Review – Egerton House Hotel
It has been said that a Martini is like a woman’s breast; one is not enough, and three is too many. It seems however that no-one told Antonio, head bartender at the Egerton House hotel. Sitting in what looks more like the drawing room of one of the country’s great country houses, than a hotel bar in central London, you could very easily find yourself bedding down for the night on the sofa if you attempt to drink two of these epic libations. An order of a Martini here results in Antonio, a man not much taller than a bottle of Tanqueray 10, but with a personality the size of his homeland Italy, arriving at your side with a small wooden table in hand onto which he places a frozen Martini glass, your preferred garnish, a small dash bottle of dry vermouth and a blisteringly cold bottle of gin. You could choose vodka of course but you’ll have to suffer a light-hearted frown. Into the glass he throws a couple of dashes of the vermouth, before filling the glass with so much of your preferred spirit that you think he has either suddenly lost his eyesight, or is demonstrating the properties of surface tension. Either way, you won’t find a larger Martini serve that doesn’t require an immediate trip to rehab. Those with shaky hands will find themselves leaning in to slurp from the glass, whilst true Martini experts will demonstrate their hand-eye coordination prowess by delicately raising this glass of silky liquid to their mouth and hoping they can pull it off. Either way, this ‘naked’ (i.e. not stirred with ice) Martini is a joy. Usually my taste preference for a Martini is a little wetter, but I must admit that the lighter use of vermouth in this ice-cold undiluted gin is an absolute joy.
Martini’s aside, a not insignificant part of the appeal of this hotel bar is that it doesn’t feel like a hotel bar at all. A log fire, comfy sofas with plump cushions, and ornate occasional tables make it the most homely of watering holes. The bar itself is teeny tiny and discreetly placed in a corner of the room such that the focus very much feels on the customer rather than the hotel. Coupled with the quirky, attentive, and ‘feels-like-I-have-known-you-forever’ service provided by Antonio, and it’s not just the strength of the Martini’s that will stop you from leaving any time soon. Other cocktails are reassuringly classic; you won’t find any molecular hocus pocus or ninja wafting here.Antonio is a bartender from an all too rarely seen generation where pomp and ceremony are not his idea of a good drink. My Manhattan was well executed, as was an Old Fashioned; nothing groundbreaking, but then sometimes that is just what you need. Just don’t order a Sazerac, Antonio doesn’t like Absinthe so won’t stock it!
There is something unspeakably charming about this bar. Mostly, it’s the way customers are made to feel as though they are a guest in Antonio’s home, not just his bar.Whether he is regaling you with a story from his decades behind the bar, or giving mock-diapproving glares on your choice of drink, he offers the sort of practiced hospitality that you simply don’t get anywhere else. If you haven’t had one of his legendary Martini’s yet, you’d better take a day off work and head there right away.
A visit to the bar at the Egerton House Hotel should be on everyone’s bucket list. Antonio not only serves up some of the best Martini’s in town, but he does so with wit and charm that rarely surpassed.