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Mostly Food & Travel Journal

Stagolee’s Hot Chicken and Liquor Joint

Jackson and Rye Richmond

Signac – Reflections on Water

Blackhouse - The Grill on the Market at Smithfield

Brick Lane – Flavours of India and Beyond

111 Gardens in London That You Shouldn’t Miss

Fiz Bar

Black Roe – Poke and more

Ice Creams, Sorbets and Gelati - The Definitive Guide

Jacqui Pickles – President, Les Dames d’Escoffier London – in conversation

Thai Square Fulham

Bōkan for Bottomless Prosecco Sunday Brunch

Best of England Vineyard Tours

Mark Hellyar at Chateau Civrac and Honest Grapes

Risotto! Risotto! by Valentina Harris

Trolley in the Lobby - Bar at One Aldwych

Taruzake – cedar difference

Recipe: Banana Bread

Champagne Taittinger at Luton Hoo

The Swan at the Globe

Hotel TerraVina Dining

Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour

Umami Kelp and Wasabi – an introduction

Rafute

Remelluri Organic Winery

Mele e Pere for Vermouth with a Master

Markopoulo recommendations

Domaine Papagiannakos Winery

Maribor – wines, gastronomy, bikes and hikes

Sake Cups – or perhaps a glass

Cinnamon Collection Masterclasses

Reims - Tasteful Souvenirs

Rijsttafel in The Hague

Rennes

The Sparkle of Vilmart & Cie

Umbria’s Autumn Gastronomy with Valentina Harris

Hisashi Taoka of Kiku – Fish aficionado


 
 
 
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Donna Margherita – pizza and pasta know-how

donna margherita vitaleWe might say we love Italian food because we buy pizza. It arrives in a box on the back of a moped. We choose from dozens of toppings at the supermarket, and we buy it frozen on every high street. Yes, we love Italian food – but these are not Italian, and one taste of the authentic product will turn your head and have you singing ‘That’s Amore’ quicker that the waiter can open a bottle of Chianti

“I wanted to create a menu which we are able to enjoy, full of flavour yet still remaining healthy for our bodies,” says owner of Donna Margherita, Gabriele Vitale. And he showed his skills and that of his pizza chef in this popular restaurant on London’s Lavender Hill.

This was an Italian cooking class with a difference. Gabriele demonstrated how to make the perfect gnocchi, while his pizza chef introduced us to the method for making the essential dough for the base. This is a flavourful and light bread which only takes seconds to bake in the red-glowing wood-fuelled pizza oven. It’s those bits of tree that make all the difference, but it takes years of practice to make the perfect pizza with just the right amount of char on the bottom and a bubbling top of tomatoes and molten cheese.

donna margherita pizzaThe event was a celebration of the restaurant’s collaboration with the Italian PIA Association (Italian and International Pizza School). The organisation’s president, Arturo Mazzeo, was on hand to support the occasion. This group is responsible for training some of the finest pizza chefs. It truly is an art. Pizza here is made from scratch from a home-made starter, so plenty of flavour in the long-proved dough.

The course showcased the new healthier recipe for pizza and tempted us with the finest Italian pasta. This is an ingredient which is so often overcooked elsewhere. Gabriele presents dishes which are rich in protein, easier to digest and have a natural taste of wheat. He is also passionate about the benefit of Himalayan pink salt, which has 84 minerals to help detox.

donna margherita ovenDonna Margherita has long been a favourite restaurant (read my review here). The owner doesn’t just want to feed his guests – he wants them to savour every element. He takes trouble in sourcing everything, right down to the humble egg. Many of his ingredients come directly from Italy and others are artisanal products from nearer home. Gabriele wants diners to leave Donna Margherita satisfied that they have had a delicious and substantial meal which won’t have them feeling bloated.

A must-try is E’spaghett’ A Carbonara which is the real thing and not often found in other restaurants. It’s spaghetti with cured Italian guanciale (an Italian cured meat product prepared from pork jowl or cheeks), organic eggs, parmesan and pecorino cheeses. Please note that this version doesn’t contain cream, but relies on the other components for richness.

Donna Margherita
Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria
183 Lavender Hill
Battersea
London SW11 5TE

Tel. +44 (0) 20 7228 2660

Email: info@donna-margherita.com

Visit Donna Margherita here.

food and travel reviews

Pud in a Mug by Dr. Oetker

mug Well, this is an interesting one. I am a lover of good food cooked from scratch but I also live in the real world with real people, and some of those folks are too young to manage long-hand baking. Pud in a Mug is a fun way of introducing kids to a little bit of culinary creativity which I hope will lead to a love of cooking.

It’s school holidays and there is the problem of what to do. A project. Some fun. Dessert is always welcome. Pud in a Mug by Dr. Oetker could provide a bit of diversion and a lesson in baking alchemy. The process of making a hot cake in a mug only takes a couple of minutes and a microwave.

The Pud in a Mug range includes Rich Chocolate, Chocolate Chip, and Sticky Toffee. All sweet and tempting for youngsters who need a bit of energy. One adds a small amount of milk to a microwaveable mug and then stirs in a sachet of the desired cake mix. Combine and microwave for a minute and a half. Beware: This is HOT! Get the youngsters to select their preferred cake. They can mix, put it into the microwave and set the timer, but an adult needs to remove and WAIT till the pud cools a bit.

This is a portable edible project so ideal to take with them when the kids have an away-day with Auntie Beryl or Granny.

Learn more here

food and travel reviews
 

Stagolee’s Hot Chicken and Liquor Joint

stagolees Stagolee’s is an American restaurant and we have plenty of those in the UK, ranging from dubious to excellent in quality. But Stagolee’s is unlike all those other US-inspired eateries. This spot will introduce the diner to a different face of American food but a truly authentic one, and you’ll likely not find these vibrant dishes in any other place.

This is a Joint, a shack. It doesn’t have padded banquettes, starched tablecloths and sniffy waiters. It welcomes with smiles, scrubbed tables and benches, and memorable food and cocktails. The bar is small but the shelves are stacked with Moonshines, bourbons and spirits from across the Pond. This will be a magnet for any lover of rye or for those who want to learn more about that and other celebrated American drinks.

Chef Ashley James offers Londoners a taste of the South. No, not Bournemouth but the southern states of the USA. This is home cooking and comforting food made from grandmothers’ recipes – the grandmothers in question being those of Ashley and her partner Jordan.

stagolees We started with Hot Spinach Dip with cheese and artichokes, and it’s a classic. It’s light and flavourful served with tortilla chips, and it’s a winner. Devilled Eggs are another standard and a deliciously piquant take on stuffed eggs, a childhood favourite at Sunday teatime. Pimento Cheese Spread is called the caviar of the South; I had heard of it but never tried it. One taste and you will be on the road to culinary addiction. It’s savoury, well textured and downright tasty. It’s a must-try here.

Cornmeal Battered Fried Fish is already well loved by the increasing number of regulars at Stagolee’s. The coating is perfectly seasoned and crunchy, and there is a garnish of watermelon pickle which was another revelation. I am hoping that Stagolee’s will consider selling this by the jar!

stagolees Hot Fried Chicken is the undoubted showpiece here. It truly is hot and is the best fried chicken I have ever had. There is nothing timid about this moist plateful. It packs a punch but that heat doesn’t mask flavour. An order comprises a couple of sizable pieces of chicken, and there are sides on offer too.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese is creamy and piping hot. It’s a foil for the spice of the chicken. Southern-style Greens with smoked ham works well with both the fish and the chicken, and it’s not short of meaty taste and hearty bite. Cornbread is a southern classic and it’s sweet and light at Stagolee’s, and will doubtless have many an American tearfully reminiscing. It almost had me in that condition and I have never been south of the Mason Dixon Line.

stagolees But what is a meal without dessert? Peach Cobbler was the dessert of the day and it’s another Southern staple. This was fruity and moreish. The menu changes to take advantage of the best produce, so perhaps the special will be apple pie or key lime pie next time.

Ashley’s Hip made with Bulleit Bourbon is named after Stagolee’s soon-to-be-famous chef. It’s sweet and delicate but it’s undoubtedly alcoholic. But Mountain ’Rita will likely become a signature cocktail here. This makes use of the same spices around the rim as on the chicken, and the drink is spiked with jalapeño chilli. This is a Margherita with attitude; it’s not for the faint of heart and I can guarantee that one will never be enough.

Stagolee’s Hot Chicken and Liquor Joint is a couple of bus rides from chez nous but I’ll be a regular there. Chef Ashley, Jordan and their team deserve to be proud of this cosy corner of Fulham. It’s a welcome and truly unique addition to London’s restaurant scene.

Bookings
Phone: (0)20 3092 1766
Email: info@stagolees.co.uk

Opening times:
CLOSED Monday and Tuesday
Wednesday and Thursday: 5:30pm to 10pm
Friday: 5:30pm to 10:45pm
Saturday: 11am to 3pm for Brunch and 5:30pm to 10:45pm for Supper
Sun: 11am to 3pm for Brunch and 5:30pm to 10:00pm for Supper

Stagolee’s Hot Chicken and Liquor Joint
453 North End Road
Fulham
London
SW6 1NZ

Visit Stagolee’s Hot Chicken and Liquor Joint here.

food and travel reviews

Signac – Reflections on Water

SignacPaul Signac was born in Paris in 1863. He had a privileged childhood although that was to change somewhat with the death of his father. The family had lived in Montmartre, which was a quarter famed for being the haunt of poets, writers and artists.

Signac’s family encouraged him to become an architect but the young man was entranced by the revolutionary new art he saw around him, and at the age of 18 set his heart on becoming a painter after attending a Monet exhibition.

Signac loved sailing, a hobby he took up while living in Paris. In 1892 he sailed a small boat to most French ports, to Rotterdam in Holland, to Venice, and around the Mediterranean to Turkey. He made expressive watercolours which later became large canvases. They were produced by painting small, mosaic-like squares of colour, a departure from the uniform dots made famous by other artists such as Georges Seurat who made such a profound and evident impression. Pointillism constructed paintings through little dots of pure colour best viewed from distance.

Signac – Reflections on Water offers a cross-section of over 140 works which show Paul Signac’s techniques and approach to his subjects. There are minimalist pencil sketches, bold pen and ink executions and more subtle colour harmonies. The artist was inspired by water with all its ever-changing textures, hues and movement, and this vibrant catalogue draws the reader, the viewer, into its artistic narrative. It takes us on a journey overseas, along meandering rivers, through bustling ports, and presents dream-like images of tranquil landscapes made more compelling by the brushstrokes of this iconic artist.

Signac – Reflections on Water
Publisher: Skira Editore; Reprint edition (28 Sept. 2017)
Price: £29.95
ISBN-10: 885-723403-7
ISBN-13: 978-885-723403-8

food and travel reviews

Blackhouse - The Grill on the Market at Smithfield

It’s not surprising that we were invited here to enjoy a meal with meat as the showpiece. This was Smithfield, after all!

Blackhouse rib-eye Smithfield’s meat market dates from the 10th century, and is now London’s only remaining wholesale market in continuous use since medieval times. It’s a bloody spot in other ways, too. Smithfield was the place of many executions of religious non-conformists and political rebels, including Scottish patriot William Wallace, made famous by the film Braveheart.

Blackhouse - The Grill on the Market at Smithfield is a smart yet casual restaurant and bar. It has a rather masculine ambiance with walls clad in natural wood, low lights and superbly cosy banquettes. Yes, meat is the draw here and appetites will be whetted by the sight of 28-day-aged joints resting in the cabinet at the restaurant entrance.

But there is more to appreciate here than red meat. There is a great selection of fish and shellfish and some veggies, too. The menu offers innovation but also some retro favourites which are worthy inclusions. The food was enticing but the service was equally memorable, and it was rather classy theatre.

Blackhouse shrimp We ordered our starters, main courses and cocktails from our server, Paolo, who was just as characterful as the steak he was about to display. No, not just a single steak but the whole length of, in this case, rib-eye. This cut, in my opinion at least, has the best ratio of flavourful fat and well-textured meat. Paolo sliced a modest portion as requested, and then we were ready to enjoy our meal, now spiked with a degree of culinary anticipation.

My first cocktail was a metal mug of Maple Loves Ginger, which was Ketel One Citroen, stem ginger purée, and lemon, with sweetness from both maple syrup and pineapple juice, the predominant flavour. The dried pineapple slice was a tasty garnish and gave exotic flair to the copper goblet presentation.

My dear reader might be surprised by my choice of starter. Prawn Cocktail is indeed a throwback dish which was ubiquitous on home and restaurant menus a few decades ago. Strangely, it fell out of favour because it was so popular. It was popular because it was good, and it still is. The Blackhouse version was sumptuous with large prawns, plenty of the traditional Marie Rose sauce, along with some delicate triangles of buttered bread.

Tommy’s Collins was my guest’s starter cocktail of El Jimador Reposado, lime, agave, mint and ginger beer. El Jimador Reposado is a 100% agave tequila aged for 3 months before bottling. This partnered well with Piri Piri Calamari with Saffron mayonnaise, which was another comfort dish and a generous helping too!

Blackhouse calamari Butterfly Perch was, as the cocktail bill of fare suggested, “perfectly matched with seabass”, my companion’s main course. The Seabass Fillet was wrapped in a lettuce leaf, stuffed with pearl barley couscous and then oven-baked to slightly char the lettuce while allowing the fish to remain moist. There was a garnish of choron sauce, which is a tomato-bejewelled Béarnaise sauce that goes so well with fish.

But I was waiting for that steak which had looked red and magnificent on Paolo’s chopping board. Steak Holder cocktail was my “Perfectly Matched” libation. Bombay gin, black grapes, Plymouth Sloe gin, star anise, maple syrup and blueberries combined to present a powder-purple delight with fragrance from the spice.

The ribeye was from the Butcher’s Block selection. It was dry-aged in Himalayan rock salt resulting in a tender and perfectly seasoned cut. When ordering steak consider flavour over bulk. A steak falling over the edges of a dinner plate might seem impressive but it usually indicates a person who is in need of a good feed rather than one who wants to savour the best. The Grill on the Market at Smithfield IS the best. If you have a huge appetite then order one modest steak and if that isn’t enough then order perhaps a different cut for the second instalment.

Blackhouse steak Coconut Bakewell Tart was our shared dessert. This was a great balance between a good old-fashioned and familiar pud with a little hint of distant climes with that coconut which works very well in this typically-English baked tart. The smear of salted caramel sauce added perfect sweetness.

Blackhouse - The Grill on the Market at Smithfield ticked all available boxes. The location was well served by public transport. The décor was warm and inviting. The service was friendly and the staff were passionate and knowledgeable. All dishes and drinks were first-class but the meat will likely be the element which will assure many happy returns. I am impressed and planning my next visit to try a burger, which I expect will be the finest I would have ever eaten.

Opening hours:
Monday to Wednesday: 12 noon - 12:00 midnight
Thursday to Saturday: 12 noon - 1:00am
Sunday - Closed

The Grill on the Market, Smithfield
2-3 West Smithfield
City of London
EC1A 9JX

Phone: 020 7246 0900

Email: grillonthemarket@blackhouse.uk.com

Visit The Grill on the Market at Smithfield here.


food and travel reviews

Jackson and Rye Richmond

Jackson and Rye mint julep What a view! There can be few places more picturesque than the bank of the River Thames by the 18th century Richmond Bridge. It’s beautiful at any time but on a summer’s evening it’s memorable. A seat at Jackson and Rye will give you the best spot.

Richmond is the last stop on the District Line and 8 miles from Charing Cross, which is traditionally viewed as the centre of London. Richmond was founded following Henry VII’s building of Richmond Palace in 1501. Elizabeth I spent time at Richmond and passed her last days there. It’s popular with more humble folks these days. One can hire a boat, enjoy some classy shopping, stroll around Kew Gardens which is close by.

It’s a surprise but Richmond isn’t very well served by good restaurants. Jackson and Rye will be welcomed by those of us who despair of finding food over which to coo. Yes, Jackson and Rye is a chain but it’s a rather well-presented one and fits this location so well.

This isn’t a stuffy restaurant but rather one which welcomes with a smile and soothes the soul with some classic casual dishes and others that might be a little less common. The drinks are worthy and well-crafted. There are tables for couples and spaces for groups. The restaurant is blessed with an outside terrace to take advantage of the aforementioned view and to people-watch over a cocktail.

jackson and rye burger And speaking of cocktails, mine was a Mint Julep with a base of Maker’s Mark, the celebrated Kentucky Bourbon, along with a veritable bouquet of fresh mint. Ice chinked in the frosty glass and this visitor was content. My guest was equally pleased with his Rosemary Tree, which was a delicate stemmed glass of rosemary-infused Stolichnaya Vodka, lemon and dry vermouth. I think there might be a dash of egg white. A great cocktail for lovers of fresh herbs.

The drinks were perfect but the food was outstanding. I ordered Buffalo Chicken Wings and it was a considerable plateful. The pile of smoked wings was served with three homemade sauces - BBQ, Peri Peri and Blue Cheese. The blue cheese is a traditional accompaniment but this one was mild and creamy rather than the usual over-salty dip. The peri peri sauce was spicy and not to be missed.

Crunchy Chorizo Prawns with a mango chilli mayo was my guest’s starter. These were lollypops topped with succulent prawns which were seasoned with a morsel of well-flavoured chorizo. A light nibble with which to begin the meal.

jackson and rye ribs It’s been ages since I had a good burger but I was tempted by the J+R Cheeseburger. This was a classic winner and I feel no shame by saying that a great burger is right up there with the best steak. The meat was perfectly charred, moist and garnished with smoky tomato relish, American cheese, J+R burger sauce, lettuce, gherkins - and I added crispy bacon. I also ordered a side of broccoli which was vibrant and tastefully presented, showing attention to detail.

My companion continued with a rack of Baby Back Ribs which had had 6 hours smoking, making the meat tender and full of that distinctive flavour. This must surely be the signature meat dish here. These ribs came with sides of slaw and fries which defeated the diner, such was the generosity of the serving.

jackson and rye dessert I am seldom impressed by desserts but Peanut Butter Fudge S’mores was a sweet star. Graham crackers (digestive biscuit), marshmallow with a peanut and chocolate sauce combined to give a unique take on an American camp-fire favourite. I was sorry that we had decided that we should share! It was the quality of the marshmallow which rather elevated this preparation to a fine-dining pud.

Jackson and Rye Richmond was a pleasant surprise. It is undoubtedly a casual restaurant but the food is delicious and well-presented. The staff are professional and engaging ...and there is that view. It was a fun evening and I’ll be back to try a glass of rye and to enjoy my own whole plate of S’mores!


Opening Times:
Monday to Friday: 8am till 11.00pm
Saturday: 9am to 11.00pm
Sunday: 9am - 10:30pm

Jackson and Rye Richmond
Hotham House
1 Heron Square
Richmond
Surrey
TW9 1EJ

Phone: 0208 948 6951
Email: reservationsrichmond@jacksonrye.com

Visit Jackson and Rye Richmond here

food and travel reviews

Brick Lane – Flavours of India and Beyond

Brick lane poppadums We Londoners are a cosmopolitan bunch. That isn’t a recent phenomenon: our country has been built, over the centuries, on a diversity of cultures and that has also added to our cuisine.

The British national dish is curry. There is a curry house on every high street, with around 10,000 of them, so this isn’t just a fad. Indian food has been popular here since the days of Queen Victoria. She had her own Indian servants who would prepare delicious and spicy dishes that were so much more vibrant than the usual British fare of those times.

This two-and-a-half-hour journey through London’s Brick Lane doesn’t show you classy and polished London: it introduces the visitor to real London. It’s a neighbourhood that has had a long history and there are still streets of iconic Georgian buildings to attest to that fact. Some of those attic windows once shed light on the work of Huguenot weavers. The Brick Lane Mosque was once a Synagogue. It’s been an area that has welcomed those looking for a better life and they have all left their mark. This neighbourhood is called ‘Banglatown’ due to its high concentration of immigrants from Bangladesh. The restaurants, cafés and shops reflect that ethnicity.

Brick lane craneWe can visit any city as a tourist and we will be able to admire the architecture. We might find an interesting shop in which to browse, and restaurants abound. But even guide books can’t answer questions and they usual only cover the well-trodden path. One really needs an actual person with ‘insider’ knowledge, someone who is a regular in some different shops and restaurants, and someone who can even point out the very best of unique street art.

London Food Tours offer in-depth insights into, in this case, Brick Lane and its surrounding streets. One walks those streets, but that stroll is punctuated by bites of authentic foods. One starts the tour with a glass of British-brewed Indian beer, a plate of crispy poppadums and a selection of tangy chutneys. A very traditional start to any Bangladeshi meal in the UK.

This is a cultural tour as well as a culinary one. Our charming and able guide described points of interest in colourful detail as we made our way to the next venue, which was a supermarket. This is a box of tasty treasures for any food lover, and there was enough time to do a circuit and to carry away some home-cooking essentials. One can find a selection of those aforementioned poppadums to cook chez vous, as well as aisles of spices and tableware.


Savoury snacks called ‘telebhuja’ are popular and our next stop allowed us to try a couple. We learned about the owner of the shop as well as a little more about the goods on sale. Trays of filled and fried pastries tempted the group, who unanimously pronounced these as flavourful and moreish. They actually constituted our starter on this roving meal extravaganza.

Brick lane banana The shop next door provided our dessert, which we reserved till the end of the afternoon. Subcontinental sweets are made of copious amounts of reduced milk, sugar and butter along with exotic flavours and even decorations of real gold or silver leaf. I can highly recommend the Pistachio Barfi!

Then it was on to a refreshing glass of a yoghurt-based drink called lassi. We enjoyed this along with a brace of Bangladeshi fish curries accompanied by fluffy white rice. We ate with our hands as do the locals, although cutlery was available for the timid.


The final stop was a short walk from Brick Lane but to an iconic restaurant which has long been appreciated by Londoners. Here we enjoyed a vegetarian and a lamb curry along with light naan bread cooked in a tandoor for delicate flavour.

This is the only London Food Tours excursion I have tried but I am impressed by their attention to detail, and the professionalism and enthusiasm of our knowledgeable guide. I am a Londoner but even I benefited from a tour rather than just an independent visit, and the walk introduced me to experiences I would otherwise have missed. I look forward to going along to other such guided tours.

Details:
Monday to Sunday at 2:30pm. The food tour takes place in Brick Lane which is in the East End, an 11-minute walk from Aldgate East station. Meeting point and detailed directions are provided with your booking confirmation. The food tour ends opposite Aldgate East station and the guide can point you towards alternative public transport or call a taxi for you.

Contact:
From North America: 1 215 688 5571
From Australia: 03 9028 7131
From the UK: 01223 793177

Visit London Food Tours here

food and travel reviews

111 Gardens in London That You Shouldn’t Miss

111 gardens This is the must-have book of the year for anyone interested in gardens. That doesn’t have to be an interest in the activity of gardening: it’s a book for anyone who takes pleasure in just spending time in beautiful open spaces.

London has a proud history in making and preserving public gardens and parks. They are the lungs of the city and are used by visitors looking for a moment of tranquillity, a quiet spot for enjoying a lunchtime sandwich, and sometimes by sporty types, too.

Londoners will likely be familiar with public gardens and parks in their own neighbourhoods but 111 Gardens in London That You Shouldn’t Miss covers the whole of Greater London. There are the huge and celebrated gardens such as Kew but there are many more that will be less well-known. I am a West-Londoner but I have never visited Osterley Park. It’s not far away and the house is surrounded by 331 acres of gardens, park and farmland! Would seem difficult to miss!

But these gardens are not just to be found in the suburbs. Gardens are part of our history and they are themselves historic. Lincoln’s Inn Fields is now a calm idyll, but it wasn’t always like that. This was where public executions were held, and where muggings were a popular pastime!

There are 111 gardens listed and all of them are worth a visit. They each have their unique character and attractions, and it seems that one is never far from a park or garden in London. It’s a must for any visitor to the city who wants to tread the path less trodden by other tourists. There are flowers, trees, ponds, lakes, architecture and sculpture all to be discovered, away from the buzz of traffic. 

111 Gardens in London That You Shouldn’t Miss is a well researched and charmingly written book and one which this gardener is really appreciating.

111 Gardens in London That You Shouldn’t Miss
Author: Kirstin von Glasow
Published by: Emons Verlag GmbH
ISBN-10: 374080143-3
ISBN-13: 978-374080143-4

food and travel reviews

Fiz Bar

Fizbar This is a PopUp so don’t spend time reading the rest of this piece. Just go before it closes!


One might think that sparkling wine is for the connoisseur, those with money and a dictionary of posh wine terms. Fiz Bar aims to encourage a new generation of sparkling-wine lovers – those who aren’t interested in the hype but love the taste …and the fizz.


This is a casual bar which has found its temporary home in a former neon-sign shop, and there is still plenty of that stock on show. It’s contemporary with hints of an older Soho: one of the signs beams ‘Peep Show’! The founders had originally expected that folks would stand and drink, but now there are pine benches and stools for a more comfortable event, as there is food on offer here, too, including one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches in London! The plates and platters do, where possible, reflect British seasonal produce.


Prosecco, Cava, English sparkling and Cremante from far and near are available, and many by the glass. This is about delicious discovery at a reasonable price. It’s about friends and fizz. It’s just as much about the folks who visit as it is about the menu. They are an eclectic bunch: cyclists with helmets and dubious shorts; office workers with laptops; meeters and greeters.


Fiz Bar I trust that Fiz Bar will find a permanent home in the near future. Yes, I think it’s a sign of things to come. It’s time that we enjoyed fizz more and stopped drinking it just because we think we look good doing it. Fizz shouldn’t be thought of as posh but should be appreciated by a wider audience for its bubbly personality – and Fiz Bar has plenty of that!


Summer PopUp from 20th June - 13th August

Fiz Bar
The Lights of Soho
35 Brewer Street
London
W1F 0RX

Monday to Thursday 10:00am - 23:30pm

Friday to Saturday 10:00am - midnight

Sunday 12:00noon to 16:00pm

food and travel reviews

Black Roe – Poke and more

Black roe images Black Roe is tucked away in a side street in the heart of Mayfair. It couldn’t be better located for transport and diners. This is a neighbourhood with plenty of restaurants but it is making its mark, attracting visitors who want quality food and something a little unique.

Pacific Rim cuisine is what’s offered here in this small but marvellously formed restaurant. It’s been opened by Kurt Zdesar, owner of Chotto Matte. It has seating for 60 with tables and banquettes. But it’s the décor that impressed me. Huge black and white portraits line the walls to great effect. The bar at the far end welcomes with warm amber light.

Black Roe's key to culinary distinction is poke. That isn’t pronounced as a dig in the ribs but rather po-kay with an accent on the ‘e’. It’s basically is a raw fish salad, a deconstructed sushi with garnishes and dressing. In the restaurant window there is a tapestry of poke fixin’s. It is served as a starter in Hawaii and as a main course. A large proportion of those islands’ populations are descended from Japanese so this is a Pacific Rim fusion, and has already taken the West Coast of the US by storm.

Black roe poke We started with Prawn and Pork Pot Stickers with chives and ponzu, a citrus-based sauce commonly used in Japanese dishes. These were perfectly-made dumplings which are both steamed and fried. They had a beautiful crisp bottom, and that delicate char gave flavour as well as texture.

A bowl of the celebrated poke was always on the cards. The “Black Roe” Ahi and Yellowtail Poke with spicy yuzu salsa was our choice from a selection of poke dishes. There was indeed some of the eponymous black roe along with cubes of the abovementioned fresh fish. The ratio of topping to rice was generous and the presentation was beautiful. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit and created a tangy dressing for both rice and fish. This is a must-try here.

Octopus Aioli with chilli salsa and coriander was the best dish of cephalopod I have had in ages. I would go as far as saying it’s one of the best dishes of any style I have enjoyed in a while. The mollusc was meaty and the sauce was outstanding. This is one of my ‘dishes of the year’ so far. Yes, I know it’s just a matter of taste but I think it’s that good! Executive Chef Jordan Sclare should be proud!

Whole Lobster “Mac ‘N’ Cheese” is at the opposite end of the menu from the light and refreshing poke. This is a stunner and a real ‘celebration’ plate. It’s rich, flavourful, creamy with cheese and well-punctuated with chunks of lobster. It’s a visually striking dish but you will likely order it again, and not just for the picture on Instagram!

Black roe octopus But I have pointed out that bar, and it serves some rather decent cocktails. Cherry Pistachio Sour made with Buffalo Trace bourbon, pistachio, lemon, egg white and cane syrup was deceptively mild, timid and addictive. Remember, this is actually alcoholic.

Quiet Storm with coconut cream, passion fruit, lime, lychee and apple juice with a garnish of mint was a non-alcoholic souvenir of those characterful Tiki bars in California and Hawaii of a few decades ago. This thirst-quencher was served in a bright green Tiki mug.

Black Roe is my cup of tea, it’s right up my alley …and a bunch of other superlatives. The location is perfect and the menu for both starters and main courses is an eclectic fusion that fits so well with the vibrant London restaurant scene. I’ll be back for dessert and to explore more of that cocktail menu.

Opening times:
12:00noon - 4:30pm, 5:30pm - 10:45pm

Black Roe
4 Mill Street
London
W1S 2AX

Phone: 020 3794 8448

Email: info@blackroe.com

Visit Black Roe here.

food and travel reviews

Ice Creams, Sorbets and Gelati - The Definitive Guide

cookbook review Ice Creams It’s summer even in the UK and a book-buyer’s passion turns to frozen desserts and all things deliciously cool.

Ice Creams, Sorbets and Gelati is a huge tome and amazing value for money. It offers more than 300 large-format pages, over 400 recipes, iconic illustrations, ice cream lore and information on one of the world’s most popular food groups.

The progress of ice cream has taken it from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again. It was once the preserve of kings, emperors and the very wealthy. The secrets of its manufacture became more widely known and the raw materials became more reasonably priced, resulting in an inferior and often unhygienic product being made available to all. Penny Lick glasses filled by unscrupulous vendors and enjoyed by one eager buyer were returned unwashed and filled ready for the next victim. Several epidemics of fatal diseases have been attributed to the practice. Laws were tightened to give ice cream lovers a sporting chance at long life, and then the boom was in full swing.

These days we enjoy good quality frozen desserts along with an even larger choice of shoddy goods, but at least many of us have the opportunity to make some truly delightful ices at home. The best and freshest of ingredients are used, and these ingredients are few and, for the most part, readily available.

Plenty of history here and it’s amusing and fascinating but you will likely buy this book for the recipes. They are a fine and eclectic bunch and there is truly one for every occasion and every taste, including a few savoury examples (although they are not my favourites).

I have been particularly taken by some ices that would be a perfect end to those enormous holiday dinners. Decadent but full of festive flavours. Cranberry Sorbet is tangy and refreshing. Good for a dessert or a digestive between courses. Terry’s Chocolate Orange Ice Cream is bound to revive childhood memories for those of us who only had those chocolate novelties as a Yule-tide treat. Crème de Marron Ice Cream is the ice of choice for those having a Continental Christmas.

Mincemeat Ice Cream has become popular over the last few years but this book suggests an alternative which might be even more appealing: Christmas Cake Ice Cream. This honestly does contain Christmas cake, although omitting the icing. This might not be the lightest ice around but it will offer a hint of tradition.

My pick of this book isn’t a seasonal delight but an intriguing confection of, well, confectionery. Werther's Ice Cream is made with Werther's Original Butter Toffee (candy). Those melting and moreish sweets are put to good use in this recipe which produces a rich dessert that is bound to become a regular in those colder months.

Ice Creams, Sorbets and Gelati is a winner. The weather is hot and our thoughts turn to cold treats. This could be a welcome present for those with an ice-cream machine, for those who aspire to such a thing, and for those who love frozen desserts. The recipes here are inspiring and simple.

Cookbook review: Ice Creams, Sorbets and Gelati - The Definitive Guide
Authors: Caroline and Robin Weir
Published by: Grub Street
Price: £18.99
ISBN 978-1-910610-46-8

food and travel reviews

Jacqui Pickles – President, Les Dames d’Escoffier London – in conversation

Jacqui Pickles les Dames logo Les Dames d’Escoffier London are enjoying a vibrant calendar of events and are welcoming new members who are eager to participate in activities and raise funds for other women in hospitality. President Jacqui Pickles is one of the Chapter’s founding members and in 2015 took the helm from Valentina Harris, who did such a fine job as the first London President.

Who is this calm and measured lady who manages to instil enthusiasm in such a diverse cross-section of leading women in UK hospitality? She has a successful catering company and has spent almost all her career working in food and wine.

I asked how she first came to hear of Les Dames d’Escoffier. ‘I met Valentina Harris in the early 90s. I was doing some work for an importer of kitchen equipment, and met someone who wanted to set up chef demonstrations. I put some programmes together for her, and got some really good chefs who would go down to her kitchen shop. Valentina was one of those chefs, and we hit it off. I helped her set up a cookery school in France, and we built up a good relationship. It was she who invited me to become one of the founding members of the London Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier.’

What are some of Jacqui’s early memories of food?

‘As a child I do remember it was simple food, Northern food. It was my Grandma who taught me the importance of making something taste good. She really only had three seasonings: salt, pepper and butter. She was a natural cook, and couldn’t make pastry to save her life, but she just knew how things should taste, and how to put them together. My mother was a good cook, but she was much more precise. She had been a nurse, and ran the household as if she was running a ward – we had to scrub down before each meal! She worked as hard at being a mother and housekeeper as she had as a nurse in the 1950s.

Jacqui Pickles ‘My mother went to Cordon Bleu evening classes once a week and so, suddenly, when I was about ten years old, we were being given pork fillets stuffed with prunes and anchovies, and stuffed peppers… We all embraced this, and these were the days before anyone had seen an avocado pear!

‘My father had a small farm and he set up a market business selling eggs and cheese. His first market stall was in Barnsley, which was odd because we lived in Preston. In those days there was no motorway so he had to get up very early, feed his pigs and whatever, then drive over the Pennines, and clear the snow from Market Hill in Barnsley to set up his stall. He built a successful business of about 30 shops in the end, and it kept my grandfather, father, my uncle and my elder brother going for 50 years.’

How did her career start?

‘I went into the family business. But there were too many ‘chiefs’ there, and one day I told Dad that I was handing in my notice. A week later I left and headed south with no plan. Eventually I found some work at Bourne & Hollingsworth. Then I went to the Cordon Bleu school for a week (which was as much as I could afford), and my interest was piqued.

‘I got a job as a secretary and actually my love of food started in that company. One day my colleague, Mike, asked me to lunch, and took me to the Connaught Grill. In those days it was all silver and waiters in tails – the poshest place I had ever been. The parents of my boyfriend Guy (now my husband) suggested that the next time he invited me to lunch I was to ask to go to Le Gavroche. So we went to Le Gavroche, and I still remember exactly what we had for lunch. We ate so well, and what a performance, a ballet – so fantastic! After that, we always went to Le Gavroche. I remember peeking at the bill, and in 1980 it was £78 for the two of us – quite a lot!

‘Guy and I would take our holidays in the South of France. Coming back we would always stop at a little place called Le Cheval d’Or, which had a great dining room. In1982 I said to Guy, “I really want to learn how to cook!” So I handed in my notice, and left my job in January 1983. I told Mike that I would look for a cookery course, and he took me for a last meal at Le Gavroche. He said, “You never know, you might end up working here.” I laughed, but by May 1984 I was working there!

‘Fate played a big part: I applied to the school at La Petite Cuisine in Richmond and that was such a stroke of luck, because Lyn Hall was a brilliant teacher, and knew every great chef in France. It was a wonderful school and I fell in love with the whole thing. She was such a hard taskmaster, but after just three months with her you could go straight into a professional kitchen. From there I went to France, in May 1983, to the Chateau de Montreuil, near Boulogne.

‘Then Lyn Hall came to visit, and asked me to come back to the school and be the chef’s assistant. I did that, but within a month the chef had left and I was chef! I did love teaching, and building relationships with the students who came through. But I did miss the restaurant.

‘Steven Docherty, the sous-chef at Le Gavroche, was asked to come and give a lecture one evening, and I said to him that I would love to come to the Gavroche kitchen sometime. He said, “Just visit one evening after work, and just peel vegetables or whatever.” So I did that, standing there with a crate of carrots, just watching everything that was going on. So I thought, “I’ve got to get back in!” and one day I asked Albert Roux for a job. He asked, “How serious are you? How long are you going to cook for?” and I replied, “I’m going to cook for life!” so he said, “OK, you can have a job!”

‘I started at Le Gavroche in mid-1984. That was the hardest job of my life! Very tough, and I was the only woman in the kitchen. From Le Gavroche I went into their outside catering business. Then Albert gave me a job of looking after all the chefs in the contract side. When they started to go for the big contracts I was brought into the meetings to help them. I was with them until 1986.

‘I set up my own company, and my first contract was with John Frieda, the up-market hairdresser, so I called the company Head Chefs Ltd – we provided food for their clients and we did his opening party in his Mayfair salon. The outside catering work began then.

‘I travelled a lot. I saw the world in style – Japan, Canada, The States, and all round Europe, and it was fabulous. The only place I actually cooked was in Iceland: a merchant bank client used to take their guests for a fishing trip and I cooked in a fishing lodge for a week every July, and it was really hard work. We started at 6 in the morning and finished at 2 in the morning, but it never got dark so you didn’t notice how tired you were.’

Jacqui Pickles

Jacqui Pickles continues to be involved with catering and hospitality, and organising international events. She is charismatic, quietly spoken and persuasive. She has already encouraged many women to get involved with the increasingly influential Les Dames d’Escoffier London Chapter.

Learn more about Les Dames d’Escoffier here.


food and travel reviews

Best of England Vineyard Tours

Best of England Many of us have become interested in wine. Yes, drinking it and pairing it. Remember the days when we in the UK drank just a few different wines? It wasn’t that they were so good that they became popular; truth to tell, it was all we had. Red or white from ‘various countries’. They were not different bottles from various countries but often bottles made with a blend of grapes from various countries. Rosé came in the guise of Mateus Rosé in its distinctive flat bottle. OK, I admit it, I still have a taste for that retro classic; I guess it’s familiarity.

Things have changed. We are more discerning and we are interested in not only what’s in the glass but where it came from. If it’s delicious then we want to learn more, and one might discover that the crisp sparkling white in our glass actually comes from England! It’s documented that Christopher Merret used the addition of sugar to a finished wine to create a second fermentation, 40 years before it was claimed that Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon had invented the process which came to be called the Champagne method.

Best of England is a young and vibrant company which publishes English county guides, and now they have tours to offer visitors from the UK and across the globe. The company has quality at the heart of both books and tours. They research so you don’t have to, and they offer well-tailored trips to delight the novice wine buff as well as those with a more professional wine interest.

An English vineyard tour with Best of England is a tasting delight. One can opt for a short tour with afternoon tea, which might sound like something of an oxymoron but what better backdrop for a classic afternoon tea could there be than a lush vineyard …and a glass or two of something chilled, sparkling and reviving!

For those who are looking for an intense 3-vineyard experience then Best of England has a tour to satisfy that want. One will see how these wines are made, from growing vines to corking and labelling the final product. Visitors will meet the winemakers and hear their individual stories, and there will be an opportunity (of course) to sample the wines.

Included:

Best of England Bolney have been making wine since 1972. Their wines are well-regarded and can be enjoyed in this family-run winery. The estate is 39 acres and has a café offering gourmet lunches, as well as tastings.

Ridgeview is another family-run vineyard, outside the picturesque village of Ditchling. It has outstanding views over the dramatic South Downs Ridge. They produce award-winning sparkling wines using traditional methods.

Rathfinny Wine Estate is found in the Cuckmere Valley and three miles from the sea. The vineyard is 600 acres and over the past three years they have planted 72 hectares of vines; by 2020, they will be one of England’s largest vineyards. All the buildings here have been constructed with locally sourced materials, using sustainable technologies such as photovoltaic cells and wastewater recycling. Rathfinny Estate have worked with the National Trust and the South Downs National Park Authority to open the ‘Rathfinny Trail’ so that visitors can arrive by foot or by bike.

All of these established and thriving wineries show different philosophies of production and growing, giving an impression of the progress made in English viticulture over the past decade.

Best of England make wine education fun and accessible, whether you are novice or professional. They arrange everything for a stress-free day of tasting in the most delicious fashion. Just turn up at the railway station and leave the arrangements to this imaginative company.

Learn more about Best of England here.

food and travel reviews

Mark Hellyar at Chateau Civrac and Honest Grapes

civracWhat a kind invitation! A food and wine pairing evening at impressive Lutyens, off Fleet Street… and Cornish wine! Well, no, not really – the wine is French and very good too. The maker is Cornish and that, strangely, might give him some advantages: he has an appreciation of the British wine palate.

Cornishman Mark Hellyar changed careers a few years ago to start producing wine in Bordeaux. He is from Padstow where his family have farmed for a couple of hundred years, so he does indeed have a connection with land and cultivation. Cornishmen have long had a reputation for being independent and rebellious, and with that genetic sense of adventure Mark sold the software company he was running in order to start a new phase of his life. Now the resulting wines are found at celebrated Michelin-starred restaurants and in the cellars of the discerning.

Mark Hellyar of Chateau Civrac is a Cornishman in Bordeaux. The wines are contemporary and made with the British consumer in mind. Mark’s wines are hand-made in small quantities thus giving the opportunity to tailor wines for individual and complex character and ever-changing nuances. There is nothing dull or banal from Chateau Civrac. Mark wanted to make wines that were different from classic Bordeaux and his wines have a New World quality about them, with more subtle tannins, and which perhaps have more in common with those he discovered while working in California and South Africa.

civrac Chateau Civrac has developed a noteworthy Sauvignon Blanc called Wild White which isn’t a hippy-inspired vintage as the name might suggest. The ‘wild’ element comes from the French Sauvage and Blanc for white – a little linguistic toying. We tried this and several other outstanding wines at the Honest Grape food and wine tasting, and everybody was impressed by Mark’s offerings.

But what are Honest Grapes? It’s actually more of a bunch of who’s rather than what’s. They are a group of wine enthusiasts, wine professionals, and friends who have created something of a one-stop wine site which offers suggestions and invitations to events. They hold regular pairing dinners and single-variety tastings which will excite anyone who enjoys good wine, and anyone wanting to learn more.

Honest Grapes supports independent growers, small producers and importers, allowing their guests to taste wines that they won’t be able to find easily elsewhere. There are wines for quaffing with Sunday lunch and others suitable for celebrations and impressing the in-laws; there might even be a cheeky bottle or two appropriate for an evening in front of the television enjoying ‘The French Connection’ or ‘Julie & Julia’. This is a marketplace for interesting bottles, well-chosen vintages – and delicious diversion.

civrac I am no wine expert and I am not a chef but I really enjoyed this pairing evening. Honest Grapes presents events that will appeal to food lovers who will appreciate learning more about how wines not only accompany dishes but actually enhance them. But any dinner party is just as much about those folks sitting around the table as what’s on it. These evenings are convivial. One might not know the others but everyone has something in common – love of great food and excellent wine, as furnished by Lutyens and, in this case, the charming Mark Hellyar (whom I hope to interview in the near future).


Learn more about Honest Grapes here

Learm more about Mark Hellyar and his wines here

food and travel reviews

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Capital Spice - chefs, restaurants and recipes
By Chrissie Walker, foreword by Sanjeev Kapoor.
21 great London Indian chefs, over 100
stunning recipes.
Available from bookshops and Amazon.
ISBN: 9781906650728

 
Marks and Spencer wine