Sushi-no-Mai aka Japanese Grandpa’s Sushi Takeaway Shop, Watford Market

Thursday, February 27, 2014
There's nothing better than finding a hidden gem is there?

Hidden inside the slightly downtrodden Watford Market is one of the best little sushi places I've ever eaten at. Sparklingly fresh seafood, expertly prepared and served at knockout prices - there's a lot to like about Sushi-no-mai.

The sushi is prepared by Chef M Shimo, a previous employee of Harrod's lavish sushi bar, who decided to set up on his own. He's a classically trained sushi chef, with qualifications recognised by Sanchokai the Japan Sushi Association, meaning there's a genuine authenticity that shines through in the food.

The quality of the fish is fantastic and some of the dishes are serious bargains, particularly the Edomae Set, which includes six tuna rolls, two salmon nigiri, two tuna nigiri, one sea bream nigiri, one eel nigiri, one cooked prawn nigiri and one cod roe roll, served with pickled ginger, wasabi, and a beautifully dressed side salad. All for a truly astounding £8.

Everything was excellent on the Edomae set, but the sea bream nigiri and cod roe roll were particularly memorable, with the bright orange cod eggs (essentially caviar) providing little bursts of salty flavour that makes the roll extremely moreish.

A plate of tuna sashimi was simplicity itself, with the beautifully tender, expertly sliced tuna having that icy cleaness and mild flavour of cold clean water that is the mark of really fresh fish. Delicious, and another bargain at £6 for eight chunky pieces.

The tempura don was a light and greaseless collection of deep fried prawns, white fish, salmon and various bits of veg served on a bed of sesame seed topped sushi rice. It would make a satisfying main meal in itself but at £5 is worth ordering as a crispy counterpoint to a sushi main.

I also spied the table next to me ordering the teriyaki pork, which looked excellent. All sticky sweet pork and salty sauce, which I'll definitely be ordering on my next visit.

We washed everything down with some refreshing green tea, a perfectly mild accompaniment to the delicate flavours of the sushi.

I left absolutely stuffed and completely blown away.


A beginner's guide to ageing beer

Wednesday, February 26, 2014
As can be seen by my last post on Fuller's Vintage Ale 2000, ageing a beer can provide wonderful results. But it's important to remember that ageing, cellaring, or whatever you want to call the prolonged storage of a beer before drinking it, is to a certain extent something of a gamble.

There are so many factors which affect how a beer will turn out that there is always going to be an element of risk involved. That said there are a few key things you should think about when selecting and storing a beer for an extended amount of time.

Strength / ABV

Stronger, higher abv beers will always age better than lighter, lower abv beers as the alcohol protects and preserves the liquid over its long maturation, creating pleasing complexity yet keeping out the nasties which can cause unwanted staleness or sourness.

Beer style

Hop flavour and aroma will diminish massively over time so select beers with plenty of malt character to develop and mature over time. Anything pale and hoppy is best drunk fresh, although some imperial IPA's such as Dogfish Head's 90 minute IPA have enough backbone to be worth a go.

There are a number of classic British styles which are suitable for ageing, such as Imperial Stouts, Barley Wines and Old Ales, but Belgian ales such as dubbels, tripels and even some lambics or wild ales will also mature beautifully.

Its also worth noting that lambics are the one exception to the high abv rule, typically being in the 4-6% region they will often age very well as the wild yeasts round off the sharp edges of the beer.

Some belgian beers, such as the Belgian Orval, contain brettanomyces (aka Brett), which is a strain of yeast which will dramatically change the flavour of a beer during ageing. Often associated with a 'barnyard' or 'horseblanket' character it is a flavour which people will either love or hate - or as in my case, learn to love over time.

Though associated with them now, brett isn't unique to Belgian beers and was actually first isolated from British stock ales and porters - hence the name, which is Greek for 'British Fungus'.


Unlike wines, beers should always be cellared upright, even if they have a cork closure. This is something of a point of contention but taking into account the positive and negatives on both sides, i.e. cork drying out vs contact with it affecting the flavour of the beer, I think it is much safer to store the beer upright.

It also has the added benefit of meaning the yeast and sediment will settle and often stick as a ring at the bottom of the bottle, meaning you can pour the beer into glasses without chucking loads of gunk in.

Finally, and this is really important, keep your beer in the dark. Light is not your friend when it comes to ageing beer so whilst a shelf in the cupboard is fine, a shelf near a window is not!


It’s also important to keep your beer at a stable, cool temperature, around 10*C is best. But you don’t necessarily need a cellar to do this, a cool cupboard under the stairs, a pantry or even a cupboard in your spare room (radiator off whenever possible) will do just fine.

Temperature is the hardest one to control but as long as you avoid wild fluctuations and keep the beer somewhere relatively cool, you'll generally be fine.


I'd love to hear your successes and failures in ageing beer, so feel free to comment below.


A decade and a half in the bottle: Fuller's Vintage Ale, 2000

Monday, February 24, 2014
Something truly magical happens to Fuller’s Vintage Ales over time. A long, slow maturation darkens the colour and deepens the flavour of the beer, replacing the fresh, bright orange scented bitterness of a newly bottled ale with the sweet, complex, darkly fruity flavours of an aged one.

The beer goes into the bottle as one thing and emerges after its lengthy hibernation as something completely different – in a fascinating act of alchemy.

Pouring a deep, dark, garnet red this Fuller’s Vintage Ale 2000 has a surprisingly tight head of off-white foam and a slick, oily body which laces the sides of the glass. Beautiful looking for a beer of any age, but at 14 years in the bottle presentation like this is hugely impressive.

A powerful aroma of sweet port, golden rum soaked raisins, and fresh cut oak kicks things off well, with some sweet hot booze jumping out of the glass upon first pouring, but taking a back seat as the beer relaxes.

Cellaring a bottle of beer for this length of time has its risks, most notably oxidation (which presents itself as a stale, musty, wet cardboard flavour or aroma), but the ale showed no negative signs of age and was surprisingly vibrant - with no ‘mustiness’ in the aroma at all.

The flavour is a combination of sweet port, stewed red fruits, oak tannins, a hint of cherry and faintly spicy black pepper dryness in the finish. Amazingly complex yet surprisingly spritely for its years this is one of the best aged beers I’ve ever tasted.

A pleasure to drink from start to finish, the 2000 is a vintage I’ll certainly be looking to pick up more of in the future.

Oh and if you've got one in the cupboard, then drink it now, it's perfect!


New Sixpoint brewery cans to be sold exclusively in Wetherspoon’s from next month

Thursday, February 20, 2014
Wetherspoon’s really seem to be upping their game in terms of their beer offer, with lots of exciting stuff going on, including their excellent American cask beer collaborations and widening of their bottled beer range to include some more craft brands such as Goose Island and Brooklyn Lager.

I ‘ve tried quite a few of the American cask beers and on the whole been very impressed - the version of Stone’s Sublimely Self Righteous Black IPA and then Jack D’or Saison being particular highlights.

The latest announcement is that the truly excellent Sixpoint brewery from Brooklyn, New York are going to be exclusively supplying Wetherspoons pubs with three canned beers: ‘The Crisp’, which is a pilsner, ‘Sweet Action’, which is a sort of cream ale, and ‘Bengal Tiger’, which is an American IPA. They’ll available in all 900 JD Wetherspoon pubs from next month.

The cans are diddy little 355ml ones which have been produced exclusively for Wetherspoon's – if you buy these beers in the US they come in larger 16oz cans – which I imagine is a combination of the beers’ strength (Bengali Tiger is 6.7%) and the fact the larger cans would demand a price out of line with what people expect in a Wetherspoons.

It seems like a sensible move, and the little cans look really cool to boot.

I’ve tried all three of the beers before over in New York, and trust me, you’ll want to try them too.

You can read what I thought of Bengali Tiger and Sweet Action here (I didn’t bring a can of The Crisp back for review due to lack of space in suitcase). Spoiler Alert: contains gushing.

These beers have never been available in the UK before to my knowledge – not even through specialist online retailers – so this really is quite a coup for Wetherspoons.


Roasted Duck legs and new potatoes with redcurrant wine sauce, paired with Cantillion Kriek Lambic

Thursday, February 13, 2014
At the heart of this dish is the simple yet satisfying combination of slow roast duck legs and duck fat new potatoes. But what makes this recipe so great is that it requires next to no preparation time and all the peeling, par-boiling, trimming and other malarkey that can sometimes go with a dish like this is avoided altogether.

All the flavour, none of the fuss - my kind of recipe.

If you really want to keep things super-easy you can eat the roasted new potatoes and duck legs as they are with a crisp green salad – or alternatively whip up a quick redcurrent and wine sauce as I have done here and serve with some buttered cavalo nero. Delicious.


  • 1 large duck leg per person (or more if they’re a bit skinny)
  • Five spice powder
  • Salt and black pepper
  • New potatoes, whole unpeeled
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 2 Tablespoons redcurrant jelly
  • Large glass of red wine
  • Teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • Butter
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • Cavalo Nero (or kale) thick/woody stalks removed

Start by throwing your new potatoes into a high sided baking tray or lasagne dish with just a tiny drizzle of olive oil (the duck will provide more than enough fat to keep them from sticking) and plenty of salt and fresh black pepper. Next season your duck legs with a little five spice powder, salt and pepper, then place on a wire rack above the potatoes. Alternatively use some metal bbq skewers as I did. Don’t worry if the duck touches the potatoes a little.

Place the potatoes and duck into a preheated oven at 220*C and blast for 15 minutes, before reducing the heat to 180 and cooking for a further one to one and a half hours – or until the duck is crisp and the potatoes lightly golden.

Once you’re happy with the duck remove to a plate to rest and drain most of the fat out of the baking dish and into a frying pan. Then place the potatoes back in oven at a low heat (100*C is fine) to keep warm while you make your sauce.

Fry the chopped onion in the duck fat until soft then add the garlic and thyme, cook for another minute or so, then deglaze the pan with the wine. Once reduced slightly add the redcurrant jelly, thyme and balsamic and cook until dissolved, bubbling and thickened. Season to taste and finish with a large knob of butter to give a nice shine to the finished sauce.

I usually put the cavalo nero on to steam while I make the sauce (roughly 5 minutes), but if it’s your first time making it then feel free to make the sauce first and keep warm before you put the cabbage on to cook.

Simply arrange on a plate and spoon the sticky sweet sauce over the side of your duck, being careful not to fully smother the skin as this will undo all the hardwork you’ve dojne getting it delicious and crispy!

Beer match

I paired this with a ferociously tart Cantillion Kriek which was fantastic at cutting through the richness and sweetness in the dish, but many might find it a bit too overpowering. If you’re looking for something a bit more approachable to match with this dish then a bottle of Liefmans Kriek (available in many supermarkets) would work very well, or alternatively a Flemish sour brown ale such as Rodenbach or Duchesse de Bourgogne – which would certainly bring out the sweet and sour character of the balsamic, redcurrant and red wine sauce.