Martini Porn for World Gin Day

Happy World Gin Day everyone. To whet your appetites I’ve put together a selection of some martini images from the last few months. If you fancy making your own tonight, here is my guide.

Enjoy!

 
Lemon Drop Martini during a London Spring sunset. 

  

  
A classic martini, the most elegant of drinks.

 

Channeling Danish hygge at my aunty’s house.

  
A selection of classics with plenty of nibbles.

  
A classic with many olives. 

  
A lychee martini.

  
Classic martinis.

  

“No lace. No lace, Mrs. Bennet, I beg you!” – a classic Pride and Prejudice quote that had to go with this martini and doily at home.

  
As you may have noticed, martinis go well with candlelight.

  
A classic with Japanese peanut snacks.

  
A Gibson martini.

  
More candlelight, this time with a hot and dirty martini, complete with ice still attached to the glass from the freezer.


And finally, an optimistic classic on a London summer evening.

Have a good weekend and enjoy World Gin Day responsibly!

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The Merchants Tavern in Shoreditch 4/5

Passionate, friendly staff, a wide selection of vermouths and a respect for the classic martini make this place a top scorer.

 

I don’t get out to Shoreditch nearly often enough so I have to thank a lovely friend from back home for getting me out this time. It was a great err… afternoon.
Drinking martinis in the daytime is a dangerous pursuit but I persevere for the benefit of this blog. You’re all welcome.

  
We had a tasty lunch at the Turkish mezze-style restaurant Oklava just off Great Eastern Street. The raw halibut dish with samphire (a long standing favourite of mine) was delectable, as were the other dishes. Marinated cauliflower, grilled herb-encrusted chicken and a generous glass of Yeni Rakí to wash it down all made for some very tasty consumption. The staff were friendly and as odd as it might sound I also have to recommend their toilets which were stylish, clean and well-maintained (always a good sign of a restaurant’s overall quality I feel).

  
After lunch we nipped across the road to the Merchants Tavern for a continued catchup over some Camden Lager. Things escalated but it was all worth it!
The decor in the post-warehouse bar is refined, sophisticated and somewhat retro-London, blending hard Victorian industrial with plush continental. The crowd was youngish, trendy and mostly professional. How very Shoreditch.
Chatting to the bar staff it quickly became apparent that they were very passionate about mixology. What caught my attention was that they kept their martini glasses in the freezer. We started chatting about cocktail making and I have to admit, I am a bore. Whatever cocktail is in fashion or whatever new techniques are in vogue, if you mix me up a drink nothing will ever match a classic martini.

  
One of the bar staff was perfecting a sweet and sour cocktail that involved a hint of Mezcal (a personal favourite of mine). We tried it and it was lovely, particularly with the smoky aftertaste. Too sweet for me, but definitely very agreeable, similar in its tones to a margarita, but with a more lingering intensity, courtesy of the añejo Mezcal.
The staff were all very knowledgeable, creative, pleasant and passionate so I realised I had to try out their classic martini. They had several types of vermouth to choose from and a variety of gins. I was asked all the right questions (olive or lemon twist?) and I wasn’t disappointed with the finished product.

  
At £14 for a 100ml glass I would describe it as fair value for money for Central London, and especially given the pleasant setting and above all, excellent staff. I therefore award The Merchants Tavern a solid 4/5 for their martini, putting it right up there for London.
I would suggest two further things for martini greatness. I would recommend choosing one gin for primary use in a martini (such as the house gin) and keep a bottle or two of it in the freezer so the drink is extra cold. The fact that the bar does this with its glasses already puts it head and shoulders above most other venues.
I would also serve a small complimentary dish of nibbles of some form, like nuts, olives, edamame etc to accompany the drink. This might not fit in with the business model, but it’s what earns extra points for places like Bar Roka (spicy edamame), Skylon (Japanese rice crackers) and the definitive Duke’s Bar (nuts, crisps and olives). The kitchen bar menu of the Merchants Tavern is varied and sophisticated so if you want to order something to go with your martini I’m sure you won’t be disappointed with the options.

Good work guys!

Happiness Forgets in Hoxton 4/5

“Great cocktails, no wallies.”

A dreamy basement cocktail bar in central London with attentive, knowledgeable staff. 

  

The low level lighting is sublime but it means that my photos are a bit rubbish. Just trust me and pay them a visit if you’re anywhere near Hoxton square in London.

A classic martini wasn’t even on the menu – they have a wide range of other good quality cocktails that my friends sampled extensively and reviewed most positively.

However, when I asked if I could have a standard martini (I felt guilty and irritating whilst doing so) not only was my request graciously fulfilled, I was asked which gin I would prefer, whether I wanted it sweet or dry (I asked for medium) and whether or not I would like it with an olive or a twist of lemon.

I instantly knew I was in safe hands.

  
 

I asked for a Tanqueray martini to start. It came in a coupe glass with a twist of lemon and that much-welcome citrus aroma indicating that the barman had attentively squeezed the peel into the glass before pouring. The gin and the glass hadn’t been kept in the freezer but the barman had clearly shaken the drink with ice to cool it down. It was pleasant and clearly made with care, respect and attention. 

 

For my next drink I asked for another of the same but made with a gin of the waitress’s choosing. She regularly checked our table to see if we needed anything. One of my friends, a former resident of Finland, remarked that her style was very Scandinavian. She was straight forward, knowledgable but not fawning, fake or overly smiley: a professional.

She recommended that I try a martini made with Ford’s gin for its clean, crisp taste. It came very cold. I think they used a glass kept in the freezer this time – you can tell because you will leave your finger prints on a frozen glass.

Instead of lemon, it came with a twist of grapefruit to compliment the botanicals of the gin (it’s strong on juniper – as I like it). What an unusual treat.

So, allow me to summarise my review in bullet points:


PROS

  • Very attentive and knowledgeable staff.
  • A classic martini wasn’t even on the menu but two were happily prepared for me.
  • I was asked if I wanted them sweet or dry.
  • I was offered a choice between a twist of lemon or an olive (so simple, so crucial).
  • The waitress took time to talk to us about different kinds of gin and introduced us to some new brands, of which she knew a lot.
  • We were checked upon to see if we needed anything in a way that was straight forward and professional, not fawning or intrusive.
  • The setting is lovely.
  • The music was good and conducive towards conversation.
  • The lighting. I’ve already mentioned it.
  • The toilets were very clean and smelt divine.
  • There was a wide range of gins.
  • The martini glasses are kept in the freezer.
  • The crowd was nice – mostly couples of dates, rather than grating hipsters or stray city-types.

CONS
There’s not a lot for me to say here and my points are purely related to my martini preferences. Bear in mind that martinis weren’t even on the menu so the fact that the staff went to the lengths that they did is hugely commendable.

  • I don’t like martinis being served in a coupe glass but it seems to be very common in London.
  • I like some nibble options to go with a martini, even if it was just a small dish of olives at extra cost. Probably not within the style or business model of this bar but there you go, those are my preferences.
  • I prefer the gin to be stored in the freezer. This might be difficult in the bar as they have such a wide range available but perhaps I would pick a favourite and keep that one in the freezer for martini requests (I would suggest Tanqueray or Beefeater for commercial purposes). Otherwise they chilled it with ice in a shaker and the glasses were clearly frozen so I cannot fault the staff in any way.
  • I found the seating slightly uncomfortable. But hey ho, if you have a few of their cocktails your nerve endings won’t be that receptive anyway…

And that’s it. Minor points of fault. Otherwise it far exceeds most bars in London for its drinks. I’ll be back.

Their website is here and you can follow them on Twitter here.

Upstairs at the Ten Bells of Spittalfields (London) 4/5

The Ten Bells is one of my favourite pubs in the Shoreditch/City of London area. Victims of Jack the Ripper are reputed to have had their last drink in the establishment, whereas today it is frequented by a horde of almost-hipsters and occasional tourists, and it’s not clear which is more frightening. What it lacks in clientele, however, it makes up for with an interesting atmosphere and good staff (such a hard nut to crack). Downstairs also has a nice selection of ales.

  
However, it was serendipitous to discover their new cocktail bar, recently opened upstairs.

  
They have an interesting and well-thought through cocktail menu (which I explored later) but my priority was to examine their classic martinis. 

  
I was extremely impressed with their attention to the drink. The gin and glasses were kept in the freezer and the staff were the most attentive martini servers I have ever had. They were happy to talk at length about vermouths and gins and then introduced me and my friend to some of their other signature drinks. The lemon peel was squeezed, shaped and twisted and it was clear that a lot of attention had been paid to the process, presentation, quality and experience of the drink. So often, a classic martini is hastily added to a cocktail menu as a pretentious afterthought, despite the fact that it’s both simple yet crucial in a bartender’s repertoire. 

As far as the classic martini served by the Ten Bells staff, I would change very little. I would serve it in a classic martini glass myself (I am a purist) but I am confident they have put thought to their selection of the glass and there will be a reason why they chose the shape they did. I would offer more nibbles for the imbibers. I would stick to something simple but I believe the staff of this establishment are so creative that they would quickly come up with something novel and complementary to the drink. Otherwise I would change nothing. Except perhaps some of the clientele.

  
While it’s not a classic martini I have to mention the strange, subtle but intriguing jasmine, peach and grapefruit cocktail that one of the barmen has crafted. It was intense but light, summery and exotic but not too sweet and worth taking a moment over.

The extensive graffiti in the toilets is also worth a lengthy read but make sure you do that before you’ve exceeded the two martini rule because the stairs might finish you off. You don’t want to become another victim to have had their last drink in this establishment, but it’s worth the risk.

  

Satan’s Whiskers, Bethnal Green 4/5

  

This is possibly the best value for money martini in London, served in a trendy, speakeasy setting in Bethnal Green.

A consummate cocktail bar, the staff pay particular attention to the quality of their martini, keeping the gin and glasses in the freezer. This is much more than can be said of most cocktail establishments serving martinis in the city, which frequently seem to treat the drink as an afterthought that hopefully no-one will order.

On the Satan’s Whiskers menu (which is apparently changed on a daily basis) the martini option was at the very bottom so I expected that it had been added there as a pretentious requirement (a common occurrence I have found). But no, I was to be pleasantly surprised.

Their version uses dry vermouth but I asked for mine to be made with a sweet vermouth. They kindly obliged and served it with martini rosso, adding a red-golden tinge to the drink.

  
Served ice cold using Tanqueray gin with a twist of lemon peel it tasted delicious, clean and crisp. You can tell that the glass has been kept in the freezer because the stem and base are ice cold, not just the cup, but I asked to be sure.

 
The attentive staff also serve guests with complimentary water in Tanqueray bottles on arrival – a very nice touch, especially in the summer.

The exterior of the building was somewhat dark and off-putting (all part of the image of course) but once inside the shaded light from the wooden slatted windows illuminated vintage posters and an array of taxidermy. Guests are offered seats at the bar to watch the barmen or more intimate tables.

The crowd was interesting and a refreshing break from the pretentious twats so common in other ‘trendy’ cocktail bar settings around central London.

The only thing I would change about the martinis is that I would serve them in a martini glass rather than a champagne coupe. I would possibly trim the lemon peel a little more so it would fit comfortably in the glass. The music was also perhaps a little bit too loud to enjoy a relaxed martini conversation but let’s be honest, it’s east London. Quiet isn’t the point. 

Furthermore, at £8 for an excellent tasting martini I would say that it was the best value you could get in London without making your own at home.

  
Just remember to stick to the Two Martini Rule so as to avoid any chemical crises.

The Beet Up Vesper Martini at the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town 4/5

Behold, the oddest blog title I have ever produced! But you will see what I’m talking about in the bar review below. 

 

I award the above-mentioned cocktail bar 4/5 for its variation on the classic Vesper Martini. Given the strict criteria of my Martini Ratings I could only offer full points upon trying a proper classic martini but if I offer my review in word form rather than numbers I would say that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the drink at this bar.

I went with a friend to the Breakfast Club near Spittalfields Market / Liverpool Street Station in London. I have wanted to try out the semi-hipster burger bar for ages but the queues on a weekend morning have normally been devastatingly long. This time, it was a Tuesday night. The service was fast, the burgers were tasty and the atmosphere was fun.

However, we had heard the rumours that a secret cocktail bar existed somewhere on the premises. To gain access you must utter a special code. After a little bit of intelligence gathering (Google and Foursquare) we deduced that we had to say “can I please see the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town?” in order to gain access. 

We uttered the words and the waitress said that one her colleagues would be right with us.

  

A few moments later, to our surprise, the fridge standing next to the bar opened up and a man stepped out of it. He asked us to join him, so we followed him back into the fridge, through a secret door into a hidden stairway, which led down to a dark, secluded bar with a surprisingly large number of drinkers and a very interesting cocktail menu. 

Obviously I ordered their martini variation on sight. 

It consisted of Tanqueray gin infused with beetroot (I am a fan of savoury infused spirits), as well as vodka, Cointreau, Lillet blanc and a red current garnish. It was a far cry from my normal classic martini but I liked it nonetheless.

Nice and cold, beautifully presented, tasty, with good, friendly service and with a lot of effort put into the venue I award the bar/diner with 4/5.  

From an objective martini-fascist perspective I would award 5/5 if they offered a classic martini with the gin and glasses kept in the freezer, a strip of lemon peel and maybe a small bowl of olives. However, you can do that at home! 
 Otherwise, come out to play, try out the food upstairs and the range of cocktails downstairs… but no heavy petting!

Earl Grey Gin & Tonic

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I previously made Earl Grey infused gin which I’ve used to make one or two martinis.

However, for a highly refreshing (and less alcoholic alternative) I would also recommend this infused drink for a nice gin and tonic (yes, I drink tonic water sometimes). Right now it’s in the middle of winter in the northern hemisphere but if you’re in Australia, Chile, South Africa, the tropics, the equatorial regions or anywhere else currently enjoying warming weather this might be a nice drink to enjoy at the end of the day.

Otherwise you can wait until spring and summer if you’re in the northern latitudes, although so long as you’re wearing enough warm clothing it’s quite a nice drink for any time of year

If you keep the gin and the glass in the freezer prior to drinking this it will be even more refreshing.

* Take the glass and add some ice.
* Squeeze a slice of lemon peel over the inside of the glass so that the lemon oil is sprayed in over the ice
* Pour in a measure or two of the Earl Grey Gin
* Top up with tonic to your taste
* Use the lemon peel to stir the drink then drop it in the glass as a garnish
* As an alternative garnish to lemon, you could use a slice of fresh cucumber. It gives the drink a fresh grassy start, which is followed by the longer, slower more subtle arrival of the smoky earl grey flavour.