Given that I suspect anyone searching for their personality in a newspaper column simply may not have one, I tend to avoid those occasional “this is what your order says about you” stories. But as I send back bad martinis, I suppose I’ll concede that some food and drink preferences really are idiosyncratic.
Having for a while had a feeling bone-dry gin martinis were sending me tonto, I tested the theory a couple of years back at the most sedate place I could think of. Carpeted St James’s fish palace Wilton’s, 281 years old this year and still boasting most of its original customers, is not the sort of place wild nights tend to kick off. So I had one there. Suddenly, I found myself in Soho, stupefied on Dean Street, with a case of the 3ams. And so that was the end of the straight gins for me.
The Ellis martini these days is this: dry vermouth to the depth of two beer mats in a chilled glass, topped to the brim with gin and vodka in equal proportion, both gloopy from the freezer. Finish with lemon peel. The vermouth and the gin are the flavour, the vodka does the petrol perfume, head-clearing thing.
But because it’s important to keep up with one’s hobbies, lately I’ve been on the hunt again for London’s top martini outside Chez Ellis, and have found many are watery rubbish. So trust me here: the best is found in the unassuming Egerton House Hotel in Knightsbridge. Of course it is — I nicked my method from them. I go often, which I suspect disappoints the man who makes them, Sabhi. He has to suppress his eyebrows whenever I eschew his Vesper for mine.
Sabhi’s offerings are a little more precise: the glass is iced to minus 22; his bar sticks purely to top shelf spirits, as opposed to whatever’s on offer; Egerton’s drinks invariably come with a Welsh rarebit, rather than a handful of leftover Ritz crackers (if you’re lucky); and they serve different vermouths according the choice of spirits. The bar, then, is exact. And unlike Duke’s — from whom Egerton took its frozen bottle, build-in-the-glass technique — the welcome is warm. Sabhi chats his methods through with panache: he seemed to win the affections of Claire and Nicola, two enormously fun types who were with me after generously bidding in aid of Action Against Hunger. We had a good’un.
There is only one note with Egerton, which is that its surroundings are those of old world comfort, not sultry elegance. Were a date on the cards, the Connaught bar (The Connaught, 16 Carlos Place, W1K 2AL, the-connaught.co.uk) never fails — Ago and his team are masters — though last week I went to Viajante87 (87 Notting Hill Gate, W11 3JZ, viajantebar.com) for their glacier martini, where into the gin is added a drop of glycerine (usual uses: baking, face masks). This drops the temperature to ice. It is a drink you feel in the eyes, which for some reason I fell for. Can someone explain what that says about me?