Bar Arabica, Borough Market, 2/5

A relatively pleasant martini was let down by bad service and poor value for money.

 

It wouldn’t take much to perfect their martini but some of the fundamentally poor elements of the restaurant will be more difficult to rectify.

  
Nestled under a railway arch in Borough Market, I had high hopes for this Levantine restaurant. However, the service wasn’t particularly attentive, the portions were small and the martini didn’t do it for me.

  
I was looking forward to a tasty za’tar man’oushe, even though I have regularly been warned that you just can’t get good Lebanese food in London. Sadly it didn’t match my Beiruti experiences. It was a little dry and lacking in fresh ingredients.

  
Other portions were small and not cheap, although we did like boregi (essentially the same as börek – a spinach and feta pastry) which was crunchy and satisfying.

  
The atmosphere was pleasant, with the rumble of trains and nice lighting, but some of our dishes were forgotten. Indeed we felt somewhat forgotten on occasion.

When I asked about the gin used in their martini I was told it was a home-made compound gin, but the waiter couldn’t tell me anymore about it.

  
It arrived chilled but not especially cold, in a coupe glass, with a strip of lemon peel. As always, I feel the need to urge London restaurants serving martinis to keep their gin and glasses (martini glasses, not coupe glasses!) in the freezer.

However, this martini was redeemed by its particular lemon flavour – it was especially citrusy which I like. The gin did not seem especially dry, which was perhaps a blessing considering its temperature, but all in all it wasn’t unpleasant.

 
So what to do? Larger portions would be nice. If you’ve ever eaten in the Middle East you will realise that it’s rare to leave a meal without feeling utterly stuffed and potentially in pain from your host’s kind and generous hospitality. This was not the feeling I had at this Levantine restaurant.  More generous portions and attentive service would be in order. Then keep the homemade gin in the freezer and serve it in a proper martini glass.

The Botanist Gin

Which martini would you drink in the event of a zombie apocalypse?

Bear with me as I explain the link…

  

I have mentioned before that I come from the Hebrides. I was therefore very keen to taste this gin, crafted on the island of Islay.

  
In the event of some kind of apocalypse or worldwide catastrophe (zombies etc), I always thought that my natural instinct would be to scramble back home to the islands to try and survive.

In the event that we managed to cling on to our existence in this beautiful island chain on the fringe of European civilisation I imagine that once the banalities of food production, healthcare and general society had been arranged our community would very quickly address the problem of what we would drink at the end of the day (it’s a cultural thing).  With a global collapse of logistics we would no longer be able to import drinks and ingredients from afar and would subsequently have to craft our own alcohol locally.

The most obvious drink for us to concoct in this part of the world would be whisky, but for die-hard gin lovers perhaps we would attempt to distil a clear spirit and flavour it with local botanicals – including juniper.

That is exactly what the craftsmen at the Bruichladdich whisky distillery have done with the Botanist gin.

It is flavoured with 31 botanicals, 22 of which are hand-picked locally, and slow-distilled to create a distinctive flavour.

  
My personal favourite addition is gorse-bush flowers, very evocative of a  childhood spent in the outdoors up here.

In this clip you can hear the gorse bush seed pods popping in the (rare) August sun.

Other favoured botanical additions include thyme, birch and bog myrtle, while one of the junipers used in the production is also grown on the island.

The gin is distilled in a ‘Lomond still’ – a rare item traditionally used to make whisky. 

  
Perhaps it is for this reason that I found the gin to be somewhat fiery in flavour. My favourite whisky is the smokey Laphroaig, also from Islay. Maybe it’s the local water that does it…

(Note that the above whisky is a Glen Moray – a Speyside malt).

  

Naturally, the post-apocalyptic Hebridean diet would include a significant proportion of seafood (unless the apocalypse included some sort of radioactive fallout). As such I wanted to pair this gin with some locally-sourced fruit du mer. Luckily when I made this martini we had langoustines to hand at home (as you do) but there are loads of other potential seafood variations. Please see  the Langoustini and Loch Ness Monstini for further martini inspiration.

The gin also goes well in a gin and tonic. For further guidance please see here.

  

Perhaps you could serve the G&T with some herbs sourced locally from the Hebridean garden, such as in this case, with some Rosemary from out the back door.

  

In a land where summer only seems to last a day you certainly want to make sure that your choice of refreshment is a good one.

Martini with a sprig of thyme

  

This is a very simple variation on the classic martini.

Thyme is one of my favourite herbs. The mouth-watering smell evokes summertime, or some of the delicious za’tar manouche (savoury thyme-flavoured Lebanese wraps) I’ve eaten in Beirut, London and Dubai.

 
Take a sprig of fresh thyme (I’ve been growing some on the balcony), wash and dry it, then rub it around a chilled martini glass to transfer its flavour.

I also rubbed some lemon peel around the glass as well. The lemon and thyme combination might be especially good before a roast chicken dinner.
 Discard the lemon peel, pour the martini using the classic recipe and use the thyme as a garnish.

It adds a nice hint of aromatic flavour to the drink while providing a delicate and colourful garnish that looks so good in the spring as everything starts to turn green.

I think I might try infusing some into a batch of gin. Watch this space…