It’s right funky up narf

12 Aug

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As I confessed in my last post, it’s been a few months since I last made an appearance so apologies that the following is a bit old news.

A couple of months ago I went to visit my good friend in Manchester. Alice and I met whilst learning to distinguish our Scarlett Miss Charlottes from our Del Boys working at Revolution in Preston (obviously THE place to be) and quickly bonded over a shared hatred of glass collecting and cocktail exams (yes, such things do exist).

Anyway, now I’ve been in the big smoke for a couple of years, away from my native Lancashire, I’ve been out of the loop in terms of where’s good to eat round there. Luckily Alice knew just the place and we headed to The Alchemist in Manchester’s Spinningfields.

The cocktail list was so extensive that we’d actually studied it before heading to the restaurant just to give us more time to catch up while there. With prices ranging from £5.95 to £18.50 for a sharing cocktail, I thought the drinks were very good value and not too ‘gimmicky’. To whet your appetite, a few of the options included cherry bakewell martini, lemon and cherry pie and cola bottle libra. After a long time flitting between options, I finally went for a marshmallow daiquiri made up of Barcardi gold, rose liqueur, limoncello, apple juice and sugar garnished with – you’ve guessed it – a marshmallow. Yummy! As you can see, it went down like a treat:

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The food menu options were equally impressive with a variety of world-inspired dishes to choose from including American salt n pepper chicken wings, Thai fish cakes and Moroccan spiced lamb tagine. With only a couple of weeks left until my holiday, I opted for a light chicken stir fry, packed with crunchy vegetables and bags of flavour.

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So for all those Mancunians who haven’t quite made it to The Alchemist, I’d thoroughly recommend it. It’s not the place for a quiet, romantic dinner for two but if you’re looking for somewhere with a buzz, this is definitely the place for you.

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Absence makes the heart grow fonder

7 Aug

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Whoopsies…apologies I’ve been somewhat absent the last few months, but you know what they say, time flies when you’re having fun. With a new job and what feels like a wedding/ engagement do every weekend, I haven’t quite had time to post.

I have however got a brand spanking new blog logo, kindly designed by my brother Jonathan (I’ll pay you back in royalties one day, bro), so to celebrate, here’s a quick rundown in numbers of my life over the last few months:

5 – The number of English wines enjoyed this summer alongside the Jub-Olympics celebrations (drinking is definitely a sport)

4 – The number of weddings attended so far in 2012 (how many times can you wear the same fascinator with different dresses?)

3 – The number of wedding invites already received for 2013 (crap, I’m going to have to buy a new fascinator)

2 – Average daily logins to Daily Mail Online (DMO)

1 – Holiday to Sicily done and dusted, what a distant memory

0 – The number of Starbucks coffees enjoyed in the last two months, savings made: £40.80 = six bottles of wine, get in

And speaking of which, here are a few of the wines I’ve been enjoying the last few months:

  • Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc (available at Majestic) – with delicious gooseberry, lime  and tropical flavours, you can’t go wrong with this wine for a wedding
  • Three Choirs Regalia 2011 (available from Asda) – an English wine perfect for those moments of sunshine and a picnic in the park
  • Chapel Down English Sparkling Rosé Brut (available from M&S) – like strawberries and cream in a glass, yum yum yum!

Finally, as a quick summary, thought it would be nice to include a photo of a card I recently sent to some friends to welcome them into their new home – nuff said me thinks:

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Who ate all the pies?

12 Feb

I read in the newspaper the other week that a company in Lincolnshire had created the world’s first steak and Red Bull pie, designed to give you a boost, or wings, so to speak.

Now I don’t know about you, but if I need a caffeine boost, I’ll have a coffee, and if I fancy a pie, I’ll choose a steak and ale pastry delight – I don’t want any of this messing around and mixing of the two together, thank you very much. Which is why a couple of weeks ago, I started the day with my customary tall skinny vanilla latte from Starbucks and concluded the evening with a visit to the Newman Arms Pie Room for my dinner.

Listed as number three in the ‘Time Out 1000 things to do in London’ guide, the Newman Arms Pie Room offers “duvet-sized puffs of pastry” which “envelop such special fillings as venison in red wine” along with mash, veg and gravy. For a post-work Thursday night dinner, The Pie Room ticked every box and my MAHOOSIVE steak and Guinness pie certainly filled a hole and “wasn’t bad for a snack” as my great granddad always used to say after a large meal. While I stuck to the puff pastry version, my flatmate opted for the chicken and leek suet pudding which she described as “simply lavely.”

To celebrate the penultimate day of the working week, we then headed over to Bourne and Hollingsworth to counteract our manly pies with a slightly more feminine cocktail. Tucked away down an unassuming set of stairs, this cheeky basement cocktail bar resembles your granny’s front room with floral wallpaper and chintzy mismatched teacups and saucers to serve the cocktails in, which are usually almost too pretty to drink (but not quite):

To reflect their retro decor, Bourne and Hollingsworth’s cocktail list has a distinctive focus on old-time spirits such as gin and bourbon. Unfortunately though I committed a schoolgirl error and forgot to write down the name of the cocktail I had (the fruity one on the left), but I can guarantee that all the drinks I’ve had there have been tasty. What’s more, some are pretty potent –  my flatmate had a ‘Chimp’s Tea’ made from Monkey Shoulder whiskey, peach liqueur, Earl Grey tea syrup and orange zest which packed a punch and certainly warmed her up on a cold winter’s night.

Both the Newman Arms and Bourne and Hollingsworth provided the perfect atmosphere for Thursday night chilling and I’d thoroughly recommend a pie and cocktails evening (still not convinced on the steak and Red Bull pie idea though).

Taking everything with a pinch of Salt

22 Jan

Through my degree in Spanish and subsequent work on the Wines from Rioja account (for proof, check out this geeky photo of me jumping, second in from the right), I think it would be fair to say that I am an ardent fan of tapas. Since moving to London a year and a half ago, I have made it my mission to sample some of the capital’s top tapas bars, which so far have included Brindisa, Barrica and Opera Tavern. So, with my dad in town last week, we decided to give Salt Yard, the sister restaurant of Opera Tavern and Dehesa, a go and once again I wasn’t disappointed.

What I love about tapas is the flexibility that they offer – whether you’re simply after a glass of sherry and a handful of olives or would prefer to get settled for the night with a bottle of tempranillo and a never-ending stream of little plates, tapas offer something for everybody.

Feeling experimental, Dad decided he wanted to order a selection of bar snacks to get us started, without knowing what their English translations were so, despite several warnings from me, we ended up with anchovies (boquerones), caperberries, extremely spicy guindilla peppers and smoked almonds – three of which we didn’t like (yes, I know, after living in a remote Spanish town for a year, I really should be fully acquainted with this kind of cuisine, but I’m sorry Spain, I JUST DON’T LIKE ANCHOVIES).

After this, I was therefore granted the task of ordering the mains so here are my choices:

  • Confit of Gloucester Old Spot pork belly with rosemary scented cannellini beans
  • Roasted chorizo with apple and moscatel
  • Chargrilled chicken, aubergine caponata, capers and olives
  • Venison carpaccio, lardo, dandelion, marcona almonds and qunice vinaigrette
  • Grilled underblade fillet of beef, prunes, panchetta and Pedro Ximinez
  • Jamon croquetas with manchego cheese
  • Classic tortilla

The food was so bloody tasty that I’m afraid I forgot to take pictures, so the following pics are the only ones I got (only just remembered with the chorizo, oops!):

With an exclusively Spanish and Italian wine list, designed to ‘showcase the delicious indigenous grapes of these countries’, I was intrigued to try one of these indigenous grapes. As such, we chose a bottle of the Albariño San Campio Terras Gauda which came in a lovely bottle:

The albariño grape comes from Rias Baixas in Galicia and this particular example displayed a distinctive perfumed aroma of apricots and white peaches. Light, dry and intensely fruity, it probably wasn’t the best match to our rich, meaty tapas. but on its own was a delight to drink.

Feeling rather stuffed from the mains, we instinctively told the waitress that we had absolutely no room left for dessert, which of course led to us ordering a pudding and, in my dad’s case, two. In the littlemissvino family household, the sign of a good restaurant menu is the ratio of chocolate to non-chocolate based desserts on the menu and on this test, Salt Yard scored a gold star. Out of five possible options, three featured chocolate so I went for the churros with Valrhona chocolate sauce, and Dad went for the hot chocolate ganacha with Turron ice cream, plus the churros. Although he claimed this second set of churros was for ‘sharing’, they most certainly were not as they were just too damn tasty to give away:

With two satisfied tummies, we left Salt Yard vowing to come back, although not before trying Dehesa, Copita, Cigala, El Pirata, Barrafina and Fino……

Feliz Navidad!

10 Jan

Let’s play a word association game – what’s the first thing you think of when you hear the words ‘Christmas dinner party’? Crackers? Turkey? Mince pies and mulled wine? How about Mexican fiesta? No? Hmmmm – I can’t possibly think why not.

Every year when I go back home for Christmas, I get together with my school friends for a good ol’ catch-up and an obligatory festive feed. Last year was a 80s inspired ‘Jacob’s Joint’ where we enjoyed the delights of sausage rolls, hot dogs, mini burgers and Quality Street so this year, after the excesses of Christmas day, I decided to host a Mexican-themed party to remind us that summer is on its way (well, it’s nearer than it was before Christmas at least).

Not being one for fancy five course meal dinner parties, I decided to keep things simple with a one-pot wonder of chili con carne, with homemade salsa, guacamole and pineapple carpaccio to finish. To ‘Mexicanify’ the table, I dug out a selection of mismatched colourful plates, bowls, napkins and candles as well as a couple of flower garlands from my university dressing-up box (yes, that’s right, I have a university dressing-up box, doesn’t everybody?):

One of my Christmas presents to my boyfriend was ‘Mexican Food Made Easy’ by Wahaca founder Thomasina Miers, however since it was still wrapped under the tree, I didn’t want to undo all my good work and unwrap then re-wrap the book just to find out Thomasina’s recipe for chili con carne. I therefore reverted to my tried and tested recipe of bunging it all in a pot and leaving it for several hours and hoping for the best (which worked).

For the salsa and guacamole, I was left with the same predicament so I turned to Emma Forbes’  (yes she of Live and Kicking fame – god I loved that programme) new  recipe book ‘Life and Soul’.

The general recipes were as follows:

Salsa – mix together 200g of vine tomatoes with lime juice, a little brown sugar, coriander, parsley, one red chili de-seeded and olive oil

Guacamole – scoop out and mash three ripe avocados then mix with one red pepper finely chopped, lemon juice, one red chili de-seeded, coriander salt and pepper

Easy peasy!

In order to complement this cacophony of flavours, I made a non-alcoholic cocktail ‘stolen’ from the Wahaca menu of sparkling water, fresh mint and lime (they call it a Citrus Fizz). However, no dinner party would be complete without a beverage or two so, upon their arrival, my guests were greeted with a celebratory glass of La Marca Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco from Majestic which I can only describe as truly scrumptious. With juicy notes of apples and pineapples, this sparkling wine was the perfect way to get the party started, whilst being light enough to cope with after several days of heavy eating.

The dessert of pineapple carpaccio was inspired by a trip to The Rainforest Cafe at Disneyland Paris many years ago, although unfortunately my version didn’t turn out quite as planned. Of all the courses to bugger up, who’d have thought it would be this one, but with a couple of enthusiastic squeezes of lime too many, the pineapple needed a shed-load of ice cream on it to make it edible – whoops. If all else failed though, it certainly looked pretty on its plate (the brown and green bits are sugar and mint):

Luckily, my friend had baked cupcakes as a present so we ate these instead – much more satisfying:

Finally, the meal was brought to a close with coffee and Roses chocolates – that well known Mexican post-dinner delicacy:

Happy New Year everyone and here’s to 2012 – a year filled with dinner parties a plenty and lots of tasty new wine finds!

Ciao Borough!

11 Dec

Italian food – overdone or enjoying a revival? Whatever your view, it’s certain to say that Londoners have their fair share of Italian restaurants to choose from with new ones cropping up all the time, but in terms of cooking authentic Mediterranean cuisine at home, how many of us tend to stick to spag bol and carbonara?

In an aim to expand my knowledge, I signed up to the Enrica Rocca cookery school , described on the website as “London’s best food market and most authentic Italian cooking class.” Born in Venice, Enrica runs courses in London twice a week – one at Portabello and one at Borough.

Meeting at 9am on a Saturday morning, bleary eyed and in need of a caffeine-laced coffee, we were quickly woken by Erica introducing herself in a flurry of designer perfume and ‘Italianess’. The course began with a three hour tour of Borough Market, which although I’ve been to several times before, made me to see it in a completely new way.

Enrica encouraged us to get stuck right in from the word go, touching, testing and tasting all our ingredients before buying them. We started out with choosing different types of mushrooms for a risotto, and learnt that larger isn’t always better when it comes to ingredients – in fact, the smaller, more mishapen the veg, the tastier it can be. Over the three hours, we tasted various olive oils, hams, cheeses, sundried tomatoes, breads and herbs then headed to Laithwaites within Vinnopolis to select wines to accompany the dishes. Settling on a Burgundy to go with the risotto, a Chablis to go alongside the fish and a Chilean Pinot Noir to accompany the veal, we then headed back to Enrica’s house to make a meal out of all the delicious ingredients we’d bought.

As we quickly found out, the course was very hands on with everyone getting a chance to help out with the preparation and cooking. The first thing to make was a salmon tartar, a simple but effective mix of finely chopped salmon, dill, lemon juice and mayo:

Following this was a full seabass, with garlic cloves rubbed all down the backbone then stuffed with various herbs and lemon. This was then cooked in the oven for just under an hour with potatoes and tomatoes and of course, the obligatory glug of olive oil all over the fish and veg:

While the fish was cooking, we prepared the mushroom risotto – a dish which contained so much butter I couldn’t believe my eyes (now I know why risotto in restaurants tastes so bloody good!) Combining giroles, cepes and chanterelles, we sweated these down with butter and onions then added wine and chicken stock, followed by rice which we constantly stirred for around 15 minutes before all the liquid had been absorbed. The risotto was finished off with another block of butter, more salt, Parmesan and herbs making it one of the most delicious risottos I’ve eaten (especially when combined with the creaminess of the white Burgundy):

Having already eaten almost three complete meals along with several glasses of wine (the top button on my jeans had by now been undone for some time), we then moved on to cooking veal. This was served with some tasty peppers which were left to cook for at least 15 minutes, along with a buttery, herb sauce:

Finally, as if we hadn’t already eaten enough, we finished the meal off with a tiramasu full of coffee, cream and chocolate goodness:

For anyone wanting to learn some new Italian cookery skills in a relaxed, fun environment, I’d thoroughly recommend Enrica Rocca’s cookery school – just be prepared to be rolled away afterwards!

Tickled Pink

27 Nov

I may not have posted for awhile, but rest assured I’ve still been drinking!

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with the colour pink, but it would appear I’m currently in a love phase as all the cocktails I’ve drunk recently have been in Barbie’s favourite shade.

Although I’ve been to the Goodge Street London Cocktail Club several times, I first visited the Covent Garden branch last month. If you go between 5 and 7 (and all night on a Monday) it’s Happy Hour, two-for-one, so I made the most of it and got two delicious Rose Petal Martinis, finished off with a marshmallow for good measure:

With a good crowd, energetic bar staff and free popcorn, I’d highly recommend it – although not too much as I don’t want everyone knowing!

Last time I visited the Forbury in Reading, I hadn’t been too impressed with the cocktail I’d chosen. However, this time I stuck to what I like best – fruity, girly and sweetie-like flavours – and picked the Paradise Martini which was dee-lish! A combination of rum, vanilla vodka, strawberry and raspberry purees and cranberry juice, the cocktail was yummy enough on its own, but had the added bonus of a shot of Prosecco served on the side to refresh the palate (better value for money too!)

 

The following weekend, I headed up to Manchester last weekend to visit a few university friends and we ended up in an old favourite of mine, The Restaurant Bar and Grill. I’ve always been partial to the malteaser ice cream here, but given we were out for drinks not food, I opted for a Jane Doe – vanilla vodka (can you see a theme emerging here?!) with Chambord, apple and lime juice. Perfectly balanced, the drink was made all the better by the fact I somehow managed to wangle two quid off the RRP which is always a bonus!

Almost all pinked out, I finished off the theme by munching on two sticky, indulgent and satisfying Red Berry Gloss Krispy Kreme doughnuts – the perfect end to my month of pink. Now then, I think it’s time for the gym!