Spring weekend

It’s been a while since my last post so I thought I would put up a brief update on my nice weekend.

We had the first properly warm weather of the year.

It was warm enough to light the garden fire pit and have a martini outside before dinner.

It’s so nice to get outside again. I took this picture because I thought the lower part of the log resembled sliced shime saba

We also got the chance to go to Calgary beach.

Canadians take note – this was where many islanders took the boat west to settle on your shores during the Highland Clearances.

These images are actually taken from the ruins of one of the abandoned settlements.

Evidently those who once lived here and moved to the New World named one of the more successful Canadian settlements after the bay.

Calgary in Alberta has since grown to a much larger size than the original!

On returning home I prepared some izakaya-style skewers for the barbecue. The above is lamb liver with spring onion, dipped in a sweet soy glaze with garlic and vermouth. Grilled for about 4-5 minutes on each side they went well with a drink, although I need to practise my barbecue skills.

I also wrapped asparagus with prosciutto and grilled for about 2 minutes on each side.

Easy and tasty.

After that it was time for drinks.

And our first sunset of the year enjoyed from the garden.


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.


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.

More martini snacks and canapes

I’m just going to leave this here…


What could be easier than olives and cheese-stuffed peppers that you picked up at the shops on the way home? I particularly like the colour contrast of these two. Oh and the taste.

You can’t go wrong with the lemony-buttery taste of Nocellara olive flesh, while the soft creamy cheese paired very indulgently with the sweet piccante crunch of the pepper.

This one was also a little bit last minute. I threw together some Bombay mix, prosciutto and olives when a friend popped round unexpectedly. The Bombay mix didn’t really go with the other two, but it’s definitely very nice on its own.


Here are some nuts, arranged mindlessly while I stared into space sipping my first drink of the night. Salted pistachio nuts are my favourite, although some nice big fat macadamia nuts would go well with a martini too.

Simple, easy, light, savoury, Twiglets are an underrated canapé snack. They are the flavour and texture opposite of the martini. Where a martini is cold, smooth, heady, citrusy and ever so slightly sweet, these are light, crunchy, salty and savoury. They don’t look particularly elegant but the flavour contrast really works. They’re a guaranteed winner for marmite fans.

This one is a bit more fancy. Asparagus skewers, blini with taramasalata, maki rolls, sigeumchi-namul, crisps, a martini and candles…

A simple but slightly more edgy snack, here are some wasabi peas with a simple classic.

Extremely simple, but very tasty, here is some lightly pickled baby beetroot. I’m sure we could create some kind of pink-coloured beetroot Gibson Martini, perhaps similar to the Beet Up Vesper Martini at the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town bar in central London. 

Sea Aster is a seasonal coastal plant that flowers in the summer but is edible in the spring. Wash and eat raw or lightly boil for a minute or two. I got mine at a fish monger’s in Borough Market.

Mum bought these langoustines from Tobermory Main Street while I picked up the samphire on Oban pier on a trip back from London.

There’s a whole world of tapas-style ingredients and food types you could use. Above you can see chorizo, cold roast pork slices, feta cheese, olives, bread, houmous, oil  and duqqah.

You can turn the nibbles into your whole meal and really take your time with the martini. Above you can see crab open sandwiches, nuts, wood ear mushrooms, Korean-style spinach, roasted vegetables, seaweed, manchego cheese, Bombay mix, olives, bread, oil and houmous all to be slowly munched while you sip your cold gin.

Houmous is a relaxed martini accompaniment to have at home with informal company over a drink.

Here it is served with sliced pitta bread and a variety of mostly Mediterranean snacks.

My kind neighbour made me some lovely Middle Eastern sweets which I included in the meal.

The Arabic element of the food was especially good at soaking up some of the alcohol!

Dim sum was a surprisingly good – if slightly unconventional accompaniment.

Oysters are my favourite.

I also love creamy manchego cheese.

Finally though, the most classical martini snack will always remain the pitted green olive. If it’s all you have, you’ll be fine. And you won’t spoil your appetite for dinner.

More Izakaya dishes

As I’ve previously mentioned, I love Izakaya culture.

So here are some more izakaya-inspired dishes to accompany a martini.

This is very simple: grill sweet potato in oil with a sprinkling of salt until ready. I was drinking a martini when I made this so I can’t remember how long it was in the oven for. 20 minutes? Who knows. There’s a reason I blog about martinis and not food recipes. 


Salmon ceviche is Izakaya-esque and goes very well with a martini. Prepared in advance and it’s very easy to assemble during drink o’clock.


Comparable to ceviche is the Japanese dish shime saba (lightly pickled mackerel) here served with some very rustic but tasty ritz crackers and guacamole (I mashed an avocado with coriander/cilantro, salt, pepper, tomato purée, garlic and a squeeze of lemon juice). All of the above went very well with the martini. 
 Skewers are easy. Chop the ingredients (tofu and spring onions above), thread onto wooden skewers, brush with oil and maybe some salt, pepper or a sauce/glaze of your choice. Chuck them in the oven for a few minutes while you pour the martinis then whip them out when they’re ready.

As well as potentially making unusual garnishes, the hot skewers contrast nicely with an ice cold martini.


The tofu skewers involved a little extra batter to get them nice and crunchy on the outside, and goey on the middle – instructions here.

Thin spinach omelette (tamago), folded then sliced.

Grilled shiitake mushrooms make a nice umami nibble.

This is a whole meal. Salmon onigiri, grilled squash noodles, nori, sigeumchi-namul, salad, miso and err… Twiglets.

When I grilled the salmon to put in the onigiri, I grilled the skin separately with a light sprinkling of salt, cut it into squares and served it as a martini nibble as you see here.

Here is some shime saba (pickled mackerel) nigiri served in Yo!Sushi (a British-born Japanese conveyor belt sushi restaurant). If only they served martinis as well! Oh wait, I’m glad they don’t. I would never leave.

Here is some tuna chirashi-zushi I made at home with tamago, cucumber and pickles.

Flash fried scallops, then chilled in a garlic and ginger marinade, served with boiled and salted samphire. These went well with the martini. 

Tuna maki and crab futomaki rolls. Probably better to be eaten after a martini as an actual meal but they were an okay accompaniment nonetheless. I need to work on my makisu rolling skills…

And finally, the traditional izakaya dish, the croquette potato – korokke. Hot, crunchy and savoury, they go very well in an izakaya meal and with a martini.

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!

Martini Izakaya Dishes

An Izakaya is essentially a type of Japanese pub that specialises in food to accompany drinks. It’s basically my favourite type of drinks setting. I love the post-work, instantly friendly and relaxed atmosphere, completely free of pretension.

Comparable to Spanish tapas or Turkish meze, the Izakaya-way is healthier than simply guzzling down a bucket of booze before staggering off for some fish and chips or a kebab (yes I’m British, that’s what we do).

Izakaya dining tends to leave out carbohydrates (rice, noodles etc) until the end of the meal for when the customer wants something very filling to soak up the booze before they leave. Otherwise most of the carbohydrates in the meal are obtained from the alcoholic beverages.

 I normally like some sort of carbohydrate with my martinis (crisps or nuts as a particular culprit, including the above Japanese peanut snacks) but there are loads of low-carb alternatives out there and the Izakaya is the master of them. Here are some examples:

It’s fairly standard to start an Izakaya meal with edamame, here boiled in salted water for 4 minutes from frozen, drained, cooled and sprinkled with salt (or some of Laura Santtini’s Umami salt if you fancy it). There are loads of other sauces, dips and condiments you can serve them with. Try experimenting.

This is another common Izakaya dish: agedashi-tofu.

It’s deep-fried tofu cubes in simmered dashi stock. I made some here with fried peppers, grated daikon, sliced cucumber, sliced spring onions and sesame seeds. For a recipe I recommend my favourite online cookery show: Cooking With Dog.

Grilled meat and vegetables are also extremely popular. Here are some Yakitori skewers.

Korean-style spinach – Sigeumchi-namul is an easy accompaniment you can make in advance of serving martinis.

Here is some tamago-yaki (fried omelette) with a sweet balsamic vinegar glaze. This is also nice at breakfast by the way.

Izakayas are usually more relaxed than formal sushi restaurants and many serve Japanese interpretations of Western cuisine. The above Korokke for example is the commonly served Japanese version of French croquette potatoes, here served on a bed of noodles. Sacré bleu!

I produced these asparagus skewers with the Izakaya style in mind, even though they are not traditionally Japanese.

Behold! I think I have managed to insult the culinary traditions of at least three different countries with this one. Nigiri (fingers of sushi rice pressed individually with toppings) here with English mustard (instead of wasabi) Spanish chorizo, Italian prosciutto and salami, with a mayo-mustard-vinegar-honey-and-juniper dip and some Tsukemono on the side.

I won’t stop there. Here is some meat and cheese gyoza, a veritable abomination of traditional Japanese cooking, but it’s very easy to make and appeals to meat and cheese lovers. Similar to a normal gyoza (dumpling) in terms of appearance and preparation, the only difference is the ingredients. Place a spoonful of cheese into the middle of some thinly sliced chorizo or salami, fold the meat over to encapsulate the cheese and crimp it shut. You can serve it like that, or grill it for a minute or so until the meat crisps and the cheese melts. 

My brother made something similar by wrapping mozzarella pieces in thin salami slices and frying them. Not so good for the heart, but very good for the belly.

Speaking of bellies, here are some evilly good deep-fried pickled gherkins. A salt ‘n’ vinegar snack I first enjoyed courtesy of the Meat Liquor / Meat Mission guys in London. They’re easy to make. Just dip them in a simple batter and fry them for about 3-4 minutes in about an inch of hot, lightly smoking oil. They go well if you serve them with a soy sauce and balsamic vinegar 50:50 mixture for dipping.

That soy-vinegar mixture works well with quite a lot of things. Here I used it as a dipping sauce for wood ear mushrooms. Buy these dried, bring a pan of water to the boil, throw them in, take the pan off the heat, give them a stir, leave them to soak in the water for 30 minutes, drain then serve.

Okay, okay, I know, it’s just crisps. Carbs and not fancy, right? Well Izakayas aren’t pretentious. So all sorts of comfort foods can be served. Crisps will forever be welcome as a tasty martini snack.

This is more authentically Izakaya. Sliced aubergine (egg plant, if you must) stir fried then combined with a light miso sauce, with chopped spring onions sprinkled on top. It can be served hot or cold.

This is some fried spring onion with a soy glaze. Simple, easy and slightly unusual in the West, the recipe is here.

This is probably cheating but I served some deep fried squid I bought from a Chinese takeaway restaurant. No one complained. It actually worked very well. I’ve said it before, seafood goes very well with a martini. And if you’re going to dip that seafood in batter and fry it until it’s crunchy then that can only be a good thing. 

This wasn’t cheating but it was a lot more time consuming. It’s some thinly sliced rare beef with spring onions. I rubbed the beef with salt and pepper, cooked it lightly in a pan, chilled it in iced water, patted it dry, sat it in a sweet soy and onion marinade overnight then sliced it thinly and served it with spring onion.

It’s a bit fiddly to make for a canapé but it’s tasty if you can be bothered. The beef also goes well simply served on top of rice (especially sushi rice).

This is izakaya-esque. I just took some konbu (kelp) I had used while making sushi rice and turned it into a salty/umami garnish.

You can roll the konbu up and serve it as an alternative to the classic martini olive.


You can also serve konbu with that same soy-vinegar mixture shown above.

Here is some Shime Saba or lightly pickled Japanese mackerel. It’s one of my favourite things to make and eat and it’s very healthy. 

One of my friends complains about prawn sandwiches having a “high death-to-bite ratio” but this mussel martini has a “high death to sip ratio”… Much like those of James Bond’s… It’s not the most appetising garnish I ever made but life without experimentation is dull. I simply threaded some pre-cooked mussels on a toothpick and served it on the side of the glass.

And who could forget this experimental extravaganza? It’s more seafood, this time in the form of a squid-ink martini with octopus tentacles. Tentacle martini porn is now officially a thing!

And finally, as I said before, an Izakaya experience is often finished off with soup and/or noodles. I also think that a martini needs to be finished off with a good meal. You want to fill your stomach with something substantial after all that alcohol and you need something to look forward to. Otherwise you’ll end up just wanting another martini – which can get very dangerous indeed!

Above I served noodles in miso soup with dumplings, prawns, seaweed, courgettes and avocado topped with katsuobushi (dried tuna shavings). It’s very easy to throw together – even if you’re two martinis down. In fact, if you’ve got the miso soup, add the boiled noodles then you could just about throw anything in there. Don’t be afraid to experiment.