The Skylon Bar, London 4.5/5

If you’re in London, treat yourself. It’s not that expensive and you’re guaranteed a good quality cocktail in an excellent setting. 

 

This is a lovely bar in a wonderful, all-welcoming part of London. The brutalist Southbank Centre with its grand but minimalist polished concrete slabs enjoys a wonderfully soft form of acoustics. The diverse array of visitors range from pondering thespians to the philosophical homeless, their intriguing conversations all muffled into soporific unintelligible whispering by the imposing edifice of the building itself. It’s an ocean of calm just a few steps from the virulent masses thronging the banks of the River Thames. Wander around the building and you might stumble across a cultural performance by Zulu warriors or perhaps a fierce debate on the topic of lesbian poetry from the 1980s. Whatever you find, you will likely leave feeling a strange, deep connection with your fellow humans.

Anyway, one of the things situated in this strange, post-war monument to what communist Britain might have aspired to be, is a peculiarly yet perfectly juxtaposed bar and restaurant, very firmly on the free-market capitalist side of the fence.

  
The Skylon itself, after which this bar/restaurant was named, was a stylised metal structure erected during the Festival of Britain, a nationwide event held in 1951 commemorating science, art and architecture in an attempt to lift the national mood in the gloomy post-war years. With a very unstable economy, the loss of vast swathes of the British Empire and extensive, enduring human and infrastructural damage suffered during the war times were still very tough in the country.

  
As illustrated in John Ritchie Addison’s photograph above, the Skylon piece cut quite a striking image over the southern banks of the Thames. It was one of many features of art and design erected for the festival but its image remains one of the most enduring.

Nonetheless, it was seen as too costly for the government to bear. The re-elected prime minister Winston Churchill, who knew a thing or two about martinis, also reportedly hated it as a socialist symbol erected by the Labour government which had defeated him in the post-war election.

So naturally he had it torn down and sold for scrap.

  

Oh Winston.

However, while he may have hated the Skylon sculpture, I hope he would approve of the martini served in the nearby restaurant which has taken its name.

Apart from sometimes getting busy (for evident reasons) the only other downside of the bar was the fact that their diverse and highly creative cocktail menu didn’t actually have a classic martini option on it. I would recommend they include one in future as the one they actually served me was almost perfect.

 
I apologised for asking the waitress for an item not on the menu but she asked her manageress and returned to ask whether I would prefer mine made with gin or vodka, and if I would prefer it classical or dirty.

Excellent, I though, and ordered a classic martini (with gin, obviously).

It arrived in a small, but perfectly formed and indeed very elegant martini glass. Lemon peel had been squeezed into the glass and the lemon garnish was artistically cut and fastened onto the rim. I don’t think either the glass or the gin had been kept in the freezer but effort had clearly been put in to chilling both before serving.

  
I also took a moment to admire my friend’s choice of cocktail – the Jamaican Fury. Beautiful and creative, the smoke swirling in the bottle smelt simply of cigarettes, but when decanted into a glass it added a rich, savoury aroma to the otherwise sweet and powerful cocktail.

  
Moments later we were served a bowl of Japanese rice snacks for free. This may sound very simple, possibly even gimmicky, but it’s a vanishingly rare phenomenon in British drinking establishments and adds so much to the martini drinking experience.

Skylon gets 4.5 out of 5 for its martini. It was cold, lemony, in a martini glass, served with nibbles, with an additional selection of good food available on the menu, while the service was friendly and attentive and the setting was relaxed, ambient and stylish (and in one of my favourite buildings in London). For £12.50 I also thought the drink was very good value for money, certainly by London standards and in such a central, prominent venue. I would recommend booking in advance though as it will get crowded.

  
Otherwise, a victorious crowd pleaser. Well done Skylon, long may you reign over the banks of the Thames – but please put the classic martini back on your menu for good.

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Beef yakitori snacks

  
I had a couple of people round for a catch up (over drinks of course).

I was trying to think of something quick and I easy I could feed them between martini drinking when I came across some beef mince on special offer at the supermarket.

I bought a kilogram and decided to make yakitori, a type of Japanese skewer kebab, inspired by izakaya/yakitori-bar type food.

I made the following recipe:

  

  • Soak several bamboo skewers in water overnight.
  • Peel and finely chop a thumb-sized piece of ginger and add it to a large bowl.
  • Finely chop 8 spring onions and add them to the bowl.
  • I added a splodge of garlic paste.
  • I then added 4 eggs and stirred them lightly with a fork to break them up.
  • I then added a tablespoon of plain flour and a teaspoon of cornflour.
  • Next, I tipped in the mince and mixed it all up with my hands.  This is both a hugely satisfying task but also horrifically messy.  Thoroughly wash your hands both before and after.

  

  • I made the mince mixture into little balls, around 3.5cm in diameter.

  

  • I then threaded them onto the bamboo skewers. I put three on each but this will depend on the size of your skewers.

  

I then mixed a glaze:

  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 4 tsp mirin
  • 2 tsp runny honey
  • 1 tsp vinegar from the pickled ginger jar (balsamic or even ordinary vinegar would be fine as well I’m sure)
  • A dash or Worcestershire sauce
  • Stir in the ingredients in a bowl then microwave for 20 seconds.
  • I then put the grill on 200 degrees C and threw in the yakitori for about 8 minutes.

  

  • Remove the yakitori from the grill.
  • Use a pastry brush to coat the top layer with the glaze.
  • Gently turn the yakitori over so that the less-cooked side is facing upwards.
  • Coat the newly exposed sides and put back into the oven for about 8 more minutes or until thoroughly cooked.

I served them immediately with a simple dipping sauce (2 parts soy sauce 1 part rice vinegar).

You can sprinkle over some more chopped spring onions if you can be bothered. It adds a nice contrasting colour.

Otherwise best consumed when tipsy. It would go particularly nicely with a Pickled Ginger Martini.

    Even More Martini Snacks

    Here is some more food to go with your martini. I like to go with things that are simple to make (or that you can make in advance), easy to eat and either carbohydrate or protein based, especially on the savoury side of things.

     
    Let’s start with some simple pretzels. 

      

    And move on to some sliced chorizo, here rolled and skewered to make ‘dragonfly’ type bites.

      

    Or to keep it simple, just slice the chorizo and serve it with on its own or as I did here, with miniature oatcakes.
      
    Here is some sliced, cold roast pork, left over from the previous night’s dinner. Leftovers can make some surprisingly appropriate accompaniments for martinis sometimes, even though they might not always look very glamorous. 

      

    Slightly more indulgent, here are some pork gyoza (dumplings) served with chives and a soy/vinegar/mirin dipping sauce. You can make them yourself, buy them ready-prepared and steam them or you could even have them delivered as takeaway food (the author might have done that on this occasion).

     
    Pickled gherkins, Bombay mix and Japanese rice snacks combine three completely different cuisines. They don’t go together spectacularly well but it doesn’t matter too much once you’re on martini number two. It’s also useful if ou have several guests with different preferences.

      
    This is a very simple tapas-inspired appetiser of cheese and tomatoe purée roasted in the oven for a few minutes.

      
    Even something as simple as sausages go nicely. I prefer gamier types of sausage to go with juniper-strong gins.

      
    Here are some Pringles. Everyone likes them so just get over yourself. I also like the argument that Pringles are the only crisp manufacturers that don’t sell you lots of air in their packaging. 

      
    More crisps, here served with a classic martini containing a Rosemary garnish.

      
    Nachos. Go well with dips and pair nicely with a coriander martini.

     

    Here is some beetroot and salmon ceviche with leche de tigre, Korean-style wilted spinach, tsukemono and green tea. I didn’t actually serve this dish with a martini but its constituent parts make good accompaniments.

    You can see more about the Ceviche and Leche de Tigre and it’s possible combination with a martini here (this is a personal favourite of mine).

    You can see my thoughts on green tea and martinis here.

    My Korean spinach recipe is here.

    And my tsukemono recipe is here.

      
    If you don’t want to prepare anything, Bombay mix is a handy and traditional drink snack.

      
    Here are some Nocellara olives served with a Japanese pickled ginger martini.

     
    Here are some roasted soy beans and black bamboo charcoal peanuts.

      
    Here are some peanuts, “pork floss” / Rousong (I didn’t know what it was at first either but it’s tasty) and my own carrot San Bai Zu.

     
    Fish floss also exists but it won’t be to everyone’s taste. I thought it tasted like fish food but it goes quite nicely sprinkled over thick tofu slices in miso soup.

      
    Otherwise, I prefer to keep it simple. Here are some salted pistachio nuts in their shells.

     
    Sun-dried tomatoes and olives stuffed with anchovies.

      
    I’ve previously mentioned that martinis go very well with seafood. Here are some locally caught mussels served in a cream and onion sauce in the garden.

      
    Here are some scallops and prosciutto.

      

    Let’s go back to mystery pork products. There is quite a lot of pork in this entry even though I don’t actually eat a lot of it. These are honey roasted pork pieces. Given the unknown ingredients they could even be kosher/halal, we just don’t know.

     
    However, I must admit, they were quite tasty.

      
    Here I served the pork with walnuts and olives.

       
    It kept us going for at least one round of martinis.

      
    Here is some of Mum’s homemade herb butter to be slathered on some tasty rare steaks.

     
    I guess it’s less of a snack and more of a meal…

    But it certainly went well with a martini.

      
    Barbecue and steaks in general go very nicely with or immediately after a martini.

      
    Bruschetta… Not my most artistic photo but it was tasty.


    Here is some salmon carpaccio, with lemon juice, grated lemon and orange rind, herbs, capers and juniper berries. I evidently still need to work on my presentation but it tasted nice enough and nobody died.

      
    If you prefer your salmon cooked with heat I marinated some in a little rice vinegar for 30 minutes then grilled it for 16 minutes on a high heat.
    And I think that’s quite enough for one blog post…

    Until the next one!