London’s Best Martinis
Just Opened London’s ‘Best of’ series covers a combination of recently opened venues and established London favourites, to make sure you get the full lowdown on where to spend your time and hard-earned cash.
Rarely has a cocktail caused such a hullabaloo as the martini. With cocktail experts, fans and historians debating the origin, the method and ingredients hotly, one thing is for sure: James Bond was definitely wrong ordering his concoction to be ‘shaken, not stirred’.
Generally, a martini should be made using gin, an ice-cold martini glass and a tiny splash of vermouth to thinly coat the glass. A garnish of an olive is traditional, with the option of brine to make it ‘dirty’. Fleming’s protagonist preferred his martinis to be made with vodka – technically a vodka martini – which encouraged a slew of alternative recipes, from the Gibson (with pickled onion garnish) to the modern-day incarnations of espresso martinis, lychee martinis and French martinis, none of which really have anything to do with the original drink.
We don’t mind though, we’ll happily try them all. Here are some of our London based favourites…
12. Cardamom Martinez at The Trading House
The Trading House prides itself on using unusual and unique ingredients from around the globe and the cocktail list, in particular, is heavy on exotic tea and spice infusions. Their twist on the classic martini encompasses all of this: the Cardamom Martinez uses Tanqueray No. 10 stirred with deliciously floral green cardamom, elderflower, and traditional vermouth. The result is a remarkable combination of sweet and dry, all brought together with the gentle undercurrent of spice.
The Trading House, 89-91 Gresham Street, EC2V 7NQ
11. Anything on the Gin menu at Mr. Fogg’s Gin Parlour
You’ll find Mr. Fogg’s Gin Parlour within Mr. Fogg’s Tavern (enter via the semi-secret bookcase door), a space possibly even quirkier than its ridiculous big brother. Dedicated to the eccentric Victorian adventurer, Phileas Fogg, the gin parlour is a gin lover’s dream with over 300 gins and a plethora of complimentary botanicals lining the shelves.
The Victoriana-cum-speakeasy theme is done ad nauseum, but considering it’s brought to you by the same team behind Maggie’s, Bunga Bunga, and Cahoots this is unsurprising. Back to the gin though; if you can’t find a martini serve to suit you here, there’s simply no hope for you. If you’re absolutely going for it, try out the boozy afternoon G and tea and gin tasting workshops too.
Mr. Fogg’s Gin Parlour, 1 New Row, WC2N 4EA
10. Espresso Martini at Aviary
One of this year’s new al fresco rooftop openings (never fear: there’s shelter available with floor to ceiling windows if the weather worsens), Aviary is set on the border of The City and Shoreditch and as such comes accompanied with views across the square mile as well as the East.
As the name would suggest, Aviary is something of an ornithological paradise with a giant gilded bird cage suspended over the stairwell and peacock plumage galore, but for us, the main attraction is the fact there is espresso martini on tap. Yep; on tap. Take a seat around the large island bar and sink a few espresso, vodka and coffee liqueur fuelled cocktails, safe in the knowledge there are many, many more where that came from with no waiting for the shaker to do its business.
Aviary London, 10th Floor Montcalm Royal London House Hotel, 22-25 Finsbury Square, EC2A 1DX
9. The Ultimate Martini Experience at The Savoy’s American Bar
The beautiful and just-a-bit-glam American Bar at The Savoy has occupied a starring role in cocktail history since its opening in the late 19th century, with various supporting roles from the likes of punters such as Frank Sinatra and cocktail royalty cementing it as the longest surviving American Bar in London. Indeed, the Hanky Panky cocktail of Italian vermouth, dry gin and Fernet Branca all stirred together and garnished with orange rind was invented here by Ada ‘Coley’ Coleman – essentially a martini.
Otherwise, we strongly suggest you go all out with their Ultimate Martini Experience where Grey Goose Vodka is stirred down with Savoy bespoke bitters and vermouth and served in fine crystal glasses. You’ll be able to choose from garnishes of citrus peel, caviar-stuffed olive or homemade pickled olive. Oh, and you’ll be needing the six Jersey rock oysters to wash it all down. A fair price at £60, no?
The American Bar at The Savoy, Strand, WC2R 0ER
8. Sesame Margarita Martini at Rock and Rose
South West Londoners needn’t head into town for a decent martini, with Richmond’s Rock and Rose on the doorstep. This opulent, glam bar and restaurant is filled with rosy décor and more kitschy chintz than you can shake a stick at but still feels cool after ten years. Their alternative martini game is strong: choose from Rock and Rose Martini (it’s a Pornstar Martini, come on), White Choc Martini, Watermelon Martini, Lychee Blush Martini, a Virgin Passion Fruit Martini for the non-boozers and our personal weapon of choice, the Sesame Margarita Martini.
This intriguing combination is a good shot of toasted sesame seed infused tequila, Triple Sec, lime and Gomme syrup shaken, stirred and served with a half rim of black and white seeds.
Rock and Rose, 106-108 Kew Road, TW9 2PQ
7. Classic Dry Martini at 69 Colebrooke Row
Pitch up at The Bar With No Name for a classic dry martini with a difference thanks to the cocktail maestro extraordinaire that is Tony Conigliaro (actually best not to pitch up, but book, if you can). There’s a short list of house cocktails and a few are essentially extremely fancy martinis, but we suggest you get chatting to the bartender for something bespoke from the mind-blowing library of ingredients, or order a classic dry martini off-menu.
You’ll be rewarded with an icy cold glass of Beefeater gin, martini extra dry, made doubly dry with his specially concocted ‘dry essence’ made around the corner in his Drink Factory – a Heston Blumenthal-esque lab of flavour experiments. Sip, savour and swoon over the finished product in the film noir themed (tiny) room, with a dash of speakeasy thrown in for good measure.
69 Colebrook, Row, 69 Colebrook Row, N1 8AA
6. 70s Porn Star Martini at Coin Laundry
Ordering a Porn Star Martini is never going to look cool – a shame when it’s such a delicious drink – so you may as well go the whole hog and take yourself down to Exmouth Market’s Coin Laundry restaurant and bar for their 70s Porn Star Martini. The whole place takes inspiration from the 70s and 80s and you’ll find retro delights aplenty to amuse you while you wait for your mango flavoured martini with a Babycham chaser instead of the usual passionfruit and champagne combination.
The vibe is laid back fun with a fat slice of nostalgia thanks to a menu focussing on the comfort foods your mum used to make and the basement bar is complete with Battleships, Kerplunk and more. Order up a mini chicken Kiev or spag bol croquette bar snack to accompany your painfully retro drink and you’re away.
Coin Laundry, 70 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QP
5. Polish Martini at Baltic
Hardcore gin fans and cocktail historians will swear that a martini is not so unless its gin-based, but this Southwark Polish outpost puts up a seriously good fight in the case for vodka martinis. Housed in an eighteenth-century former coach builder’s works, Baltic is a light-filled bar and restaurant with high, trussed ceilings covered with skylights and plenty of white, clean lines.
The big pull of the place is that they have a dizzying 70+ varieties of vodka from around the Baltic states, each of which is served straight from the deep freeze in frozen glasses; and believe us, there’s an awful lot of difference from vodka to vodka so do stay to try a few. Their standout Polish Martini on the menu is made with Wyborowa, Krupnik Polish Honey liqueur, and Zubrowka Vodka and stirred up with clear apple juice. A martini triumph, whatever the spirit and we defy you not to have a salmon blini or Keta caviar snackette to accompany.
Baltic, 74 Blackfriars Road, SE1 8HA
4. Icelandic Martini at OSLO
The Scandinavian takeover happening throughout the London restaurant scene continues in Hackney with OSLO, a bar, restaurant and – chiefly – live music venue within a redeveloped old Hackney railway station. The restaurant is quite in-demand and you’ll need to book if you’re after some Nordic nibbles, but you can easily walk into the bar area which is more relaxed with a vaguely industrial feel. We’re here to talk about its excellent martini though, which in-keeping with the theme is their Icelandic Martini. Sticking fairly closely to the principles of what a martini should be, this one uses Miller’s Gin, pink grapefruit liqueur to sharpen and homemade chamomile syrup to sweeten.
Oslo, 1A Amhurst Road, E8 1LL
3. Martini Trolley at The Connaught Bar
The bar at The Connaught hotel is surely one of the best and most beautiful in town. The décor is heavily influenced by the 1920s and the no-reservations bar is a vision of glitzy silver and marble. With a long history of serving up perfect American drinks as a former American Bar, it’s little surprise that The Connaught Bar is renowned for its perfect martinis.
You’ll find no fruity, fizzy abominations here though; they claim to make ‘only the purest martinis’ to allow drinkers to appreciate the quality of the ingredients, and their Martini Trolley service takes the ceremony to the nth degree. Only ever ‘quietly stirred’, the trolley stocks premium gin and – gasp! – vodka brands and a Connaught exclusive Italian vermouth. The bespoke element comes from the extensive selection of botanicals including extracts of lavender, coriander, cardamom, ginger, grapefruit, vanilla and liquorice allowing the bartender to mix your perfect serve tableside. A must for martini fans.
The Connaught Bar, Carlos Place, W1K 2AL
2. Espresso Martini at Soho House
The espresso martini was apparently invented for a British supermodel who wanted to be simultaneously woken up and pepped up, way back in the 1980s. But when Soho House opened in Soho in 1995 it fast became its signature drink – well suited to media types who needed perking up after the 9-5 ready for a night of networking and partying. Their own recipe of vodka, Kahlua and good espresso, shaken with ice to a froth and topped with three coffee beans has become a massive hit and the Soho House recipe finds its way into many a cocktail book.
Short, sharp and refreshingly non-creamy despite the Kahlua, one of these will have you sorted for the night. If you’re not a member of this Soho media club, never fear, as the group is opening offshoots at an earth-shattering rate, so just stroll into non-members venues The Ned, Café Monico or High Road House to name a few and order the signature serve.
Soho House, 76 Dean Street, W1D 3SQ
1. Classic Martini at Duke’s Bar
Generally given to be home to the world’s best martinis, Duke’s is nestled in a discreet corner of Mayfair. The ambiance is distinctly British and highly traditional with a touch of the OTT. This is, of course, where Bond creator Ian Fleming spent many a cocktail hour and coined his famous ‘shaken, not stirred’ line after being inspired by the bartending. Duke’s have gone big with the Bond theme; there are rather a lot of Bond monikered cocktails (the ‘Miss Moneypenny’, the ‘Ian Fleming’s Classic Vesper’) and much in the way of storytelling and regalia too.
However, the martinis here are no gimmick. Legendary barman Alessandro Palazzi and his team prepare and serve all drinks in front of you using their famous trolley, with premium spirits, organic Italian vermouth, and glasses from the deep freeze. Things have moved on since Fleming’s day though, with smoother, more sophisticated spirits and Dukes’ acknowledgment of the trend for locality with plenty of London-sourced ingredients. The finished product is so lethal, they’ll only serve you two in one sitting, so sadly there won’t be any three-martini lunching here. Remember to dress up.
Duke’s, 35 St James’s Place, SW1A 1NY