The Mermaid Inn, NYC 4.5/5

This is one of my favourite places in the world.

Oyster happy hour is a must! 

I’ve previously mentioned how well seafood goes with a martini, especially the simplistically delicate oyster, so a bar/restaurant that specialises in briny goodness was always going to get me excited.

 

However, I’ve got to focus on the martini and not get too ahead of myself.

Using my martini rating scale I award this bar and restaurant very high points: 4.5 out of 5.


I ordered a hot and dirty martini (vodka, olive brine, Tabasco sauce with a crunchy, fresh and bright red peppadew garnish). It was ice cold, salty and fiery – a perfect tongue-tantalising aperitif.


The service was fast, attentive and the staff were passionate about the food and drinks.

The setting was intimate, clean and unpretentious.


And finally, the food is fantastic with a wide variety of seasonal oysters as well as a range of sustainably sourced seafood. It’s ideal for a light bite or a more substantial meal.


The only thing I would recommend to the Mermaid Inn is that the management make more of their martinis on the menu. The restaurant does them so well I think they should promote them more prominently. I really can’t fault them in any other way.


Basically to sum up my experience, If I died suddenly and my life flashed before my eyes I hope I would linger here for just a little while en route to the next level. And I hope the next level has oyster happy hour too.

 

Don’t forget to download their useful app Oysterpedia

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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! 

How to make an Old Fashioned Cocktail

This is a slight departure from my normal work, but I’ve got a cold and was craving something less potent and more sweet and fruity than a martini.

  
Enter the Old Fashioned cocktail. 

Apparently emerging in the early 1800s (it might even have evolved towards the late 1700s), this drink is a lot older than a Martini.

It also has a reputation for being a bit of a “fog-cutter” – that is, the sort of drink you choose when you’ve got a hangover, something sweet to try and ease the pain and help you get back on your feet again. The Breakfast Martini can serve a similar purpose.

Such hangover tactics are completely contrary to modern medical advice, but by Jove, if people have been swearing by the technique for over 200 years then who am I to argue?

Recipes for an Old Fashioned today can involve ingredients such as soda water, maraschino cherries and slices of orange but I wanted to create something much more intense, and err… old fashioned.

I like to taste alcohol when I drink alcohol, you see.

I first drank an Old Fashioned in the office after a long, intense day. I think we were in the midst of monitoring the onset of the Arab Spring, a time when Middle Eastern governments tended to collapse on a Friday, leaving us working late into the evening while the rest of London descended unto the pub.

 

 I was told the cocktail was making a comeback because of its portrayal in the US series ‘Mad Men’. My industry might not have encouraged the same sort of working hours drinking habits of Don Draper but booze was a fairly vital commodity once we had finished our work at the end of the day.

Given the supply of various ingredients we routinely kept in our drawers our office was the perfect place for our first tipple. A quick mix and we could relax, chat about work and enjoy a short period of shared workplace quietude before we too joined the masses in the pubs.

The recipe we used in the office involved honey, but my recipe uses demarara sugar.

You will need:

  • Bourbon or Rye
  • Sugar (brown if possible)
  • Bitters (I used Angosturra)
  • An orange (just for the peel)
  • Two glasses (one for prep, one for serving)
  • Ice (I used spherical ice – as it melts slowly and looks good in the right glass)
  • A teaspoon
  • A little bit of water

  

  • Add 2 teaspoons of sugar to the prep glass.
  • Add 2 teaspoons of water.

  

  • Stir well to dissolve (this can take a minute or two).

  

  • If you mix these quite often you might want to make yourself some sugar syrup in advance which means you don’t need to go about dissolving sugar each time you pour a deink.
  • Add 250ml water to a kettle and bring to the boil.
  • Let it cool slightly then add it to a pouring bowl with 300g Demerara sugar.
  • Stir until it dissolves, allow to cool, then pour into a bottle or other container to store until needed.

  

  • Back to the mixing: add 2-3 dashes of bitters to the dissolved sugar (or equivalent of syrup) and stir.
  • Add 60ml bourbon or rye and stir a bit more.

  

  • Peel a strip of orange rind. 

  

  • Twist it over the serving glass to spray in the natural oil. Squeeze it, crush it slightly and rub it all round the inside of the glass to transfer as much of the oil as possible, then discard the piece (I actually just ate it outright, mainly for the vitamin C).
  • Peel a second strip of orange rind, twist it over the glass to release a bit more oil but try not to damage it.

  

  • Trim the strip of peel and put aside.

  

  • Add the ice to the serving glass.

   

  • Pour over the mixture from the other glass and swirl it around.
  • If you like bitters you can add in another dash now and watch it permeate through the drink.
  • Use the trimmed orange peel to stir, then drop it into the drink as well.

  

  • Serve in a nice setting with good company.

I picked the garden with the whippet puppies but indoor settings are more common; somewhere with dim lighting, leather furniture and perhaps some cigars would definitely work.

Because of its sweetness I don’t think this drink goes especially well with nibbles.

It could, however, be served both before or after a meal.

Indeed the drink’s versatility means that it could be served at a variety of times in a range of environments and settings.

Here, for example, is a perfect setting: a bar cabaret performance by the talented Cat Loud and Finn Anderson.

  

It also works well during more intense and strategic pursuits.

Tanqueray in a martini

  
I’ve previously mentioned my penchant for Plymouth Gin which I find smooth and strong on juniper, but tanqueray is another favourite.

  
There has definitely been a bit of a backlash (not a unanimous one though) against some of the more florally extravagant brands of gin to emerge over recent years. I would feel inclined to agree as I like gin to taste of juniper and not be overpowered by other tastes and aromas. The clean taste reminds me of pine forests. The associated smells are so evocative: Christmas trees, freshly cut furniture, long walks in foresty commission property…

  
Nonetheless, some of the more floral botanicals of the gin world, such as the cucumber and rose infused Hendricks, definitely have their place. They go very nicely in a gin and tonic on a summer’s day for example. But when it comes to the botanicals needed for a martini I think that less is more and I drink Hendricks infrequently, usually on special occasions when I am back in Scotland. I also imagine that it’s a favourite drink for Scottish expatriates living around the world, in Dubai, Spain, Singapore or the US for example, a pleasant but distinctive reminder of the civilities of home.

Ideally the flavour of a classic martini should involve a balance of botanical vermouth, with a haze of predominantly juniper from the gin seeping in at the end of each taste. I therefore prefer the plain and subtle tasting gins to their more fancy counterparts.

  
Tanqueray was one of the many vices of the late beautiful Amy Winehouse (whom I actually once met in Edinburgh, when her hair was long and loose, not up in a High Barnet). I find that this brand of gin has a dominant juniper flavour, but one that is soft and mellow nonetheless, making it an excellent complement to vermouth in a martini.

 
So I mixed some with a little vermouth and drank it down. And they lived happily ever after. 

The end.

The hot hot Sriracha martini

It’s a thing now.
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What do Thais and Texans have in common? A penchant for spicy food.

I have a good friend, currently in Texas, who recently announced his addiction to Sriracha hot chilli sauce, a fiery concoction from Thailand.

A US national and an Arabist, he has a very interesting career and academic background, with some very intriguing (and often hilarious) tales from London and the Middle East. Martinis are the best accompaniment to international storytelling so he is therefore a perfect martini guest.

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I remarked that I should try and make a martini out of the sauce for him. I have already talked about my love of Sri Lanka so it should come as no surprise that I love spicy food, while I have previously made spicy martinis here, here and here. However, I think my friend was appalled at the suggestion of a Sriracha martini. And perhaps rightly so: you shouldn’t mess with a classic, let alone two.

Nonetheless, I persevered, and I was pretty happy the first time round.

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– Take a strip of lemon peel and squeeze the oil out of it into a chilled martini glass.
– Add a measure of sweet vermouth
– Add a dash of Sriracha hot sauce (or to taste – it’s spicy!)
– mix the two together, then top up with chilled gin or vodka
– stir the drink with the lemon peel and add it as a garnish (you might want to shape it with a knife so it looks neater).

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It’s very spicy, with a hint of lemon, and is good for whetting the appetite.

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As far as accompaniments are concerned this martini goes very well with seafood. I would recommend chilled oysters, prawns or salmon as an accompaniment, possibly even with avocado. I think the cool, oily/fatty fish compliments the fiery drink. Here I served chilled king prawns on a bed of lettuce with Peking duck sauce with sesame seeds. I’m sure there are more sophisticated accompaniments than something I poured out from a jar but I just got home from work and wasn’t intent on doing anything more fancy. I also served some spicy broad beans as well.

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Another new snack I recently found in an Asian supermarket was roasted salted soy beans which was a nice, non-spicy accompaniment for the martini.

This drink would also be a good aperitif before some Thai food.

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You might even want to drink it while watching a live Thai dancing performance.

In fact, if you drink a few of them you could probably join in.

Chon Gow!

The Lemon Drop Martini with Foam

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This is a slight variation on a classic American cocktail. I first encountered the Lemon Drop in New York. A barman asked me what I wanted and I said I felt like something strong and astringent. It’s a very simple combination of sweet and sour, and it’s easy to make at home. Leave out the egg white and the frothing process in this recipe if you want an even simpler drink. For two martinis you will need:

* The juice of 1 lemon
* The white of 1 egg
* Sugar
* Sweet Vermouth
* Gin or vodka (it’s more conventional to use vodka)
* Chilled martini glasses

– Pour the lemon juice and 2 measures of vermouth into a large cup
– Add 2 teaspoons of sugar and stir until dissolved
– Pour the mixture into a bowl and add the egg white
– Beat well until the mixture is thoroughly blended and a thick, velvety foam has formed on top of the liquid
– Rim the martini glasses with sugar
– Using a spoon or fork to hold back the foam, pour the liquid into the martini glasses, about half way up.
– Fill up the rest of the glasses with gin or vodka, leaving a space of around 3-5mm. Lightly stir the mixture.
– Pour over the foam until it has covered the top of the drink and reached the rim of the glass
– If you like, you can sprinkle some grated lemon rind over the top of the foam to add even more zest, although I preferred it without

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The drink is sweet and sour with contrasting textures of sharp zesty alcohol, rich foam and the crunch of the sugar rim.

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