Neither shaken nor stirred: the world’s best Martinis

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Bond purists might baulk but the best Martinis in the world are neither shaken nor stirred. Just ask the experts at Dukes Bar in London.

David Lowbridge-Ellis

Bond purists might baulk but the best Martinis in the world are neither shaken nor stirred. Just ask the experts at Dukes Bar in London.

“[Bond] watched carefully as the deep glass became frosted with the pale golden drink, slightly aerated by the bruising of the shaker.” (Fleming’s Casino Royale)

At Dukes, they do not shake a Martini, unless you specifically ask for it to be shaken. Although – unless you’re that keen on emulating James Bond down to exact details – I can’t imagine why you would.

Is such a thing heresy from the lips of a Bond fan?

Well, hold off that mental image of Ian Fleming spinning in his grave for a moment. All will become clear; as clear as the finished drink. 

Shaking makes the ice chip off and melt, diluting the drink (not a good move with a Martini). Stirring is preferable but superfluous if the ingredients are taken straight from the freezer. This is what they do at Dukes and it’s a practice I’ve replicated at home. The bottom drawer of our freezer is permanently stocked with vodka, gin and Martini glasses. 

The only ingredients of a Dukes Vesper which shouldn’t go in the freezer are the Angostura bitters and the Sacred amber vermouth (a close match for Bond’s Kina Lillet, which is no longer produced). The bitters don’t need to be ice cold and putting the vermouth in the freezer might leave one with an explosive situation, the alcohol content not being sufficient to prevent freezing and the ensuing expansion beyond the confines of the glass bottle!

The bitters and vermouth go in the frost-rimed glass first. Potocki Vodka from Poland joins, the ice-cold spirit sliding silkily into the glass. Finally, the No. 3 gin, from nearby Berry Bros. & Rudd (London’s oldest wine and spirit merchant), tops up the glass to the rim, almost to the point where you think it might overflow.

The oils of a generous slice of orange peel are expressed before the peel itself slips silently into the pool like a skinny dipper sneaking in after hours.

And who knows what you’ll get up to after a Dukes Martini, which contains, in all, five shots of alcohol. Friends in the Bond community have told me stories which I don’t dare repeat on here. But I’m not surprised that Dukes limit all customers – regardless of professed liver strength – to just two Martinis. I only discovered this myself after attempting to order a third and was politely informed that I needed to select another drink from the menu.

“Perhaps sir would prefer something a little less intense than a Martini? Say, a Negroni.”

It comes to something when a Negroni is considered the sensible choice off a cocktail list.

The alcohol content is almost beside the point with these Martinis though. This is not the mere making of a drink. This is a taste of sublimity. A disruption to your day whatever your plans were, are or will be. A coup de theatre if you will, although seeing as a Vesper is not served in a coup(e) glass perhaps a ‘Martini de theatre’ might be more accurate.

Planning your own trip

Please note that this is not a promotion. Every time my husband and I have visited Dukes, we have paid in full.

You can book a stay at Dukes directly from their website https://www.dukeshotel.com/ where you can also find information about Dukes Bar and their excellent Great British Restaurant.

Reservations are not possible for Dukes Bar, unless you are a hotel guest – a considerable inducement to stay the night! – although they do have a first come-first served policy for non-hotel guests and they will do their utmost to accommodate you. Dress code is smart casual: “Leisurewear is not permitted and jackets are encouraged.” 

Dukes is located a street over from Jermyn Street, where Fleming and Bond did most of their shopping for luxury goods – clothing, bath products, perfumes. It’s a great place to window shop even if you don’t plan to stop to buy.

Last modified: 3 January 2024