The Lydia Martini


When someone orders a Gibson Martini, I instantly hold them in high regard.


It’s such a stylish-looking version of the classic martini.


The single white cocktail onion floating solemnly in the glass almost makes it look like a religious offering.


The sharp flavour is also very distinctive.


Furthermore, to know about a Gibson indicates a sophisticated and experienced familiarity with martinis in general, which can only be a good thing.


My friend Lydia expressed a particular liking of both martinis and pickled onions, so much so that she requested extra pickled onions in her Gibson.


Naturally I obliged.


It’s not like we’re suffering an onion shortage or anything like that.

The name Lydia comes from an ancient region of western Anatolia, in modern-day Turkey. 

Classical and evocative with a beautiful climate, it’s an ideal martini location.


Incidentally, a common hangover cure in this part of the world is a drink of pickle juice – šalgam (shalgam) which might be perfect if you partake of too many martinis the night before and you’re a fan of the pickled goodness.


This Gibson recipe variation may have been done before but I couldn’t find any record of it anywhere so I thought I would name it, if for no other reason than for brevity when we’ve got family and friends round.


When everyone is asked “how would you like your martini” it’s far easier to take an order of “a Lydia” rather than “a Gibson but with loads and loads of pickled onions – more than you think are natural”.


The additional pickles also mean that the drink isn’t quite a lethal as a classic martini, making it an even more angelic choice.

So:

  • Pour one measure (to taste) of chilled vermouth into a frozen martini glass.
  • Add anything from 3-10 pickled onions.
  • Pour in a teaspoon of the pickle juice for good measure.
  • Top up with chilled gin or vodka and gently stir.
  • Serve (potentially with salt and vinegar or pickled onion crisps on the side – or perhaps even a glass of šalgam).

And enjoy! Although you might not get to kiss anyone afterwards…

Advertisements

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier… Drunk

Who would serve a jug or pitcher of martini at a party?

Oh wait, only Kim Philby, one of Britain’s most notorious traitors.

  
I’ve just read a book entitled “a spy among friends” by Ben MacIntyre. It was the first book I’ve read in a long time that I struggled to put down. It documents the story of Harold ‘Kim’ Philby as he worked his way into the inner sanctums of British intelligence.

He was considered trustworthy for decades because he was seen as a part of the British ‘establishment’ (he came from a reputable family, went to public school, and attended Cambridge University). 

In stark contrast, however, he was a member of the infamous Cambridge Spy Network who wreaked untold damage on Western Cold War activities.

  

Philby was recruited by Soviet agents shortly after he graduated and provided Moscow with extensive British and American secrets for many years. By the time he defected to the USSR in the 1960s it is estimated that hundreds, if not thousands of people had died because of his actions.

The pressures of intelligence work evidently led to heavy drinking amongst most agents (this might continue today – I am not fully aware, although I’ve been told that consumption is a lot lower than it used to be).

The pressures of being a mole in this already stressful environment evidently took a particularly high toll on Philby – as well as his long-suffering family: his mother and second wife both died alcoholics while he himself was regularly seen in an unconscious state of inebriation. 

Despite his own alcohol intake, however, he managed to survive to the age of 76. In the end, he died in Moscow in 1988, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union, ending the ideological regime he had believed in so steadfastly; the way of governance he betrayed so much for.

While reading about his eventful life I noticed the reappearance of martinis on several occasions and made a note of each one. Sir Ian Fleming pops up in the stories here and there, of course famous for his creation of martini fan James Bond.

  
A personal favourite was the story involving the cocktail bar in World War Two Istanbul. The lady who ran the bar mixed up “volcanic martinis” for her British officer clientele, then sat back and listened while they drunkenly spilled our state secrets for her to pass on to the Nazis. In vino veritas indeed, or should that be in martinis veritas?

The noteworthy ‘pitchers’ of martini were recorded at cocktail and dinner parties held at the Philby household in Washington DC. Intense drunkenness ensued with sometimes shocking social results.

Such parties involved an even greater level of risk when Philby allowed for the mixing of British agents, American agents and British spies working for the Soviets. I think it’s a wonder he got away with being a spy for so long without letting slip during one of his drunken binges. Evidently his lips were sealed even when he was at his most intoxicated. Stalin would have been impressed.

  
During later cocktail parties at his home in Beirut he taught his young son how to mix up a “fierce” martini for the guests. Start ’em young I say. I was taught how to pour G&Ts and whiskies with water for the family when I was well below drinking age so I don’t think it’s the worst thing to happen. Indeed I enjoyed being allowed to socialise with the adults at that age. It was a privilege for the well-behaved.

  
Ultimately though, Kim Philby’s life appears to have been one of loneliness and an ultimate lack of fulfilment. No-one ever truly knew him. While sexually intimate with several women, he was never psychologically intimate enough with anyone to truly bond or connect with them.

While I use martinis to bond with others, he used them to lull his potential foes and numb the pains of his own personal transgressions.

In the end he died with few, if any friends. He had betrayed most of them for an ideology soon to fall apart. What a terrible use of martinis.

I’ll tell you what isn’t a waste though: this book! 

Hazelnut snacks

  
Hazelnuts have been consumed by humans for thousands of years.

I am currently on the Island of Mull in the Hebrides. On the nearby island of Colonsay evidence suggests that local residents were consuming large amounts of the nut in 7000BC.

The Hebrides can often feel very far from civilisation so the fact that people living here enjoyed this tasty snack several millennia before the Babylonian Empire existed blows my mind just a little bit.

Anyway, while we Hebrideans might have harvested the nut from our trees back then, the undisputed champion of hazelnut production today is Turkey, which produced 660,000 tonnes of the nut in 2012.

  
That weight equates to this massive vessel if it were fully loaded. The Seawise Giant is the largest man-made mobile object ever built by the way. That’s a lot of hazelnuts.

  
Anyway, enough of that. I’m craving a martini.

  
If you have some hazelnuts to spare and you fancy a tasty treat, put some in a heatproof dish.

  
Drizzle them in a little oil, sprinkle over some salt and maybe some pepper and/or herbs, then roast them in a pre-heated oven for about 10-15 minutes, depending on the heat. Essentially you want to toast them, not burn them. If they seem slightly soft when you remove them from the oven they will probably harden to a nice crunchy texture as they cool.

  
You could serve them like that as a snack. Once they’re cooler they make a luxurious, warm, salty, crunchy and slightly fatty accompaniment to an ice cold martini.

  

Alternatively, you could go one step further and make something from across the Mediterranean from Turkey: Egyptian Duqqah.

  
Grind it down, season it.

  
Then serve it with bread, good quality oil and maybe some balsamic vinegar.

Dip the bread in the oil then coat it in the duqqah with one hand while you sip your martini with the other.

This is simple and delicious. You can also mix the duqqah with other ingredients such as pepper, ground chickpeas and other ground nuts if you like.

Omnomnom!

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.