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the best martinis in london, dukes martini

The best martinis in London

It's a London classic done shaken, stirred or flipped on its head, but who makes the best martini in London?

By Richard Ehrlich
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It’s the greatest cocktail. For some people, it’s the only cocktail. So perfect in its simplicity – gin or vodka, vermouth, garnish – that it should be easy to make. But bars that achieve perfection still aren’t as easy to find in London as they are in New York City, Chicago or San Francisco. So here are our top ‘tini hotspots, with a bias towards those that do martinis with little variation from classic principles. But don’t worry, you’ll still find a few audacious innovations in our list as well.

RECOMMENDED: Read our guide to the best cocktails in London

The best martinis in London

Classic martini at American Bar at the Beaumont

Bars and pubs Hotel bars Mayfair

£12

Trying to reproduce a luxury Manhattan hotel bar is always dangerous. Models such as the Bemelmans Bar (Carlyle), Blue Room (Algonquin), and King Cole (St Regis) have an effortlessly clubby dignity that arises from an ancient (by American standards) pedigree. But Corbin and King, arguably the canniest restaurateurs in London, have succeeded brilliantly with the bar at their Mayfair hotel. Dark, atmospheric and well run, it makes a mean martini, among other classics. This is old-fashioned luxury that combines retro with metropolitan chic.

Polish martini at Baltic

Restaurants Eastern European Southwark

£8.50

Gin fascists say that a vodka martini isn’t worthy of the name. Get them to join you at the Baltic and see that they’re full of it. This long-standing Polish star serves over 20 ‘tinis from their excellent vodka selection, and ordering a bunch of them is the best way to evaluate – in the interests of scientific research, of course – just how different vodkas can be. The base spirit may be made from grain or from potatoes, but the cocktails are all made with skill. Na zdrowie! (That’s Polish for ‘cheers’.)

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best martinis in london, bar termini
© Jael Marschner

Marsala martini at Bar Termini

Bars and pubs Cocktail bars Soho

£9.50

Everything sold by this pint-size Soho superstar is good, as you would expect when the drinks are creations of Tony Conigliaro, better known as the wizard behind 69 Colebrooke Row and the Zetter bars. But their Marsala Martini is a modern classic. Gin, sweet marsala, dry vermouth and almond bitters create a perfect balance that will make even purists go dewy-eyed with adoration. Termini’s drawback is its size (seating-only and 15 covers), but that just means you need to book well in advance.

best martini in london, company below
© Luana Failla

Martini at Company Below

Bars and pubs Cocktail bars Soho

£9

This tiny place occupies the basement of the meatball specialist Balls & Co, and it serves a small selection of dishes from the restaurant upstairs. But it’s anything but a poor relation. The clean lines and moody lighting make it a pleasant place to sit, and the skill level behind the bar is impressive. You can choose from three Martinis: classic, espresso and Earl Grey. Nothing fancy, just very, very well done – and served up with a smile at reasonable prices.

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best martinis in London, dukes hotel bar
© Rob Greig

Gin martini at Dukes Hotel

Hotels Luxury hotels St James’s

£18.50

Yeah, yeah – you can get perfect martinis in other places. But the Dukes martini is still the most perfect of the perfect, because ordering it involves you in a private little theatrical performance. Specify the gin and the bartender brings over a little table to mix your drinks with casual precision. Then you settle back (think stately-home-drawing-room-comfortable), draw the tray of scrumptious bar snacks closer, and sip away. Prices are sell-a-kidney high, but the martinis are so strong that drinking two is a liver-killing proposition. London’s most unforgettable cocktail experience.

First Press Martini at Foxlow Clerkenwell

Restaurants British Farringdon and Smithfield

£8.25

Foxlow’s First Press Martini breaks lots of rules. There’s no vermouth, just olive brine and honey. But you don’t miss the vermouth, because those sweet-salty ingredients create a broadly similar effect that’s unique and deeply satisfying. And the innovative package clings closely to the essential principle of simplicity which lies at the core of the cocktail’s greatness. They serve First Press at all their locations, not just this original branch. It’s reason enough to head on over, even if you’re not eating the fab Foxlow food.

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Martini at Happiness Forgets

Bars and pubs Cocktail bars Hoxton

£8.50

What are we, crazy? We're telling you to go and drink martinis at a bar that doesn’t even have them on the list. Don’t let this deter you. We vividly remember every visit to Happiness Forgets, and that’s in large part because of their off-list martinis. Specify the gin you want and the degree of dryness, and they will produce a drink so perfect you’d think they had direct access to the cocktail section of your taste buds. Booking is a good idea, as the place is always rammed.

Martini at Portobello Star

Bars and pubs Cocktail bars Portobello Road

£9

Portobello Road gin is one of the glories of the capital’s distilling scene. So: while you are welcome to peruse their zany, word-filled cocktail list, you’d be crazy to order anything other than the home distillate. Their martini tweak includes Lillet Blanc and bitters. It’s a stunning drink, right at home in this stalwart of the W11 drinking scene. Also on offer: a ‘breakfast martini’ made with marmalade and Cointreau, and the Earl Grey ‘Marteani’ (Tanqueray gin) invented by Manhattan bar-genius Audrey Saunders. The Star’s preferred garnish is a grapefruit twist, btw.

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Bone Dry Martini at White Lyan

Bars and pubs Cocktail bars Hoxton

£9

Don’t do that! This sums up our general attitude to experimental martinis. When you have a drink this perfect, messing around runs the risk of ruining it. If it ain’t broke, yadda yadda. But White Lyan gets an ungrudging pass for its Bone Dry Martini, made from the house vodka and chicken bones dissolved in an acid-and-mineral bath. A good martini has sharpness and aromatic intensity, qualities that are both present in Ryan Chetiyawardana’s drink – they’re just achieved differently. The drink is included in the ‘Heaps Mad Shit’ section of the White Lyan list. Heaps mad, but well good.

Koln Martini at The Zetter Townhouse Clerkenwell

Hotels Boutique hotels Clerkenwell

£10.50

Drinking at the Zetter is a very civilised hoot. The wacked-out jumble of antiques and objets d’art makes for endless amusement; there’s an animated but civilised buzz; and Tony Conigliaro’s short list of house cocktails is a model of tastefulness, restraint, and respect for the timeless classics. His Köln Martini exemplifies that approach: gin, vermouth, and a hint of own-made ‘citrus aromatics’. We don’t know what that consists of. We do know that it lifts this drink into the realms of the sublime. If you can stop at one, your will power exceeds ours.

How to make an espresso martini

Video: How to make an espresso martini

Bars and pubs

According to booze legend, the first espresso martini was poured right here in London in 1983. Working at a bar in Soho, cocktail king Dick Bradsell was asked by a customer to mix up something that would 'wake me up, then fuck me up'. With its generous measure of vodka, this version from The Blind Pig has certainly got the second part covered. 

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