Friday
Sep062013

Get it on...wine lists

Yesterday marked a very exciting day in the world of German wine as almost 100 entries for the ‘Get it on…wine lists’ competition were whittled down to just 10!

‘Get it on’ is open to all German producers looking to get their wines into the UK market and is based on the German Wine Marketing initiative that Wines of Germany ran from 2000-2002, with the original initiative giving producers the chance to win listings for their wines in retailers such as Waitrose and Sainsbury’s.

This year, the competition has stepped up a gear and the Germany team have introduced a Dragon’s Den style pitching process, asking producers to present their wines to the judges outlining their suitability to be in the UK market.

Yesterday saw round one of the process when the judging panel were asked to consider packaging, price and taste when tasting the German wines. The panel was made up of buyers from Matthew Clark Wholesalers, ABS importers, The Winery independent wine merchant, ETM Group of London gastropubs and wine merchant The Sampler who were all in agreement that the quality of wines on show was extremely high across the board.

Without further ado Wines of Germany are very excited to announce the ten finalists…

 

  • Weingut Bischel 2012 Riesling Trocken
  • Barth Riesling Kabinett Trocken
  • Deep Roots 2012 Riseling Trocken
  • Kühling-Gillot 2012 Ölberg Riesling
  • Weingut am Kaiserbaum 2012 Goldberg Riseling trocken
  • Jülg Spätburgunder 2011 -R- Trocken
  • Stefan Meyer 2012 Riesling Schlossberg Lagenwein
  • Pflüger Michelsburg Riesling 2012
  • Schneider Riesling Kirchenstück Ellerstadt Zweitausendzwölf 2012
  • Weinreich 2012 Riesling Trocken

 

Watch this space for further details on the winners – the final round of judging takes place on September 30th 

Posted by Dalany

Thursday
Aug292013

Mash up madness – the rise of the hybrid food

It’s official; the food world has gone mash up crazy. As with several recent food trends like gourmet ‘dirty’ food, the cupcake and the whoopie pie, many of these new hybrids hail from across the pond. Recent exports from New York include the ramen burger, the Krispy Kreme burger, and of course, the Cronut, which has been the talk of London town for several months now.

The Brits aren’t far behind though, with London eateries creating their own strange yet fabulous mash up meals, from Duck and Waffle’s namesake dish, The Breakfast Club's ‘Ham So Eggcited’ combining fried eggs, ham, pancakes, maple syrup and cheese and now a burger/hot dog from Street Kitchen at The Miller

As a keen baker I was inspired by the success of Xanthe Clay’s rose scented Cronuts made with store bought croissant dough, and Bea’s of Bloomsbury ‘Townie’, a pastry shell filled with gooey chocolate brownie, so I set out to create a dessert mash up masterpiece of my very own.

The key to a successful mash up is combining the best of both worlds to create something better than the original, and so over an afternoon of experimental bank holiday baking the ‘Flownie’ was born – a flapjack based, double chocolate brownie topped with flapjack crumble, combining the best in sticky, sweet baked goods. And the proof as they say is in the pudding – watch out for the Flownie in a trendy bakery near you soon. Just don’t think about the calories… 

Posted by Gemma

Tuesday
Aug272013

To tip or not to tip?

The question of if and how much to tip is always hotly debated. Obviously if the service provided was good, the answer should be an unequivocal ‘yes’.  But what about when the waitress throws food down in front of you without so much as a smile, neglects to offer any further drinks and takes 30 minutes to bring the bill despite numerous requests?

Marino O’Loughlin’s article for The Guardian voices her 'restaurant pet hates: 11 ways to ruin my appetite’, most of which we agreed with in Phipps’ office. However, one which was discussed at length was the tipping conundrum. When an ‘optional’ 12.5% service charge is added to the bill and the card machine then asks if you’d like to add a tip, is it stingy to select ‘no’? Will the 12.5% service charge even reach the waitress that served you? For years we’ve been told that a 10% tip is appropriate so where did the extra 2.5% come from?

For me the answer has always been simple. The best thing to do is ask for the service charge to be removed from the bill and then pay as much or as little as you’d like depending on the level of service you received. That was until a colleague told me she was harangued at the weekend by a stroppy waiter for making such a request – ‘why, was something wrong?’ he exclaimed. It doesn’t exactly make for a pleasant end to a meal, does it?

Whichever way you look at it, tipping is and remains problematic. You may just have to hope the meal was delicious enough to make up for it. That or order a takeaway – oh wait, the delivery man needs tipping too!

Posted by Jen

Thursday
Aug222013

The trouble with salt...

With great interest I sat last week reading Alex Renton's piece for Observer WOM about the use of salt in restaurants and how chefs are almost happy for us to die young in order for them to keep using it.  A little piece of me lost a lot of respect for Anthony Bourdain whose comment 'it's what makes food taste good' made me question his skills as a chef. Now to question the skills of a master like Monsieur Bourdain is quite something so I probably need to explain myself.

It's simple...food does not need salt to taste good. I am not disputing that there are some dishes that simply cannot be served without it - the juicy tomatoes of a Pan Con Tomate simply won't do without a good dousing for example and I can't resist a salty rosemary baked focaccia. But to need to cook basics like potatoes and pasta in salt, or douse everyday cooking with it, is the mistake of those who aren't confident in making a dish taste great with herbs, spices, or any matter of ingredients. If a dish has enough flavour elsewhere why make it unnecessarily salty?

There are times when I honestly believe some restaurants over-salt food to make you thirsty and drink more. I know the unfortunate effects of this following a heavy night in Jerez last Spring drinking Tio Pepe fino and eating tapas!

To assure myself of my thoughts on salt, and to check I'm not going mad, I've spent the last week boycotting the addition of salt to food altogether (even the most delicious fleur de sel) and I've seen no adverse effect. In fact if anything, I've experienced more compliments on my cooking...a deliciously creamy homemade coleslaw went down a storm with 35 BBQ guests on Saturday, a pulled pork bun was devoured by the other half despite me insisting he couldn't add his usual heavy sprinkling, and courgette, chilli and lemon linguine has so much flavour that salt would have ruined it entirely.

I implore you all to open your senses to other ways of flavouring your food that won't clog your arteries.

Tuesday
Aug202013

La Cathédrale Engloutie

Last week I was lucky enough to find myself visiting the renowned Bouvet Ladubay winery in the historic town of Saumur in the Loire. Bouvet Ladubay MD, Juliette Monmousseau showed us around the winery’s “tuffeau” cellars, which we soon discovered are not average wine cellars…

 The name “tuffeau” refers to the limestone that the Loire region’s hills are built upon and consequently means that the wine cellars themselves are dug into this stone. Much discussed and celebrated in the Loire, “tuffeau” was used to build the famous Chateaux of the Loire valley and legend has it that some of this chalky stone was used in the creation of Westminster Abbey.

So, in recognition of this fantastic stone-masonry that characterises the Loire, in the 70s the Monmousseau family (owners of Bouvet Ladubay) commissioned sculptor Philippe Cormand to create the Bouvet Ladubay vision of "La Cathédrale Engloutie" (the sunken cathedral) in their cellars. Amazingly exquisite and quirky, Cormand sculpted vines, animals, columns and various parts of a cathedral ruins into the walls of the cellars giving it a fairytale vision that has certainly made a lasting impression on me. I will and I’m sure that other visitors will remember the winery forever. 

That and the fact that I got to try the Bouvet  Saphir Vintage Brut, which was deliciously fresh and full-bodied with lovely peach and honey flavours, and so called because the lady of the house lost her sapphire engagement ring when out water-skiing on the Loire. To make up for it, her husband named the wine after the lost ring!

Posted by Claire

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Wednesday
Aug142013

New Marmite advert…love it or hate it?

There was big debate in the Phipps office last week over the new Marmite advert which features welfare officers hunting houses looking for neglected jars of Marmite.

When I first heard about the advert I thought it sounded quite controversial and could understand the negative press it had received as it sounded like Marmite was making light of the serious issues surrounding neglect.

However, after watching the advert on YouTube I thought the whole thing had been completely blown out of proportion as it was much more light-hearted than I had imagined. Marmite is one of the most iconic British brands around and they have always been famed for their advertising and slogans such as ‘My Mate Marmite’ and the most popular ‘Love it or Hate it’ campaign. So it’s not a huge shock that they are willing to risk a slightly daring topic.

It now turns out that Unilever has donated £18,000 to the RSPCA after receiving hundreds of complaints that the ad trivialises the work of animal welfare agencies. The fact that the advert hasn’t been pulled proves that Unilever is sticking to its guns with what is a pretty funny advert and rightly so! The donation therefore may seem like a pretty extreme reaction to the complaints. However, Unilever has done a clever thing in protecting the Marmite brand by donating a considerable sum to a very worthwhile cause.

Ultimately, the advert has generated huge amounts of exposure for Marmite which is what it’s all about, right? Personally I won’t be going out to buy a jar of Marmite any time soon…but that’s got less to do with the advert and much more to do with the taste! 

Posted by Dalany

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Thursday
Aug082013

The British Craft Beer Challenge

 

Last weekend I went to round three of the British Craft Beer Challenge at London Fields Brewery. The challenge consists of four rounds in total and is described as ‘the ultimate beer test that will bring brews from around the world together’. The principle idea is that ‘beer lovers, occasional fans and total geeks’ go along, try the craft beers on offer and assist in judging.

Round three was the UK vs Europe and thinking that it sounded right up my street, I paid £9 which included entry to the event, one pint and a food token. Situated just next to the brewery itself, the Brewhouse is a couple of barns and an outside space made up of purpose-built furniture and very minimalistic decoration. Not only were the beers flowing but great live music was coming from a folk band and food was on offer from tex-mex street food vendors Tacochu. I tried their veggie taco which was fantastic. I’m a big lover of Mexican food and when it’s as fresh as this you can’t beat it. Full of beans, salsa and guacamole freshly prepared that morning it tasted amazing with the beer. I also used my lime in my next drink so it was a win, win!

Throughout the afternoon, I tasted some amazing beers including London Fields Brewery Unfiltered Lager, Floris Framboise and La Trapper Blonde. The Floris Framboise is a Belgium beer and was by far my favourite. It’s crisp with flavours of strawberry and raspberry and after the food it felt like drinking a desert.

As far as the competition was concerned, it wasn’t as formal as I’d originally thought and was more of an opportunity for people to taste beers that they wouldn’t usually be able to (as well as being a great opportunity for London Fields Brewery to promote its own beers) The judging was conducted through a series of jeers and shouts at the appropriate moment, rather than a more formal written process, and despite me enjoying the European beers more that day, the Brits won this round.

All-in-all it was a great day to spend a Saturday and I’d thoroughly recommend it!

This weekend is the final round of the Great British Craft Beer Challenge and it sees British craft beer go up against beer from the rest of the world – so, if it seems like your thing, take a look here for further info http://britishcraftbeerchallenge.co.uk/grand-finale/

And if craft ales are your thing, Sainsbury’s is once again introducing 20 new beers to its seasonal aisle this autumn to battle it out on-shelf to be named the winner of the 2013 Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt.

For three weeks, from 11th September until 2nd October, the finalists’ beers from four regional heats, which took place in May, will go on sale in Sainsbury’s supermarkets for the chance to win one of two coveted six-month listings in stores across the country. The 12 highest selling beers will go through to a Grand Final on 4th October, where the final winners will be selected by a panel of beer experts.

Posted by Amy

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Friday
Aug022013

The insects are coming...

Entomophagy – what a mouthful. Ironically most people in the UK would shy away from putting it anywhere near their mouths, the concept generally provoking revulsion and child-like screams. The idea of eating insects as food brings to mind images of biblical plagues and particularly gruesome episodes of Bear Grylls (once you’ve seen him eat an exploding maggot you’ll never look at the garden in the same way), but the introduction of bugs and creepy crawlies to our diet is an increasing reality.

In a recent report by the UN, entomophagy was showcased as an obvious choice to maintain a sustainable source of protein globally. Insects are a much more sustainable food source than our current land-hogging, methane-belching, petrol-guzzling production, a system that damages the environment and regularly threatens to implode due to lack of space, excessive demand and escalating prices (and you thought the horse-meat scandal was a biggie).

Not convinced? Insects require less space, less energy, emit far fewer greenhouse gases and produce nine times as much protein as cattle for the resources required to rear them. And there’s plenty to go round - for every human on earth there are 40 tonnes of insects.  On top of that insects are a nutritional winner; they are high in protein, low in fat and a great source of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. At a time when the Western world is dangerously overweight and the rate of heart attacks and other diet-related health problems is rocketing, there’s an overwhelming argument for us to give up the beef burger and fall on a cricket kebab with Timon and Pumbaa-esque glee.

To many the concept of eating insects isn’t even a strange one.  80% of the global population already eat insects on a regular basis as part of their normal diet – locusts, grasshoppers, spiders, wasps, ants, scorpions, you name it and it’s probably enjoyed fried, baked, fricasseed, boiled or barbequed somewhere.  In Ghana winged termites are eaten baked in bread, Chinese beekeepers consume the larvae from their beehives, Japanese food lovers enjoy aquatic fly larvae sautéed in sugar and soy sauce, fire-roasted tarantulas are popular in Latin America, and dragonflies are boiled in coconut milk with ginger and garlic as a delicacy in Bali. In fact, it’s ironic that we’re so squeamish about the idea given that we’re actually already eating bugs - ecological entomologist Marcel Dicke argues that in the Western world we consume at least 500g of insects per year as stowaways within processed food.

The more you read about it the more entomophagy seems an inevitable step. In the UK, more and more chefs are getting involved. Aside from the more obvious appearances at Noma (ants and fermented grasshoppers) and the novelty scorpion lollipops at Fortnum & Mason, bugs have recently been advocated by Tomasina Miers at Wahaca, appeared as part of the Forbidden Fruit cocktail at House of Wolf and popped up as part of the Rebel Dining Society event at the Edinburgh Fringe last weekend. For those brave enough to go the whole hog (sorry!) there’s Archipelago, offering meal worm caviar, chilli and garlic locusts and a baby bee crème brulee, or Ento, the creative team developing insect-based products who have recently been championed as part of Grey Goose’s Iconoclasts of Taste project.

So here’s the big question – are we ready to embrace the entomophagy revolution? Hmmm, we’ll get back to you on that one…

Posted by Liz G

Thursday
Jul252013

Burger Wars – Shake Shack v Five Guys

There’s been a burger war mounting in the mean streets of Covent Garden, since it was announced back in April that American favourites Shake Shack and Five Guys were opening their first London outposts this July. London isn’t exactly short of a burger restaurant or twelve, as this once junk food staple has become ever more feted and festishised. These two newbies to the scene have created quite a buzz, so it has been my solemn duty as a foodie and Covent Garden worker to try them both out.

Five Guys hails from Arlington, Virginia and has been a favourite in the Washington DC area since 1986. Over the years it has developed from a local favourite into a massive chain with over 1,000 US stores, attracting a cult following for its hand-formed burgers with as many free toppings as you can fit in your bun, and fries cooked in pure peanut oil.

Shake Shack on the other hand hails from Manhattan, with its flagship store in Madison Square Park where it started life as a kiosk. It’s deemed a mandatory visit for any burger fans visiting New York, and described as a modern day “roadside” burger stand serving high quality burgers, hot dogs, frozen custard or ‘concretes’, shakes, and drinks with an American feel - iced tea, strawberry lemonade and ‘half and half’ an iced tea and lemonade mix. The man behind the Shack Danny Meyer said the time was ripe to establish an outlet over the pond as “We’re positively in love with London’s thriving food culture, and are humbled and excited to bring Shake Shack to the UK.”

He’s not wrong – burgers and high end fast food have never been bigger and more popular, so they’re definitely tapping into a big trend in London eating. Covent Garden is also the best place for it as, happily for Phipps, it’s increasingly a foodie mecca with existing establishments PolpoMishkins and The Opera Tavern, newbies Pizza Pilgrims and Balthazar and upcoming Flesh and Buns, as well as these burger joints.

There’s been a good deal of flutter in the foodie press on both of these as well as some excellent social media buzz and real life teasers from Shake Shack, but of course the proof is in the eating…

I managed to bag a spot in the (much shorter) Shake Shack queue outside the Piazza on training day, to find it absolutely awash with the happiest, smiliest staff this side of the pond. I chose a SmokeShack – a single cheeseburger with Wiltshire cure smoked bacon, chopped cherry peppers and ShackSauce with some plain crinkly fries, opting against the cheese sauce.

After a short wait you pick up your order on a retro silver tray, again assisted by staff with very American enthusiasm and a fearsome production line. And the verdict? The chips were fine, not amazing but not the limp, sugary offering you’d get in McDonalds. The burger is of course the main event - I’d put it somewhere between a fast food burger and a Byron. It’s got the slightly soft, squidged bun of a fast food burger but the patty is higher quality while still being relatively thin and evenly cooked. It’s the topping however that really elevates it – the cherry peppers add colour, texture and a bit of spice, the bacon and cheese are good quality and the sauces aren’t the insipid thin sauces of a cheap burger.

The queues at Five Guys on the other hand proved something of a hindrance, with dedicated fans waiting two hours for their burger hit.I waited half an hour and found even that too long for the resulting meal. To be fair, the two establishments claim to be quite different and Five Guys is a more down market, all American retro diner than the slick Shake Shack

The menu is short and sweet – burgers with cheese, bacon, and combinations thereof which come with two patties as standard, as well as sandwiches like a BLT or grilled cheese. The real draw however is the unlimited toppings including sauces, salad, onions, jalapenos and so on.

My first issue was a ‘little’ burger with one patty and the smallest portion of chips available was £9.50, not much less than you’d pay in Byron or Gourmet Burger Kitchen. My second was the quality – soggy chips that taste quite a lot like the peanut oil they’re proudly cooked in, and the burger had a distinctly fairground quality with a thin, sweet, seeded bun and thin patty.

Clearly the hype has worked well for both as queues remain unfeasibly long a couple of weeks after opening, but it will be interesting to see if the crowds remain once the initial enthusiasm dies down. I can’t think that I’d return to Five Guys, and Shake Shack would probably only be to ease the effects of one too many glasses of wine, but I think the impeccable service, slick design and unusual offerings will see them well. Well done Shake Shack, and welcome to Blighty.

Posted by Gemma

Thursday
Jul182013

A bite into the unknown

Navigating menus abroad can be something of a challenge for a flexitarian, particularly throughout Europe where waiters tend to fix you with a look somewhere between bemusement and outright suspicion when you ask for a meat-free option, before pointing you towards the veal.

A recent trip to Japan took this confusion onto a whole new level. Not only was the language baffling, but the products themselves were so unrecognisable that you would often be left looking at a market stall or supermarket shelf with no idea if something was animal, vegetable, or mineral:

On our first night in Kyoto, more than a little jet-lagged and disorientated, we unwittingly found ourselves in a kasieki ryori restaurant. These very traditional restaurants complete with kimono-clad waitresses and tatami mats to sit on, have no menu. After much sign language, we established that instead of ordering, we would just be brought a selection of speciality dishes, and after much shaking of my head and pointing to the Japanese for fish in my guidebook, we agreed that mine would be served “no fishu”. What followed was one of the most memorable meals I’ve had in a long time. A tray of tiny plates each containing a different exquisitely prepared but unidentifiable dish, while tofu bubbled away on a stove.

We didn’t have the slightest inkling what many of the dishes were, and this element of surprise was one of the great things about it. Of course it can also be risky – halfway through the meal I opened up a bamboo-leaf wrapped green gelatinous lump, only to take a bite out of it and discover it was pudding – fortunately I’d chosen to avoid committing the even bigger faux pas of dipping it in soy sauce. It got me thinking that in this age of 250,000 ways to order a burger with not a single element of the meal left to chance, how rare that we have the opportunity to be truly surprised by a meal – apart from Dans Le Noir, there is virtually nowhere in London where you can genuinely have no idea what you’re eating – perhaps kasieki should be the next step in the ubiquitous small plates trend.

Oh, and if you are in Japan and really struggling with a menu, you can always refer to the somewhat unappetising display of plastic representations of the dishes – from small noodle shops to white tablecloth restaurants, these are everywhere – one trend that I’m not sure would catch on over here!

Posted by Lottie

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