At the roof bar of the top hotel in Istanbul, I don’t notice a thing.
Below us, the Bosphorus sparkles in the setting sun. I slurp my cocktail and feel a powerful sense of well-being.
When we sit down for dinner, however, I see at once.
‘You’re both drinking vodka,’ I say. ‘Why is that?’
My dinner companions, both top cardiac surgeons, glance at one another.
At the “Spectre” premiere in Istanbul
‘This is because pure spirits are the healthiest way to ingest alcohol,’ one says. ‘Of course, not drinking alcohol may also have health benefits, although some studies indicate the opposite if consumed in moderation. But if, like us, you enjoy a drink from time to time, without excess sugar and calories, pure spirits are the best.’
‘Wow.’ I sip my glass of red wine and wonder if I should have a re-think.
Moderation is my middle name. I am cautious about fads. Despite the authoritative advice of my Turkish friends, I continue to drink – in moderation – a range of alcoholic beverages.
But that roof-top dinner did start me mixing Martinis. I use the classic “Vesper” recipe popularised by Ian Fleming in his first James Bond novel, “Casino Royale”:
“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?”
As Felix Leiter, observing, comments: “Gosh, that’s certainly a drink.”
Until I had the health advice from the two cardiac specialists, I rarely drank Martinis and tended to see them as a kind of conservative ’50s throwback. The whole subculture around making the driest possible Martini (“show the vodka a photograph of some vermouth”) seemed a bit silly.
Now, I realise I could not possibly have been more wrong.
I make my Vesper Martinis with Stolichnaya vodka and Gordon’s gin direct from the freezer, with vermouth from the fridge, no ice, and a green olive (rather than the lemon peel specified), served in second-hand martini glasses from the Naschmarkt in Vienna.
Do they make me healthier? I am not sure. But I feel splendid after drinking one. The tang of salt as you approach the olive is sublime.
What are your favourite Martini recipes and experiences? Thoughts welcome.
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