Our Second Pop Up Martini Bar

Thank you to everyone who came to our martini pop up bar at the end of October.

We held it in ‘the Gallery’ on the Main Street of Tobermory, Isle of Mull.

At the end of the tourist season I hoped that it was a chance for locals to relax and try something different. It was also a bit of a send off for us and our staff, including our manageress Catriona who celebrated her 21st birthday on the night.

Unlike our pop up bar in July, the night was dark and it was too cold to be outside, so we went inside and set up the tables, switched on the heaters and lit all the candles, then hoped it would all work out.

We were only open for a short while: 17:00 to 20:00 with last orders at 19:30 to allow everyone to finish their last martini at a leisurely pace.

The week before we also held a Facebook competition. Whoever liked and shared the pop up bar announcement would enter a prize draw for a free martini and a martini-related gift.

We put together a large martini glass filled with champagne truffles from the Tobermory Chocolate Factory (you can order online here and they deliver anywhere in the world) and awarded it to one lucky winner who happened to be my former teacher.

I wasn’t as nervous as before the last pop up bar we did because I knew the concept worked in principle. I also had all my equipment lined up in order. However, it was darker and colder than during our summer event so I was worried that it wouldn’t be as comfortable or warm enough in our giant old church.

I also thought that because the tourist season was over, no-one would turn up.

However, in the end, the atmosphere was nice, it was warm enough, and the venue was full. I made dozens of martinis and was happy to see people enjoying themselves, especially after a long summer.

Our excellent chef also cooked up some amazing blini, which we served on platters with smoked salmon, sour cream, fish roe and miniature croque-monsieurs. Absolutely delicious and the perfect accompaniment to a cold martini.

So, all-in-all, a fun night. And now we’re ready for winter. Thank you to everyone who came, and thank you to all our amazing colleagues who made it happen.

The Henri Toulouse Lautrec in Kennington, 3/5

The Henri Toulouse Lautrec is no ordinary venue. People travel here from all over the world for its live music performances. It also serves fantastic food.

However – the martinis do not hit the mark just yet, but with a little re-adjustment this place could be a cocktail bar with real punch – a Moulin Rouge of south London.


I would struggle to describe the venue accurately: the friendly, strange, shabby-chic, bohemian, French, Anglo-French, theatrical, run-down yet sophisticated Kennington brasserie and jazz bar caters to many tastes.

It’s not gimmicky or faddy, it’s more established and reputable than that. It’s got the staff and the skilled chefs and musicians too. The food is excellent by the way – and they deliver, although you wouldn’t get to experience the atmosphere.


The bar doesn’t seem to fit in with its Elephant and Castle environs (this is a good thing). Indeed it seems to have survived much longer than any of the other buildings in this part of the city. 

Something about it gives me the impression that we might have to sign petitions in the coming years to save it from ‘gentrification’ and being turned into a soulless block of luxury apartments. Londoners – you know what I’m talking about!

For now though, it enjoys a crammed timetable featuring live acts every night. This three-floor venue can get very busy. However, during the ‘violet hour’ – that precious cocktail moment that lasts somewhere from 5pm until dinner time – the venue is often virtually empty. In-keeping with continental culture, the diners tend to arrive later in the evening to eat.

I feel that some sort of invigoration of the cocktail bar, maybe the creation of an ‘aperitif happy hour’ could boost this place no-end, increase profits earlier in the evening, while enhancing rather than compromising its French ambience. For instance, they could name their happy hour cinq á sept (which literally means ‘5-7’ and is usually used to refer to a post-work drinks event in Quebec) or l’heure du bonheur (literally ‘the hour of happiness’). I would definitely attend.


Of course, the aspect I would focus on most prominently would be the martini. This bar has great potential. The servers ask all the right questions: which gin would you like it made with? Shaken or stirred? Sweet, dry or dirty? Olive or lemon twist?


However, neither the glasses nor the gin are cold, while excessive stirring and shaking the drink with ice left it noticeably watered down. The bar was also left unattended for fairly long periods of time. I believe the staff were helping out elsewhere. Perhaps if they had a dedicated cocktail waiter here during the crucial martini o’clock period this place would have a much higher footfall at that time of the day and we wouldn’t be left waiting around for service.

I liked the lemon garnish – an appealing shape to watch spiralling and contracting as you swirl the drink. I don’t think it was properly squeezed into the glass before pouring but it was long enough for the oil and citrus flavour to permeate the drink quite nicely.

I must also point out that their Negronis are excellent. Bravo.


The nibbles we ordered were also delectable. The Henri Toulouse Lautrec really excels at its food. I would otherwise prefer blinis that you can eat with one hand while you hold your glass with the other, but I will forgive this inconvenience purely because of the taste of this smoked salmon dish. It was delicious.

So, in summary:


  • It’s a great venue with charm and character
  • The food is excellent
  • It has huge cocktail potential


  • The gin wasn’t cold enough
  • The martini was too watered down
  • The bar was unattended for long periods
  • The place was empty during cocktail hour – perhaps the latter could be fixed by addressing the former three issues.

The Henri Toulouse Lautrec is worth many visits and I am very fond of this venue, so I hope that my criticism is seen as a demonstration of its huge potential from a martini perspective rather than a damnation. I will definitely be calling back for an encore or three.


Mamuśka Polish bar and restaurant, E&C, London

This isn’t strictly a post about martinis but I am making a special mention of this tasty bar/restaurant Mamuśka, not least because of the way they treat their spirits (which is well, by the way).

The ultimately satisfying carb-fest ‘placki ziemniaczane’ (pancakes made out of potato) will put you into a sumptuous ‘food coma’.

For years Mamuśka restaurant has been a regular visiting spot for Elephant and Castle residents, as well as many from the Polish community throughout London. With the impending destruction of the Elephant and Castle shopping centre they have now moved premises all the way across Elephant and Castle roundabout to occupy the space previously filled by “My Big Fat Greek Restaurant” (where did they go by the way?). We wish them well. The new venue is bigger with additional outside seating.

There’s a fun atmosphere with some really friendly staff on hand to assist. The menu is also clearly designed to welcome non-Polish people to experience this rich culture and warming cuisine. Mamuśka (which means “Mum” by the way) also aims to provide lovingly prepared home cooking to the many Poles living far from home.

The simple, wholesome and extraordinarily comforting fare in an unpretentious cafeteria-type setting is perfect for either a quick meal or a relaxing evening with food and drinks.

Do note, however, that if you ever eat here with a hangover you WILL fall into a deep food coma afterwards. It’s cheap and deliciously filling.

However, I feel a particular need to mention Mamuśka on my blog because of the way they serve their vodka (they also serve a nice array of beers).

They keep the vodka and the glasses in be freezer. I sounds simple but there is a long list of London cocktail bars who do not do this. Temperature and simplicity are two key aspects when preparing a martini so if Mamuśka ever decided to add them to their menu I know they would do them well. Perhaps they could call them Mamuśka’s ruin.

Martinis or not, this is a favourite spot of mine. I would recommend dropping in for a relaxed, friendly and tasty visit with some excellent drinks to accompany your pierogi, śledź and other tasty bites. Your mother would approve.

How to cool down your gin very quickly

Here is a little tip my brother taught me. If you need to cool down a bottle of gin and you don’t have a lot of time (say an hour or so) don’t panic, you can do the following:

Take some kitchen paper (one or two sheets).

Run them under the tap then wrap them around the bottle. Put it in the freezer for an hour. It should cool down a lot faster than normal.

Thus allowing you to enjoy a cold martini in record time. Phew!

As an added, slightly unorthodox benefit, you can peel off the frozen kitchen roll and use it as a soothing face mask. Just a suggestion.

How to make a really cold martini

Have I emphasised the importance of temperature in a martini before? Oh yes. Yes I have. So when you’re making a classic martini you can use these tips to get it really cold.

Keep your gin and glasses in the freezer. If you want added chill, spray the glass with water at some point during the freezing process (at least 30 minutes before serving time). When you’re finished it shouldn’t just be frosty, it should be frozen, with solid sexy globules of ice dribbling down the side of the glass.

It goes very nicely it your gin has frozen to the extent it has ice crystals in it as well.



One of the most vital elements of a martini is the temperature. It has to be cold. Extremely cold! It is for this reason that I keep the gin and the glasses in the freezer. The glasses should be in there for at least 10 minutes (but preferably a few hours – and I normally just keep them in there permanently). The gin should ideally be in there for at least a day if possible.

When I see someone putting gin in a cocktail shaker with ice cubes to cool it down I realise that (a) they haven’t kept their gin in the freezer (b) the glasses probably haven’t been kept in the freezer either and (c) they are now watering down premium quality alcohol with ice cubes. They will then likely present a room-temperature glass of almost neat gin, often garnished with a piece of lemon peel they seem to put more effort in to than any other aspect of the drink. In my opinion, this is utter madness. I’d rather have a nice drink than a fancy garnish, and I imagine that most people would agree with me.

Note that I don’t keep the vermouth in the freezer as it would freeze solid. Gin shouldn’t freeze solid unless its very bad quality or you only have a small amount in the bottle. Sometimes it can partially crystallise. If this happens, it looks lovely when you pour it but bear in mind that the martini will taste much drier than normal for the first minute or two before those hypnotic crystals melt.

When it comes to chilling the glasses I’ve seen people do a crazy thing when they put water into the glasses and then ice cubes to try and cool down the temperature, before they discard the ice and water and serve the martini. This is messy, time consuming and ineffective. Rinse the glasses under the tap and put them in the freezer for several hours, maybe overnight. I keep them in there permanently because you never know when circumstances demand a martini at short notice.

If you need a cold glass in a hurry (perhaps if you’ve had a martini and it was so good you want another one), run the glass under the tap and put it in the freezer for 5-10 minutes. Its not ideal but it’s just enough to get it to freeze.

If I have the time, I might take the frozen glasses out of the freezer in advance of a planned martini and quickly flick some water on them before putting them back in. These water drops freeze onto the exterior of the glass which makes it look a little bit more dramatic. It also means that it takes the glass a little more time to thaw so your martini stays colder for longer.

All of the above may seem like quite a bit of faff, but I wouldn’t do it if the temperature wasn’t an integral aspect of the drink. Also, if bartenders spend ages peeling, slicing and twirling pieces of lemon peel to perfect their drink, then maybe it isn’t that crazy to spend 20 seconds simply putting the gin and glasses in the freezer in advance of pouring the drink.

Having tried and tested these techniques I can confirm that it is a very simple and easy process. When you first sip your own home-chilled martini I think you’ll agree that I’m right!