Friday, 25 November 2016

Wine Tasting at The Vestry with Bodegas Valdemar

Earlier this week, the lovely Colleen from Blonde Across the Pond and I attended a wine tasting event at The Vestry, Clerkenwell. Housed just next door to the iconic Fox & Anchor pub, The Vestry is a modern wine bar taking on those 1980s preconceptions and offering something truly unique in the area. 

* Apologies for the lighting in some of today's snaps *

I've not attended a wine tasting before so I wasn't too sure what to expect but I absolutely loved it! I mean, it's wine and food. What's not to like! Our hosts were Rioja winery Bodegas Valdemar with Jesús Martínez Bujanda Mora, the fifth-generation of the winemaking family, guiding us through the evening. We sipped on stunning Spanish wines while tucking into perfectly matched British plates from The Vestry's delicious new menus. The whole evening has inspired me to get into wines a little bit more and perhaps consider a wine course. Any recommendations, please let me know. 
We began with oysters, dressed in a touch of sherry vinegar, salt and lemon juice, perfectly paired with a light and refreshing Conde Valdemar Rosado 2015. The wine was made from a blend of 85% Garnacha and 15% Tempranillo giving a silky texture and floral flavour.
Next was an intriguing white Rioja, something I have not experienced before! The wine comes from Valdemar's iconic vineyard (apparently) the Alto Cantabria, which boasts a top of the hill position overlooking the Ebro river. The Tempranillo Blanco 2015 has only 10,880 bottles produce so we felt incredibly lucky to be sipping on this smooth, creamy wine. The flavour was quite savoury, perhaps a touch oaky, and worked well with the salty seafood combo of tempura squid and salt-baked prawns. 
Our first red of the evening was Conde Valdemar Reserva 2010. Again this was a blended wine with 85% red Tempranillo, 10% Graciano and 5% Garnacha which gave a rich but not too rich finish. It worked perfectly with my pairing of aubergine, red peppers and capers while meat eaters enjoyed Aylesbury duck livers on toast. 
Our second red wine of the evening was from the Inspiracion Valdemar collection - a modern take on traditional Rioja wines. The Las Seis Alhjas Graciano, 2010 - an excellent year for this vintage - was paired with pork belly for the meat eaters, thanks to its creamier texture and light finish, and roasted cod with mashed potatoes, watercress and a mustard dressing for me. The wine was light enough to work well with teh fish but the creamy notes really complimented the mustard cream sauce. 
Our final wine for the evening was an absolute treat - a Conde Valdemar Gran Reserva, 2004, magnum! This heavy wine was the perfect finisher to our meal as the meat eaters enjoyed Aberdeen Angus hangar steak with chilli, parsley and garlic, while I tucked into a truly delicious bowl of potatoes, parsnips and (I think) salsify in a rich onion puree with roasted onion shavings. This isn't on the menu so I feel really honoured to have been served this rich, warming bowl of yumminess. It was the best pairing of the evening in my view, and really rounded off our experience. I was enjoying it so much I forgot to take a photo! Sorry!

Throughout our time at The Vestry, Jesús was incredibly welcoming, thoughtful, helpful and open to questions. Even after five glasses of wine (and good quality wine at that) I didn't feel drunk, perhaps a little tipsy, and felt I was able to enjoy each sip throughout the evening at a really good pace. This has really excited me for future wine tastings and pairings. Make sure you check out the 'What's On' page of The Vestry for future events!

Thank you to The Vestry for inviting me to this wonderful event. All opinions are my own. 

Friday, 18 November 2016

Friday Nights at Fu Manchu, Clapham

Claphamites rejoice! Fu Manchu remains king of the cocktails in your postcode and even with a strip to rival Ibiza, the tucked-away bar and restaurant really is worth the trek.
Last Saturday, we were invited to to dance the night away to emerging talents at Tokyo Lounge, returning after a small break to Fu Manchu. The atmosphere at Fu Manchu is always electric, eclectic and exciting and Tokyo Lounge works to showcase some of the hottest new DJs.

We sipped on spiced-laced cocktails and heady jasmine Concotions before hitting the dance floor to live acts from Knapp Brothers and Iago, and Jonny Tawn of Jive Talk. I can assure you there was a lot of big dance moves going on - thank god we wore trainers! 
I opted for the Lady Jasmin with Bombay Sapphire gin, Cointreau, jasmine syrup, lemon juice, egg white and bitters. The flavour was truly extraordinary, with botanical notes and a creamy, soft finish. One also felt rather glamorous with a martini glass in hand! My guest went for a spiced Mai Chai with Ron Zacapa 23-year old rum, Kracken black spice rum, orange curaco, and lime juice with a sprinkling of chai tea syrup - it's like my favourite winter drink but with a bloody good kick of rum!

Thank you to Fu Manchu for hosting our evening of dancing and drinks! 

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

REVIEW: Breakfast at Carluccio's, Garrick Street

There are very few restaurant groups out there that I look at and think 'they are committed to the same message as their first restaurant'. It's fair to say that as the money stacks up from multiple site, many chains can lose their honesty; their message. Carluccio's, I feel, however, bucks this trend; led by the eponymous Antonio Carluccio, the chain of over 100 restaurants still promotes the original message of brining the Italian la dolce vita to the UK. Be it coffee and biscotti or loving bowls of pasta, Carluccio's knows how to hit that perfect comfort spot that all Brits have for a great Italian restaurante
This week, I was invited to visit the newly refurbished Garrick Street resturant in the heart of Covent Garden. Reopened just three weeks ago the expansive and airy restaurant is now bedecked in Christmassy decorations, a clean white colour palette dotted with blues and a delightfully refreshed menu too. The decorations throughout the space really warm the heart, whether you're perusing the goods in the deli or, as we did, tucking into breakfast in the beautifully lit dining room.
We began with that Italian sustenance, coffee - two cappucinos with the rich Milano blend espresso. Creamy yet strong with coffee flavour, these pretty cups kept us going all morning. Of course we added a glass of fresh juice, peach for me and orange for my guest, both of which were zingy in flavour and really refreshing while we waited for our brekkies to arrive!  
I went for eggs and smoked salmon. The eggs were scrambled and perfectly yellow with specks of green chive showing through. The salmon too was a touch cooked, which I found a little strange but perfectly tasty. The bread could have enjoyed a little olive oil, or butter, on top, but to be fair this a really rich breakfast, especially after I added sides of buttery spinach and garlicky mushrooms. 

My guest chose the eggs, scrambled again, with pancetta. The eggs again were beautifully done and the pancetta was incredibly salty against their richness. My guest found it a touch overwhelming, perhaps salt had been added on top of the meat while it was cooking, but overall an enjoyable breakfast. It's the Italian version of eggs and bacon! 
We added veggie sides to help with our later gym session! Butterly, garlicky, herby mushrooms came in three guises and were absolutely delicious with my eggs and salmon. The spinach too was nice with plenty of butter but a touch watery, which is quite unavoidable due to the watery nature of the vegetable. 
Every breakfast needs something sweet; it's all about balance after all! We ended our breakfast in style with slices of pannetone served with butter and apricot jam. I normally reserve this classic Italian fruit bread for Christmas but it was actually the perfect treat after our rich breakfast. The bread was slightly toasted giving it a crispness and the butter just melted joyously into the warm bread. What more do you want from breakfast? 

Thank you to Carluccio's for hosting this review! We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. All images and opinions are my own.

Monday, 14 November 2016

REVIEW: Sunday Lunch at The Guard House, Woolwich

Eclectic, inviting and unexpected - three words that perfectly sum up The Guard House. Hidden away in Woolwich (literally, the hardest place to get to), this pub from Geronimo Inns has be transformed from a late 18th century wharf guard house and into a contemporary, vibrant pub that perfectly suits the diverse Woolwich community. 
Guarded (haha) by two HUGE Great Dane's, the entrance to the pub is reminiscent of a Roman town house. Pillars, a steep porch roof and elegant frontage all secrete away the incredibly bright and colourful interior. The bar is decorated in mis-matched painted wood panels and each room is heavily finished with patterned chairs and wood-topped tables.  

We visited for Sunday lunch and, I won't lie, I needed it. Day two of my hangover was playing on my mind (and stomach) so one was in desperate need of a comforting cuddle in food form. Sunday lunch it is then. 

There's a roast-specific menu with Dingley Dell pork belly, beef rib eye, and herb roasted chicken which are all a no from me (soz) and a delightful veggie option of sweet potato, spinach and brie layered on buttery soft pastry. Thank GOD for a veggie option I can actually eat! Nut roast is so lazy and means I normally go hungry - selfish though my complaints may be, I was bloody chuffed to have a veggie roast I could dive right into!
We began with a lovely bottle of Cotes-du-Rhone, 2014 - my favourite red wine out there. Notes of black pepper and violet came through with a smooth finish. It paired really well with Alex's gamey dishes, but perhaps a lighter choice would have worked better with my veggie dishes - oh well! 
 Speaking of veggie dishes, to begin we both opted for 'on toast' plates. Mine (first image) was a sticky fig and rhubarb jam with squidgy, soft, salty blue brie layered on top and a peppering of fresh rocket. The contrast of salty, sweet and peppery flavours worked beautifully together and the crunch of the toast was the perfect accompaniment. A very accomplished starter. 

Alex went for wild boar terrine (second image) with a tangy apple and cider chutney and watercress. The terrine was smooth, not at all grainy, with a rich, gamey finish. The chutney helped cut through the richness of the terrine and again the peppery leaves helped to give a well-rounded mouthful.
For mains we, obviously, went for a roast each. I chose the veggie option of sweet potato, spinach and brie layered on buttery soft pastry. The veggie stack in itself was delicious with a creamy sauce in the base of the pastry, however it said on the menu 'comes with veggie gravy'. For me, the 'gravy' was more of a tomato and pepper sauce which is sad as I was super keen for an actual gravy, but there you go. The Yorkshire was lovely and I particularly enjoyed the buttery cabbage and leeks. 

Alex's roast Dingle Dell pork had a good rind of fat on it which added even more richness to the plate. The potatoes, when drowned in plenty of meaty gravy, were lovely but we could have done with more than one carrot each!
Ah, dessert. We took a much-needed 20 minute break between those rich savoury dishes before moving onto the sweet desserts, which incidentally were not that sweet. The nut-free options were an egg custard tart slice and chocolate fondant cake with salty caramel ice cream. 

I found the egg custard tart a little strange in texture but the nutmeg flavour was good. The raspberry sorbet (Jude's!) was particularly good too. The chocolate fondant cake was DIVINE - not too sweet and perfectly balanced with the salted caramel ice cream. It was served cold though, which was a touch strange.

Overall, I found the starters at The Guardhouse the real stand-outs of our visit. Add a few glasses of wine and enjoy a few starters to share and you're guaranteed a lovely supper. The meat roasts looked (and in Alex's case, tasted) great and it is really awesome to have a veggie option I can enjoy too! Yes it's a trek to Woolwich (Zone 4!) but take a walk around the changing area, watch the planes landing and taking off at City airport and enjoy something delicious at The Guardhouse - it's a very relaxing Sunday indeed. 

Thank you to The Guardhouse and Geronimo Inns for hosting this review. All images and opinions are my own.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

REVIEW: Bottomless Brunch at KuPP, Paddington

Halloween has been and gone. Bonfire Night has illuminated our skies. This can only mean one thing: Christmas is coming!

The most wonderful time of the year aside, the winter months really are the time to hunker down and keep cosy. And who does cosy better than those hygge-founders the Scandis? Nobody, in my view. Today's brunch is firstly, Scandi, and secondly, bottomless - so it's a win all round really. I reviewed KuPP's summer picnic offering earlier this year and have been keen to test-drive their bottomless brunch since then! 

For £30 per person (pretty reasonable price by comparison), KuPP offers bottomless 'bords', cocktails and beer every Saturday and Sunday, in the splendour of thier contemporary-cool hub in Paddington. This area of London may not be the most sought-after in terms of the restaurant trade, but KuPP is providing a much-needed spot of relax in style for the hundreds, nay thousands, of local office workers. Oh, and travelling foodies like me!

There's four bords to choose from: Veggie, Fiske, the KuPP bord and the Smokin' Roast bord.  Obviously meat is off the menu for me, so I was delighted to have both a fish and vegetable bord to choose from! It's also a joy to see multiple drinks available, including Czech Pilsner Krusovice dispensed direct from the showcased silver tanks, Bloody Mary's and Aquavit Collins. 

We taste-tested three of the bords: Fiske, the KuPP bord and the Smokin' Roast bord. The fiske bord, naturally, was my absolute favourite with plenty of smoked trout, Norwegian gravadlax and Hanson & Lyderson smoked salmon. Surprisingly, I found the trout the nicest thing on my bord, which when eaten with a single potato was truly divine. The juicy Atlantic prawn Skagen in a creamy dressing with avocado was also really delicious - bouncy meat and soft avo, winner! The scattering of vegetables, while appreciated, were not really to my taste and I didn't enjoy the carrot pickle - sorry!
From the KuPP bord, I enjoyed... the Västerbotten cheese! This is a very meaty bord so perhaps not one for vegetarians! The cheese was rich and flavoursome and really quite delicious on the crisp bread. Alex really enjoyed the house smoked meatballs which reminded him, quite lovingly, of breakfast sausage. The potted rabbit was nice and the texture worked well on the toasted sourdough bread. The chorizo sausage roll was a highlight but once the pastry ran out it was quite rich. The smoked Sussex gammon was fine too.
Our joint favourite bord was the Smokin' Roast, which while I didn't eat the meat, was actually really great for me! A whole plate of steaming vegetables was served alongside the soft, smoked fore rib of beef. I absolutely loved the seasoned kale and honey smoked beetroots, whereas Alex was crazy for the chive buttered smoked onion. We both loved the roasted new potatoes with a swish of ligonberry jam and a drizzle of red wine gravy. I wasn't mad for the leeks as these were a little stringy. 

For the price, the delicious food and the variety of drinks on offer, I feel that KuPP's bottomless brunch really is in contention for the best bottomless brunch in London! We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves at the stunning, modern restaurant overlooking the canal and walked of our six (oops) bords along the canal for a while after. The staff are very attentive, chatty and never overwhelming so that's an absolute thumbs up from me.

Thank you KuPP for hosting this review. All opinons are my own. 

Monday, 7 November 2016

REVIEW: The Laksa Kitchen Pop-Up, Kentish Town

Quick guys - The Laksa Kitchen isn't around for long and shuts on December 18th!
The Tolli cafe in Kentish Town has stood pretty much empty for the last few weeks. Every day I walk past and think 'what is going on here'. My question, private thought it was, was finally answered this week by David of The Laksa Kitchen - a new pop-up that's only around for a few weeks!

This summer, David took a trip across Malaysia in search of 'the perfect Laksa' following his succesful pop-up earlier this year. Well clearly he found it because The Laksa Kitchen is back with a bang with amazing street food dishes and warming laksas both on the minature menu. Small plates, laksas, wok-fried dishes and desserts all feature and make the mouth water before you even see a swish of a steaming hot plate leave the kitchen! 

We popped in for a late-night table this week and enjoyed a selection of dishes from the menu. We began with a bottle of the house white wine, which was a Riesling from New Zealand. It had a medium sweetness with vanilla, orange and red apple notes and a smooth texture. My view is a crisper wine would have been a more appropriate house choice against the creamy laksas on offer.
To start we enjoyed prawn fritters with fresh cucumber and a fiery chilli dip. The prawns were sweet and juicy (there was also plenty of them!). The mix of textures was good and the sweetness of the prawn worked well with the hot sauce. We also enjoyed curried vegetable pasties, filled with potato and onion. They had a wonderful aromatic flavour and were not too spicy, however they were served cold which was unexpected.  
For the main event, we both went for laksa - duh! Alex went for the chicken and prawn laksa, topped with omelette strips and served in a thinner, chilli-laced broth. There was also a sambal served on the side to add even more chilli heat. The addition of tofu also worked well as it soaked up the rich chilli flavours. 

I went for the seafood broth which was filled with fresh, sweet seafood including prawns, mussels and squid. The seafood was also really well cooked and not at all chewy. I also enjoyed the mix of rice noodles and egg noodles which gave texture to the bowl. I also liked the addition of tofu which soaked up the hot, sour and lemongrass rich broth - a winner in my view!
Come dessert, we were treated to The Laksa Kitchen's signature desserts of Kuih Seri Muka (two layered dessert with sticky rice base and pandan coconut custard top) and Kuih Dadar (pandan flavoured crepes filled with sweet coconut and palm sugar filling). I realy loved the sticky, coconutty rice based cheese-cake style dessert with the vibrant green pandan custard - not too sweet and well balanced in texture. I wasn't a huge fan of the pandan pancake, mostly because the texture of the coconut filling didn't sit well with me. But that's personal taste.
Make sure you hurry down to The Laksa Kitchen before it closes. The laksas truly are absolutely delicious and worth trekking to Kentish Town if you're not a local. Seeing the Italian cafe transformed into a buzzing pop-up is really quite an experience too so make sure you visit! 

Thank you to The Laksa Kitchen for hosting this review. All opinions are my own.  

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