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Thursday, 16 December 2010

Hungarian rhapsodising...

Wonderful people, the Hungarians. Some of them just ooze culture. Music, especially. Two delightful young men of my acquaintance are the grandsons of the renowned composer Gyorgy Ranki, whose centenary was celebrated a couple of years ago at the Budapest Opera. The Hungarian national drink is palinka (emphasis on the first vowel), a spirit-based eyebrow lifter made with fruit. The one I like best – I haven't tried them all, admittedly – is the palinka vilmos, a pear-tinged elixir, named for the William pear. The Hungarians, given their often cruel history – and, indeed, the present political situation there isn't wonderful – occasionally indulge in getting a bit Brahms and Liszt, only the latter being a Hungarian, of course. In their honour – and to suck up to my friends – I thought I might invent a cocktail that would befit their status.
For the time being I'll call it Just William. Here's what you do...

3 fl oz Vilmos Palinka
1 fl oz vodka
1 fl oz Grand Marnier
4 very ripe pears
2 fl oz pear nectar or good pear jiuce
Juice of 1 lime

Peel and core pears and place in blender
Add pear nectar then liquidise
Sieve into large jug
Add the other ingredients
Pour as much as will allow into cocktail shaker containing 4 lumps of ice
Shake well & serve in glasses with a slice of lime on the rim.
Keep the remainder in the fridge for a top-up.
Should serve six.


Another Hungarian musical genius was Georges (formerly Gyorgy) Cziffra. He had a hard life but what a piano player! Here he is interpreting one of old Ferenc's most famous pieces...

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Cocktail anyone? Everybody can join in!

A couple of things happened this week which made me think that you don't need to be an aficionado (or poseur, as some would have it) to enjoy the odd cocktail. There are, in fact, plenty of odd cocktails around and drunk by very odd people. A good chum reminded me of the infamous 'wine spo-dee-o-dee' sampled in Kerouac's On the Road. It went something like this ...

Grab a glass, any sort of glass – chipped would be sufficient
Chuck in a slug of red biddy
Add a measure of rotgut whiskey (note the 'e' here)
Top it with another slug of red biddy.

The plan is that the wine will wrap itself around the rotgut whiskey and mask the flavour.
Sounds rather horrible but I imagine it has the desired effect.
Hank Williams – at least I think it was he – wrote a song about it. Here are the lyrics...

Well down in New Orleans where everything's fine
All them cats is sippin' that wine
Drinkin' that mess is sure delight
Soon to be fightin' and fussin' all night

Drinkin' wine spodee-o, drinkin' wine
wine spodee-o, drinkin' wine
wine spodee-o, drinkin' wine
Pass that bottle to me

Wine, wine, wine
Wine, wine, wine
Wine, wine, wine
Wine, wine, wine
(Wild Cherry)
Wine, wine, wine
Pass that bottle to me

Drinkin' that mess is sure delight
Soon to be fightin' and fussin' all night
Knockin' out windows, kickin' down doors
Drinkin' a half-gallon and askin' for more

Drinkin' wine spodee-o, drinkin' wine
(drinkin' wine)
wine spodee-o, drinkin' wine
(drinkin' wine)
wine spodee-o, drinkin' wine
Pass that bottle to me

And if you follow this link you can listen to Jerry Lee sing it...

Knockin' out windows, kickin' down doors – ah, memories. A few years back, you could go to court in Scotland for such an offence and your brief would plead that "strong drink had been taken and my client was not in complete control of his faculties, you honour". If your luck was in, the sheriff would be a fellow sot and admonish you, with the rider to "be of good behaviour for three months".

I was reminded, too, of another less than salubrious cocktail. Years ago in Ma Cameron's bar in Aberdeen, I was having a swift half of Guinness when an old, rough-looking guy crept in and asked for a large port and brandy, the drink of choice among some, apparently – at 11am. I was appraised today also of another chap, one of the old newspaper fraternity,  who often gulped that very pick-me up at the 'tea break'. In fact, on one occasion, this same chap enjoyed such a lengthy tea break that he had to rush back up to his desk at 12.30 as he was on the rota for early lunch. Ah, the old days...
One fortunate thing for those who lived to tell the tale ... I know how they'll be spending their winter heating allowance this year. You have to stay warm. You must!

Friday, 26 November 2010

Cocktail anyone? Savoy faire...

In the interests of high culture, we just had to revisit the HQ of the British cocktail, namely the Savoy Hotel in The Strand, London. We've been suffering over the past couple of years – a case of make do and mend, while having to put up with cocktails at such spots as the Ritz, or Claridge's even. At last then the old place has reopened – following a £220 million refurb and 18 months late (not in the same league as the Edinburgh trams fiasco and far more tasteful) – and would Harry Craddock be proud? The renowned cocktail barman who brought fame to the American Bar at the Savoy would surely have been happy with the fare on offer, with the old classics to the fore: Manhattan, Dry Martini and White Lady, which, it is said, he invented. Plus a plethora of new ideas, not least a non-alcoholic delight with a cucumber base which one of our number felt disposed to try. The American Bar showing its new face, remains of the very top order, with decor, comfort, ambience, service and choice uncompromised. Not the cheapest spot in town, of course, but you wouldn't expect it to be, and the gorgeous art deco-esque fittings, including the fish fountain (pictured) are a joy.

A couple of minus points, however: why is it that people these days have forgotten the art of getting dressed? Some of the guests on the evening we were there could have passed for tramps. Another minus was the removal of the old grand piano which Frank Sinatra used to play on his visits. It's been replaced by a white baby grand which sits in the middle of the lounge and was played by a cabaret 'artist' whose singing was as bad as I've heard outside a low dive in Govan. In his favour, he could tinkle the ivories a little. Better then, if you can get a seat nearer the bar and away from the initial lounge area. That way you can hear yourself laugh. The Savoy, while known for its art deco frontage and some of its fittings, is, of course, a Victorian edifice, having been built in 1889 by the impresario Richard d'Oyly Carte. The artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler stayed there for a while – he knew how to live – and painted some scenes of the Thames from his balcony. You can see one of these pictures at the excellent Whistler: Blue and Silver exhibition at the Hunterian Gallery in Glasgow's west end until January 8.
Back to that cucumber cocktail then ... having been allowed a sip, I felt I might invent something not unlike it of my own – but with a little kick.
I call it the Last Cucu of Spring – but please offer your own suggestions...

Peel half a cucumber and chop it into pieces
1 table spoon of coriander
2 fl oz sugar syrup
Juice of 1 lime
6 fl oz white rum
2 fl oz peach shnapps
Good dash of orange bitters
Place all in a liquidiser and churn
Sieve into a cocktail shaker containing 4 lumps of ice
Shake well and pour
Cut a big angled wedge of cucumber, slice it halfway and hang on to the rim of the glass

Serves four possibly – or one if you're any of my chums.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

At last...

After a lengthy period of refurbishment, the fabulous Central Hotel in Glasgow has reopened. And at last there is at least one spot in town where you can get a decent cocktail. Do tell me of others, PLEASE. There are plenty masquerading as cocktail bars, but few – that I've been to anyway, and I have tried – really know what they are about. But the Central Hotel, which has wisely retained many of its best features, now boasts a champagne bar where it's possible to purchase champagne by the glass. Something one might think possible in the bar at the Theatre Royal on opera or ballet occasions. But you'd be wrong. A whole bottle or nothing. Still, the beautiful Central Hotel knows better, and at £6 a pop for the house champers, is very reasonable.
This sounds like an advert for the place in question, and I'm sure it doesn't require me to give it a free plug. Yet credit where it's due. Even the strange wee statue standing guard outside on  the corner of Gordon Street and Hope Street looks pleased.

Friday, 12 November 2010

the wrong mix!

Giving cocktails a bad name. So, what do you make of this character on the left? Not much point venturing a comment on the other guy – he's dead. Murdered by the chap on the left. Sex slave, he was ... the dead guy. You might think the smirking murderer a right bastard. And in sentiment you'd be right. But in reality he's a Saudi prince. A sod, certainly – as in sodomite, though I've no argument with that. But this guy, on account of being the grandson of the King of Saudi Arabia, thought he could claim diplomatic immunity and escape prosecution for the murder of the poor chap on the right, namely his slave. A medieval concept, still much loved apparently by rich bastards from Saudi Arabia – sorry a prince. Before his boss totally lost the plot and gave his slave a horrific and fatal beating, some of which was captured on CCTV in the 5-star London hotel they were staying in, the pair enjoyed a huge cocktail for two – it looks big enough to swim in, and, in truth, the big guy doesn't really look as if he is enjoying it. But thanks to good old British legal system, it was a Shakespearean case of Good Night Sweet Prince – and not so sweet at that.
But as the little sod does his best to give cocktails a bad name, the civilised rest of us know better: It's Friday, so what do you do? Why, pour yourself – and your loving partner of whatever persuasion suits your fancy – a cool cocktail, in my case a bone dry martini, connect to iPlayer on your computer and click on the latest episode of Mad Men. The haunting musical intro floods the brain ... take a sip of martini and float into paradise. Not the paradise the poor sex slave went to, of course, but that more earthly, intoxicating state. Bastard.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

And another?

The popularity for cocktails has struck on primetime TV. The recent Harry and Paul show had an item whereby Paul Whitehouse's character, a street huckster, was attempting to entice nice girls with his chocolate wares – until he was trumped by a smug Harry Enfield selling shoes, to which the girls flocked. Then – quite rightly, of course – both were trumped in turn by a smooth operator selling cocktails. The girls were mad for that. As indeed they are in real life.
One of them, an old chum, has a liking for the Gin Bennett, which goes something like this ...

  • Into a cocktail shaker add 1 1/2 fl oz gin (hard to beat Bombay Sapphire)
  • A good dash of orange bitters
  • 1 tbs spoon sugar syrup
  • Juice of a lime
  • Add 4 ice cubes, shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail glass.
  • Drink very decorously – 'cos if you do, you might just get another.

Certainly the Misses Bennet of Pride and Prejudice never got to try one. All they wanted were husbands. Who needs them when you can have a Gin Bennett?

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Cocktail anyone? Good old Harry

So, what is it about cocktails all of a sudden? In fact, they've been with us for possibly 200 years, depending on who you talk to, and the king, Harry Craddock, brought the confection to perfection in the 30s, the most stylish of eras – that's art deco, to you.
Yet try buying a decent one in some burgs.  In the (supposed) cocktail bar at one of the most fashionable hotels in Glasgow's west end recently (I'd better not mention its name, yet it wasn't too far from Hughenden rugby club) I asked for a bone-dry martini with three olives (the required amount). The waiter – nice chap in other departments, hopefully – delivered a tumbler ( a TUMBLER!!!) containing urine-coloured liquid plus the required three olives on a stick. On asking: "Excuse me, what is this exactly?" he informed me that he had delivered a Dry Martini – as in Dry Martini, the vermouth that comes straight from the thin green bottle. The chap was young (is that an excuse?) so let's not take him to task. Perhaps the Dry Martini, given its content should in fact be dubbed – The Gin.
More on this later. And how better they do things in a spot formerly loved by Glaswegians and visitors alike.
Meanwhile, have a look at the accompanying pihotograph and reason why a cocktail is such a civilising accomplishment. Pictured is a Dry (very) Martini with three pimento-stuffed olives plus suitable nibbles: blinis with soured cream and keta (salmon) caviar. Not as good as oscietra or beluga but a damned sight cheaper and delicious with it.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Cocktails anyone? watch this space

Fashion? How come they're the fashion all of a sudden? Cocktails have always been in fashion as far as I'm concerned. Ideas and other paraphernalia coming up. Don't go away.