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Adventures in home cooking, baking and eating out mostly in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. A bit of travelling, shopping, and having a good time.

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Martini Masterclass at The Waiting Room (Crown Entertainment Complex, Melbourne)


My father loves movies.  More accurately, he loves falling asleep during movies.  Barely 20 minutes into the movie (any movie!), I’d start hearing his gentle snores from the couch.  Which meant that I watched an awful lot of the same movies over and over again since Dad wouldn’t remember anything that happened in them.  But despite him being asleep most of the time, the best movies I watched with him were the James Bond series because of the great car chases and amazing gadgets.

Nowadays, the Doctor and I watch a lot of BBC series together.  The Sherlock miniseries surprised me with how faithful they were to the books (which I have loved since high school), and most obviously, we both adore Doctor Who – even if he doesn’t agree that David Tennant was the most brilliant Doctor ever.

So when I saw a competition on the Rockpool blog to win a double-pass to their Martini Masterclass, simply by commenting who I thought would be the next great Bond and Bond villain, I impulsively suggested my current BBC actors:

Benedict Cumberbatch and John Sims - my pick for the next Bond and Bond villain! Image courtesy BBC One

Benedict Cumberbatch and John Sims – my pick for the next Bond and Bond villain!  Images courtesy BBC One

Now imagine my surprise when they announced that I’d actually won!

Our hosts for the night, Will and Gus

Will Oxenham (left), our geeky host and teacher, Gus (right), our tireless bartender

Our hosts for the night were Will and Gus, both bartenders at the Waiting Room. Will was just bursting with information and experience, and you could tell that he would happily run the session over 6 hours (rather than 2), and still have a million things to say.  Gus was charming (and relatively silent) behind the bar, but seemed to be having as good a time as the rest of us.

TWR Pisco Punch

The Waiting Room’s version of Pisco Punch

On arriving at the Waiting Room, we were presented with a lovely pisco punch.  They’d twisted it up a little by making their own spiced syrup with caramelised pineapple, cinnamon and cloves, giving it a strangely tropical, but Christmas-y flavour.  They also added a wee touch of absinthe, and topped it up with sparkling wine, just so we “weren’t drinking straight booze all night”.

… Wait, what?

Small plates - finger sandwiches, Spanish-style "bruschetta" and mixed olives

Top left: tuna salad, sopresso, jamon and machego served “bruschetta”-style. Top right: cucumber sandwiches. Bottom left: smoked salmon sandwiches. Bottom right: marinated mixed olives.

Throughout the night, we were presented with lovely small plates that would not be out of place at a High Tea.  Except for the jamon and sopresso, everything was pescetarian-safe, meaning that the Doctor could happily chow down along with me.

Martini ingredients - gin, vermouth, vodka

Not your usual ingredient list – about 20 bottles of gin, vermouth and vodka

The actual definition of what makes a martini is quite broad. Essentially, it needs to contain a base spirit (either gin or vodka), vermouth (sweet or dry), and optional modifiers such as bitters and other liqueurs. Olives and lemon twists are the most common garnishes.  The word “martini” actually refers to the shape of the glass it’s served in, which is why more modern cocktails (like the appletini) can take the name, but not the actual form of the drink.

Who orders appletinis these days, anyway?  They’re so 2008.

Tray-full of bitters! Agnostura, orange, grapefruit, as well as some rare and custom mixes

So many bitters! Agnostura, orange, grapefruit, as well as some custom mixes

Martini garnishes and glasses

Left: martini garnishes, olives and fresh fruit for zesting. Right: Frozen glasses for mixing martinis

The key to a true martini is to keep it as cold as possible. At the Waiting Room, glasses used in mixing the martinis are kept in the freezer, and they make their own massive ice blocks by freezing water in Eskys.

Shaken vs stirred

What we were all there for – shaken vs stirred!

The first demonstration was to show the difference between a “shaken” (on left) and “stirred” martini.  Exactly the same ingredients went into both drinks (gin, sweet vermouth and a twist of lemon), but the cloudiness of the shaken martini comes just from the extra aeration it gets in the shaker.  Taste-wise, I felt the shaken version was slightly “grittier”, almost like there were tiny ice crystals melting on the tongue as I sipped it.  The stirred version was not only smoother in texture, but somehow felt even colder.

Now that I know the difference, I must admit I lost a little bit of respect for Mr Bond for ordering such a lovely drink to be made in a non-standard way.  I bet it’s just so he’d draw attention to himself by getting the bartender to make a lot more noise!

I didn’t try to capture all of the samples we had – perfectly crystal clear drinks all start to look the same after a while, but the tastes were wildly different.  Below are the more memorable variations that we tried.

50:50 martini (left), Martinez (right)

Left: 50:50 martini. Right: Martinez. The “first” martinis.

The 50:50 martini (on the left) is about as easy as it gets.  Equal amounts of gin and vermouth, a lemon twist and couple of olives.  The Waiting Room serves their olives on the side, letting the guest choose how they want to experience their drink.  This tasted balanced, but somewhat unsophisticated.  The components of the drink were there, but it didn’t make you think too hard about it.

On the right is the Martinez, considered the “father” of the martini, but not strictly a martini itself.  This is made from gin, a small amount of sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur (the real stuff, not leftover syrup from the fruit you get at Christmas!) and a dash of bitters.  The vermouth had a strong taste of dark chocolate to it, and the orange twist really got me thinking about the martinis we were going to make later on.

Frank Moorhouse (left) and Hoffman House martini (right)

Left: Frank Moorhouse (wet). Right: Hoffman House (dry)

The other big debate in martini styles is “wet” vs “dry”.  This basically describes the amount of vermouth in proportion to gin – wet martinis having more vermouth (3 parts gin to 1 part vermouth) than dry (8:1).  Of course, the actual type of vermouth counts the most, but in general, wet martinis are sweeter and more rounded than dry.

The Frank Moorhouse (left) is the “classic” wet martini, usually made in a 5:1 gin-to-vermouth ratio.  On the right is the Hoffman House martini, 8:1 in ratio and a heavy hand on the bitters (4 dashes).  We also tried a Churchill martini (not pictured), 15 parts gin to 1 part vermouth.  Let’s just say that his idea of using Daleks to win World War Two was somewhat better thought out than his taste in martinis!

Custom Martinis

Left: The Doctor’s LLB. Right: My Jaffa-tini

Armed with newfound knowledge and an extremely (extremely!) well-stocked bar, we were offered the chance to make our very own martinis.  The Doctor was inspired by another classic drink.  I still couldn’t stop thinking about the dark chocolate smell of the Dubonnet vermouth, but I also wanted to bump up the orange content for something really special to me.

The Doctor’s “Lemon Lime Bitters” Martini – dry and slightly bitter, just like Lestrade

40ml Plymouth gin
20ml Antiqua sweet vermouth
3 dashes Agnostura bitters
Lemon twist

Sefie’s Jaffa-tini – dark candy, inspired by the beginnings of time martini itself

40ml Plymouth gin
40ml Dubonnet sweet vermouth
5ml Luxardo maraschino liqueur
2 dashes orange bitters
Orange twist


Pour liqueurs into a tall, cold glass.  Fill with as much ice as the glass can hold, and stir for 20 seconds.  Strain into a martini glass, and add garnish.

For more images from the night, please flick through the gallery below.  Click on the [i] button on the top-right for more info on each picture!


[img src=http://eats.sefiebee.com/wp-content/flagallery/2011-11-martini/thumbs/thumbs_crown1.jpg]18510Crown Atrium Christmas carnival
[img src=http://eats.sefiebee.com/wp-content/flagallery/2011-11-martini/thumbs/thumbs_martini00.jpg]17990Waiting Room Wall
Mirrored wall near the Waiting Room near the Spice Temple at Crown
[img src=http://eats.sefiebee.com/wp-content/flagallery/2011-11-martini/thumbs/thumbs_martini01.jpg]17960Waiting Room Entrance
Entrance to the Waiting Room from the Crown Towers foyer
[img src=http://eats.sefiebee.com/wp-content/flagallery/2011-11-martini/thumbs/thumbs_martini02.jpg]17860Waiting Room Lounge Bar
Bar in the Waiting Room private lounge where the Masterclass was taking place
[img src=http://eats.sefiebee.com/wp-content/flagallery/2011-11-martini/thumbs/thumbs_martini05.jpg]17770Waiting Room decor
[img src=http://eats.sefiebee.com/wp-content/flagallery/2011-11-martini/thumbs/thumbs_martini06.jpg]17770Masterclass tables
Water glasses, class notes and tasting straws (you didn't think we were actually DRINKING everything, did you?)
[img src=http://eats.sefiebee.com/wp-content/flagallery/2011-11-martini/thumbs/thumbs_martini07.jpg]17700Cocktail Books
Will's impressive collection of original cocktail books - I love geeks!
[img src=http://eats.sefiebee.com/wp-content/flagallery/2011-11-martini/thumbs/thumbs_crown2.jpg]17730Crown Atrium Christmas carnival
Monkeys everywhere!
[img src=http://eats.sefiebee.com/wp-content/flagallery/2011-11-martini/thumbs/thumbs_doctor1.jpg]17640The Doctor and Daniel Craig
Couldn't help but be struck by the similarity between the Doctor and Daniel Craig (yet another Bond!) in this poster... Obviously it was all meant to be!

Many, many thanks to Will, Gus, Sarah, Michelle and the rest of the TWR/Rockpool team for a great night.  It was a great experience, and definitely a great introduction to the King of Cocktails.  I’m not sure I’m brave enough to try them at home myself yet, so I’ll see you again at TWR soon!

Disclaimer: Sefie and the Doctor attended the TWR Spirited Session Martini Masterclass as lucky guests of The Waiting Room and Rockpool.  This post was not solicited.  More information on future Spirited Sessions can be found at TWRbar.com/masterclasses.

7 comments to Martini Masterclass at The Waiting Room (Crown Entertainment Complex, Melbourne)

  • Wow! Got me thirsty again there! Fantastic experience! I prefer the Doctor’s martini though. I’m a fan of lime and bitters! But I’m a willing subject, so when I come down to Melbourne, maybe I’ll try some jaffa inspired concoction!

  • Michael H.

    :-) That’d be great!

    I nearly forgot I did have an actual note on martinis — for a while (’98-’03?), I was really into martinis. My basic standby was a 3:1 vermouth:gin, with two or three olives. Sometimes adding a little olive juice (“dirty”) was good, although one time at the $5 martini hour below my office, this was overdone to the point where it was nearly undrinkable.

    It’s a good thing that $5 martini hour was only on Thursdays, given that it was literally right below my office. Dangerous!

    When I made them myself, I did usually shake them. Fun with the shaker, and sometimes I want the texture of the ice crystals.

    • Whoa, 3:1 vermouth to gin? The 50:50 was as close as we got to that ratio, that’s really… whoa. We did also get to try “dirty” martinis, and I wouldn’t say I’d refuse one, but I do really like having the olives on the side.

      I’d like to find a drink that is supposed to be served shaken, my favourite cocktail is still the mojito, but that’s muddled.

  • Michael H.

    Oh, I’m envious. That sounds like a fantastic experience. Mind if I forward this on?

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