Archive | March, 2012

Cauliflower – Welcome Back!

31 Mar

It’s been a long time! I’ve always hated cauliflower cheese, which is how most people in the UK get fed cauliflower, and boiled or steamed cauliflower has always just left me reeling in wonder at why someone had gone to all that trouble of growing the thing in the first place.

Not so bad after all!!

I’d completely written off cauliflower as something that might just thicken a soup or be curried to death. Then a couple of years ago, I went to Morocco where I was given a simple dish of … cauliflower. I have no idea what they did to it but it must have been marinated in something and there was a subtle taste of cumin. Cauliflower grows well here and I’ve had plenty of opportunities to cook it over the years but I never once thought of just frying it!!!

By frying or stir-frying with some basic spices, you can ensure that it keeps its form much better and to my palate at least it brings out a real tasty nuttiness. A far cry from soggy white veg or being covered in a stodgy white sauce. This is so obvious I feel a bit stupid. I now feel like the football manager who bought a player pre-season only for him to get injured before the season started and who now sees the return of this player – “It’s like a new signing.” A new signing for the kitchen.

With all this in mind, I’m convinced that there is a way to make cauliflower cheese appetizing. This is my mission, and I choose to accept it!! No doubt I’ll get some more cauliflower in the veggie box in the next couple of weeks and I’ll report back on the results.



Meet the London Brewers

31 Mar

Down, down, deeper and down. Down, down, deeper and down…..

These, I believe, are the words to the famous Status Quo hit single. They also represent the feelings of many a misguided Londoner who is forced to travel beyond zone two of the London travel system. To some, a  journey to zone 5 might put them in mind of the journey of convicts going down under all those years ago, does a man ever return and if he does will he ever be the same again? But those of that mindset would be missing out on the local phenomena which is The Hope.

London Beerfest at the Hope

The Hope is a small, local pub run  It has won awards and it is easy to see why. It still falls slightly into the category of ‘old man’s pub’ in that it would be slightly difficult to persuade someone not of the beer persuasion to go there but it is so much more than this. It’s a local pub in one of London’s so-called villages. In fact, you can still easily see the villageyness of the surrounding area despite it lacking Dulwich or Wimbledon Village levels of wealth. The pub sits well in its environs, not being t0o olde worlde but retaining enough of that classic pub charisma. Its owners put on regular festivals and some very traditional events such as wassailing, hog roasts, straw jack and fireworks. It also serves its community well and includes regular meetings of a local environmental group. The place even has its own ‘joanna’!!

I’ve had beer in a lot of pubs with good reputations which have fallen woefully short of my expectations, the Bree Louise near Euston station being one that springs to mind. Not so in the Hope. I’ve visited on quite a few occasions now and have been extremely impressed not only with the condition of the beer but also the variation on offer. The pub is run extremely well by people who seem to care about what they are doing. They seem bright, friendly and very knowledgeable about their products.

Thursday night saw the opening of their latest beer festival, one which was showcasing the new breed of London brewers.  Two of the brewers, from Brodies and Redemption, were there to talk and answer questions about their breweries and beers and there was a decent turn out for them. Not so many years ago, the brewing situation in London seemed pretty inadequate with Young’s moving out and only Fuller’s and Meantime flying the flag. As one of the brewers pointed out on the night, this situation was absurd when we remember that about a fifth of the population of the country live in the London area. Fast forward and now the situation is far healthier with Sambrooks, Kernel, Brodies, Redemption, By the Horns, Twickenham Fine Ales, Moncada, Camden, East London, London Fields, Ha’penny….

In a marquee in the pub garden, the brewers turned out to be very open and friendly and, amongst other things, talked about their history, inspiration, plans for the future and the difficulties they faced getting hold of new world hops . They passed round sample hops in plastic bags and looking around the room one could be forgiven for thinking they were at a middle-aged glue sniffing convention.


Well, man’s not a camel as they say so I did sample a few of the beers on offer. The following are not intended to be tasting notes but they are the nearest you’ll ever get to them from me.

Boggart Dark Mild 4% (This was off the bar and not actually a London beer – OK)

Brodies London Lager 4.5% (A very hoppy lager, Simcoe and Centennial hops – Quite nice, interesting but I wouldn’t have too many)

Moncada Notting Hill Blonde 4.2% (Session pale ale Citra and Cascade hops and Maris otter and Munich Malt, the most laid back of the beers I tried but perhaps, boringly, the one I really liked)

Brodies Brainwave 4% (Simcoe hops. Described as a session pale ale but far too grapefruity and even peachy for me, very, very hoppy, belied its strength)

Redemption Port and Brandy Porter Special 5.8% (brewed exclusively for the festival, this was the first time I’d had brandy added to a beer, more of a christmas beer to my tiny mind)

Brodies Summer Saison 8% (Felt like a much weaker beer, a little fruity, citrus, didn’t really taste like the classic Belgian saisons but was very enjoyable)

All in all I’ve only got high praise for The Hope, if there was one drawback it’s the lack of food but then that’s not really the point of going there. In a month from now they are having another beer festival and the theme for this one is ‘extreme beers’, sounds like fun. I, for one, will be returning.

Short video here

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to …

30 Mar

…… and sneeze and cough and splutter…

I love spring. Maybe more so because I know I might just have a short time to really enjoy it. The current weather, while not so palatable for farmers and gardeners, is ideal for human beings. Most human beings that is. Unfortunately, I belong to another group of human beings who will be spending springtime burying their faces in handkerchiefs. Here I am face and fingertips pressed to the window looking longingly out to the clear blue sky, orange tulips and blossoming trees while my next door neighbour spitefully mows his lawn. I close my eyes and wish for rain!

Hayfever is something that affects a lot of us. This year with the incredibly dry winter and warm weather everything seems to be blooming at once and it has finally caught up with me. I’m wondering what I can do about. I don’t want to spend every spring and summer dosed up with anti-histamine if it’s not absolutely necessary, especially as I feel so healthy in other ways. It’s too late for immunotherapy. I have heard that using powdered Bayberry bark as snuff helps with the symptoms but while I’m not averse to the idea of looking like a 17th Century fop, I have absolutely no idea what Bayberry bark is nor how to powder it.

So if anyone has any tips on stemming the tide of hana-mizu, they would be gratefully received.

Is there anything I can do about my hayfever?


Young’s at heart!!

28 Mar

Each time I walk past a Young’s pub these days, my heart sinks just a little bit. For those of an older generation, they can probably remember Young’s stance as a defender of cask ale in its darkest moments. I myself am not old enough to remember how John Young dug in, stiff upper lip boys, Dunkirk spirit and all that, and defended the cause. However, it was one more thing that appealed to me about the brewery’s story.

Young’s brewery was one with a lot of history. Located on the River Wandle, a stone’s throw from the Thames at Wandsworth, brewing there dated back to the early 1500s, and the video they used to show as an introduction to brewery tours suggested that Queen Elizabeth I herself had stopped off for a pint or three on her way to Westminster. It could be true, Lord knows she enjoyed a good quaff. It fell into the Young family in the early 1800s and remained so until 2006 when all brewing was moved to Bedford after a merger with one of the country’s least exciting brewers Charles Wells. A hole has been left in the heart of Wandsworth ever since. Young’s is now just another pub company, while Charles Wells deal with the brewing.

The brewery was full of stories and little quirks. It had a little farm with ducks and geese on it and had kept its stables as working stables until relatively recently, keeping up the old traditions such as delivering its ale to the pubs in the local area by horse and dray. All this, bear in mind, happened in the centre of Europe’s largest city and it wasn’t until the phenomenon of road rage, when rabid drivers started attacking the horses, that it eventually stopped.

When I lived in Wandsworth, a short walk from the brewery, most of the surrounding pubs were tied to the brewery and the beer in them was, as you might expect, impeccable. You may have thought this led to a limited choice of beer, which in one respect it did, but there was the added advantage of being able to buy the full Young’s range of ales, plus their export and pilsner lagers from these pubs. Yes, most of these were in bottles but then pubs with 10 handpulls were not exactly ten a penny back then. Being young and frisky at the time, I didn’t go to these places for a rip-roaring night on the town, it was more on those quiet nights when you sit down and enjoy a few beers and chat with mates. The choice was always a good one and I can remember Ordinary, Special, Winter Warmer, Oatmeal Stout, Old Nick, Ram Rod, Christmas Pudding Ale, Kew Brew, Champion, Special London Ale, Double Chocolate Stout, Dirty Dicks and maybe a stray Waggledance, all being sold behind the bar in the amazing gin palace of a pub that was and is the Spread Eagle. Other pubs also had an extensive range with take home deals. Great memories but sadly, no more.

The complaints that the beers had changed their character after moving from London to Bedford are well-documented in various places around the internet and I’m not one who thinks they’ve got worse. I drink their beers less and less these days anyway, gone is the blind loyalty I had to the old brewery and it’s a more exciting brewing world out there anyway. Winter Warmer and Special London Ale still stand up in my eyes but the charm has gone. Nevertheless, it’s still beer.

Young’s new lease of life as a pub company on the other hand has been a little more disconcerting. My main gripe with them is the interior designers they have employed to work on their pub estate!! All the new interiors seem to have come out of the A-Z of How to Strip a Pub of All Character and Charm by Lawrence LLewelyn Bowen. I walk past pub after pub that could have been updated extremely well and still screamed class and quality at a more well-heeled clientele but have instead been treated with a cheap-looking Changing Rooms makeover. Garish wallpaper and nasty obtrusive chandeliers. Horrible pinks and blues squashed together or just plain stripping of everything that ever was from the place. All of which will probably need updating in a year’s time. It’s no wonder my romantic vision has evaporated.

 The brewery site in Wandsworth is yet to be rebuilt but there are plans to build a modern town centre on the spot while retaining some of the older buildings. This is to include a microbrewery, which apparently has already been in limited operation. You can see a video of the plans along with some corporate twaddle from an uncomfortable man in a suit and an architect in an obligatory body warmer. You get glimpses of the old coppers and parts of the old stable too.

I really hope their plans do what they say but, to be honest, we’re not much good at creating either public space or buildings that will look good well into the future in our towns and cities. At least we haven’t been for a long time and as Confucius once said ‘When uncomfortable man in new suit speak, don’t hold your breath you mug!’

I swear that was Confucius, or was it from Monkey Magic?

What’s in your beer? Go on guess?

27 Mar

In the deepest depths of South London the other day. I found myself ordering a pint of ale going by the name of Otley Thai-Bo. Being thirsty, I necked it pretty quickly. It hit the spot as people often say. I automatically ordered a second, to which I paid a little bit more attention to the taste and less to its thirst-quenching abilities.

I’d seen the word Thai when I’d ordered it so I automatically assumed it had lemongrass in it. I asked myself if there was any coriander in it, like that older lemongrass beer Hop Back Taiphoon. That wasn’t really what I tasted although I had to fight through my preconceptions to come to that conclusion. The lime was clear enough to spot but there was also something that we all tasted in it that we couldn’t put our fingers on. “Ginger” said one. It wasn’t quite ginger but in the end we settled on ginger-ish.  That was it, they’d put ‘ginger-ish’ in the brew, that well-known adjunct.


A couple of days and a few googles later and the missing ingredient turned out to be galangal. An ingredient I regular put in my Chiang Mai Sausages. So much for my palate! You’ll forgive me when I say unusual ingredients are commonplace in the history of brewing, from meat to seaweed to jellyfish, and recently my attention was brought to the Napa of Beer blog in the States where there were sightings of mushrooms being used in beer. Good idea say I. Over here, I found out that this had also been done by the geezer from Sharp’s brewery, it’s a shame I’ve not seen it commercially. That last statement is purely personal opinion I would add.

It all got me a thinking about what I would like to see people experiment with in beer, so on the train I jotted down a list along the margins of a discarded free newspaper and here it is for your benefit:

  1. salsify
  2. butternut squash (I realize pumpkin has been done)
  3. rocket flowers
  4. sea buckthorn
  5. marsh samphire
  6. durians
  7. jamon serrano
  8. piccalilli
  9. Werthers Originals
  10. lemon verbena
  11. steak and kidney pie
  12. millionaire shortbread (just to make it an even number)

Just a thought!!

Spring = Free Food

27 Mar

In my back garden, French Tarragon grows and regrows in a raised bed that we call ‘Death Row’. Everything else seems to die there. It’s a classic herb and needs no attention whatsoever and I can pick it from now until November. You can’t say fairer than that.

Death Row Cell 1

A couple of years ago, I remember picking bags and bags of blackberries from outside Collier’s Wood Sainsbury’s while inside they were selling tiny little punnets at £3+ each. What was that about? OK that wasn’t spring but when I was picking I also noticed quite a bit of wild rocket still growing. I mention this because they are now happily spreading their seed around my garden. The bees love them, the other half loves them and I especially like the flowers put onto my salads, like nutty peppery sweets (which aren’t sweet!!??”!)

Rocket Flowers

Classic Apples #2 – Cox’s Orange Pippin

26 Mar

Everyone should know this desert apple. It’s popular and tasty and if you rattle it you can hear the seeds inside. I’ve chosen it because I have a small tree in my garden and this is how it looked at the weekend.

Apparently, Mr and Mrs Cox were responsible for this thing of beauty. Mr Cox was a Bermondsey brewer and a keen gardener who moved from London to the country to retire. The story goes that in 1825, Mrs Cox, his wife, was watching a particularly interesting bee working over some blossom on one of the apple trees and was so impressed that she marked the tree with a piece of ribbon. Her other half, took the apple pips from the apple his wife had marked and sowed them. Most of them died but two survived, one became the first Cox’s Orange Pippin and the other Cox’s Pomona. The tree didn’t become public until the 1840s and in 1857 this new upstart of an apple won first prize in the Royal Horticultural Society’s Grand Fruit Exhibition, much to the dismay of the traditionalists of the time!

A good story and if it isn’t true then I don’t want to hear about it. The Coxs themselves never heard about the full success of their apple, as they died beforehand. Trees being trees don’t like to be rushed. I’m taking this information as 100% evidence that the bee on the blossom part was true. The original tree survived until a few years before the outbreak of World War I, when it succumbed to high winds.

It is very, very nice and is very ‘complex’. A word I don’t like which means it has a range of different flavours that you may pick out as you eat it. Each apple is an edible journey. I can’t remember ever having one of these from the supermarket because there always seems to be someone giving you spares from the trees in their gardens. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fare too well outside England so I’ll just have one on your behalf if you’re not from round these ‘ere paarts!!!!



Eel Pie and Mash

25 Mar

Anticipation had been swelling up inside since early morning. This day he would be finishing before time and he was now gazing beyond the lop-sided heads in front of him to the large, round, white clock face on the far wall. Five more minutes. Enough for five more conversations. Five more life-sapping conversations.

The clock grew slowly in size as conversations, including his, faded into the periphery. The second hand tocked and vibrated, tocked and vibrated and he willed the minute hand to force itself forward with a little more urgency. Both hands, however, were resolute, confidently carrying out their duties.

The phone was placed in its docking station and he tried to recall his last conversation. He could only remember that it was with a man and that he’d passed on some information from the computer screen in front of him. He logged off, despite knowing it was a minute early and that Mr. James was very keen to squeeze every last drop of work he could out of every possible employee. Only last week he had belittled a part-time student who had packed up a few minutes early, reducing her to tears while the rest of the office looked on impotently or shamelessly concentrated that little bit harder on their task in hand. It was best not to test Mr James. After all, nobody was here through choice and he was the only boss in London who referred to himself as Mister.

The clock drummed 12.30. He bolted up out of his chair, grabbed his mobile off his desk and marched off to get his coat. Time was up and Mr James couldn’t touch him now. He decided to take the stairs down to the street, to help shake off the morning tension. He would take the bus there, the 57 was regular. There was a lady at the bus stop and he smiled at her but not so much as to engage her. This was something he was doing for himself and nobody could penetrate his bubble today.

The 57 bus was on time and he gestured to the lady to board before him, careful not speak. The bus driver was looking directly ahead at something beyond the road in front of him and as the green light beeped the last person on board he systematically put the bus in motion, still staring at that very same thing. Looking around the bus it was a relief that there were no school children on board. There were seats available and he could have sat anywhere but he was too excited to sit, he needed to keep moving. He watched people get on and off the bus and noted how people tend to make a lot more fuss during the daytime, perhaps they had more time to.

So what could he expect? A mind-altering experience? One that would change they way he thought forever? Or maybe just a good time. The bus rolled on. It passed an old village hall-like structure where muslims dressed in white tunics spilled out onto the street chatting happily. It passed a large supermarket and crossed a small river.  A tube station came and went and finally it reached Tooting Broadway, always bustling, always lively.

The road he was looking for was opposite the market. He knew where this was so he weaved his way to the market entrance and looked across the street. There was the road. He skipped across between the slowing cars and leapt up onto the opposite kerb. Was this really the street? He couldn’t see anything of note down there. It was a street with a fading breed of shops along it, a cobblers here, an ironmongers there and a dirty less-than-trustworthy-looking lawyers office  further down. Perhaps, it was fitting after all. Perhaps this wasn’t the renaissance he’d expected. He strained to see where it was but it couldn’t be seen. He walked deliberately towards the end of the low parade and from the corner of his eye, he noticed something bright, luminous. It was star-shaped and there was another and there another. This was it. Two small frosted windows either side of a very narrow double door marked the entrance and now he could see that this inconspicuous shopfront peppered with pink, green and yellow luminous stars was what he had been reading about for so long. Trepidation arose in his stomach. He pushed the wooden doors and slowly stepped forward onto an old tiled floor.

The doors jerked themselves closed behind him. The back wall was tall and tiled. Newer tiles blended in with some older, classier ones croaking back to more prosperous times. Five narrow tables jutted out from the right hand wall and thin fixed benches accompanied them. He glanced left at an overweight lady in a gingham smock and hairnet holding a ladle and then back to the benches where an old man sat spooning white fluff into his mouth. Self-consciously, he stared up at the menu board to compose himself. The menu board was packed with choices but closer inspection revealed that these were not choices but variations – Pie, Pie and Mash, Eel Pie and Mash, Eel 2 Pie and Mash, Eel Pie Mash and Liquor. All mash is lumpy said the sign. The lady was staring at him, waiting. He ordered Jellied Eels, 1 Pie, Mash and Liquor with a mug of tea and the lady expertly whipped out a pale blue bowl and with her spatula span it round dolloping lumpy mash around its flat edges. Next she ladled chopped eels into the middle and covered it in gloopy liquor. Really? Was this it? She finished off by wedging a flat ground beef pie onto the mash. He took it, along with a spoon and squeezed himself onto one of the benches. This place was dying and he felt the slow death creep over him as he spooned the food into his mouth piece by piece, looking round at the very few people who had been coming here all their lives.

Refine it please




My own experience with a Pie and Mash shop was similar. I’d always wanted to go but when I went it was hard to enjoy. The main reason being that the food was disgusting!!  Don’t get me wrong, I love eels and I love pies but not these eels and not those pies. Now the place I went to had a faded charm but I did feel like I was eating in a hospice. Maybe this restaurant was particularly bad. I’m not surprised they are disappearing from London but I’m equally surprised nobody has thought of updating the concept. Working class food doesn’t have to be quite so nasty and there are plenty of things you can do with both eels and pies. 

Mr Whippy Beer – Japan

25 Mar

There are things I admire about the Japanese and things I don’t. This one has left me not knowing not which side of the fence to sit on. On one side, the uncynical enthusiasm towards new fun things is something refreshingly Japanese, especially if you come from a culture where ‘piss-taking’ is king (UK), but on the other this is the world’s greatest living food culture desecrating one of the world’s greatest living culinary products. I can’t see them doing this to sake. If this takes off I won’t know whether to be truly appalled and cry or laugh along and slap my thigh!

Kirin are adding an ice-cold foam head to the top of the beer they serve. As if Happoshu wasn’t sacrilege enough! The head is frozen beer crystals at -5 degrees. Adding a frozen head to the beer!!! We all know that the idea of having beer at extremely low temperatures is a nonsense, there is nothing to be tasted once you get past a certain temperature despite what the marketing men tell you. It begs the question, why then do people drink these beers? Surely a soft drink would be a better option or indeed a Mr Whippy ice-cream.

Videos here.

What do I do? Laugh or Cry?

Emergency Mussels and Saturday Breakfasts

24 Mar

We eat less than half of the mussels we ‘produce’ in this country, which tells me we should be eating more of them. The Marine Conservation Society also suggest they are slightly under-exploited. I’ve seen them all around the coast in the UK and have even picked some from the seashore in the South West. When I’ve searched for old English recipes with mussels they always seem to be an ingredient that is added to a stew or pie, and sometimes grilled. They are not always given centre stage and indeed have been called the poor man’s shellfish.

I didn’t have a whole lot at home yesterday but was able to pick up a bag of mussels on the way home for my dinner knowing that I didn’t have an awful lot of time before I had to go out again.  However, mussels are notoriously deceptive in that you always buy them thinking that they won’t take long to cook but you always forget about the de-bearding process. Mussels attach themselves to things with their beards. I’m quite pleased that humans don’t do the same.


When I got home and realized just how little food I had, I initially thought the worst. But mussels lend themselves to few ingredients so I went to the garden and pulled up a leek and took an apple out of the fruit bowl. I rinsed, chopped and fried the  leeks in only the water that still clung to its surface. I added the chopped apple and a little cayenne pepper for good luck. Next in was the some leftover homemade elderflower wine and then the mussels. Lid on. A few minutes later the mussels were ready and I stirred in a bit of cream and threw some herbs from the garden on it. Job done and very little washing up to do.

Mussels in a rush

I must have got the proportions in the sauce spot on because it was lovely. It was sweet but just fell short of overpowering the mussels and the cayenne pepper was just there in the background. To be honest, this was more luck than judgement. I trusted the force and it came through.

(Marine Conservation Society Website and Greenpeace’s take on sustainable fishing)

I love my Saturday morning breakfast. They invariably revolve around spinach or chard but this morning I did add something I’ve never had for breakfast before. Ox kidney. I do enjoy pigs kidneys but these ox kidneys were more brainlike in appearance and there was a smaller proportion of soft meat on them. Nevertheless, I sliced off the soft parts fried them in some butter with a portobello mushroom, added some rinsed spinach and allowed it all to wilt down before cracking an egg over the top and whisking it around to scramble it. It was quick and really enjoyable. I’m not sure I needed the egg but it was still nice. Not overcooking the kidney was extremely important, as it seems to be with all organs. Keep the difference in texture between the mushrooms and the kidney to a minimum, if you know what I’m getting at!

Roll on the day. It’s been glorious weather this week and today looks marvellous too. Fine day for a nice beer.

Sexy Beer Glassware – My Top 10

23 Mar

There’s a lot of talk about glassware. There are those that don’t care for it or don’t notice it and there are those that talk endlessly about the importance of getting the right glassware for the right beer, because it’s sooo important to trap aromas correctly and to ensure you get the right sized head on your beer. Personally, it’s all about image for me. I don’t buy the glasses because of how they make the beer taste, I buy them for their seductive, sensuous feel in my hands when I’m drinking and because I buy into the idea that I suddenly become really sophisticated when I’m pouring a bottle of Chimay into my stemmed Chimay goblet and swishing it about like a 1930s lord dressed in tweed by his drawing-room fireplace, cognac in hand. So with that in mind I make no excuses for indulging myself in the following exercise in glassware masturbation. (Not literally of course, that would be quite hideous!)

These are my top 10 and I might as well tell you now that those steins you get in German biergartens are not on the list. They are a quite ludicrous drinking vessel.

10)  the nonik pint glass – This is looking a little bit old hat now but that little lip just under the head of your pint just accentuates the beauty of the pint, a fine measure of beer.

Bottom Right

9) the dimpled pint mug – This is one of the most awkward-looking of the list but it makes your beer look heftier. It has had a comeback in pubs recently, particularly in those which purport to be gastro pubs. It shows us they look after their beer, doesn’t it? I’ve included this because you can only have a sing-a-long sailor style with glass that has a handle. Obvious.

Dimpled mug on the sign

8) the tulip – so called because it resembles a.. a… tulip, apparently.Whatever it is supposed to be just look at those curves.

Get yer tulips round this








7) the conical pint glass – I like the oversized versions of these in decent pubs. A good size and you can still hold your beer up to the light to admire like a fool, unlike those ridiculous steins. Somehow these remind me of Edwardian pubs (I saw them in an old photo once) but are pretty much the norm these days.

Seen here with Dark Star Espresso








6) Maredsous flute – This a delicately poised glass, which somehow I feel like I’m always going to knock over. If this wasn’t the case it might have been elevated a place or two. Definitely not one for the faint-hearted!!!

A bit too close to the edge!









5) Fullers ESB stemmed pint glass – It doesn’t look like a pint glass but it ruddy well is! The perfect quantity marries subtlety. This allows you to maintain an aura of manliness whilst deluding yourself that you’re sophisticated. A unique combination.

Manliness is next to godliness!











4) Meantime stemmed curvy pint glass – Wouldn’t know what to call this one. It’s a relative newcomer on the scene but if you were to find yourself buying any of Meantime’s overpriced and overrated keg beers in a pub then this would ease the pain of forking out so much. It’s extra height allows you to run your hands down over its curves with the pretence that you’re just clearing away excess condensation, while a bit more girth sets your mind at rest that it won’t topple over like the Maredsous flute.

Girth AND finesse








3) Chimay Trappist Glass – An oldie but a goodie.  The Belgians know their bacon when it comes to glassware and this is one class glass. Nothing more to say.

Class Glass







2) Orval Trappist Glass – Nothing to do with Keith Harris, this was designed by one Henry Vaes. The chalice is something special from a Belgian monastery. Quite beautiful. If you don’t believe me check out this fellow’s great post and the photograph 3/4s of the way down the page. Orval and cheese  is a wonderful combination, but don’t you wish you could have designed those glasses?

Who is your very best friend?

1) Westmalle Trappist Glass – The Rolls Royce of beer glasses. Solid and weighty, beautiful lines. Finesse. This is truly, without sarcasm, a piece of art. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks so. A quick google search confirmed that at least one other gentleman agrees with me!

Perfecting Boiled Eggs

23 Mar

I never used to have many boiled eggs and when I did I used to just chuck my egg in boiling water for 3 minutes and be done with it but then I watched Heston Blumenthal’s How to Cook Like Heston programme on eggs and decided to check out his technique. It didn’t involve a blow torch and I didn’t have to cook it in 5 different ways.  Basically, you just cover the egg with cold water and bring to the boil. Once the water starts to boil you take it off the heat and leave in the water for six minutes. That, my friends, is it. Simple.

So I embarked on my own search for the perfect boiled egg. I thought I’d try out his technique and all would be well first time. Not so. For my first effort, I forgot the egg was in the pan and left it boiling for too long. This resulted in exactly the kind of rubbery egg I wanted to avoid. For my second attempt, I took it off the heat at exactly the right time and then forgot about it until about 10 minutes had passed. This resulted in a hard yolk. I tried again. This time I got the timings exactly right and it wasn’t rubbery but the yolk was still too hard. I tried again and this next time the white wasn’t quite ready. Why? I’d got the timings right, hadn’t I? Perhaps I was being stupid, so I got someone’s help to make sure I was doing the right thing. I was but the result still wasn’t quite right.

I was confused. ‘Heston is a fool! Damn that man!’ I muttered over and over again. At night I dreamed of eggs boiling and boiling and boiling and even asked my friends how they boiled their eggs.  They weren’t quite sure if I was referring to the hen variety or it was some kind of bizarre euphanism. Suddenly, just as I was about to break out in a nasty little rash, it dawned on me. The eggs that I get are a mixed box, of different sizes.  It was time to go back to the kitchen. Renewed, I experimented with reducing the standing times for the  small eggs and increasing them for the bigger eggs.

Yesterday morning, I (ahem) cracked it. The perfect boiled egg. Thirty seconds more was all it took for my bigger egg to have a soft, creamy but properly cooked white and a full on runny yellow yolk. It was lovely and I was finally able to enjoy one of life’s not-so-simple little pleasures. Today too, the small egg rested for five minutes and came out perfectly. Not one, but two happy mornings.

The question remains though, a month ago I didn’t have a proper concept of the perfect boiled egg, so is my life ruined now that I’ve to maintain this gold standard of high-class cooking every other morning and will an egg ever be the same again?

Oak Leaf Lunacy – A Brief Flirtation with Wine !!

22 Mar

Sometimes the urge to make things just overtakes you so it was inevitable that once I’d conquered making elderflower champagne and ginger beer I’d move on to the hard stuff. The bloke in the homebrew shop warned me as much. The bloke in the homebrew shop also warned me not to drink my elderflower champagne with vodka because my veins would swell up carrying the vodka to my brain like a shinkansen and leaving me senseless in minutes. I sometimes wonder what working in a homebrew shop all day does to a man.

My original idea was to make cider but since it was June that wasn’t on the cards. I’d bought the gospel according to C.J.J. Berry (renowned winemaking guru – deceased) and was flicking through to see what I could do to fill the empty hours of my life. Pansy wine sounded a bit homophobic, gooseberry wine sounded a bit expensive and parsley wine just sounded  plain ridiculous. Oak leaf wine on the other hand sounded like the most obvious thing in the world and why hadn’t I thought of that before, shouldn’t we all be drinking that every weekend? Shouldn’t we..? Surely we should.

So, off I strode off down to the River Wandle, a river which joins the Thames at Wandsworth near the site of the old Young’s Brewery, to look for some nice English Oaks. Young leaves I was told, so they are heavy in bitter tannins. I found a tree easily enough and spent a good 13 and a half minutes picking some very sticky young oak leaves and bagging them up to take home. Young children, stopped their games to watch and very soon I had a captive audience. Soon after that, I had a number of mums shooing them away from that odd fellow standing under a tree with a plastic bag. Perhaps this wasn’t the norm round those parts.

I made my sticky exit and got down to the business of making me wine. 4.5 litres of leaves were covered in a boiled up syrup of 4.5 litres of water and 1.5 kilos of sugar (I can hardly even look at that these days) and they were infused overnight before being strained into a demijohn and 10g citric acid and yeast added.  This was to be racked into new demijohns when it cleared and once more two months later.

The problem with making wines is that while watching fermentation in action in a jar is quite sexy, the novelty soon wears off and you have to wait for ages before you’re on to the next stage, and far longer before you can actually drink anything. These steps can easily be forgotten. I won’t say that I forgot about it but I wasn’t quite as attentive as I could have been. Nevertheless, when I racked it first time I tasted it and, lo and behold, it tasted like wine. Very sweet but it did taste like wine, a white wine obviously. I left it to continue its fermentation re-racked it at some point before bottling it and having been told that it is at its best the following summer after picking, left it in my garage for 2 years.

Now that last bit is a bit of a fib, as me and me mate Bob did get round to opening one bottle a lot earlier, but having had a couple of bottles of Rochefort 10 beforehand not to mention other miscellaneous brews and most likely a load of smoked sausages too, we weren’t really in a position to judge it. Despite this, we did judge it. Something along the lines of:

‘Bloody Hell! This tastes like wine.’

‘It does, you’re right, it tastes like wine.’

‘I can’t believe it tastes like wine.’

Nor can I. But it does taste like wine, doesn’t it?.’

‘Yeah..’    etcetera etcetera etcetera

The funny thing is I don’t like wine that much and would never buy a bottle of my own. However, I am fascinated that you can make something like this with just leaves! All hail the leaf is what I say! Anyway, the other day I decided that the time had come to put the wine out of its misery by attempting to drink some of it.

So what happened? When it came down to it had I produced some magical liquid from one of mother nature’s most iconic trees? Could I hold my head up and proudly offer it to friends as presents at Christmas time? Would I be taking it to the Dragon’s Den next year in the hope of getting the humiliating capital I needed to start full-scale production?

I opened it to a little tshh sound and then the bubbles started to tease their way up the bottle. I had forgotten it was sparkling, I hadn’t wanted to add any impurities to stop the fermentation. It poured lovely and clear, but as a white wine I suppose that was a given. The bubbles rose with more force and I began to pour into a 1/3 of pint glass. It had a little head and I reminded myself how I didn’t really like champagne. Still, this was mine and I wanted to love it.  I readied myself, picked it up, told myself I’d drunk worse things in Nam and took a mouthful. So what was the verdict? Well the wine was……. quite drinkable. The End.

I don’t really do tasting notes. Suffice to say the Dragons can keep their cash.

Calorie Lady Talks – Fats, Carbs, Heart Disease and Public Health Advice

21 Mar

If any of you take an interest in nutrition, which I do despite my beer obsession, and have listened to the BBC programme about calories that I linked to here, then you may also be interested in the following links. Zoe Harcombe, one of the ladies interviewed on the programme about the usefulness of using calories as a measure and author of The Obesity Epidemic speaks of the need for the general public to be better informed about what are carbohydrates and what are fats and what the government are advising us. Here she also talks about fat and heart disease.

I’m not in the business of promoting particular individual’s diets to anyone so please note that although the link is to her website, where she is also selling a diet, I’m just sharing some knowledge. There is also a free e-book to download called 20 Diet Myths Busted, worth a quick read. Interesting stuff. I think I was a biologist in a previous life.

The Falcon Clapham Junction

21 Mar

The Falcon in Clapham Junction has always been a lovely pub, to look at. There are some wonderful glass windows and skylights and plenty of carved wood scattered around the bar. The bar itself is famous, having been in the Guinness book of  Records no less, for having the longest continuous bar in the world. It literally purrs with Victorian majesty both inside and out. OK I’m getting carried away a little bit but it really does look very nice.

The pub currently belongs to the Nicholson’s pub chain, which seems to be like a more upmarket Wetherspoons. Perhaps that is being a little unfair. However, it is part of the Mitchells and Butlers portfolio of crap chain bars which also includes Harvesters, Ember Inns, All Bar One and O’Neills. What Nicholson’s has in its favour though are its properties. It has a large number of rather nice traditional style pubs which are of architectural importance, at least to those of us who value pubs and our heritage. Among its other pubs are the Blackfriar, the Tottenham and the Argyll Arms, all of which have classic pub interiors. In recent years, the beer ranges seem to have improved greatly too. Once upon a time only the ‘standards’ used to make their way onto the bars. You know, London Pride, Spitfire, Deuchars, Landlord, etc. (3 of which I do actually like).  These days the situation is far more inspiring, with the range available including many newer breweries or microbreweries such as Thornbridge or Otley. An increase in the number of handpumps has been witnessed in their estate across the capital.

Going back a few years and I don’t know who owned the Falcon but it was an unloved pub trading on its location and pretty much that alone (it is situated next to the busiest railway station in Europe). The beer choice was poor, really poor standard Green King IPA and Bombadier that hardly anyone used to order. A brief attempt to turn it into a sports led pub followed and I’d pretty much given up on the place. Nicholson’s have gone in and, in my opinion, done quite a good job. The redecoration was rare in that it only spruced up what was already there and played up to the interior’s history. It now holds beer festivals and typically serves 18 cask ales along with many keg beers good and bad, which should be great. I wonder if it warrants so many as they can be of varying condition but generally they are ok. The staff, it has to be said, are not the most efficient or friendly I’ve ever encountered but when are they ever in a station pub.

If you have to drink in a chain pub, you could do a lot worse than drink in a traditional interior with a fine selection of beers. Just don’t order the food!!!

Party Cask Ale Heaven and Hell

19 Mar

Supposedly one of the nearest things to getting cask ale into your house.

mini keg

A while back I got the following 8 pint mini casks in for a little get together with some friends. I liked the idea of them. Flexibility and choice. But what did I think of them and were there any differences in quality of the products and suitability for the occasion, rather than just in the beer?

The beers were as follows:

Bath Ales Gem – decent session bitter 4.1%

Hop Back Summer Lightning – classic, ground-breaking-in-its-day Golden Ale 5%

Thornbridge Sequoia –  American Pale Ale 4.5%

Thornbridge South Pacific – Grapefruity Pale Ale 5.2%

Lovibonds Henley Dark – Victorian inspired Porter 4.8%

Wolf Granny Wouldn’t like it – Rich fruity red ale 4.8%

Wolf Straw Dog – Light clear Wheat Beer 4.5%

Most of the guests regularly drank beer but not always with any great care and attention, so it was no surprise that the Bath Ales Gem was the one most people liked. Fortunately, I’d ordered a few of these. It was also easy to use, it poured well, was well-packaged, was in good condition and there was little wastage.

Not so the Thornbridge Ales. Despite being one of my top two from the list taste-wise, the Sequoia dispensed about four pints of beer and four pints of dredge. The South Pacific fared the same, so regardless of how much I like Thornbridge beers, I’d have to say that they were not value for money.(All the beers were stored the same way and were allowed plenty of time to rest.)

Wolf’s offerings had a mixed response, they poured well and were well packaged, delivered efficiently from the brewery and had little wastage. The Straw Dog was well received taste-wise, without anyone ranting on about it but most people found the Granny Wouldn’t Like It a bit rich. Fortunately, I didn’t buy too much of it. (I do like this beer though).

Lovibonds Henley Dark was my favourite beer from the list. I loved it. BUT. No matter what you tried to do it just wouldn’t pour properly. Two fingers of ale and 2 hands of head. It was explosive. Everyone got fed up trying to pour some and as a Porter wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea anyway,it got left. More for me but a shame as I wanted people to try something new. To be honest even I got fed up trying to pour it.

Finally, Hop Back Summer Lightning which was the best value in terms of delivery because I picked it up from their South London backstreet pub. It was £16, which was the cheapest. Beyond this, it was also excellent in all other respects, it was particularly easy to pour and a beer people could easily go to when they thought the other beers were getting a bit heavy or they were missing their, god help them, can of Fosters. It went down well towards the end of the party.

Summer Lightning and Gem, I felt were the most successful for the occasion, which is a shame as they are very standard in a way and you want people to be introduced to something new. Or maybe we are just too used to them. Would I buy another mini-cask of Thornbridge? I’d be very reticent to.

Spending all that cash on beer for people did make me think about landlords and restaurant owners. I always complain about the lack of beer choice and the same old faces on menus but perhaps most people just aren’t that adventurous.