Setting the scene

The pumping bass line is the first thing that greets you as walk down the steps to Dirty Martini, followed closely by an impressive oversized bar packed with bottles reaching for the ceiling. Two giant-sized chandeliers add drama to the centre of the room while twinkling fairylight-style spots soften the edges to create a warm, welcoming glow. Never mind the aesthetics though, let’s cut to the chase; the big draw here is the generous Happy Hour: from 5pm-10pm Monday to Thursday; 5pm-8pm Friday and Saturday and all day Sunday (!), when all martini-style drinks are priced at a recession-busting £4. No wonder the place is a hotspot for after work drinkers and pre-dinner crowds.

Inside Dirty Martini Covent Garden 

Down to business

The Signature at Dirty Martini couldn't have been anything but we were overjoyed that it was a Dirty Martini. Well, it should be shouldn’t it? They give you the choice between Ketel One vodka and Plymouth gin, both of which are given the same treatment: pressed Kalamata olives, fresh thyme and a few drops of Noilly Prat. I was pleasantly surprised when it arrived with a wreath of thyme crowning the olive in a dramatic, Julius Caesar-esque fashion. The balance is nicely judged and the unique garnish gains extra points (plus those Kalamata olives are pretty damned tasty)! The Martini, mixed with Bombay Sapphire, looks right and wrong at the same time. Right, because there’s an incredibly, beautifully cut piece of lemon peel, long, thinnish and very pointed. Wrong, because the glass and the drink just should look and feel colder. There’s a soft citrus aroma. And the taste feels a little like it wants something – as though it’s a little over diluted. The finish is more of the vermouth.

New York style exposed brick work at Dirty Martini

Recommended

The Breakfast Martini (Plymouth Gin shaken with Cointreau, fresh lemon and homemade orange marmalade): The vivid orange colour is a touch brighter than I'm used to and there’s a lovely flourish of orange peel adding depth and playfulness to the glass. It’s good and marmalade-y, imparting a delicious sweet and sour taste all at once while being warming on the palate. Also, the Park Lane Martini (Tangueray Gin, Apricot Brandy, Pomegranate Syrup, orange juice) doesn’t disappoint. It looks good – in a classic martini glass it has an inviting bloody orange colour with an invitingly creamy head. The taste is heavy on the apricot – like a grown-up jam, but surprisingly not too sweet. Full in the mouth and  up front with lots of flavour - this is a very nice drink.

And To Eat?

The emphasis at Dirty Martini Covent Garden is on standard sharing fare – potato wedges, spring rolls, king prawns, all at around a reasonable five or six quid, and sharing platters up to £14.95. They really did fill a much needed whole after all those Martinis and were tasty; very good complements to the drinks.

Glitzy chandeleirs adorn the ceiling at Dirty Martini Covent Garden

Look Out For

“Dirty By Design” on Wednesdays. Choose your spirit, style, flavouring and mixer, then hey presto,  ”Design Your Own Cocktail”, at £4.75 each or £8 for two. Great idea and great fun! 

What’s The Damage?

Happy Hour aside, the prices are a very reasonable £7.75 to £8.50, including a few fizzy ones. The whole drinks menu falls into the Happily Affordable bracket, a rear occurence for a bar located bang in the heart of Covent Garden!

Summary

Dirty Martini aims to be a slice of New York in the heart of London. Normally, many bars fall short when they try to re-create the ambience and buzz of a New York bar but Dirty Martini surprised me and really did live up to their aim: There is a genuine buzz (due to the small size of the bar and the bass heavy music), the exposed brick contrasting with the decadent and glitzy decorations and most importantly the drinks really are good. Will they win any awards for creativity and inventiveness? No. But if you want well made cocktails in a genuinely cool place away from the tourist crowd in the heart of London then I recommend you descend the stairs into this New York basement.