Culinary Acrobatics: Test your palate with these unusual beer and food combinations

Monday, April 27, 2015
Beer and food matching relies almost entirely on two simple principles – complimenting flavours or contrasting flavours.

Which is a fancy way of saying you either choose a beer which shares some similar flavours with the dish, so perhaps a rich, dark Imperial Stout with a gooey chocolate brownie, or you go in the opposite direction and pick something which contrasts the flavours in order to highlight them. So perhaps a sharp cherry kriek beer - which would work amazingly well with that same chocolate brownie, but for entirely different reasons.

So that’s the starting point, the basics. But where’s the fun in sticking to the rules all the time? Some flavour combinations sound a little bit left-field but actually work very well. Here’s my attempt to challenge your taste buds into trying something new, with a food and beer combination that you might not have given a go before.

Blue cheese, mango chutney, Double IPA

A strong, full-flavoured blue cheese such as a well aged stilton with all of its salty, tangy, umami laden flavours, might not sound like the perfect partner to mango chutney, typically the lubricant for a poppadom, but the combination really works. The sweetness of the chutney brings out the rich fruitiness of the cheese in a way that has to be tried to be believed.

Add a third dimension to that combination, with the inclusion of a fruity, hoppy American style double IPA on the side, and you’ve got flavour fireworks. American style Double IPAs share a fruity, mango-laden sweetness with the chutney, but they also bring out the best in funky cheese, and are one of the few beer styles that can handle the level of flavour going on in this combo (which is great on a burger).

Beer suggestions: Magic Rock Brewing Co - Cannonball, Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA, Brewdog Hardcore IPA, Great Divide Brewing Co – Hercules Double IPA, Stone – Ruination IPA

Strawberries, Basil, Saison

Fresh, seasonal British strawberries are something extremely special. With a much more intense, perfumed flavour than those grown in other warmer parts of the world year-round, our home-grown strawberries are well worth the wait.

One unusual but astounding combination is strawberries with fresh torn basil. The strawberry juice seems to coax the sweetness out of the fresh basil, which in turn highlights the aromatics in British strawberries beautifully. Only the tiniest touch of sugar is needed – if at all – yet this still works perfectly as a refreshing summer dessert and isn’t in the least bit ‘savoury’.

Add a crisp, fragrant saison to the mix and you’ve got something which is the perfect end to a meal. The herbaceous quality of a good saison just works amazingly well with the strawberry and basil combination. Every ingredient seems to bring out something different, surprising and delicious in the others – which is the basis of any truly amazing food and beer combination.

Beer suggestions: Brasserie Dupont – Saison Dupont, Ilkley Brewery – Siberia, Brew By Numbers – Classic Saison, The Kernel – Saison, Brasserie Fantôme - Fantôme Saison.

Lamb Rogan Josh, Porter

Indian curries that have a tomato based sauce such as Rogan Josh are rich, heavy, spicy and fragrant all at once, making them a difficult dish to pair. After trying various different pale ales, bitters, amber ales, IPAs and everything in between, it was porter that I found the surprising match for this dish.

There’s just something about a slightly smokey porter which works amazingly well with the tomatoes and spicing in the dish, but the savoury style of the beer also dovetails nicely with the slow cooked lamb too.

Whilst a lager or pale beer gets completely bowled over by a curry, leaving the beer tasting of little but carbonation and sweetness, a good porter has enough guts to stand up to the bold flavours whilst remaining refreshing and drinkable.

Beer suggestions: Anchor – Porter, Fuller’s – London Porter, The Kernel – Export India Porter, Beavertown – Smogrocket, Samuel Smith’s – Taddy Porter.

Brown Sugar, Brisket, Black Lager

Beef and brown sugar don’t on the face of it sound like happy bedfellows, but when giving that brisket a long slow barbecuing with lots of seasonings and sugar, then things start to sound a whole lot more appetising.

Start by rubbing a good sized brisket (unrolled is better) with lots of dark brown sugar, salt and black pepper. Leave this to marinade for a few hours, or overnight, before giving it a long slow roast in the oven. For an even better flavour use a smoker or a really low temp barbecue with a lid – an easy way to do this is to push the white coals to one side and add some oak chips to create smoke.

A black lager is a match made in heaven with BBQ brisket. Having the perfect balance of smoke, sweet dark malt and hop bitterness which manages to compliment and contrast with the sweet and savoury beef all at once. Astoundingly good.

Beer suggestions: Budweiser Budvar – Dark Lager, Krombacher – Dark, Primator – Premium Dark, Bernard – Dark, Full Sail Brewing Co – Session Black.

The above first featured in the new look Ferment magazine, which this month is particularly good, including a great piece from Matt over at Total Ales.

Turkish delights: The launch of Tabure in St Albans

Saturday, April 25, 2015
Tabure is a new modern Turkish restaurant on Spencer Street in St Albans that will officially open its doors to the public on the 27th April. I was invited, along with a number of other bloggers, to the press launch night and I can safely say this place is going to become a firm favourite.

The attention to detail was the thing that lifted the food above your average Turkish grill-house. With traditional recipes and techniques given a modern twist and executed with real care.

The sharing plates came thick and fast, with highlights including perfectly battered stuffed courgette flowers, deeply smokey roasted aubergine babganoush, juicy flame grilled lamb skewers, meaty vine leaf wrapped baked cod with tahini, and a Sac Tava – which is a simple yet delicious spiced lamb stew with sweet green peppers and tomato.

So what about the beer? Well, last week, I got one of my favourite types of emails, which roughly speaking said, “We’re opening a restaurant and we want to have some good beer, any advice?” - That restaurant was Tabure.

One of the reasons I started this blog was a frustration at the lack of respect for beer in restaurants that are otherwise doing everything right - Great food, great wine list, then one mass produced lager... It’s a frustration that is becoming more and more rare but it is still massively refreshing and promising to hear of a new restaurateur thinking about beer from day one.

After some suggestions the guys at Tabure chose to launch with four well chosen, good beers. Brewdog Punk IPA, Brooklyn Lager (one of my go-to food beers), Estrella Inedit (the wheat beer brewed with Ferran Adrià of elBulli) and Spanish (5.4% rather than 4.6%) Estrella Damm which they chose thanks to its association with tapas – something which Tabure nods towards.

They are also looking into sourcing some beers from local micro breweries and potentially adding some draught beer too. But for now I’m glad to see some quality, reliable choices have been made to launch with – good on ‘em.

The wine and cocktail menu is equally well thought out and there is a genuine attention to detail and a leaning towards quality over quantity.

I can see this place being very popular – and it wholeheartedly deserves it.

They haven't got a website yet so checkout their Facebook for more info:

Current obsession: Nduja

Thursday, April 16, 2015
Nduja is a soft, spreadable, fiery Calabrian sausage that has a flavour which isn’t a million miles away from something like a chorizo picante, but with a richer, deeper flavour thanks to the combination of several different pork cuts (traditionally head meat, yum) and roasted hot red peppers.

I actually ate Nduja twice last week in two separate places, some 200 miles apart, first at Pizza Pilgrims in London – then in one of my old haunts, Friends of Ham in Leeds.

It was served very simply at Friends of Ham as Nduja Toast – which consisted of two hot toasted slices of sourdough generously spread with thick, fiery Nduja sausage, before being sprinkled with a few chopped cornichons. Simplicity itself and insanely moreish.

Give it a try with their house ‘Ham Pale Ale’, a hoppy but not overly bitter American Pale Ale, brewed by local brewery Summer Wine.

I’m hoping to make ‘Current obsession:’ into a bit of a recurring post, featuring short, sharp snapshots of what I’m really enjoying eating or drinking right now. But who knows, maybe I’ll forget all about it.

Pizza Pilgrims, Kingly Court, Carnaby Street

Monday, April 13, 2015
When it comes to simple satisfaction, nothing quite beats pizza.

But just because something is simple doesn't mean it is easy. With a pizza there's nowhere to hide, and if you want to get high praise selling tomato-topped bread, it had better be awesome.

Thankfully Pizza Pilgrims is. I'd have to visit again to see whether it can push Franco Manca from my top spot, but it's pretty damn close. Chewy, charred, hugely flavoursome base topped with sparingly used, high quality ingredients including fresh, not overly reduced tomato sauce - the sign a traditional, searingly hot wood-fired oven is in use.

A chef friend of mine tweeted a photo of the carbonara special, which was also on offer and admittedly looked great, but I opted for the Nduja, which is essentially the tomato, mozzarella and fresh basil margarita, with the addition of soft and spicy Nduja sausage.

Simple, glorious, and perfect with a beer. Which by the way was a rather good one.

A number of micro-brewed London beers were on offer but I opted to stick Italian, with a bottle of Birra del Borgo's ReAle - which tastes a bit like a smoother, more Tripel-like American pale ale. Which is another way of saying it is very good indeed, and a perfectly bittersweet, citrusy and balanced accompaniment to the rich and spicy pizza.

Pizza Pilgrims have got a few spots around London and are well worth seeking out.