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.


Itadakimasu!

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Martini Ratings

I have come up with a simple rating system for martini service which can be applied around the world.

Using the following indicators I can assign a venue with a 0-15 rating on how good it’s martini service is.

15 = sublime
0 = devastatingly atrocious
Then divide by three for a very simple 0-5 scale.

I use the following six categories:

Temperature, the use of lemon, accompanying nibbles, service, setting and value for money.

If you read to the end you will also discover a very important secret about the whole martini experience.

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Temperature

The gin and glass is kept in the freezer: 3 points

Either the gin or the glass is kept in the freezer but not both: 2 points

Neither gin nor the glass is kept in the freezer but the server puts ice in the glass to chill it momentarily and/or uses ice in a cocktail shaker to chill the glass: 1 point

No effort is made to chill any part of the drink: 0 points (this does actually happen in some venues)

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Lemon

If the server squeezes lemon peel into the drink (or at least provides you with the option: 2 points

If lemon peel is served as a garnish only, with no squeeze: 1 point

If a variation such as olive brine, or a pickled onion are offered but a squeeze of lemon peel is not available as an option: 1 point

If lemon (or an alternative flavour-enhancing garnish) plays no role in the drink: 0 points

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Nibbles

The martini is served with a variety of good quality nibbles: 3 points

The martini is served with either a variety of mediocre nibbles, or one type of good nibble: 2 points

The martini is served with a single, mediocre nibble: 1 point

The martini is not served with any nibbles but good nibbles are available at extra cost: 1 point (or a discretionary 2 points if they are especially impressive)

No nibbles are served with the martini and any paid-for options are standard: 0 points

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Service

The very best martini service (see Dukes bar for an example), attentive, good personality, engagement, passion for the martini and its enjoyment: 3 points

Good service, personality, engagement, care and attention: 2 points

Tolerable service but nothing special: 1 point

Bad service: 0 points

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Setting

For a sublime setting, maybe with tasteful decor, a good view, ambience and a very good atmosphere with discerning clientele: 3 points

For a lovely setting, a rooftop bar perhaps, or a traditional tavern, somewhere with charm or an excellent crowd: 2 points

For a standard bar or pub: 1 point

Anything less: 0 points

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Value for Money

If you thought the martini was good value for money: 1 point

If not: 0 points

For my first rating I will take Dukes Bar in St. James’, London.

Dukes Bar: 5/5
Temperature: 3
Lemon: 2
Nibbles: 3
Service: 3
Setting: 3
Value for money: 1

“A sublime, classical setting with expert martini service.”

An Unprepared Pub (anon): 1/5
Temperature: 0
Lemon: 0
Nibbles: 0
Service: 1
Setting: 1
Value for money: 0

“Room-temperature gin in a glass. Standard pub service and setting.”

But I think one of the most important things to be pointed out here is the following:

Your Kitchen (potentially): 5/5
Temperature: 3
Lemon: 2
Nibbles: 3
Service: 3 (you might not be dressed as a bartender but you’ll still be able to give your guests a personalised service which equates to 3 points)
Setting: this will depend entirely on your home, but I would imagine most people would be at least a 2. Furthermore, the rating can be increased, not just by furnishings and views, but also, perhaps more importantly, by the company that you keep.
Value for money: your own kitchen is normally the best value for money. You don’t even need to take a taxi home.

“Chilled martini with a lemon garnish served by host/hostess, accompanied by assortment of nibbles (such as olives, nuts, etc), with good company and a nicely put together home.”

So with that in mind, perhaps the best thing for you to do would be to get your own kit and drinks and start making your own martinis at home.

The quick guide to making your own martinis at home is available here.

And you can see more detailed instructions here.