Sunday, 27 March 2016

Recipe - Fennel Artichoke and Celery salad

Serves 4 as a starter or side dish

Ingredients:

1 large bulb of fennel
1 head of celery
1 small jar of artichoke hearts
2 tsp capers
12 small pitted black olives halved
1 tin anchovies cut into small pieces*
6 spring onions sliced lengthways and diced
i garlic clove mashed
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
fresh ground black pepper and sea salt to taste

*optional

Method;

Halve the fennel and then finely slice (use a mandolin if you have one)
(Dice the fennel feathers to add to the dressing see below)
Remove the tough outer stalks from the celery and dice
Mix the first seven ingredients in a large bowl
Add the garlic to the olive oil and mix well
Stir in lemon juice vinegar and pepper
Pour over salad and toss well
Taste for salt


Wednesday, 9 March 2016

24 St Georges

As recently as 2006 the BBC were saying, "The UK's seaside towns are well past their heyday and will never go back to the way they were.".  Thank goodness for that I hear some of you saying.  

Brighton is an English seaside resort.  About an hour south of London by train, it's a popular day-trip destination for Londoners.  Its broad shingle beach is backed by amusement arcades and Regency-era buildings. Brighton Pier, in the central waterfront section, opened in 1899 and now has rides and food kiosks. The town is also known for its nightlife, arts scene, shopping and festivals and the city’s increasingly sophisticated population demands flavours other than salt and vinegar, resulting in a burgeoning foodie scene to rival that of London.

My destination Twenty Four St Georges, 24-25 St Georges Road, Kemp Town Village which, as their website puts it is "less than 15 minutes stroll from Brighton town centre".

Now Kemptown, the Boho-chic neighbourhood of Brighton, takes its name from Thomas Read Kemp's Kemp Town residential estate of the early 19th century, much of the housing is still of the Regency style and sympathetic conversions of grand buildings into flats and bars have provided some distinctive properties.  It's known historically as an actors' and artists' quarter.

In the heart of Kemp Town is located 24 St Georges, committed to using local and seasonal produce.  European menus change regularly. Each dish is lovingly prepared in such a way as to bring out the very best of these fresh ingredients. Menus are creative but the aim is simple; to provide an experience that guests will enjoy, and food that looks and tastes fantastic.

Twenty Four St Georges opened at the very start of 2010 after only 18 months of trading they appeared in the Michelin Guide and then in 2014 were awarded two AA rosettes.  I was immediately taken by the decor and ambiance.  A warm, welcoming, relaxing dining room with a shabby chic feel.

A quiet confidence exuded from the staff, no one here was trying to prove how clever they were. Explanations were given, orders were taken and plates delivered to the correct guests as specified without further ado.

A selection of breads and butters were offered along with a quail scotch egg, nice touch.

Concise menu; six starters, eight mains and offering two vegetarian choices and two fish. Wherever possible reflecting the best in both seasonal and locally sourced produce certainly brought back memories for me.





My choice for starter; the goats cheese with walnut and fennel granola and pickled apple and pear.  

I could, however, have opted for at least three of the others.  Presentation is both simple and elegant





For main course the beef; fillet with textures of onions, ox tongue croutons, potato rocks* and sauce bordelaise


*Potato rocks; small potatoes boiled, skin on and then dipped in a kaolin clay mixture and baked.  The crisp coating forms a perfect contrast with the smoothness of the potato inside which was tender and creamy thanks to the protection of its shell.

Cheese to finish among which "Brighton Blue" new to me and I went in search of it the following day, sadly to no avail.  Maybe next time I am in Brighton.

Success doesn't come wholly from what you do and you can't define or bottle it, but you know it when you find it. That something special, the friendly reception and treatment of your guests is true hospitality.  I found it here at Twenty Four St Georges.  You can't pretend “hospitality”, everyone recognizes a lack of genuine caring.  It must be heart-felt or it won't have any real impact on your patrons and it won't last.

In a positive, supportive work climate it exists naturally and the climate of an organization always reflects the mindset of the leader. For better or worse, the thinking at the top influences the entire culture. So infusing your operation with a high degree of clarity about what you are seeking to achieve is less about what you do and more about how you do it.

Owner and Chef Jamie Everton Jones summed it up perfectly for me,"When it comes down to it the real reward/addiction is simple, empty plates and really happy customers."

Until the next time!

T 01273 626060
E reservations@24stgeorges.co.uk
A 24-25 St Georges Road, Kemp Town Village, Brighton, BN2 1ED
@24stgeorges
2016 Michelin Guide

Two AA rosettes





Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Le Gavroche

I had to wait until February this year for my first visit to Le Gavroche. Descending the staircase into the dining room was like travelling back in time and the second empire décor distinctly put me in mind of A.Beauvillier* in Paris, of which more later.

The doors of Le Gavroche were first opened in Chelsea in 1967 by the Roux brothers, Albert and Michel, moving to its current Mayfair location in 1981. It featured in the inaugural UK Michelin guide in 1974, gaining a second star in 1977, and a third in 1982, which under Albert Roux it retained until 1993. At this point Albert’s son Michel Roux Jr took over the kitchens, and it transitioned to the two Michelin stars that it has retained ever since. 

 The ground floor consists of a bar area where you can read the menu and enjoy a drink and a private dining room for six was added at the beginning of 2014 for guests seeking extra privacy. The ‘Chef’s Library’ is an intimate space decorated with some of the huge variety of cookery books collected by Michel Roux Jr over many years, and a collection of photographs of famous patrons of the restaurant since its opening.

While it may bear the name of the street urchin from Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, that's where any connection with the overcrowded slums of post revolutionary Paris ends. Offering unapologetic old-school fine dining Le Gavroche continues to be the go to haute cuisine establishment for an extremely wealthy crowd

Our eight course ‘Menu Exceptionnel’ started with soufflé suissesse, an exquisitely light and fluffy gruyère soufflé cooked on double cream: an old recipe from the original restaurant.

The carpaccio of marinated venison, rye-bread toast, horseradish cream and pickled beetroot that followed provided a perfect contrast. For me, though, the star of the menu was the roast scallops, Chartreuse velouté with a scattering of coral crumbs which emphasised the sea-fresh flavour.

Continuing the marine textures with stone bass with a delicate dusting of Ras el Hanout (translated as "top of the shop" a spice mix from Morocco that contains anywhere from 10-100 different spices; the obvious ones here being coriander, cumin, ginger, turmeric), red rice and a superb fennel coulis.

Boudin noir, quail’s egg poached in red wine, and crispy mushroom ravioli, accompanied by red cabbage relish was for me the least convincing of the dishes of the evening. The humble black pudding has been named as one of this year's superfoods, however, black pudding is very high in fat, especially saturated fat and the result here was just too greasy and lacking in flavour.

The main course of beef cheek braised in red wine on the other hand was excellent, tender, full of taste and texture, parsnip purée and the sweetness of the miniature Chantenay carrots provided ideal companions.

Le Plateau de Fromages was extensive and presented from the abundant cheese trolley by a waiter whose product knowledge was excellent. My personal formula of a soft cheese, a hard cheese and a blue cheese was amply satisfied by, Comté, a goat’s cheese rolled in ash and Shropshire blue.

Dessert of spiced pistachio and chocolate cake, rum soaked dried fruits and rich bitter chocolate sorbet provided a suitable finale.

The best of the cooking here is very fine indeed.  All the ingredients were of high quality and have impressive provenance as one would expect. There is a strong element to Le Gavroche of a performance conducted day in, day out, especially in the well-choreographed and immensely dignified service rituals of cloches being lifted, trolleys being wheeled and wine being decanted by staff who have had years of practise. 

 Service is extremely precise, with waiters paying careful attention to every detail of the meal.  Service is the efficient execution of a series of actions. It is procedural. It's important, yes, but quite frankly for me its not enough.  What's needed is interactive; an exchange of energy at some level between staff and guests; a genuine human connection. It is something that is intensely personal which is what makes it impossible to standardise it into a process and sadly this was missing.

Full marks to Michel Roux Jr. who toured the tables in a relaxed, pleasant, self effacing way as he does most nights I'm told. How many restaurants have you visited where there is a celebrity chef connection and the celebrity has never even visited the building let alone worked in the kitchen?

A highlight of this visit for me was a trip to the kitchen, we were granted full access. State of the art equipment was to be expected. The design of the kitchen was as close to perfect as I have seen enabling the shortest possible journey from stove to guest and full benefit to be gained from a "Brigade system" developed well over a century ago by Georges Auguste Escoffier delegating responsibilities to different individuals who specialise in certain tasks.

Le Gavroche
43 Upper Brook Street
London W1K 7QR
Tel: 020 7408 0881 / 020 7499 1826


NB You can have the lunchtime prix fixe for £56 (one reason why lunch is always fully booked).  It includes three courses plus canapés, petits-fours, half a bottle of wine, water and coffee. It’s one of the best deals in town and a good reason to return again soon, if one were needed.

*Back to A.Beauvillier. Jacques Chirac, Charles Bronson, Edith Piaf, The Monaco Royals, The Mitterrands, a sprinkling of Rothschilds, Liza Minelli, Elton John and the great Frank Sinatra are just a few celebrity guests you might have been seen in the restaurant Beauvilliers. Owner Eduoard Carlier (left Montmartre in 2003 for that great restaurant in the sky) was a grumpy perfectionist who lived for his restaurant and his celebrity clients. Carlier named Beauvilliers (a former brothel) after Antoine Beauvilliers, not only Marie Antoinette’s chef, but also creator of the first restaurant in Paris, at Palais Royale, circa 1782. He was the first chef to have an elegant dining room, handsome trained waiters, a fine cellar and superb kitchen.  Sadly the restaurant is no more.

Restaurants don’t work on their own, they have to be part of a culture, they must not be intimidated by grandeur and history, they must be part of today, not yesterday. However, especially in London there is still room for the style, the theatre, the dignified haute cuisine that is Le Gavroche.

Long may it stay that way. Until the next time.






Monday, 29 February 2016

The Gin Lab Experience

Almost in the shadow of St Paul's Cathedral and close by the City Thamelink Station is a tiny opening called Bride Lane where you will find the first working distillery to open within the City of London for over 200 years, just off Fleet Street it combines a working distillery, bar and visitor attraction.

Invented in Holland, gin only became popular in England when Dutch-born William of Orange took the English throne in 1688. In over-crowded, slum-ridden Georgian London with many water-borne diseases prevalent gin became  a safe  drink for the poor; the opium of the people. For a few pennies, they found entertainment and escapism from cold and hunger at the bottom of a glass. In 1730, around 10 million gallons of gin were being distilled in the Capital each year and sold from 7,000 dram shops. In fact, it’s estimated that the average Londoner drank a staggering 14 gallons of the stuff a year!

By the end of the century, we were at war with France. So, to protect our economy and help the war effort, the government put a heavy duty on the import of spirits and lifted restrictions on domestic spirit production. In doing so, they created a healthy market for poor quality grain – which could only benefit the many landowners who sat in Parliament. The resulting trade also created a rich source of tax revenue.

The effects were devastating. Gin was blamed for misery, rising crime, prostitution, madness, higher death rates and falling birth rates.  As public outcry grew, the government was forced to take action. The 1736 Gin Act taxed retail sales at 20 shillings a gallon and made selling gin without a £50 annual licence illegal.  In the next seven years, only two licences were taken out. Whereas reputable sellers were put out of business, bootleggers thrived. Their gin, which went by colourful names such as ‘Ladies Delight’ and ‘Cuckold’s Comfort’, was more likely to be flavoured with turpentine than juniper.  At worst, it was poisonous, containing horrifying ingredients such as sulphuric acid.

In 1751, artist William Hogarth published his satirical engraving ‘Gin Lane’, which depicted such disturbing scenes as a gin-crazed mother, covered in syphilitic sores, unwittingly dropping her baby to its death down some cellar stairs while she takes a pinch of snuff.  An image of the social breakdown supposedly caused by gin, which took the blame for a of multitude of sins and consequently earned the nickname “mother’s ruin”.  Binge drinking isn’t anything new and the Gin Craze that swept 18th century London spawned as many social problems and fuelled as much public outcry as similar issues do today.  Aided by powerful propaganda such as this, the 1751 Gin Act was passed. This was more successful. It lowered the licence fee and forced distillers to sell only to licensed retailers trading from respectable premises.

A change in the economy also helped turn the tide. A series of bad harvests forced grain prices up, making landowners less dependent on income from gin production. They also forced food prices up and wages down, so the poor were less able to afford their drug of choice.  By 1757, the Gin Craze was all but dead.  Very few gin distilleries survived, and for nearly 200 years there wasn’t a single gin distillery in the City. 

That is until the City of London Distillery opened in 2012. The brainchild of Jonathan Clarke.  We used their gin as our house gin at The Market Restaurant so I was delighted to go along to join a "Gin Lab Experience", to learn about distilling and the different botanicals, design my own recipe and distill my very own personalised bottle of gin (70 cl).

After a warm welcome from Michael and a gin and tonic to get us in the right mood we started by exploring a whole range of botanicals and, with as much  guidance as we needed, we designed our recipes and prepared the ingredients for our own gin.  

Then into the Gin Lab to fire up a mini-still.  The stills named appropriately after the seven dwarfs (i chose grumpy).  Carefully nurturing our gin throughout the distillation process, taking tastings and deciding when to make the cut, designing our own labels and finally applying the red wax to seal.

A great experience highly recommended for gin lovers. perfect as an unusual gift, group experience, team building experience or reward.

City of London Distillery, 22-24 Bride Lane, London EC4Y 8DT
0207 936 3636  enquiries@cityoflondondistillery.com



Saturday, 8 September 2012

Food Futures and Sustainable Fishing


Food Futures is a partnership that embraces a wide range of individuals and organisations with an interest in improving food in Manchester. Its ambitious goal is to create a culture of good food in the city, based on the belief that good food is enjoyable, safe, nutritious, environmentally sustainable, and produced ethically and fairly; and that everyone in Manchester has a right to good food – no-one should have this right denied because of where they live, their income or their background. 

The Food Futures strategy embraces the whole food agenda for the city – from improving health, tackling health inequalities and reducing the environmental impact of food, to building sustainable communities and strengthening the local economy.

In October 2010 The Market Restaurant gained the Food Futures Silver Award.  Not only did this recognise the work that has gone on here over thirty years but also raised our awareness of a range of issues.

Although the health benefits of eating fish for instance are clear, with over fishing, depleting stocks and environmentally degrading fishing methods, it is difficult to know what species to eat with a clear conscience. We were alerted to the work of the Marine Conservation Society who have produced the Good Fish Guide to advise which species to eat and which to avoid, including the reasons not to eat them.

Some that are to be avoided are from unsustainable stocks; others are long-lived, slow growing, late to mature and vulnerable to overfishing; some are caught by dredging the sea bed, damaging natural marine habitat and disturbing sealife. 

Those that are recommended are from sustainable stocks, certified organic sources, line caught or have healthy stock numbers.

The advice given by the Marine Conservation Society is provided as a guide to consumers and buyers to make an environmentally informed choice about the fish they buy. The information does not include any advice on health benefits or risks associated with eating any particular fish species.

As part of our menu planning we are able to search the background of any fish we seek to put on the menu.  This does not always correspond with what is available but it has certainly raised our awareness.

For easy reference MCS has also produced a Pocket Good Fish Guide. We predict that it will not be long before guests refer to it in the Restaurant.  Each of the fish have been given a rating to enable the reader to quickly identify species that are considered to be sustainably and sensitively harvested, and those species which are not.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Wines of New Zealand - James Milton Poverty Bay


New Zealand at it’s best is fresh, innovative, approachable, surprising, beautiful, uniquely stylish, understated and excellence that speaks for itself.  The same can be said for it’s wines.  

I caught up with New Zealand wine grower James Milton recently when he visited Manchester and tasted some of his wines with him.  I was so impressed that I determined to share the experience with our wine club.  Four out of five wines of the wines reviewed here today are from his vineyards.  Since meeting James he has been named a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2012 Queen’s Birthday Honours.  A well deserved honour, he was awarded the MNZM in recognition for his services to the wine industry.

Poverty Bay, on the North East coast of the North island, is a major grape-growing region, where the main centre of Gisborne was the first part of New Zealand sighted by Cook's expedition in 1769. Finding little, other than the wary local Maori, he named it Poverty Bay and sailed south .  

In 1984 James and Annie Millton established their winery on the banks of the Te Arai River near Manutuke where the early settlers first planted grapevines in 1871. This region is situated on the East Coast of the North Island of New Zealand in the winegrowing region of Gisborne. Originally Annie's father, Mr John Clark, had developed vineyards on his estate at 'Opou' in Manutuke during the late 1960's. 

James and Annie returned to Gisborne after experience gained in the famous wine regions of France and Germany including Champagne Bollinger, Maison Sichel in Bordeaux and Weingut Kurstner in Rheinhessen. By 1983 they had extensively researched and replanted major parts of the families’ grape growing business at the Opou Vineyard and Riverpoint Vineyard before, in 1984, establishing the winemaking and barrel aging facility in the present Te Arai Vineyard.  Further plantings were established on the river plateaus at either end of this vineyard. Clos Monique and Clos Samuel

1.  Opou Chardonnay
Strong in flavour, crisp in the initial taste and lingers seamlessly on the palate. The taste is soft and dry giving impressions of almond and acacia honey. Very well integrated fruit tannins balance the acid. The prolonged oak ageing has contributed fragrance of fresh bread and nougat.  This wine has the ability to go on developing in the bottle for at least another 5 years developing greater complexity with more honeyed characters. Listed in Oz Clarke’s Top 250 Wines for 2011.

2.  Riverpoint Viognier 
The Viognier was harvested by hand, fermented in small stainless steel tanks and old French oak barrels. The aromatic delight of Viognier is enhanced by partnering with foods high in Umami flavours, which also give a perceived impression of ‘saltiness’. A fine thread of residual sweetness intensifies the overall appeal as an aperitif with aged white cheeses. Air New Zealand ‘Best Other White Category’ Winner 2011.

3. La Cote Pinot Noir
A very Burgundian style of Pinot Noir, with beautiful earthy, mushroom, cherry and freshly-picked strawberry flavours that dance on the palate. The fruit is ably supported by fine tannins and the light spice and richness that oak ageing has brought to the wine. Lip-smackingly good Pinot Noir with the class to mature further in bottle.

4.  Crazy by Nature ‘Cosmo’ malbec/ shiraz/ viognier
Convivial, buoyantly fruity red that's like 'a bouncy redhead in a summer dress'! So says winemaker, James Millton. It shows notes of dark chocolate and booze-soaked maraschino cherries with a hint of cigar and spice. A great fun wine that offers something a bit different from New Zealand. Soil Association Best Product Award 2010.

5.  Rock Ferry Late Harvest Riesling 37.5 cl
The only non Milton wine this evening.  An opulent dessert wine that has layers of ginger, summer orchard fruit, citrus and vanilla beautifully woven through this wine. As with all great sweet wines it has fresh acidity too that keeps all that sweet fruit neatly in place. Refreshingly sweet. Decanter World Wine Awards Gold Medal 2011.


Wednesday, 5 September 2012

It's a Jungle Out There! The Art of Wine and Food Matching


On the second Wednesday of every month we hold a food and wine matching evening,  The theme is usually a country or region or sometimes a grape variety.  Guests get to try five wines and in conjunction with Chris my Head Chef we match five starter sized dishes to the wines.  We try not to copy dishes from the country or region concerned but use the best of local ingredients to complement the wines.  Sourcing the wines, writing the notes, doing the food matching and then loosely chairing the evening has got to be the best and most enviable parts of my job.

Many of our guests arrive expecting a scientific insight along with a set of rules for the perfect matching of food with wine and are often surprised by my answer that there are no rules! Or at least, for every "rule" that there is there is also an exception! The reasons for this being that there are almost limitless possible permutations for wine and food combinations, not to mention personal taste and mood, general ambience and companions.

I believe that the most we can do is to try to follow some rough guidelines that may help to prevent the agonisingly embarrassing act of getting it horribly wrong! At the end of the day it’s your preference and that of your guests that really matters. Enjoying the occasion is what this is really all about - so don't get too serious about it!

The fact is there are very few extraordinarily good combinations when it comes to wine and food, just as there are very few combinations that are truly terrible. In the vast majority of matching, the wine and the food coexist peacefully, if unexcitingly. In a modest number of matches, the wine and the food accentuate the flavours in one another, and both taste better as a result!

The basic idea of matching food with wine I believe is to fuse the two flavours together to create a third. And magic can happen when you do. So here are a few classic combinations which never fail to please when searching for that perfect bottle of wine to accompany your meal.


  • Foie Gras and Sauternes 
  • Grilled or Fried Fish - A dry white, possibly with some acidity, especially where this is needed to contrast richness of a sauce or perhaps if the fish is an oily variety.
  • Seafood (shellfish etc) - A dry white, ideally with a bit of acidity. Oysters and Chablis
  • Salmon with Pinot Noir
  • Roast Chicken/Turkey - A good mature cabernet-sauvignon based wine such as a fine Bordeaux works extremely well with roast poultry. Also very good is a Pinot-Noir based red Burgundy. Also a good Beaujolais Cru, especially a mature full-bodied one. 
  • Game, Venison - Good robust red Burgundy, Bordeaux, or Rhone wine or a new-world equivalent
  • Red meats (beef, lamb) - A good robust Claret or Burgundy - or perhaps an oaky Rioja - to some extent this depends on how the meat is prepared and accompanied. Rarer beef or lamb may be better with lighter fruitier wines.
  • Asian/Oriental Food - To some extend this depends on how spicy it is - milder cuisines such as Chinese or Thai will work well with spicy or slightly acidic whites (such as Riesling) served quite cold - or equally well with light fruity reds such as Beaujolais. Very spicy foods such as hot curries probably fall into the problem category - and it may be best to go for an alternative to wine, as even the most fully-flavoured wines will be wasted if not a match for the intensity of flavours a hot curry can provide.  My personal favourite here would be a Chilean Carmenere
  • Dark chocolate with Californian or South African Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Cheeses - The varieties of cheese available, and consequently the combinations that work well, are huge in number and we can only generalise here; a book could be written on this subject alone. Generally speaking, stronger flavoured cheeses demand more robustly flavoured wines. Classic combinations include good strong cheddar with robust red wines, port and stilton and sweet white wines with soft creamy cheeses.  On the whole I find red wines work better with most cheeses. 

Probably more rubbish has been written on the subject of matching food with wine than on any other aspect of wine enjoyment!  The key is to experiment, identify what you like and go for it - it might not be conventional, but your own, personal taste is far more important than convention. It is important to remember that matching food and wine is essentially a highly personal thing - there is no definitive "right" or "wrong", and anyone who says that there is is talking rubbish.

Conclusion

Matching food and wine is fun but it can be a minefield, and is particularly hard to get right for many people at the same time. My advice to anyone trying this (eg at a dinner party) would be as follows:-

  • be aware of your guests preferences - is there anyone who dislikes all red wines, for example?
  • avoid combinations known to be contentious, unless you know for sure that your guests are OK with them
  • try to avoid including difficult or problem dishes in your menu
  • offer choice to your guests - always have red and white wines available, ideally several styles, and make sure they are at the correct temperature - there's nothing worse than trying to warm up a cold bottle of claret quickly, for example, or throwing a white in the freezer for 20 minutes.
  • have a decanter available to expedite the process of wine breathing


Above all don't take it too seriously - most combinations are at least acceptable to most people, even if unconventional.

Until the next time!