Raspberry ripples


To me, a raspberry martini - being adulterated by fruit and heaven knows what else - is not a martini. But, seasoned drinker that I am, I don't fret too much about nomenclature as long as it tastes good. Besides, far better that this particular drink should bear a classy, if unoriginal, name than that it should labour under some crude 1980s label.

My mother tells me she drank a Slippery Nipple the other day. She isn't that sort of person: she was celebrating with her psychology class the end of their exams, and the Nipple was someone's tiresome idea of a joke. She said it was revolting, which was hardly surprising. If cocktails were named after girls, the Slippery Nipple would definitely be a Kylie or a Tracy. The dry martini would be as rapaciously glacial as a Hitchcock blonde - Grace Kelly, perhaps. The raspberry martini is more like a Charlotte, a Jessica or an Anne-Marie. Drunk in the right conditions, I actually think it's sublime enough to be a Heavenly Hirani.

In fact, though it contains neither gin nor vermouth, there is a sense in which the drink could be called a martini. Essentially there are six types of cocktail that any decent bartender (or mixologist, as we are now required to call them) should be able to make, standing on his head blindfolded, while juggling flaming vodka bottles with his left hand. Most others are simply variations of these. Even so, the martini maestro Dick Bradsell only reluctantly accedes to allow the raspberry drink the status of a martini derivative.

The big six are: the martini, the daiquiri, the sour, the punch, the Manhattan and the old-fashioned. Ask any London girl about town and she will tell you that the martini, in all its guises, has been the big thing for a while now, with one of the most pretentious glamour bars - the Met - and a slightly faded glamour bar - the Atlantic - both staking powerful claims to have been the shakers behind the fruit martini resurrection.

But who cares? The best way to enjoy the raspberry martini is in an English rose garden on a midsummer afternoon. Better still, it's a cinch to make and is one of the few cocktails that survive after being removed from their native environment - the bar. With this in mind, I have invited a few friends around to languish on my balcony and drink. I've also cheated and combined at-home with out-on-the-town: the entrepreneur and professional bartender Chip Prain has lent me both his ultra-stylish mobile bar and his services for the afternoon.

My mates think it so hilarious that I've invited them for Sunday summer cocktails that they all turn up resplendent in borrowed Sloane wear: white polo-necks, jeans, navy blazers and brown loafers. But when Chip gets his shaker out, the smirks soon disappear from their faces.

The raspberry martini is delicious. The wonderful thing about raspberries is that you can freeze, puree or mash them and they scarcely lose their flavour. They remain tangy and sweet and they do so taste of summer gardens, even when mixed with vodka.

Here's how he does it. Take one measure of creme a la fraise (or framboise: Chip prefers fraise but is unable to say why), two of a premium vodka (basically anything over 40 per cent by vol) and two or three shots of raspberry puree. Shake with ice, strain and serve. Chip is using a French catering brand of raspberry puree, which is 90 per cent raspberries and 10 per cent sugar: it is generally used in patisseries and virtually impossible for you or me to obtain. You can, however, replace it with a home-made puree - just remember to sieve it to get the seeds out. Make enough to last until September and freeze in ice-cube trays for rapid access.

Not one of my sneering friends has any complaints. Indeed we drink from high noon until late dusk, so it's just as well that raspberry martini has none of the killer instincts of its namesake.

This article first appeared in the 19 July 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The transport row: who is to blame?

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.