25 November 2015

Best of Taste of London: vodkas and gins

Last week, Taste of London returned for its winter weekend at Tobacco Dock. It's a showcase of the city's best restaurants alongside some of the country's best producers, from small distilleries to prime butchers. It's a riot of sights, smells and tastes and hugely difficult to not get distracted by everything on offer. I ended up going to the Thursday and Friday evening sessions (it's also open on Saturday and Sunday) and had the opportunity to sample some pretty impressive wares.

I came away pretty inspired by everything I tried and everyone I talked to and thought I'd do a few posts of some of our favourites. And with Christmas just around the corner, you may just find a few ideas for presents...

First up are the vodkas and gins. Four British spirits with some serious punch.

Black Cow 
We first caught sight of Black Cow when they were mysteriously crumbling cheese around their little cups of samples. Never ones to shy away from unusual combinations, we just had to check them out. Black Cow make the world's only vodka made from milk from grass grazed cows in the West Dorset coast. This means it's unbelievably smooth and creamy without any of the harshness that comes from vodka distilled with water passed through minerals. Whey is fermented into a beer then transformed by yeast into alcohol before being distilled, triple filtered and finished. And the curds? Used to make their tasty, crumbly cheddar that are ideal stocking fillers. The vodka is fab in cocktails because there's none of that back-of-the-throat-bite (check out some perfect recipes here) and you can find where to buy the perfect pair here.

55 Above
Despite having a name quite similar to another vodka (ahem), 55 Above is a completely different kettle of potatoes. Established in 2014, they make the vodka by hand from British potatoes and distil them in the smallest commercial copper pot stills in the world, producing a few hundred bottles at a time. They were showcasing their range of vodkas - three flavoured and two pure - and invited us to try a couple. C and R were drawn to the pineapple and the toffee respectively while I tried the coconut which was light rather than too sweet and I imagine an interesting alternative in a pina colada. But what intrigued me (surprise surprise) was the 56% vodka, diluted with less water for a stronger, more intense flavour. As well as the large bottles, they also sell smaller mix & match kits of three so you can try and find your favourite.

Half Hitch Gin
Forget what you think you know about gin, the guys at Half Hitch are rewriting the rule book. Bringing history back to life on the former Camden site of London's traditional distilleries, they take a different approach with their flavours. Think less juniper, more bergamot. And black tea, English wood, pepper and hay. Resulting in a slightly smokey, slightly spicy gin that is a world away from some of the headblowers on the market both in taste and dusky appearance. Each year they reblend their tea to add depth to their distilling and beautiful with Fevertree tonic. They've put together a few suggested cocktails here which are begging to be tried out and invite you to post photos of your concoctions over at #TheGWithTea. If you're looking for a gin with a difference, these guys should be top of your list.

City of London Gins
You'd be forgiven these guys have been around for a while. From their coat of arms to their traditional glass bottles modelled on St Paul's, you wouldn't suspect that they've only been distilling since 2012. There are five gins to choose from (helpfully numbered and named), each with different combinations and balances of botanicals. Their No.2 Christopher Wren gin has been designed by Tom Nichol, the former distiller at Tanqueray, and boasts juniper, coriander and angelica root for a slightly sweeter, complex taste. But the City of London Distillery know that finding the perfect gin can be like finding a needle in a haystack so for your fussiest family members and friends, they offer you the chance to design, distil, bottle and label your own gin. And prop yourself up at the onsite bar for a sample or two.

Next up: the best whiskies.

20 November 2015

Something for the weekend

Ever wondered what a bunch of beautiful Tom Ford models dancing on a catwalk to a fab Lady Gaga cover of I Want Your Love looks like? Wonder no more...


14 November 2015

Senor Ceviche

'Do you remember the time we all locked ourselves in the bathroom and gave each other hickeys?!' A memory we'd all forgotten resurfaced this week when table talk turned to when we all first lived together. A flat with far too many stairs above an East end corner shop, a sticky lino kitchen floor and a box bedroom with the boiler that flooded. London: a baptism by fire for Sophie.

That was five years ago. Final years of university and Masters for some and first years of proper jobs and growing up for others. Ash and I still live together but Soph is West which means a bit more planning has to take place and when boyfriends and long days get thrown into the mix, it's easier said than done. But now we're all (whisper it) single, we keep finding reasons to order yet another cocktail.

Just like we did on Wednesday at Senor Ceviche. Part of the hugely successful Kingly Court development off Carnaby Street, a shining piazza of some seriously good restaurants, it's a  'Peruvian casa full of fun, food and cocktails'. Bustling and busy at 8pm, we were shown to our (booked!) table within 10 minutes and took up prime position next to the open kitchen.

First on the agenda were the cocktails. We each started with something different (because reasons) despite the photograph. Ash's Mancora Surfclub (Machu Pisco, elderflower, cucumber and apple) was fresh and light, Soph's Pisco Punch (Machu Pisco, lemon juice, rosemary and pineapple juice) was sweet and fragrant whilst my Mamacita! (El Jimador, Cointreau, lime juice, agave and fresh jalapeno) was tart with a perfect bite and a delicious salted, chilli rim.

Then onto the food. The menu here is divided into four sections but essentially it's about small plates and sharing dishes which, as I've mentioned countless times before, is perfect for me because I get serious food envy and it means you can try a thousand more things on the menu. Our friendly waitress recommended three dishes per person and between the three of us that meant we'd cover about half the menu. Dream.

Before we get into the specific dishes, I have to say that we ordered perfectly. Practically everything that arrived at the table was mouthwateringly brilliant and so consistent in quality that Senor Ceviche has shot to the top of my list.

First to arrive were the aubergine picarones - bites of eggplant in sweet potato tempura with a barbecue sauce and coriander yoghurt. Crisp and juicy, these were seriously moreish and we fought over the last one.

Then there was the jalea mixto - tempura baby squid, prawns and cod with a jalapeno mayo. I didn't manage to try any of the prawn but the squid and cod were firm and well cooked in the light batter and tossed with spring onion.

And the pork belly. Oh, the pork belly. Crisp, fatty pieces of melt-in-the-mouth slow cooked pork belly with a sweet soy jam, just the way I like it.

The two ceviches we chose were excellent. The house ceviche comprises of sea bass and octopus in the usual tiger's milk and topped with cubed avocado, tempura squid and sharp red onion, while The Spaniard added king prawn to the mix, tomato tiger's milk, chorizo and plantain. Generous portions of fish, freshly marinated and citrusy with plenty of sauce to mop up. I could eat this for days.

Next came the baby back ribs (which I didn't eat because I'm a heathen who doesn't like ribs) and the flat iron with uchucuta sauce (the Peruvian version of chimichurri). The rarest they'll serve it is medium rare but ours came on the more well done side of the medium scale; despite this, the meat was to die for and the parsley and mint salsa brought a sharp tang to the protein.

And for a bit of variation, the sweet potato fritas were nice enough (for someone who doesn't like sweet potato) and the quinoa saltero fresh and light. A generous mound of beetroot and feta sat atop the grain and, whilst underseasoned, acted as a nice little palate cleanser.

Somewhere in the middle two more rounds of cocktails were ordered, desserts were passed up on and setting the world to rights took place. You'll be pleased to hear we've grown out of our drunken hickey-giving antics but our taste in good venues hasn't waned in the slightest. Senor Ceviche, you were an utter delight and a five out of five.

12 November 2015


Shoreditch is no stranger to Indian cuisine. World famous Brick Lane is home to some of London's busiest Indian and Bengali restaurants - going to university a mile down the road means I've become a dab hand at haggling for a hugely generous meal at a budget price and bring your own. And don't forget ever-busy Tayyabs.

But when it comes to more refined Indian dining, there's not so much of that around. Until now. The former Head Chef of the Cinnamon Kitchen, Abdul Yaseen, has opened Darbaar as his first solo project in Liverpool Street and it's a good'un. An opulent, ornate interior is designed to bring the feel royal palaces and courts of ancient India to London and an enormous open kitchen the food.

We were invited down to the opening last week. After picking up a cocktail from the smoking bar (luckily not on fire, just some strategic dry ice), we followed our noses to the main restaurant where tables were pushed back to give guests the chance to watch Abdul and the team at work, rustling up sharing plates to fight over. We got to sample a whole host of exciting flavour combinations - my favourites was the chargrilled paneer with cumin and spinach, and the lamb seekh kebab which came sizzling and spicy straight from the wood oven. There were small pots of the shrimp cocktails, small buns filled with curry and samosas crisp and crumbly.

The idea behind Darbaar's menu is a relaxed experience where sharing is encouraged and no king or courtier should stand on ceremony. Combining local produce with traditional recipes, Abdul's put some showstoppers on the menu. Spiced guinea fowl, anyone? How about a Keralan shrimp cocktail? This isn't your average Ruby Murray curryhouse - there's an impeccable chef's table with a perfect view into the kitchen - but a very welcome addition to the buzzing Broadgate Circle scene.

2 November 2015

The House of Peroni


A couple of years ago, I was invited to the opening night of the House of Peroni. Taking up a summer residency in a Georgian townhouse on Portland Place, it was a vibrant destination for food, drink and art. I skipped their summer opening in Shoreditch earlier this year but made it down to the unveiling of their newest month long location in Brick Lane last week. No Georgian townhouse here but a small door opposite the Truman Brewery takes you into an impeccably decorated warehouse space that's been transformed into a bright modern Italian home.

With dream Pinterest-ready styled kitchens and pantries, the ground floor is pristine and the perfect place to sip on a few of the exclusive cocktails, created by Simone Caporale. The Negroni Autumno is particularly good with the unusual but necessary addition of Peroni Nastro Azzuro as is the Madro Biancha which combines the beer with vodka, bergamot & yuzu juice and cypress tree syrup.

Upstairs there's art from the likes of Rhea Thierstein who's created a bedroom floating on clouds and Francesca Signori with her origami light fixtures. An immersive wander through their installations transports you into a faraway world. And when you've worked up an appetite, there's private dining available from Michelin-starred Sicilian chef Accursio Craparo.

The House of Peroni is open until 29 November and you'll find it at 152 Brick Lane.
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