Our Second Pop Up Martini Bar


Thank you to everyone who came to our martini pop up bar at the end of October.


We held it in ‘the Gallery’ on the Main Street of Tobermory, Isle of Mull.


At the end of the tourist season I hoped that it was a chance for locals to relax and try something different. It was also a bit of a send off for us and our staff, including our manageress Catriona who celebrated her 21st birthday on the night.


Unlike our pop up bar in July, the night was dark and it was too cold to be outside, so we went inside and set up the tables, switched on the heaters and lit all the candles, then hoped it would all work out.


We were only open for a short while: 17:00 to 20:00 with last orders at 19:30 to allow everyone to finish their last martini at a leisurely pace.


The week before we also held a Facebook competition. Whoever liked and shared the pop up bar announcement would enter a prize draw for a free martini and a martini-related gift.


We put together a large martini glass filled with champagne truffles from the Tobermory Chocolate Factory (you can order online here and they deliver anywhere in the world) and awarded it to one lucky winner who happened to be my former teacher.


I wasn’t as nervous as before the last pop up bar we did because I knew the concept worked in principle. I also had all my equipment lined up in order. However, it was darker and colder than during our summer event so I was worried that it wouldn’t be as comfortable or warm enough in our giant old church.


I also thought that because the tourist season was over, no-one would turn up.


However, in the end, the atmosphere was nice, it was warm enough, and the venue was full. I made dozens of martinis and was happy to see people enjoying themselves, especially after a long summer.


Our excellent chef also cooked up some amazing blini, which we served on platters with smoked salmon, sour cream, fish roe and miniature croque-monsieurs. Absolutely delicious and the perfect accompaniment to a cold martini.


So, all-in-all, a fun night. And now we’re ready for winter. Thank you to everyone who came, and thank you to all our amazing colleagues who made it happen.

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The Henri Toulouse Lautrec in Kennington, 3/5

 
The Henri Toulouse Lautrec is no ordinary venue. People travel here from all over the world for its live music performances. It also serves fantastic food.

However – the martinis do not hit the mark just yet, but with a little re-adjustment this place could be a cocktail bar with real punch – a Moulin Rouge of south London.

  

I would struggle to describe the venue accurately: the friendly, strange, shabby-chic, bohemian, French, Anglo-French, theatrical, run-down yet sophisticated Kennington brasserie and jazz bar caters to many tastes.

It’s not gimmicky or faddy, it’s more established and reputable than that. It’s got the staff and the skilled chefs and musicians too. The food is excellent by the way – and they deliver, although you wouldn’t get to experience the atmosphere.

  

The bar doesn’t seem to fit in with its Elephant and Castle environs (this is a good thing). Indeed it seems to have survived much longer than any of the other buildings in this part of the city. 

  
Something about it gives me the impression that we might have to sign petitions in the coming years to save it from ‘gentrification’ and being turned into a soulless block of luxury apartments. Londoners – you know what I’m talking about!

For now though, it enjoys a crammed timetable featuring live acts every night. This three-floor venue can get very busy. However, during the ‘violet hour’ – that precious cocktail moment that lasts somewhere from 5pm until dinner time – the venue is often virtually empty. In-keeping with continental culture, the diners tend to arrive later in the evening to eat.

I feel that some sort of invigoration of the cocktail bar, maybe the creation of an ‘aperitif happy hour’ could boost this place no-end, increase profits earlier in the evening, while enhancing rather than compromising its French ambience. For instance, they could name their happy hour cinq á sept (which literally means ‘5-7’ and is usually used to refer to a post-work drinks event in Quebec) or l’heure du bonheur (literally ‘the hour of happiness’). I would definitely attend.

  

Of course, the aspect I would focus on most prominently would be the martini. This bar has great potential. The servers ask all the right questions: which gin would you like it made with? Shaken or stirred? Sweet, dry or dirty? Olive or lemon twist?

  

However, neither the glasses nor the gin are cold, while excessive stirring and shaking the drink with ice left it noticeably watered down. The bar was also left unattended for fairly long periods of time. I believe the staff were helping out elsewhere. Perhaps if they had a dedicated cocktail waiter here during the crucial martini o’clock period this place would have a much higher footfall at that time of the day and we wouldn’t be left waiting around for service.

  
 
I liked the lemon garnish – an appealing shape to watch spiralling and contracting as you swirl the drink. I don’t think it was properly squeezed into the glass before pouring but it was long enough for the oil and citrus flavour to permeate the drink quite nicely.

I must also point out that their Negronis are excellent. Bravo.

  

The nibbles we ordered were also delectable. The Henri Toulouse Lautrec really excels at its food. I would otherwise prefer blinis that you can eat with one hand while you hold your glass with the other, but I will forgive this inconvenience purely because of the taste of this smoked salmon dish. It was delicious.

So, in summary:

Pros

  • It’s a great venue with charm and character
  • The food is excellent
  • It has huge cocktail potential

Cons

  • The gin wasn’t cold enough
  • The martini was too watered down
  • The bar was unattended for long periods
  • The place was empty during cocktail hour – perhaps the latter could be fixed by addressing the former three issues.

The Henri Toulouse Lautrec is worth many visits and I am very fond of this venue, so I hope that my criticism is seen as a demonstration of its huge potential from a martini perspective rather than a damnation. I will definitely be calling back for an encore or three.

  

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!

Salmon tartare canapés

Olives are the nibble most closely associated with martinis but I always think that seafood is one of the best matches. It’s fresh, cold and goes well with citrus, just like a good martini. Consuming seafood also brings its own element of danger (food poisoning? Mercury?), much like the danger associated with drinking a strong martini.

So here is a simple and easy recipe for a seafood canapé to serve when you pour a drink.

 

Salmon tartare served on ritz crackers combines chilled, zesty, silken fish on a crunchy carb base.

Finely chop the solid ingredients listed below then mix everything well and serve immediately.

For 100g of chopped, skinless, boneless salmon add:

  • The zest of a lemon
  • A squeeze of lemon juice
  • A finely shredded square inch of onion
  • A smudge of wasabi paste (optional)
  • A teaspoon of chopped capers
  • A teaspoon of chopped chives
  • A teaspoon of sesame oil
  • A teaspoon of Sriracha sauce
  • A pinch of sesame seeds (optional)

The mixture should be plenty for a large number of ritz crackers. Depending on how much you spoon on each it could make over 20.

You could also serve the mixture on miniature blini, which I like very much.

  
If you have to remove the salmon skin with a sharp knife you can roast it with a little bit of salt and oil for a crunchy side dish.

  
You can serve it as part of a full meal. Here I’ve dished it up with more salmon tartare and some grilled courgettes.

Or you could simply serve the roasted skin dabbed with a little sweet chilli sauce, which makes an unusual snack to serve with a martini.

Note that there are numerous variations of the above tartare recipe so I would recommend experimenting – although always ensure that the fish is extremely fresh!

Mini blini

 Here is a highly tasty and versatile nibble from Russia; a country with a huge amount of expertise when it comes to drinking and tradition.

 

 While I would normally encourage making things at home, I saw some miniature blini for sale in the supermarket and decided just to buy them for a martini accompaniment. Otherwise, I have seen several good recipes online. I found this one particularly interesting.

Otherwise, as per the instructions on the packet of any store-bought blinis, I baked them on a tray in the oven for 4 minutes.

Mix some sour cream with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and add a little to the blini. 

Add a topping. Popular items include pickled or smoked fish (I used hot, smoked salmon), boiled egg or fish roe, such as caviar. 

Serve with a Classic Martini (you might want to make it with vodka instead of gin to accompany this Russian speciality).

Na zdorovie!

The Peruvian Tiger’s Milk Martini (con Leche de Tigre)

I was once accused of being “an evil agent” working for the Chilean government to sabotage the reputation of Peru…  a little unforeseen side effect of my unusual career in the murky world of intelligence. Nonetheless, despite the attempted slander I am a firm fan of Peruvian cuisine and drinking culture. I love Pisco and prefer a Pisco Sour over most other cocktails.

Seafood plays a big role in some of the more distinctive dishes originating in Peru. Acclaimed Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa seems to use a lot of Peruvian-inspired recipes and I’ve had one or two delightful dishes in some of the Latin American restaurants in south London. So I decided to have a go myself. I made a very simple ceviche using a fresh salmon fillet, cut into pieces and left submerged in a tub containing the juice of three lemons, a chopped onion, a handful of chopped coriander, a chopped chilli and a dash of Sriracha sauce for five hours. I was slightly nervous about it, imagining that I would create some sort of monstrous fish-stinking disaster. However, when I served the fish it smelt fresh and zesty with a lovely silken texture like sashimi. Obviously you don’t need to cook the fish so it’s pretty easy after you’ve assembled everything.



Anyway I’m rambling. Here it is, served with the marinade in a shot glass. This is known as Leche de Tigre (Tiger’s milk) and is drunk as a shot. Apparently it’s an aphrodisiac; I found it refreshing and spicy.

So obviously I turned it into a martini. I couldn’t find anyone online who had done this before so here is my recipe:

1 measure of vermouth

1 measure of Leche de Tigre

4 measures of gin or vodka

Pour and stir. I served it without a garnish. It went down very well: I like a spicy martini but this one also had a really heady citrus kick to it as well. I really wasn’t sure whether or not any of this would work, the ceviche or the martini but I’m pleased to report that it was both very easy and tasty!

So, dear Peru, I’m not an evil agent of the Chilean government trying to bring you down. I’m very fond of your cuisine. Salud!