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.


French meets Japan supper club at Mirey’s Restaurant

My friends Gerry and Ko have set up a popup restaurant in south London, showcasing their creative talent and delicious food.

The event took place in the London Cooking Project, a community-run culinary initiative in Battersea aimed at fostering budding catering talent in the area.

We signed up and were provided with this tantalising menu.

During a fairly manic pre-Christmas week it was lovely to get a chance to relax and enjoy someone else’s cooking – especially given its sophistication. What a treat!

On arrival guests were provided with a glass of French cider blended with a fruit syrup.

Otherwise it was BYOB, although Ko and Gerry brought back a case of sake from a recent trip to Japan and I was highly intent on trying some. 

I chose a dry sake from Hokkaido (where Ko comes from) which went very well with our first course: generously sliced tuna carpaccio with a tongue-tingling garnish of shredded daikon, green apple and fragrant herbs spices. It wasn’t just diverse in terms of its flavours; the inclusion of shiso leaves (perilla) and pink peppercorns turned it into a full-mouth sensation.

Next came a delicious steak tartare, with croutons, edamame, spicy sauce and a raw quail’s egg among other things.

Delicious and light, it was a real treat of contrasting textures, including the croutons which were served inside the tartare.

Next came a delicious lamb dish. Encrusted in pistachio nuts, the cutlets were sat on a bed of aubergine in spicy miso sauce.

A truly international dish, the lime really enhanced and united all of the flavours.

The aubergines were also particularly spicy which I loved.

For dessert we were presented with a trio of sweets. From the left to the right we had a yuzu cheesecake biscuit which was light and refreshing, followed by a matcha green tea Yule log, then sweet adzuki beans with a sweet sake jelly.

The latter was my favourite, with its surprising, light textures.

The atmosphere was also really fun – relaxed and friendly, I made several new friends from Europe and Japan.

I’m very pleased to report that Ko and Gerry will be resident at the Cuckoo pub in Islington from the new year so be sure to check out their food and stay up to date with their work here!

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.

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…

The Sri Lankan Arrack Martini – the Serendipitini

I have been working on this concept for a long time. It’s not a true martini, but it aims to serve a similar purpose, especially for those in Sri Lanka, perhaps without access to gin or vermouth.

I resisted pressure to name it the Tamil Tiger Martini (it’s fiery, complex and deadly) as this would feel wholly inappropriate after Sri Lanka’s bitter internal tragedy. Instead I have opted for the Serendipitini.

Serendib was the old Arabic word for Sri Lanka. It means ‘lucky surprise’ and is where the word Serendipity comes from. Sri Lanka is full of lucky surprises, not least its alcoholic delights.

Having previously lived in Sri Lanka I developed a strong taste for their national spirit: Arrack.

The drink is very distinctive, but then so is its production method.

Very early in the morning, toddy-tappers climb up coconut trees in certain parts of Sri Lanka. They are there to harvest a very special type of sap.

If you cut the flowers in a certain way they produce a light, sweet liquid which the British colloquially referred to as ‘toddy’. With its high sugar content this liquid starts to ferment almost immediately and has become alcoholic by breakfast time.

It can be drunk straight from the bottle, although you might have to scrape ants off the top layer – I’m afraid I’m not kidding.

It is totally organic, fresh and tastes heavenly. However, given its cheapness, some Sri Lankans might not approve of foreigners consuming it, depending on who you talk to. It is sometimes seen as a poor-mans drink (because it literally grows on trees) so you might be expected to try something more refined (i.e. produced in a brewery or distillery). However, you must persist and obtain some! It’s a delight to drink at the beach after breakfast. Spend the morning happily sipping it in the sun. However, note that the liquid will start to ferment to unhealthy levels by about 11am. If you drink it after this time, or consume any of the sediment that builds up in your bottle, you could end up with an upset stomach. You should also avoid sealing any containers which carry toddy. As it ferments, the pressure can build up and the container can burst. Don’t shake the liquid either!
So that’s toddy, the wonder drink that has been gifted to mankind.

But what if you don’t want to drink in the morning?

Large quantities of the liquid are extracted each morning and allowed to ferment naturally. This liquid is then distilled to create Arrack.

The beverage has been compared to whisky or rum in flavouring. It can be fiery, but with strong notes of caramel to mellow out the flavour.
During my time in Sri Lanka we would mix it with coca cola, ginger beer (very refreshing), fresh lime juice (with limes gathered from the garden) or we would drink it neat (sometimes referred to as ‘raw’ on the island). Trendy cocktail bars in Colombo (and even London) often pair it with a range of flavours such as mango juice or cinnamon.

However, I always felt that these flavours masked the arrack. I like to channel Marcel Proust; the aroma sniffed from a bottle alone is enough to transport me back to the lush green Hill Country or the transcendent beaches of Trimcomalee.

As such, I wanted to create a drink that enhanced the rich, syrupy arrack character rather than smothering it in a pot pouri other flavours. I also wanted to create a drink that contained elements of the classic martini, such as temperature and powerful subtlety. 

A cold drink is extremely welcome after a hot day in Sri Lanka so I keep the arrack in the freezer for a day before serving. If it’s good quality it shouldn’t freeze solid.

I also wanted to embrace the martini concept of simplicity so I decided to pair the arrack with only one other flavour.

A classic gin martini is very much enhanced by the citrus flavouring of lemon oil, squeezed from a strip of peel. Arrack is also enhanced by citrus so I decided to play around with the concept of lime-cello. This is essentially limoncello but made with limes instead.

Limes, known in Sinhala as ‘dehi’ are widely available and consumed in Sri Lanka. A Sri Lankan garden can often resemble an overgrown forest from a distance, but upon closer inspection you will find that most contain a veritable cacophony of consumable fruits. If you can harvest your own for this recipe I’m sure it will taste much better.

  • Wash and zest 6 limes
  • Put the peel in a jar and add 400ml vodka


  • Seal the jar and leave it to infuse for 3 weeks
  • Give it a shake every couple of days


  • Strain the vodka and discard the zest (squeeze it out as much as you can first)
  • Dissolve 4 tablespoons of sugar in 100ml freshly boiled water
  • Not all of it will dissolve but don’t worry. Once the mixture has cooled down give it a shake  and add it to the infused vodka.
  • That’s it. It’s very easy, you just have to wait a few weeks for it to infuse.
  • Like the arrack, I like to keep it in the freezer for at least 24 hours before serving.
  • When it’s time to pour, take a strip of lime peel and squeeze it into a chilled martini glass, then rub it around the glass to transfer as much of the citrus oil as possible.
  • Add the lime-cello to taste (around 40ml) then top up with arrack (around 110ml)
  • Stir well using the lime peel (which you can then use as a garnish).
  • Serve

Be warned, it’s slightly bitter and very strong. Nonetheless, it’s definitely a nice way to end a day of working in Colombo, going on Safari in the country’s many beautiful nature reserves, hiking around the country’s rich architectural heritage or just spending the day at the beach.

In terms of selecting arrack I usually drank Very Special mark in Sri Lanka but i would generally get just what I could get my hands on.

A very good friend from Colombo brought me back some Ceylon Arrack. In a beautiful bottle and probably the most commonly seen in a cocktail bar I would describe the arrack as light, smooth and pure – a really refined taste and certainly the best one I’ve encountered for an Arrack-Virgin. Otherwise you may find some of the others to be a bit more viscous and/or fiery.
Note that in Sri Lankan drinking culture it’s almost sacrilegious to drink without eating something at the same time. There is an array of bites you could serve with this. Devilled prawns or cuttlefish spring to mind, or a simple bite mix    (usually referred to internationally as Bombay Mix).


It may not be Kandy, but this is as close as I will get to the island of Serendipity. Otherwise try Sekara in Victoria for authentic Sinhalese cooking, and a range of restaurants in Tooting and Croydon for good Tamil food.

A Spicy Umami Michelada

A London variation on the classic Mexican drink.


As I’ve said before, I don’t always drink martinis. I also like beer and lager, to name but a few alternatives. I recently wrote about the Mexican drink Micheladas and here I’ve come up with another variation.

In its most simple terms, a Michelada contains beer/lager, the juice of a lime, a dash of Worcestershire sauce and a salt rim around the glass. Hot sauce, soy sauce and tequila are also frequently added.

I recently bought one or two Laura Santtini ingredients and thought they would make a good addition for this variation on the recipe. You will need:


  • A lime
  • A beer
  • Salt (preferably a good quality sea salt)
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • Tabasco sauce

And the following enhancements:

  • Taste 5 Umami paste
  • Taste 5 Umami Rush condiment

I often rub the umami paste into meat, fish and vegetables before cooking them. However, if you don’t have any to hand, use tomato purée as a substitute and add a little more soy sauce.

The condiment is like a salty umami-citrus pepper. You can use normal salt instead but the condiment adds a zesty, umami buzz to the drink.

  • Run a tall glass under a tap and leave it in the freezer for at least 20 minutes (but preferably several hours)
  • Sprinkle salt and the Umami Rush condiment on a plate
  • Remove the glass from the freezer, cut the lime and rub half of it around the rim of the glass


  • Rim the glass in the salt and Umami Rush mixture to create a reddish crust
  • Juice the lime and add it to a jug
  • Add a dash of Worcestershire sauce and a dash of soy sauce.
  • Add a few drops of Tabasco sauce (to taste)
  • Add a smudge of Taste 5 Umami paste
  • Add some of the beer and stir the mixture
  • Pour the mixture into the rimmed glass then top up with more beer
  • Add ice and stir gently before serving. Try not to get the salt rim wet during this process.
  • Instead of ice I use lime segments that I store in the freezer (these are good for gin and tonics as well)

It’s perfect for a hot day. It’s also good for a… err… hangover.

Soooo… ¡Salud!


Gin and Tonic advice courtesy of @GinMonkeyUK

This isn’t a standard martini post but the Gin Monkey very kindly gave me some advice on tonic water for those of you who would like some guidance for making G&Ts. I don’t drink G&Ts very frequently anymore but they were my drink of choice before I discovered the simplistic power of a martini.

  • Her basic rule for tonic is to stay away from artificial sugars and slimline at all costs.
  • Make sure it’s cold.
  • Add plenty of ice.

As regards certain brands, it will depend on the gin and your personal preference but Waitrose own brand tonic was recommended, as was Fever Tree and even the classic brand Schweppes.

And on the subject of garnishes it can also depend on the gin. A slice of lemon is more traditional, although some people prefer lime. Both the Gin Monkey and myself are in the lemon camp. Other gins, such as a Hendricks, go with a slice of cucumber. Pink grapefruit can work. Some like Gin Mare go well with rosemary and olive (I MUST try this amazing sounding gin in a martini – it seems made for it) but there are all sorts of possible pairings, often recommended by the gin-makers themselves. I’ve heard rumours about chilli and mangoes and while I’m a bit of a traditionalist I like both of those flavours.

You can see more about G&Ts on the Gin Monkeys site here. I particularly enjoyed the entry on Spain.

The Gin Monkey also provided her thoughts on favourite gins to use in a martini.

She agrees with my personal preferences for Beefeater and Plymouth gins but also recommends Beefeater 24, Tanqueray No. 10 and Martin Millers gin.

Finally, she recommended that I try out Fords Gin as being seriously impressive. So that’s on my to-do list.

Thank you to the Gin Monkey!