More must have been written about the King of Cocktails – the Martini - than any other mixed drink. For all this, why can so few barmen can actually master the technique? It’s both simple and complicated – both at the same time. Less show and more concentration would help. Manic shaking does not make a perfect Martini – shards are the Martini’s enemy.
I’ve made a three decade study of the Martini. I oscillate from week to week between vodka and gin – I have my favourites of both. They change too – sometimes it’s Ketel One, other times it’s Belevedere vodka. I’ve yet to taste Tyrell’s and the rebel yell there thrills me – telling a major supermarket to ‘go/figure’ is admirable. I know. I’ve done it. One also ‘welshed’ on £36k of mine so I’m a poor victim too – but they know who they are.
For gin my current prefs are Tanqueray, Plymouth and Ketel again – I must try The Original Bombay Sapphire too. Bitters are special in a fine Martini - orange is my first choice, grapefruit a close second.
Best Martini ever has to be Harry’s Bar in Venice – Claudio No 1 makes his in an over-sized Venetian glass jug from one bottle of gin or vodka plus a vermouth splash – a ratio of 15:1. They are poured into trademark small Harry’s glasses and slipped into a cold drawer below the bar. No olive, no twist, no onion (sorry Mr Gibson). Just wrapped in a crisp paper napkin and served ice cold. Bliss.
Straightway I think of Dorothy Parker. She said: “Ah the Martini Cocktail. One has me under the influence, a second has me under the table – a third has me under the host.”
The original American Bar at The Savoy was good before it closed for its make-over too – and before the young ‘tenders discovered mixing pre-frozen spirit in a pre-chilled Martini glass. The original glass designed for Harry Craddock was disposed of about ten years ago – more’s the pity.
Cross the Strand and dive downstairs into the welcome of Joe Allen. Their Martini’s never fail – and their glass kind of mimics the Savoy original – and that’s by accident, not design. Joe Allen is original. They don’t need to copy nobody.
My other great Martini moment was in my favourite US city, Portland (Oregon), where the young bar-lady made a near perfect mix, poured a few sips into a chilled shot glass sitting on crushed ice, with a tiny glass jug in the ice carrying the rest of the measure with a small dish of good olives on the side. Brilliant.
The old Pump Room was good at Chicago’s Ambassador East Hotel – old money, old world – the lobby was used in Hitchcock for ‘North by Northwest’ as a location. Booth No 1 was permanently reserved for Mr Sinatra in case he came into his ‘kinda town’.
So what’s the problem? Too much show and not enough technique and thinking ahead. How many times has the Martini been mixed and then I’m asked ‘olive or twist?’ – it gets worse. Say lemon and the ‘tender goes out back searching for a fresh lemon – then returns and spends too much time braiding lemon peel, complete with bitter pith, around something like a chopstick or pencil even. His now off-chill concoction is watery – the measure too large – and the celebration zero. Say olive and you usually get a Spanish hoja blanco green olive stuffed with red pimento paste - why did I ask for an olive I say to myself (I’ve been taken to the factories around Seville as guest of the Spanish and believe me, it’s disgusting).
Next post will be my prefered method with a story about a shaker, a gift to my father from his mother who had taken the pledge. It sat unused for years in the home drinks cupboard alongside her original certificate of abstinence.
Straight up, with a twist please.
PS One retiring old-school barman from The Mayfair Hotel once told me – in anguish of the new emerging style of T-shirted mixocolgists (sounds like myxomatosis) - “I can throw the bottles around as good as anyone – it’s just the catching I can’t do”.