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Great shakes

Sinclair McKay on martinis

29 October 2008

12:00 AM

29 October 2008

12:00 AM

For years, I wondered how James Bond could be bothered with the stuff. After all, there he was, after a long day filled with car chases, trollops and countdowns; surely excitement on that scale would work up a thirst for something little more substantial than a piddling vodka martini, shaken not stirred? Like several pints of Carlsberg, for instance, or even a jumbo balloon of brandy?

But then of course, I had never actually tried a vodka martini before. I expect quite a few people haven’t. Just to utter the words to a barman would surely make one feel impossibly self-conscious, no? ‘I’ll have that thing that James Bond drinks, please.’ It’d be a tiny bit gauche. Wouldn’t it?

Well, apparently not, according to the staff at the freshly refurbished Connaught Bar in Mayfair. If done right, a martini can be a thing of wonder that combines science and art. A sort of Heston Blumenthal approach, but in a glass. A little later: how to achieve this perfect Bond martini at home. First: the experts.

In Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel Casino Royale, published in 1953, 007 gave the barman a sternly precise list of instructions for what he considered the ne plus ultra of a vodka martini. These were: ‘Three measures of Gordon’s Gin. One measure of vodka. Half a measure of Kina Lillet. Lemon peel. Shake it very well until ice cold.’

At the Connaught Bar, the ceaselessly experimental cocktail creators have their own views on such matters. But a spokesman assures me that a startling number of their smart clientele have no compunctions about asking for Bond’s favourite pick-me-up. And boy, in the current absence of the American Bar at the Savoy, this is the place to go for the full martini experience.

The Connaught version is made with Ketel One vodka (or Tanqueray gin); this is followed by Vermouth Dry; there are also bitters. The initial ingredients are shaken not over little ice cubes, but huge chunks of ice. This, I am assured, reduces the dilution of the drink that might otherwise take place.

The whole kit is brought to your table, and served up with the reverence of a Japanese tea ceremony; one is first offered a choice of bitters (ginger, coriander, vanilla, grapefruit, cardamom, licorice or lavender). Having made your selection, a delicate quantity is poured into your glass, by means of lining, followed by the rest of the mixture, and the traditional choice of lemon peel or olive.

In these particular surroundings — updated traditionalist wood panelling with a touch of black shiny Art Deco — one feels a bit less Daniel Craig and a bit more Cary Grant in North By Northwest. And I have to say, as a newcomer to this form of refreshment, it hit the spot with remarkable speed. The surprising thing is that as well as the warmth, there is also the pervasive aroma of the lemon, and indeed of the bitter that one has chosen by means of accompaniment. Man is it strong, though. How the hell does Bond manage to guzzle his way through so many?

And at the slightly less sophisticated end of the scale, what if one should choose to have a ‘Drink Along With Bond’ DVD/cocktail evening with a few friends at home? (Incidentally, top tip: go for a Brosnan film, they seem to be constantly glugging throughout those). Well, to start with, one will want an impressive cocktail shaker, of the type found at Peter Jones. You might want to opt for the simple stainless steel gambit of the Alessi Chirinquito model (£86); or the striking design of the Nick Munro Trombone variety (£25).

Getting the right glass is of course frightfully important, as no doubt Bond himself would tell you. It’s not just about aesthetics, it’s about air and aroma. Swarovski have an elegant pair on offer, for example, at £235; an equally cool model is served up by Riedel — a ‘Sommelier’s Martini’ glass, if you please — at £57.95. Both are available from Harrods.

The precise ingredients are purely a matter of personal taste, but Ketel One vodka used by those folk at the Connaught was very good. And go on, Gordon’s Gin. Why defy Fleming, eh? As to the Kina Lillet, well, in the intervening years, the Lillet company has dropped the ‘Kina’ from its name, but interestingly, the brand was given the most enormous fillip by Daniel Craig in 2006’s Casino Royale film when he specified it to a barman. You can find your own supplies at Berry Bros & Rudd.

Finally, lemon or olive? Well, Bond goes for the twist of lemon, so one might as well follow suit. Shake well and enjoy. And, as you might like to put it to your guests: ‘Do you expect me to talk?’ ‘No, I expect you to drink.’

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