10 Hotels for The Best Martinis This Christmas
by Adrian Mourby (November 2015)
I’ve long had a theory that there are tribes when it comes to alcohol. There are beer people, there are whisky people, there are white wine people and red wine people (two sub-tribes) and there are gin people. It’s not to do with how much you drink -or being an alcoholic- it’s to do with what drink brings a smile to your lips at the first sip. The funny thing is that gin people, like all tribespeople, know and recognise each other. I certainly do. If I’m sitting at a bar and I hear someone order a martini I find myself leaning in to hear which gin, whether it’s dirty or clean, twist or olive. Very few people ask for the drink to be shaken these days. James Bond’s dubious habit was all about watering down the gin - shaking adds more water by breaking up the ice – and who wants to do that? These days some of the best martinis in Britain are served at our hotels where the barstaff have the time to perfect their skills – and people like me are willing to be their guinea pigs. So here is my selection of the best hotel martinis to have this Christmas. I hope at least one of them will bring a smile to your lips. It took me ten weeks to research this editor’s pick and that is probably about the right rate of consumption if you are to enjoy this remarkable cocktail.
Showing below are all 6 records in "10 Hotels for The Best Martinis This Christmas"
St James's Place, London
Given its long association with Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, it’s not surprising this small West End hotel bar sports displays a large photograph of Sean Connery in character as cinema’s favourite martini-drinker at its entrance. The staff clad in immaculate white jackets, and a good many of them are Italian, none more so than Alessandro Palazzi, head barman. Alessandro recently created the Fleming 89, a new martini in partnership with London-based perfumery Floris, whose “89” Eau de Cologne was famously worn by Bond. A great showman as well as an accomplished mixer of drinks, Alessandro is famous for his old martini trolley, which he brings to your table to mix the sacred cocktail in front of you. One of his coup de theatres is to show a Churchillian disdain for vermouth by putting only a drop or two in a chilled glass – and then flicking it on the carpet. When I was last at Duke’s Maurizio Schiavone , the assistant bar manager, was deputising for Alessandro. He produced a chilled bottle of Plymouth Gin, wiped out a chilled glass with white vermouth and presented it with a twist of lemon and three olives on the side. “Very simple,” I said after my first sip. “Very simple to make, very simple to make wrong,” he replied. That’s style.
1 Princes Street, Edinburgh
In the mighty Balmoral Hotel overlooking Waverley station bar, supervisor Costa Ilkevic reckons to serve over 100 gin martinis a month followed by around 90 vodka martinis and just over 60 vespers (Ian Fleming’s notorious gin with vodka and Lillet). “The majority of our customers are experienced martini drinkers,” says Costa. “They usually know what they want but we are very pleased that many of our customers prefer Scottish gin brands like Hendricks (from Girvan) and Botanist (Islay)”. English favourites tend to be Bombay Sapphire and of course Tanqueray 10, which was invented by a Scotsman, Mike Hodges. It was Mike who recently came up with the “Christopher Wren” a new floral gin for City of London Distillery whose launch was attended by the Lord Mayor himself. The Balmoral’s “Perfect Tanqueray 10” martini is stirred rather than shaken, served in Tanqueray’s own branded metal martini glasses chilled in the fridge, and finished with pink grapefruit twist on the rim. Costa’s team use Noilly Prat dry vermouth (two sprays per glass) and offer a wide range when it comes to the garnishes. They also even offer a smoky martini with a rinse of 10 year old Laphroaig whisky that I’m looking forward to trying ion my next visit. For those who feel a little intimidated by all these specifications, the bar’s cocktail menu has its own martini page, which describes your options in exact but gentle detail.
53 Park Lane, London
Giuliano Morandin is one of the most charming bar managers in Britain, and he makes any evening spent at the Dorchester special. The fact that Giuliano has worked here for 33 years shows in his total command of the bar and it’s a tribute to the Dorchester that his deputy, Simon has been with him for 30 of those 33. Getting it right gets easier the longer you work at it. When I asked Giuliano for a gin martini he suggested his Perfect 10, a drink he invented when Tanqueray 10 was launched as a premium martini gin. Diageo invited ten well-known barmen across the world to come up with a martini that could be made in ten special stages. The Perfect Ten uses Lillet Blanc in lieu of vermouth, and grapefruit bitters made to Giuliano’s own recipe. It’s a delicious, gentle and complex drink, less aggressive than the ultra-dry martinis that are common today. Giuliano runs a bar that is dark, busy but extremely friendly. It’s decorated with long red glass tubes that are reminiscent of the flames of some infernal region - but everything else is heavenly.
East Street, Turners Hill
Alexander House in Surrey dates back to Jacobean times with some harmonious Victorian additions, but its bar is decidedly modern with five padded lime green bar stools pulled up to a shiny wooden counter. Here I sat to talk to the barman, Milan Hegedus from Hungary. Milan admits to not being a martini drinker himself but he made me a fine variation on the standard dry martini. It used Tanqueray 10 with, once again, a drop of Lillet plus a splash of smooth single malt Scotch whisky. Of course it was stirred not shaken, and poured straight into a chilled martini glass. Milan likes to garnish with either a lemon or orange twist. His one variant is to use Little Bird, a new gin produced in South London that features grapefruit, sweet orange peel and Ivory Coast ginger amongst its ten botanicals. The addition of whisky was a pleasant surprise. It gave a warming quality to this martini, making it very welcome on a winter’s evening.
Hall Road, Kesgrave, Ipswich
At Kesgrave Hall in Suffolk Joshua Vartan, Assistant Restaurant Manager, considers Sipsmith, the renowned Chiswick gin, the best for his martinis. He also rates Sipsmith’s vodka , if you prefer your martini made with East European petrol. “Sipsmith gin has subtle flavours,” he announced one dark evening recently. “Gentle orange marmalade, lemon tart and even hints of liquorice. This leaves a refreshing but mouth-watering, more-ish sensation”. Joshua always asks guests three simple martini questions: Gin or vodka? Shaken or stirred? Twist or olive? I was surprised when he told me that most guests still go with the theatre of their martini being shaken rather than stirred. As far as I’m concerned this creates a gin slushy but the customer is always right. Seeing my surprise Joshua conceded, “But those who know their cocktails go for the stirred option to really appreciate the flavours”. Joshua describes his bar (accurately) as “relaxed but buzzing”.He also likens it to “a saucepan and about to bubble over” which I’m not so sure about. I’m glad it was quieter than that the night that while I was there. By the way, for those with a sweeter tooth I’d recommend Kesgrave’s own invention, the Flirtini. It's a raspberry vodka cocktail with a sugar-rimmed glass, and Sipsmith vodka, of course
Oxford Road, Aylesbury
The bar at Hartwell House was originally a dining room in the Jacobean wing of this National Trust property, built in 1620. Its panelling and carved oak fireplace give a good idea of how warm and cozy the room must have felt in the seventeenth century. There are a series of paintings of Hartwell House circa 1720 on the walls. These are recent copies of Balthazar Nebo originals that were painted in Italy. Immediately beneath them a long bar displays the hotel’s huge collection of spirits, including eight gins – Hendricks, Sipsmith, Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray, Plymouth, two Gordons and the Botanist, a Scots gin from Islay that infuses 22 botanicals. The hotel’s classic martini is usually made from Tanqueray and the drinks menu reminds us – quite rightly – that a dry martini should be stirred not shaken. Enough said. If you’re staying or dining at Hartwell House do check out the remarkable Jacobean staircase with its carved balusters. Many of the figures are historical or mythological, but in the twentieth century Winston Churchill and G.K. Chesterton were added. After a cocktail or two see how long it takes you to find them.
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