Drinking my way into winter

Wednesday, October 30, 2013
In late summer, where a few warm days can still be snatched before the intermittent winds and showers of Autumn - which, by the day is threatening to rear its head around a quickly withering tree trunk - I’ll still be quaffing pale ales and searching out hops with a fervour which says the sun won’t last forever, like a squirrel hastily burying nuts before it’s too late.

But with the inevitability of the coming cold my tastes will change, almost overnight, and as those telling specks of brown, gold, russet and red start to dapple the trees I’ll be looking for beers which present themselves in a similar hue, with a richer flavour that bridges the gap between malt and hops, summer and winter.

Then as the first frost hits the ground and the skies grow heavy with rain, sleet, snow even, I’ll be reaching for a beer that warms, nourishes, with a depth of flavour which combines a cheek-warming strength, and a deep, dark sweetness – a heavily laden brew that sits stoutly in the glass and forces you to take your time.


The Draft House, Charlotte St, London

Wednesday, October 23, 2013
After visiting the quite frankly fantastic Patty & Bun last week I tweeted asking if anybody could recommend a good new craft beer bar nearby in Central London. Of the various suggestions which came back two names came up more than any others: The Pelt Trader and Draft House.

The latter, on Charlotte street, was the closer and therefore got my vote. It also had the advantage of looking to have a bit of outside standing room and even a few chairs, which on a rare sunny autumn day is a thing not to be sniffed at.

First impressions are good. It looks like a pub. Wooden floor, proper bar, homemade pork scratchings the size of shatterproof rulers and a chalkboard. Chalkboards are essential in my opinion. They allow the staff to quickly update the information pertaining to what’s on draught as they change it - meaning I can decide what I want before I get to the bar.

The beer selection was also great. All well chosen and interesting, but not so bonkers, barrel aged or rare that your wallet gives out before your thirst. Thanks to an Oktoberfest promotion there were quite a few German beers on to - Paulaner Dunkel and ‘Oktoberfest’ (a maltier 6% version of their lager) I believe, plus one more that slips my mind. These were around £5.50 a pint or you could buy a 1 litre stein for £8 – a marked saving that would have probably suckered me in if not for the fact there were too many other beers I wanted to try.

I started with a Moor Top from Buxton brewery which was extremely hoppy – grapefruit and mixed citrus - with not a hint of sweetness to stop those hops punishing the pallet. That said there is a smoothness to the body that keeps this 3.6% beer from slipping into wateriness - a class act as ever from the buxton boys and a damned fine low abv beer.

Next up was Wild Beer Co ‘Fresh’ on cask. This is a beer I’ve heard a lot of good things about but which can be different everytime you taste it. Apparently they have a semi-fixed recipe but substitute the hops for whatever is freshest – not a bad idea but makes things a bit of a guessing game for the drinker. This one tasted like a sort of tutti fruity cask wit, with a really inviting fruity aroma and a tangerine and children's fruit-chew flavour spiked with hints of saison like yeast notes. Interesting, decent, but one was enough, which seems to be my conclusion for most of Wild Beer’s range.

After that, I couldn’t resist the straightforward lupulin hit of Victory Hop Devil on keg. With an extremely floral and perfumed aroma this was a very different beast to the bottles I’ve tried previously. The flavour was smooth, balanced and lightly sweet with peach and apricot sitting behind rose, pine and fruit-salad chews. Really drinkable and not too bitter, this is a fantastic beer that really suits being served a bit colder.

Sierra Nevada porter was as roasty, smooth and good as always, though benefitted from being left to warm up a little. It also went great with the spicy, thin, salami like bar snacks being sold (about a pound each). The barman's description of 'posh pepparami' was pretty spot on, though his advice to just eat them as they are, 'straight in', wasn't. You need to peel the outer casing off first.

My last beer of the night was the ever dependable Lagunitas IPA. Whilst I've seen quite a few tweets from people exclaiming the freshness of this recently in the UK i'm not sure I can agree completely. It was much less bitterly hoppy than when I drank it in NYC - sure it's travelled better than some US beers available over here, but super fresh? I'm not sure. On this occasion it was tasting bittersweet with a slight resinous pine note and a dry lemon rind finish. It goes down smooth but is missing the punch that the Hop Devil delivered - more of an everyday IPA by all accounts, but eminently drinkable all the same.

Overall, I enjoyed Draft House and would certainly give it another go if I was ducking away from the horrors of Oxford St. They’ve got a few outlets all over London, so no doubt experience will vary and I’d love to know your thoughts on their other spots.


The Draft House, Charlotte St, London


(First photo credit The Draft House)


Lily Vanilli Wit Beer - Sebright Arms Homebrew Project

Monday, October 21, 2013
This is my second beer from the Sebright Arms Homebrew Project, the first being a stonking Black IPA brewed in collaboration with local artist 'Pure Evil'.

The collaborator this time is Lily Vanilli, with another stunningly designed label but a very different beer inside - a Belgian style wit (wheat/white) beer brewed with English wild berries and a Gorse Flower, whatever the hell that is.

As I popped the cap of this beer it exploded like a Las Vegas watershow, with pale pink foam rising an inch above the bottle and flowing down the sides. Not to worry, these things happen and its a wit anyway, so no issues with the yeast being all mixed into the beer.

When I eventually got it into a glass the first thing that jumps out is the bright pink grapefruit colour. Very unusual looking, with those berries and flowers tinting the pale wheat malt base quite dramatically.

The aroma has a hint of wet leaves and an ever-so-slight hard cheese edge which reminds me of some traditional ciders. It's not an unpleasant smell but it isn't exactly inviting either.

The taste is much more subdued. With a saison like sourness sitting alongside a floral, rose petal note and not a lot else. Further investigation reveals a fleeting orange fruitiness and a brief drying in the finish, but apart from that there isn't a great deal going on.

It's underwhelming but interesting - and quite refreshing in a watery kind of way.

That said, perhaps the exploding nature of my bottle was evidence of an infection or something else gone awry during bottling. Equally, perhaps I'm judging this a little harshly after the excellent Black IPA they brewed last time around - if you've tried this beer and had a better experience then I'd love to hear your thoughts.



Patty & Bun

Friday, October 18, 2013
I try to steer clear of putting too many burger joint reviews up on here. Firstly because other people do it better, but secondly because I just haven’t got time to stay on top of the newest openings and ‘hottest’ places to try.

That said, I’ve eaten some pretty awesome burgers in London. Meat Liquor and Meat Mission are both excellent, with Meat Mission being my personal favourite thanks to the fact you can book a table (what a luxury!) and the perfection that are ‘monkey fingers’. Despite the slightly macabre name, a regular occurence across the Meat Mission menu, they’re basically zingy hot wings minus the bones – and ridiculously tasty.

Honest Burger is also great, and has the advantage of not feeling like you’re eating your burger in a bombed-out squat. The burgers are big, tasty, pink and juicy – and the rosemary chips are like culinary crack.

I’ve also heard good things about Dirty Burger and Lucky Chip (currently in residency at The Sebright Arms) but I’ve not had chance to get down there yet.

So whilst I might not blog about it much, I do like a good burger and am pretty sure I've tried some of the best London has to offer.

Which brings me to my point... Patty & Bun opened up on James Street (behind Bond Street tube station) just less than a year ago, but thanks to a series of much lauded pop-ups by owner Joe it has a reputation which stretches back even further than that, and has been at the top of my must try list for a while now.

There’s plenty of competition, but after visiting yesterday on a rare mid-week day off I can say one thing for certain about Patty & Bun - what sets it apart is the beef. Quite simply, the burger was by far the best I’ve ever eaten. Perfectly cooked to medium rare, it is insanely full flavoured and beefy with an execution that really lets that perfect patty sing.

Yes the rosemary chips are great and the brioche buns are spot-on, they even sell Kernel Pale Ale, but the reason you should visit Patty & Bun is to taste that 35 day dry aged Aberdeen Angus beef.

Using a blend of cuts perfected over months, if not years, of trial and error, the patty is pure perfection and worth double the £7.50 asking price.

This is what a burger should taste like.


Patty & Bun

54 James St,
Greater London
United Kingdom



Pea shoots and pancetta risotto matched with Saison Dupont

Wednesday, October 16, 2013
When I was growing up there was a field near our first house that, for just a few weeks a year, was full to bursting with fresh, fragrant, luminously green peas growing in their pods.

Maybe it was the excitement and subterfuge of sneaking into the field to nick a few pocketfuls that made the reward all the sweeter, but nothing tasted as good as those freshly podded peas - and the memory of popping the pods and snaffling the raw and intensely sweet contents is one of my fondest foodie memories.

This dish is an homage to those pilfered pods, with fresh green pea shoots giving the all important raw pea flavour and freshness to a light yet deeply flavoured risotto of pancetta, parmesan, and of course, peas.

It’s a simple, comforting dish, with a surprising lightness that some risottos can lack. A dish that eases you into autumn, like one of those rare days of crisp, cold air and late-summer sunshine.

To make the pea-shoot, pancetta and parmesan risotto

Start by frying some cubed pancetta (around 100g is plenty) on a medium heat in a good glug of light olive oil, then remove to a plate once crispy but not crunchy, before adding a very finely diced onion and two cloves of garlic. At this stage I like to add a little salt to help the onions release their juices then cover and leave to cook on a very low heat for about 15 minutes. Adding the lid really helps to sweat rather than fry the onions and makes them disintegrate into a soft, sweet but uncoloured mush. A perfect base for risotto.

Once the onions are cooked you need to turn the heat up a little and add your rice, coating it in the onion-garlic-oil mixture and toasting the rice until it just starts to ‘crack’. Be carefully not to overcook your rice at this stage (either cooking too long or too hot) or it will colour and ‘seal’ which is not what you want as it effects the way the rice releases its starch - the thing which gives risotto its creaminess.

Next add a large glass of white wine or a glug of saison and deglaze the pan before adding your pancetta back in.

Now the fun bit (depending on your persuasion). Add a ladle of hot chicken or veg stock from a pot simmering next to your risotto pan, stir with a wooden spoon and let the stock be absorbed, then add another ladle, stir, let it absorb. Repeat this process of adding stock a ladle at a time and stirring until the rice is just cooked (I prefer it with a little structure but not quite ‘al dente’) and the risotto is looking smooth, creamy and voluminous. This stage could take anywhere from 20-30 minutes - but be patient, pour yourself a beer, stick on the radio, and the results will be worth it.

300g of rice will serve 3-4 people and will soak up around 750ml of stock. If you need a touch more then add a little extra water.

Once the rice is cooked to your liking add a large handful of frozen peas, another handful of torn pea shoots, a BIG knob of butter and as much good quality, unpasteurized parmigiano reggiano as you dare (be brave) before whipping the whole lot into a creamy, oozy, delicious wave of a thing that moves freely when ladled (add a touch of water if it’s too stiff).

Season to taste with salt and black pepper before ladling into wide pasta bowls and topping with a handful of raw pea shoots, a final grating of parmesan and dusting of cracked black pepper.

The freshness of those pea shoots just lifts the whole dish, adding a counterpoint in both flavour and texture to the rich and gloopy risotto beneath - they're essential, and delicious, so make sure you use them when making this.

Beer match

With something like a mushroom risotto - with its deep, rich, umami ladened flavours of autumn - you can afford to be quite bold with your beer choice, even going as far as something like a roasty stout or porter (Titanic Stout springs to mind), but this risotto is a different thing altogether. The lightness and freshness of those pea shoots really push you towards the lighter end of the spectrum, yet the risotto itself is rich and spiked with pig - so what do you go for?

Well, as is often the case, Saison would be my recommendation. It is such a versatile style with food and the herbal, peppery hops underpinned by funky, savoury base notes from the yeast, would be excellent with this dish.

As it turned out, I had a bottle of chilled Saison Dupont in the fridge, which fitted the bill rather nicely. A beautiful match that still allowed those pea shoots to hold centre stage, yet dovetailed extremely well with the dish.

Give this one a try.

Beer Shop St Albans

Sunday, October 13, 2013
St Albans is a great place for beer lovers - it's the home of CAMRA and has a ridiculous amount of fantastic old school cask ale pubs - but what is really missing is a proper beer shop. Until now.

Nobody was more pleased than me to hear that the boys of "Beer:Shop" were making the move from farmers market stall holders to fully fledged beer shop owners - and that St Albans was going to be their new home.

Having a quick sneak-peek of the new premises on Friday, and then returning today to buy some bottles, I've walked away mighty impressed. The selection is extremely impressive, with some awesome American and European breweries filling the shelves alongside the best British beer has to offer.

From the UK you've got Thornbridge, Buxton, BrewDog, Kernel, Partizan, Siren, Moor, Fyne Ales, RedWillow, Dark Star, Beavertown, Weird Beard, Redchurch, Lovibonds, Wild Ales plus local (Hertfordshire) brews from the likes of Tring and Red Squirrel - which you can also buy as draught carry outs from the taps (cask and keg).

From Europe there are established favourites like Orval and Schlenkerla as well as rarer beers from Mikkeller, To Øl and Nogne O. And it's a similar story with the American selection, which had plenty of stuff I've never seen available before, alongside some classics like Black Chocolate stout from Brooklyn and Dead Guy Ale from Rogue.

What I was most impressed by was that it is very much a selection rather than an attempt to stock everything. It's a very well curated range of beers meaning that you aren't overwhelmed by choice but have absolutely loads to sink your teeth into.

They will also be doing some tasting events and tap evenings, making use of those very cool wall mounted taps.

St Albans drinkers should be very pleased this place has opened and I can't see it being anything other than extremely popular.

Good work guys.


Beer Shop, London Road, St Albans.



Who owns the soul of Mauritian food? The French, Indian or Chinese?

Monday, October 07, 2013
I can safely say that Mauritian cuisine is totally unique. With no indigenous population, the food lends elements from the various nationalities that have landed there over the years – most notably, French, Indian, and Chinese – and mixes them up to a point where it’s often hard to see the dividing lines.

Some uniquely Mauritian dishes are often referred to as ‘Creole’ in style (Creole is the French based language widely spoken on the island) - The classic example is Rougaille, a sort of tomato, garlic, ginger and chilli sauce often served with prawns – but most dishes have their distant origins off the island.

You could argue that Vindaye Poisson – a deliciously mustardy, vinegary dish of pickled, curried fish and onions that can be served warm or cold – has its roots in Indian Vindaloo, but in terms of the way it tastes, it is a dish unique to Mauritius which doesn’t compare at all.

A Chinese influenced example is Mine Frit, a noodle dish which obviously has origins in China but which features the very Mauritian flavours of garlic water, spring onion greens, chicken or prawn and a thick and fiery green chilli sauce. Another is Boulette, a sort of Mauritian Dim Sum of steamed meat, fish, veg and tofu parcels or patties served in a clear but flavoursome broth and garnished with chilli, spring onion and a little dark salty sauce (often oyster sauce).

French influences can clearly be seen in the fact baguettes are a daily staple, ‘Gateau’ and small sweet cakes being a part of every market and in classic French dishes with a Mauritian twist such as Daube – a slow cooked, very lightly spiced beef dish.

Other dishes, such as Gateuax Piment, sound on the face of them very French thanks to the native language. But it’s not that simple, as despite the name, what we’re talking about here are small, deepfried lentil and chilli balls. So Indian in origin maybe? Well perhaps, but consider that they’re often served in a baguette as breakfast, lunch, or even a late night snack, and it’s easy to see why Mauritian cuisine is difficult to pigeon hole.

Food is a forever changing and evolving scrapbook, with dishes moving across continents and becoming part of the local cuisine with their own specific twist. To focus on the origins is to miss the point a little. Let’s just be happy that the little microcosm that is Mauritius has taken these influences and let them develop their own character over time.

That’s what’s so exciting, that’s why it’s worth trying, and that’s why if you visit Mauritius and stay in your hotel then you’re a bloody idiot.

Expect more Mauritian posts to come. Next time, Mauritian tapas, aka 'Gajack' or maybe some Rum. I haven't quite decided yet.


For new readers to this thing I used to call a blog, you might want to have a read of the stuff I’ve written on Mauritius in previous years - it’s a little island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, near Madagascar and the Maldives, which, thanks to having family over there, we try to visit most years.