So, now that I am about to approach my mid-life crisis - which, I assure you, will be very organised - I realise that nothing has changed since those formative fussings. I will, for example, now sit on a stool at any bar in the world and witter on to the bartender as to how, exactly, I would like my Tanqueray martini. Incidentally, you still have to qualify "gin" in some places, otherwise you will get a small glass of vermouth with one lump of ice in it and a half-slice of lemon - the latter lifted from a helpful jar of ready- sliced segments.
A martini has to be just so for me. Chill the glass in the freezer. Add a trickle of vermouth - Noilly or Martini, it matters not a jot - into a mixing vessel that has been filled with a shovelful of very clean and fresh ice (you can never have too much ice around). Stir briskly and, holding the ice back, tip the vermouth down the sink. Add a generous quantity of chilled, not frozen, Tanqueray gin, stir once more and strain into the glass. Now introduce a freshly cut piece of lemon zest - preferably the size and shape of the piece of skin on the underside of your thumb - pinch it, skin-side down, above the drink so that the oil from the zest sprinkles itself winningly over the surface of the alcohol. Unwaxed lemons are best for this all-important finish. I also like a side-order of tiny, white-skinned pickled cocktail onions, so that I may enjoy the drink as a Gibson. And by the way, Quaglino's barman, frozen gin poured neat into a frozen glass that has been sprayed with a mist of vermouth is the cowboy's martini: lazily fashioned and far too strong. A trace of melted ice in the martini adds the essential limpidity.
I'll come to food in a moment, but not before I fuss over my second-favourite drink, the Bloody Mary. This sublime breakfast drink can so easily be ruined by slapdash behaviour. As with the martini; if there is not enough ice, you may as well not bother at all: a warm Bloody is the vilest of drinks. The ingredients are thus: vodka, a little dry sherry, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, celery salt, tomato juice and a healthy wedge of lime squeezed and then dropped in to the final assembly before stirring well. For purists, the drink may then be strained into a well-chilled highball glass and drunk quickly before it warms through. The ratio of the ingredients are a matter of personal taste, although Tom, the bartender of The Carlyle Hotel in New York City, says a parsimonious amount of vodka will achieve the preferred drink.
So what makes me tetchy with food? Ah yes, oysters. One thing that I cannot bear is to see them cut from their shells and then flipped over. What is the point of this absurd tradition? Apart from anything else, the juices are then disturbed and can trickle off the shell - and, anyway, it looks so much prettier and natural when presented the right way up. As far as I know, the English are the only people in the world who choose to do this to an oyster.
Similarly, why is it that whenever one encounters a piece of roast lamb in a restaurant these days, it appears as a "fan" of pink meat with a sticky dark sauce? This is not roast lamb; this is simply "delivered meat". Best end or loin seems the most popular vehicle for this neat assembly, with rump of lamb following up a close second. The latter, at least, has a modicum of fat still attached to the meat, so affording an interesting contrast of crisped lubrication in the mouth. But the de-nuded loin of lamb, once seared and sliced into five bland disks, is as far removed from roast lamb as is the missing carcass from a succulent rib of Sunday beef.
Furthermore - why do most restaurants choose to present a dessertspoon and fork with which to eat a creme brulee? And then there are those who think it pleasing to scoop up small amounts of ice-cream using a big spoon. Both need teaspoons, don't they? While we are at it, why are we now served up ice-cream in silly tuile baskets. What does this do for the ice except get bits of often-stale almond pastry in amongst it? As far as I am concerned, ice-cream lives in a small chilled bowl or a silver coupe with a tall stem.
Finally, for the terminally fussy, always remember to pack a tube of Colman's English mustard, a bottle of Tabasco sauce and a miniature pepper mill into your hand luggage when travelling on aeroplanes and trains. A shake, a smear or a grind just makes average food taste that little bit better. And what could be more important than that, may I ask?
Simon Hopkinson will be promoting his new book, `Gammon & Spinach', at Valvonna & Crolla, 19 Elm Row, Edinburgh, on 11 November. For tickets, call 0131 556 6066Reuse content