Brewdog Colabfest 2014

To collab or not to collab that is the question.

To be fair those in the to not camp seem to be becoming more and more isolated. You’ve got brewers teaming up with brewers, beer writers linking up with brewers and even beer bloggers “brewing” with well… other beer bloggers! As was the case of the Pilsner Urquell Brewoff, which was very well captured by Tandleman here in his blog.

When some of the heavy weights do come together… it can whip up the kind of frenzied anticipation that I imagine might greet a Jay-Z and Beyonce/Kanye/Justin/etc or in my case Temple of the Dog* type collaboration. Queues of fervent followers desperate to get their hands on and mouths round the liquid delights of these hash tag multiplying ones offs.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 15.45.30However, I have not always been blown away by the end product of these much lauded unions. All fanfare and no show if you will.

So it was with some scepticism that I fought (literally) my way to the bar at Brewdog Shepherds Bush. It was rammed!!! Not enough staff to cope and I actually had a fierce argument with a woman who had shouldered past me and then tried to get served first. I informed here of her poor queuing practices and she claimed ignorance, which I debated. Things got a bit tense as we traded passive aggressive verbal blows; ” You go ahead and order! “ … “ No, no! You go ahead! “.

The whole thing ended with me ordering first and in true Canadian fashion feeling horribly guilty and apologising to her. To add insult to injury her chilled man friend quoted one of my favorite quotes; “Worse things happen at sea”. I tried to bond with him over it, but it ended up feeling hollow and reasonably inappropriate. Sniff.

Where was I ? Oh yes walking back to my seat in a west London craft beer bar with a couple 1/2 pints feeling like a total tosser.

Now what was different about these collaborations was that it wasn’t two or three breweries coming together. Brewdog had the genius idea to twin up each of their UK bars with shit hot brewers that were nearest to said bars (their marketing continues lead the pack here in the UK). Thus giving each beer a regional, local focal kind of feel.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 15.45.05Seeing as I hadn’t eaten dinner yet I got to work on my five a day with Lovibonds and BD Shepherd’s Bush Purple Rain; a foraged fruit sour. Was good and tangy, not too acidic. Liked the texture of it, not thin and weedy but muscular and chewy.

Next was a double header, swapping between sips/gulps of Alechemy‘s liaison with BD Dundee and Buxton Brewery tangoing with BD Nottingham.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 15.43.55Obviously they have heritage to spare up in Dundee as Alechemy burned actual timbers from the RRS Discovery to charge this Smoked in History smoked porter. Lean texture, fresh feel with balanced cocoa and coffee. Oh and smoke of course; just the right amount. Though I doubt Captain Scott would have approved.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 15.44.28I am a real fan of Buxton and their Rough C’s brewed with the help of the merry men and women of Nottingham was a real coup. I’d never tried an oatmeal amber lager (a what?!) before, so wasn’t sure what to expect. Lovely texture and feel (oatmeal take a bow) and very easy drinking. Liked the subtle malt sugars mingling with the creaminess of the oatmeal (again), but yet left it left my palate crisp and clean. Nice work.

Ordering food seemed a good idea at this point and am glad I did because they do some mean wings at BD Shep Bush. I opted for the North Carolina variation and demolished them along with some sinfully yummy tater tots, just beer numero quatre landed.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 15.44.13The Wild Beer Co are easily one of the top 5 breweries in the country and continue to evolve. Their creation in partnership with BD BristolRosa Canina Saison, which was nothing short of spectacular. The beer was delicious and balanced as it walked a tight rope of aromatic rose petal, tart rosehip and savoury rosemary. Not content with just making a fabulous beer, this colab showed some wit by in naming it. On first glance it’s simply the latin name for the shrub rose (native to Europe) that was used in flavouring the beer. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that Rosa Canina’s common name is the Dog Rose. Very clever, very clever indeed.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 15.44.40After my four stop tour round the UK I came back to London with The Five Points Brewing Company and BD ShoreditchSmoke and Mirrors, a well trod metaphor for deception was slightly misnamed in my opinion as it was anything but fraudulent. This smoked porter showed class in spades: lovely rich silky feel, but wasn’t cloying or boozy (7.8% ABV). It had a wonderful depth as well with hints of cinder, cocoa nibs and espresso foam.

It was time to cross the street and go to a gig (Jungle; who didn’t exactly have me crowd surfing). After the show I felt I needed one last one off, but upon arriving I was a little at a loss as what to have.

Had really wanted to taste Ilkley Brewery and BD Leeds Westwood Stout, brewed with white chocolate. But sadly they had run out.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 15.44.55I sampled a few but being a Toon supporter I settled on a Tyne Bank Brewery BD Newcastle brew called Amba Necta. It sounded like the perfect dessert beer; a honey and apricot amber ale, sadly it didn’t particularly wow me. I freely admit though that by this point my palate wasn’t at its best (I blame the bottle of plastic cider… whoops I meant plastic bottle of cider in the Shepherd’s Bush Empire).

Based on this showing? To colab is most certainly the answer.

* Temple of the Dog was a one off musical collaboration to commemorate the untimely of passing of Andrew Wood, lead singer of Seattle rock band Mother Love Bone. TotD was the coming together of Soundgarden’s front man (and close friend) Chris Cornell and MLB band members Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament. A certain Eddie Vedder was enlisted and with Matt Cameron (also Soundgarden) on drums they released this self titled album in 1991. Of course Gossard, Ament and Vedder went on to form Pearl Jam with their first album Ten coming out that same year. While also in ’91 Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger hit the airwaves.

Other notable 1991 releases: Nirvana – Nevermind, Pixies – Trompe le MondeMetallica – Metallica, Guns n Roses – Use Your Illusion 1 & 2, U2 – Achtung Baby, REM – Out of Time, The Tragically Hip – Road Apples, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik , The Smashing Pumpkins – Gish, Lenny Kravitz  Mama Said, Massive Attack Blue Lines and Enya – Shepherd Moons. 

Shit, that was a good year of music.

Loved me some Enya back in the day.

Hawkshead Brewery and Bar

Now the reason that my lady and I were in the Lake District for my birthday at end of March this year was because I had complained to Virgin trains. The reason for a strongly worded email was the result of a crap journey to Stockport; for which I was given two first class train tickets to anywhere their trains went in the UK. Before some smart ass asks; no I wasn’t complaining about the state of Stockport.

Though I would be remiss if I didn’t give my readers a wee amuse-bouche of what one might expect to encounter at Stockport station after a shit journey on a Tuesday lunchtime. As I strolled out of the entrance in search of a cab, a bored child hurled a mostly empty coke can in my direction; it just missed me. A few feet away, oblivious, his equally disenfranchised looking pram toting mother swore loudly into her phone. Nuff said.

So after our free 1st Class journey to Oxenholme and a round the houses cab journey to Kendal we arrived at our superb B&B. Beech House does a bang up cooked breakfast and is easily one of the most cozy and inviting places I have stayed in the UK (no small feat). I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who finds themselves in Kendal or anywhere near Kendal.

It was a short train ride from Kendal to Staveley the home of one of Cumbria’s finest; Hawkshead Brewery. There was a stack of twittersations fired back and forth as I tried to arrange a peek round the 20 barrel brewhouse. But arriving on a Friday evening the day before a big private event was inopportune to say the least. Thankfully on premises they’ve built a large, modern, spacious brewery bar that serves their beers in cask, keg and bottle as well as kicking out some good grub. Plus it was open till 11pm. Result!

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.23.14I was wearing a grin a mile wide as I strolled into the airy, wood bedecked barn of beeryness (which I managed not to photograph); because it’s exactly the kind of place that is transforming the culture of beer drinking in this country. There weren’t any nooks with beeping fruit machines, nor a toilet that looked like it had last seen a mop in the late eighties. Not even a bar propped up with leering untrusting locals looking to lynch a Canadian Londoner beer geek.

The Hawkshead brew hall was bright, clean, buzzing with the laughter and chatter of people of all ages. Kids dashing around as their parents caught up with friends. Couples young and old in for a meal and a few pints. The kind of place I would spend way too much time if it was my local, which must have been the case for the folk of Staveley as it the joint was packed. We managed to grab a recently vacated table and armed with the food menu and some instructions from my dear lady I waded past tourists and toddlers to the bar. Busy as it was I didn’t have to wait too long to be asked what I might like from a smiling member of staff. I ordered a couple taster sticks and an assortment of edibles.Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.23.30

Back at the table we worked our way through Stick 1: Bitter/Windermere Pale/Red and Stick 2: Brodie’s Prime/Dry Stone Stout/The Illusionist. 

Stick 1: was ok enough with the Red coming out top it with some nuttiness, red berry tartness and nice texture. However, I found the balance and the “feel” of the Bitter and Windermere a fraction out, in terms of what I look for in those sorts of beers.

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.23.44Stick 2: full of dark beers was much more enjoyable. My favorite was probably the Dry Stone, I do love an oatmeal stout and this one had it all; black treacle, espresso and a texture that bordered on the sensual. Brodie’s was fresh, chocolatey with a hoppy bite. I know it’s not the done thing to say a cross word about Magic Rock, but my least favorite was probably the Illusionist. This much heralded colab with Hawkshead, though interesting lacked something for me and wasn’t up to the level of other two.

My dissection of the beers was slightly interrupted as our grub landed. Scotch egg & piccalilli: warm, eggy, tangy and piggy in all the right places. Deep fried whitebait & tartar: crisp light batter, rich mayo gherkin pickle saucy and crisp fishy yum yum. Sticky BBQ baby back ribs: stucky sweet, smoky finger sucking tasty. Homemade fish goujons with garlicky butter were a delight; crunching not too greasy batter and moist fish. The piece de resistance though was a Yorkshire pudding filled with: local beef braised in Brodie’s Prime and horseradish sauce. The missus and I were literally elbowing each other out of the way to lick the plate, it was that good. There were corn fritters and mushrooms on toast too but were less inspired. But it all got eaten, so couldn’t have been that bad.Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.24.21Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.25.01Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.24.32Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.24.41

By this stage the sticks had run dry, so I opted for a half of the Lakeland Gold to wash down the remnants of our eclectic tapas feast. That familiar refrain was back though, some missing notes that left me wanting.

Deciding on whether to have dessert or not was a no brainer as they had baked Alaska a la Lakes. Brodie’s Prime made an encore soaking the chocolate brownie base, add poached damsons, ice cream all cocooned in meringue and baked. Sounded like heaven and looked a dream when it arrived, but unfortunately upon eating, it came up a little short. Certainly tasty, but not enough ice cream and the brownie could have done with another good glug of the B.P. if I’m honest. Ah well…Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.25.12

The evening was edging on we were running short on trains back to Kendal, but surely there was the time for a quick night cap? After a short debate with myself I decided on two halves from their speciality range: Hawkshead IPA and NZPA (New Zealand Pale Ale) both on keg. Rather sadly I enjoyed neither and disliked the NZPA so much I didn’t even finish it. My issue? The hopping*. I am all for big hops in beer, but it needs to be balanced. The resin character was so astringent that simpled overpowered almost everything else going on in the beer. Which was a shame.

Despite some of their beers tasting out of tune (in my humble opinion) my visit to the Hawkshead brewery and beer hall was a very pleasant experience. It is a beautiful inviting space in which to enjoy good beer, tasty food and warm company.

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.23.57Walking outside I was struck by the quiet and the thick darkness beyond the glow of the beer hall windows; a muffling cloak of coal, punched through in places with sparkling diamond stars. It’s easy to forget that such a world exists when we live in a big cities. The roar of jet engines and millions of lights filling up our senses. My breath came out as steam and we wandered our way to Staveley station.

*Now there will be people who disagree or call me anti-hop (love hops I do). But for me good beer (or wine or spirits or food) should have an equilibrium. I would go as far to say that balance is probably the most important factor when I am assessing a food or beverage. When it’s in perfect harmony; a drink or plate of food is lifted from the simply good into the magnificent.

Postscript: I recently came across Hawkshead Lakeland Lager in bottle at one of my local pubs and so gave it a try. I am an optimist and really wanted to be impressed so as to dispel my reservations about some of their beers.

It reminded me of Grolsch. Which sadly is not a good thing.

Won’t stop me trying their beers again though…

 

Peckham Burger @ Anderson & Co

Some years ago (like 2008/2009) the grand trendsetter looked upon the great city with its many diverse eateries and despite the health warnings said ” Let there be meat… Shit loads of it… Oh and pop-ups. Pop-ups are like the shizzle”.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 17.42.24And the people rejoiced for more meat and a multitude pop-ups seemed to be what their lives were missing. But not in the tired boiled/fried or the random installation art way of the past oh no, this was a new dawn, mashing up: craft beer, kimchi, live music, funky art and antiques, hotdogs, DJ’s, lobster and those revered culinary techniques perfected by our rebellious cousins across the great sea. Carnivorous creations of: ribs sticky and sweet, chicken wings made of hellfire with blue cheese dip, slow cooked pork spiced and pulled to the point of no return, steak so big and bloody young children hid their faces at sight of it and last but surely not least that flagship of Americana, the mighty Hamburger.

Last Friday I met up with an old friend who lives Peckham Rye (my old hood) and he suggested Peckham Burger chez Anderson & Co. Chilled hand crafted food cafe by day and by night (Weds-Sat) it morphs into aScreen Shot 2014-08-04 at 17.43.23 slick patty and bun operation kicking out simply: beef, chicken, veggie (mushroom) and skinny (bun-less) burgers to which you can add bacon, cheese, etc… Sides were equally minimal: bloody mary salt fries, mac n cheese and coleslaw. There’s a few puddings as well; the specialty being ice cream sundaes with Jude’s the star of the show. It’s not a huge place; room for about 40 covers (give or take) if you include the handful of tables out front and the nice fairy garden in the back where we sat.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 17.41.44The drinks list is slightly more filled out with a good selection on non alcoholic options featuring Luscombe Drinks and Owlet Juices. Wine is simple and straightforward with a choice of one red (very solid Chateau La Bastide/Corbières) and one white (Inzolia from Sicily). Quite pleased to see a couple of very local beers in Peckham Pils/Brick BreweryRed Ale/Brockley Brewing and the only slightly further afield Kernel IPA/The Kernel Brewery (who have become a deserved regular on some of the UK’s best eateries). There were some more mainstream lagers as well but didn’t take much notice of them.

By way of aperitif I had a Peckham Pils (I’d tried to drink it on two previous occasions but both bottles were flat/faulty). Clear, bright with decent head retention and a touch lager stinky. The palate was alright, crisp and pretty clean, but they’ve still not got it quite right for me. Though I do like their Archway Steam.

Still thirsty I ordered another beer along with the Chicken Burger (au natural) and some of the cocktail seasoned fries. First to arrive was the Brockley Red Ale and I was much pleased. Rich rusty tone and nutty, earthy, red berry nose. Impressive texture to it, nice balance of sweet malt and savory hops. Yum I say!

My CB and fries landed and I tucked right in. Suffolk chicken thigh marinated in tomorrosso (tomato), garlic, basil, oregano, chilli with lettuce, tomato and our aioli on a cholla bun was how the menu described itScreen Shot 2014-08-04 at 17.42.01. My tastebuds went with “Oh my flippin gawdness!!”. Gonna out on a limb and say it’s the best chicken burger I have had in years. A real masterpiece; from the cooking of that juicy tender Suffolk clucker, to the tangy vibrant marinade, which balanced just right against the mellow garlic mayo and the sweet soft as a pillow cholla. Senfrigginsational! The fries kept the standard high. Skinny frites with a perfect crunch to them, not greasy and I must say the addition of Bloody Mary salt was inspired. Raised the chip up to someplace special. Oh and their homemade tommy k was awesome! Had just the right amount of sweet, sour and spice.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 17.43.01To top it all off that red ale was the perfect match, it’s weight and feel beautifully complimenting my heavenly bird in a bun.

Service was spot on; relaxed, friendly and efficient.

Perhaps the bill was a bit more than you might expect to pay for 2 burgers, 2 fries and 4 beers, but we are in London after all. I was more than happy to shell out; hell it’s not every day you eat a chicken burger that might just Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 17.42.12change your life (ok didn’t change my life, but it certainly made my week).

Oh lo the grand trendsetter said unto them  “Some pop up burger joints are created better than others.”

Amen to that.

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Ergon Deli & Restaurant

Now I imagine this won’t come as much of a surprise but I am a bit of a food and drink snob. One facet of my “affliction” means I rarely eat out anywhere that I haven’t heavily researched online before I decide on it. Drives my lady nuts sometimes, but we usually eat quite well.

So you can imagine my terror when the idea of dinner was floated while out for after work drinks just before Christmas (eeek!) with friends near St Christophers Place in Marylebone (God help us). My iPhone was immune to my panic and was taking forever to load anything useful from Time Out etc. We went old school and started looking at menus outside the many touristy traps on James Street (cue the sweats). The first place we looked had pictures menus (ahhh my eyes!), and despite knowing we had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting a table I dragged our foursome to 28/50 Wine Workshop. When I inquired the host feigned sympathy as he knocked us back, but could see his thought bubble as if it was lit by neon saying ” No reservation? Are you guys high!? “.

Desperation had begun to set in, and we were all getting tetchy, small squabbles began to break out, someone needed to be blamed for our predicament. I was worried that they would all soon turn on me, being Mr “lay di da” Drink ‘N’ Eat. But as we wandered James Street for the second time I spotted something up and to the right on Picton Place. It didn’t look too packed, warm windows glowed with promise of safe harbour. We approached full of hope to have a closer look: Ergon Greek Deli + Cuisine it said in solid grey lettering above the closed awning. Ergon interior lowInside bustled two waiters to tables in a mostly full smallish modern clean lined restaurant. The menu looked appealing and affordable with sharing plates that made us throw the dice and go inside. Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 16.05.29We were greeted reasonably warmly and told yes they could seat us, but sadly it was at benches in the window. Not ideal for two couples looking to catch up. The ladies looked glum, and we gave subtle dirty looks to the twosome who sat at a four top behind us. We were so close, there had to be a way. After a few minutes and a smattering of less than friendly glances at our greedy neighbours they managed to seat us at a table that had just left. Meltdown averted. Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 16.02.48

We ordered a bottle wine I was familiar with, Notios Dry White from Gaia and we were off. The menu was well constructed with a diverse appealing range that made me giddy with excitement to order. Service wasn’t exactly attentive, and it took us a little while to get our order taken, but once we did, the food arrived in a steady stream.IMG_2965 Some tasty mixed breads landed on the table, then a dynamic duo of zesty vibrant Greek tomato salad with basil oil and feta cream cheese and a ridiculously decadent fava bean puree with cured pork siglino, caramelized onions and truffle olive. Siglino is a traditional method of curing that involves smoking the pork with sage, boiling it in wine and storing in jars with pork fat and orange peel (sounds like a rather expensive spa treatment if you asked me). The smooth rich texture of the fava beans set against that smoky fatty pork was an inspired pairing and the cleansing Greek salad balanced it perfectly. The Notios white went down very well and very quickly: fresh, clean but with plenty of citrus and volcanic minerals. Next came a dish I recalled from days of yore, saganáki (deep fried cheese) but it was as far from the greasy salt bomb I recalled eating in the 80’s. IMG_2967Their interpretation began with gruyere from Naxos rolled in carob flour, oat flakes, poppy seeds that was pan fried and served with rose petal syrup; it was A-Maze-Ing! Crunch went the oat flakes, pop went the poppy, salty dense intense cheese, the fragrant sweetness of the rose syrup; truly one of the most interesting and delightful things I ate last year.IMG_2968

A quality smoked fish platter was made all the more delicious by its minnow of a price tag (£8) and hearty Greek sausage stew was rich, but balanced with earthy roasted pepper and sprinkling of feta. We had long ago run out of wine but with the waiters struggling to keep pace we were forced to resort to water (I jest… I like water… just rather drink wine) as more food arrived.Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 16.03.50 There were subtle moans of joy as we tried the perfectly tender grilled squid stacked atop silky inky sensual black tzatziki. The squid was complimented very nicely by a slate of very yummy, crunchy fluffy pastries filled with pastourma (air dried beef) on a bed of tomato marmalade and yogurt.Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 16.03.59 Freshly cut fries didn’t stand a chance topped with our old friend Naxosian (is that a word?) gruyere, who showed a different side to itself: grated und melty.

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Finally, our bottle of Notios Red (medium bodied, tart red fruit, perfect with the food) arrived and in the excitement I managed to forget to take a photo of our last savoury dish: homemade gyros with warm pita and spicy Greek yogurt.Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 16.04.17

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 11.42.46This image is courtesy of Wikipedia but the flavours of the traditional Greek gyro are etched into my tastebuds from my time travelling Europe after I graduated from high school. For three weeks I lived rent free (hallelujah!) in place that was owned by relations of a friend of one of my fellow Canadian backpacking companions. I have many fond memories of that third (or was it 4th?) floor apartment with no electricity or hot water (was turned off while the owners weren’t there) on the outskirts of Athens. Nearby there was a family run gyro place that I shall never forget; holding that warm rolled (oh so) soft bread, aromas of flavourful grilled meat, then biting into fresh tomato, crisp lettuce, getting the vaguely sweet pita, salty succulent lamb and a cooling hit of spice laced tzatziki (I don’t recall chips in mine). Goodness I nearly teared up there. Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 16.04.48

What Greek meal would be complete without baklava? Traditionally dense sticky layers of filo pastry with nuts and sweet syrup, this deconstructed take was more mille-feuille, and with of the addition of dark chocolate, I quite liked it. We were stuffed and more than thrilled with the meal we’d just had: all the dishes were extremely well executed, generous, packed with flavour and individuality. Service had been scrappy but friendly and when the bill arrived there was much rejoicing. Bread, 10 divine dishes, two quality bottles of wine and 12.5% service only came to £137.25! A veritable bargain when eating out in Bond Street. Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 16.04.27As you would expect with the term deli on their sign they stock a ton of lovely products in it’s shop downstairs, so you can grab a few bits and try some Greek inspired dishes at home. Grecian fare is often overlooked in favour of its more glitzy neighbours from Italy and Spain. But Ergon and places like The Life Goddess in Bloomsbury are breathing new life into the London Greek food scene, and by Athena it’s bloody marvelous.

So what had started like a bit of a nightmare for a gastro-geek like myself, turned into one of my highlights of eating out last year. Run don’t walk to Ergon.

Good Beer and food in Tel Aviv

I went out to Israel for work last year, where I happily stumbled upon a vibrant and growing micro brew scene. Though on my 1st night I only managed to try Goldstar, one of only a few mass produced beers in Israel. They had it on IMG_1966draft at Frank, a hot dog palace of some quality. IMG_1962The Goldstar was amber brown, had some dark malt flavours and was very cold. It obviously did the trick with my red hot, because I didn’t even get a picture of it before it was woofed down. IMG_1975

The next day it was as if some unknown force drew me along the beach to Jaffa Port Market, in the beautiful bustling seaside to the south of Tel Aviv. Once inside the market I was reminded of Granville Island in Vancouver, back in my native Canada. A buzzing modern space with restaurants, cafes and stalls selling all manner of consumables. I hadn’t gone more than 30 feet when there it was, my El Dorado. Occupying a prime corner space near an entrance stood Beer Market, one of only a handful of craft beer shops/bars in all of Israel. I felt giddy and exalted perusing the shelves of local brews.

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To begin I sampled the 2 keg beers on offer: Dancing Camel IPA & Hamaka Harishona (First Punch) a Smoked Ale by HaDubim. The Dancing Camel was everything a modern style IPA should be, well hopped, fresh fruity & fully flavoured. HaDubim HH was subtle on the smokiness, had a good balance, overall a decent effort. Beers in hand I installed myself at the little bar attached to the shop, and blissfully spent the next five or so hours drinking beer, eating and talking to anyone who came near me.
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After the draft beers I was getting peckish and was directed by the boys at Beer Market to the hummus stand about 8 feet to my right. The line wasn’t too long, but I waited for nearly 15 minutes because every transaction became a negotiation: more of this, less of that, give me a few of those, before finally the money was handed over. I was getting a lesson in culture while I cued! I got my traditional hummus and spicy Israeli salad. Now I just needed a something to drink… After some back and forth I settled on a Wheat Ale From Malka. Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 17.04.29Tucking into my grub & sipping the beer I fell into a sort of trance, the kind where the harmony of food and drink are completely in tune. The hummus was out of this world, as good as I have ever had; the sort of texture that bordered on the sensual. I was thankful for the bracing electrical chilli heat and citrus crunch of the cucumber tomato salad, as it kept my moaning with every bite to a minimum. Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 17.03.21

Personally I think wheat beers are a versatile match for lots of cuisines. Good examples like Malka have a fresh lemony acidity and herbaceousness to them, which cuts through richness and cleans the palate. At the same time they have a freshness which allows them to pair well with more delicate dishes as well.

IMG_1997I chatted some more with the guys and met Hadubim brewer Dagan while I sipped a draft pale ale from Shapiro, which was perfectly good.

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I was getting hungry again and only had to go about 3 meters to a stall selling sandwiches, where I procured this rare roast beef beauty. The bread was as soft as velvet and biting into it, I felt a surge of endorphins as my pleasure center lit up. The flavours of that oh so tender beef balanced perfectly against the crunch of lettuce and sting of mustard. Of course another beer was needed so I returned to Dancing Camel and their very good APA. It had a lovely weight and richness, with a persistent but not overwhelming hop character. A superb match for the sandwich.Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 17.05.08

What struck me most as I sat watching men and woman of different ages come and go at Beer Market, was the genuine excitement that illuminated on so many faces as they saw or heard that all these beers were brewed in Israel. The country doesn’t have a brewing history as such and I felt as if I was glimpsing something at it’s very beginning.

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My most vivid recollection was of three men in their late 50’s. Working lads with broad shoulders and calloused hands, one with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his short sleeve shirt. They were hunting the shelves, asking questions and making their individual selections with the all the care and focus of school boys in a candy or comic shop. Their purchases made; they stood at the till admiring their choices, smiling to each other, giggling here and there, their eyes glinting with mixture of mischief, anticipation and pride.

Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 17.03.01Time was getting on so I had to get back to my hotel and freshen up. But I wasn’t about to leave without a few souvenirs, so I bought a half dozen bottles and bid farewell to my very gracious hosts.

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My gastronomic adventures did not end there though. IMG_2018That evening I went with a colleague to the heaving Port Sa’id for dinner. It was obviously a place very popular with the young and trendy set of Tel Aviv and we had to wait for a table. Once sat the menu arrived, all in Hebrew, so after some help from the waitress we ordered an array of dishes.

This smoky fruit Barkan Shiraz hit the right notes without being too in your face and paired well with our meal. Though the first thing I tasted wasn’t even ours,IMG_2008 it belonged to the very friendly locals on the next table, who let me try this beautiful beetroot carpaccio with garlic yogurt while we waited for our food to arrive. IMG_2012

Now not having a menu to refer to I sadly I don’t have an exact recall each plate. But the flavours! I can still taste the unique spicing, texture and seasoning nearly a year on.

Things like Beans ‘Masabaha’ Salad, slow cooked beef, BBQ lamb and an astonishing roasted cabbage were all utterly delicious.

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The menu changes daily depending on what the eclectic chefs are able to source, but Port Sa’id is a must for any foodie visiting Tel Aviv. A real gem.

Sadly I wasn’t able to see much more of the city during my short visit, due to my work commitment. I felt though that I’d gotten a small taste of this exceptional city, and it’s fascinating inhabitants. I came away with a greater appreciation and respect that I had not anticipated. For that I am truly grateful.

Jackson & Rye

The Americans are coming the Americans are coming! No I’m not talking tourists or invasion (though the tourists can make it feel like an occupation sometimes), I am talking food. London is overflowing with patty shacks, rib joints, dog stands and God save you if you don’t have Mac n Cheese on your menu. Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 17.07.51We also seem to have fallen back in love with the 20s, the speakeasy and brasserie all done up in moody, sensual, art deco curves are popping up as often as a flapper’s backside. Sister to recently opened Grillshackoffspring of Tommy Tune lookalike billionaire Richard CaringJackson & Rye is most definitely a nod across the pond to the kind of place we imagine New York to be full of. Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 17.04.33Cozy banquettes all deep brown, subdued lighting, walls that looked stained with the smoke of thousands of cigars. To the untrained eye J & R looks like it could have been there for 80 years, but the giveaway that they only opened their doors before Christmas is that the grand marble toilets are spotless & smell only of scented candles.Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 17.07.11 There’s a lovely bar as you come in, with seating upstairs as well as down with capacity for 130 diners.

I kicked off with a glass of their unfiltered lager which is brewed by Brewers & Union and quite good indeed. While we perused the sensibly priced brunch menu (which is pure Americana. The likes of Milk & Cookies, Buttermilk Pancakes, Corn Bread, Reuben Sandwich, Chopped Salad, wait for it… Truffled Mac n Cheese, etc) we moved onto their house fizz from the Loire. Francois Dulac Blanc de Blanc Mousseux Brut NV was cScreen Shot 2014-01-08 at 13.10.06lean, fresh and with hits of lime it impressed on the palate as well as the wallet, only £19.95. The wine list is well priced and thought out, with plenty of interesting offerings by the glass from Europe as well as the US of A. In addition to the unfiltered draft lager, they also do a handful of well worn Yankee names by the bottle.

To start we ordered the Market Soup, Chopped Tuna salad and Crab. The pumpkin soup was rich thick and came in a classy pewter jug. Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 17.06.07The twist came at the bottom of the bowl, a delicious spinach and ricotta ravioli. So using your spoon as a cleaver and digging deep you could pull up a mouth full of cheesy Popeye goodness with that creamy pumpkin richness. The chopped tuna was a bit of a let down. Seared and nicely presented but it lacked seasoning and could have done with a good squeeze of lime. The classic crab and avocado stack was substantial, decadent and raised to a new height by the pool of spicy tomato that it swam in.Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 17.06.29 A super dish.

Mains of Sea Bass, Meatballs and Rib Cut Steak were all reasonably accomplished. The sea bass didn’t look appetising, the colours bland and uninviting, but it wasn’t too overcooked, and the caper sauce did its job. Sadly the grilled baby gem came of the worst, looking sad indeed.Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 17.06.41 The veal & beef meatballs were a hit in their roasted tomato sauce, and certainly the best of the trio. The 10oz steak was acceptable, decent piece of meat cooked to an average standard. We got a few sides as well, Creamed Corn Grits (imagine fried crunchy creamy polenta) did what they said on the tin with aplomb, thought the Tomato Salad very tasty as well, but I can still taste the Olive Oil Whipped Potatoes. The texture of silk melting in the mouth leaving that fruity tang of the olive oil. Dreamy stuff. The Shoe String Fries were edible enough

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 17.06.59Pudding was probably the least impressive course with the Blueberry Cobbler lacking sweetness as well as substance. The Pecan Pie was alright, I have certainly had better, but it was just saved by a well made rye ice cream. Best was the Potted Cheesecake, thick sweet and the berry compote complimenting what was a quite simple dessert.
Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 17.08.19Service was a little inconsistent at times, but staff were warm and as we were there pre official opening I am happy to let that slide. Now taking into account its location in the heart of Soho, the prices, the quality of the food, drink, service and atmosphere I would go back to Jackson & Rye. Sure there are better places but for what it is, in the right company I could easily while away a day or night in its charming old world embrace.

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Jackson & Rye Website

Open Mon-Fri 8am to 11:30pm

Saturday Brunch 9am to 4:30pm & Dinner 4:30-11:30pm/Sunday Brunch 10am to 4:30pm & Dinner 4:30-11pm

For 2 (3 courses with wine and service) around £80 but you could eat for much less than that

 

Street Feast @ Hawker House

Judging by the popularity of Hawker House in Hackney on it’s 2nd weekend of 6, I would go as far to say that Foodie-ism is perhaps the fastest growing religion in London. Set up in an old warehouse with stalls selling all manner of culinary communions, from Indian to Ice Cream to Americana. This winter offering from the Street Feast crew is really packing the “pulpits” with it’s ying of family friendly eating and drinking in the early evening, but goes yang later with DJ’s spinning into the wee hours.Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 11.58.12 There was a big bar doing cocktails and brewskies plus a smaller boutique wine bar, but I was feeling beer, so big bar it was. Stepping up to the long counter I was surprised and slightly disappointed to find they only had Camden Town Brewery Pale & Lager on draft as well as some bottle offerings from CTB & Meantime Brewery. Hardly representative of the staggering array of great breweries we currently have in the capital, but don’t get me wrong I like Camden Town beers and Meantime are alright, but was hoping for more choice. A few beers in hand it was time to eat, Breddo’s Tacos were first up and thought they were pretty decent. Spicy juicy and fresh, cScreen Shot 2013-11-22 at 11.59.00hicken and pork I as I recall… Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 11.58.35Next was Slider Bar, brethren unto Breddo’s. Now sliders are all the rage at the mo, and I am often less then thrilled, but this was not one of those times.Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 11.57.29 The chilli heat, the meaty moistness and warm sweet bun was a revelation, best mini burger I have had in recent memory.Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 11.57.52 The longest cue was at B.O.B.’s Lobster so I had to go there next, coming away after about 20 minutes armed with Lobster Mac and Cheese and their signature Lobster Roll.Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 11.57.15 Now I wasn’t wild about the MnC, not enough lobster and the mac was mushy, but their Lobster rollScreen Shot 2013-11-22 at 12.01.56, even at £11 was something quite enlightening. A square brioche bun jam packed with the most succulent sweet meat of that king of crustaceans, drizzled in a savoury, citrus vinaigrette…heavenly. Still peckish we went for another round of sliders, classic cheese this time, but 30 mins elapsed before we got them… just about worth the wait. Now if you don’t like to stand in line or urinate outdoors in winter(men only) then this may not be the place for you. But if this sounds like your idea of nourishment nirvana then bring a wad of cash(it’s not cheap as it goes) get there early as you can and bag some seating. Then go forth and eat my sons & daughters, eat…

Champion Beers of Britain 2000-13

I got very excited when the invite for this sudsy retrospective arrived in my inbox. An opportunity to taste the best beers as voted by CAMRA(Campaign for Real Ale) of the past 14 years all in one go, what a treat!

This unique event was held at The Bull in Highgate(North London), a venue that had long been on my malt liquor hit list. A very cosy pub with great staff and an impressive array of cask ales. All but one of the pumps(Pete’s Coffee Porter by Pete & London Brewing Company, which was pretty good) were dedicated to the aforementioned Champ E On A’s.Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 16.07.30 Some of the beers I’d had before and others were totally new to me so armed with my tasting sheet, pen and a glass I tucked in.

I took a rather simplistic approach to tasting the line up of royal real ales, as they were arranged on 2 floors, I tasted the ones downstairs first in order of ascending ABV and then did the same with the winners upstairs.

Here’s what I thought;

2000Moorhouse Black Cat Mild/3.4% – This was hands down my least favourite beer. Dull, thin, watery cola that was almost tasteless. A real disappointment. 3.5/10

2001Oakham Ales Jeffrey Hudson Bitter/3.8% – Despite it’s shortened name of JHB sounding like something you would go to jail for, this is a seriously good beer. Tons of depth, flavour, balance & character. A session ale of the highest order. 8/10 Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 16.05.47

2002Caledonian Deuchars IPA/3.8% – I know this beer well and have had some excellent pints of it(mostly in Edinburgh) and some rather bad ones(in London). But it showed well, clinging to the mouth, taught hoppiness & very fragrant nose. 6.5/10

2003Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted Blonde/4.2% – A favorite of mine in bottle and on keg, but B & T was off the pace a bit in cask. It’s freshness and intensity muted somewhat. Lacked bite but still a good brew. 7/10

2004Kelham Island Pale Rider Golden Ale/5.2% – I’ve had this in the past once or twice and have thought it a decent beer. The nose however is not welcoming, reminded me of skunk cabbage. It was a bit soapy and lacked some definition. Better than average though. 6.25/10

2005 & 2006 Crouch Vale Brewers Gold Blonde Ale/4.0% – The only double winner of the past 14 years and deservedly so. I buy this in bottle often from my local Morrison’s as it’s one of the only good beers they stock. Bright, crisp & refreshing, with a lemon pith grassy finish. A worthy back to back Champ, top stuff. 7.5/10

2007Hobson’s Mild/3.2% – Now I’m one of those Philistines who struggles to appreciate Mild, but that said Hobson’s is definitely one of the best I’ve tried. Lean, woody mushroom, tangy coffee and very drinkable. 7/10 Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 16.04.27

2008Triple FFF Brewery Alton’s Pride Bitter/3.8% – With a strong nose of farmyard and super dry hop character that left me wanting another sip, so was easy to see why this beer had its admirers, but it didn’t wow me. 6.5/10

2009Rudgate Ruby Mild/4.4% – Soapy, somewhat astringent and rather ho hum. A champion? Not nearly. 5/10

2010Castle Rock Harvest Pale Ale/3.8% – I remember this beer because it was my first year at GBBF(Great British Beer Festival) and they announced it over the tannoy. Buttery and bright with notes of sunflower seeds and lemon. Drinkable but nothing to sing about. 6/10

2011The Mighty Oak Brewery Oscar Wilde Mild/3.7% – Despite its rhyming name honouring a great writer & humourist, I was left wondering where this beer’s wit and charm were. I liked the creamy fleshy texture but found little else to praise. 5.5/10

2012Coniston Brewing Company No. 9 Barley Wine/8.5% – Very impressive this stuff.  Irn Bru in colour muted peach and sandy soil on the nose. Dry malty apricot, firm structure, good balance, long dry citrus finish. Company No. 9 is a complex wonderful brew, heartily deserving the crown in 2012 and was my beer of the night. 8.75/10 Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 16.05.00

2013Elland Brewery 1872 Porter/6.5% – Another great beer. Bitter chocolate, espresso, molasses notes, yet retaining freshness and sharp hop bite. Long persistent and well balanced. 8.25/10 Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 16.05.24

Now some of my critique may seem harsh, but when it comes to judging beer(or anything else for that matter) personal taste will always play the biggest part in whether you like, love or loath something. Some of my colleagues really liked some of the beers that I didn’t, that’s just way the malt crackles…

There were some nice snacks thrown on by our hosts Warminster Maltings and R&R Teamwork to soak up all the beers.Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 15.58.50 But I found myself returning to the glasses of Maris Otter Malted Barley. Nutty, malty, crunchy with a hint of sweetness, I would happily have bowls of it to snack on at my next dinner party.Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 15.58.19

Now I may not agree with CAMRA on everything(their hardliners superstitious view of keg beers for one) and certainly would not have voted to elevate some of these cask ales to Champion. However, considering how long ago some of the beers won, I was on the average pleased with the overall quality, if not wild about the beer itself. I did catch up with some old pals and met some lovely new folks as well, so all in all it was an excellent soiree.

 

Silent Sipping

This is a homage to the days of silent films, and came about because I forgot to turn my mike on.
I am tasting a 21 Year old Speyside Whisky Liqueur, 15 Year Old Bas Armagnac and a Salted Caramel Chocolate Brownie.

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