Monday, 16 December 2013

Quality Chop House: quality indeed

Last month I finally got along to the Quality Chop House in Farringdon a year after this historic site was taken over by *Will Lander and Josie Stead. Our timing was fortunate as they were still celebrating this anniversary and offering some rather special wines by the glass – Krug Grande Cuvée was a great way to kick off our meal (and, as it was the day after my birthday, difficult to refuse!)

We kept things simple by opting for the set dinner with accompanying wines. A selection of small starters including crab toast, chickweed, lemon; breaded lamb, green sauce (deliciously crunchy and tangy) and, particularly memorable, wild mushrooms, parfait, walnuts – a luscious autumnal combination. These were great with a naturally made Chenin from Touraine in the Loire Valley, Clos du Tue-Boeuf Touraine Petit Buisson.

My friend Neil had the main on the set menu – Tamworth pork, fennel, beetroot, celeriac, purple kale and I had the special, roast mallard. Both dishes were cooked fashionably rare (I must say, I do get a bit squeamish about under-cooked pork, but it tasted beautifully tender and flavoursome). The mallard was rich and gamey, if a little bloody, but it came with more of the gorgeous parfait. I'd cooked mallard at home recently so I couldn't help comparing it with this, but our glasses of Blaufrankisch did both dishes real justice with its earthy fruit and crisp acidity.

We nibbled some cheese and sipped some amazingly mature Rivesaltes (Château Sisquelle 1946 – a bargain at £8 for a 50ml glass) before finishing with an elegant slice of clementine and almond tart with cream and grapy, refreshing Moscatel from Malaga in southern Spain, 2007 Bentomiz 'Ariyanas Naturalmente Dulce'. A great end to an excellent meal. 

The set dinner costs £35 and the fascinating selection of wines is affordably priced with small margins. As soon as you walk through the door you feel you are in safe hands and it was a pleasure to be eased through our meal a such a charmingly capable manner. Just go for it. (Which is what we did – despite me leaving my wallet at home and arriving red-faced, so a huge thank you to Neil for treating me!)

*Will Lander is the son of Jancis Robinson and Nick Lander, ex-restaurateur, consultant and Financial Times columnist, so quite a pedigree.

Square Meal

The Quality Chop House on Urbanspoon

Friday, 6 December 2013

Black truffle butter

This rather glamorous treat was a wedding anniversary gift from my husband last month and it really has been the gift that keeps on giving. The sheer pleasure of simply untwisting the lid and inhaling the powerful fragrance is amazing in itself, yet it lends itself to so many things. Anointing baked potatoes or plain pasta are obvious options or slipping it between the breast and skin of a chicken, but how about frying eggs in truffle butter? Total bliss. It transforms food instantly.

If you're wondering what to give foodie friends for Christmas, look no further. Thank you darling!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Piper heralds Christmas

Last week I got my first proper taste of Christmas when I emerged from Sloane Square tube station and gazed at all the glamorous Christmas decorations. The trees in Sloane Square sport large tasteful twinkly stars and Peter Jones in the background is draped with lights. My short walk up Sloane Street was just as festive as I headed to Le Cercle restaurant as a guest of Piper-Heidsieck Champagne.

Piper has had quite a playful, partying image, however, cellar master Régis Camus recently received the International Wine Challenge Sparkling Winemaker of the Year trophy for the eighth consecutive time. New owners EPI, who bought the house from Rémy Cointreau in 2011, seem keen to place more emphasis on the quality of the wine itself – we were served several with dinner and they stood up beautifully (much better than the simple party pop you might have expected in the past). The wines are Pinot dominant and a generous proportion of reserve wine is included in the blends resulting in richer, complex tasting fizz closer in style to stable mate Charles Heidsieck (also run by Régis Camus).

The wines all showed well, but the highlight of the evening was Piper-Heidsieck's prestige cuvée Rare from the 2002 vintage. This was served with foie gras crème brûlée, lemon brioche and cardamom crust: all very luxurious. Finely structured with layers of complexity and, although drinking well now, it will age magnificently for several more years. (It's currently in this rather blingtastic bottle, although the new owners might tweak the packaging in future.)

The main course, roasted monkfish, glazed celery and lovage, was served with the soon to be released vintage 2006: although it was overshadowed by the Rare 2002, it was rich and muscular and a good pairing with the fish. The cheese course, chic carnation like rosettes of Ossau Iraty with mandarin (and a 'smoked Lillet' foam), worked very well with Cuvée Sublime (demi sec).

The dinner ended with the classic French pairing of pink fizz and dessert (in this case white chocolate parfait with frosted strawberries). For me, this never works as the wine isn't sweet enough, but I was really taken by the deeply coloured, bold vinous style of the Piper's Rosé Sauvage. I could imagine it with charcuterie, steak tartare or at a smart picnic. Distinctive stuff.

Piper-Heidsieck have other events planned for the Christmas season including tastings with cheese and charcuterie at Searcy's Champagne Bar at One New Change at 6.30pm on Tuesday 10th and Monday 16th December (£39). For more information mail: Searcy's Champagne Bars will also be serving a broad range of Piper-Heidsieck by the glass.

I attended as a guest of Piper-Heidsieck and First Drinks. For information about future wine dinners at Le Cercle check their website. This tasting dinner cost £49 per head.

Piper-Heidsieck retail stockists
Brut NV Waitrose £31.99
Rare, Vintage 2002 Harrods £175
Vintage 2000 Harrods £64.95
Cuvée Sublime £38.69
Rosé Sauvage Waitrose £24.99

Thursday, 28 November 2013

World Atlas of Wine 7th edition

Something that recently kept me rather busy was writing a review of the latest edition of The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson. This seminal book has been comprehensively updated and is also available as an e-book for the iPad. It was fascinating going through the book, comparing it with earlier issues and seeing how the world of wine has evolved.

Read the piece here on Fiona Beckett's Matching Food and Wine website.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Not so well preserved

Sorting through my cupboards recently, I came across this sorry sight. It's spiced apple chutney from a couple of years ago which we're still enjoying, although after two years I'm keen to use it up. Two jars were stacked together and, trying to remove the uppermost jar, I found it was stuck to the lower one. Chutney had oozed through the lid because the vinegar had corroded the metal. Yikes! Next time, I'll be using waxed paper disks before securing the lids (and probably won't keep it for as long). Lesson learned.

Pousse d'Or Caillerets Clos des 60 Ouvrées 1996 and mallard

Now, this wasn't any old duck and burgundy combination as you might have guessed from the heading, this was complex, gamey mallard and a rather cherished mature Volnay. For a number of years I've been the proud owner of a bottle of Domaine de la Pousse d'Or Caillerets Clos des 60 Ouvrées 1996. We've recently moved house, so this autumn seemed a good time to open it to toast our new home. We had an old friend of mine from the wine trade round for supper, so the timing and company seemed ideal.

I've had several red burgundies from this tight, briskly acidic vintage and some of them (especially village wines) are reaching the end of their lives. However, I expected this wine from such a notable site and skilled winemaker to still be very much on song. To my relief (it always feels like Russian Roulette with mature wines), it was in full voice.

There is something quite moving about this wine. It was made by Gérard Potel, one of Burgundy's greatest recent figures, who ran the domaine until his premature death in 1997. You can read more about Domaine de la Pousse d'Or and Gérard Potel here on Clive Coates's website. It reveals that critical changes were taking place at the domaine and how stress may have contributed to Potel's early demise. So, the bottle of Volnay that had lurked in my cellar for so many years has particular poignance as it was from Potel's final vintage.

Amazingly, after 17 years, the wine was full of vigour, with a rounded silky texture, creamy and fleshy – not what I expected from this angular (even gaunt) vintage. Aromatically there was a lot going on – violets,  morello cherries, plums, exotic spice, even savoury soy notes, all supported by a refreshing chalky mineral backbone. Expressive, pure, defined and entirely harmonious. Ravishingly beautiful.

Allowing the wine to fully articulate itself, the mallard worked brilliantly. The gamey meat was complex enough in its own right, simply served with potatoes roasted in duck fat and one of my favourite vegetables for fine reds, red cabbage. An autumn treat we won't be forgetting in a hurry.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Wine Gang Christmas Fair ticket offer

It really seems as though the year is racing by and Christmas is now very much on the radar. If you need some ideas for the festive season why not pop along to a Wine Gang Christmas Fair in November. The Wine Gang comprises five engaging and entertaining wine experts – Joanna Simon, Anthony Rose, Tom Cannavan, Jane Parkinson and David Williams – who will all be on hand to help guide you through the hundreds of wines available for tasting. There will be free 20 minute wine walks and bookable masterclasses (priced separately) – the Tokaji and chocolate masterclass at the London event sounds particularly tempting. There will also be a pop up shop with wines available at a discount.

The Fairs are taking place at the Guildhall in Bath (November 2nd), Vinopolis in London (November 9th) and the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh (November 30th).

The Wine Gang has generously offered readers of this blog tickets at a reduced rate: £12 instead of £20 and a 10% discount on tickets for masterclasses. Please use the code BLOG40 when you book tickets on the website. I might see you there!

(To get you in the mood, I've included a couple of pics: the one at the top was taken last year in Covent Garden and the shot below is to remind you to start organising your dry ingredients for stir-up Sunday…)

Friday, 25 October 2013

A new home and a taste of the good life

It's been a busy few months. We've bitten the bullet and in early August moved further out of town from Tufnell Park to High (AKA Chipping) Barnet on the outskirts of London. The lure of a bigger garden and spacious green surroundings proved too much, yet we're just as close to the tube and a busy high street.

Almost as soon as we arrived some friendly neighbours from across the road came to introduce themselves bearing produce from their allotment. The first meal I cooked in our new home featured locally grown courgettes. After a three week holiday in France (more of which to come) we returned to our own fruitful harvest – blackberries, followed by apples and more recently grapes. What's more, our next-door neighbours have hens, so we've had eggs in exchange for home-made marmalade. Result!

So, I've had a busy few weeks preserving, juicing and freezing – my Bramley lemon curd is a particular hit and the bramble jelly as good as ever. So far so Good Life...

(Not a common sight in Tufnell Park!)

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Salted caramel sauce

There's currently a bit of a vogue for salted caramel and lots of naughty examples are available. For some time I've been a fan of Paul A Young's truffles, but lately these more affordable lovelies by Charbonnel et Walker have been going down a storm in our household as you can see below.   

I've also got a major weakness for salted caramel sauce. I've bought it a couple of times recently, but had no idea what a complete doddle it is to make. Searching online I came across this recipe by Nigella where you just simmer butter, sugar and golden syrup together for a few minutes, stir in cream and salt and cook for a little longer. (You don't even need to check the temperature, so my sugar thermometer unexpectedly stayed in the draw.) Then, voilà, you have the most exquisitely decadent sauce. Nigella uses the word 'rakish' to describe it which is spot on. Some chopped honeycomb (or Crunchy bar) adds a nice bit of texture and only a few more calories – probably not many in the scheme of things.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Dining in and around Ramsgate

At Easter we spent a week in Ramsgate self-catering in this gorgeous apartment. It was freezing cold, but a few of those days were vividly sunny. We didn't mind, though. We'd taken plenty of games, DVDs, goodies we'd picked up at The Goods Shed in Canterbury and were able to pop out to Waitrose a few minutes' walk away. We'd also made some restaurant bookings and were excited about trying out local restaurants and, of course, there'd be fish and chips. We weren't disappointed. What's more when we were there a few weeks ago over the Whitsun bank holiday, we returned to a couple of favourites and made some new discoveries.

Age & Sons, Ramsgate
I love this place! I've been three times now – twice over Easter and again recently at Whitsun and each time eaten deliciously imaginative seasonal local food. Age & Sons is what's written on the side of the building, an old wine warehouse – Page & Sons is how it should appear, but the 'p' is missing. The team behind it is led by Toby Leigh, nephew of Rowley, who cooks with a similarly respectful hands-off style, allowing the ingredients to shine. On our last visit a particular starter blew me away – local asparagus with parmesan panne cotta (which included meadow wort I believe). It was inspired. This was followed by some rather splendid lamb from their Sunday lunch menu: £15 for three courses; they charged £10 for this dish and my starter was £5.50. (My only slight gripe is that they could do more to tweak dishes for children, rather than limiting them to the standard menu – however, I mentioned this to Toby as we were leaving and it sounds like they're taking this on board.)

Wyatt & Jones, Broadstairs
This restaurant had only been open a few weeks when we visited it at Easter for Sunday lunch. Wyatt & Jones is open all day as a café, bar and restaurant and occupies a prime spot near the beach in Broadstairs. Like Age & Sons, it focuses on local produce, prepared simply and stylishly. We nibbled some anchovy toast and brawn and pickles before tucking into our roasts. Here children can enjoy a 'mini roast' for £6 which went down as well as our grown up versions – we had excellent chicken and beef with vegetables to share served family style. As the non-driver, my pale ale from the Ramsgate brewer Gadds, was a tasty local compliment to the hearty food.

While we're still in Broadstairs, around the corner we passed an amazing looking second-hand bookshop that was serving all manner of Kentish goodies. We didn't go inside (next time), but did take some pictures. Another time.

Bon Appetit, Ramsgate
This little restaurant is one of several cafés and restaurants on a pretty parade overlooking the waterfront. We stopped off for lunch and tried some of the day's specials – fish pie, steak and a child's portion of the steak dish served with bread and with a couple of glasses of wine this came to a bargain £34. Our daughter's dish was a mere £2.95 and with that kind of generous good will, we'll certainly be going back to this cute and well located little bistro.

The Royal Harbour Brasserie
This was a real surprise. From the outside it looks like a beached tanker or World War 2 relic at the end of the harbour pier, but go inside and you'll find an enthusiastically run bar/café/restaurant serving well prepared fish and seafood, as well as a broad range of dishes often featuring local produce. It's open all day (except Mondays) and after a pleasurable stroll it offers spectacular views of the marina and town or turn the other way and gaze out to sea. After a long lunch at Age & Sons and a relaxing spell on the beach, it was ideal for early evening drinks and some small plates. On a previous visit on a freezing cold April day it was a cosy refuge with hot drinks and cakes. A good all-rounder.

Peter's Fish Factory, Ramsgate
Right down on the front in Harbour Parade, this is an award-winning classic old seaside chippy. It's easy to spot from its eccentric crenelated facade and the long queues that form most times of day. They even have a cheeky favourite of mine – mushy pea fritters! Apparently during the summer season they get through three tons of potatoes a week – potatoes that are grown nearby in Sandwich.

Pelosi's Ice Cream Parlour, Ramsgate
Just along from Peter's Fish Factory at 76 Harbour Parade is another classic establishment and, in this case, with a fabulous retro soda fountain interior well worth taking a look at in its own right. What's more the ice creams are great. So far, we can vouch for three flavours: rum and raisin, chocolate and the deliciously girly Turkish Delight (rose and chocolate). However, as I write this I've just noticed with dismay that the premises are up for sale. I sincerely hope someone enthusiastic acquires this Ramsgate gem and builds on the success of three generations of the Pelosi family.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Ramsgate: Regency elegance on the Kent coast

Until recently, to me, Ramsgate was just a lesser known Channel port, but a fleeting visit early last year radically changed this. We'd failed to get to France for Easter, so spent a couple of days exploring this corner of Kent and really liked what we saw. What's more, as it's so close to London, we've returned a couple of times since.

The big surprise with Ramsgate is the quality of the architecture, big sandy beaches and its bustling, scenic harbour – Britain's only royal harbour, a status granted to the town by George IV. Street names such as Nelson Crescent, Wellington Crescent and The Plains of Waterloo all obviously date from this period and elegant Georgian terraces shape the townscape. A century later local resident Pugin put his stamp on the town with his distinctive Grange and several other buildings. Blue plaques noting the town's many illustrious visitors punctuate the buildings and reveal just what a fashionable resort Ramsgate used to be. Over the years, fortunes have fluctuated for neighbouring Margate and Broadstairs, too, but things are definitely picking up and being only 75 minutes away from St Pancras on High Speed 1 means the so-called 'DFLs' (Down From London) will only get more numerous.

It's a great area for food and drink and I've already mentioned Canterbury's amazing Goods Shed in an earlier post. I'll be covering recommended local restaurants separately, but here are some pictures of Ramsgate basking in glorious sunshine at Whitsun.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

The Atlanta Food and Wine Festival comes to London

I was recently invited to experience southern American cuisine at an event hosted by the US Embassy in London to promote the upcoming Atlanta Food and Wine Festival. The large and enthusiastic crowd got the chance to fight over sample some Southern specialities prepared by several notable chefs who'd been flown over specially. 

I particularly enjoyed Kelly English's crudo of scallop and malt vinegar and Ashley Christensen's cornmeal-fried Carolina catfish with pickled collard remoulade. My glass of Virginian Viognier was a tasty and appropriate partner. Josh Besh's peppered beef tenderloin, fingerling potato ravigote and wild mushroom tea was also good, as was Duane Nutter's sausages with creole mash with creole cabbage.

Drink-wise, as well as Virginian wines, Sazerac cocktails were also served made with rye whiskey, Peychaud's bitters and the distinctive Legendre Herbsaint – a pastis named after the French/Creole term for wormwood. It was originally labelled Absinthe (traditionally used in this cocktail), but in the 1930s the US authorities objected to Legendre's use of the word and the company had to revise the name. I haven't yet been to this part of the States, but I can only imagine how good it must taste in the hot and sticky deep South. Anyway, if I can get my hands on a bottle of Herbsaint, I'd be happy to give it a go in north London on a warm summer evening with some Bessie Smith playing in the background. For now it'll the closest I'll be getting to New Orleans.

Monday, 22 April 2013

The Goods Shed, Canterbury

Heading to the Kent coast for Easter, we stopped off at The Goods Shed in Canterbury for lunch and, as we were self-catering, to stock up on some food. The Goods Shed, situated next to Canterbury West station (and helpfully the high speed link to St Pancras), is a comprehensive farmers market featuring an array of local produce. It also houses Clive Barlow MW's Press Wine Services and beer specialist, The Bottle Shop. As it was Easter, there was also an eye-catching and groovy selection from local chocolate maker Kate-Beth March, but there were goodies at every turn. We stocked up on local vegetables and some excellent steak, and on our return journey picked up some beautifully fresh fish for supper back home in London.

You can also eat well at The Goods Shed Restaurant or at Patrick's Kitchen where we had our lunch, encouraging us to buy our drinks elsewhere to bring back to the table. All very communal. A generous glass of Cherverny for just £3 (from Press Wine Services) was delicious with my fish soup and its gutsy rouille sauce (plenty of garlic and saffron). And it was here that daughter Alice discovered her favourite Kentish tipple, Biddenden pear juice. Apparently, only food available at The Goods Shed is cooked here. Forget disappointing department store food halls, this is what food shopping should be all about and makes Canterbury and this corner of Kent an even more tempting day trip from London.

The Goods Shed
Station Road West
01227 459153
Open Tuesday to Saturday 9am–7pm; Sunday 10am–4pm