of bitter orange, lime and grapefruit rather than the more traditional lemon. This subtle variation means that it is not my standard gin of choice.

Instead, it is an exotic alternative for when you want something excellent, and slightly different from the norm. It is for special occasions and esteemed guests, not just any old Friday.

Notably, one of the main botanicals is sugar kelp, harvested in Hebridean waters so as to impart a soft and clean oceanic umami.

The distillers recommend serving it on ice with a little sugar kelp aromatic water, although it can also be served with a slice of grapefruit or lime.

For a martini, the gin should be stored in the freezer for several hours.

I would recommend serving it dry, even if you normally like your martinis medium or sweet. The gin is smooth enough and has very little fire so you don’t need much vermouth to calm it down.

Naturally it should be stirred in the glass and never shaken. You don’t want the drink agitated or – heaven forbid – watered down.

Glass, gin and drink should be chilled and still, with a minimal garnish only. Olives and citrus peel could crowd out the gin’s delicate flavours.

Indeed you could serve it zen-like and sans-garnish. The only thing garnishing the martini above is the ice stalactite which formed on the glass when it was in the freezer. You don’t want to mask the botanicals which are well-preserved and easily appreciated with the drink’s smooth finish.

A dash of the sugar kelt aromatic water might be a nice addition to the martini, although I haven’t tried it yet. Consider it added to my to-do list.

As an alternative garnish to evoke the gin’s coastal botanicals you could serve it with a sliver of kelp.

If you can’t find your own on the beach (to thoroughly rinse, lightly boil then cut) you can buy konbu kelp from an Asian supermarket.

Wipe a sheet with a damp cloth then soak it for an hour or two.

Cut it into garnish-sized pieces, then serve as a sliver or rolled on a toothpick.

This should evoke the sea, its fresh produce and island life.

Apparently Hebidean children used to chew raw kelp as a snack. These were the days before chocolate and haribo but I can assure you it would have been an excellent source of iodine and other nutrients, even in he dark winter months.

Naturally a Harris martini would work well paired with seafood. The cold, bountiful waters of a North Atlantic bathed in the Gulf Stream provide the Hebrides with some of the best seafood in the world.

If you’re in the islands, a friend or relative in the fishing industry must always be rewarded for providing fruit-du-mer in a plastic bag as is the norm. A healthy round or two of martinis could work as payment, for example. Deprived mainlanders will have to make do with a fish mongers.

A Hume Country Clothing image.

Harris, home of Harris tweed (illustrated above), has firmly established itself as a brand associated with good quality. This will only be enhanced by the gin, which I am told has secured the sort of funding which should ensure its success and much-earned endurance in the long term.

Having only visited the island when I was below legal drinking age I have not had a chance to sample it’s alcoholic delights in-situ, but with beautiful beaches and rapturous sunsets I think it’s time for a revisit.

You can find out more about the gin here. They deliver all over the world.

The Mermaid Inn, NYC 4.5/5

This is one of my favourite places in the world.

Oyster happy hour is a must! 

I’ve previously mentioned how well seafood goes with a martini, especially the simplistically delicate oyster, so a bar/restaurant that specialises in briny goodness was always going to get me excited.


However, I’ve got to focus on the martini and not get too ahead of myself.

Using my martini rating scale I award this bar and restaurant very high points: 4.5 out of 5.

I ordered a hot and dirty martini (vodka, olive brine, Tabasco sauce with a crunchy, fresh and bright red peppadew garnish). It was ice cold, salty and fiery – a perfect tongue-tantalising aperitif.

The service was fast, attentive and the staff were passionate about the food and drinks.

The setting was intimate, clean and unpretentious.

And finally, the food is fantastic with a wide variety of seasonal oysters as well as a range of sustainably sourced seafood. It’s ideal for a light bite or a more substantial meal.

The only thing I would recommend to the Mermaid Inn is that the management make more of their martinis on the menu. The restaurant does them so well I think they should promote them more prominently. I really can’t fault them in any other way.

Basically to sum up my experience, If I died suddenly and my life flashed before my eyes I hope I would linger here for just a little while en route to the next level. And I hope the next level has oyster happy hour too.


Don’t forget to download their useful app Oysterpedia

A Bombay Martini

I was picking up some supplies in the supermarket when this gin caught my eye. Bombay London Dry Gin: more muted in appearance than its bright blue Sapphire  sister, it has a simple, almost stringently-coloured branding.

I am not a fan of floral or overly botanical gins in my martini so I though that this one with only 8 botanicals (to Sapphire’s 10) might provide a basic, clean, high street option so I took it home and chucked it in the freezer to find out.

A day later when the gin was thoroughly chilled, I made a simple martini, garnished with lemon peel and accompanied by the obvious snack of Bombay Mix.

The gin was less citrusy and floral than Bombay Sapphire. I love citrus notes, but I prefer them firstly in the aroma of the drink, ideally from the lemon peel I’ve just squeezed into it, then finally as a slow melting aftertaste which follows what I prefer to be a strong, leading juniper flavour. The Bombay Dry leads with juniper which was a nice surprise. It was overall less citrusy than I like, but this gives you the option of squeezing extra lemon peel into the drink if you want it, or leaving it out if you don’t. I know several martini fans who prefer less lemon in their martini so this one would make a good option. Otherwise, the botanicals were understated, much like the branding of the bottle.

There was a heat in the aftertaste of the gin which I don’t particularly welcome, especially in a martini which should be ice cold and ideally smooth. It reminded me somewhat of the warmth of the Botanist gin, a sensation which I think is more suited to a whisky than a gin. Nonetheless, for a high street brand I thought it was good value for money with a suitable clean and juniper taste.

As chance would have it my flatmate brought back a bottle of Bombay Sapphire the very next day. Absolutely perfect for a bare-faced comparison test. As you can see, the branding is far more exuberant. The blue-coloured glass is iconic, while the black and gold detail is positively regal, enhanced not least by the image of HM Queen Victoria.

I threw it in the freezer next to the Bombay Dry and whipped up another quick classic the next day.

Bombay Sapphire is lovely for a gin and tonic, especially for people who are otherwise put off by the strong juniper taste of standard gins. It has a smooth taste with complex spicy notes that dominate, followed by an almost sweet citrus aftertaste.

As expected, for me, Bombay Sapphire is not my gin of choice because I expect a strong, leading juniper flavour in my martini. It bolsters the almost surgical cleanliness of the drink while adding a sharp freshness evocative of a cold, winter pine forest.

However, the bold and admirable botanicals of the Bombay Sapphire were nonetheless pleasant and interesting. I love coriander and cardamom and while they might dominate my coveted martinis they were more like a temporary house guest. It’s a slight inconvenience and not as quiet as normal but it’s interesting to catch up. Furthermore, if gin isn’t normally your thing, or if you’re not especially keen on juniper, give this one a try in a gin and tonic or a martini. It has been described as a ‘gateway gin’ luring innocents into the sophisticated but Hogarthian danger of the gin world so for that I must salute it!

In summary, Bombay Dry is largely juniper, with a slight heat in the aftertaste, but good value for money. Bombay Sapphire is sweet and spicy and a good choice if you’re new to gin or not overly keen on juniper.

The Sun Tavern in Bethnal Green

This post isn’t about martinis but I wanted to tell you about a cool bar I visited in East London, as well as the wonder that is Irish Poitín.

I nipped into an Irish bar in Bethnal Green for a quick drink with some friends from Latvia and Lithuania. (Take that Brexit, we’ve got no place for your xenophobia on this blog).

Apart from a drunk, ignorant stag party from Liverpool chanting OutOutOut (a braying but ominously tinged with racism call of the Brexiteers), and a response chant of InInIn by the assembled London drinkers (our own Les Marseillaise scene from Casablanca) it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

The bar caught my eye from the outside. I hadn’t pre-planned the trip or scouted it out on Foursquare or anything. It just looked visually appealing, with lots of nice, rough-hewn wooden and metal furnishings.

The staff were very knowledgeable and attentive; hipsterish/trendy but not twatty. We sat at the bar so we could chat, interact and admire their extremely wide drink selection.

It was then that we stumbled upon their Poitín menu.

Poitín is an Irish spirit that I have heard a lot about, but had never tried. So we jumped right in.

Typically ranging in strength from 40-90% (yes you read that right – God bless you Ireland) it was illegal for centuries, not because of its strength, but because it couldn’t be regulated – and taxed. When farmers harvested crops such as cereals or beets the produce would be checked or removed so those pesky peasants couldn’t brew up their own illicit booze. Damn you big government! Apparently it was therefore often made from milk, because despite the confiscation of harvested vegetables, even the poorest families had cows to milk on a regular basis. So they would ferment and distill the milk to create this clear and absolutely intoxicating liquid wonderment and get absolutely shit-faced in defiance of the authorities, for hundreds of years.

Served as a chaser with some light lager or a pale ale (I preferred the lager) I was amazed at the smooth, fruity and refined text and texture of the drink. It was like a super-charged sake, or shochu in its purity but with a more complex interplay of taste and texture sensations that moved through the whole mouth. I didn’t mix it with water or ice. It was quite fiery but the follow-up sensation was one of extreme warmth moving down my tongue the way phosphorescence glides down the body of a squid in tropical water at night. It was quite the experience. My friends and I tried several different varieties. Even the 90% version, while having the potential to blow our heads off, was quite smooth and gently warming. It was a lovely treat.

Although I didn’t try anything else, the bar also does a range of cocktails, including bloody Mary’s and even one of my favourite drinks: The Michelada.

I was also a fan of the overall vibe and decor. So if you’re in Bethnal Green, give it a go. And if you’re not, get yourself over there for a good night! Just don’t plan too many activities for the next morning…

A Martini at Yumi, Soho, 4/5

I don’t want to recommend this restaurant.

It’s lovely, tasty, friendly and authentic: the perfect Izakaya in a London setting.
But when I visited, it was rather quiet. And I loved it.

Located in the heart of London’s theatre district, I expected it to be mobbed on a Saturday evening, but there were no other diners when we arrived. We had the undivided attention of the friendly, helpful and funny staff.

I think that once word gets out about this new bar it will almost certainly have a queue. Which, in my opinion, is the worst sort of dining experience in a busy city.
If you’re unfamiliar with izakaya culture you have a treat coming your way. It’s comparable to Spanish tapas, but with a pub feel. 

Imagine a traditional British pub, but where everyone sits, rather than stands. The purpose is to drink and relax, but delectable snacks are served to sustain your drinking and relax your pace as you go. It’s not like a British Sunday lunch pub, nor is it a post-work rapid pint guzzler. It’s somewhere gently in-between and it’s my favourite way to spend an evening out. I’ve blogged about it before here.

When I asked for a martini I received all the reassuring feedback: what gin would I like? Lemon or olive?

The gin and glasses hadn’t been kept in the freezer – I would recommend perhaps keeping one brand of gin (beefeater seems to be the house gin) permanently on ice.
The martini that I was given also had a fairly large “cap ribbon” (ie the gap between the top of the drink and the rim of the glass) so I would also recommend serving them in smaller glasses just so future customers don’t feel short-changed. Izakayas are supposed to have a reputation for ‘over-filling’ glasses for their customers – part of the intimate and generous hospitality of these venues. But at least this martini was in an actual martini glass, not the coupe glasses I am so often disappointed with in this city.
Otherwise the drink was nicely chilled and it went down very quickly. It certainly wasn’t small either, despite the aforementioned gap. At £8 it was also very reasonably priced by central London standards. I will definitely be going back for more.

The atmosphere in Yumi is relaxed and trendy, with lots of soft wooden fixtures and mellow lighting. The music was also modern, fast and ambient. Not über-pretentious or over-imposing.
But now I want to talk about the food. Or rather, just post photos of it and salivate for a moment.

Hot edamame with salt is standard izakaya fare – and for good reason. It goes exceptionally well with cold, crisp lager.

These sweet corn fritter balls were like sex in the mouth. They went really nicely with a soy/vinegar dipping sauce.

The gyoza were simple and delicious. The bar also does several types of yakitori skewers.

Their okonomiyaki was very tasty! This savoury pancake-type dish is made with cabbage, meat and a range of other ingredients. It’s a real comfort dish. And just look at that katsuobushi (dried, matured tuna shavings) dancing on the top. It’s a thin of tasty beauty, although the concept might initially appear somewhat alien to European diners unfamiliar with Japanese food.

The staff also kindly let us try some of their Bloody Mary (part of their bottomless brunch deal). It was sharp, refreshing and hot, with ginger and wasabi added to the mix. Kanpai!

So head on down to Shaftesbury Avenue for a relaxed eating and drinking adventure. For now it’s a haven of taste and tranquility in the middle of one of the largest tourist hubs on earth but it might end up getting very popular – and busy!

The Henri Toulouse Lautrec in Kennington, 3/5

The Henri Toulouse Lautrec is no ordinary venue. People travel here from all over the world for its live music performances. It also serves fantastic food.

However – the martinis do not hit the mark just yet, but with a little re-adjustment this place could be a cocktail bar with real punch – a Moulin Rouge of south London.


I would struggle to describe the venue accurately: the friendly, strange, shabby-chic, bohemian, French, Anglo-French, theatrical, run-down yet sophisticated Kennington brasserie and jazz bar caters to many tastes.

It’s not gimmicky or faddy, it’s more established and reputable than that. It’s got the staff and the skilled chefs and musicians too. The food is excellent by the way – and they deliver, although you wouldn’t get to experience the atmosphere.


The bar doesn’t seem to fit in with its Elephant and Castle environs (this is a good thing). Indeed it seems to have survived much longer than any of the other buildings in this part of the city. 

Something about it gives me the impression that we might have to sign petitions in the coming years to save it from ‘gentrification’ and being turned into a soulless block of luxury apartments. Londoners – you know what I’m talking about!

For now though, it enjoys a crammed timetable featuring live acts every night. This three-floor venue can get very busy. However, during the ‘violet hour’ – that precious cocktail moment that lasts somewhere from 5pm until dinner time – the venue is often virtually empty. In-keeping with continental culture, the diners tend to arrive later in the evening to eat.

I feel that some sort of invigoration of the cocktail bar, maybe the creation of an ‘aperitif happy hour’ could boost this place no-end, increase profits earlier in the evening, while enhancing rather than compromising its French ambience. For instance, they could name their happy hour cinq á sept (which literally means ‘5-7’ and is usually used to refer to a post-work drinks event in Quebec) or l’heure du bonheur (literally ‘the hour of happiness’). I would definitely attend.


Of course, the aspect I would focus on most prominently would be the martini. This bar has great potential. The servers ask all the right questions: which gin would you like it made with? Shaken or stirred? Sweet, dry or dirty? Olive or lemon twist?


However, neither the glasses nor the gin are cold, while excessive stirring and shaking the drink with ice left it noticeably watered down. The bar was also left unattended for fairly long periods of time. I believe the staff were helping out elsewhere. Perhaps if they had a dedicated cocktail waiter here during the crucial martini o’clock period this place would have a much higher footfall at that time of the day and we wouldn’t be left waiting around for service.

I liked the lemon garnish – an appealing shape to watch spiralling and contracting as you swirl the drink. I don’t think it was properly squeezed into the glass before pouring but it was long enough for the oil and citrus flavour to permeate the drink quite nicely.

I must also point out that their Negronis are excellent. Bravo.


The nibbles we ordered were also delectable. The Henri Toulouse Lautrec really excels at its food. I would otherwise prefer blinis that you can eat with one hand while you hold your glass with the other, but I will forgive this inconvenience purely because of the taste of this smoked salmon dish. It was delicious.

So, in summary:


  • It’s a great venue with charm and character
  • The food is excellent
  • It has huge cocktail potential


  • The gin wasn’t cold enough
  • The martini was too watered down
  • The bar was unattended for long periods
  • The place was empty during cocktail hour – perhaps the latter could be fixed by addressing the former three issues.

The Henri Toulouse Lautrec is worth many visits and I am very fond of this venue, so I hope that my criticism is seen as a demonstration of its huge potential from a martini perspective rather than a damnation. I will definitely be calling back for an encore or three.