Even more Izakaya food

If you’re wondering about what snacks to serve with a martini, you will find endless inspiration in the world of Izakaya.

Izakaya can be roughly described as relaxed and usually low-cost Japanese gastro-pubs. I have written about them quite a bit before, mainly because of their warm atmosphere and inspiring array of tasty menu items that go very well with a martini.

Quite a lot of these dishes, such as this hot edamame with salt and soy sauce, were snapped in Yumi, Soho, one of a handful of Izakaya in London.

These olives and edamame I did at home though. They’re easy.

Here is some kimchi and cold broccoli with sesame sauce. Simple but effective. Also in Yumi.

Kimchi is a Korean dish consisting mostly of pickled cabbage with chillies.

Pungent and served cold, it can be an acquired taste to some in the West, but I love it. It has even been inscribed by UNESCO on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, which is reason enough to give it a try at least.

This is some homemade lightly pickled mackerel (shime saba) with tsukemono pickles, spring onions, sesame seeds, cooked beetroot, soy sauce, grated ginger and lemon slices.

I think the strong taste of shime-saba pairs well with a bold martini.

It goes very well with a fiery ginger martini.

Here is some Yumi chicken yakitori with raw egg dipping sauce. Absolutely amazing.

Yakitori skewers are a common feature in Izakaya menus.

They’re a delicious and fairly substantial snack.

Inspired by the Yumi selection I made some grilled courgette skewers at home. They were dead easy. 

Rolling cut some courgettes into bite-sized chunks, grill them with some oil and soy sauce for about 20-30 mins, let them cool then thread them onto some skewers.

I put 9 pieces on each and fed them to some willing members of my family.

This is a Thai snack skewer, made of dried and seasoned fish. It has a sweet/umami/spicy taste and a texture like beef jerky.

More pre-packaged and possibly unhealthy snack food, but still tasty. Japanese peanuts coated in a squid-flavoured crunchy coating. It went well with a martini.

Here are some mussels in a garlic-cream sauce with chunky hunks of bread.

They can be slightly difficult to eat with a martini in one hand. It might be easier if you thread the mussels onto skewers first but that’s a bit of a faff.

It’s probably best to have a martini, eat the mussels, then have another martini.

You can see the recipe for these chilled scallops with paprika, seaweed-butter and lime canapés here.

You can probably guess that I love oysters.

I usually like them served as simple as they come.

Their rich oceanic flavour reminds me of being on the beach in the Hebrides when I was little. 

Living in central London it has to be a very evocative flavour to transport me over 500 miles and three decades in just one mouthful…

Anyway, back to Izakaya, sushi is also often served at these establishments. Here are some rough-hewn sushi rolls I put together.

This is a rather large uramaki (inside-out sushi roll) and not exactly the neatest you ever saw…

Loosely based on a California roll recipe, mine contained crab sticks, cucumber, avocado and wasabi.

(These aren’t mine)

I also spread some of my seemingly ubiquitous seaweed butter on the nori instead of using the more conventional mayonnaise.

I also made some smaller cucumber maki, also with seaweed butter.

Cucumber maki have a simple taste and a satisfying texture combining crisp nori, soft rice and the crunch of fresh cucumber.

They also go well with Hendricks gin, which is flavoured with cucumber and rose.

If you make your own rolls the ingredient variations are endless so try some out for yourself. 

Homemade sashimi is fairly easy to assemble.

Buy top grade fresh fish, gently but thoroughly rinse it in cold water. Pat dry then place in the freezer for about 45 minutes then slice into bite-size pieces and serve immediately with soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger.

Homemade sashimi might not resemble the expertly sliced morsels you’ll find in a proper sushi restaurant.

However, if the fish is good quality  it should stil be very tasty.

I served some tuna sashimi on sushi rice with omelette and pickles. Simplicity is the key. 

One of the nice aspects of Japanese Izakaya is the more relaxed, informal nature of the service and food.

Home-made style cooking is very popular at Izakaya, putting the emphasis on cosy comfort, relaxation and intimate care.

It’s more like being in someone’s warm, welcoming house rather than an intense fine dining experience, making it a very comfortable environment for a martini.

So if you’re lucky enough to be in Japan or a city with Izakaya venues be sure to check them out.

Otherwise, if you’re having a martini at home and fancy trying some more unusual snacks and appetisers have a go at some of these.



How cold should a martini be?

How do you know if your gin is cold enough for a martini?

The simple answer is this: it has to be freezing.

If, as per previous instructions, you have kept your gin and glasses in the freezer for several hours before martini time, you should easily pass this test.

I recommend that martinis are made with freezer-stored gin and stirred briefly with the vermouth in the glass. I do not approve of shaking or stirring the drink with ice.

The James Bond version results in the finished drink being watered down and we just can’t have that.

Furthermore, the above technique (filling the glass with ice cubes shortly before serving) is barely effective. It takes time and doesn’t chill the glass very much. 

I think the shaking method only remains popular because of the visual element of the preparation, rather than the quality of the finished drink.

No offence to bartenders – their method is almost a theatrical performance; an act of entertainment. 

Also note that some martinis specifically require the drink to be shaken – the Espresso martini for example.

However, if you make a standard martini my way the finished product looks better, tastes better and is far easier to prepare.

If your gin/vodka has been in the freezer for at least 6-8 hours (preferably overnight) take the bottle out and stand it upright for a few seconds. A light frost should appear across the glass as it comes into contact with the room temperature air.

If the gin is cold enough you should be able to run your fingernail down the side of the bottle so that the frost lightly scrapes off.

It should melt within a few moments (if it’s very well frozen it can take a minute or two and leave a very reassuring puddle) but so long as you actually feel the frost scrape off the side of the bottle, the gin or vodka is cold enough. 

The same test should also apply to the martini glass.

Once the martini is poured, the glass and liquid within it should be so cold that a dusting of frost, or even a thin layer of ice forms around the outside of the glass – even with the added heat of Tabasco sauce as above.

Again, you should be able to scratch this off.

When you hold the glass to take your first sip it should also leave the indentation of your fingerprints on the surface.

After about 10 minutes the frost should melt, leaving a drizzle of condensation running down the glass.

It helps to serve the glass with a paper napkin to soak up any water that runs down the stem.

If a martini looks clear like this when served, it probably hasn’t been properly chilled.

Once you realise how much of a difference the temperature makes, you might find yourself freezing all sorts of drinks and glasses.

I am told that the fingernail test originated in Russia as a means of judging whether or not vodka was sufficiently cold enough to drink neat.

Thank you Russia for this icy alcoholic ingenuity.

Our Second Pop Up Martini Bar

Thank you to everyone who came to our martini pop up bar at the end of October.

We held it in ‘the Gallery’ on the Main Street of Tobermory, Isle of Mull.

At the end of the tourist season I hoped that it was a chance for locals to relax and try something different. It was also a bit of a send off for us and our staff, including our manageress Catriona who celebrated her 21st birthday on the night.

Unlike our pop up bar in July, the night was dark and it was too cold to be outside, so we went inside and set up the tables, switched on the heaters and lit all the candles, then hoped it would all work out.

We were only open for a short while: 17:00 to 20:00 with last orders at 19:30 to allow everyone to finish their last martini at a leisurely pace.

The week before we also held a Facebook competition. Whoever liked and shared the pop up bar announcement would enter a prize draw for a free martini and a martini-related gift.

We put together a large martini glass filled with champagne truffles from the Tobermory Chocolate Factory (you can order online here and they deliver anywhere in the world) and awarded it to one lucky winner who happened to be my former teacher.

I wasn’t as nervous as before the last pop up bar we did because I knew the concept worked in principle. I also had all my equipment lined up in order. However, it was darker and colder than during our summer event so I was worried that it wouldn’t be as comfortable or warm enough in our giant old church.

I also thought that because the tourist season was over, no-one would turn up.

However, in the end, the atmosphere was nice, it was warm enough, and the venue was full. I made dozens of martinis and was happy to see people enjoying themselves, especially after a long summer.

Our excellent chef also cooked up some amazing blini, which we served on platters with smoked salmon, sour cream, fish roe and miniature croque-monsieurs. Absolutely delicious and the perfect accompaniment to a cold martini.

So, all-in-all, a fun night. And now we’re ready for winter. Thank you to everyone who came, and thank you to all our amazing colleagues who made it happen.

The Lydia Martini

When someone orders a Gibson Martini, I instantly hold them in high regard.

It’s such a stylish-looking version of the classic martini.

The single white cocktail onion floating solemnly in the glass almost makes it look like a religious offering.

The sharp flavour is also very distinctive.

Furthermore, to know about a Gibson indicates a sophisticated and experienced familiarity with martinis in general, which can only be a good thing.

My friend Lydia expressed a particular liking of both martinis and pickled onions, so much so that she requested extra pickled onions in her Gibson.

Naturally I obliged.

It’s not like we’re suffering an onion shortage or anything like that.

The name Lydia comes from an ancient region of western Anatolia, in modern-day Turkey. 

Classical and evocative with a beautiful climate, it’s an ideal martini location.

Incidentally, a common hangover cure in this part of the world is a drink of pickle juice – šalgam (shalgam) which might be perfect if you partake of too many martinis the night before and you’re a fan of the pickled goodness.

This Gibson recipe variation may have been done before but I couldn’t find any record of it anywhere so I thought I would name it, if for no other reason than for brevity when we’ve got family and friends round.

When everyone is asked “how would you like your martini” it’s far easier to take an order of “a Lydia” rather than “a Gibson but with loads and loads of pickled onions – more than you think are natural”.

The additional pickles also mean that the drink isn’t quite a lethal as a classic martini, making it an even more angelic choice.


  • Pour one measure (to taste) of chilled vermouth into a frozen martini glass.
  • Add anything from 3-10 pickled onions.
  • Pour in a teaspoon of the pickle juice for good measure.
  • Top up with chilled gin or vodka and gently stir.
  • Serve (potentially with salt and vinegar or pickled onion crisps on the side – or perhaps even a glass of šalgam).

And enjoy! Although you might not get to kiss anyone afterwards…

Chilled scallop canapés with smoked paprika, seaweed-butter and lime

These sound fancy but they were quite easy to put together and can be made in advance, so they’re easy to serve if you’re having a party.

Get about one scallop per guest (or two if you want to make it a more substantial dish than just a canapé).

I love scallops. My dad was a scallop diver so they’ve never been far away from my consciousness.

Shell and lightly clean them.

Separate the coral. You can cook them at the same time as the white flesh and eat them when you like but don’t include them in the canapé itself.

Put the white flesh into the freezer for about 40 minutes. This will allow it to firm up.

Remove then slice horizontally, so that each scallop produces two or more thin discs of tender flesh.

Dry each piece with a paper towel.

Season both sides with a little salt and some paprika (smoked paprika if you can get it).

Heat some olive oil in a pan on relatively high heat.

Add the scallops and coral (in batches if you have a large amount).

Cook for about 40-50 seconds on one side (or at least until that side starts to brown – as in the above image) then turn over. Cook for about 30-40 seconds on the other side, or again until it starts to brown.

Remove the scallops from the pan and allow to cool to room temperature. Put them in the fridge.

Add a dash of soy sauce, a dash of mirin and half a teaspoon of honey to the pan. Stir and bring to the boil, then take off the heat and pour the sauce into a small dipping bowl.

When the time comes spread some seaweed butter onto a ritz cracker, or better still some miniature blini. Top with a slice of scallop and if you’re serving immediately pour a little of the dipping sauce over the scallop and garnish with a tiny sliver of lime peel. TINY. 

If you’re not serving the canapés immediately save the dipping sauce until right before you serve, cover the canapés and keep them in the fridge.

You can just eat the cooked coral on its own (I did; and I felt no guilt) or you can serve them separately with toothpicks and the dipping sauce.

The fresher the scallops, the better.

And naturally this goes very well with a martini. It’s an exquisite snack for even the most esteemed of guests.

Some more martinis

Just another selection of recent martinis…

A dirty one.

A clean one.

Both dirty and clean – photograph courtesy of Dr. Kirsty.

Watching the sun set.

Seeing the moon rise.

Feeling the summer fade.

Watching seasons come and go in general.

I guess one thing about a martini is taking the time to pause and enjoy things.

They are the most ‘zen’ of drinks and I love them. 

Fusion Food: Seaweed Butter for Martini Canapés

Seaweed butter on a cracker with tsukemono cucumber pickles in the background.

I recently enjoyed a discovery taster menu at the beautiful Michelin-starred Greenhouse restaurant in London’s upscale Mayfair area.

I didn’t have any martinis as I didn’t want to spoil my palette before the dining extravaganza but the setting was beautiful, the food utterly inspiring and the service convivial and professional; in-depth but relaxed. What a treat! It certainly set my martini-obsessed brain into overload thinking of new potential ideas and experiments.

The exquisite nine-course menu contained a range of surprising and inspiring combinations, including cauliflower mousse with crab meat and mint jelly; scallop and yuzu tartare; grilled beef and pineapple and even the most gourmet version of cheese on toast I’ve ever heard of.

Did I mention the oyster, abalone and lettuce ravioli in a dashi stock?

Taking me by surprise once again was the fact that one of the most notable dishes we enjoyed was the bread course near the beginning. We were offered a selection of bread types (I chose the Chestnut bread) and two types of butter with a pinch of salt: one standard doux (unsalted) butter and one mixed with Cornish seaweed. I instantly gravitated to the latter and I wasn’t dissatisfied! The salty, umami creaminess was unwordly.

So being the seaweed obsessive that I am, I tried to make my own version of the butter.

I tried to keep it simple as I’m not very skilled but evidently you can make a pretty tasty version without too much effort. Not a patch on the fine work of the Greenhouse but enough for me nonetheless.

It looks a bit gross but bear with me on this one.

I took 300g butter (I chose lighter Lurpak) and mixed it throughly with a generous punch of salt and three crumbled sheets of nori seaweed.

I then put it back into the butter tub and returned it to the fridge. I’m told it will last until the original sell-by date of the butter. Maybe even a little longer because of the salt. You should also be able to freeze it.

After that it’s fairy versatile! The salty-umami combination, served chilled, is highly tantalising on bread, crackers, oatcakes or rice cakes.

It can also be used to top cooked food such as potatoes or fish.

I’m still playing around with other possibilities.

Inspired by a combination of Japanese makizushi rolls and a traditional British snack I made a triple-decker cucumber sandwich using the seaweed butter and a smear of wasabi, then cut it into small squares to serve with some martinis.

New AND retro.

My friends who normally make fun of me for serving what they term “alien food” said they were surprised to find it quite nice.

Thanks for the support guys!

I also had a go using it with scallops…

As well as in sushi. I’ll blog about these later.

Otherwise I’ll keep on experimenting but if I’m honest it’s really nice simply spread on some good quality bread!

Till the next time…