Initially I was going to write a post on London’s five best Martinis but realised that was somewhat superfluous. It’s been common knowledge for decades that London’s best Martini’s are to be found at old school hotels and bars (such as Rules, Dukes, the Connaught, the Dorchester et al) originally catering for thirsty Americans – as any listings site will tell you. There’s not much change from a twenty pound note at such joints, but you will get impeccable service and a fine drink made exactly to your taste.
However, if you fancy a night out that doesn’t need a second mortgage, you might like to check out the list below. These bars may not serve the absolute best Martinis in London but they all have something to offer besides leaving change for your bus fare home.
Best Martini in a pub
Ok, this might sound like a FAIL before you’ve even arrived ( a Martini in a pub? In England?) but bear with me. This is one of those exceptions that prove the rule, as at the Seven Stars you can get a perfectly decent version for £7. Avoiding being a cocktail-themed pub and all the horror that entails, they succeed by specialising in just one drink – hearsay has it that the Martini is a favourite of the landlady, which seems a good enough explanation for the anomaly of finding them served in such a traditional pub.
Throw in a friendly pub cat, excellent food (I had pickled herrings with potato salad which go brilliantly with a Martini by the way) and a cheery pub atmosphere and you’ll soon see why this is WIN after all. Only downside is that it can get very busy with legal types.
The Egerton House Hotel is a little off the beaten track but its worth hiking westwards for the ineffable grace with which barman Antonio pours a Martini. From a table-side trolley he adds a single drop of vermouth to a glass, tops it with icy cold gin and with a single movement, oils the rim with lemon peel, squeezes it and drops it into your drink. Beautiful.
Admittedly the bar is a tad stuffy and a Martini does cost around £14 but they’re usually generous with the snacks. I’ve been served delicious slabs of cheese on toast cut into fingers in addition to the usual trefoil dish of salty goodness. A word of warning: while Antonio is an indubitable master of Martinis, I would avoid testing his skill further as his other drinks cater to the tastes of a by-gone era (eg, soda in an Old Fashioned). You’re best off sticking to champagne as an alternative.
Best for a hole in one
‘A hole in one’ is a technical term meaning you’re plastered after only one drink. And I know no better way to achieve that than with a bath-sized Martini. Egertons was also a contender for this category, but as Simpsons-in-the-Strand’s Knight bar was where I was inspired to coin the usage of that phrase, I think it deserves this accolade.
The bar is art deco in a stuffy kind of way and lacking in any pretensions to cool, but with a live pianist it can be a haven in a mad world and is also a useful alternative when the American Bar at the Savoy is packed out.
Best use of technology
Now don’t despise me for not picking 69 Colebrooke Row. Their Martini with its much-lauded ‘Dry essence’ is often called the best in London but I think I’ve been a bit unlucky when I’ve ordered it. Call me gauche but I do like my Martini dry and, at least to start off with, icy cold.
Luckily you don’t get much dryer or colder than at Purl who, thanks to the judicious use of liquid nitrogen are currently serving their Martini’s around -50C. Bless them. Now, if only they’d change their booking policy…..
I used to drink at Dollar quite regularly a few years back when it was all brick walls and New York vibe. I would have been happy to give a whole-hearted recommendation back then but I now have a few caveats.
1. Bring a torch. Really. It’s so dark you can’t read the menus. Which means Dollar also wins the award for ‘best bar to go on a first date if you’re, well, a bit aesthetically challenged…’
2. Don’t be intimidated by the bordello-esque decor and scantily clad hostess – this is NOT a strip-bar.
Once that has been established be pleasantly surprised at how decent a Martini you can get for £6.50 Even if it does come in a hollow stem glass…………
NB They usually stock Chase Smoked Vodka for a Smoky Martini though were out on my recent visit – one day I will get a taste of this elusive spirit….