Pharmacy 2 at the Newport Street Gallery

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Twisted martini with an extra serving of Black Cow

Yesterday, we took a trip to Damien Hirst’s fantastic Newport Street Gallery. After enjoying the Gavin Turk exhibition across half-a-dozen galleries, we had lunch in the top floor restaurant, Pharmacy 2. The space is not huge, so booking ahead is recommended, but food, by Mark Hix, is absolutely worth the effort. The surroundings are very similar to the original Pharmacy, but the new space is dominated by an almost full-length bar, backed by an impressive bar display & a long molecule display (I’ll leave it to pharmacists to tell me what drug has been modelled). Tables are close together, but the feeling is one of intimacy, rather than crowding, due to the lightness and colour of the space.

One of the key features of the restaurant is the impressive cocktail list – from the popular Hix Fix to more unusual numbers such as the Dragon (cider brandy, Tanqueray gin & apricot brandy). As a big fan of Black Cow vodka, I settled on a simple vodka martini with a twist to go with lunch. The drink was beautifully made and presented in a small coupette, and served with a side of an additional small bottle of Black Cow on ice, to top up my drink – an unexpected touch which was really excellent. The drink was just perfect – very dry, and stirred to the correct combination of temperature and dilution.

The restaurant serves food all day, but after ten turns into a bar with music and a smaller menu to accompany the drinks. Well worth making a trip to Vauxhall for.

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Espresso Martini

Espresso Martini at the Porthminster Café
Espresso Martini at the Porthminster Café

I have never been keen on flavoured Martinis, but our recent dinner at the Porthminster Café in St Ives featured an Espresso Martini on the menu. Seeing as I had started the meal with their Dark & Stormy, it seemed like a very good idea to try their coffee-based Martini as a post-dinner drink. The menu gave few clues to the ingredients, but my understanding of the original Dick Bradsell creation is that it shouldn’t feature many in the first place: a decent vodka, freshly-made espresso coffee and sugar syrup, and a touch of coffee liqueur, all shaken until you have a thick crema on the top of the  cocktail, then strained into a glass. The result is an instant pick-me-up. The Porthminster’s version was beautifully made, right down to the classic three coffee beans on the foamy head. You wouldn’t want to drink more than one, but as a way to finish a meal, it was perfect.

On reading Tristan Stephenson’s book, The Curious Bartender, I noticed his recipe omits the coffee liqueur. I’d be interested to know why; perhaps he finds it too sweet, but you could always lessen the quantity of sugar syrup to compensate for this.

Proportions:

50ml of good vodka (Grey Goose I believe)

20ml of fresh espresso coffee (preferably a mix of robusta & arabica beans)

15ml of sugar syrup (rich or simple, to your taste)

8ml of coffee liqueur (Kahlua I think was used here)

Glass: 3oz Martini glass, chilled

Shake well in a shaker over  ice, then strain into the Martini glass. Garnish with three coffee beans in the centre of the glass.

Update: Checking the menu at the Café, I spotted a detail that I had missed: the syrup was Tonka bean syrup. That explains the rich vanilla-y flavour that the cocktail had, as Tonka beans are like vanilla with knobs on. It is one of the major flavour components of Abbott’s bitters, which I understand causes a few problems in the US, where it is considered hazardous to health.

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Update (2): On Saturday night, I mixed another version of the espresso martini, using a recent find in Italy: Borghetti coffee liqueur. This is much less sweet than the usual Tia Maria or Kahlua, and to my mind, much better suited to this drink, as you can control the sweetness with syrup.

Shaken or stirred?

Entering into the shaken versus stirred debate with a cocktail purist without some prior preparation is much like making a Martini without preparation; the results are going to be disappointing for everyone.

The debate seems to have been around for ever, and to summarise the positions: the general theory is that shaking a drink results in a wildly different experience to stirring the same mixture, and that there are inherent superiorities in either method, depending on one’s particular views.

In popular culture, the starting point for all of this seems to be the famous request by James Bond for his Vodka Martini to be, ‘Shaken, not stirred’ (a quote wonderfully undermined in the re-boot of Casino Royale when an unhappy Bond snaps at the bartender’s query as to which way he wants his drink made with an angry, ‘Do I look like a give a damn?’). Since then, the shaken Martini has appeared cooler than the pedestrian stirred variety.

But the arguments for both sides have a few more planks than this, to wit:

• Shaking a Dry Martini produces a drink that is technically no longer a Martini; it becomes a Bradford. In reality, no-one I know uses the Bradford name any more, except perhaps scoring points for obscure knowledge.

• Shaking is a more brutal environment for the ice. Tiny fragments shatter off the cubes, resulting in lots of little pieces of ice in the drink. To some purists, this pollutes the drink; to others this creates a more refreshing, colder drink, with less water in the mix (the action of melting the ice during the mix means that up to a quarter of a Martini can be water (source: Rob Cassels, The Cocktail Keys).

• Stirring a drink is a gentler process, resulting in a drink that retains its clarity, whilst not being cooled to such an extent. A graphic example of this can be seen in Manhattan: Rye recipe versus my Manhattan: Bourbon recipe; I stirred the Rye-based drink, but shook the Bourbon – one can see the difference in appearance immediately.

• Some arguments are that the shaking bruises the gin/vodka/vermouth or whatever. I doubt this really means anything, but what shaking will do is introduce lots of little air bubbles into the mix, and much like letting a bottle of wine ‘breathe’ after opening, the act of letting air into a mixture can dramatically change the flavour of a drink.

Simple taste tests suggest that there is a point; a shaken Martini does taste different to a stirred one. Back in 2006, the LeisureGuy blog followed up on research in the New Scientist, which carried out a taste test on two Vodka Martinis, one using a potato-based vodka, the other with a grain-based spirit, and found there was a discernible taste difference between the two spirits. And going further than this,  the British Medical Journal has published a paper (BMJ 1999;319:1600) that studied the antioxidant effect of Martinis, as a result of their preparation method. Their conclusion? Shaking a Martini resulted in a lower proportion of Hydrogen Peroxide in the finished drink. Perhaps Bond was a health nut after all – he was famously sent to a health farm to recover & told Moneypenny that he was ‘On a mission to eliminate all free radicals’.

Fundamentally, the decision to reach for the shaker or the bar spoon will depend on one’s personal tastes. But a few points of my own:

• Stirring a Martini results in a clearer drink, but one that is not as cold as the shaken variety.

• A Vodka Martini tastes better to me when shaken, rather than stirred. The extra cooling action of the shaking seems to take the edge of the vodka. The notable exception to this rule is my experimentation with the Black Cow Vodka Martini recently; that tasted fine when stirred, but I had chilled the vodka in the ‘fridge before mixing.

• A Martini (i.e. made with gin) tastes discernibly better when stirred, not shaken. I do not like my gin cooled too much, and the mellower cooling of stirring seems to suit me better.

The Martini

Leisure Guy’s selfless testing of potato versus grain vodkas, and their effect on Vodka Martinis…

Later On

The Martini is among the best of cocktails, if not the best. (Cocktails, unlike highballs, are undiluted with water, juice, soda, etc.)

The Martini was so popular and well-known that Ian Fleming, to characterize James Bond as a person who flouted convention, had him favor a vodka Martini (a true Martini uses gin) and had it “shaken, not stirred.” Unfortunately, the “shaken, not stirred” line lived on in the public mind as Martini knowledge waned, so that today some believe that the Martini is supposed to be shaken and not stirred, a major mistake: if you use the Martini ingredients and shake rather than stir, you get not a Martini, but a Bradford, a drink that resembles the Martini except that it’s polluted with tiny ice chips that melt rapidly and dilute the taste.

UPDATE: The above paragraph is wrong, alas. Here’s the true reason why Bond wanted a (vodka)…

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Vodka Martini: Black Cow

Vodka Martini made with Black Cow vodka
Vodka Martini made with Black Cow vodka

I have to admit to no great fondness for flavoured vodkas, except for a good lemon flavoured version in a Cosmopolitan, but I was intrigued by the idea of Black Cow vodka. This is made from the whey produced in cheesemaking, and produces a very interesting creamy-flavoured vodka, which is perhaps not that surprising. I tried using it to make a simple vodka martini, adapting the recipe if found on the Black Cow blog from Joshua Linfitt, mixologist for the Fifteen restaurant in Cornwall. In Joshua’s recipe, he uses a vanilla-infused vermouth (which I also intend making, as I like the sound of it). Not having vanilla vermouth to hand, I made it the next best way: Noilly Prat vermouth, and a few drops of Bob’s Bitters re-boot of Abbott’s, with its powerful vanilla hit.  I garnished the drink with a large slice of orange peel in a nod to the original recipe. The results were absolutely gorgeous – the creamy vodka, vanilla bitters and citrus zest combine in perfect measures. This is an absolutely cracking drink, and one that deserves thinking about a proper name.

Proportions (using a jigger/pony measure):

1 jigger of Black Cow vodka, preferably ice-cold from the freezer

1 pony of Noilly Prat vermouth

3 drops Bob’s Abbott’s bitter

Glass: 3oz Martini glass

Stir vermouth together with ice in a Boston shaker jar and tip away around half the vermouth.  Add the vodka, drops of bitters & stir again. Pour into a chilled Martini glass & garnish with a large slice of orange zest.

World alcohol map

The World liquor map from Quartz
The World liquor map from Quartz

Here’s an interesting item on the Quartz digital news page: a world map of booze, showing who drinks what where. It is no great surprise to me that the UK’s favourite spirit is vodka, as it is popular with young drinkers, although a separate map of Scotland would surely show whisky as being more popular north of the border. According to Quartz, however, ‘separate data were not available’ when they put their map together. Perhaps more surprising was that Euromonitor, source of the alcohol data, had enough responses from Saudi Arabia to give a preference. Vodka also reigns supreme in N. America – although I blame Cosmopolitans for that one.

Bottles

Spirits are the basics of any cocktail bar, and the question is how many do you need? The answer depends on one’s tastes, and the drinks needed to be made.

A quick inventory of my cupboard shows the following stock:

Vodka
Finlandia
Smirnoff, Blue label
Gin
Gordon’s dry
Bombay Sapphire, 90 proof
Bourbon
Bulleit, 90 proof
Vermouth
Noilly Prat
Kina Lillet
Martini Rosso
Cachaça
Sagatiba
Velho Barreira
Pitù
White Rum
Rebellion
Dark rum
Lamb’s
Whisky
The Glenrothes, select reserve
Tullibardine, 10 year old
Balvenie Double Wood, 12 year old
Tallisker, 10 year old
Rye
Canadian Club, 6 year old                                                                                     Tequila                                                                                                                                           El Jimador

Plus various liqueurs (Kahlua, Triple Sec, Cointreau) and various others (home made lemon and cranberry vodkas, spiced rum and so on).