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Thursday, April 9, 2015

A Martini Worthy of James Bond: Dukes Bar, London

Where in London would the fictional James Bond drink a Martini.  Lots of choices.  There’s even a bar in Covent Garden called “The Dirty Martini.”  Perish the thought.  J.B. has class.   So did his creator, Ian Fleming.  Dirty Martini?  Chocolate Martini?  Piffle and twaddle!

I know exactly where Fleming went to relax, chat with pals and slake his thirst:  Dukes Bar at the Dukes Hotel.  I’m not sure many people know all that much about Fleming himself, certainly not as much as they know about his creation.

To say Fleming lived a life of adventure is to grossly understate the case.  Womanizer, booted from this school and that, including the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.   Studied abroad briefly at the Universities of Munich and Geneva.  Stockbroker: failure.  Banker: failure.  Applied for the Foreign Office:  Couldn’t pass the exam. Royal Navy Intelligence Officer: great success.  Had multitudinous affairs, including with the woman he later married, whom was at the time married to another.

The first Bond book, Casino Royale was published in 1952 and the rest is a story of more affairs and even more success as a writer.  Fleming came from a wealthy family (Banking) and it’s no wonder he drank in the small, but elegant bar at Dukes Hotel, London.  It’s said that in Dukes Bar, he coined the phrase “Shaken not stirred.”

Although he frequently was thought of by the intelligentsia, as his wife said, “A writer of cheap pornography,” in 2008 The Times ranked him as 14th on a list of the fifty greatest British writers since 1945.  His lack of a writer’s prestige didn’t seem to bother him:  “I’m not in the Shakespeare stakes.  I have no ambition.”

On to James Bond’s Martini, as taken from the pages of Casino Royale:

"A dry martini," [Bond] said. "One. In a deep champagne goblet."

"Oui, monsieur."

"Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?"

"Certainly, monsieur." The barman seemed pleased with the idea.

"Gosh, that's certainly a drink," said Leiter.

Bond laughed. "When I'," he explained, "I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink's my own invention. I'm going to patent it when I can think of a good name."

As we all remember, James also drinks regular gin and vermouth Martinis, as well as vodka Martinis.  But, the Vesper Martini is the one most remembered.

So, of course, being in London and ever so slightly above the drinking age, I had to visit Dukes Bar, settle into a leather armchair and have a debonair, Italian barman in a white dinner jacket, roll a cart to my table and build me an Ian Fleming Vesper Martini. I was stirred, not shaken by the experience.

Is it the same recipe as written by Ian Fleming in Casino Royale?  Close, but not quite.

The nibbles in Dukes are superb!

In the first place, the Dukes version is neither shaken nor stirred.  The glass, the gin, and the vodka are frozen for 24 hours.  No ice is used. 

3 Measures of Fortnum & Mason’s No. 3 Gin (Bond favors Gordon’s or Plymouth gin)

1 Measure of Potocki Polish Vodka

½ Measure of Lillet Blanc  (a French aperitif, similar to vermouth, but a touch sweeter and more flavorful.  It’s no longer labeled as Kina Lillet)

2 drops bitters

A long, thick twist of orange peel

Because no ice is used, the drink is not diluted, giving this concoction the power of the clean-up hitter for the 1927 New York Yankees.  In fact, Dukes places a limit of two Martinis per customer.

Good reason for that.  After just one, I found myself singing Rule Britannia, marching through Mayfair, and needing a guide dog to get me back to my hotel.  Unfortunately, it was not Vesper, the Bond Girl doing the leading.

So how do you make this concoction?

Put the drops of bitters in the frozen glass, add the Lillet, then the gin, and finally the vodka.  Carve off a healthy swath of orange peel, give it a twist and slip it into the glass.  Presto, you will be irresistible to women, lose all fear of men with guns, and remain calm, even when walking on narrow planks several hundred feet in the air.   I really like this drink! 

Of course, these magic personality enhancements don’t come cheap.  $27 per glass at today’s exchange rates.  Who cares?  M will always cough up a few more quid.

But, that’s not the end of the story.  Naturally, back home, I made a glass for my girlfriend (who insists on calling herself my wife) and one for me.  But, not having a bar stock worthy of Dukes Hotel, I made a few changes.

Liquors and glasses straight from the freezer!

2 Parts Dutch gin, 35% alcohol
1 Part cheap vodka, 40% alcohol
½ Part Lillet Blanc (given the popularity of Jimmy Bond, it should be available locally)
1 Large curl of orange peel

Didn’t have any bitters handy and given my demanding thirst, I didn’t race to the store.

Bottom Line…or should that be Bottle Line?  Excellent!  And just as it was at Dukes, one was enough.

When we arrived, the bar was almost empty.  That soon changed!

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