A Bombay Martini


I was picking up some supplies in the supermarket when this gin caught my eye. Bombay London Dry Gin: more muted in appearance than its bright blue Sapphire  sister, it has a simple, almost stringently-coloured branding.

I am not a fan of floral or overly botanical gins in my martini so I though that this one with only 8 botanicals (to Sapphire’s 10) might provide a basic, clean, high street option so I took it home and chucked it in the freezer to find out.


A day later when the gin was thoroughly chilled, I made a simple martini, garnished with lemon peel and accompanied by the obvious snack of Bombay Mix.


The gin was less citrusy and floral than Bombay Sapphire. I love citrus notes, but I prefer them firstly in the aroma of the drink, ideally from the lemon peel I’ve just squeezed into it, then finally as a slow melting aftertaste which follows what I prefer to be a strong, leading juniper flavour. The Bombay Dry leads with juniper which was a nice surprise. It was overall less citrusy than I like, but this gives you the option of squeezing extra lemon peel into the drink if you want it, or leaving it out if you don’t. I know several martini fans who prefer less lemon in their martini so this one would make a good option. Otherwise, the botanicals were understated, much like the branding of the bottle.


There was a heat in the aftertaste of the gin which I don’t particularly welcome, especially in a martini which should be ice cold and ideally smooth. It reminded me somewhat of the warmth of the Botanist gin, a sensation which I think is more suited to a whisky than a gin. Nonetheless, for a high street brand I thought it was good value for money with a suitable clean and juniper taste.


As chance would have it my flatmate brought back a bottle of Bombay Sapphire the very next day. Absolutely perfect for a bare-faced comparison test. As you can see, the branding is far more exuberant. The blue-coloured glass is iconic, while the black and gold detail is positively regal, enhanced not least by the image of HM Queen Victoria.


I threw it in the freezer next to the Bombay Dry and whipped up another quick classic the next day.


Bombay Sapphire is lovely for a gin and tonic, especially for people who are otherwise put off by the strong juniper taste of standard gins. It has a smooth taste with complex spicy notes that dominate, followed by an almost sweet citrus aftertaste.


As expected, for me, Bombay Sapphire is not my gin of choice because I expect a strong, leading juniper flavour in my martini. It bolsters the almost surgical cleanliness of the drink while adding a sharp freshness evocative of a cold, winter pine forest.


However, the bold and admirable botanicals of the Bombay Sapphire were nonetheless pleasant and interesting. I love coriander and cardamom and while they might dominate my coveted martinis they were more like a temporary house guest. It’s a slight inconvenience and not as quiet as normal but it’s interesting to catch up. Furthermore, if gin isn’t normally your thing, or if you’re not especially keen on juniper, give this one a try in a gin and tonic or a martini. It has been described as a ‘gateway gin’ luring innocents into the sophisticated but Hogarthian danger of the gin world so for that I must salute it!


In summary, Bombay Dry is largely juniper, with a slight heat in the aftertaste, but good value for money. Bombay Sapphire is sweet and spicy and a good choice if you’re new to gin or not overly keen on juniper.

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The Fiery Ginger Martini

   
Serving a cocktail in a martini glass and adding a -tini suffix to the end of its name does not make it a martini.

   
A real martini should contain a small amount of vermouth and a large amount of gin or vodka. If you start messing around with this too much you no longer have the genuine article.

   
Acceptable variations include the dirty martini, served with olive brine, or the Gibson martini, served with pickled onion instead of lemon or olive. These are very simple alterations to the classic. 

 

The above Rosemary Martini uses no syrups or fruit juice. It is the same alcoholic strength as a classic martini but with a sublime taste and aroma of a rosemary herbaceous border. It’s a little bit more fancy than a classic but I still consider it essentially a martini.

  

I sometimes blog about certain cocktails if they have become accepted into popular martini culture as having a -tini suffix (the Appletini perhaps, the above Espresso Martini or the Breakfast Martini for example).

   
Otherwise though, I like variations to the classic martini which involve only the tiniest, most subtle alterations. Above, the humble caperberry can turn a classic martini into a full blown filthy martini.

  
With this simplistic philosophy in mind, I wanted to make a martini very close to a classic, but which incorporated the sharp and fresh essence of ginger. I subsequently tried scouring the Internet for existent recipes.

  

Indeed, a ginger martini recipe already exists (it’s referred to as the ‘zen-tini’) but I was disappointed to find that it involved quite a lot of preparation, it was far to complicated, and the finished product, using syrup, wasn’t nearly as strong as a classic martini.

  

Such fuss is hardly my idea of ‘zen’.

  

So I had a think, and decided to put together my own recipe.

After much thought, I came up with something very simple, even comparable to a dirty martini.

The crucial difference is that instead of olive brine it’s made with the juice of freshly grated ginger.

  
Grate a thumb-sized piece of ginger then squeeze the pulp to release the liquid.

   
Take a teaspoon of the juice and pour it into a chilled martini glass.
Add vermouth to taste then top up with chilled gin/vodka and stir.

  
Garnish with a slice of ginger with a small wedge cut out so that it slips over the glass.

Serve.

  
The drink is as strong as a normal martini, but with an added fiery kick of spice and warmth. It’s very good in winter.

  
You can also garnish the drink with a slice of Japanese pickled ginger, which looks very delicate and is a little easier on the palate than a raw ginger slice. If you like the taste you might like my Japanese pickled ginger martini.

  
I’m trying to think up a name for the raw ginger martini. The hot and fiery martini comes to mind.

Perhaps I could name it in honour of Jamaica, the residence of martini fan Ian Fleming and a great producer of fiery ginger goodness. The MontegoBayTini perhaps?

  
I wanted to name it after the distinctive and deadly Jamaican Bond girl Grace Jones but sadly a cocktail has already been named in her honour (one of the most expensive in the world no less…).

  
Someone also suggested that the raw ginger garnish looked a little bit like…

  
…one of Russell Tovey’s ears so I could also name it after him. 

More predictably though, it could also be named after all manner of famous gingers: the Prince Harry martini perhaps, or the Julianne Mooretini.

All suggestions in the comments below will be gratefully received.

The Hot and Dirty Martini

Grrrrrrrrrrr

  
This is a very simple variation on the classic martini, and its obviously got a very arresting name.
  
I first had a hot and dirty martini at the Mermaid Inn in New York. It’s an excellent aperitif as it really gets your digestive juices churning. It’s perfect before a special dinner, whether it’s Sunday lunch, seafood, a romantic meal for two or otherwise.

  
I have been sent a selection of goodies by the wonderful people at Fragata, a traditional Spanish firm specialising in olives, peppers, caperberries and other tasty goods.

  
I regularly eat their olives stuffed with anchovies. I think I’ve mentioned that a few times… I used these for brine.

  
I’m also a big fan of hot and spicy food and drinks so Tabasco sauce definitely features.

  
Tabasco Sauce has been officially appointed as a preferred supplier by Her Majesty the Queen. I really hope she would like this recipe.

  
Another delectable treat sent to me by Fragata was a jar of handpicked pimiento piquillo peppers.

These sweet members of the chilli family aren’t actually that spicy but they taste amazing.

  
Peeled then roasted over embers, they make a delicious sweet yet also savoury canapé/appetiser/tapas on their own.

But in a martini, they add texture, deep flavour and beautiful colour.

  

  • Add vermouth to taste to a chilled martini glass (usually between 1 tsp and 30ml depending on your preference).
  • Add brine from the tinned olives stuffed with anchovies. I would recommend between 2-6 teaspoons (I go for 4).
  • Add Tabasco sauce to taste (I like 5 drops).
  • Stir with one of the peppers and drop it in as a garnish.
  • Serve additional peppers as accompanying nibbles.

Make sure you’ve got a tasty dinner to enjoy afterwards!

The Sri Lankan Arrack Martini – the Serendipitini

  
I have been working on this concept for a long time. It’s not a true martini, but it aims to serve a similar purpose, especially for those in Sri Lanka, perhaps without access to gin or vermouth.

I resisted pressure to name it the Tamil Tiger Martini (it’s fiery, complex and deadly) as this would feel wholly inappropriate after Sri Lanka’s bitter internal tragedy. Instead I have opted for the Serendipitini.

Serendib was the old Arabic word for Sri Lanka. It means ‘lucky surprise’ and is where the word Serendipity comes from. Sri Lanka is full of lucky surprises, not least its alcoholic delights.

 
Having previously lived in Sri Lanka I developed a strong taste for their national spirit: Arrack.

  
The drink is very distinctive, but then so is its production method.

Very early in the morning, toddy-tappers climb up coconut trees in certain parts of Sri Lanka. They are there to harvest a very special type of sap.

If you cut the flowers in a certain way they produce a light, sweet liquid which the British colloquially referred to as ‘toddy’. With its high sugar content this liquid starts to ferment almost immediately and has become alcoholic by breakfast time.

It can be drunk straight from the bottle, although you might have to scrape ants off the top layer – I’m afraid I’m not kidding.

  
It is totally organic, fresh and tastes heavenly. However, given its cheapness, some Sri Lankans might not approve of foreigners consuming it, depending on who you talk to. It is sometimes seen as a poor-mans drink (because it literally grows on trees) so you might be expected to try something more refined (i.e. produced in a brewery or distillery). However, you must persist and obtain some! It’s a delight to drink at the beach after breakfast. Spend the morning happily sipping it in the sun. However, note that the liquid will start to ferment to unhealthy levels by about 11am. If you drink it after this time, or consume any of the sediment that builds up in your bottle, you could end up with an upset stomach. You should also avoid sealing any containers which carry toddy. As it ferments, the pressure can build up and the container can burst. Don’t shake the liquid either!
So that’s toddy, the wonder drink that has been gifted to mankind.

But what if you don’t want to drink in the morning?

Large quantities of the liquid are extracted each morning and allowed to ferment naturally. This liquid is then distilled to create Arrack.

The beverage has been compared to whisky or rum in flavouring. It can be fiery, but with strong notes of caramel to mellow out the flavour.
During my time in Sri Lanka we would mix it with coca cola, ginger beer (very refreshing), fresh lime juice (with limes gathered from the garden) or we would drink it neat (sometimes referred to as ‘raw’ on the island). Trendy cocktail bars in Colombo (and even London) often pair it with a range of flavours such as mango juice or cinnamon.

However, I always felt that these flavours masked the arrack. I like to channel Marcel Proust; the aroma sniffed from a bottle alone is enough to transport me back to the lush green Hill Country or the transcendent beaches of Trimcomalee.

As such, I wanted to create a drink that enhanced the rich, syrupy arrack character rather than smothering it in a pot pouri other flavours. I also wanted to create a drink that contained elements of the classic martini, such as temperature and powerful subtlety. 

A cold drink is extremely welcome after a hot day in Sri Lanka so I keep the arrack in the freezer for a day before serving. If it’s good quality it shouldn’t freeze solid.

I also wanted to embrace the martini concept of simplicity so I decided to pair the arrack with only one other flavour.

A classic gin martini is very much enhanced by the citrus flavouring of lemon oil, squeezed from a strip of peel. Arrack is also enhanced by citrus so I decided to play around with the concept of lime-cello. This is essentially limoncello but made with limes instead.

  
Limes, known in Sinhala as ‘dehi’ are widely available and consumed in Sri Lanka. A Sri Lankan garden can often resemble an overgrown forest from a distance, but upon closer inspection you will find that most contain a veritable cacophony of consumable fruits. If you can harvest your own for this recipe I’m sure it will taste much better.
  

  • Wash and zest 6 limes
  • Put the peel in a jar and add 400ml vodka

  

  • Seal the jar and leave it to infuse for 3 weeks
  • Give it a shake every couple of days

  

  • Strain the vodka and discard the zest (squeeze it out as much as you can first)
  • Dissolve 4 tablespoons of sugar in 100ml freshly boiled water
  • Not all of it will dissolve but don’t worry. Once the mixture has cooled down give it a shake  and add it to the infused vodka.
  • That’s it. It’s very easy, you just have to wait a few weeks for it to infuse.
  • Like the arrack, I like to keep it in the freezer for at least 24 hours before serving.
  • When it’s time to pour, take a strip of lime peel and squeeze it into a chilled martini glass, then rub it around the glass to transfer as much of the citrus oil as possible.
  • Add the lime-cello to taste (around 40ml) then top up with arrack (around 110ml)
  • Stir well using the lime peel (which you can then use as a garnish).
  • Serve

Be warned, it’s slightly bitter and very strong. Nonetheless, it’s definitely a nice way to end a day of working in Colombo, going on Safari in the country’s many beautiful nature reserves, hiking around the country’s rich architectural heritage or just spending the day at the beach.

In terms of selecting arrack I usually drank Very Special mark in Sri Lanka but i would generally get just what I could get my hands on.

A very good friend from Colombo brought me back some Ceylon Arrack. In a beautiful bottle and probably the most commonly seen in a cocktail bar I would describe the arrack as light, smooth and pure – a really refined taste and certainly the best one I’ve encountered for an Arrack-Virgin. Otherwise you may find some of the others to be a bit more viscous and/or fiery.
  
Note that in Sri Lankan drinking culture it’s almost sacrilegious to drink without eating something at the same time. There is an array of bites you could serve with this. Devilled prawns or cuttlefish spring to mind, or a simple bite mix    (usually referred to internationally as Bombay Mix).

  

It may not be Kandy, but this is as close as I will get to the island of Serendipity. Otherwise try Sekara in Victoria for authentic Sinhalese cooking, and a range of restaurants in Tooting and Croydon for good Tamil food.

Egyptian Duqqah to accompany a martini

Ground nuts, herbs and spices served with bread and some good quality oil.  

 I was born in a town in Scotland called Alexandria. It subsequently says Alexandria as my place of birth in my passport, which in turn has led to some interesting questioning by customs and security personnel at various airports I’ve visited in the Middle East.

“Are you Egyptian?”

“I will be whatever you want me to be, so long as you let me past your security desk and into your beautiful country that I have not yet had the chance to see yet thank you.”

I’ve always been drawn to Egypt, old and new. It’s such a fascinating country and while it faces many troubles today I can’t help think that it has faced worse in the past and should therefore be able to cope in the long-run (Inshallah). Whether or not you’re a fan of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi I wish him all the best luck in doing the right thing for the country.

Anyway, I digress. I am delighted to include Egypt in my blog with a contribution to the martini world.

  
Here is some Duqqah (دقة).

As a linguistic side note it is also spelt Dukka or Duqqa, although I have always preferred using the ta-marbutah ة and the correct transliteration of the letter ق – just to be absolutely clear!

However you spell it, the name comes from the Arabic verb ‘to pound’ and contains a coarsely ground selection of nuts (usually hazelnuts but also pistachios, almonds and cashews), sesame seeds and a selection of herbs and spices such as coriander seeds, chilli and/or cumin for example, although this can all be varied to taste.  

To eat it dip some bread into some good quality olive oil then dip it into the duqqah mixture to coat it.

For my recipe I lacked hazelnuts, so I made it as follows:

  • 8 pistachio nuts
  • 1 teaspoon black sesame seeds
  • 4 peanuts
  • Pinch of sunflower seeds
  • Pinch of flaked almonds
  • Pinch of cumin seeds
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Smidgen of pepper
  • Pinch of chilli powder
  • Pinch of turmeric

  
I roughly ground it with a mortar and pestle (but not too much) then served it with pitta bread and a small dish of extra virgin olive oil.

  
This serves two people.

However you can alter the quantities and the ingredients to suit your taste. The varieties are as numerous as Cairo traffic violations. You can even buy it in some supermarkets.

  
And if you were wondering about martinis… the answer is “yes”.

Of course it will go with a martini. However, by eating it, somewhat messily, with ones hands and oily bread, this isn’t perhaps the most elegant martini accompaniment. Save it for when you’re having a drink with more intimate company, not a first martini date. Don’t be deterred though, it’s tasty and interesting with a bit of bite.

  

A martini using gin infused with coriander/cilantro



I have previously mentioned that Coriander (cilantro) is the Marmite of the herb world (you either love it or hate it). I have also previously mentioned that I love it. So I infused some gin with it.

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Coriander is already one of the flavours infused into many gin varieties, although juniper is (or should be) the dominant flavour. Being a traditionalist I would normally want to preserve the juniper flavour as the key ingredient but I was curious to try out something new and wanted to satisfy my own love for the coriander flavour. It has a fresh, grassy, almost citrusy taste and pairs well with lemon and lime. Critics often describe the flavour as soapy, so be careful who you serve this to. Otherwise I think it’s delicious.

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To infuse the gin take a handful of coriander leaf per 100ml gin you want to infuse. Wash it, pat it dry then coarsely chop it.

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Add it to a clean jar, top up with gin, seal the lid, give it a vigorous shake, then leave it for around two days. Shake it once or twice each day.

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The gin should turn a nice green hue.

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Strain it and discard the coriander leaves.

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Then decant it into a glass container or two and keep in the fridge to store, and freezer if you want to use it in a martini.

When you’re ready to serve, pour the drink as a normal martini but with coriander gin instead of normal gin. Garnish with some coriander if you have any to hand (or a piece of lemon peel which compliments the zesty coriander flavour) and serve with some nibbles.

When I was testing out the coriander gin first I felt a craving for avocado so I decided to make some very simple guacamole.

I mashed 2 avocados with a square inch of onion, chopped, a handful of chopped fresh coriander, a squeeze of tomato purée, a sprinkling of chilli flakes and a squeeze of lemon or lime (whatever you have to hand) and served it with tortilla chips. This is a very basic guacamole recipe I just threw together with what I had to hand (it was a Friday night and I was exhausted). There are almost bound to be better recipes out there. My cousin in Scotland makes a good one!

The coriander martini also goes well with peanuts.



And seafood.

Here I served a plate of pre-cooked prawns with tiny drizzles of honey, sesame oil, lemon juice, mirin and rice wine vinegar, with further tiny sprinkles of grated lemon zest, chilli flakes and chopped coriander. I wanted to compliment the delicate prawns not anhialate them with a bazooka of sharp flavours.

All in all, I liked the coriander martini more than I was expecting. I also found that it went very well with certain nibbles. I would recommend it for dinner parties but you’ve got to be careful because some of your guests might be of the “I hate coriander” persuasion. 

A hot drink for a cold

Two days later and I’m still sick, at home, restless but lethargic at the same time. So here is a post about a hot drink I made to try and alleviate some of my cold symptoms.

You will need:
-Lemon
-Ginger
-Garlic
-Hot water
-Turmeric (optional)
-Chilli flakes (optional)
-Whisky or brandy or rum (optional)

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Take a piece of ginger around the size of your thumb. Use a spoon to scrape off the skin.

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Use a Japanese grater (one of my favourite kitchen utensils) and grate the peeled ginger to release all the juice. Squeeze out then discard the fibrous pulp.

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Pour the fiery ginger juice into a cup.

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Juice a lemon and add the juice to the mug.

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Peel then coarsely cut a single clove of garlic. Add the pieces to the cup.

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Add 1-2 teaspoons of honey.

Then, depending on your preferences you can add one or more or none or all of the following:

-1/2 a teaspoon of turmeric powder
-A pinch of chilli flakes
-A dash of whisky, brandy or rum

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It looks fairly alarming.

Top up with hot water, just off the boil, and stir to dissolve the honey and let the flavours diffuse into the drink.

Sip it slowly and be sure to eat/swallow the garlic. Yes it may give you very strong breath but if you’re feeling sick you should be in quarantine anyway.