The Mermaid Inn, NYC 4.5/5

This is one of my favourite places in the world.

Oyster happy hour is a must! 

I’ve previously mentioned how well seafood goes with a martini, especially the simplistically delicate oyster, so a bar/restaurant that specialises in briny goodness was always going to get me excited.

 

However, I’ve got to focus on the martini and not get too ahead of myself.

Using my martini rating scale I award this bar and restaurant very high points: 4.5 out of 5.


I ordered a hot and dirty martini (vodka, olive brine, Tabasco sauce with a crunchy, fresh and bright red peppadew garnish). It was ice cold, salty and fiery – a perfect tongue-tantalising aperitif.


The service was fast, attentive and the staff were passionate about the food and drinks.

The setting was intimate, clean and unpretentious.


And finally, the food is fantastic with a wide variety of seasonal oysters as well as a range of sustainably sourced seafood. It’s ideal for a light bite or a more substantial meal.


The only thing I would recommend to the Mermaid Inn is that the management make more of their martinis on the menu. The restaurant does them so well I think they should promote them more prominently. I really can’t fault them in any other way.


Basically to sum up my experience, If I died suddenly and my life flashed before my eyes I hope I would linger here for just a little while en route to the next level. And I hope the next level has oyster happy hour too.

 

Don’t forget to download their useful app Oysterpedia

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How to make an Old Fashioned Cocktail

This is a slight departure from my normal work, but I’ve got a cold and was craving something less potent and more sweet and fruity than a martini.

  
Enter the Old Fashioned cocktail. 

Apparently emerging in the early 1800s (it might even have evolved towards the late 1700s), this drink is a lot older than a Martini.

It also has a reputation for being a bit of a “fog-cutter” – that is, the sort of drink you choose when you’ve got a hangover, something sweet to try and ease the pain and help you get back on your feet again. The Breakfast Martini can serve a similar purpose.

Such hangover tactics are completely contrary to modern medical advice, but by Jove, if people have been swearing by the technique for over 200 years then who am I to argue?

Recipes for an Old Fashioned today can involve ingredients such as soda water, maraschino cherries and slices of orange but I wanted to create something much more intense, and err… old fashioned.

I like to taste alcohol when I drink alcohol, you see.

I first drank an Old Fashioned in the office after a long, intense day. I think we were in the midst of monitoring the onset of the Arab Spring, a time when Middle Eastern governments tended to collapse on a Friday, leaving us working late into the evening while the rest of London descended unto the pub.

 

 I was told the cocktail was making a comeback because of its portrayal in the US series ‘Mad Men’. My industry might not have encouraged the same sort of working hours drinking habits of Don Draper but booze was a fairly vital commodity once we had finished our work at the end of the day.

Given the supply of various ingredients we routinely kept in our drawers our office was the perfect place for our first tipple. A quick mix and we could relax, chat about work and enjoy a short period of shared workplace quietude before we too joined the masses in the pubs.

The recipe we used in the office involved honey, but my recipe uses demarara sugar.

You will need:

  • Bourbon or Rye
  • Sugar (brown if possible)
  • Bitters (I used Angosturra)
  • An orange (just for the peel)
  • Two glasses (one for prep, one for serving)
  • Ice (I used spherical ice – as it melts slowly and looks good in the right glass)
  • A teaspoon
  • A little bit of water

  

  • Add 2 teaspoons of sugar to the prep glass.
  • Add 2 teaspoons of water.

  

  • Stir well to dissolve (this can take a minute or two).

  

  • If you mix these quite often you might want to make yourself some sugar syrup in advance which means you don’t need to go about dissolving sugar each time you pour a deink.
  • Add 250ml water to a kettle and bring to the boil.
  • Let it cool slightly then add it to a pouring bowl with 300g Demerara sugar.
  • Stir until it dissolves, allow to cool, then pour into a bottle or other container to store until needed.

  

  • Back to the mixing: add 2-3 dashes of bitters to the dissolved sugar (or equivalent of syrup) and stir.
  • Add 60ml bourbon or rye and stir a bit more.

  

  • Peel a strip of orange rind. 

  

  • Twist it over the serving glass to spray in the natural oil. Squeeze it, crush it slightly and rub it all round the inside of the glass to transfer as much of the oil as possible, then discard the piece (I actually just ate it outright, mainly for the vitamin C).
  • Peel a second strip of orange rind, twist it over the glass to release a bit more oil but try not to damage it.

  

  • Trim the strip of peel and put aside.

  

  • Add the ice to the serving glass.

   

  • Pour over the mixture from the other glass and swirl it around.
  • If you like bitters you can add in another dash now and watch it permeate through the drink.
  • Use the trimmed orange peel to stir, then drop it into the drink as well.

  

  • Serve in a nice setting with good company.

I picked the garden with the whippet puppies but indoor settings are more common; somewhere with dim lighting, leather furniture and perhaps some cigars would definitely work.

Because of its sweetness I don’t think this drink goes especially well with nibbles.

It could, however, be served both before or after a meal.

Indeed the drink’s versatility means that it could be served at a variety of times in a range of environments and settings.

Here, for example, is a perfect setting: a bar cabaret performance by the talented Cat Loud and Finn Anderson.

  

It also works well during more intense and strategic pursuits.

Korean spinach – Sigeumchi-namul

Annyeonghaseyo.

  

This is a really tasty, easy and even healthy vegetarian dish that you can serve as a vegetable side, a starter or, most importantly of all, as an appetiser to accompany a martini (obviously).

I first ate this delicious dish in Koreatown, Manhattan. Of all the wondrous and unusual dishes I gluttonously consumed that night (my favourite being a gigantic simmered squid, still sizzling in savoury sauce with brown sugar lightly caramelising on top) this spinach starter is the easiest to put together, but with all things simple, it’s often easy to get it wrong.

I have made the following recipe to my own personal taste preferences so you might want to alter it to add more or less garlic, chilli, soy sauce or oil depending on what you like, but you don’t want to drown it, you don’t want it too oily and you don’t want the garlic overpowering the earthy taste of the spinach either. 

Also if a Korean ajumma tells you to make the recipe a different way, just do what she says.

Otherwise, you will need the following ingredients per person:

  • 200g fresh spinach leaves (around 7oz)
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp sesame seeds
  • A clove of garlic

(Simply multiply the above for the number of people you are preparing for).

  
Prepare the garlic first by peeling the number of cloves you want to use.

Here’s a tip: take the cloves you need and put them in the microwave on full heat for 2 seconds. No more! 

 

You’re not cooking the garlic in the microwave, you’re simply loosening the hard peel from the flesh. If you slice off the end now, you will find it much easier to peel.
Thinly slice then chop the garlic into fine pieces.


Here’s another tip: to wash off the garlic smell simply hang your hand loosely under a running tap of cold water so that the water runs down your fingertips and off the ends. Hold it there for about 20 seconds or so. This seems to wash off the garlic. It’s particularly effective if you have a stainless steel sink that you can rub your fingers on as well. 

Bring water to the boil in a large pan. Add the spinach and blanch for about 20-30 seconds.

It should turn a bright green. The volume of the spinach will also reduce significantly. If you are making this for a lot of people you might need to cook the spinach in batches.

When cooked, transfer immediately to a sieve and run under cold water to cool it thoroughly.

Leave it to drain.  

While the spinach is draining, mix the sauce by combining the garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil. 
Gently squeeze the spinach to remove excess water then transfer it to a chopping board and cut it up.
Transfer it to a large bowl (or you could reuse the pot that you cooked the spinach in if you’ve wiped it dry).

  
Add the sauce and mix it into the spinach (you can do this by hand but I used a teaspoon).

You can either serve it immediately or put it in the fridge to serve chilled later.

When serving, sprinkle sesame seeds on top. It is also common to add sliced spring onion as a garnish on top as well.

If you want to bulk it up with some nutritious umami I sometimes put a handful of dried wakame seaweed into a glass of water to soak for 5-10 minutes while making this dish. When you are about to chop up the spinach drain the seaweed and squeeze out the excess moisture and add it to the spinach to be chopped up with it.

If you want to be über nutritious lightly grind the sesame seeds in a mortar and pestle before sprinkling them over. If they are slightly broken it makes them more digestible and allows your body to absorb more of their nutrients.


Obviously don’t forget to pour yourself a martini (or some soju) when you serve this. Make sure you pour a large measure for any long suffering ajummas in your company as well. They deserve it!

 환호!

How to make a very simple lemon drop martini

  

Quick and easy; serves one.

  

Juice a fresh lemon.

 

Add 3-4 teaspoons (or to taste) of sugar. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. If you have time, place the mixture in the freezer for 20 minutes, or the fridge for an hour.

Into a martini glass pour a dash of vermouth, then equal measures of chilled vodka/gin and the lemon mixture.

Stir then serve with a strip of lemon peel as a garnish.

 

There are other variations which include triple sec, or you could rim the glass with sugar (as I did in the first picture), but otherwise, this is the fastest, easiest recipe I know. If you feel more adventurous try the Lemon Drop Martini with Foam or my own creation the Lemon and Lime Drop Martini.

Enjoy!

The Lemon Drop Martini with Foam

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This is a slight variation on a classic American cocktail. I first encountered the Lemon Drop in New York. A barman asked me what I wanted and I said I felt like something strong and astringent. It’s a very simple combination of sweet and sour, and it’s easy to make at home. Leave out the egg white and the frothing process in this recipe if you want an even simpler drink. For two martinis you will need:

* The juice of 1 lemon
* The white of 1 egg
* Sugar
* Sweet Vermouth
* Gin or vodka (it’s more conventional to use vodka)
* Chilled martini glasses

– Pour the lemon juice and 2 measures of vermouth into a large cup
– Add 2 teaspoons of sugar and stir until dissolved
– Pour the mixture into a bowl and add the egg white
– Beat well until the mixture is thoroughly blended and a thick, velvety foam has formed on top of the liquid
– Rim the martini glasses with sugar
– Using a spoon or fork to hold back the foam, pour the liquid into the martini glasses, about half way up.
– Fill up the rest of the glasses with gin or vodka, leaving a space of around 3-5mm. Lightly stir the mixture.
– Pour over the foam until it has covered the top of the drink and reached the rim of the glass
– If you like, you can sprinkle some grated lemon rind over the top of the foam to add even more zest, although I preferred it without

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The drink is sweet and sour with contrasting textures of sharp zesty alcohol, rich foam and the crunch of the sugar rim.

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The Lemon and Lime Drop Martini

Have you ever had a lemon drop martini? It’s the inspiration for this drink. I just altered the recipe slightly.

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You will need:

Gin or vodka (vodka is probably better)
Sweet vermouth
Lemons and limes (one each for the number of drinks you want to make)
Honey
Sprite (yes, sprite)

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I’m on holiday in the Mediterranean; a time for relaxation and spending quality time with friends.

A very important part of this holiday time is drink o’clock. Whatever you’ve spent your day doing, be it history, culture, hiking, watersports or simply lying by the pool, I crave the ceremonial time at sunset when everyone showers off the sea salt, chlorine or sweat and puts on their evening wear, in preparation for a drink followed by dinner. It’s my favourite part of the day.

My friend wanted to try an alternative to a martini so I started wracking my brain. She likes lemons and limes so I thought back to time spent in New York, a time when I first encountered the Lemon Drop Martini. This is basically a strong vodka drink with the addition of lemon juice and sugar.

I didn’t have all the ingredients available to make a classic lemon drop martini so I started to think something up. I could have trekked around the local shops for the right stuff but I’m on holiday! I also wanted to put to use the lovely limes we had to hand.

We didn’t have any sugar, which is an important lemon drop ingredient, but we did have some Greek honey, so I came up with a plan which I hoped had some real local spin to it.

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Low hanging fruit

Juice a lemon and a lime for every martini you want to make.

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For every drink add 2.5 teaspoons of honey to a cup, then add the same amount of hot water to melt it.

Stir the honey mixture until the honey has dissolved, then add the lemon and lime juice. Stir them and chill, either in the fridge for a few hours or the freezer if you’re pushed for time.

When drink o’clock happens, add a dash of sweet vermouth to a chilled martini glass.

Top up half way with the honey lime and lemon juice.

Add a measure or two of gin/vodka.

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Top up with sprite to add some effervescence.

Garnish with lemon and/or lime peel, then serve it before it warms up.

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Yiamas!

Spicy martini

This spicy drink was inspired by the mermaid inn in New York, which does a tasty oyster happy hour. I had a spicy vodka martini there before consuming a platter of various types of oyster with friends. They garnished theirs with a hot pepper, but I didn’t have any of those available so I improvised with olives and sliced spring onion. The latter went very well with the drink. Here are the ingredients:

1 part vermouth (or to taste)
1 part olive brine (or to taste)
Around 4-5 parts gin or vodka (or to taste)
Dash of hot sauce or Tabasco (to taste)

Pour the ingredients then stir them with your garnish.

The drink was quite refreshing, savoury and it had a kick. It really whet my appetite.

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