Sharon Stephenson discovers American air stewardesses know a good thing when they flock to the master of martinis.

Is there a collective noun for a group of blonde, Botoxed American flight attendants on a layover?

I'm not sure either but, squashed into a tiny London bar with a bunch of them, "gaggle" is the best I can come up.

"We usually have less than a day in London, but at least three of those hours will be spent at the Egerton House Hotel bar," says one of the stewardesses.

It's easy to see why: the Egerton's martinis are the star of this money-soaked chunk of southwest London. And Esley Guanarantne, one of two resident bartenders, is the martini whisperer.

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"We can't come to London and not worship at the temple of Esley," says another, who has clearly been giving praise for several hours.

But while they've made the pilgrimage to ease the pain of badly behaved passengers and terrible food, I've come to learn from the master.

The Egerton has been running martini master-classes for a number of years and there's no better place to learn than from the Sri Lankan James Bond.

"You NEVER shake or stir a martini," says Esley, in mock horror, when I ask him which he prefers.

"You simply pour the gin or vodka, and then leave it alone. That's what keeps the drink pure."

And don't even think about introducing water. Esley's riffs on the classic gin and vodka martinis are all about using the best quality ingredients - Bombay Sapphire Gin and Konik's Tail, a Polish vodka - which have been frozen at -22C to ensure a syrupy consistency.

There are four martinis on offer at the Kensington hotel: the classic, which comes "straight up" or with a twist; a dirty martini, which is pure alcohol and designed for someone with far more tolerance than me; the apple sour martini, for which Esley will break his no-shake rule, and the ridiculously calorific chocolate martini.

Seeing as I'm such a novice, Esley decides to ease me into the magic kingdom with a classic. He proposes I try a vodka martini, which isn't as dry as its gin counterpart.

"Being a bartender is like being a doctor - you need to find out what people need and then treat them. I talk to my guests and gauge which cocktail is right for them and how they'd like it served," says Esley, who has tended to the rich, famous and thirsty in Rome, Dubai, Germany and, for the last nine years, Kensington.

He grabs a frozen glass and gets down to the theatre of pouring, filling the glass with vodka to the same level as the rim without spilling a drop.

There's a quick twist of lemon zest, to release the oil, before Esley gently takes the glass by the stem and places it on the coaster in front of me.

"That there is love in a liquid form," says one overly coiffed flight attendant to no one in particular.

I nod in agreement, but although I'm desperate to taste it, the glass is so full I'm unsure how to pick it up without spilling a drop.

"You bend down to sip it," says Esley, reading my mind.

"It might feel a bit odd but by not picking it up, you're respecting the purity of the drink."
Who am I to argue? I lean in, slurping louder than is culturally appropriate.

The alcohol slides down surprisingly easily and by the time my glass is empty, I feel as though I've been wrapped in a cashmere blanket.

"One martini is all right," Esley says.

"Two is too many and three is not enough."

Which could explain why I'm nine parts vodka by the time I stagger from the table.

The Egerton's super-friendly South African concierge manages to score me free tickets to the Victoria and Albert Museum across the road where an exhibition on wedding dresses through the ages keeps me amused until it's time to head back for another of Esley's wickedly delicious martinis.

CHECKLIST
Getting there: From New Zealand, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines connects to London with 17 weekly flights with its codeshare partner Malaysia Airlines and China Southern, and 77 weekly flights with its Interline partners.

The writer was a guest of Red Carnation Hotels with help from KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.