Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Super-souse me

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Mystery bar #25 - from the barWith the weekend nearly upon us, it's time to post something related to alcohol. After all, it is St Patrick's Day, which is hard to miss given the green-clad queues outside the Irish pubs, and the fact that Lambton Quay is crammed with more fiddlers than a Catholic boys' school. But on to the drinks.

First of all, there have been disappointingly few attempts to identify the current mystery bar, and instead, most of the commenters have been content to slag off the previous mystery bar and its owner. How rude! Here's another photo, in case you need more clues.

Secondly, I've reached an important milestone in my project. I've now had a drink in over half of Wellington's bars: 55% to be precise, or 83 out of 150. But wait: weren't there 157 in my earlier list? Yes, but we've had a spate of closures: not just Rouge and Bouquet Garni, but Beau Monde as well, and both Magnum and Stage appear to be moribund. I also made a couple of errors in compiling my original list: I had counted The Bristol twice, and Play should never have been on my list since it closed last year. We've had a couple of new openings, but I could see them coming so I included them on the list before they were open.

That all sounds a bit depressing, and I keep wondering whether this is a sign of the economic downturn, but on the other hand we had a lot of new openings last year so I think we still have more bars open now than a year ago. I imagine that the post-Christmas period is a shaking-out time for the hospitality industry, with marginal businesses finding it hard to recapture their clientele after the break.

Never mind: there are still plenty of places making great Martinis, and a few dodgy ones as well. So, here's the latest in my series of Martini reviews.

Crazy Horse: 8.5
The glass was rinsed with room temperature Noilly Prat, which was then discarded. Tanqueray was stirred with ice and poured in. So far, pretty standard, but it took an interesting turn when the barman added three marinated, unstuffed olives. This gave the drink a strong peppery aroma, mixing grassy & sweet notes. The palate was also sweet and oily. Some would dispprove of the little slick of green olive oil that formed on the surface, and the result was far from canonical, but it certainly was delicious.

East West: 3
They used Bombay, which was not a good start, but worse was to come. They added Martini vermouth, then lime juice(!), shook it with ice and served the result without an olive or twist, but with a straw stuck to the outside of the glass. That's not a Martini, it's a gimlet with vermouth!. It wasn't an entirely unpleasant drink, but it was an insult to the word "Martini". It wasn't a random aberration either: I later checked their cocktail list, and they actually listed lime among the ingredients for a "classic" Martini. Shame.

Flying Burrito Brothers: 8
The barman poured Martini vermouth over ice into the glass & discarded it. He stirred Tanqueray with ice, slowly and with reverence, before adding it to the glass along with two olives on a stick. The result was nicely cold, with restrained juniper and herb aromas. The palate was oily, with hints of lemon and pepper, leading to a hot dry finish. Very pleasant, but a little too gin-dominated for my tastes: the use of Noilly Prat, especially with a slightly higher vermouth ratio, would have elevated this towards excellence.

The Green Room: 8
Plymouth and Noilly Prat were stirred together with ice, then poured into a sensible-sized glass. Three olives were skewered on a long bamboo stick, then rubbed around the rim of the glass before being placed in the drink: a nice touch, I think. The aromas were herbal and slightly savoury; the palate smooth and elegant. A lovely Martini, though it would have benefitted from a chilled glass.

Shed 5: 6
An inexperienced bartender was slowly coached by the bar manager in the art of the Martini, but it wasn't the most illuminating lesson. They poured water and ice into the glass to chill it, and left it for several minutes before emptying. Then vermouth and ice were added and discarded, and Bombay was stirred with ice and strained into the glass. They then put it behind the bar and left it so that they could deal with other customers. By the time I reminded them that I was still waiting for my drink, 15 minutes had elapsed and the Martini had lost all the coldness that they went to such lengths to give it. The eventual result was drinkable but bland, with a single olive skewered lengthwise on a standard stick. A huge amount of effort went to waste due to a basic lapse of service standards, though the ingredients would never have produced the best results.

Zibibbo: 7
Tanqueray and Noilly Prat, stirred together with ice, but the result was still not quite cold enough. The nose had some botanical character, but the palate was not quite as smooth and integrated. It was served with the standard three olives, but skewered lengthwise rather than transversally. This might sounds like a small nit to pick, but it caused some of the pimento to be pushed out, giving a messy and slightly disturbing appearance. "Waiter, something's prolapsed in my drink!"

Monkey Bar: 8
Tanqueray and Martini vermouth gave a smooth and mellow result, with a delightfully crisp bite from assiduous chilling. The now-standard three olives rounded out a pleasantly classical Martini.

Motel: 8.5
Tanqueray and Noilly Prat, stirred with due care and attention, were always going to produce the goods. The result was cold and smooth, with distinct notes of citrus and spice. The two olives were floating free: others might see this as a welcome roguish streak beneath a polished exterior, but to a perfectionist's eye this somehow detracts from the requisite air of structure and balance. Nevertheless: delicious.

Mini Bar: 6.5
Bombay Sapphire and Noilly Prat gave an unexceptional taste, and the use of two olives completed the middle-of-the-road approach. A touch of cloudiness and the tell-tale presence of ice chips revealed that it had been shaken rather than stirred, so that the molecules were unable to lie sensuously one on top of the other as Somerset Maugham would have preferred. This was the Peter Dunne of Martinis: superficially immaculate and bland, but with hidden violent tendencies and an agressive rejection of sensuality.


At 2:34 pm, March 19, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ooooh, savage criticism - the "Peter Dunn of Martinis" - surely you mean it's pathetic looking, has a curious quiff growing out the top, and makes you sick if you have too much ?

At 11:35 am, March 29, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

There's quite a variation, from about $12 at East West to $17 at Crazy Horse, but I don't remember the prices at every place (Martinis have that effect). There's not necessarily a correlation between price and quality: Vespa did one of the worst and charged $16.

At 9:53 am, March 30, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

$15+ is pretty standard at high-end bars like Matterhorn, Good Luck and Motel. For that you should definitely get Tanqueray, and Tanqueray Ten if you're lucky: the smoothness and added complexity are worth the premium.

I've had Martinis in the $10-13 range, but rarely anything decent. Good ingredients matter, as does a competent and experienced bartender. Paying a lot doesn't guarantee a good Martini, but paying too little pretty much guarantees a bad one.

Did you ask Bic how she had hers?


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