Martinis y tapas

  
Having spent an amazing weekend in Madrid I thought I would write about the drinking culture in the city and see what inspiration I could draw from a martini perspective.

  

Los Madrileños know how to have fun – without feeling guilty, without getting stressed and without getting post-apocalyptically drunk. If you feel like having a drink or having something to eat then do so. If you feel like having a nap then do so. The time of day is irrelevant. You shouldn’t feel bad for doing what your body is telling you to do. Eating, drinking and sleeping when you please might sound unhealthy but these people certainly don’t look unhealthy!

  
Another conclusion is that alcohol is much better when accompanied by food.

Tapas or pinchos/pintxos (pronounced peen-chose) are small bites of food that accompany your drink. The adage “eating’s cheating” has few followers in Madrid and I am a faithful convert to the city’s attitude towards eating with booze. I always serve nibbles with my martinis but maybe we should be serving food with all alcohol. It’s not the most radical concept – it’s common practise in many countries (Sri Lanka for example).

If you are unconvinced about eating with your drinks then perhaps I can persuade you with some examples of the sorts of things you could enjoy with your booze.

   

Here is a mind-blowingly tasty assortment of morcilla (a spanish variation of black pudding) with apple, balsamic vinegar glaze and fried potato straws, accompanied with octopus and whole grain mustard ice cream. Yes. Mustard ice cream. Yes.

  
However, if this is too fancy just order your drink (such as a caños of beer which isn’t as much as a full pint) with something as simple as a piece of bread with a topping. Drink, taste and relax. It’s not a race to finish your drink in order to buy the next round.

  

Fried calamari is common. Ham, cheese and olives also feature highly.

  

There are many expert voices on the subject of tapas so this amateur is not going to bluff you, but of the stories that surround its history I have a favourite. According to my friend, at a point in its history Spain was undergoing a drought and food production was low. The people resorted to drinking more alcohol to make up for their lost calories, but this led to widespread malaise and drunkenness. A troubled king, seeking a solution, ordered establishments to serve simple bread and toppings over the top of alcohol glasses (the word tapas comes from the Spanish verb tapar – to cover). When eaten this would soak up some of the alcohol, reduce drunkenness and help feed the population. A cultural trend was born. 

Like martinis, there are several competing stories surrounding the historical origins of tapas. Without a time machine to verify which version is accurate the only thing you can do is believe in your favourite.

 Whatever the true origins of tapas there have been an infinite multitude of variations since its creation. Tapas now even extends to airline food, as demonstrated above.

For me, the most important concept is that the sharing of tapas is very sociable.

  It can be fairly hands-on; you might be called upon to mash your own guacamole.

 
It can also be very simple. Above is a delicious dish of peppers fried with salt. 
So what can we take from this fine Spanish contribution to human culture to try and improve the martini experience?

Snacks, bites and nibbles are a very important part of a martini so tapas can provide a wealth of inspiration for anyone looking to serve theirs with some added Latin panache.

The main point, however, is about relaxing and sharing good flavours, drinks and conversation with friends, family, lovers etc.

  

If you can get that right then everything else should fall into place – ojala.

 
But as a word of warning, don’t drink so much you end up naked on the ground in Plaza de Colón in the middle of the day, although evidently if you do you won’t be the first…

The Tramshed, Shoreditch: 4/5



Overall a fantastic experience. I really enjoyed this restaurant.

The martini I had was also very good, although I would prefer it a little colder (keep everything in the freezer) and with more lemon (squeeze the peel into the glass when pouring). Otherwise it was beautifully served.



While I’ve seen this on the Internet, it was the first time I had actually drink a martini where my “top-up” came in a small bottle in ice on the side. I have been skeptical of this before because while it means the gin will be cold for your second pouring, the glass will have warmed up. I prefer to serve my second martini with a fresh, frozen glass. Nonetheless this, to me, is an effective and efficient means of serving such a drink in a busy restaurant. Furthermore the gin was definitely nice and cold when I poured the second batch. The use of Noccelara olives also wins points.



I loved the old fashioned food, served with raucous panache. It was definitely comfort grub, with roast chicken, chips, steak and Yorkshire pudding, dramatically served as above; herb-encrusted with utensils inserted coquettishly into animal orifices.



The meat was good quality and nicely prepared.



The generously-sized Yorkshire pudding was one of the tastiest forms of carbohydrate I’ve ever eaten in the UK.



After the martini we drank some nice Lebanese wine (Massaya, from the Beqaa Valley).



And… prepare yourself for some innuendo… we also tried the “cock shots” and “shot of bull” which were basically vodka flavoured with chicken stock or beef consommé. We loved the beef one in particular. It had hearty and warming flavour, with the umami of a consommé rendering the drink almost like a miniature Bloody Mary with a kick of horseradish. The shots definitely weren’t a gimmick. I would strongly recommend trying them before eating.



Set in an actual former tram shed, the tiled walls and industrial layout added to the ‘rough and ready’ feel of the venue. The trendy staff, attractive diners and selection of art works (such as the Damian Hirst cow and chicken – above) also came together to produce a brash, fun, modern take on something very traditional. This combination of old and new is something that London continues to get right. Bravo!