Friday, March 17, 2006

Guinness Martini

As it is St Patrick's Day, I had a little look around for an appropriate martini recipe to post. Alas, all I came up with was this:

1 oz espresso
3 oz Stoli® Vanil vodka
1/2 oz Tia Maria® coffee liqueur
1/2 oz Bailey's® Irish cream
1/2 oz Kahlua® coffee liqueur

Call me a purist, but I would have thought there should be GUINNESS in a Guinness Martini. I officially rename the above a Black Russian Insomniac with Delusions of Grandeur. Bloody nice on ice-cream, but put it in a martini glass and incur the wrath of the ghost of Churchill. (Apparently this drink originated in Dresden. You do the math.)

To modify the above to create a real Guinness Martini, exchange vodka for Guinness, remove espresso, Tia Maria, Bailey's and Kahlua, serve in pint glass with potato garnish (as per Major's suggestion), follow up with a neat Jameson's and a loud song about some slapper you kissed by the old canal.

In search of the perfect WHAT?

I'm not going to ruin the surprise by making any comment. Just click and marvel.

The grand history of gin

"By 1727, England was consuming 5 million gallons of gin per year--a pretty astounding figure for a population of only 6 million. By 1736, public drunkenness and dissolution had become such a problem in London and other cities that the government passed the Gin Act in an attempt to restrict the production and sale of the rotgut responsible for such widespread dissolution."

- Forbes Magazine

Thursday, March 16, 2006

American Bar, Savoy Hotel, London

As work has seen fit to ship me halfway across the world to sunny London, I thought I'd take the opportunity to do a roving review. This mission found me last night at the American Bar in the Savoy Hotel, with one of my friends from work as a guest club member.

Now you might think that as gin is a British concoction getting a good martini would be easy in London, but you would be wrong. The British like their gin with tonic (and also use it to pickle members of their royal family). The dry martini is an American invention, and accordingly the only places to drink good martinis are big plush hotels with a significant American clientele (apparently - clearly as I've only been here for two weeks I haven't made an exhaustive search).

The menu was promising. After a false start, with an earlier page called "martinis" containing only funny vodka drinks with little or no resemblance to the real thing, I found the proper martini page of the menu. Ignoring the prices (it's best to do that in London I've found, otherwise you retreat in fright from just about every purchase you want to make), the choice was rather overwhelming. The Savoy provides the option of six different gins (Tanqueray, Gordon's, Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray '10', Plymouth and Junipero), three different vermouths (Noilly Prat, Martini & Rossi and Cinzano) and a barrage of garnishes from the standard olive or lemon twist through to other variants such as cocktail onions. And so into the breach!

In order to sample this menu appropriately we each decided to have different gins in our martinis. I started with the Plymouth and Helen had the Junipero. Noilly Prat and an olive garnish for both. I asked the rather posh, tuxedo-clad (white jacket if you please, not a "dinner suit") waiter for a dry martini, and then when he started talking about opening the bottle of vermouth and showing it to the gin I had to elaborate - not Churchill dry (which is just an excuse to drink straight gin really - but hey, his alcoholism got the British through WWII), rather with a hint of vermouth to balance the gin.

While the martinis were in progress (sadly as we were seated away from the bar I cannot relate martini construction techniques), we were brought some rather nice salted almonds and some olives. I like it when they bring you free nibbles - it also helped us to have a balanced dinner - gin (carbs), some olives (fruit and veges) and some nuts (protein).

The martinis were fantastic. The Plymouth is rapidly emerging as my favourite gin - slightly oily, very flavoursome, not too overpoweringly "junipery"... Whatever the bartender did, he did it right - there was no trace of wateriness, it was icy cold and well-balaced to highlight the flavours of the gin. Made exactly to order, with a touch of vermouth and a couple of plump green olives. The Junipero was a little stronger on the botanicals - less to my taste but nevertheless very drinkable. It's the kind of gin that grows on you (although many things grow on you as you work your way through a martini!).

With the first round down, we were having too much fun to leave, so we had another round. Helen opted for a cocktail this time, while I sampled the Tanqeray 10. This was a new gin for me and I like it a lot. It's milder than the standard Tanqueray and seems to be perfect for a contemplative martini, as opposed to the times when you want a pushy martini. Again, the martini itself was perfectly constructed. So, on to round three! The standard Tanqueray this time, which wasn't really on par with the previous offerings as gins go - at this price point I prefer Bombay Sapphire. The bartender, however, proved again that he is a skilled man with a martini spoon, as you can tell by the fact that I'm talking about the flavours of different gins and not how crap the drink construction was! By the time we toddled into a taxi (£90 of drinks later, ouch) we had had a truly excellent night. One to try yourself if you come to London.

The Martini

Spectacular. I'm taking off half a star because of the staggering price tag (£12, which is approximately A$30) and the fact that the olives were stuffed rather than whole. Admittedly this gets around the whole messy olive pip issue if you want your bar to stay nice and neat, but it does mean that the olive stuffing distracts your palate a bit.

The Bar

Very comfortable but not really hugely distinctive. It's trying to act out its glamorous past, but honestly anyone can just drop into five star hotels these days (for example, we did!) - just putting a picture of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall on the wall does not a movie star magnet venue make. That said, perhaps I'm being unfair. The service was truly impeccable and the surroundings were relaxed and fashionably art deco retro. The jazz piano was a bit wallpaper-ish, but then I don't imagine the patrons are there for the music. Overall it was a comfortable place to spend 3-4 hours drinking.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Lord Roberts Hotel

Well this, the second official review, is almost exactly a month late. To be honest, this is because I'm the laziest man alive, but what I'd like to say is that I was too traumatized by the experience to discuss it before now. What's more, this place was my suggestion, so now everyone in the club thinks that I just wanted to go there because it's close to my work. I'm going to butt out of the venue suggestion process for a while.

I actually proposed the Lord Roberts Hotel because of a previous positive experience. If you'll bear with me, I'd like to narrate that experience first in order to (a) justify my choice; and (b) lessen the chance of the Lord Roberts suing me for what is to come. So if you're sitting comfortably then let's begin.

I was there with some workmates and, after discovering that the cocktail bar was open, decided to indulge myself with that king of beverages the purpose of this forum it is to discuss. The barmaid(1) took my order very seriously and began a mixing process which in my many martini-drinking escapades I had never come across. Essentially, it began with a throw-away of Noilly Prat(2) vermouth in the shaker. Then fresh ice and Bombay Sapphire gin were added, and the nascent martini poured repeatedly through a strainer into a large tumbler and back into the shaker. Unfortunately a pre-serving taste by the creator (a nice touch that), indicated that the vermouth was off, and the whole process had to start again. What's more that was the last of the Noilly Prat, so I had to settle for Cinzano Extra Dry. In all, however, this martini was worth waiting for. Well balanced, ice cold, and very enjoyable. What's more, the barmaid confided in me that when Baz Luhrmann (who lives just a couple of blocks away) is in town, he likes to drop by for a dry martini with a twist.

And now we come to the tragic bit (Ah hum. Ah hum.): The official review visit did not live up to this experience in any way.

The cocktail bar was basically deserted, and staffed by two girls, one of whom had never been behind a cocktail bar in her life. The other was trying desperately to fill our orders and teach her partner how to do her job. She earned my sympathy, and points for effort, but in this harsh world of hospitality criticism I'm afraid I'm going to have to tear her martini to pieces. The method was a fairly classic throw-away of Cinzano Extra Dry in the glasses, then Bombay Sapphire and ice in a large glass stirred with a bar spoon. So far, so good, but the gin must have been at room temperature because the resulting drink was barely cold, and diluted beyond recognition. Now I know why James Bond is such a hard case — you'd have to be to drink martinis like this regularly.

After a little gentle instruction from Steve, the second round was a lot better. I'd say "acceptable", but not "good". Something like what you might make for yourself at the end of a long night when you're far too drunk to prepare or imbibe such a refined, subtle, and potent beverage but also too drunk to know better.

We also ate dinner, which was similarly variable. My steak was good, but the bun on Steve's burger was stale. The "fancy" martini and dirty martini reviewers also challenged their taste-buds here, but I'll leave them to speak for themselves in the comments. In all, a disappointment, but good company and the experience of trying new places makes up for a lot.

The Martini

one-and-a-half martinisRanging from watery and barely drinkable to the dizzying heights of uninspiring and barely passable. Stick with the beer, or have someone else test the waters to see if the staff on the bar have it together.

The Bar

Not a bad place for an after-work drink or a bite to eat. The range of beer is good and with several rooms, three bars, pool tables, the cocktail lounge, and a rooftop terrace, this place is bound to appeal to most tastes — except that of the hardened martini-chaser.

Apparently Smithers has some photographs which he will be sending through once he's finished chasing all the terrorists away from the Commonwealth Games. I'll update this review when they arrive.

  1. Is it still PC to say "barmaid"? Do we perhaps prefer barista, baristessa, or (heaven forbid) mixologist? (back)
  2. Many claim this is the vermouth to use for a dry martini. Some also insist that you pronounce it like a Frenchman. Ha! (back)

Sunday, February 26, 2006

"Can I tell you what's messed up about James Bond. 'Shaken not Stirred' will get you cold water with a dash of gin and dry vermouth. The reason you stir it with a special spoon is so not to chip the ice. James is ordering a weak martini and being snooty about it".

President Jed Bartlett

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Martini gear

How cool is this? I want one.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Angry Martini?

Over on AskMetaFilter, someone is asking about an "angry martini."

Friday, January 20, 2006


The indomitable forces of history were at work in our choice of inaugural venue. Several esteemed members of this judging panel need not look too far back to recall their sordid love affair with this establishment. In many ways it defined our formative years, with its rigid discipline of happy hours and strict 2-for-1-of-the-SAME-DRINK-ONLY policy that tested our livers and maths ability to the limit. If their were three martini drinkers, the only fair option was a six-drink round, as fighting over spares or racing for the extras seemed uncouth to our temporarily gentrified taste.

In other words, we’ve knocked back a shit-load of gin in this place, so it seemed logical to start our search here.

Kuletos has always had a hit-and-miss aspect to its martinis. When we frequented the place regularly we knew which staff to aim for and which to avoid. This time, back after a considerable break, we had mixed results.

Here’s the bad news: my first martini was shaken. Not asked for, obviously. I didn’t specifically ask for stirred either, but nor should I have to. When I ask for Gazpacho soup I don’t have to ask the restaurant to chill it for me. It’s taken for granted, like the sun coming up tomorrow. I fear this is the Great Bond Beast’s repulsive second head, the first being that fucking atrocious habit of putting vodka in a martini glass.

Needless to say, my first martini was lacking in the clarity department. Here is a comparison:

The rest, however, were very solid - exactly what we expected. Once we found our mark amongst the bar staff we had a run of consistently good martinis – nothing special, but considering the price we had very little to complain about. One thing worth noting is the use of small blocks of ice. These, even when stirred gently, have the tendency to chip and scar the otherwise crystal clear liquid.

In short, a damn fine place to start an evening out. Not one for the martini connoisseur, but it's cheap, and let's face it, sometimes quantity must take precedence over quality. Perhaps Majors previous post sums it up best.

The Martini
A bit variable, but on the whole a good solid start to our search. No surprises, nothing special, but a generally well-balanced and tasty effort.

The Bar
Cosy and familiar. We've been heavily inebriated here so many times that the place feels like a second home. Very noisy, yes, but a good crowd - one filled with the quiet optimism that comes at the start of a long session of drinking.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

The First Review

Glurb Flur5t Blarb! MARTINI!!! Farmanahrah......

GIN YOU IMBECILE!!!! Tarblerhg...