Tag Archives: London

Streets of Spain coming to London

24 Apr

Streets of Spain La Boqueria Chef

As the weather here in London finally gets warmer, more and more of us will likely be frolicking out in the sunshine, stocking up on our vitamin D supplies after such a long winter.

And for the upcoming May bank holiday weekend, Londoners will be able to enjoy a few days off and indulge in a dose of Spain, without shunting to airports and listening to Ryanair advertisements for the plane ride.

Instead, to get some Spanish fever, I’ve found out you can head to South Bank from the 3 to 6 May and take in La Boqueria. The famous Barcelona food market will be sending its stallholders from Las Ramblas for the Streets of Spain festival in conjunction with Campo Viejo. I’m already drooling at the pleasurable prospect of tender tapas and flowing red wine.

Masterclasses will be held with Campo Viejo wine, who will also be running a pop-up restaurant with Michelin-starred Spanish chef, Angel Pascual.

I had a chance to speak to festival general manager Oscar Ubide to get some more details about the festival.

Here’s what he said:

Streets of Spain Oscar Uribe Director of La Boqueria 2Why have you decided now is the right time to bring the Spanish spirit to London by partnering with Streets of Spain?

 The UK is heading into spring and hopefully we can bring some Spanish sunshine with us. We are also really excited as this is the first time we are coming over to London on this scale. Some of the stall owners have made trips to the UK before and the visits have always been very successful. Now that times are quite difficult back at home, it is a great opportunity to see the appetite for Spanish produce outside of our country.

What are you most looking forward to about this festival?

We hope that the festival will be an explosion of feelings, food, wine and colours to represent true Spanish culture. I’m looking forward to passing our passion for good food and quality produce to Londoners.

Why is London a good place to host an event such as this?

For the last few years the knowledge of Spanish food and our market has been constantly growing across the UK. British people currently sit at third on the list of visitors to our website. We think that there’s a nice rapport between the UK and Barcelona but also Boqueria. We are very grateful to Campo Viejo for giving us the opportunity to make our dream of bringing the market over on this scale real.

Why should Londoners come to the event?

When I visit London I always go to the Borough Market to buy the best Black pudding and Haggis from my friend Peter from Sillfield Farm, as I can’t buy those products in my city. We want to do the same for Londoners by bringing our best goods to their city, hopefully making them a little happier.

What are some of the most interesting products people can look to try and sample at the event?

Without giving too much away, we’re bringing black leg ham, the best jamon of the world, Shepherd cheeses, dried fruits, Catalan cooked dishes, excellent olives and oil and Catalan chocolates. This is only a snapshot of why Londoners should visit the festival and we still have plenty of secrets to surprise visitors with.

For more information on the festival, events, masterclasses and the pop-up restaurant, visit: http://www.streetsofspain.com

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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

On the hunt for standout wines: Virgin Wine Fest 2012

26 Oct

It’s amazing how quickly a year can fly by. This year, in particular, I’ve felt has been sped up by some time-controlling madman.

And so it was with surprise that I found myself consulting my diary recently only to find the Virgin Wine Festival had come around again.

Last year, the boy and I headed there with zealous joy – a whole day of wine tasting at the Royal Horticultural Halls seemed too good to miss. And at £15 a ticket, a few hundred other people seemed to wholeheartedly agree.

This year, Virgin had decided to up its pedigree and move events to the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Aldwych for its eighth annual festival. As a change, the event was held on two days – a shorter evening slot on the Friday, followed by a five hour session on the Saturday. As we couldn’t attend the longer one, we showed up Friday evening (at 6pm on the dot, just as the doors opened) to try out what was on offer.

The evening event had fewer wines and was held in a smaller section of the hotel’s Palm Court room. Regardless, with 97 wines on the list, there was more than enough to satisfy the taste buds for three hours.

Using our (highly technical) check-mark system (with an X meaning the wine is a no go through to three ticks, symbolising a stand out wine) we proceeded to fill our glasses repeatedly to really get a feel for the online wine company’s offerings.

This year, I found a greater proportion of highly rated wines than last. Maybe it was just good luck, but a vast majority of the wines received two ticks rather than an X.

Of those I tried, my favourite five were the following:

  • Finca Manzanos Seleccion de la Familia Rioja: Of the five wines on offer from Finca Manzanos, this one stood out for me. It smelled of autumn: brambles, wet leaves and crisp air. But there was also an exuding warmth from this – no don’t borne from the beautiful setting on which it’s grown: a plateau overlooking the confluence of the Ega and Ebro rivers in northern Spain. It wasn’t overly heavy, and could be considered a good wine for sipping on a cool, autumn late afternoon. It retails at £9.99.
  • De Martino 347 Carmenere Reserva 2010: I’ve recently become a growing fan of Carmenere, which is a big change since I used to rule out any wines from Chile after having many an unpleasant one from that country. One of my friends, however, is a big advocate after spending time in Chile and she introduced me to this grape varietal. This wine from De Martino is highly drinkable and comes from the highest vineyards in that country. It was bold without being too harsh on the palate, coming across with flavours of plump fruit and vanilla. A great wine to have with friends during an evening meal. It costs £9.99.
  • Reina Mora Special Selection Malbec Bonarda 2011: Like Chilean wines, Malbec is one I quickly avoid if I see it coming near my glass. I’ve had many that overwhelm my mouth with a distinct bitter, smokiness that I just don’t enjoy. But, never one to give up on a drink entirely, I gave this wine from Argentina a go. And I was surprised. It was far fruitier than any Malbec I’d tried in the past and softer on the taste buds as well. It was bold and fruity, but it wasn’t at all pungent. The boy gave it the thumbs up as well. It will set you back £8.99.
  • Laurent Espinasse La Cote Sauvage 2010: This is produced by small winery, which has been nurtured by Gavin Crisfield, a Englishman who fled from his job as a sommelier at top hotels here to become a winemaker in the Languedoc. I enjoyed many of his range, whose grapes come from various small producers in the region, but this was my favourite of the bunch. Grown at 500 metres above sea level, this was a perfectly balanced, black current, berry and bramble wine with heart. It’s one to sit back with and sip with a loved one after a long day. It costs £11.99.
  • Finca Las Moras 3 Valleys Gran Shiraz 2006: Continuing a theme of loving South American red wines that evening, this was one of the stand outs for me of all the ones I tried. Made in Argentina from a combination of grapes from three Shiraz growing valleys (the Pedernal, Zonda and Tulum Valleys) this was a belter of a wine – really bold and brash, and definitely crying out to be paired with a rare steak. It was slightly smoky with great fruity overtones. I loved it. I think it will be on my Christmas dinner list though, as it’s more of a ‘special occasion’ wine at the cost of £19.99 a bottle.

There were, of course, many other great wines but these five really caught my eye. The boy was slightly more lax in his tick system, preferring to focus on refilling his glass than on rating the wines – which makes perfect sense, since that’s what we were there to do. I look forward to discovering more from Virgin wines. It’s ever so pleasurable!

Thank you to Virgin Wines for inviting the boy and I along to try some fantastic wines. For more information on Virgin Wines and its suppliers, visit: http://www.virginwines.co.uk

Going Tonkotsu Crazy

25 May

A couple of Christmases ago, I got the boy the gift of sushi lessons for us both. It was one of those gifts that we could enjoy together – which basically means I like presents that I get something out of too. Luckily, it works both ways. This has become somewhat of a tradition between us with him buying me things he knows we’ll both like (comedy tickets) and me dragging him to the symphony (which he has now come to love).

But the sushi lessons are one of those gifts that have really stuck with us. We went a bit sushi-making mad for a while but unlike a gift which is used once in the holidays and then put away for years (foot spa anyone?) this one kept on giving.

Since then, I’ve continued learning about Japanese cuisine and have found myself cooking dishes from this country at home more frequently. So, when I was recently asked to come down to the Japan Centre – a fantastic Japanese food store on the south end of Regent Street in London where I have gone for years to get my Japanese ingredients – to learn how to make Tonkotsu noodle soup, I jumped at the chance to add a new recipe to my repertoire.

Tonkotsu is a type of Ramen made with a rich pork bone broth rather than a more typical miso or chicken stock base. It is popular in the southern-most part of Japan: Kyushu.

Nariaki Kanazawa – the advertising and product PR manager – told me the dish has only become popular in more northern spots like Tokyo in recent years. It wasn’t until he went to university near Kyushu that he even discovered it.

“I was shocked. I didn’t know what they had given me. It wasn’t soya [miso] Ramen!” he said, laughing.

The dish is eaten any time of the day but is very popular with businessmen and late night drinkers who procure it from street stalls.

“It’s more commonly eaten by men because of the rich flavour and fatty meats,” he told me.

Rich flavour? Fatty meat? That sounded right up my street! Once Nariaki told me this, I was ready to get stuck in and headed straight behind the counter to see how it is assembled.

The spicy beef Tonkotsu soup I tried is made from a notebook page full of ingredients, which include: yuzu paste (a spicy, fermented sauce made from the Japanese yuzu orange), chilli sauce, sesame lemon sauce, white miso paste, egg noodles, a chicken and pork stock (to which the Tonkotsu – or creamy pork bone broth – is added at a rate of 10 parts stock to 1 part broth), wakame (edible seaweed), spring onions, bean sprouts, red ginger, fungus and BBQ pork. Now, if that’s not a cure for too much drinking, I don’t know what is!

The dish was steaming when it got to my table. But I couldn’t help but plow into it – noodle soup (in all its forms) is one of my long-time favourite foods.

And what a treat it was. The soup was delectably rich – and far preferable to a standard miso broth. It was creamy, slightly fatty and had a sweet edge from the miso paste that was diluted by the chilli bite. The saltiness of the seaweed and sharp tang of the ginger were welcome additions. So many parts of my palate were bursting at once that it would have looked like one of those light-up dance move games people play in arcades if anyone could have seen it under a telescope. The team at the Japan Centre had looked a bit dubious when I said I would have a large portion. I think I did myself proud.

It’s not only me that likes it, apparently. Nariaki told me they’ve increased soup sales from about 20 portions a lunch hour to 50 since the Tonkotsu appeared on the menu six months ago. Whether that was PR speak, I won’t know but I can imagine why someone would love it. I’m just glad to add something so pleasurable to my growing Japanese food recipe book!

Hop Rubbing Extravaganza

2 Mar

As soon as I walked into the room, I could smell them. Sour, pungent, aromatic…the hops’ scent was filling the air to the rafters!

I had been invited to attend a “hop rubbing” event at Shakespeare’s Head just off of Carnaby Street in honour of Marston’s new single hop ale releases but I really had no idea what to expect. It’s not every day someone asks you to come and rub hops with a roomful of people!

The new releases are the latest ale experiment from Marston’s – the brand which owns pubs and breweries countrywide, making drinks such as Pedigree and Burton Bitter.

Photo Credit: Jules Beresford

The Single Hop Ales have been created as a way to see how the various flavours of hops can change an individual beer when every other factor (from the type of yeast used, to the water, brewery and barley) stays the same. Each month in 2012, a new variety is being released. January used a New Zealand hop called Wai-iti, while February’s release was made with Galaxy from Australia. March will showcase the more traditional English East Kent Golding hop.

The idea came because the team at Marston’s was curious to see what would happen if they focused on just one hop at a time. According to one of the speakers, Paul Corbett, the UK has a fairly limited style of hop because people here have always drifted towards the best bitter flavours entwined in the Golding and Fuggle varietals. But, by trying out different hops and highlighting their individual flavours, the team hopes to increase interest in how varying ales can be made from each.

I had little idea about hops before I came to the event. I drink a lot of beer, so know about their production, and my English family come from a big hop growing region in the UK (Herefordshire) but I’d never been quite so up close and personal with them.

But before I continue, I should probably explain a bit more about the humble hop.

Reference has been made to using the plant as far back as the year 622, although the routine use of hops in drinks here in the UK didn’t come about until the 15th century when the British learned brewing techniques from Flanders. By the late 19th century, a massive 72,000 acres of hops were being cultivated to satiate the public’s taste for beer. That has dropped to around 2,500 acres here in England while Germany remains the top grower in the world.


Hops are related to the cannabis plant and grow up to nine feet. There are male and female plants but the cone needed for harvesting is only produced by the female. The cones have lupulin glands, which are sticky and look like pollen, and contain the oils needed for beer production. After they are picked, they are dried and packed into bales for dispatch to breweries to process.

Once at the brewery, a proportion of the hops are added into the kettle, along with the wort (made from the milled barley which has been mashed up with water and strained) and boiled. Depending on the required flavour output, more hops may be added towards the end of boiling (called late hopping) and to the final cask (called dry hopping).

That night, I tried the three latest releases and rubbed a total of six hops.

So what did I find?

The amazing thing was how diversified hops smell. The East Kent Golding, for instance, reminded me of haystacks, grass and hemp, and had a bitter aroma, while the Galaxy had undertones of licorice, pepper and cedar. Marynka (a variety from Poland) had a strange combination of onion, mint and medicine smells, and the German Hallertau Mittelfruh conjured up aromas found in a bubbling pasta sauce: herbs like thyme and oregano.

Photo Credit: Jules Beresford

After all those intense and pungent fragrances, I suppose I was a little disappointed with the flavours that were then to be found in the ales themselves. March’s East Kent Golding was just a regular, classic bitter, and so felt a bit flat in comparison with the fresh hop. But, I did enjoy the January Wai-iti, which mirrored the zingy, bursting citrus notes in both the taste of the beer and smell of the hops.

It’s an interesting experiment all around. Simon Yates, a master brewer with Park Brewery in Wolverhampton, told us they would be keen to play around with only those hops made in England to replicate this experiment with only English varieties. However, that will still be a while off because it takes three to four years for a new hop varietal to be created and tested before finally being used in production.

Nevertheless, if you do get a chance to head to a brewery and rub down some hops, I highly recommend it. Just make sure to take a wet-wipe as they get rather sticky, which is equally unpleasant. And, be prepared to smell hops for many hours afterwards as their crafty essential oils love getting absorbed into the skin.

Marston’s Single Hop Ales are available at Chef & Brewer and Taylor Walker pubs throughout 2012.

Magnificent Marie Curie Event

21 Nov

As you all know, I’m a big fan of anything a little bit indulgent.

But, it is as true that not all in life is or should be just about pleasure!

So, when I’m not eating or drinking my way through London’s fantastic restaurants and bars, I spend time volunteering with the rather magnificent Marie Curie Cancer Care

It all started with a rather funny hat I wore last year – I had so much fun wearing the charity’s silly dafodil hat for its dafodil day (where I paraded outside of Camden Tube trying to sell as many dafodil pins as poss) that I decided I wanted to do more. So, when the call came for a new group to start in Camden at the same time I returned from my travels, I signed right up.

And a couple of weeks later, the Camden fundraising branch for Marie Curie was born. We’re a fun-loving group, and our aim is to get as many funds as possible for the incredible work the hospice does. And what, you ask, does the hospice do?

Well…each year, 2,000 palliative care nurses provide vital in-home and at-hospice care for those people in the final stages of cancer. For FREE! All 1.2 MILLION hours of care (the amount of work done in the last year’s count). No patient ever pays for this incredible care, which allows people to stay in a more peaceful space during their final hours. The charity also does huge amounts of research into tackling this disease AND provides care and counselling for families affected by it. In short, it’s incredible.

But – and there’s always a but – it costs a massive £13,000 a DAY to run these services. Only 53% of that cost is covered by primary trusts, and with government cut backs, that will likely change. The rest of it is funded through donations.

So, our fundraising group is here to do the little bit it can to help make sure these life-changing services continue on. We all know someone who has been affected by cancer. For me, it was my mum. It was a horrible time in my life and I wish I would have had access to the incredible support of Marie Curie (given I didn’t live in this country then, I couldn’t). But, now that I do live here, I’m proud to help make sure that other kids out there get some support if they do go through something like losing a family member at a young age. It’s the least I can do.

But, this post is not just about telling you about this work or the hospice. It’s about also telling you about our hugely exciting fundraising event, happening in less than two weeks time!

The event takes place on Saturday, 3 December at the fabulous Fiddler’s Elbow music venue near Chalk Farm – the place is perfect for what we have planned and, given it recently won an award for being a top music venue in Camden, we’re really rather chuffed to get it!

The flyer for our big event!

Our night will include some fantastic up and coming London bands, including Jamie Gordon , Holly Walker, Kings of the City, and one other very exciting band which I am forbidden from revealing, so we’re just calling them our “Special Guests” but I will say, they are a great London band with a big following and certainly set to make some music waves in the coming months. The night will be hosted by Josh Lever and the fab Jacky Wood will be making us all laugh.

We’ll also be doing a load of other exciting things, like having a super cool facepainter (a professional, mind – no little-kid balloon drawings here!), a dress-up photo booth, and a big raffle which we have been getting some supremo donations for, including: a Kenwood food processor from Robert Dyas; bottles of wine from Virgin Wines; high-end absinthe from La Clandestine; tickets to a whisky tasting with Dramatic Whisky; a £100 voucher from Camden Mirrors; a £35 voucher from Rum & Sugar Bar in the Docklands; and, many more things to come!! So stay tuned!

If you want more info about the event, then head to our Facebook page here.

And, if you can’t make it, but would like to send over some funds, then you most certainly can at our newly set up Just Giving page here.

We do hope to get a sold-out crowd on the night so if you are free on the 3 December then definitely come on down. Tickets are only £5 on the door but all other donations are, of course, more than welcome.

All in all, I’d say it might not be what I normally write about, but our event and all the work that Marie Curie Cancer Care do, makes me rather happy inside…and that, my friends, is very pleasurable indeed.

Worldly Wine Weekend

6 Oct

Lately, my diary has had more drinking engagements than Hemingway did during his Paris years. Not that I’m complaining – in fact, even to my liver’s protestations, I say: let’s get the diary filled!

So, it is with eagerness that I write about a wine festival I will be heading to this weekend put on by Virgin Wines. Yes – Branson has his hands in this pie too!

And although it is happening the day after the much anticipated TWE Whisky Show, I’m hoping my hangover won’t be so bad that I can’t cope with some beautiful Bordeaux or charming Chardonnay.

According to the people helping run the event – which happens from 11:30am-4:30pm Saturday at The Lawrence Hall, near Victoria in London – there will be more than 250 wines available to sip and sup, and a load of food companies offering their wares too. All for the measly sum of £15. Not bad at all, I say!

If there are still tickets available, I’d grab one now – I’m sure many a Gwiltypleasure will be satisfied…

Tickets are available from the Virgin Wines London Tasting site here for £15.

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