- Food & Drink
There are some PR invites that are impossible to refuse, and an invitation to go on a martini safari around London’s swisher hotel bars is one of them. Noilly Prat, the vermouth every discerning cocktail shaker has on hand to moisten their gin, was the host for the evening and I was one of their extremely willing guests.
The safari began at The Savoy, tucked away in The Mikado Room down a labyrinthine stretch of hushed corridor. Ludovic Miazga, Noilly Prat’s brand ambassador, poured us glasses of the vermouth and talked us through how the drink is made, how it’s stored (always in the fridge once it’s been opened, never on the shelf. Cue guilty looks from everyone in the room) and how to drink it when you’re not mixing it with gin – very cold alongside oysters in the sunshine is best.
Ludovic was also able to answer the pressing question of the evening: how do you pronounce Noilly Prat? The answer is, ideally, with an outrageous French accent. But if your Officer Crabtree impersonation isn’t up to all those ls, then something along the lines of nw-oily prah will do. Nw-oily prat is also acceptable, but only if your drink mixer is as gracious and forbearing as Ludovic.
Being juniper fixated, I focused my taste buds on the gin martini. Ladislav stirs 2 parts Noilly Prat with 2 parts Bombay Sapphire in a mixing glass of ice. He spritzed a chilled martini glass with orange bitters before straining in the martini.
Bombay Sapphire is an easy drinking gin, so this martini was very forgiving. In the caressing confines of the American Bar I imagine it’d be easy to get through several of them and only realise what you’d done when you tried to get up and found your legs uncooperative.
The Artesian Bar swiftly became my favourite stop of the night, not least because we were greeted with a lovely cocktail whose components I’ve forgotten but whose taste I have not. Decorated in a riot of good taste, we nestled on stylish lilac leather sofas and ran our eyes over a room that is refined at floor level but halfway towards the ceiling abandons constraint and ends in pagoda-roofed cupboards and Hogwartian chandeliers.
This playful good humour extends itself to the martini menu, which, alongside all the usual variations, offers 3 flavoured martinis. The Paris is made with Noilly Prat infused with lavender, in the New York the vermouth is infused with cinnamon and for the Tokyo it’s infused with green tea and Yuzu.
I opted for the Paris. Made by Alex Kratena with Sipsmith Gin, it arrived topped with a tifter of lemon zest and it was utterly perfect. Sipsmith is my favourite martini gin and the floral tinge of lavender added a breathy layer of sweetness. It was with a great deal of reluctance that I left my seat and headed to our final stop, The Connaught.
The Connaught Bar was lit like a nightclub dark room by the time we arrived and the press of evening drinkers proved a challenge for the bar’s martini trolley. It nudged its way through the crowd, bringing us gin (I think Tanqueray no TEN, but my memory begins to collapse in on itself, like a gin-fuelled supernova, at this point in the evening), Noilly Prat and a battalion of bitters.
Lavender, coriander, cardamom, grapefruit, ginger, vanilla and liquorice were all on offer and we began with cardamom, which our bartender sprayed over the glass with the same level of enthusiasm as a 13-year-old boy applying his first bottle of Lynx. The result was a martini that tasted overwhelmingly, irredeemably of cardamom.
I drank it, of course. I never waste gin. And the bar later redeemed itself by producing a perfect negroni. But that spice-wrecked martini was the best demonstration of the importance of simplicity and restraint when it comes to mixing martinis.
Drinks drained, I strolled out into the night, full of gin and with 2 burning ambitions. The first is to obtain a martini trolley for my own home, which I can chase guests around the house with and make sure no one ever leaves my home sober again. The second is to spend more times at The Langham, drinking Parisian martinis and looking good sprawled on lilac leather.