Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The Taste of London Festival

After our trip to Brighton, we returned to London to begin the task of getting ourselves a place to live and a job. After a busy week of getting all of this organised, we decided to reward ourselves by attending the "Taste of London" food and wine festival in Regents Park. The 'Taste's" festival consisted of some of London's top restaurants and chef's coming together to serve up just a little sample of what their particular restaurant has to offer. The great thing for us as the customer as we got to walk around the park trying lots and lots of top quality food.

As we made our way around the festival, we tried such things as honey roasted pork, smoked Strasbourg sausage gourmet  hot-dogs, penne-pasta plus much more. After trying many dishes, we could eat no more, so we turned to the vast range of drinks available. Aside from the food at the 'Taste's' festival, wine and spirits were also available for us to try. We forget how lucky we are in Australia to have such great wines at our doorstep. We choose to sit a tasting session on Italian wines. The wines on offer were delicious. They'd be great to have with many different foods. But when the host of the session heard that we were from Australia, she was very jealous and confirmed to us that we are so lucky to be surrounded be great wine makers. Along with wine, we were able to try many different cocktails, spirits and beers. Rum seemed to be one of the more popular spirits featured. Along with the rum, was of course the most popular of rum cocktails, the Mojito, which we could also try.

It was great fun walking around trying many different products, but we noticed that there was many different masterclasses being held for us to attend and learn more about food, wine, mixology, etc. With us being bartenders, we decided to attend an interesting mixology masterclass, hosted by the worlds international rum ambassador, Ian Burrell. This was a cocktail class with a twist. It was all about making top-quaility "Mock-tails" or cocktails with no alcohol. We had the opportunity to learn and try some of Ian's unique mocktails which featured a wide range of fruit juices and herbs. These drinks were amazing, and still very simple to make and serve.

We left the Taste of London festival very satisfied. We had tasted some amazing food, tried a range and wines and finished off with some delicious mocktails. It was a great way to end our week.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Jamie’s Italian

Before our trip began, we had been recommended to visit one of Jamie Oliver's famous restaurants. So as we walked the streets of Brighton, we were excited to find our self's standing outside, 'Jamie's Italian'. Jamie's Italian is this celebrity chef's biggest chain of restaurants. As we looked inside, we could see that the place was jam packed. We weren't too surprised. Because it is Jamie Oliver's restaurant, we expected we would be waiting a while before we got a table. We instead decided to sit in the bar area and try some of the delicious tapas food that Jamie's Italian had to offer us.

The menu was very "Naked Chef". Simple but delicious seemed to be the theme. We decided to order the Italian nacho's which was fried 4-cheese ravioli with a spicy arrabbiata sauce. I later found out that 'arrabbiata' is the Italian word for angry. So when it came to the sauce, I expected it to pack some punch. The arrabbiata sauce consisted of tomatos, garlic, chilli, olive oil and basil. After we ordered the Italian nacho's, it was time to study the cocktail menu. We decided to try the 'Vanilla & Lemon Martini'. This drink was a simple concoction of vanilla infused vodka, lemon juice and sugar syrup. It was presented beautifully with a long zest of lemon tied into a knot and dropped into the centre of the martini.  The cocktail was a little strong on the vodka, but I did expect that, it is a martini after all. The lemon juice didn't come across to sour because it was complemented well by the vanilla and sugar syrup. An all around well balanced drink. Perfect to take your time and sit on for a while. As the nacho's were served our table, they also were presented with perfection and tasted just as good. Simple bite size snacks that would be so easy to serve at a party with friends.

Although we didn't try any, we were very impressed with the wine list. It consisted of all premium Italian wines and all at a good price.  The thing we loved about Jamie's Italian was it's simplicity. Every drink, every piece of food was simple to make, but served with great presentation and detail. Another thing we loved is that this chain of restaurants knows what it's trying to be. By that i mean, it's not trying to be fine dining like many other celebrity chef restaurants are. It's funky and simple and laid back and most importantly affordable. You feel very welcomed and comfortable here. I think it's for this reason that Jamie's Italian is so successful and continues to grow in

Jamie's Italian. "Vanilla & Lemon Martini"

In a shaker:
45ml Vanilla infused Vodka
15ml Lemon Juice
15ml Sugar Syrup
Add ice and shake
Strain into a Martini glass
Garnish with lemon zest tied into a knot.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Sun, Surf & Pebble Beaches: Welcome to Brighton Beach

We have had an amazing first two weeks in London, but it was time for us to take our first trip outside the nations capital. We had heard rave reviews about Brighton (South England, about an hour on the train from London), so we thought that this would be great place to go and visit.  As soon as we arrived at the beach side town, the heavens closed in and the rain began to pelt down. Not the best start to our trip. As we walked down the main street, we reached the "beach". Well... Us Aussie's had never seen a beach like it. Not a grain of sand in sight, just a couple of billion pebbles instead. Despite standing in the rain and looking at a deserted pebble beach, we were still determine to explore the town and get the most out of what Brighton has to offer.

Brighton is a major tourist destination in the UK, famous for the Brighton Pier amusement park which stands out at the end of the jetty. Along with Brighton Pier, are the many bars, cafe's and restaurants which are jammed into this small town. As we explored, we visited many places, but one in particular took our fancy. We went to visit the Havana Bar, a fine dining restaurant, which has a reputation for making great cocktails. After consulting the menu for quiet some time I decided to order a drink called a "Somerset Sunset". This drink consisted of St. Germain elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, Calvodos, Creme de Mure, Creme de Framboise and soda water. For those who don't know what some of those ingredients are, i'll explain. Calvados is an apple flavoured brandy made in France. Creme de Mure is a blackberry liqueur and Creme de Framboise is a raspberry flavoured liqueur. This drink is built in a tall glass and is measured with 15ml of ingredient and topped up with soda. This drink has great flavour combinations. The blackberry and the raspberry liqueurs are obviously going to work well together. The addition of the apple brandy gives the drink another dimension and then the after taste of the elderflower liqueur pulls all the flavours together and finishes it off nicely. Very nice and very refreshing.

The Havana bar certainly lived up to it's reputation. The Somerset Sunset was a great well constructed and still very simple built cocktail. When you go to a beach side town, you hope that it gives you great sunny weather. So the fact that it was raining did get us down a little, but a couple of cocktails at the Havana Bar certainly fixed that.

The Havana Bar's: "Somerset Sunset"

15ml St Germein Elderflower Liqueur
15ml Calvados (Apple Brandy)
15ml Creme de Mure (Blackberry Liqueur)
15ml Creme de Framboise (Raspberry Liqueur)
15ml Lemon Juice
Topped up with Soda water

Saturday, 11 June 2011

The Pimms Phenomenon

Aside from beer being a massive part of bar culture in the UK, another popular drink which seems to be featured in almost every bar is Pimms. Every place we went into offers the traditional Pimms & Lemonade or the other option, the Pimms Jug, which is perfect to share with friends.

Pimms started in 1823 by James Pimm. His father owned a bar in the centre of London, called the Oyster Bar. Originally Pimms was drink to help aid digestion. It was a gin based spirit with a secret recipe of herbs. It soon began to become quite popular as a drink as well as a means to help digestion. In 1851, Pimms began mass production to keep up with the demand from bars in London. In 1865, James Pimm sold the rights to his drink and it was franchised throughout the UK. Other flavours of Pimms were created using different herbs and spirits but none of them managed to take off. From the 1960's the other Pimms recipes were phased out and the James Pimm original recipe remained still the most popular.

Something that I noticed when ordering this drink and witnessing other people order a Pimms and lemonade, is that it is served in a particular way. It's not as simple as a nip of Pimms and topped up with lemonade. This drink requires specific fruits and ingredients to bring out the flavour in the Pimms. Lime, lemons, cucumber, raspberries, strawberries and sometimes even mint are thrown into the drink turning it from a simple mix drink, into a 'fruit-punch' type cocktail.

This concoction was quite nice. It's fruity and refreshing, a perfect summer drink. But I don't think that's why it's so popular in the UK. Pimms is sold all over the world, but it's no where near as popular as it is in the UK. I had to get to the bottom of why the brit's love Pimms so much. I mentioned when I visited Fuller's Brewery, that the english are very proud of there traditional english beer, hence why it's so popular. I get the feeling that it's the same with Pimms. Because Pimms is made in England it seems like the people here are very proud of drinking a product which they can call there own. Or it might be the fact that's it's very cheap to buy and in a city like London which is expensive to live, a cheap drinking option certainly would have a huge influence in it's popularity.

I'm excited to have a play around with this spirit in some new cocktail ideas. I think it has definite potencial for it to work well together with other spirits and liqueurs. Like traditional english beer, it might be a little while before I start drinking Pimms on a regular occurrence, but as me and Cara begin to settle in to life in England, I can see that it could be something we could be drinking again over the english summer.

Friday, 3 June 2011

London Pride

It's been an amazing three weeks, making our way around the globe toward the UK. Now we are finally here, it's time to see what London has to offer.  With so much happening in London, we decided to spend our first week here going to all the typical tourist destinations. Places like Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the Tower Bridge, St. Pauls Cathedral (just to name a few) were at the top of our list. All the places that you see so often on TV are now in front of our eyes. It took us a little while for it to sink in. So after a busy first week of sight seeing, it was time for us to do what we do best, exploring bars and pubs.

Throughout our sight seeing travels, Cara and I had came across many local watering holes. Some of which we popped in for a "cheeky pint", others we just peaked inside for a quick look. One thing was obvious right from the start, the English love their beer, and they love their pubs. It seems like every street in London has a typical English style looking pub. Stained dark wood, dim lighting, little antiques and old photos are the standard features for these pubs. Then comes the beer. Before we came to the UK, we were warned about the possibility of warm beer. Well not exactly 'warm' beer, but beer that is served at room temperature, and in England, that is still usually pretty cold. Every pub that we walked into, there always was a chilled beer option on tap. Beers like Heineken, Stella, Becks etc were the usual suspects, but out of the English beer selection, a range of beers brewed by the Fullers family seemed to be sold in every pub. Fullers beers were always the beers with the massive tap handles and positioned in the centre of the bar for all customers to see. It was almost like every pub was so proud to sell a traditional English beer that it had to have prime position in the bar on display.

So before we delve into the London cocktail scene, we had to get to the bottom of why Fullers beers are so important to English pubs. We decided to go straight to the source, The Fullers Brewery in Chiswick (About 30 minutes out of London). Fuller's is a family owned brewery and has been since 1845. The recipes of the beers are handed down from generation to generation. Members of the Fuller family still work at the brewery today to make sure that the highest standard of beer is still being produced. As we toured the site, our tour guide explained to us that he too had been working for the Fullers family for over 40 years. He shared stories of how, back in the day, it was the only job where his boss insisted that he had a pint before he started his shift for the day. He explained that for all the employees at the brewery, beer was their life. As we learnt more about the Fullers family and their beer, you really got the sense of history and tradition and the passion that they have for producing beer.  I was starting to understand now why the 'Brits' hold this beer in the highest regard. Our guide (as he showed us the countless awards that the brewery has won) was so proud of the company that he worked for. It's always great to see anyone who is passionate about their work, and it's clear that the people at Fullers are extremely passionate about producing good beer.  Fullers biggest seller is a beer they call "London Pride". With a name like that, it's no surprises why it has the reputation it does.

At the end of the tour, came a tasting session. I was looking forward to seeing what makes this beer so good.  As we tasted the Fullers range, one thing was clear, these beers didn't lack flavour. They packed a punch. The beers had very bold flavours. The hops dominated the flavour, followed by a smokey after taste due to it being stored in oak casks (as opposed to kegs). Australian beer generally, has a much lighter taste. It's the type of beer you can guzzle on a hot summers day. The Fullers beer is quite the opposite. It's the type of beer that you need to sip on and appreciate.

Visiting the Fullers Brewery was definitely a worth while experience. It gave us an idea on why this beer is so popular in England. It's history, tradition, it's icon status, not to mention if full, bold, 'hoppy' flavours are some of the reasons why the English love it so much. Since we've been here people have recommended that us Aussie's need to try a 'real' beer. I now understand a little more what they mean. It's an acquired taste though, one that might take me a little while to get used too.