17 December 2014

Ink


No longer just the home of chicken shops and a boxing ring, Bethnal Green's having a bit of foodie resurgence thanks to places like The Sun Tavern, Penkul & Bucket, and Sager + Wilde's Mission. I hadn't heard of Ink but when Alex at Zomato first told me about it, I knew it was somewhere I had to check out. You see, Bethnal Green was my old stomping ground as I spent three years there for university and back then, good food was thin on the ground.

Describing itself as a contemporary restaurant with a Scandinavian influence, the menu had me clamouring for our Friday night booking. The night itself was slightly less remarkable. It was a little difficult to find and once there, we were the first table of three eating that evening meaning the atmosphere was severely lacking. Not to be deterred, we got to the serious decision of ordering drinks - I chose the Italian prosecco but we were told they'd run out so were served a Spanish cava - still reassuringly bubbly, dry and crisp but a little surprisingly for the beginning of a weekend stint.


Whilst we looked through the menu, a pair of spoons with a bitesize portion of gravlax, pickled cucumbers and squid ink was brought to the table. I wolfed mine down - palatable if a little bland but helpful enough that I decided not to order it as a starter. Instead I went for the cured venison with textures of beetroot - prettily served with lots of colour and cubes but rather stingy on the meat itself, which came hidden in small flakes beneath the vegetable - and enjoyed trying not to splash it on my white dress (unsuccessful). S had the scallop starter with peach, burnt onion and pork crackling which was definitely the better dish out of the two. Plump, well-cooked scallops were perfectly complemented by the crispy onion and crackling and I could have gladly eaten this dish for days.

Onto the mains and my first choice of halibut with pine tree salt, parsnip puree and shrimps (£22) was off the menu so I opted for the 148 hour salted cod with tomato textures, confit potatoes, tomato oil and leek ash. Deliciously salty, the fish was firm and full of flavour and worked well with the roasted, pureed and something-elsed tomatoes. This was a sophisticated plate and definitely worth waiting for. S picked the most melt-in-the-mouth pork belly and potatoes and I was struck with serious food envy.

We shared the salted chocolate mousse and crumb which was definitely a fork-fight moment. However, we had been a little underwhelmed by the portion size compared to the rather expensive prices. We left a little hungry and a little disappointed by the atmosphere, which is a shame as the quality of food was good, the presentation impeccable and I love how independent restaurants are starting to flourish in East London. Worth a visit but perhaps not worth going out of your way for. Three out of five.

You can find the menu and other reviews over at Zomato.

10 December 2014

Craft beer tasting with Oz Clarke and Celebrity Cruises

Think of cruises and it's likely you'll think of champagne and cocktails. Think of Oz Clarke and you'll probably think of wine. Think of craft beer and you may be stumped. It's time to think again.

When Celebrity Cruises invited us to an evening of craft beer tasting and food pairing with Oz Clarke, I was more than a little intrigued. My knowledge of all three is limited at best but like many others, would never have combined them into one innovative little package. You see, luxury liners Celebrity Cruises are launching their second floating GastroBar and unlike other cruisers, this one only sells boutique brewed beers.

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you'll have seen that craft beer is taking pubs and bars by storm at the moment. Colourful bottles, barrels and crates are cropping up in between the J20 and the Carling but what makes it so special? Well, it's all in the making. Craft beers are brewed by small, independent breweries using methods and ingredients that date back centuries to produce high quality beer that puts the big brewers to shame. It's also these processes that make each beer so distinctive - rather than the fizzy, watery and bland offerings you'll probably find down the local, craft beer is renowned for its flavour.

Take Duvel, for example. Brewed in Belgium (which produces more kinds of beer than anywhere else in the world), in the Dutch speaking part of the country (location is very important, says Oz), this Strong Golden Ale is spicy and fizzy and packs a bit of a punch at 8.5%. Combining yeast from Scotland, sugar syrup and 40 years of pale malts, this is a real belter of a beer hence why it's named the 'Devil' beer. We drank it with warm truffled grilled cheese raclette with braised leeks on sourdough ciabatta, letting the spice and fizz of the beer cut through the rich, smoothness of the cheese.

Other beers and breweries are known for their balls. Brewdog, for example, is the most successful brewery in Scotland (there are currently 1,200 craft breweries in the UK alone) and has spent the last couple of years trying to brew the strongest beer in the world. They've reached 41% volume and called it Sink The Bismarck as a stick to a rival German attempt; apparently it's so potent they only let you sample it in shot glasses. We tried their Hardcore IPA (9.2%) which is hoppy, bitter and gloriously aromatic with samples of Seville orange marmalade. India Pale Ale originated during the trades as a cure for leprosy, tuberculosis and dysentery - ancient Romans had discovered that hops had medicinal (and aphrodisiacal) qualities and when more modern enthusiasts saw that hops also stop oxidisation and keep beer fresh on long journeys, it was the perfect ointment for merchants and colonials suffering far from home. We drank ours with steamed pork buns - the flavour of the malts bringing the fiery, sweet, sour and salty elements of the food to life.

Something else that font of all knowledge Oz taught us is that beer isn't always savoury. Lindeman's Framboise (2.5%) is a Belgian beer that looks and tastes like a cocktail. It's fizzy, deep pink, sweet...and sour. A result of a process called spontaneous fermentation where malt is left to be attacked by yeast to produce alcohol, then mixed with the fresh juice, it's fermented a further two times and perfect for cutting through rich chocolate brownies.

And a final favourite of the night for me was Rogue's Chocolate Stout, brewed in Oregon, and a deep chocolate in colour and taste. Based on a classic London porter stout (unsurprisingly so-called thanks to porters calling for it to quench their thirst), it's a heady and rich beer that ages well and increases in volume as it does so. You may know Guinness as a much more famous stout, it's brewed differently so is lower in alcohol than Rogue's more faithful concoction - although I'm sure the boys over in Ireland will be quick to disagree!

As someone who's only really ventured into beer drinking in the last couple of years and would never think to order an ale, I'm now a total convert. Oz explained that the varieties of processes and methods, flavours and ingredients in craft beer-making are much greater than in wine-making it a much better drink to have with a meal so I'm already on the hunt for a restaurant that puts as much effort into its beer as it does its food and wine.

But that brings me neatly back to Celebrity Cruises - they've already put the legwork in to offer a rotating list of craft beers from around the world alongside classic comfort food. You can even join onboard tasting trips and vineyard visits with Oz on some of their Mediterranean routes. Whilst I'm not sure that I'll be jumping on board soon, I'll definitely be hunting down the best beers I can find. Cheers.

6 December 2014

Mini-break?


I'm being whisked here for a weekend. See you on the other side!

5 December 2014

Radio silence

I've been an awful blogger... Having a full time job, being a freelance editor at London's newest go-to site for where to eat TryThisFor.com (more on that soon!) and getting a boyfriend has meant that time has flown past. A year ago to the day I wrote this about being Bridget Jones - I guess you could say I'm a little less Bridge in some aspects these days, right?

In the last month, I have:
  • Seen Lady Gaga live (finally). I can remember hearing the first strains of Let's Dance way back in September 2008 and having fallen in and out of love with her over the years, gave Mama Monster (cringe) a go back in October. And she was amazing. With a riot of outfits, dancers, stage inflatables and a setlist that spanned her entire repertoire, she was everything I expected her to be and more.
  • Seen Jersey Boys. I bought my dad and I tickets for Father's Day and his birthday. After an obligatory introduction to Burger & Lobster and a successful upgrade to seats five rows from the stage in the stalls, we settled in for an absolutely astounding performance. It's a cleverly written romp through the history of Franki Valli and The Four Seasons with an absolutely astounding number of songs that'll have you crying, laughing, singing and dancing. The original line up are playing at The Royal Albert Hall next summer - if anyone fancies getting me tickets for my birthday?
  • Eaten at The Dead Dolls House on Halloween. This naughty little beauty tucked into Hoxton Square has been on my list for a while before S surprised me with a meal here. Shabby and rickety but oozing atmosphere, we ate Dover sole (old school!), steak and an orange brulee that I could quite happily bathe in every day. Want to become a member of the Club upstairs? Just bring a bottle of booze for the bar or a china dog. Or head along to the Arches in Bethnal Green for some jazzed-up, street food loving.
  • Eaten at the Spitalfields Bar in Hawksmoor. Shoreditch's underground baby offers a menu a little easier on the purse than the big boys upstairs. I had the very tasty oxcheek cheeseburger whilst L & J had the Oxcheek French Dip that does something very naughty with bone marrow. I just need to go back for steak proper sometime soon.
  • Eaten at Mangal. I'd never eaten a kebab before. Nope. Not even one of those questionable boxes of meat people get at the ends of night out. But H took me to Mangal for a proper Turkish kebab that definitely didn't disappoint. We started with warm flatbreads with cacik (cucumber, garlic and yoghurt), patlican salata (smokey grilled aubergine, peppers, onions) and fishy tarama (cod roe) before sharing a yogurtlu adana with plenty of proper kofte and warm sauce. 
  • Caught up with my friend Olivia. She's one of this terribly glamorous jetsetters working for Emirates, and living out in Dubai means she doesn't get much chance to come back to London. I introduced her and her boyfriend to B&L and now I think he wants to forsake his native Mauritius and move in. Job well done. 
  • Caught up with family. Specifically my brother, cousin, sister and sister from Australia who I hadn't seen in two years either. Plenty of dancing, champagne and reminiscing about beach weddings in Koh Samui and The Jungle Club
  • Went to the Tanqueray Drawing Rooms and was thoroughly educated on gin, martinis and Lavender Collins.
  • Went to a craft beer tasting with Oz Clarke and Celebrity Cruises. Thanks to Oz, I'm now a craft beer aficionado and can tell you all about how they brew Belgian devil beer Dufel or how London Porter stout came about. You'll find me propping up a good old boozer from here on in...
Promise I'll be good from now on though. No more radio silence. Just lots of updates. Bad Bridget.

14 November 2014

Tanqueray Drawing Rooms


Step into Tanqueray’s Drawing Rooms at Six Fitzroy Square and you’d be mistaken for believing you’ve stepped back in time as men in braces and fedoras and women with feathers in their hair sweep past you into wood panelled rooms, or beckon you up the staircase. This is 1930s London and Tanqueray’s blossoming success following Prohibition over the pond is infectious.

It’s an intimate set up with male styling experts on hand to dress you for the occasion, whilst A sensual and silken-voiced songstress warms the room with smooth jazz. We made a beeline for the bar - keenly watching the talented mixologists upstairs whip up a frenzy (quite literally) and bring classic cocktails to life using the finest London gin. My favourite was the Lyle’s Lavender Collins, created by World Class UK Bartender of the Year 2012 Andy Mill. Combining lavender and camomile infused Tanqueray, Lyle’s golden syrup, lemon, egg white and soda, it’s aromatic with a kick that has you reaching for a second helping. Or fifth.

There was a vintage headpiece masterclass taking place behind us with masks, beads and feathers flying. Curated by the Indytute, it harked back to the tradition of party hosts providing guests with personalised gifts and tokens. We were a little more modern and spent some time dressing up in the #tonightwetanqueray photobooth - I’m now convinced I could rock a pipe.

We were led downstairs to the secret martini room for a Tanqueray tasting with the UK Brand Ambassador Tim. He explained how the four key ingredients (juniper, coriander, angelica root and liquorice) of their famous London Dry which was originally launched way back in 1830 all play a key part in the smell, taste and finish of the spirit. The baby brother, Tanqueray Ten, adds camomile to the mix. We, of course, had to put this to the test and demanded the martini master do his worst. A classic gin martini and a Venetian (Tanqueray Ten, peach liqueur, Riserva Carlo Alberto Bianco vermouth with grapefruit and peach bitters) later and we were sold. And the key point to take away? Martinis should always be stirred and never shaken - you’ve got it wrong, Mr Bond.

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