Tag Archives: food

India Pt 1: Learning Lessons

21 Dec
A tuk-tuk on a very quiet roadway in Delhi.

A tuk-tuk on a very quiet roadway in Delhi.

Rahul seemed like a nice chap when we met him.

The b0y and I were standing at a roundabout near Connaught Place in Delhi having freshly arrived from London. We had been standing there a while watching the throngs of never-ending traffic with frustration, wondering when we might be able to cross.

“Be careful,” said Rahul, appearing suddenly by my side. “The traffic is a bit crazy here.”

Smiling at us, the boy and I followed him as he weaved his way through the traffic while it paused for a second.

“England?” he asked, when we got to the other side, having felt we’d played a real-life game of Frogger.

“Yes, England,” the boy responded.

“Ah, I lived in London, is that where you’re from?” he continued.

“Yes, we’re from there,” I said.

I wouldn’t normally open up about my life to strangers but Rahul seemed a nice enough chap – well dressed with baseball cap on and a comfortable grasp of English, we spent another ten minutes walking around the beaten up and excavated Connaught Place, speaking about England, Bollywood and his movie date. We asked if he knew of any good restaurants nearby and, saying he didn’t, he added he knew a local tourist information office that would be able to provide us needed information. As we approached it, I instantly felt slightly wary – the outside was all falling apart and was obviously being renovated. Rahul went in for us and, emerging a minute later, said it was no problem – it was simply being redone.

Rahul headed off to his movie and girlfriend and we thanked him and wished him well. Inside, we met Rahim who said he’d tell us about Delhi’s sights. It wasn’t long before we started to get the hard sell about what tours we could do with his tour agency. Declining most, we said we’d return after a meal to discuss a potential quick jaunt out to Rajasthan.

Heading out into the warm evening, the boy and I felt unsure if we could trust the tourist agency – but we equally felt that with jet lag we were possibly being slightly harsh on what could just be nice people.

Connaught Place as it used to look pre-"renovation" (photo credit: delhitravel.org)

Connaught Place as it used to look pre-“renovation”        (photo credit: delhitravel.org)

We wandered around Connaught Place, surprised at its dereliction. Our guide book (the Lonely Planet 30th anniversary edition) had told us it was the most upmarket area with lots of nice restaurants and shopping areas. As it was our first night, we’d taken the tuk-tuk up specifically because it seemed an easy first choice and we were exhausted. Instead, we found ripped up streets, excavators on every corner, hazardous holes with no signage and (later on) many people doing crack in the alleyways.

We read menus at a few restaurants finally choosing United Coffee House – a more up-market locale with suited waiters, a doorman and lovely, Raj-era interior decor. It was pricy but we decided to treat ourselves for our first night in the city until we became more acquainted with it.

And I’m ever so glad we did – it was definitely one of our best meals in Delhi. I recall little (given the waves of jet lag washing over me at the time meant I wasn’t up for making notes) but we had some gorgeous chickpeas in a rich, spicy sauce, lovely lamb and fresh cold beers. It was expensive – around £23 for the meal – but we were so happy to finally be in India that we couldn’t have cared less.

After our huge meal, we wandered back over to the tourist office to check in with Rahim. Seeing us return, his eyes lit up and he was soon trying to talk us into going to Rajasthan. I wouldn’t have minded – in fact, it was an area I was sad we hadn’t planned on going to – but the fact he was really trying to hard sell us made me keep my guard up. Another 20 minute conversation followed after which – with me giving “I don’t know about this” starey signals to the boy – we said we’d be back the next day to finally make our plans.

I'm usually pretty intuitive when it comes to scames, unlike Dilbert.

I’m usually pretty intuitive when it comes to scams, unlike Dilbert.

A tuk-tuk ride back to the place we were staying – a shared apartment in the nice Nizamuddin East area found through my favourite accommodation site, airbnb – followed and, in eagerness, I opened up my Lonely Planet book to see if it talked of any scams. Sure enough, it warned of friendly looking, English speaking, young men who direct tourists to travel agencies and get a referral fee.

Trying to keep my cynicism at bay, I left it in my mind that maybe it was just coincidence. Until the next night that is when – unsure where else to go for a late night dinner – we headed back to Connaught Place and, outside of a bar, saw both the Rahul and Rahim drinking beers.

“Hey Englishman,” they yelled to us, laughing.

It was a lesson all around (and a bit of a sad one at that). But at least Lonely Planet was right for once – something we did not find so frequently in the weeks to come.

In Part 2, the boy and I head to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal and get accosted by both a “security guard” and a monkey.

Sampling Sambrook’s & Cheese

30 Nov

Sambrook's 1
One thing I love about food is finding out what different flavour combinations people enjoy. It is for this reason that I am particularly interested in food and alcohol pairings.

Recently, the boy and I headed off south of the river to the Sambrook’s brewery to do just this – sample food and beer matches.
As background, Sambrook’s was started in 2008 by Duncan Sambrook, a former accountant for Deloitte who decided to quit the financial world. It became one of the first breweries in (fairly) central London and recently won the coveted award of World’s Best Pale Bitter for its Wandle brand at the World Beer Awards.

The night the boy and I visited was all about celebrating the win for Wandle and recognising some other great beers that took top honors in this year’s awards. It all took place in the brewery’s Boadicea Bar, a newly opened in-brewery bar where patrons can sample some of the great beers being made on the premises. To make things even more appealing, each beer was matched with a different cheese, provided by specialist cheese monger, Hamish Johnston.

Sambrook's 3And this was where things got really interesting as everyone on my table had a different viewpoint of what worked and what didn’t.

On the night, we sampled the Wandle, paired with a Gorwydd Caerphilly; a Weihenstephaner Kristall Weissbier with a Wigmore (from Ann Wigmore); a Thornbridge Raven Black IPA paired with a Stichelton from Joe Schneider; a Keersmaeker Kriek with an Ossau-Iraty; and, a Keersmaeker Gueze with a Lanark Blue from Selina and Andrew Cairns.

Each was distinctly different. I loved the Weissbier – a sparky orange, clove and nut beer – paired with the Wigmore, which was an ewe’s milk cheese that was more delicate than a goat’s cheese but with enough backbone to stand up to the beer. My other powerhouse winner of the night was the Thornbridge Raven Black IPA, which was a soothing dark beer with notes of umami, wood and wet grass. When paired with the fantastic Stichelton, a real sweetness emerged on my palate that heightened the beer even more for me.

But, the other five people at my table all had a different opinion. Some preferred the sharper, acidic-sweet note of the Kriek, and others ate up the Wandle and Caerphilly. The boy loved the Keersmaeker Gueze – a Lambic based beer with soft fleshy fruit and citrus notes – paired with the super-sharp, ammonia laden Lanark Blue. I thought the two together was really off putting (although, I liked each separately).

And so, it just goes to show – the only way to find out if you like something is to try it. So, as always, I encourage you to sit down with a group of friends, grab a few varied pints and some cheeses and see what you like. You never know what pleasures you’ll discover!

Thanks to Sambrook’s Brewery for inviting the boy and I down to try some fantastic drinks. For more information on the brewery and its beers, visit: http://www.sambrooksbrewery.co.uk

Surviving boot camp – Part 3: Talking crisps and the GL diet

16 Nov

A word to the wise: arriving at boot camp with a bag of crisps in your luggage is a bad idea.

At first, I forgot they were even stowed away in my rucksack. But then three nights in, I found myself sat in my room at 8pm – absolutely starving! And the crisps suddenly started speaking to me – trying to lure me into eating them.

I called the boy. He counseled me to find anything possible to distract me since I would only feel guilty the next day. And he was right, but it wasn’t easy. The fruit tea just wasn’t doing it for me anymore.

When I arrived at NuBeginnings I was quite worried about the food situation – mainly because I’ve cooked for myself for years now and the idea of having someone else cater to me on strict regulations with no control on my end was slightly off-putting.

The boot camp ascribes to the GL (Glycemic Load) diet. To give a quick rundown, this basically focuses on glucose and how it affects the body.

Unlike the GI (Glycemic Index) diet – which became very popular a few years ago – the GL diet doesn’t only focus on the sugars in foods and how our body absorbs them, but also at how much glucose is in each portion size.

A nut burger with beetroot salad.

The reason glucose is the focused on is because it is the key thing that gives our body energy – but ‘good’ carbs on this diet are ones that release slowly so our body’s insulin levels don’t jump up and down as the body tries to adjust to that incoming energy.

The idea is to eat smaller amounts, more frequently so our body doesn’t ever ‘crash’ and we don’t lose energy. As Jennie said: “We make poor food choices (ie: junk food) because our blood sugar levels are low.” We just want to eat something quickly to give our body’s blood sugar a boost.

The theory with GL is if you keep your blood sugars in check, you’ll feel less hungry, get fewer cravings and the body won’t store the excess sugars as fats. There is also a big focus on eating meals slowly to allow time for digestion, staying hydrated and being ‘mindful’ of what you’re putting in your body.

Thai curry for lunch.

What I enjoyed most about this diet (and that’s a big statement for me since I don’t like ‘diets’) is that almost nothing is restricted. Okay, you can’t sit around eating chocolate bars, but you can eat loads of good things like almonds, olive oil, coconut milk, goat’s cheese, fish and avocados. Yum! It’s also about getting the most out of those carbs you are eating. So, if you eat a piece of fruit, for instance, you’re always meant to eat it with some raw nuts (like almonds or Brazils) because the protein helps slow down the release of sugar to the bloodstream.

At NuBeginnings, however, the focus is on weight loss so the portion sizes are even smaller than a person would normally eat. When you combine that with four or five hours of exercise a day, it means things like the crisp incident start occurring. And no one wants to face talking potatoes when they’re at boot camp.

My only other major difficulty with it was the lack of caffeine. Getting off of it was tricky – there was no tea or coffee, only fruit tea, which after a while does get rather repetitive.

Luckily, while there were restrictions, there was also Gary, the retreat’s chef. He’s been at NuBeginnings for two and a half years, having previously opened his own restaurant in Dorchester and spent time traveling the world to learn about varied cuisines. He is highly influenced by Mexican and North African flavours, both of which featured highly in his meals. According to Gary, guests “are not there to suffer by my hands.”

Chef Gary whips up a crisp sea bass with couscous and asparagus.

But he wasn’t always so convinced. When a recruitment firm told him of the job, he says he could only think: “You’re having a laugh.” He has since come around to it fully, finding interesting recipes that work within the restricted ingredient space. “I’m developing recipes all the time. But they change, depending on who walks through the door so I don’t work to set recipes,” he told me.

While I was there, food ranged from Thai coconut chicken with crispy vegetables, to baked figs with goat’s cheese and Asian sesame noodles with prawns and salad. There were delicious, there was no doubting that.

Gary admitted he’s not entirely a convert when he’s cooking for himself, but added he loves cooking to this diet because it not only challenges himself as a chef, but also because he sees real changes amongst many guests.

A pepper roasts for use in couscous.

“The satisfaction is something else, it is something I was never expecting. I see people who really need to change their lives around and I feel I’m in a very privileged position to help them. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t believe in it. I just couldn’t,” he explained.

And I did feel satisfied for most of the trip. While the portion sizes were small, they were filling – the only time I found difficult was in the evening when we were eating at 6pm and then not again until the next morning. I also didn’t stick to one of the ‘mindful’ eating tactics of leaving a bit of food behind on the plate – I was a clean plate gal myself. But, otherwise, I liked the GL diet because it seemed quite logical really – don’t overeat, don’t eat processed foods, don’t let yourself go long between meals and listen to your body.

In the end, the bag of crisps stayed unopened until I arrived back home. But I did, admittedly, have a few secretive mints when I was starving! But, I also survived…boot camp, exercise, food plans, the whole kit and caboodle. And knowing that was ever so pleasurable!

I was a guest of NuBeginnings. For more information on the boot camp, visit: http://www.nubeginnings.co.uk

Surviving boot camp: Part 1 – the arrival

2 Nov

When I was 18, I bought myself a shiny new pair of Canadian made Saucony running shoes. I had dreams of going off to uni, clad with these shoes, with the full intention of becoming ridiculously fit and healthy.

Nine years later, they’re still in rather good shape. I’ve not, actually, worn them much. Oh, there was a brief period in uni when I joined the gym, played a couple of rounds of squash and did some work on the cross trainer. And another few months when Fitness First roped me into its web when I first moved to England. My shoes got a good workout then.

It’s not, I should mention, that I intend to be lazy. It’s more that I find myself getting too caught up in work or distractions like refiling my paperwork or drinking whisky to actually get around to going to the gym.

So when I was recently invited to attend the UK’s only ’boutique boot camp’ it was with slight concern – mostly over whether my body would cope with repeated bouts of exercise. It also didn’t sound terribly ‘pleasurable’, which tends to be the focus of my posts on here.

But, I decided I couldn’t be seen to be a wimp – and I had, after all, been attempting to ‘get fit’ for nearly a decade (ugh, I hate when things can be calculated in near double-digit terms).

After reassuring my friends I would likely survive, packing my rucksack with lots of ‘sporty clothes’ and waving goodbye to the boy (who, I should mention, is much better at the ‘attending the gym’ thing than I am), I hopped on a train westwards – I was Devon bound.

The ‘bootcamp’ destination is a place called NuBeginnings, which finds itself tucked away in a small village called Ilfracombe in North Devon. It’s an hour away from the nearest train station, so I was picked up by Dave, one of the managers. During our trip, he told me about what I was likely to experience during the week long retreat, from the hikes and personal training, through to the psychological side of things, which is looked at through hypnotherapy and acupuncture sessions, among other things.

As background, NuBeginnings was set up by a woman named Victoria Wills in 2008. Wills had experienced issues with her weight for many years, bouncing from one crazy diet to the next. After quitting her job, she spent time traveling to different ‘boot camps’ around the world, finding interesting angles in places as diverse as Canada and Hawaii. Through those, she learned that a combination of sensible exercise routines, streamlined nutrition plans and psychological treatments (to get to the root cause of any potential food dilemmas) worked a treat. When she returned to the UK, she realised there were no ’boutique’ boot camps over here – unlike the US, where there are many more. So, she worked to find a space (Westwell Hall in Ilfracombe) and set up the business with partner Frank. It focuses on teaching guests about all three arenas (exercise, nutrition and mental health) to help them get into a healthier frame of mind and lose up to one stone in a week.

Now, I have to admit – I was a bit skeptical. I was expecting for this to be, either, a bit of an ‘alternative lifestyle’ place with crystals and hypnotism tapes to set you to sleep to, or a crazy, military style boot camp where you find yourself squirming through the mud at some ungodly hour. Luckily, I soon learned, NuBeginnings was neither.

Upon arrival at the listed mansion, I was greeted by Dave’s partner Jennie who manages the retreat with him. Both are former teachers who have a wealth of experience dealing with a range of attitudes and life backgrounds, and both were unendingly friendly in helping each guest pursuit his or her ambitions.

I was shown up to my room – an oasis of welcoming calm, and asked to get changed and be downstairs as quickly as possible for my weigh-ins and personal training assessment. I was loath to leave, however, as the plump feather bed, and large cushioned window seat both looked terribly welcoming after my long journey.

However, in keeping with the plans, I headed down to meet Kieran, one of the personal trainers who would be working with me throughout the week. He tested my blood pressure, asked me about my goals for the week (at that point: not collapsing from the strain of exercise) and weighed me (something I’d not done in a rather long while, since I tend to eschew caring about all things weight loss in favour of eating whatever the hell I want, when I want). It was clear from the start that he was not there to kill me, nor to make me do push-ups in the mud – a fact I was grateful of. He very clearly accentuated the fact I would be working just above my skill level to maximise my heart rate and get the most out of the workouts.

After our chat, and my ‘measurements’ with Jennie, I met the other guests (who ranged from a 64-year old with a recent hip replacement, to a younger City worker keen to get fit again after a bad ankle injury, and a photographer who was focused on getting back into the fitness swing of things) ate a very small dinner ascribing to the GL diet (something I’ll come onto in a later post), partook in some meditation and finally fell down into the soothing comfort of a feather bed.

But the relaxation was not to last long…by 6:30am, I would need to be getting dressed to face the first day of workouts…would I survive?

In my next post, I find myself lugging heavy exercise balls up and down sand dunes, going hiking at 8am on a Sunday morning, and seeing if all the exercise made any difference at all.

I was a guest of NuBeginnings. For more information on the boot camp, visit: http://www.nubeginnings.co.uk

Finding the perfect match

1 Oct

The new gin from Heston.

Pairing food and drink is becoming a particular interest of mine. I love playing around with how a food tastes when paired with one wine or another or, even more so, with one whisky or another. And it’s something I’m seeing more and more companies and restaurants taking on board. We’ve suddenly moved past simple wine and cheese matching, into whisky and food, and beer and food combinations.

Recently, I was invited to try out some of the new collection of beers and spirits being released by Waitrose. And while it was rather delightful to have access to a room full of whatever alcohols I fancied trying (including the new earl grey tea and lemon gin being released by Heston Blumenthal) I was mostly keen to check out its food and alcohol matching class.

On hand to take a group us through the various matches were Alex Buchanan, marketing manager of Thonbridge Brewery, along with Jamie Baxter and Alex (the new distiller) from Chase Vodka, along with chefs from the Waitrose cookery school.

We started out with a damson vodka infused wild salmon gravalax with a fennel salad paired with the Sipsmith damson vodka. The vodka was served icy cold and the fruitier flavours were meant to bring out the fishy and acidic flavours in the dish. While I enjoyed it, I found the damson vodka too sticky and jammy for my taste buds, but I bet a lot of people who enjoy densely sweet drinks would like this match.

We then moved onto Thornbridge’s Wild Swan ale matched with dressed crab. This, for me, was a glorious coming together of flavours. The ale is crisp and wheaty, with hints of lemon and grapefruit, which really brought out the fishy goodness of the crab. I recommend!

The next two dishes – a rich meat stew and a sausage stew – were paired with a few beers. The former matched, for me, best with the Fuller’s ESB because, while the ale is malty and rich, it has fruitier flavours which helped to cut through the intensity of the beef. The latter, meanwhile, paired perfectly with the Beglian Tripel Karmeliet (one of my favourite beers) due to the yeasty sweet flavours in the beer, which helped accentuate the slightly sweet flavours in the dish.

The event was finished off with a pairing of one of the most gorgeous trifles I’ve ever tasted (concocted from roasted panettone soaked in gin, with jelly, gin-soaked figs and spices) and Janneau Armagnac. This was, quite simply, gorgeous. And while I don’t normally opt for puddings when out, if this were in a restaurant I would happily snap it up.

Matchings such as these are taught at the Waitrose Cookery School’s cocktail and canape class, which the company says is about “showing customers how versatile spirits can be.” But it also does classes on more traditional matchings, such as a wine and gourmet food class coming up on 10 October, which is being put on in conjunction with the Wine & Spirits Education Trust.

After trying all the lovely foods and innovative drinks coming from British distillers and brewers, I felt thrilled to learn of new things I could try at home. And I recommend all of you to give it a shot (or, if all else fails, have a shot) – whether in a class or at home. It’s a great way to learn about flavours and how your personal palate responds to different groups of foods and drinks. Plus, you’ll probably have a rather pleasurable time doing it!

Wok and Wolling!

25 Aug

The question of what a person wants for his or her birthday is always a tricky one.

So when the boy asked me what might hit the mark, I threw it back to his court, not wanting to be put in the driver’s seat. My only suggestion: something different that we can both learn from.

And on my birthday day, that’s exactly what I found wrapped up for me. A class for two to learn to make dim sum at the aptly named, School of Wok in Covent Garden – the boy done good!

The school is a new addition to Chandos Place, having been set up in late June by Jeremy Pang. He began cooking after deciding to change his career path in 2009 and retrain as a chef. After studying at Le Cordon Bleu and doing extended visits to Hong Kong (where his family originates), Jeremy set up a mobile cooking school which rented space from places like Ping Pong to teach corporate guests to make dim sum and stir fry.

Jeremy shows us how to get woking…

It’s not necessarily surprising that Jeremy would be drawn to this arena – his father’s family immigrated to England in the ’60s and started up some of the first restaurants in London’s Chinatown, while his mother’s family started up the well known Ho’s bakery in Manchester. Cooking – it seems – is definitely in his blood.

Much of his inspiration comes from what he learned growing up around restaurants and in the kitchen with his family and he has an exuberance that’s hard to miss. He’s also very informal and welcoming, which made us feel relaxed as soon as we entered the school on a hot summer evening.

The cooking menu for the night included glutinous rice in lotus leaves, crisp prawn and tofu rolls, Jiaozi and BBQ spare ribs. I’d barely eaten anything all day in preparation, a fact I was very glad of later.

We were joined by two other couples – a perfect class size really – and Jeremy began by taking us through the staple ingredients that are present in flavouring much Cantonese cuisine: soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, sesame oil and ketchup.

“The British left two things behind in Hong Kong and one of these was ketchup,” he clarified.

We then got to marinating some mighty and meaty shortribs in a combination of those ingredients plus other

The boy works up the courage to woll some dumplings!

delicious things like garlic, ginger and hoi sin sauce before moving quickly onto learning about lotus leaves.

Standing around the chunky wooden chopping station, dressed in our very cool School of Wok aprons, we learned to separate and work with this delicate, pungent leaf. Glutinous rice had already been soaking for two hours in cold water, and was then mixed with salt, pepper and garlic oil to be steamed for 20 minutes. We then mixed our meats (chicken thighs and chinese sausage) with rehydrated black mushrooms and a rich marinade before it was whisked away to be cooked on the grill. When both the rice and meat were done, it was laid out on small squares of the lotus leaf and wrapped to be steamed for another 20 minutes.

As a reward for completing our first two dishes, Jeremy dished out the wine – as we learned, to up our courage to make homemade jiazi (or as the Japanese term them, gyoza). These dumplings are easy to devour down but don’t be fooled into thinking they’re easy to construct.

Filled with pork, prawns, coriander, garlic and ginger (among other aromatic ingredients) these are some of my favourite dumplings. I soon learned, they do not love me.

The dough is made from two simple ingredients: flour and water. After mixing and folding, it’s kneaded for five minutes until elastic. We learned to do them fully from scratch, which included taking small balls, squashing them into a circular fashion, and using a two-hand technique whereby you turn the circle with your left hand while using a small amount of pressure on a little rolling pin to roll the edges with your right hand. It is mystifyingly difficult – or, at least for me it was. The boy won praises from Jeremy for his perfect-edged dough circles, while I just puzzled him. I think I made one that looked right out of the 30 I tried over an hour long period.

These small circles of dough are then filled with the meat, before being folded over and pinched together into a half-moon shape, fried and steamed. They were delicious, but all the wine in the world couldn’t have made me confident enough to get them right!

Just some of our delicious creations.

We also added beancurd rolls to our list of accomplishments that evening – these are filled with mashed prawn and bamboo shoots before being deep fried. Delicious!

When finally we got to sit, we’d been cooking for a full-on three and a half hours. While the class is only meant to last for three hours, it was clear Jeremy cared more about getting us to learn the full extent of cooking than to rush us out the door.

Over more glasses of wine, the group sat down to a very big, and very well deserved, meal. I’ll never look at dim sum quite the same but I will look forward to trying all of these at home again.

I can’t recommend Jeremy’s classes enough – it was a great way to pass an evening. And if you’re on the hunt for a birthday present to please, this is definitely one to consider.

For more information on the School of Wok, its classes and upcoming events, visit: http://www.schoolofwok.co.uk

A big bow to Namaaste Kitchen

10 Feb

I always find it strange you can live in a neighbourhood for years, but not notice restaurants on your doorstop.

For instance, I have been a tried and tested central North Londoner for most of my more than four years here in the capital. There was a brief stint just off of Brick Lane, which I loved too, but North London and I always seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet. It was where the boy and I had our first date, where I have eaten some of the best cuisine with some of my best friends, where I have (countless times) wandered idly through vast parks amazed at how green this city is…it is, in short, the place that feels most like home.

So, when I was invited to Namaaste Kitchen on Parkway (just off Camden High Street) recently for dinner, I presumed it must be new. I hadn’t noticed it before and, in my naivety I thought this must mean it hadn’t existed previous to my learning of it.

I was, of course, wrong – there are dozens of restaurants along Parkway, so it’s not surprising I do not know them all.

In fact, Namaaste Kitchen has been open since 2010, operating from a small but cozy storefront closer to the upper end of Parkway. It is all comfy booths (another booth!) and low, purple-blue lighting. But its main attraction is the giant grill at the back – perfect for making your taste buds salivate and keeping you warm on a cold winter night.

The restaurant focuses on Pakistani and Indian cuisine and is running a new regional food year programme, where guests will have the option to choose a set menu based around that month’s featured region. February plays host to Hyderabad, an area rich in history of culinary delights. The region – in the central south of India – was, from the 18th century onwards, under Nizam rule and much fanfare was created around food that was inspired by the rulers’ tastes and Irani, Turkish and Arabic flavours. I had the opportunity to taste some fantastic delicacies formed around ingredients like tamarind (my favourite), coconut, peanut and sesame.

Like any good Indian meal, there were lots of dishes. We started with Patthar Ka Gosht (marinated meat cooked on a stone), followed by Reshmi chicken kebab and Chakna (goat tripe and meat in a spicy sauce). Each dish was paired with a wine to make the notes and flavours of the individual sets of spices.

Crispy, crunchy Patthar Ka Gosht

My personal favourite was the Patthar Ka Gosht – the meat was tender but perfectly crispy on the outside and literally dripping with glorious juices and a spicy, coriander sauce that I nearly licked up the remnants of. The Chakna, however, didn’t go down so well – I was more than happy to try goat intestines (I’m a lover of haggis and black pudding, so I’m not put off by offal). But it was a bit too gooey and chewy, and I found it was too over-flavoured with garam masala and left a grittiness on my palate that just wasn’t for me.

Moving onto the mains, we tried a whole host of various dishes: Murg ki Pakki Biryani, Malai Chicken Tikka, Baghara Baigan, Khatti Machli, Bhindi Gosht and Rogoni Roti!

The ones that stood out by far were the Baghara Baigan (baby aubergines) and the Katti Machli (sea bream). The former was oozing in a puddle of salty sweet coconut, peanuts, cumin, ginger and tamarind – sweet yet savoury; rich yet delicate. Harmony on a plate. The latter, meanwhile, was flaky and delicate as a floating feather, despite the heavier tamarind and tomato sauce is was served in.

Gwiltypleasures can reveal MP David Milliband likes poppadoms

I was so absorbed in my indulgence of all these pleasurable things I almost didn’t notice MP David Milliband casually wander in! What tipped me off? Given I was sat at a table of journalists, the whispering was quick to begin. Then five phones came out and Twitter became a flurry of our chitter-chatter. I believe (by this point, remember, I had tried a different wine with each dish) I proclaimed it: #Millibandchronicles and made many a comment about his dashing purple tie and decision to order more poppadoms.

But, even a high-ranking MP couldn’t keep me from my meal. It was glorious and I couldn’t finish every bite on my plate.

We ended with a sickly sweet apricot pudding – while it looks small, one only needs a few bites of it before the body wants to crash from a sugar injection. It was nice, but maybe worth sharing.

All in all, a highly satisfying evening. And, remember, if you too want to try some of these delightful dishes, they’re only on until the end of February – at which point, a new region will be the star of the month.

Sometimes, it goes to show – it’s great to know a neighbourhood, but even better to be surprised by the new delights it offers up!

I was a guest of Namaaste Kitchen but dishes are reasonably priced, ranging from £4.95 for the Patthar ka Gosht to £13.95 for the Khatti Machli. More information on the restaurant, located at 64 Parkway, can be found here.

Champagne Pleasure

3 Feb

Here at Gwiltypleasures I’m a big fan of…well…things that make life enjoyable. Life’s little “pleasures” if you will.

So it was with intrigue that I listened to a talk recently during a day-long celebration of Champagne at the Renaissance Hotel in King’s Cross on just this subject by Karen Pine, Professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire.

Beautiful champagne glasses wait to be filled with bubbles...

I was there for the day to try lots of champagne from hosts G.H. Mumm & Perrier-Jouet, and sample some interesting food pairings with it – to say I was looking forward to the pleasures of the day was an understatement; I had been chatting about it for ages!

But, with some time to spare, I sat in on a discussion on luxury, which Pine spoke at. She told the audience that research shows we actually receive more pleasure from anticipating the eventual occurrence of something enjoyable than from the thing itself.

For instance, take a holiday: research shows we get more pleasure from the time anticipating all the exciting things we’ll do on holiday, rather than when we actually go on holiday. This made absolute sense to me – I’m a massive “planner”; someone who drools over guidebooks, looking forward to the eventual pleasure I expect I’ll get from going away to an exotic locale! When I get to my destination, I of course enjoy it immensely (usually) – but there’s something to be said for how fired up I get about the anticipation.

With this idea in mind, I headed to the molecular gastronomy event with something of a diminished excitement. I had been looking forward to this all week…would it not live up to expected pleasures?

Speaking at the event was renowned molecular gastronomy professor Peter Barham from Bristol University, who has worked with king of crazy-concoctions Heston Blumenthal and aims to understand why we taste things the way we do and how food can be looked at in a scientific way. The youngest Michelin starred chefs in the country – Casamia‘s Jonray and Peter Sanchez-Iglesias – were also providing the food. It was a rare treat indeed.

Casamia kings Jonray & Peter Sanchez-Iglesias address the crowd

Barham explained our taste buds can be influenced by temperature – if we eat something cold, then try something hot, the flavour profile will change. The same goes for how we smell things. For example, he suggested a good trick to play on a friend: take an orange, put it in a dark container and heat it up. Then have the friend smell it. If they don’t know it is an orange, they will think it is a lemon, because the limonenes in the skin will have increased the aroma and it will mess with our brains.

At the event, Barham said they would play with this idea and pair foods at different temperatures with different champagnes. All very exciting…but what did I think?

We started with a foie gras topped with a peach jelly and served with one cold and one hot spoon. It was paired with the G.H. Mumm Demi Sec. The base was light and airy, while a general sweetness flowed throughout. It was delicious but – to the disappointment of Barham I was one of the tasters that preferred eating it with a hot spoon – apparently, the cold one was supposed to work better. Oops!

Foie gras avec peach jelly

Then came the prawn, sweet corn and pine nut jelly. There were two: one served at 8 degrees, the other at 60. The cold one was too jellied for my liking (I hate jelly at the best of times) but the hot one was softer, with less of an intense prawn hit that I found in its cooler companion. I thought the saltiness paired perfectly with the G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge NV, bringing out a slight minerality in the flavour of the champagne.

A toasted brioche that stole my heart...

We finished with two tiny toasted brioche (one slightly warmed, the other hot) with Tunworth cheese & Marmite butter. I was dreading this one – I hate jelly but I REALLY hate Marmite. As fate would have it though, I loved this. I think the Marmite was in a sufficiently small dose to be allowable. The slightly warmed version wasn’t anything to write home about but the hot one was gorgeous. I recommend pairing these ingredients at home. It was served with the G.H. Mumm Cuvee R. Lalou 1999 (my favourite of the day).

So, did the pleasure meter extend to where I hoped it would with this event?

It was intriguing and I was lucky to try some fantastic pairings made by such a renowned scientist and extraordinary chefs. But, I think Pine had a point – pleasure is fantastic, but anticipating it can sometimes be more enjoyable than the final pay-off.

2012? When did that happen?

3 Jan

When I was a kid, any date after 2010 seemed an impossibility. I remember very clearly, sitting at home in a philosophical haze (as much as my 10-year-old self could handle) trying to envision the thought that by 2010, I would be 25. TWENTY-FIVE YEARS old! To my brain, that seemed an eternity away.

And yet, I couldn’t wait. Having a sister 11 years older than you, tends to make you want to be a grown-up much quicker – she was already off to university, living away from home, getting to “play house” as I called it.

So, now here we are in 2012. And all I can think is, “When did that happen?”

But, happen it did. And moving into a new year always makes me reflect on the year that was.

So, what was 2011?

Well…2011 was the year I started this site with a post on the food I savoured in Montenegro.

Hot air balloons drift in front of ours in the Napa Valley

It was the year I discovered fantastic wine in the Napa Valley and went hot air ballooning over the vineyards; worked on an organic farm; and, volunteered to take care of turtles in Costa Rica before returning to London to a new home with “the boy” and a new life writing about food, drink and travel.

A little girl runs after friends in the small village of Parismina, Costa Rica

It was the year I discovered my great weakness for whisky and created a site to encourage more young/female/people (!) to drink it, while also trying some fantastic tipples such as absinthe, tequila and cognac (the latter while sitting in a window at Harrods) through my work with Fluid London.

Glasses of Martell Cognac sit on the table in the window at Harrods

It was also the year I and the boy found out how absolutely, divinely incredible Ireland was with a series of posts (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) on our journey up the west coast.

The boy stands near yet another beautiful vista in Ireland

And, finally, it was the year I finished off by tasting some great mince pies for a worthy cause, going off the beaten path of food and drink writing, by thanking many supporters who donated to a fantastic charity night I helped organise with Marie Curie, learning about soup making with Nusa Kitchen and writing about some lovely wines I tried at a Virgin Wines event.

Me, looking incredibly cool, making soup at Nusa Kitchen.

All in all, very pleasurable indeed – and I have to say, far from what my 10-year-old self necessarily envisioned for my 26-year-old self.

And so, I say thank you to the people who have taken a spare few minutes to read my ramblings, and to wish you all the very best for 2012 – it’s the year of the Olympics, the year of the Jubilee, and the year of…well…we shall just have to see. I hope to continue celebrating London’s great food & drink, and maybe do some further exploring afield. And I hope for many pleasurable things all around for all of you (and your ten-year-old selves!)

A “new world” winter wine evening

5 Dec

A few years ago I traded in my allegiances and stopped drinking new world wine. I said adios to Chile and goodbye to Oz, in favour of good Cotes du Rhone or Chianti.

“Why?” you ask…

Because of the simple fact that wine from Italy, France or Spain is so much less expensive in England than it ever was in Canada. I was like a kid in a candy store when I moved here – a grape-drenched sweet store, that is.

When I was in the “new world” I drank Australian, Kiwi and South African wines all the time, so it was a nice change to switch over to European varieties when I shifted country codes.

As such, when I headed to a tasting with Jacob’s Creek at the beautiful boutique hotel, The Hempel, it was one of the first times in recent years that I was going to have a night solely on Australian vino.

The Hempel Hotel near Hyde Park

The company has recently launched its new range of wines from three specific Australian regions: the Barossa, Coonawarra and Adelaide Hills.

Now, I will be honest here – I wasn’t expecting much. I have – when I was back in Canada – drunk many a bottle of Jacob’s Creek and always found it to be palatable, rich and tasty, but nothing spectacular. So, I was curious to see if these new wines were going to be a step up. I was also interested to see what the Hempel’s head chef was going to match with the wines.

I arrived at the white pillared hotel and was greeted with a lovely glass of champagne and a roomful of fellow bloggers, all eager to get the evening going.

After sitting down, Adrian Atkinson – a wine development director with Pernod Ricard, which owns the wine company – talked us through what bottles we would be trying and explained a key part of the new releases is in focusing on how regionality makes a big difference in the final product.

“The industry as a whole is talking about regions,” he said.

The first region on our list was the Barossa, from which the Jacob’s Creek Reserve Riesling comes. It was paired with a smoked black pudding, red onion jam and roaster diver Isle of Mull scallops.

The incredible delights offered up on a plate at The Hempel

I’m not a massive fan of Riesling and Adrian admitted it can be a difficult variety to sell to Britain, which often links the grape with the very sweet varieties that come out of Germany.

“We put “dry riesling” on the label to try and overcome that,” he added.

This Riesling was very nice – it wasn’t sickly sweet, but instead had a rich butter and honey nose, and a slight hazelnut and lime taste that countered the salty flavours of the black pudding and scallops wonderfully.

The next region was Adelaide Hills with a 2010 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc matched with a Staffordshire Innes goat cheese, hazelnut and beetroot salad.

I found the wine to be light, with grassy, citrusy notes on the nose, and a fresh but slightly bitter flavour on the palate – it paired perfectly with the beetroot and gooey goat cheese.

We continued on our culinary journey, working through a beautifully rich, brown sugar, vanilla and oak flavoured 2010 Chardonnay to go with sea bass, and a 2009 Pinot Noir that was earthy and very rich, with a slight hint of rhubarb, that was matched with a stunning mushroom consumme – by far my favourite pairing of the night.

Adrian spoke of how “certain winemakers, if they get bitten by the “Pinot bug” become obsessed” – this led to a conversation about that same obsession discussed by Miles in Sideways and Adrian explaining that there are few regions in the world where growers can really get the most from these delicate vines, namely: Sonoma, Oregon and Adelaide Hills, where this one originates.

Adrian Atkinson and the Hempel's head chef speak to bloggers on the night

The evening finished off with an organic Rhug Estate flat iron steak (to go with a delicious blackberry and smoky Shiraz) and a selection of locally sourced cheeses, which was paired with a vanilla and oak, floral Cabernet Sauvignon.

The stars of the evening, for me, were the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. But the real treat was not only in discovering the incredible skills of the chefs at the Hempel but also in rediscovering some absolutely wonderful new world wines.

Adrian added the culture of taking a longer time learning about and focusing on regions is a key element in the quality of wines being released from Australia.

“Ten years ago, winemakers in Australia thought grapes grew in the back of trucks. Now they spend lots of time in the vineyard tasting and learning,” he said.

Jacob’s Creek have done a really good job with these releases, and I have a feeling they are going to go down a treat – for lovers of the brand and new converts alike.

Jacob’s Creek’s new reserve releases are available at Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Tesco Wine and Ocado, and are all priced at £9.99.

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