The London Bar at Gatwick Airport

I had to fly last minute from London to Glasgow.

I was in Gatwick South terminal on a Saturday night. I had come through security but I hadn’t had dinner or a much needed martini. So off I went in search of something to quench my thirst.

The expensive caviar bar downstairs in the south terminal sadly doesn’t do martinis, although it has some exquisite vodkas and accompanying nibbles. 

Instead, I wandered upstairs and came across what looked to be my oasis in the desert: The London Bar.


Martinis were on the menu for £10, with the seeming ability to choose which gin or vodka you would like it made from.

I was quickly served by a friendly member of staff who asked if I wanted gin or vodka, but this seemed to be the extent of my choice. I was served Bombay Saphire without being asked if I would prefer an alternative. I was disappointed, given that they had an impressive selection including Martin Miller’s, the Botanist and Jensens gin, although Bombay is a suitable choice. 

Nonetheless, my server earned back points by using Noilly Prat as the vermouth and the drink was stirred, not shaken, which is to my preference, although a choice should be offered to the customer.

They offered me an olive in the martini as a garnish or lemon peel if I preferred which was another point earner. I chose lemon as per usual. Anyone can drop an olive in a glass but in handling a lemon a server reveals their skill and consideration. 

My server also peeled an exceptionally generous ribbon of lemon peel and wrapped it around a straw over the glass to impart a significant amount of lemon oil into the drink.


Again, this is to my preference as I like my lemon oil, although it is customary to use a smaller length of peel. Some drinkers prefer only a finger-nail-sized piece to flavour the drink. 

Furthermore, the garnish was so large that towards the end of the drink it kept falling from the glass onto my face like an unwarranted kiss from an unwanted lover.


Personally, even though I am a lemon fan, I would usually cut and shape the garnish after squeezing its oil into the glass.

This means that it looks nicer and you don’t have to wrestle the garnish with your face every time you drink. 

The size of the glass is also worth pointing out.

It is the correct size for a larger cocktail with several ingredients, but for a dry martini it was very disproportionate.


The setting was relatively cool, but as an airport lounge it’s always going to have a natural air of excitement. I liked the lighting around the bottles. It was what caught my eye in the first place. I found the seats slightly uncomfortable after 20 minutes, but luckily “the martini had landed” by this point. Otherwise, some of the seats had plug sockets to charge your devices, which was handy.

The only other thing I would recommend for a good martini would be to at least have the house gin and glasses kept in the freezer. Of course, space is at a premium in a small bar but I would pay premium for a good martini. Otherwise, at £10 per drink I would say that it’s not the best martini you’re ever going to have, but it’s good value for your money in an airport lounge.

If you go, specify which gin or vodka you would like in advance. And don’t miss your flight. 

French meets Japan supper club at Mirey’s Restaurant

My friends Gerry and Ko have set up a popup restaurant in south London, showcasing their creative talent and delicious food.


The event took place in the London Cooking Project, a community-run culinary initiative in Battersea aimed at fostering budding catering talent in the area.


We signed up and were provided with this tantalising menu.


During a fairly manic pre-Christmas week it was lovely to get a chance to relax and enjoy someone else’s cooking – especially given its sophistication. What a treat!


On arrival guests were provided with a glass of French cider blended with a fruit syrup.


Otherwise it was BYOB, although Ko and Gerry brought back a case of sake from a recent trip to Japan and I was highly intent on trying some. 


I chose a dry sake from Hokkaido (where Ko comes from) which went very well with our first course: generously sliced tuna carpaccio with a tongue-tingling garnish of shredded daikon, green apple and fragrant herbs spices. It wasn’t just diverse in terms of its flavours; the inclusion of shiso leaves (perilla) and pink peppercorns turned it into a full-mouth sensation.


Next came a delicious steak tartare, with croutons, edamame, spicy sauce and a raw quail’s egg among other things.


Delicious and light, it was a real treat of contrasting textures, including the croutons which were served inside the tartare.


Next came a delicious lamb dish. Encrusted in pistachio nuts, the cutlets were sat on a bed of aubergine in spicy miso sauce.


A truly international dish, the lime really enhanced and united all of the flavours.


The aubergines were also particularly spicy which I loved.

For dessert we were presented with a trio of sweets. From the left to the right we had a yuzu cheesecake biscuit which was light and refreshing, followed by a matcha green tea Yule log, then sweet adzuki beans with a sweet sake jelly.


The latter was my favourite, with its surprising, light textures.


The atmosphere was also really fun – relaxed and friendly, I made several new friends from Europe and Japan.


I’m very pleased to report that Ko and Gerry will be resident at the Cuckoo pub in Islington from the new year so be sure to check out their food and stay up to date with their work here!

Even more Izakaya food

If you’re wondering about what snacks to serve with a martini, you will find endless inspiration in the world of Izakaya.


Izakaya can be roughly described as relaxed and usually low-cost Japanese gastro-pubs. I have written about them quite a bit before, mainly because of their warm atmosphere and inspiring array of tasty menu items that go very well with a martini.


Quite a lot of these dishes, such as this hot edamame with salt and soy sauce, were snapped in Yumi, Soho, one of a handful of Izakaya in London.


These olives and edamame I did at home though. They’re easy.


Here is some kimchi and cold broccoli with sesame sauce. Simple but effective. Also in Yumi.


Kimchi is a Korean dish consisting mostly of pickled cabbage with chillies.


Pungent and served cold, it can be an acquired taste to some in the West, but I love it. It has even been inscribed by UNESCO on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, which is reason enough to give it a try at least.


This is some homemade lightly pickled mackerel (shime saba) with tsukemono pickles, spring onions, sesame seeds, cooked beetroot, soy sauce, grated ginger and lemon slices.


I think the strong taste of shime-saba pairs well with a bold martini.


It goes very well with a fiery ginger martini.


Here is some Yumi chicken yakitori with raw egg dipping sauce. Absolutely amazing.


Yakitori skewers are a common feature in Izakaya menus.


They’re a delicious and fairly substantial snack.


Inspired by the Yumi selection I made some grilled courgette skewers at home. They were dead easy. 


Rolling cut some courgettes into bite-sized chunks, grill them with some oil and soy sauce for about 20-30 mins, let them cool then thread them onto some skewers.

I put 9 pieces on each and fed them to some willing members of my family.


This is a Thai snack skewer, made of dried and seasoned fish. It has a sweet/umami/spicy taste and a texture like beef jerky.


More pre-packaged and possibly unhealthy snack food, but still tasty. Japanese peanuts coated in a squid-flavoured crunchy coating. It went well with a martini.


Here are some mussels in a garlic-cream sauce with chunky hunks of bread.


They can be slightly difficult to eat with a martini in one hand. It might be easier if you thread the mussels onto skewers first but that’s a bit of a faff.


It’s probably best to have a martini, eat the mussels, then have another martini.


You can see the recipe for these chilled scallops with paprika, seaweed-butter and lime canapés here.


You can probably guess that I love oysters.


I usually like them served as simple as they come.


Their rich oceanic flavour reminds me of being on the beach in the Hebrides when I was little. 


Living in central London it has to be a very evocative flavour to transport me over 500 miles and three decades in just one mouthful…


Anyway, back to Izakaya, sushi is also often served at these establishments. Here are some rough-hewn sushi rolls I put together.


This is a rather large uramaki (inside-out sushi roll) and not exactly the neatest you ever saw…


Loosely based on a California roll recipe, mine contained crab sticks, cucumber, avocado and wasabi.


(These aren’t mine)


I also spread some of my seemingly ubiquitous seaweed butter on the nori instead of using the more conventional mayonnaise.


I also made some smaller cucumber maki, also with seaweed butter.

Cucumber maki have a simple taste and a satisfying texture combining crisp nori, soft rice and the crunch of fresh cucumber.


They also go well with Hendricks gin, which is flavoured with cucumber and rose.


If you make your own rolls the ingredient variations are endless so try some out for yourself. 

Homemade sashimi is fairly easy to assemble.


Buy top grade fresh fish, gently but thoroughly rinse it in cold water. Pat dry then place in the freezer for about 45 minutes then slice into bite-size pieces and serve immediately with soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger.


Homemade sashimi might not resemble the expertly sliced morsels you’ll find in a proper sushi restaurant.


However, if the fish is good quality  it should stil be very tasty.


I served some tuna sashimi on sushi rice with omelette and pickles. Simplicity is the key. 

One of the nice aspects of Japanese Izakaya is the more relaxed, informal nature of the service and food.


Home-made style cooking is very popular at Izakaya, putting the emphasis on cosy comfort, relaxation and intimate care.


It’s more like being in someone’s warm, welcoming house rather than an intense fine dining experience, making it a very comfortable environment for a martini.


So if you’re lucky enough to be in Japan or a city with Izakaya venues be sure to check them out.


Otherwise, if you’re having a martini at home and fancy trying some more unusual snacks and appetisers have a go at some of these.


Itadakimasu!

Chilled scallop canapés with smoked paprika, seaweed-butter and lime

These sound fancy but they were quite easy to put together and can be made in advance, so they’re easy to serve if you’re having a party.


Get about one scallop per guest (or two if you want to make it a more substantial dish than just a canapé).


I love scallops. My dad was a scallop diver so they’ve never been far away from my consciousness.


Shell and lightly clean them.

Separate the coral. You can cook them at the same time as the white flesh and eat them when you like but don’t include them in the canapé itself.

Put the white flesh into the freezer for about 40 minutes. This will allow it to firm up.


Remove then slice horizontally, so that each scallop produces two or more thin discs of tender flesh.

Dry each piece with a paper towel.


Season both sides with a little salt and some paprika (smoked paprika if you can get it).

Heat some olive oil in a pan on relatively high heat.

Add the scallops and coral (in batches if you have a large amount).


Cook for about 40-50 seconds on one side (or at least until that side starts to brown – as in the above image) then turn over. Cook for about 30-40 seconds on the other side, or again until it starts to brown.

Remove the scallops from the pan and allow to cool to room temperature. Put them in the fridge.


Add a dash of soy sauce, a dash of mirin and half a teaspoon of honey to the pan. Stir and bring to the boil, then take off the heat and pour the sauce into a small dipping bowl.


When the time comes spread some seaweed butter onto a ritz cracker, or better still some miniature blini. Top with a slice of scallop and if you’re serving immediately pour a little of the dipping sauce over the scallop and garnish with a tiny sliver of lime peel. TINY. 


If you’re not serving the canapés immediately save the dipping sauce until right before you serve, cover the canapés and keep them in the fridge.

You can just eat the cooked coral on its own (I did; and I felt no guilt) or you can serve them separately with toothpicks and the dipping sauce.

The fresher the scallops, the better.


And naturally this goes very well with a martini. It’s an exquisite snack for even the most esteemed of guests.

Some more martinis

Just another selection of recent martinis…

A dirty one.


A clean one.


Both dirty and clean – photograph courtesy of Dr. Kirsty.


Watching the sun set.


Seeing the moon rise.


Feeling the summer fade.


Watching seasons come and go in general.


I guess one thing about a martini is taking the time to pause and enjoy things.


They are the most ‘zen’ of drinks and I love them. 

Fusion Food: Seaweed Butter for Martini Canapés


Seaweed butter on a cracker with tsukemono cucumber pickles in the background.


I recently enjoyed a discovery taster menu at the beautiful Michelin-starred Greenhouse restaurant in London’s upscale Mayfair area.


I didn’t have any martinis as I didn’t want to spoil my palette before the dining extravaganza but the setting was beautiful, the food utterly inspiring and the service convivial and professional; in-depth but relaxed. What a treat! It certainly set my martini-obsessed brain into overload thinking of new potential ideas and experiments.


The exquisite nine-course menu contained a range of surprising and inspiring combinations, including cauliflower mousse with crab meat and mint jelly; scallop and yuzu tartare; grilled beef and pineapple and even the most gourmet version of cheese on toast I’ve ever heard of.


Did I mention the oyster, abalone and lettuce ravioli in a dashi stock?

Taking me by surprise once again was the fact that one of the most notable dishes we enjoyed was the bread course near the beginning. We were offered a selection of bread types (I chose the Chestnut bread) and two types of butter with a pinch of salt: one standard doux (unsalted) butter and one mixed with Cornish seaweed. I instantly gravitated to the latter and I wasn’t dissatisfied! The salty, umami creaminess was unwordly.


So being the seaweed obsessive that I am, I tried to make my own version of the butter.

I tried to keep it simple as I’m not very skilled but evidently you can make a pretty tasty version without too much effort. Not a patch on the fine work of the Greenhouse but enough for me nonetheless.


It looks a bit gross but bear with me on this one.


I took 300g butter (I chose lighter Lurpak) and mixed it throughly with a generous punch of salt and three crumbled sheets of nori seaweed.


I then put it back into the butter tub and returned it to the fridge. I’m told it will last until the original sell-by date of the butter. Maybe even a little longer because of the salt. You should also be able to freeze it.


After that it’s fairy versatile! The salty-umami combination, served chilled, is highly tantalising on bread, crackers, oatcakes or rice cakes.


It can also be used to top cooked food such as potatoes or fish.

I’m still playing around with other possibilities.


Inspired by a combination of Japanese makizushi rolls and a traditional British snack I made a triple-decker cucumber sandwich using the seaweed butter and a smear of wasabi, then cut it into small squares to serve with some martinis.

New AND retro.

My friends who normally make fun of me for serving what they term “alien food” said they were surprised to find it quite nice.

Thanks for the support guys!


I also had a go using it with scallops…


As well as in sushi. I’ll blog about these later.

Otherwise I’ll keep on experimenting but if I’m honest it’s really nice simply spread on some good quality bread!

Till the next time…

More martini snacks and canapes

I’m just going to leave this here…

  

What could be easier than olives and cheese-stuffed peppers that you picked up at the shops on the way home? I particularly like the colour contrast of these two. Oh and the taste.

You can’t go wrong with the lemony-buttery taste of Nocellara olive flesh, while the soft creamy cheese paired very indulgently with the sweet piccante crunch of the pepper.

  
This one was also a little bit last minute. I threw together some Bombay mix, prosciutto and olives when a friend popped round unexpectedly. The Bombay mix didn’t really go with the other two, but it’s definitely very nice on its own.

  

Here are some nuts, arranged mindlessly while I stared into space sipping my first drink of the night. Salted pistachio nuts are my favourite, although some nice big fat macadamia nuts would go well with a martini too.

  
Simple, easy, light, savoury, Twiglets are an underrated canapé snack. They are the flavour and texture opposite of the martini. Where a martini is cold, smooth, heady, citrusy and ever so slightly sweet, these are light, crunchy, salty and savoury. They don’t look particularly elegant but the flavour contrast really works. They’re a guaranteed winner for marmite fans.

  
This one is a bit more fancy. Asparagus skewers, blini with taramasalata, maki rolls, sigeumchi-namul, crisps, a martini and candles…

  
A simple but slightly more edgy snack, here are some wasabi peas with a simple classic.

  
Extremely simple, but very tasty, here is some lightly pickled baby beetroot. I’m sure we could create some kind of pink-coloured beetroot Gibson Martini, perhaps similar to the Beet Up Vesper Martini at the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town bar in central London. 


Sea Aster is a seasonal coastal plant that flowers in the summer but is edible in the spring. Wash and eat raw or lightly boil for a minute or two. I got mine at a fish monger’s in Borough Market.


Mum bought these langoustines from Tobermory Main Street while I picked up the samphire on Oban pier on a trip back from London.


There’s a whole world of tapas-style ingredients and food types you could use. Above you can see chorizo, cold roast pork slices, feta cheese, olives, bread, houmous, oil  and duqqah.


You can turn the nibbles into your whole meal and really take your time with the martini. Above you can see crab open sandwiches, nuts, wood ear mushrooms, Korean-style spinach, roasted vegetables, seaweed, manchego cheese, Bombay mix, olives, bread, oil and houmous all to be slowly munched while you sip your cold gin.


Houmous is a relaxed martini accompaniment to have at home with informal company over a drink.


Here it is served with sliced pitta bread and a variety of mostly Mediterranean snacks.


My kind neighbour made me some lovely Middle Eastern sweets which I included in the meal.

The Arabic element of the food was especially good at soaking up some of the alcohol!


Dim sum was a surprisingly good – if slightly unconventional accompaniment.


Oysters are my favourite.


I also love creamy manchego cheese.


Finally though, the most classical martini snack will always remain the pitted green olive. If it’s all you have, you’ll be fine. And you won’t spoil your appetite for dinner.

A Bombay Martini


I was picking up some supplies in the supermarket when this gin caught my eye. Bombay London Dry Gin: more muted in appearance than its bright blue Sapphire  sister, it has a simple, almost stringently-coloured branding.

I am not a fan of floral or overly botanical gins in my martini so I though that this one with only 8 botanicals (to Sapphire’s 10) might provide a basic, clean, high street option so I took it home and chucked it in the freezer to find out.


A day later when the gin was thoroughly chilled, I made a simple martini, garnished with lemon peel and accompanied by the obvious snack of Bombay Mix.


The gin was less citrusy and floral than Bombay Sapphire. I love citrus notes, but I prefer them firstly in the aroma of the drink, ideally from the lemon peel I’ve just squeezed into it, then finally as a slow melting aftertaste which follows what I prefer to be a strong, leading juniper flavour. The Bombay Dry leads with juniper which was a nice surprise. It was overall less citrusy than I like, but this gives you the option of squeezing extra lemon peel into the drink if you want it, or leaving it out if you don’t. I know several martini fans who prefer less lemon in their martini so this one would make a good option. Otherwise, the botanicals were understated, much like the branding of the bottle.


There was a heat in the aftertaste of the gin which I don’t particularly welcome, especially in a martini which should be ice cold and ideally smooth. It reminded me somewhat of the warmth of the Botanist gin, a sensation which I think is more suited to a whisky than a gin. Nonetheless, for a high street brand I thought it was good value for money with a suitable clean and juniper taste.


As chance would have it my flatmate brought back a bottle of Bombay Sapphire the very next day. Absolutely perfect for a bare-faced comparison test. As you can see, the branding is far more exuberant. The blue-coloured glass is iconic, while the black and gold detail is positively regal, enhanced not least by the image of HM Queen Victoria.


I threw it in the freezer next to the Bombay Dry and whipped up another quick classic the next day.


Bombay Sapphire is lovely for a gin and tonic, especially for people who are otherwise put off by the strong juniper taste of standard gins. It has a smooth taste with complex spicy notes that dominate, followed by an almost sweet citrus aftertaste.


As expected, for me, Bombay Sapphire is not my gin of choice because I expect a strong, leading juniper flavour in my martini. It bolsters the almost surgical cleanliness of the drink while adding a sharp freshness evocative of a cold, winter pine forest.


However, the bold and admirable botanicals of the Bombay Sapphire were nonetheless pleasant and interesting. I love coriander and cardamom and while they might dominate my coveted martinis they were more like a temporary house guest. It’s a slight inconvenience and not as quiet as normal but it’s interesting to catch up. Furthermore, if gin isn’t normally your thing, or if you’re not especially keen on juniper, give this one a try in a gin and tonic or a martini. It has been described as a ‘gateway gin’ luring innocents into the sophisticated but Hogarthian danger of the gin world so for that I must salute it!


In summary, Bombay Dry is largely juniper, with a slight heat in the aftertaste, but good value for money. Bombay Sapphire is sweet and spicy and a good choice if you’re new to gin or not overly keen on juniper.

The Sun Tavern in Bethnal Green

This post isn’t about martinis but I wanted to tell you about a cool bar I visited in East London, as well as the wonder that is Irish Poitín.


I nipped into an Irish bar in Bethnal Green for a quick drink with some friends from Latvia and Lithuania. (Take that Brexit, we’ve got no place for your xenophobia on this blog).

Apart from a drunk, ignorant stag party from Liverpool chanting OutOutOut (a braying but ominously tinged with racism call of the Brexiteers), and a response chant of InInIn by the assembled London drinkers (our own Les Marseillaise scene from Casablanca) it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

The bar caught my eye from the outside. I hadn’t pre-planned the trip or scouted it out on Foursquare or anything. It just looked visually appealing, with lots of nice, rough-hewn wooden and metal furnishings.

The staff were very knowledgeable and attentive; hipsterish/trendy but not twatty. We sat at the bar so we could chat, interact and admire their extremely wide drink selection.

It was then that we stumbled upon their Poitín menu.


Poitín is an Irish spirit that I have heard a lot about, but had never tried. So we jumped right in.

Typically ranging in strength from 40-90% (yes you read that right – God bless you Ireland) it was illegal for centuries, not because of its strength, but because it couldn’t be regulated – and taxed. When farmers harvested crops such as cereals or beets the produce would be checked or removed so those pesky peasants couldn’t brew up their own illicit booze. Damn you big government! Apparently it was therefore often made from milk, because despite the confiscation of harvested vegetables, even the poorest families had cows to milk on a regular basis. So they would ferment and distill the milk to create this clear and absolutely intoxicating liquid wonderment and get absolutely shit-faced in defiance of the authorities, for hundreds of years.


Served as a chaser with some light lager or a pale ale (I preferred the lager) I was amazed at the smooth, fruity and refined text and texture of the drink. It was like a super-charged sake, or shochu in its purity but with a more complex interplay of taste and texture sensations that moved through the whole mouth. I didn’t mix it with water or ice. It was quite fiery but the follow-up sensation was one of extreme warmth moving down my tongue the way phosphorescence glides down the body of a squid in tropical water at night. It was quite the experience. My friends and I tried several different varieties. Even the 90% version, while having the potential to blow our heads off, was quite smooth and gently warming. It was a lovely treat.


Although I didn’t try anything else, the bar also does a range of cocktails, including bloody Mary’s and even one of my favourite drinks: The Michelada.

I was also a fan of the overall vibe and decor. So if you’re in Bethnal Green, give it a go. And if you’re not, get yourself over there for a good night! Just don’t plan too many activities for the next morning…

Martini Porn for World Gin Day

Happy World Gin Day everyone. To whet your appetites I’ve put together a selection of some martini images from the last few months. If you fancy making your own tonight, here is my guide.

Enjoy!

 
Lemon Drop Martini during a London Spring sunset. 

  

  
A classic martini, the most elegant of drinks.

 

Channeling Danish hygge at my aunty’s house.

  
A selection of classics with plenty of nibbles.

  
A classic with many olives. 

  
A lychee martini.

  
Classic martinis.

  

“No lace. No lace, Mrs. Bennet, I beg you!” – a classic Pride and Prejudice quote that had to go with this martini and doily at home.

  
As you may have noticed, martinis go well with candlelight.

  
A classic with Japanese peanut snacks.

  
A Gibson martini.

  
More candlelight, this time with a hot and dirty martini, complete with ice still attached to the glass from the freezer.


And finally, an optimistic classic on a London summer evening.

Have a good weekend and enjoy World Gin Day responsibly!