B.O.B's Lobster at The Rising Sun

Tuesday, November 26, 2013
I’ve been hearing great things about B.O.B’s Lobster for a while now, with their converted VW campervan popping up at Borough Market and street food events throughout the summer and serving up much lauded toasted brioche lobster rolls and their now famous lobster mac ’n cheese.

Now, as winter rolls in thick and fast they have taken things indoors with a new residency above The Rising Sun half way between the Thameslink (overground) station and Blackfriars stations, utilising the upstairs space to great affect to create a modern, somewhat shabby-chic yet cosy environment. If that sounds pretentious then be assured it isn’t, the place is welcoming and thoughtfully done and the staff are enthusiastically friendly to the say the least.

First things first, those looking for a ‘residency’ in the style of The Sebright Arms in Hoxton, where a huge range of quality beers can be purchased with your Lucky Chip Burger, should look elsewhere. Bob’s is very much separate to the pub downstairs and even has it’s own separate side entrance. Furthermore you can’t order beers from the pub downstairs (which isn’t really that great for those looking for good beer) and the selection at Bobs was disappointing, bottled Peroni and Estrella only.

This really did frustrate me. A restaurant with food as good as this, which I’ll talk a little bit more about after my rant, really has no excuse in offering such lazy beer choices. Everything else on the menu was extremely well chosen, so why not give beer the same respect? A small selection of four or five seafood complementing beers would have been great, particularly if London breweries were used, I could suggest something along the lines of: A Saison from Partizan, a hoppy pale ale from The Kernel, a decent lager such as Meantime Pilsner, a nice fruity wheat beer such as Camden Town Gentleman’s Wit and maybe a smooth darker beer such as the excellent Weird Beard Decadence Stout.

Bob’s, if you’re listening, give me a shout and we can chat beer!

Anyway, on to the food.

The menu lends itself towards sharing so the best thing to do is order a few smaller plates to split and something more substantial each, we went for spicy pig’s cheek tacos, Lobster mac and cheese, and a lobster roll each. What we didn’t realise was that the Lobster rolls, delicious buttery toasted brioche filled with cold lobster and eggy homemade mayo, actually come with fries – making their £15 price tag a bit of a bargain.

We ended up with slightly more food than we needed but it all tasted so good we didn’t really care. The tacos were first to arrive (the ‘sharing’ philosophy means dishes arrive somewhat at random rather than all at once) and were a great palate awakener, with soft confit pig and smokey paprika given zest with the addition of pickled celeriac.

The lobster mac and cheese arrived next and is comfort food heaven that flies in the face of the ‘never mix cheese and seafood’ rule, with a typically American brashness. It’s full-on flavours from start to finish with a rich yet true-to-its-roots mac sauce spiked with just a little herb, a crispy onion, breadcrumb and cheese top, and some very tender lobster. All-in-all an absolute dream to eat - I could have polished off three bowls of this to myself.

Next came the lobster rolls, which are fantastic, though I would have liked just a little more of that moreish homemade mayo, such is its quality. That said, the restraint with the condiments did give that beautifully cooked lobster space to sing. I’ve sometimes found Burger and lobster to overcook their crustaceans, but none of that at Bobs – every piece was tender, full of flavour and obviously spankingly fresh.

Get the beer sorted and this place would be perfect. As it is, it's still well worth a visit.


Oh and I forgot to mention, you can book a table so no queuing, the luxury!






The Devil's Cut

Friday, November 22, 2013
There’s a beautiful synergy between my previous post The Angel’s Share and this piece on “The Devil’s Cut”, which I wish I could say was planned.

In fact this partner piece came about as the result of a generous invitation* and lucky good timing, but don't all good things have an element of Devine intervention about them?

The Devil's Cut is a term coined by the Jim Beam distillery to describe the bourbon absorbed by the wooden casks during ageing - so as “The Angel’s Share” is the whiskey lost through evaporation, “The Devil’s Cut” is the whiskey lost to the wood.

As anyone that has tasted a bourbon barrel-aged beer can attest, there is a lot of woody, vanilla rich bourbon character left behind once the whiskey itself is removed from the cask, and it’s this trapped spirit that Jim Beam have utilised to great effect in their new whiskey of the same name.

The bottled “Devil’s Cut” Bourbon from Jim Beam is a combination of a 6 year aged bourbon and the intensely flavoured spirit extracted from the wood of the emptied barrels – a novel idea that you could pass off as a marketing gimmick if the end product wasn’t such a vast improvement on their standard offering.

Jim Beam white is the best selling bourbon in the world (Jack Daniels is a Tennessee Whiskey - not a Bourbon) so they must be doing something right, but it is a bit of an inelegant beast, something usually enjoyed with coke and not the kind of whiskey you'd ponder over. The Devil’s Cut on the other hand really is a bourbon I could see myself sipping rather than supping, with a spicy oak sweetness and lingering, sweetly charred finish that puts some much more expensive bourbons to shame.

It’s actually a much stronger whiskey too at 45% abv compared to the standard white label which weighs in at 40% - but that extra strength doesn’t come with extra heat and the long maturation ensures the Devil’s Cut is actually a much smoother sipper than the standard bourbon, but with lots of added complexity in the aroma and flavour.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Jim Beam's The Devil’s Cut is not a nuanced world class bourbon, like the excellent George T Stagg by Buffalo Trace, and it doesn’t have the wow factor of other American whiskies like Highwest Double Rye - but in terms of sheer bang-for-your-buck quality? It’s one of the best I’ve tried.

If you’re looking for an affordable bourbon with lots of oak flavour, perhaps to use as the basis of a great old fashioned or to sip neat, then this is well worth a punt.


Next post... Beer. I promise.


*I was invited to try the a range of Jim Beam bourbon products (including their honey and cherry flavoured varieties which are not to my tastes at all) as part of a huge PR event currently going on at the Old Truman Brewery on Brick lane (more info here: http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/jim-beam-stillhouse-tickets-3737446804 - be quick if you'd like to attend tonight, it's the last night). I didn’t know what to expect but getting to hear the story of the Jim Beam Distillery from the man’s own great-great-great Grandson was pretty special, and made the whole thing worthwhile. That said, the Devil’s Cut was the only part of the ‘Jim Beam Experience’ that I thought was worth writing about,despite it being on the whole extremely interesting. It is genuinely an excellent bourbon, you should give it a try.


The Angel's Share

Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Beer will always be my first love, the centre that I come back to time and time again. The variety, the drinkability, the capacity for discovery within the beer world will always be beguiling and fascinating to me. I love it.

But every now and again I do find myself flirting with temptation elsewhere, playing away so-to-speak. Whether it’s a super cold fino sherry enjoyed alongside charcuterie, or a blood-thick Bordeaux with a heavily charred ribeye, some situations call for something other than beer.

My latest obsession is Scottish single malt whisky - or to be more precise, big peaty, smokey Islay whiskies. Whisky that bursts forth with seaweed and salty air followed by the sweet, warming crackle of smouldering wood.

It’s a world of flavour I’m gingerly shuffling into, eyes blinking against a rush of smoke filled air, discovering new favourites somewhat blindly as I sip my way across the plethora of flavours. From the rich fruitcake, orange and raisin of some whiskies to the delicate grapefruit or burnt wood of others, there is a dizzying spectrum of sensory signposts to follow.

For me, my ‘gateway’ whisky was Highland Park 12 Year Old. It’s frequently cited as one of the best all-rounder single malts in the world, all at once fruity and complex, but with a long, sweetly smokey finish – I was hooked from my first sip and went through a bottle in a liver-flexingly fast couple of weeks.

It’s still a whisky I love, an amazingly balanced dram that I don’t think I could ever get bored of. Drank with just a few drops of water (less really is more), it’s a whisky that is approachable yet explorable, which you will appreciate more and more as time goes on.

But as with all things, tastes move on and recently it’s been the massively intense flavours of Islay whisky that have been grabbing my attention. Perfect for sipping during the cold winter months, Islay whisky occupies a flavour spectrum which runs through smoke, peat, salt, seaweed, ash, wood, burnt toffee and even in some of the more ‘medicinal’ examples a touch of TCP and iodine. My tastes certainly lean towards the smoky, peaty section of the spectrum rather than the medicine cabinet, but all are interesting and attention grabbing in their own way.

There's just something of the magical about single malt whisky, even the terminolgy is full of colour and poetry. "The Angel’s Share" is a case in point - it refers to the amount of whisky lost from the barrel each year as it matures, either through evaporation of water or alcohol which can, depending on the climate, increase or decrease the abv of the whisky.

It’s a beautiful piece of imagery that for me perfectly aligns with the magic and alchemy of whisky - how something as simple as distilled malt could, with the benefit of wood and patience, become something so much more than the sum of its parts.






Flex your palate and try some of these slightly unusual flavour combinations

Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Cooking is something I love doing, it’s relaxing and creative to me in the same way as painting is to others. But I think the thing that most appeals is not just the fact you can eat your creations, it’s that the results are (relatively) instant and the choices are infinite.

As opposed to the colours on a palette, the flavours on your palate are limited only by your imagination and bravery. There are a million different foods out there to enjoy, and an infinite number of combinations to discover.

So here are some combinations that you might not have tried - some are the pairing of ingredients you mighty not expect whilst some are food and drink matches which seem unusual, but work - all are delicious and well worth a try.

Ice-cream with olive oil and sea salt

I know what you’re thinking, cream, oil, salt!? But it actually works. Take a few scoops of very good plain ice cream (either vanilla or a plain milk ice cream, preferably homemade) and drizzle with a very, very good olive oil before sprinkling with a few flakes of good quality see salt. This combination lives and dies by its ingredients - so only do this one with seriously good icecream, oil and salt – but trust me, it works.

Why it works: A good quality, peppery, fresh olive oil has a surprisingly non-greasy mouthfeel and simply acts alongside the salt to season the icecream and extenuate the creaminess and sweetness in your mouth. Weird, but great.

Porter and a spicy tomato curry

Whilst many people will tell you that India Pale Ale is the only choice when it comes to curry, they’re wrong - it’s much more complicated than that. Clashing bitter hops against fiery chilli can sometimes work, but often you need a little malt sweetness to stop your mouth feeling like it’s taking a battering. So next time think about a darker, more roasted tasting beer to go with that smoky, spicy curry – especially if it contains lamb or beef, which both work great with porter.

Why it works: Paired with an umami-laden tomato-based curry like rogan josh, porter works amazingly well. The savoury, smokey roasted malt dovetails perfectly with the spicy tomato and the added malt sweetness soothes your tastebuds between mouthfuls of chilli heat.

Mango Chutney and blue cheese

I feel like I’ve been banging on about this one for years but I’m going to keep doing so until everybody has tried it. It shouldn’t work, it sounds ridiculous, but it really, really works. Next time you’re making a burger at home generously smear the bun lid with a sweet mango chutney (nothing too fancy or spicy is needed) and top the burger with a thick slice of blue cheese (I like stilton) – you will be amazed at how good this tastes.

Why it works: The cheese and chutney combo is well known but this leftfield example works great as the sweetness of the mango contrasts amazingly with the funky, slightly sourness of the blue cheese.

Hopped up Belgian beers and Thai food

Thai food is notoriously difficult to pair with beer. Sure Chang will work fine if you want a palate cleanser, but in terms of really bouncing flavours around you need to look for a beer that’s much more complex. Thai food is a balance of salty, sweet, hot and sour flavours, often with creamy coconut complicating things further. So you need to go for a beer that is just as varied and complex, and hopped up Belgian beers like the excessively named La Chouffe Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel fit that bill perfectly. (Or alternatively a hoppy saison would work too).

Why it works: The La Chouffe IPA is a complex mix of fruity esters, smooth sweetness which works to quell the heat of thai food and big, floral hops that seem to highlight the ginger, lemongrass and coriander top notes of many thai dishes. It has a lot going on but somehow works perfectly with a number of Thai dishes I’ve tried, from green curry to spicy papaya salad (Som Tum)- it works amazingly well.


What unusual or surprising combinations have you enjoyed? I’d love to hear your suggestions.


Review of Oaka at The Mansion House, Kennington - Oakham Ales newest restaurant

Monday, November 04, 2013
Some breweries make hops shout, Oakham make them sing. Pulling off that elusive combination of extreme hoppiness and effortless drinkability, Oakham beers are so much more than hop bombs, they have a freshness which allows the flavour of the hops to really shine.

So, when I heard about Oaka in Kennington, the newest Oakham Ales restaurant, I was more than a little bit intrigued. It opened in March this year and is Oakham brewery’s first venture into the capital, taking the tried and tested pub-with-a-thai-attached to a whole ‘nuther level. It’s a similar combination to the excellent Brewery Tap in Peterborough, their brewpub I visited a couple of years ago.

The first thing you notice when you walk into Oaka is the polished-ness of everything. It looks like an upmarket thai restaurant rather than a pub - that said, the welcome is warm and there’s just as many people in for a pint as a pad thai.

I started off with a cracking pint of their Inferno Pale ale, a beautifully bitter and citrussy four percenter that punches way above its weight, and which worked great with the sweet and spicy curried pumpkin gyoza I had to start. The tempura prawns were light, crisp and faultless.

We ordered a couple of main dishes to share, in an effort to do the menu justice. The best of the bunch was a perfectly balanced Som Tum salad of thinly sliced green papaya, chilli, lime, peanuts and fish sauce. It’s one of my favourite dishes when done as well as this, adding much needed freshness to your plate and offsetting the rich fattyness of the roast duck red curry and aromatic soy braised pork belly we ordered too.

The pork was simplicity itself. Well cooked, well seasoned pork belly slow braised with soy sauce, chilli and palm sugar until it’s as richly flavoured and tender as is humanly possible. Umami on a plate and a perfect counterpoint to the hot and snappy papaya salad. The duck was tasty enough, but I was expecting a thicker, richer curry than the one that arrived – which was just a touch thin I thought. Still, a minor stumble in an otherwise faultless meal. The coconut rice was as sticky and moreish as you'd expect.

Alongside the mains I tucked into Oakham’s new seasonal beer ‘Asylum’, a pale amber beer which has the hops dialled back somewhat compared to the likes of Inferno or Citra, but which again managed the effortless drinkability I’ve come to expect.

Speaking to the chap behind the bar I narrowly missed an opportunity to try a rare dark beer (Oakham’s Porter) from this brewery who are known for their pale and hoppy beers. The regulars must’ve rated highly too as it was gone as quick as it came.

If you’re looking for somewhere to eat quality pan Asian food and drink some of the best cask beers in the country, then Oaka is pretty much without competition. I’ll be back again soon.