Be shaken and stirred at the Royal Academy of Arts' celebration of the martini

 

Ice-cold, hard as steel, and with the strength of a bull elephant – if ever a drink was deserving of an exhibition, it is the martini. It is the antonymic two-fingers to the sugar-sweet cocktails of the 1990s, and the ever-growing vogue for martinis makes my heart soar. For I believe, as the American essayist HL Mencken said, "a martini is a sonnet in a glass": it is a single boozy idea taken to the limits of alcohol-soaked perfection.

And it isn't just me and HL who think so either. A month-long exhibition by Belvedere Vodka has just opened at no less an august institution than the Royal Academy of Arts. Step into RA from Burlington Gardens, go up a flight of steps and you will find the Senate Rooms have been transformed into a Mecca of all things martini.

Despite the fact that the poetry for the exhibition seems as though it has been bought by the yard, it is all quite fun: Belvedere and the RA have collected together a photographer, set designer, film maker and musician, and commissioned them to tell the drink's story, from its creation – probably by Jerry Thomas in the late 19th century as a gin-based corruption of "the Martinez" – right through to the present day. To do that, they have created a number of self-contained exhibits, such as a martini glass you can recline in and a film inside a shaker.

As I said, all very nice. But even nicer is the bar in the annexe room. Pay £15 and you also get a flight of Belvedere vodka martinis. Savour it, because in this part of town you wouldn't even get one martini for that price, let alone four.

Some would argue that a vodka brand has no business putting on this type of thing. And perhaps they are, strictly speaking, right: the original formulation was all about the gin. But then again, the original martinis were wet, too, about one part vermouth to three parts spirit.

If you tried to get away with serving that across the road at The Ritz, there would be guffawing, most of us now holding to Noël Coward's prescription: "Fill glass with gin then wave it in the general direction of Italy [the home of vermouth]." Or at least a one to six-part mix. So perhaps we should allow vodka its muscling in.

Besides, the martini's rise to a position of pre-eminence is partially down to vodka. If it wasn't for Bond and his "shaking and not stirring", it may not have so successfully established a foothold in the public consciousness.

And it has done so like no other drink, to the point that if you see a martini in the hand of a character on TV or film, you immediately know what they are about: they are going to be debonair and sophisticated.

You may even feel a little like Don Draper yourself in the exhibition bar, but remember what that other stalwart of pop culture, Dorothy Parker, said: "I like to have a martini, two at the very most. After three I'm under the table, after four I'm under my host."

Post-cocktail delights at Mexican gem

If you are a little unsteady post-exhibition, you could do worse than Peyote, the posh Mexican joint nearby on Cork Street.

It serves extra-finessed versions of all the standard Mexican tropes: zingy ceviche, fishy tostadas and quesadillas (the cheese one I could happily make a life with). And, if you need topping up, they do a fine cocktail.

peyoterestaurant.com

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