Friday, April 3, 2009

La Dolce Vita in a Glass

Ok, I am over all the hype that Martinis have garnered over the last couple of years with Martini Bars springing up in all the world capitals and then being bastardized so that the drink is no longer recognizable. I am a purist at heart and like my martinis pure. Lots of ice-cold gin, just a sniff of vermouth and a twist of lemon.

I am a gin and tonic man, so was rather intrigued when reading ‘The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone’ by Tennessee Williams that all were drinking Negronis which I had not heard of. So after a bit of research I find that the cocktail combines all my favourites in a tantalizing concoction that will take you right back to the ‘la dolce vita’ of Rome in the 50’s

According to the most popular story, the Negroni was invented in Florence in 1919, at Caffè Casoni, It was named for Count Camillo Negroni, the man who invented it by asking a bartender to add gin to the Americano, his favorite drink.

So here is the recipe
1 oz gin
1 oz Campari
3/4 oz Sweet Vermouth

Combine all ingredients in an ice filled shaker. Shake until well chilled and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a burnt orange. To make a burnt orange, cut about a 1 1/2 inch by 1 inch peel off a ripe navel orange. Be sure to get just the skin and as little of the pith as possible. Holding the orange peel between thumb and index fingers with skin facing out, hold a lit match over the glass and with the orange peel about an inch away from the flame squeeze the peel quickly and firmly between your fingers. When done correctly, a burst of flame will come from the oils being released from the peel leaving an aroma and adding a note of orange to the cocktail. Simply drop the twist in the drink.

So lets drink to summer with a negroni in hand and ‘la dolce vita’ on our minds!

Some Style we Cannot do Without!

Bronwen Pugh, top model of the late 1950’s, the daughter of a Knight of the Realm, the muse of Pierre Balmain here was a girl who just reeked savoir faire!

Once described as "that Welsh girl who slinks along the runway with a fur over her shoulder looking as though she's just killed it and is taking it home to her mate" she gave it all up in 1960 to become Lady Astor. Enough said!

Take Me to The Hilton

The Hilton please, of course Sir! When arriving at Cairo’s International Airport in the 60’s and 70’s, hop into a taxi and ask for the Hilton and there would be no question as to where you wanted to go. Of course there were other hotels in Cairo, just as famous but anyone who was anybody stayed at the Nile Hilton. Shepheards had burnt to the ground previously and the new Shepheards was struggling to regain its former glory. The Semiramis was looking old and tired around the edges and The Mena House was in a different class of its own.

What Cairo needed was an American style mega hotel and Conrad Hilton was just the person to deliver it. The new hotel was dominant in its location on the banks of the Nile, scale, whiteness and extraordinary in its modernity. The site was prime real estate in Cairo. The front of the building facing the Nile on the Corniche and the back of the building overlooking Freedom Square and the Egyptian Museum. The façade facing the Nile was a gleaming edifice of white, with an unbroken grid like pattern that was formed by the balconies of each room overlooking the Nile. The back of the hotel’s façade was similar to the front however this time we had the grid pattern interrupted by service stairs and elevator shafts. Surrounding the hotel was a wonderful multicoloured glass mosaic (now obscured by an ugly conference centre), representing the symbols of Ancient Egypt, in colours that would make Tutankhamen jealous. This was a building of stark modernity that contrasted heavily with the belle époque and Moorish style buildings that predominated Cairo. To cap it all off on the top of the building a sign proclaiming Hilton’s ownership, that has now become an icon.

Interior wise Ancient Egypt came to life with a modern glamorous twist. The lobby was dominated with a huge stone bas relief displaying an ancient hunting scene that was cast from an original in the Egyptian Museum. Small replicas adorned the walls of each guest room. A stylized lotus pattern was used on the fabrics that adorned the rooms and were represented in the main coffee shop painted on the walls in a fabulous teal colour. A friend of mine who stayed in the late 60’s can remember shag pile so deep you could lose a shoe in it.

This was an era of stark contrasts. Guests displayed themselves on the open balconies above a city in which the normal populous would remain behind closed doors. You could sit on one’s balcony after an excursion out to the pyramids and then marvel at where you had just been, while being attended to by an Arab waiter.

Sadly this is the end of an era. The Hilton has now closed and Ritz Carlton has taken over the management contract, and will completely refurbish the hotel. This could and probably will go horribly wrong. I just hope that Ritz Carlton will maintain the integrity of the original building and all it stands for.

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