Tag: London

#HOTGV: On Francois Lurton wines with the man himself

For this episode of Heard on the Grape Vine, I met with Francois Lurton, a French winemaker with vineyards in France, Spain, Argentina and Chile.

Francois Lurton

Francois represents the fifth generation of the Lurton family, who are well known in the world of Bordeaux wines. But as a bit of a maverick, Francois has ventured out to establish his own brand and his own wine identity after more than a decade of working for the family business.

We recently met at a tasting at Lima Floral Restaurant in London to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his estate in Argentina, Bodegas Piedra Negra in the Uco Valley. There, I tried a selection of his wines from Chile and Argentina.

Francois Lurton vineyard

Reading back on my notes almost two months later, I realised just how diverse the selection of 15 or so wines were.

Some were young and robust while others were gentle and fruity. There were even notes mentioning dark and moody alongside smoke and spice. I was surprised by how remarkably well they coped with the very challenging flavours of Peruvian food. Granted, the selection matched with the punchy dishes had a bit more age to them.

Although we tasted a sizeable collection of wines, it’s less than a quarter of the labels in Francois’ portfolio across the two continents.

Well, I’ll let Francois tell his own story in this little taster:

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Photos c/o Francois Lurton Wines.

Cocktails at Bar Boulud, Mandarin Oriental, London

If there’s one cocktail to have at Bar Boulud in London’s Mandarin Oriental, it’s a white cosmopolitan. Or two.

That is, after all, the cocktail that it’s reputed for. And if you’ve ever had one, you’d understand why. As well as the balance in flavours, there’s also great attention to detail. Like the petal frozen into the ball of ice.

But there are also plenty of other martini-glass options worth sampling, served with a little extra jug on the side.

The cocktails are serious and full of character but if all that alcohol’s getting to you, there’s always their world class burgers to fall back on.

Here are a selection of photos from the night:

London’s Cocktail bars: An Aperitif

They say that cocktails are great lubricators of conversation and amazing catalysts for fun times. True, but they should do all that and more. Cocktails should inspire you. And, when drinking fabulous cocktails, one should expect the venue to be as interesting as the cocktail itself. Why would you want to sip an outstanding drink somewhere that’s duller than the patina on a Bronze Age statuette? It would be like drinking Château Latour 1982 with your blueberry pancakes in a shed-like Texan diner: utterly unthinkable.

69 Colebrooke Row

So, here are some suggestions for suitable venues in which to imbibe a cocktail or three. Let’s start with something gentle to ease you in.

I say gentle but it’s really quite dramatic. Good Godfrey’s at the Waldorf is the epitome of the glamorous hotel bar with a West End twist. In fact, it’s positively theatrical. Nestled among the cream of the theatrical crop, the bar screams opulence with its original, listed panelling and illuminated marble and chrome fixtures. It’s named after Howard Godfrey, the bandleader of the ‘Waldorfians’ house band back in the 1920s – and everything else is inspired by drama.

Take Very Very Pretty; the name is a reference to the only stipulation of the ‘Gaiety Girls’, performers at the neighbouring Gaiety Theatre, who didn’t require any particular skills. And Thé Dansant, inspired by the tea dances at the Waldorf’s Palm Court. Then there’s the Hot Gin Punch and the Astor Hip Flask, which are served up in a giant teapot and a hip flask respectively. All, rest assured, are expertly created by the award-winning Nelson Bernardes.

Good Godfrey barElsewhere on our map there is something thoroughly modern. Not the Millie but The Folly, a garden-themed venue with multiple bars and endless space for eating and drinking. It’s probably the biggest venue within the Square Mile and it could be the greenest place in EC3 too with its Norwegian Spruce tree trunk at the bar, the plant pot lighting over the restaurant and the potted plants in the deli-come-bar. You can pick up a gardening kit with your customised cocktail or a bunch of flowers with your sandwiches. And that’s just upstairs; there’s another whole level downstairs with even more subtly different pockets of microcosms.

Those conscious of alcohol calories will be pleased to hear that there’s a range of ‘skinnies’ to choose from, complete with calorie count to help you make an Informed Decision. The Watermelon and Raspberry Ripple is simply bursting with health, but the Ziggy is the one that’s been created by Ezekiel Maledon at The Folly – call it the house special. If you want something outrageously left-field though, there’s always the Thai Tini – it comes with a prawn.

Speaking of left-field, the London Cocktail Club has a courageous cocktail list with a décor to match. Where else can you enjoy a Bacon and Egg Coupet under spidery glow lights? The LCC is tucked away in a Goodge Street cellar space, but there’s also a sister venue on Great Newport Street called The Covent Garden Cocktail Club (which was formerly, and confusingly, also called the London Cocktail Club). Although each venue has its own unique character, both follow “that classic LCC/CGCC theme”. I’m still trying to work out what that is exactly but their outrageous wall paper and extensive cocktail list simply intoxicate me; the Brixton Riot (peach, cranberry and lychee liqueur, flamed with Wray & Nephew overproof rum) is a real flaming eye opener.

It seems that every other cocktail here comes with a helping of food for garnishing (bacon, bread, shortbread, ice cream and so on), but if you did fancy something a bit more substantial, the bar snacks are Raymond Blanc-approved. That is, the LCC co-owners JJ Goodman and James Hopkins were the winners of the third series of the BBC’s The Restaurant and have since been working with Raymond and other notables to create these unexpected cocktail clubs.

The Folly BarIf the upstairs lounge is more your thing then you might enjoy Tempo, the Curzon Street Italian. It speaks Mayfair in volumes in the restaurant downstairs but the first floor bar is a whole different Regency period, all decked out in original Rococo Revival panelling and mouldings. The plush and contemporary seating will leave you in no doubt over the modernity of your cocktail. The Tempo Punch isn’t bad and the Basil Grande adds something extra to your strawberry purée – ground black pepper and basil to be precise – but there is one cocktail that defines this venue: the Mayfair Gem.

There’s a gem in the East End too. When you walk down Rivington Street in search of the double C of Callooh Callay, you’ll probably wonder what could possibly entice anyone not wearing brogues, skinny jeans and an oversized t-shirt with safety-pinned sleeves to tackle this part of town. It’s in the heart of Shoreditch with The 100 Club in one direction and some ‘invitation by word-of-mouth only’ abandoned warehouse rave in the other. But when you brush past the bouncers, doing your best to refrain from attempting a secret nod, and push through the heavy double doors, it’s all shirts and frocks inside.

The first room will be so dark that you’ll barely be able to read their outlandish menus but even if you could, you won’t be sure what you’re going to get. What does violet liqueur taste like anyway? Beets Me! is the thing to have either in the back room (much brighter) or upstairs in the Jub Jub bar (the seats are velvety). Of course, if you are a member of the Jub Jub bar – and that helps if you hope to get into Callooh Callay when it’s really busy – you could always order something on the Jub Jub menu or go off-piste.

The Botanist BarAfter all the dimly lit venues you will need The Botanist on Sloane Square. The quirky ‘nature’ theme here is subtle and reminiscent of sunny days out in Kew Gardens except, instead of the sun, there’s floor-to-ceiling glass to make the most of that natural light streaming in from the similarly proportioned windows, and the plants engraving the walls give all the air of botany without any of the hassle of hayfever.

Of course, that is not to say that it doesn’t offer the usual trappings of Sloane Square. After all, more than a few young Royals have been spotted propping up the bar.

That fact has definitely rubbed off a little on the cocktail menu, with the suggestively named Indigo Royale and God Save the Quince. I’m partial to a little Tea House Martini myself, but I hear the non-alcoholic (gasp!) Boost is also a popular choice. Should you happen to find yourself ravenous and the attractive clientèle not quite sating your hunger, there’s always the option of eating from the bar menu or popping next door into the restaurant.

Similarly Royal-inclined is Awana, down the road. The gourmet Malaysian restaurant has a bijoux alcove opposite a well-furnished bar looking out onto Sloane Avenue. If you’re not a member, this is the perfect place to spot who’s stumbling in and out of Bart’s next door while sipping on cocktails and enjoying a satay something. (I hear Prince Harry has been seen deep in conversation with a ‘mystery caller’.) The house classic is Havana-Banana-Awana but if that’s a bit of mouthful, go for Blooming Hibiscus.

For something that’s a bit more grown up, maybe even old fashioned, try the bar at The Zetter Townhouse (ZTH for those down with acronyms). It’s the latest venture of Tony Conigliaro, the man behind the now infamous and award-winning bar with no name at 69 Colebrooke Row, in collaboration with The Zetter. Inside is a boudoir of dramatic nick-nacks including taxidermy and old paintings. The dolled-up cat is a bit disconcerting and you wouldn’t want to get into a boxing match with the kangaroo on your way to the bedrooms after one too many, but the staff have the most adorable little outfits; you’d wish they were minuscule enough to pop into your pocket and take home. Figurines should definitely be the next thing on their agenda.

Tony Conigliaro and mixologistThe Master at Arms is the drink created for ZTH, which will be adored by all port lovers, but the Harvard is just that bit more aromatic. If you discover their games room with the ping pong table, you will almost certainly need reinforcements. The food at ZTH is provided by Bruno Loubet, chef/patron of Bistro Bruno Loubet just across the square. In fact, you can probably spot him dashing between the two once in a while. The charcuterie platter is particularly good, but just make sure you order plenty of bread.

Of course if you don’t mind venturing further afield, the bar with no name comes highly recommended, by everyone. In the lab above 69 Colebrooke Row, Tony concocts some of the most interesting cocktails around. With mini distillation devices and water baths to play with, there’s certainly a lot of experimenting going on. There’s even a Manhattan up there that’s five years in the making. The menu is completely different from ZTH, of course. If it wasn’t so seasonal I could drink the Rhubarb and Hibiscus Bellini forever, but for now there’s a Lipstick Rose and a Liquorice Whisky Sour to keep me company.

Now that you have a handful of recommendations to take you through at least a week and half, I hope, go forth and explore. But please, report back interesting findings. And do drink responsibly; fabulous cocktails aren’t made for binging, you know.

Good Godfrey’s, The Waldorf Hilton, Aldwych, WC2B 4DD. Tel. 020 7836 2400. Website.

The Folly, 41 Gracechurch St, EC3V 0BT. Tel. 0845 468 0102. Website.

The London Cocktail Club, 61 Goodge St, W1T 1TL. Tel. 020 7580 1960. Website.

The Covent Garden Cocktail Club, 6-7 Great Newport Street, WC2H 7JA. Tel. 020 7836 9533. Website.

Tempo,  54 Curzon Street, W1J 8PG. Tel. 020 7629 2742. Website.

Callooh Callay, 65 Rivington Street,  EC2A 3AY. Tel. 020 7739 4781. Website.

The Botanist, 7 Sloane Square, SW1W 8EE. Tel. 020 7730 0077. Website.

Awana, 85 Sloane Avenue, SW3 3DX. Tel. 020 7584 8880. Website.

The Zetter Townhouse, 49-50 St John’s Square, EC1V 4JJ. Tel. 020 7324 4545. Website.

69 Colebrooke Row (the bar with no name),  N1 8AA. Tel: 07540 528 593. Website.

(First seen on The Arbuturian)

Making Japanese cocktails at Watatsumi

Watatsumi is at 7 Northumberland Avenue Trafalgar Square London WC2N 5BY (this restaurant is now closed)

Watatsumi tables

Have you been to Watatsumi? It’s a bit fishy in there.

No, not in that “there’s something suspicious going on” sort of way but rather, they’re a bit fish obsessed.

You see I was recently invited to an evening of cocktail making at Watatsumi, the high-end Japanese restaurant at The Club Quarters Hotel. It was a great opportunity to hone my cocktail making skills, try a few drinks inspired by Japanese food and sample some of the seafood on their extensive menu.

The informal masterclass was held at the bar on a quiet Tuesday evening. You knew it was informal because there were guests sitting on the other end of the bar listening in – but that’s great because it means they’re not afraid to show off their skills. Unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for the participants – I know I made more than a few mistakes! But more on that later.

We started off with a Momiji – a champagne cocktail made with Midori, rose liqueur, Campari, Momiji (a spicy vegetable paste made with daikon) and of course champagne. One lucky volunteer, Tania, went behind the bar to start us off.

First, you shake up 15ml of the Midori, rose liqueur and Campari with half a bar-spoon of Momiji in an ice filled cocktail shaker. Then, after double straining into a champagne flute, you top up the glass with champagne. To create a tiered effect, you need to pour in the champagne gently and it’s best achieved with a swizzle stick that has a perpendicular base. To finish, slip in a few shreds of cucumber and daikon. Et voilà, a champagne cocktail with an unexpected kick. We were having some salmon maki rolls and that kick matched rather well with the wasabi.

I started browsing through the drinks menu to find out exactly what we were drinking and to see what else was available. But alas, all the cocktails we were making were new additions to the menu so I couldn’t find them in print, yet. But I did spot shoals of fish swimming happily around the sake list and darting between the pages to the wines.

The second cocktail of the evening was a Shiso martini. We were introduced to another new ingredient – the Shiso leaf. It’s like a mint but bigger, thinner and more delicate in aroma. Unfortunately that also makes transportation and storage a nightmare and consequently this means a reflection in the price.

For this second cocktail, Amy was the volunteer. And to make it, you measure out 50ml of Disaronno, 20ml of yuzu juice and 25ml of sake into an ice filled cocktail shaker. If you haven’t come across yuzu before, it’s an aromatic citrus fruit found in Asia that tastes like a cross between orange, grapefruit and lemon. Then you take two Shiso leaves and slap them in the palm of your hand to bruise them slightly, thereby releasing their aroma, before adding them into the cocktail shaker as well. Give the whole thing a good shake before double straining the contents into a martini glass. It’s very refreshing with the calamari.

Watatsumi fish lights

I tried to avoid being chosen for the final cocktail by admiring the lights. And it was very impressive too – a school of fish swimming around the light casting fish shadows across the room and when it’s quiet enough, create a wind chime effect. But it was no use. The final cocktail of the evening was made by yours truly and it was a Japanese mojito.

Having had many a mojitos in my time, I was off trying to add double shots of rum to my glass. Then of course I spilled the sake everywhere. In reality however, you should be muddling four Shiso leaves with some sugar, 20ml yuzu juice, 25ml rum, and 50ml sake in a glass filled with crushed ice. Top with more ice after the muddling and a splash of Chambord to serve. Mine was a little strong but that’s ok, it tasted pretty good.

Cocktails made, drinks had and dinner consumed – it was time to head off. But not before one last one for the road – a shot of lychee liqueur with ice cream covered in glutinous rice. Hic.

The long road to Mother’s Ruin

Garage door at Sipsmiths Distillery

Behind one nondescript blue door on a quiet residential street in Hammersmith, a single garage is the home of the microdistillery producing award-winning spirits. Located on the site of a former microbrewery, Sipsmith is the brain-child of Sam Galsworthy and Fairfax Hall. Taking advantage of a little wintry sunshine, I went to meet the makers to learn a little more.

Through the blue door, the distillery is clear – the still is at the back, the ingredients in the middle and the office just a couple of steps in. The office was already a hive of activity when I enter. Although Sipsmith is still a relatively small operation, it already seems to be bursting at the seams with five core members of staff and the occasional intern. Sam gives me a brief introduction to Sipsmiths before handing me over to Fairfax.

Prudence still at Sipsmiths Distillery

The inspiration for the microdistillery came in 2002.

Sam was working for Fuller’s in America and Fairfax had just started an MBA there. During their time abroad, they saw an explosion in the popularity of microbreweries and microdistilleries due to changes in legislation and were both fascinated by the processes involved. Having visited many establishments and sampled the small-batch beers and spirits, they were surprised and impressed by the quality of the products. Sam and Fairfax soon found themselves drawn to the idea of opening their own distillery in London, the home of gin.

Back in the UK, the idea lay dormant and Sam continued to work for Fullers while Fairfax went to work for Diageo. But it wasn’t for very long because in January 2007, they both quit their jobs, sold their houses and put all their effort into making their dream a reality.

Of course it wasn’t as easy as simply leasing the premises, getting the equipment and creating the recipes to set up shop. They needed a licence for the distillery.

Botanicals at Sipsmiths Distillery

Given that the last licence issued in London for a distillery was for Beefeater almost 200 years ago, the application process was long and tedious. For one, the procedure was dusty and unclear, and then there was the slow rotation of the bureaucratic clog itself. Sam and Fairfax pushed on nevertheless. And finally, after almost two years, they were rewarded with the licence to open a distillery in December 2008.

Today the inconspicuous certificate hangs proudly by Fairfax’s desk. As he tells me the trials and tribulations of obtaining this document, the birth certificate of the distillery, he hands it to me. It looked like nothing more than a small piece of paper encased in a wooden frame but for them it meant a lot of hard work and persistence.

Sam and Fairfax commissioned a copper still from the family run still manufacturers Christian Carl. The still needed to be one that allowed them the flexibility to make different spirits and of a suitable size so they can make it in small batches. Copper was chosen because it purified the spirits during the distillation process, extracting sulphur, ethers and fatty acids, so it didn’t need to be filtered post-production. They also employed the skills and knowledge of drinks historian Jared Brown to craft the recipe for their barley vodka and dry gin.

On the 14th of March 2009, Prudence, Sipsmith’s new still, produced its first batch of vodka from British barley and soon afterwards, dry gin. It wasn’t until the end of June 2009, though, that Sipsmiths crafted the final product.

Their hard-work has certainly paid off. Sipsmiths have won 10 international gold awards in the 17 months since their first bottle was sold and most recently, they won the award for Best Newcomer in the Observer Food Monthly Awards. This last one is currently occupying pride of place between Sam and Fairfax.

Inside the still at Sipsmiths Distillery

These days Prudence sits at the back of the garage space reliably distilling spirits in small batches. So small in fact if you type the batch number on your bottle of Sipsmiths into their website, you can find a little anecdote about the day that the batch was produced. The small batches also helps to maintain the quality of the spirits produced. And to demonstrate, Fairfax offers me a sample.

For the vodka, only the first heart cut (the portion with the highest quality) is bottled producing a spirit which is smooth and rounded with a hint of sweetness. The second heart cut is distilled again with 10 botanicals including juniper berries, citrus peel and coriander seeds to produce the very refreshing dry gin. The Sipsmiths likes to drink theirs with two parts Fever-Tree tonic to one part London Dry Gin, just add ice and lime. The head and tail cut of the distillates are currently wastage although, Fairfax tells me, a Sipsmith vodka car is on the cards.

With that I leave the Sipsmiths to their business. As I step back out into the sunshine, I can’t help but smile and think of Hogarth. It’s barely 11am and there is just a hint of gin on my lips.

Sipsmiths is at The Distillery, 27 Nasmyth Street, London W6 0HA www.sipsmith.com

(First seen on Foodepedia)

A hop and a skip to malt at Sambrook’s

Sambrooks brewery pull clips

Sambrook’s Brewery, Battersea, is a place full of reinventions.

The brewery’s co-founder, Duncan Sambrook, was a City accountant before he threw in the towel to become a brewer in 2008. The brewery’s premises in Battersea was a television studio prior to having its double-panelled floors stripped bare, the walls resprayed with hygiene paint and 20 barrel-capacity brewing equipment installed, transforming it into a microbrewery in the heart of London. In some respects the whole operation is rather like the revival of the brewing industry, with smaller microbreweries becoming increasingly popular compared to larger industrial manufacturers.

Reinvention has certainly suited Sambrook’s. Since its first cask was tapped in November 2008, over one million pints have been served to thirsty punters across London. Junction, one of its two permanent ales has even won Beer of the Festival at this year’s Battersea Beer Festival. So on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I headed down to Sambrook’s to see what the fuss is all about.

When I arrived for the tour of the brewery I was met by Duncan Sambrook in a reception area decorated to look like a pub. On display at the bar were the pump clips of the cask ales produced by Sambrook’s – Wandle and Junction. The Wandle is named after a tributary of the Thames, from where Sambrook’s draws its water, while the name Junction is derived from Clapham Junction, Sambrook’s nearest station. It all feels very local, which is exactly the ethos that Sambrook’s is trying to maintain – a London brewer making beer for Londoners.

We were also joined by a group of beer connoisseurs from Brighton CAMRA who were very enthusiastic about the pint of Wandle to start the tour. It was light, slightly sweet and very refreshing.

Given that my last tour of a brewery was the Guinness factory in Ireland, I had expected huge containers for the brewing and even bigger warehouses to store the hops and malt. The kind of place where you start to feel drunk just by breathing in. Sambrook’s was tiny in comparison so it was surprising to learn that by brewing four times a week, Sambrook’s actually produces around 27,000 pints. That’s a lot of thirst quenching.

Unlike most breweries, Sambrook’s likes to mill their own malt. It’s so that they get “just the right amount of sugar” to kick off the process. That much at least will be drilled into you by the end of the tour.

The milled malt goes into a vat called the mash tun where hot water is sprayed on top to create wort, the brown sugary liquid used for the beer. The wort is then pumped into the copper where it is boiled; hops are also added for flavour and preservation of the beer. The resulting liquid is allowed to cool before it is fermented for six days.

So a week later you have your tasty Wandle or Junction, depending on the mix of malt and hops used, ready to be pumped into firkins, kilderkins or barrels and delivered by Sambrook’s drivers to any of the 120 or so pubs within the M25 that serve their ales.

The tour was a real insight into the world of microbrewing and it’s quite obvious that Duncan Sambrook is as enthusiastic about his brewing now as he was on day one. This is a man who is proud to welcome visitors to his brewery, where tours with tastings are run Mondays to Thursdays plus Saturdays. And of course it wouldn’t be right if we didn’t end the tour with a pint of Sambrook’s other permanent ale; the award-winning, darker, stronger and slightly bitter, Junction.

Sambrook’s is at Unit 1&2 Yelverton Road, Battersea SW11 3QG www.sambrooksbrewery.co.uk

(First seen on Foodepedia)

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