People, can we have a little talk about martinis? I know, I know. This is a naff and clichéd topic. Has anyone had a new insight on the drink since, oh, Dorothy Parker? Probably not. The writers of The Simpsons, back when they were still funny, nailed it when they had Bart get caught with an old Playboy magazine bearing the coverline, “Updike on the Martini”.
But at risk of being a bore, this needs saying: For whatever reason, there is an epidemic of bad martini-making going around, spread by people who are working at places where everyone should know better.
I’m not just talking about the martini the Prick had recently at the apocalyptically vulgar Revesby Workers’ Club in far-western Sydney. Now this thing could not have been wetter had it fallen off side and been dragged back over the gunnels on a boathook, but it was always going to be awful. Hell, it was only ordered as a vague gesture of New Class-solidarity at the launch of old mate Nick Cater’s book The Lucky Culture after local MP and club supremo Daryl Melham called the Prick a snob.
Nor am I talking about the various abominations like espresso martinis (though Mrs Prick finds them yummy) or “raspberry-vanillatinis” or anything else that is comes in a stemmed cocktail glass and is given the misnomer.
I’m talking about shaken, soggy, soupy numbers unbefitting their name.
Last night the Prick was camping out at the otherwise lovely Olsen Hotel in Melbourne and in need of refreshment after a thirteen-hour day. It was raining. The good bit of Chapel Street seemed a mile away when in real life it was only about a nine-iron. The hotel’s in-house restaurant, Spoonbill, looked fine. There was a steak on the menu. Let’s do this thing.
Martini #1’s brief was simple: Tanqueray, dry, straight-up, olive. I knew we were in trouble when I heard vigorous shaking coming from the bar. What was brought was lukewarm and stank of vermouth and had little chips of ice floating on the top like it was the North Atlantic.
Oh, and there was a tasty finger of a porterhouse:
Despite the advice of confrères on Twitter to send it back, the drink was manfully consumed and the order foolishly tried again. “Can I get another, but this time, a lot drier, and stirred, not shaken?”
Naturally, what came to the table next was a warm glass of gin. Yum.
This happens more often than one would think. There’s a busy, hip food and cocktail place the Prick attends regularly on Crown Street, Surry Hills, but only one or two bartenders know what they’re doing in this department. The rest cast their mind back to bartending school and come up with a martini that can only be called, at best, “workmanlike”.
The martini is the gruyere omelette of drinks. It is not an everyday food, but nor is it something that is particularly complicated. It is as much art as recipe and it reveals character both in its creation and its consumption. Cooking an omelette and making a martini and doing both well are skills every gentleman, indeed every cultured individual, bartenders included, should have in their personal toolkit. And one more thing: There is no such thing as a vodka martini. Sorry.
Fortunately after the previous night’s experience, Melbourne came good with a tasty business lunch at a little corner shop in the CBD by the name of Three Fold which was turning out duck confit and Reuben sandwiches and venison lasagnes for the office crowd:
Which brings up the issue of why Sydney’s downtown is an infestation of food courts while Melbourne’s is full of lovely places like the above. But that’s a question for another day.