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The best martinis in London: the decadent, the iconic and those for drinks on a budget

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 6/19/2015 Ailis Brennan and David Ellis
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At first glance, making a martini is a simple ask. Two ingredients – three at a push – a bit of shaking or stirring, and a pretty straightforward garnish. What could go wrong?

Not so; making a martini has the potential for an embarrassment of errors. Shaking, for a start, is a surefire way to ruin one. It’s terrifically easy to make a bang-average martini, but pouring a truly excellent one is a bona fide art form.

As such, the martini has accrued all sorts of myths and legends in the last century or so, its deceptive complexity capturing the imagination of bartenders, authors and fictional spies over the years.

Whether you go for gin every time or often covet a vodka version, London is home to all sorts of serves for the classic cocktail. From dry to dirty, this is where we go for that brain-fogging hit that only a martini can deliver.

American Bar at The Stafford

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The Savoy’s American Bar may be more broadly known, but the excellent bar at the Stafford hotel is an utter treat; in winter, a cosy sanctuary, in summer, the doors open and the terrace is one of the city’s finest spots to spend an afternoon on. The martinis here are terrific, and unlike some on this list, a fairly sensible size; having one isn’t a surefire start to a slide into the mist. They keep things as dry as you can handle: dry gin is mixed with just a dash of dry vermouth, and always stirred, never shaken. Staff here like to keep things cool – if you're taking your time with the drink, they'll pour it into a freshly chilled glass should yours warm up. A nice touch.

16 St James's Place, SW1A 1PE, thestaffordlondon.com

The Connaught

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Agostino Perrone’s bar at Mayfair hotel The Connaught is truly a delight in many respects, but the legendary martini here is arguably the strongest string in its bow. Choose the signature serve and the ingredients are brought tableside on a trolley and mixed to order while you watch. A selection of handmade bitters is on hand to make your martini bespoke, dropped into a mix of Tanqueray No.10 gin and a blend of different dry vermouths. Hard to better.

Carlos Place, W1K 2AL, the-connaught.co.uk

Homeboy

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Both the beautiful original in Islington and the fun new sibling in Embassy Gardens are among London’s best bars. The thing here is all in the hospitality; they’re all convivial sorts and you come to have a good time (and there’s often live music to settle in with, too). The £11 martinis – both vodka and gin – aren’t shouted about here, but they’re really quite something. It’s as classic as they come, no messing about, but executed with stunning grace.

N1, SW11, homeboybar.com

Tayēr + Elementary

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This well-regarded bar, which is presently ranked fifth in the world, is a precise sort of place, thanks to its steady steer from its forward-thinking, innovative founders, Monica Berg and Alex Kratena. They’ve a novel approach to the martini but its become a signature, and rightly so. The trick here is all in the enormous olive in its centre, which is stuffed with blue cheese. It gives the drink a curious edge, a pleasingly funky note. It’s also a lovely size; drunk quickly, as it must be, it is a sharpener, not a demolition job.

152 Old St, EC1V 9BW, tayer-elementary.com

69 Colebrooke Row

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The West End might have the monopoly on supreme martinis, but this Angel bar gives most in the capital a run for their money. Tony Conigliaro’s “Bar With No Name” (most commonly known by its address) makes its house martini with the extras of a caper leaf, and truffle, and it’s always served dirty. The bar often serves seasonal martinis, and while the place isn’t quite the buzzy, must-see it once was, it’s definitely still worth a trip.

69 Colebrooke Row, N1 8AA, 69colebrookerow.com

Artesian

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Like plenty of others after the past 16 months – the Savoy’s American bar is still shut, and got rid of most of its longstanding team – the Artesian is going through some things and recently, sadly saw the departure of top bar manager Anna Sebastian. Still, on recent form, its drinks are as good as ever and the place still hums with a well-heeled but lively crowd. Martinis are an off-menu order, but they’re crisp and clean and just as they should be.

1C Portland Place, W1B 1JA, artesian-bar.co.uk

Dukes

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Martini aficionados don’t come more high profile (albeit fictional) than James Bond. It's thought that Dukes Bar – the St James watering hole favoured by author Ian Fleming – was where 007’s love of the cocktail was born. It is where Fleming even penned the famous “shaken, not stirred” line, and to this day martinis are served with similar precision, although they tend not to shake these days. Bartender Alessandro Palazzi’s prowess at the martini trolley is world-renowned: choose from gin or vodka to be mixed with Dukes’s very own extra dry “sacred” vermouth. Measures are large and astonishingly strong – they are like pouring petrol on the brain – and guests are told no more than two should be had in a sitting. Some may scoff, but it's a rule for a reason; trust us on that one.

35 St James's Place, SW1A 1NY, dukeshotel.com

The Gibson

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The Gibson bar in Old Street is such a fan of martinis it even named itself after one – sort of. A variation of the gin martini that is served with a pickled onion, the Gibson is served here in three varieties. The classic version comes “a la Charles Dana Gibson” and mixes Copperhead gin and Martini Ambrato Riserva with pickling spice, a house pickled onion and lemon zest. The re-distilled martini is macerated with pickled onion for 72 hours, while the aged Gibson uses vermouth aged in a balsamic barrel and served it with truffle and a cider vinegar onion.

44 Old Street, EC1V 9AQ, thegibsonbar.london

Bellamy’s

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There aren’t too many components to a martini, but old-world charmer Bellamy’s have done away with one altogether. No ice is used in the production of this Mayfair spot’s version – all the spirits are chilled to below freezing, along with the glasses, before the cocktail is mixed. The extra dry vermouth is sprayed with an atomiser to ensure it is used sparingly. Considering its Bruton Place location, the serve is also a steal at £14.50.

18 Bruton Place, W1J 6LY, bellamysrestaurant.co.uk

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