Just another selection of recent martinis…
A dirty one.
Both dirty and clean – photograph courtesy of Dr. Kirsty.
Just another selection of recent martinis…
A dirty one.
Both dirty and clean – photograph courtesy of Dr. Kirsty.
Several months ago, my auntie suggested that we hold a popup martini bar in our family restaurant. The venue is the Gallery, on the Main Street of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull (a beautiful and friendly Hebridean Island in Argyll, western Scotland).
We thought about the idea for a while but it remained firmly in the land of fantasy for quite some time. Then, last month, my Mum decided that we should just go ahead and do it. If it doesn’t work, we will learn some lessons, and if it does work, well, it will be a fantasy fulfilled – for me at least, and we might be able to organise some more.
Given that martinis aren’t exactly common tipples at the drinking establishments on the island, we thought it would be fun to do something new and different, particularly for the locals, although it was peak tourist season so we thought there would be several visitors around as well. Ultimately though, I think I just wanted to try my hand at finally being a martini barman.
So, we bought plenty of martini glasses, a shed load of gin, commandeered a freezer to get it all in, planned the processes and the structure of the evening, and put out some adverts and social media posts about it. With some extremely useful guidance from the restaurant staff and the creative talents of my mother, we came up with a plan, who would serve what, which food items we would include on the menu, the types of martini we would serve and even a playlist.
The Gallery is very conducive to a martini atmosphere. The building is a beautiful old church, the tallest structure on the island, lovingly restored (a work still in progress) by members of the family (such as my gravity-defying brother in the above image) and some skilled friends on the island.
It has great acoustics and a good sound system. In addition, because it is already a restaurant we have an alcohol license in place, tables, chairs, equipment and staff members, which made it a lot easier for us to prepare.
Given that our restaurant has an outdoor courtyard, sociably adjacent to Tobermory Main Street (it’s good for people watching and catching up with passers-by) it’s the perfect setting for sitting out and enjoying a coffee or drink whilst overlooking the harbour.
Word of advice: if you’re going to do this sort of thing, try to practise the entire process in advance. That includes testing all your equipment! I stupidly didn’t check our sound system entirely and at the last minute discovered that my phone (with my pre-made playlist) wasn’t compatible with the sound system. Thank god for local saint Wiksey who turned up and fixed it all in the space of about 5 minutes. Thank you, you technical genius!
Otherwise the freezers were good and the gin and glasses were suitably chilled. I also took my own special martini knife, peeler and chopping board. I’m really fussy about my martini kit which can come across as *slightly* obsessive but if something is out of place it will annoy me no-end and distract me from my goal of getting everyone tipsy.
We were almost ready.
On the day of the event I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. What if we ran out of glasses? What if it didn’t work? What if there was an alcohol related crime? What if we ran out of gin (itself an alcohol related crime…)?
It didn’t help that while I was walking along the Main Street in the afternoon, nearly everyone I spoke to mentioned the event. I was starting to worry that we would be overwhelmed.
I put together a menu, outlining the martinis we would offer:
We also served a selection of additional drinks like beer, wine, pimms and prosecco.
Mum and I went over the best layout for the drinks. We would serve the martinis at the bar on a plate with a small dish of olives and some miniature pretzels on the side. Additional food was also available on the menu.
The lovely Turnbull family supplied us with some fat, juicy oysters (my favourite food and an amazing martini accompaniment) while the beautiful Sally Swinbanks of the Tobermory Fish Company supplied us with additional seafood bites which again go fantastically with a martini.
Minutes to go, the music was playing and we stood in expectation. I was very tempted to pour then down a martini to relax but I resisted and my colleague Catriona kindly made me an espresso instead which worked. Then, the doors opened at 5 o’clock and we were ready to go.
My first order came in almost immediately for four martinis and I got to work, assembling them as fast as I could. No sooner had I served them had two more orders come in. I continued at the same pace. I didn’t stop or slow down again until 8 o’clock when we closed. At one or two points a queue had formed. What a rush. I was worried that we might end up making over 100 martinis, and would then run out of things. In the end we only ran out of the miniature pretzels and I served 250 martinis. A personal record! I was over the moon. I was also absolutely thrilled with my colleagues who seemed to effortlessly keep a lid on the proceedings, serving, cleaning and arranging everything with good humour.
Unfortunately because I was so busy I had barely lifted my gaze up from the bar for the whole time so I hadn’t had a chance to see how everything was progressing, but I was told that people were having a good time. Some of the guests kindly shared their photographs with me and allowed me to use them on the blog.
As it went so well I look forward to doing it again in the future. I would also be interested to see how it works out if the weather isn’t as good. If everyone is inside the view wouldn’t be as romantic but the atmosphere could be brilliant.
I also want to hold a martini night on a Friday so that more people are able to join us (our first one was on a Tuesday). I’d also like to do it in the winter when locals have more time on their hands for a good party.
Watch this space and thank you everyone who helped and those who came on the night!
A Lemon Drop Martini during a London Spring sunset.
Channeling Danish hygge at my aunty’s house.
“No lace. No lace, Mrs. Bennet, I beg you!” – a classic Pride and Prejudice quote that had to go with this martini and doily at home.
Have a good weekend and enjoy World Gin Day responsibly!
Marsh Samphire is one of my favourite foods. Harvested in the summer months from coastal rocky areas it is comparable to asparagus, but with a saltier and less pungent aftertaste. It’s very simple to prepare but it’s fleshy, crunchy freshness makes for a lovely seasonal martini accompaniment.
Grab it while it’s in season (it can turn a little bit woody later on). You can usually find it in fish mongers in July/August. For this martini accompaniment, I returned to my trusty fish dealer – Watt’s on the pier in Oban.
And it makes a nice garnish for a Classic Martini.
I first collected a bottle of this gin in Madrid airport duty free. The unusual branding caught my eye. Made with pure Icelandic water with a traditional English gin technique, it sits in a tall, proud-looking bottle with straight lines and clean imagery. There are strong maritime tones to the bottles appearance.
It has a smokey-smooth character, not too strong on juniper, or indeed any botanicals, which helped make a subtle but simultaneously bold martini.
To hark to its Nordic links you could drink it around mid-summer (midsommar), or mid-winter, but to be honest it would work at any time of year. Like most classic martinis it will go well with seafood but there’s something about this gin which makes me want to pair it with smoked things in particular – fish or meat.
It also went down very nicely in the smokey air as we waited for steaks to cook on our fire pit. Despite the beautiful sunset it was freezing up in the Hebrides when we drank this, but we kept warm with the strong spirits inside us as we stood around the fire.
Los Madrileños know how to have fun – without feeling guilty, without getting stressed and without getting post-apocalyptically drunk. If you feel like having a drink or having something to eat then do so. If you feel like having a nap then do so. The time of day is irrelevant. You shouldn’t feel bad for doing what your body is telling you to do. Eating, drinking and sleeping when you please might sound unhealthy but these people certainly don’t look unhealthy!
Tapas or pinchos/pintxos (pronounced peen-chose) are small bites of food that accompany your drink. The adage “eating’s cheating” has few followers in Madrid and I am a faithful convert to the city’s attitude towards eating with booze. I always serve nibbles with my martinis but maybe we should be serving food with all alcohol. It’s not the most radical concept – it’s common practise in many countries (Sri Lanka for example).
If you are unconvinced about eating with your drinks then perhaps I can persuade you with some examples of the sorts of things you could enjoy with your booze.
Here is a mind-blowingly tasty assortment of morcilla (a spanish variation of black pudding) with apple, balsamic vinegar glaze and fried potato straws, accompanied with octopus and whole grain mustard ice cream. Yes. Mustard ice cream. Yes.
However, if this is too fancy just order your drink (such as a caños of beer which isn’t as much as a full pint) with something as simple as a piece of bread with a topping. Drink, taste and relax. It’s not a race to finish your drink in order to buy the next round.
Fried calamari is common. Ham, cheese and olives also feature highly.
There are many expert voices on the subject of tapas so this amateur is not going to bluff you, but of the stories that surround its history I have a favourite. According to my friend, at a point in its history Spain was undergoing a drought and food production was low. The people resorted to drinking more alcohol to make up for their lost calories, but this led to widespread malaise and drunkenness. A troubled king, seeking a solution, ordered establishments to serve simple bread and toppings over the top of alcohol glasses (the word tapas comes from the Spanish verb tapar – to cover). When eaten this would soak up some of the alcohol, reduce drunkenness and help feed the population. A cultural trend was born.
Like martinis, there are several competing stories surrounding the historical origins of tapas. Without a time machine to verify which version is accurate the only thing you can do is believe in your favourite.
For me, the most important concept is that the sharing of tapas is very sociable.
Snacks, bites and nibbles are a very important part of a martini so tapas can provide a wealth of inspiration for anyone looking to serve theirs with some added Latin panache.
The main point, however, is about relaxing and sharing good flavours, drinks and conversation with friends, family, lovers etc.
If you can get that right then everything else should fall into place – ojala.
I previously made Earl Grey infused gin which I’ve used to make one or two martinis.
However, for a highly refreshing (and less alcoholic alternative) I would also recommend this infused drink for a nice gin and tonic (yes, I drink tonic water sometimes). Right now it’s in the middle of winter in the northern hemisphere but if you’re in Australia, Chile, South Africa, the tropics, the equatorial regions or anywhere else currently enjoying warming weather this might be a nice drink to enjoy at the end of the day.
Otherwise you can wait until spring and summer if you’re in the northern latitudes, although so long as you’re wearing enough warm clothing it’s quite a nice drink for any time of year
If you keep the gin and the glass in the freezer prior to drinking this it will be even more refreshing.
* Take the glass and add some ice.
* Squeeze a slice of lemon peel over the inside of the glass so that the lemon oil is sprayed in over the ice
* Pour in a measure or two of the Earl Grey Gin
* Top up with tonic to your taste
* Use the lemon peel to stir the drink then drop it in the glass as a garnish
* As an alternative garnish to lemon, you could use a slice of fresh cucumber. It gives the drink a fresh grassy start, which is followed by the longer, slower more subtle arrival of the smoky earl grey flavour.