Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Mince pie cocktail...

If you grow tired of eating mince pies by Christmas, perhaps like me you started in October and are feeling a little guilty, there is hope for you. This cocktail provides a novel way for you to get your mince pie fix but in this case in the form of an alcoholic drink. Cheers!
It might be a step too far but I can't knock it till I try it.

I recommend double straining though if you don't want to put off your guests.

Video courtesy of Waitrose. Here's more on their YouTube channel.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Best Guinness in the World

I just spent the last few days in Dublin. A highlight was getting to visit the fantastic Irish pubs featuring bars lined with Guinness pumps. I had been reliably informed by my Irish friend Dave that one such classic pub that does some of the best Guinness in Dublin is The Ferryman (35 Sir John Rogerson Quay, Dublin, map). So there we headed.
Guinness in The Ferryman, Dublin
At some point during my stay a taxi driver told me, 'Guinness doesn't travel'. Tasting the velvety stout in Ireland, I'm inclined to agree. Though I'm never really able to fully divorce the stimulus of taste totally isolated from all the other senses that create your experience so judging whether Guinness is better in Dublin than elsewhere is tough. I might well be swayed by the knowledge that I was drinking it in its home town but it may well be the best.

Though strangely the best single pint of Guinness I have ever tasted was my first... and it was in Rome...

I was 16 and on a school trip. It helped that it was an Irish pub - which was still standing when I paid it another visit a few years ago for old time's sake. The pub's on the cut from the main road to the stunning Trevi Fountain, arguably the most beautiful fountain in Rome. This recent return pilgrimage to the Eternal City was a sight seeing trip but a Guinness pit stop did not go amiss.

So back when I was 16, in Rome for the first time, head reeling from the overwhelming romance of the place, it is clear that any decisions would not be based on taste alone and would be influenced by all the other factors. At age 16 any beer was going to be great: a mixture of novelty and exhilaration. The final factor was that the barmaids were incredibly good looking, Italian, and, yes, I'll repeat, we were 16 so the fact that they were talking to us (we still had a lot to learn about the hospitality industry) made us feel like men and the Guinness taste sweeter.

To Dublin, the craic and Italian beauty in all forms. And of course to Guinness, which travels just fine in my humble opinion.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Backgammon and Gin

I spent a delightfully octogenarian afternoon yesterday with my friend Danny at his house playing backgammon, eating mince pies and drinking Devon Lemonade.
Here's the Devon Lemonade recipe courtesy of Paul.

Devon Lemonade
  • Plymouth Gin (has to be Plymouth)
  • Elderflower Cordial
  • Sparkling water
  • Fresh mint, lemon, cucumber
  • One part gin
  • Half a part elderflower cordial
  • Three parts sparkling water
Pour into a glass over ice, stir and top with a sprig of mint, lemon and cucumber.
Danny had spent the afternoon gardening and, though this cocktail is ideal for summer, it also makes a great refreshing autumnal drink. Watch out though, you will be knocking them back.

The mince pies were ASDA's extra special range. £2 for 6. Feedback: Large, very filling, good quality pastry. A great mince pie.

Danny beat me at Backgammon which is embarrassing as he'd never played before... I look forward to the rematch. I'll maybe need a lighter cocktail.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

1870's opulence : Degas & Piccadilly's Criterion Restaurant

Last Friday I visited the Royal Academy in Piccadilly, London (map) for the Degas exhibit, 'Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement'. It's a stunning show with breathtakingly beautiful pictures and it features a huge gathering of his works in one place.

'This landmark exhibition focuses on Edgar Degas’s preoccupation with movement as an artist of the dance. Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement traces the development of the artist's ballet imagery throughout his career, from the documentary mode of the early 1870s to the sensuous expressiveness of his final years.' It's on until 11th December and is well worth a visit.

In the spirit of turn of the century beauty I'd booked The Criterion restaurant in Piccadilly for dinner afterwards (224 Piccadilly, London W1J 9HP, map) . This hidden gem is possibly the only thing of any beauty in Piccadilly Circus. It is well worth wading through the masses assembled by the Statue of Eros outside the Trocadero to make it to get to this Grade II listed building. Opened in 1874, it is is a perfect match to the Degas exhibit both in date of opening but also in beauty. It's pure opulence with wall to wall marble, a cocktail lounge, a long bright high walled room complete with a gold-tiled ceiling.

Through toptable we booked two courses and a glass of prosecco for £20 which was excellent value.

A perfect Friday night. These were easily the best things I've done in the usually hellishly touristy Piccadilly Circus. And no, we didn't make it to Mahiki's afterwards.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Old China Hand: a great local pub

It's my last week in Exmouth Market. One of the things I'm going to miss most are the excellent pubs and restaurants all around me in Islington, Exmouth Market, and Clerkenwell. But I doubt I'll ever have a local as unique as The Old China Hand (8 Tysoe Street, London).

No Ordinary Pub

It's a small pub with carved wooden chairs, a front room and a large space in the back for table tennis. Yes, where else do you get your own full table tennis table in a pub? Uninterested? There are also board games, a regular changing set of cask ales and several fridges full of different beers from all over the world.

In the men's loo this is the urinal (on the right). It's a football goal - always helps to give men a goal to aim at... It's a small thing but I think it's hilarious every time I see it.

The bar staff are friendly. It's stopped serving food - it used to do dim sum - which is a shame. The pub is less busy than I think it should be - the old man in me relishes a quiet pint however - and to be fair the pub is a bit off the beaten track and has fierce local rivalry.

The Easton (22 Easton Street) does food. The Wilmington Arms (69 Rosebery Avenue), boisterous with ever changing ales, live comedy and music listings, is popular throughout the week. Filthy McNastys (68 Amwell Street) - rocky, slightly seedy, utterly charming - also has regular live music.

And on Exmouth Market, there's Cafe Kick (43 Exmouth Market) which always feels like you've stumbled into a Barcelona bar on game night. Oh, there's also The Eagle (159 Farringdon Road) a stone's throw away, the first gastro-pub in London, sister of the Anchor and Hope on the Cut, complete with upstairs art gallery.

Lastly, there's the Exmouth Arms (23 Exmouth Market) - a real spit and sawdust classic London boozer. It was here, sitting at the bar during the 1st leg of Arsenal's Champion's League game against Barcelona (Wednesday 16th Feb 2011), that I hugged a tattooed total stranger when we went a goal up. Thank you Arshavin and Van Persie... Good memories!
Home TeamScoreAway TeamTime
(HT 0-1)
  • Van Persie 78
  • Arshavin 83

  • Villa 26

All in all it's a tough crowd of local competitors but The Old China Hand holds its own by being, as the sign outside proclaims, 'No Ordinary Pub'. Here's to it!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

First Mince Pie of the Year?

I love mince pies. Their arrival in supermarkets makes me strangely happy, especially since they tend to precede even the monstrously early Christmas carols into store. Mince pies are as much a part of Christmas for me as turkey.

My mum makes the best mince pies I've eaten. I'm sure she is already planning them for Christmas. She adds a light pastry star on top of them as the lid. I'm excited about them now!

So, I just had my first mince pie of the year, which even for me is early. If you can eat a mince pie before Halloween you've done pretty well. Can anyone top that?!

Christmas starts at the beginning of the year if you work in Retail as most retailers plan for and build up to this key sales period all year. I think my body clock and taste buds may have been warped by my time working in this industry.

Mince pies all year round anyone?

Sloe Berry Picking in Wales

I just spent the weekend in North Wales. It was a stunningly beautiful Autumn weekend with leaves turning red seemingly overnight.

On the train from London we chatted with the friendly Virgin train conductor. He said he had four days off work after Friday and was excited about embarking on his annual sloe gin making ceremony. His wife, he explained, likes to add almond essence but he doesn't like the oily film it leaves on top of the drink. He prefers using vanilla pods.

He was so passionate about his sloe gin that after tasting the delicious house sloe gin in Wales, I decided it was about time I made my own. The next day, dragging myself away from the wonderful cooking and log fires, I stepped out into the crisp air and ventured off sloe berry picking.

Soon I'd gathered a few pints, enough for a few litres of sloe gin. Apparently it takes about 3 months to make but gets better with age beyond that. Bring on 2012.

I'm moving house at the moment but as soon as I'm resettled the berries will be out of the freeze and into a jar of gin. If anyone has a trusted recipe please share! I'll be back to let you know how I get on...