Summer cocktails and canapés at Hixter (recipes included!)

Ballantine’s Cobbler (Photo: Victoria Ferran)

Summer is a wonderfully fleeting thing in the UK. So if you haven’t already adopted carpe diem as your life motto, you probably should – at least for this season.

Now is the one and only time it’s a good idea to throw an outdoor party in the UK (anyone had frostbite on Guy Fawkes Night?). And there are a couple of things that summer parties need – aside from pretty dresses and some kind of floral decoration. These essentials are obviously cocktails and canapés. Continue reading

Review: Sakura Festival at Saka no Hana

Cherry blossom around Hikone castle

Cherry blossom around Hikone castle

Sakura season – otherwise known as cherry blossom season – spreads like a fever for a couple of weeks in April. For those who haven’t been to Japan during this period, you will be unprepared for the sheer decadence of the scenery and the sheer reverence with which it’s treated. You should probably see my blog post here.

In honour of this time of year, upmarket and rather swanky restaurant Sake no Hana held their own sakura festival with their very own sakura menu. The interior was decorated with some rather realistic and beautifully lit cherry blossom trees, and with delicate sakura painted along the counter at the bar.

Photo: Betty Chen

Isn’t this gorgeous? (Photo: Betty Chen)

Continue reading

Honest Burgers March Special: The BrewBurger

The BrewBurger - containing four different kinds of beer :)

The BrewBurger – containing four different kinds of beer 🙂

It’s impossible to ignore the burger trend across London. To be honest, if you want to ignore it, you probably shouldn’t be reading this blog; I’ve done my best to consume as many burgers as possible in one giant burgery bonanza.

One of my favourite places for a burger in London is Honest Burgers. They’ve got a quality product pitched at the right price, and, as a result, their empire is expanding – expect the sixth branch to open near Oxford Circus later this year.

I fell in love when I first when I went to their Soho branch, and then had a passionate affair with their Christmas special, before drooling over their HOT February special. Their regular menu may only contain three different types of beefburger but their monthly specials really keep the romance alive.

Their latest offering has got me punch-drunk in love. For starters, it is possibly the first burger ever to require an ID to order it.

Honest Burgers have taken things to a new level this March and have collaborated with the awesome BrewDog. BrewDog is a Scottish craft beer company that is taking over the world with quality beer and their very own chain of bars, stretching from Shoreditch all the way to São Paulo! (Japan fangirl squeal: And they’re also in Roppongi in the expat area of Tokyo!) Even if you’re not a beer fan, you have to love BrewdDog because they took on Putin’s homophobia and produced the world’s only beer that’s definitely, absolutely and certainly not for gays – the Hello, My Name Is Vladimir!

Hello, my name is Vladimir and I am zuper hetero!

Hello, my name is Vladimir and I am zuper hetero!

Hello, my name is Vladimir. I am a beer for uber hetero men who ride horses while topless and carrying knives. I am a beer to mark the 2014 Winter Olympics. But I am not for gays. Love wrestling burly men on the Judo mat or fishing in your Speedos? Then this is the beer for you!

I think they’ve got their sales pitch spot on, don’t you? Now onto the BrewBurger itself….

Pervy close-up

Pervy close-up

This is one incredibly boozy beefy treat:  it’s a 150g aged beef patty with Comté cheese and bacon candied with BrewDog’s amber ale, 5AM Saint. It’s then topped with beef dripping and beer fried onions using BrewDog’s flagship Punk IPA and a BBQ reduction made from BrewDog’s Paradox cask-aged Imperial Stout. And, just in case that wasn’t beery enough for you, it’s served with Bourbon Baby, a 5.8% barrel-aged baby scotch ale that Brewdog created just for this collaboration. All this for £15.

More photos make it more real

More photos make it more real

Oh….this was a beery burgery beauty. For me, the bacon got a little subsumed by the other flavours but those  beer-fried onions were fantastic. All of this, of course, comes with Honest Burgers rosemary-salted chips. After a BrewBurger, you will wake up seriously thirsty but smugly satisfied.

Get yourself along to a branch of Honest Burgers before April 2nd. And don’t forget your ID!

Bourbon Baby

Bourbon Baby

Choccywoccydoodah, off Carnaby Street

BrownieHow many of you will be giving or given chocolate this Valentine’s Day? It’s a pretty standard gift that ensures that February 14th is sickly sweet in more ways than one. Not that there’s anything wrong with chocolate, of course. Just why not give your special someone a little bit more of an imaginative, full-on chocolate experience? You know, a bit of a cocoa thingamabob? Or a sugary whatsit?  Or maybe, some… Choccywoccydoodah?

Yes, Choccywoccydoodah does exist and it will excite even the most chocolate-apathetic among us. Hailing from Brighton, they have now set up a shop and café just off London’s Carnaby Street.

Bunny girl bath
Imagine what would happen if Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory got it on with a fine lady’s boudoir. You get extravagance, flamboyance, weirdness and wackiness all rolled into one. In fact, entering Choccywoccydoodah for the first time will visually overwhelm you. There is too much to take in – it’s an Aladdin’s Cave of all things yummy.

Cartoonish models of bunny girls are interspersed with giant marshmallow lollies, strawberry chocolates, hearts and flowers. It’s so over-the-top and playful that I defy you not to grin and squeal, and start examining all the treasures.

Mantlepiece
Up the stairs, you will find a small café split on two levels. The centrepiece is a table covered with cakes that are just as extravagant as the décor. At Choccywoccydoodah, the request of ‘just a small slice, please’ is seriously frowned upon. At Choccywoccydoodah, size is everything.

Now that you’ve impressed your loved one with such opulent and ogle-worthy offerings, take a table and order the hot chocolate (£3.50). This is one of London’s best – you can choose from milk, dark or white and it comes with marshmallows, plenty of cream and a chocolate straw. Also on the menu are milkshakes, chocolate fondue and the dangerously sumptuous Choccywoccydoodah sundae.

Hello hot chocolate
There is enough here for your love affair to weather several repeat visit – and it may also be a teeny-weeny bit addictive. A word of caution: the café does get busy so allow yourself plenty of time as you may have to queue. Just remember that all good and pleasurable things are worth waiting for.

So if you really want to impress your loved one for Valentine’s Day, off you trot to Carnaby Street. Choccywoccydoodah will give you all the choccy woccy you need… please save the doodah for later 😉

Website: https://www.choccywoccydoodah.com/
Where: 30-32 Fouberts Place, off Carnaby St, London,W1F 7PS
When: Monday – Saturday 10am – 6pm; Sunday 12pm – 5pm

Article originally published on Tryum.com, which you check out for loads more London food news.

 

Semla Season – A Quick Trip to Bageriet, Covent Garden

Sweet treats

Sweet treats

I’ve decided to do something rather mad. I’ve decided to have a sugar-free February. The reasons for this are two-fold and I won’t elaborate on them here. Instead, I’ll cut to the important part – the part about what any dessert-loving person might do when faced with a sugarless February: eat a shed-load of sugary desserts.

As it so happens, it’s semla season. For those of you who have never heard of a semla or semlor, they’re a cardamom-spiced bun with the top sliced off, filled with an almond paste and whipped cream, and they’re eaten across Scandinavia for Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras. Last year, I went on an epic hunt for semlor across London and tried three different semlor.

Semla

Semla

Daniel Karlsson, pastry chef of one of the semla I sampled previously, has since set up a tiny, quaint Swedish bakery/café in Covent Garden called Bageriet (you can read about my previous visit here). I took a trip with a friend who had never tried a semla and was desperate to get their Scandinavian/Swedish sugar fix.

Now being a tiny specialist bakery, this isn’t the cheapest dessert rampage in the world, but we’re oh-so-cultured, so we ordered our semlor at over £4 each. I got mine with cinnamon milk, which is apparently the traditional way to eat semlor. Personally, I found it was a little thin and that it detracted from the bun, but I quite enjoyed drinking it separately.

Semla with cinnamon milk

Semla with cinnamon milk

The semlor themselves are CREAMY. Be warned. But the texture of the bun is beautifully light and the almond paste is fantastic.

Not content with just cakes, we got the home-made hot chocolate. This was way too mild for me on the chocolate front, but my partner-in-sugar-munching was delighted with its gentle spiciness. It certainly warmed us up on a cold day.

Hot chocolate

Hot chocolate

As for the sugar-free February, the following day was the February 1st and my resolutions fell epically flat. I went to a friend’s birthday meal at Wagamama, where out of their excessively long menu, there was NOTHING that didn’t contain sugar. I was offered raw vegetables without dressing, declined and ordered whatever. On Monday we begin again, I vowed.

To be continued…

Bageriet

Website: http://www.bageriet.co.uk/
Where: 
24 Rose Street, WC2E 9EA
When: Monday – Friday 9am-7pm; Saturday 10am-7pm; Sunday – closed.

Some more Swedish treats…

009

008

007

Borough Market: The pride of Scottish food and drink

Venison steak with haggis and turnip purée

Venison steak with haggis and turnip purée

Last Friday, I was lucky enough to be invited for ‘a wee dram and a taste of Scotland’s finest fayre’ at ‘The Shindig’ in the newly renovated Borough Market Hall. Being a massive foodie, I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate Burns Night – albeit a day early!

I was really excited because Macsween haggis were in attendance. I’m a huge fan, having sampled an amazing fusion menu using their produce at The Quilon last year (keep an eye on the blog for some great haggis recipes by Jo Macsween, including haggis babotie).

Macsween is a third generation family company based in Edinburgh. Jo and James Macsween are really creative in their approach – not only producing traditional haggis, but also vegetarian haggis (with black kidney beans, lentils, and vegetables) and black pudding. All of these are available in their original forms but also in 60-second microwaveable versions, which are just perfect for snacks! Their haggis is unusual in that it only uses the lung of the lamb, as opposed to the liver. I was initially reticent about losing my ‘haggis virginity’ but found the flavour to be rich and rewarding, and the fact that it contained offal was not noticeable at all. So good are Macsween haggises that they won THREE gold stars at the Great Taste Awards 2013.

At the mini-market, they were dishing out delicious samples of their haggis with some turnip purée. And then there was a genius collaboration with The Wild Game Co. – rare venison steak topped with haggis and the turnip purée. Look at this beauty:

Venison steak with haggis

Venison steak with haggis

I really highly recommend The Wild Game Co. as their beef burger canapés were fantastic. Really, really delicious meat – succulent and perfectly cooked.

Burger from the Wild Game Co.

Burger from the Wild Game Co.

Walking round the market, we came across some chillies and some strawberries…

Red bedfellows?

Red bedfellows?

Sound like an odd combination? Well, I can assure you that these go perfectly together and that Simply Add Chilli have really come up with a triumphant chilli jam. I wanted to apply it to some Camembert, atop some oatcakes from Perthshire Oatcakes who were also in attendance.

Simply Add Chilli

Simply Add Chilli

Of course, a party needs some booze! There was some fantastic ale from the Windswept Brewing Co. My partner in sampling was particularly impressed by the Tornado – a 6.4% single hop citra IPA.

Tornado

Tornado

And no party would be complete without some music:

Time for a proper shindig!

Time for a proper shindig!

This wee showcase demonstrated that Scotland has some top quality produce to offer. To be honest, I’m planning a summer trip there already! Thanks to Macsween and R and R for the invite!

PS: here’s a bonus giggle for you. Whilst reading up on haggis for this blog post, I found the following gem quoted in a BBC article: “A 2003 survey suggested that a third of US visitors to Scotland believed the haggis was an animal. Nearly a quarter thought they could catch one.”

Review: A Gin Journey by Shake, Rattle and Stir, London

Negroni

Gin lovers, listen up! Gin haters, listen up too! Embarking on Gin Journey will change your relationship with gin forever. By the end of your voyage, you will have found a huge amount of love for it, and maybe even be craving some more…

What is a Gin Journey? I hear you ask. Doesn’t this sound like a rather messy alcoholic accident waiting to happen?

Well, I can guarantee you that there’s no mess unless you have a drinking problem like myself (I repeatedly miss my mouth – my hand-eye coordination is a lifelong work in progress). However, a fair amount of alcohol will be consumed – purely in the name of education.

OK, I lied – there is some education and a whole lot of fun.

Gin Journeys are the brainchild of Leon Dalloway, founder of Shake Rattle and Stir. His website describes him as ‘originally from Leicester, corrupted in Manchester and inspired in London’ – and Gin Journeys in the capital are a seriously good inspiration indeed.

City of London Distillery

City of London Distillery

Starting off in the City of London Distillery, our group gathers around a table where candles illuminate gin samples laid out next to glass beer mugs of a milky brown cocktail, topped with a beautiful white foam.

This is Leon’s signature cocktail, the award-winning ‘Hans Off My Daughter’ – a fantastic concoction of Sloane’s gin, mulled stout, chestnut liqueur, chocolate liqueur, bitters, and egg white, dusted with cocoa. The name is a pun based on the story of Hans Sloane, founder of the British Museum and name donor to Sloane Square, whose work in botany introduced some of the main flavourings of gin to the UK. Apparently poor old Hans had a daughter who was a bit of a character and married a suitor he deemed very unsuitable indeed.

Just one sip of this cocktail will explain exactly why it won Leon a trip to Amsterdam, although sadly he wasn’t presented with any wayward daughters as a prize.

Hans Off My Daughter

Hans Off My Daughter

This heavenly beverage was just the beginning of our evening. A Gin Journey involves five bars, five cocktails and five gin samples, whilst being chauffeured around in a minibus.  At just £50 a head, it is ridiculously good value, especially when you consider that the evening consists of far more than tantalising the taste-buds: a Gin Journey is an educational tour. Leon is a great public speaker, talking us through the history of gin and its distilling process, engaging us with more titbits of information at every stop. History has never been so interesting.

Leon

As to exactly where you’ll be heading and what you’ll be drinking, I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you. (Also, my dutiful note-taking and scholastic approach dramatically declined after the second cocktail.) However, expect to visit beautiful, quirky and atmospheric bars in Chinatown, Tower Bridge and Shoreditch, and to encounter a Bramble and a Negroni along the way.

If you’re looking for a fun night out that’s a bit different – educationally alcoholic or alcoholically educational – Gin Journeys are for you. I had a fantastic time and, by the end of the evening, all I could shout was: Chin Chin, more gin! 

To find out more, visit Shake, Rattle and Stir.