Monday, 29 October 2012

London Cocktail Week : Friday - West London Crawl

It was my last free day to enjoy LCW and it had been pretty busy so far. Being well acquainted with East London I thought it was time to see what the West had to offer. And I was impressed, here are my mini reviews:

We started at Westbourne House

Ambiance: laid back but with an edge that given a few more hours the dancing would start...
Decor: upmarket gastro pub, tables round the edge of what would no doubt be a busy area
Staff: knoweldgable, friendly
LCW cocktail: a whole week's work of Grey Goose drinks to chose from, the key lime was OUT OF THIS WORLD, with a delicious sharp drink topped with sweet meringue, YUM

Then onto Beach Blanket Babylon Portobello

Ambiance: bit snobby with lots of stiletto and LBDs, dinner still going on further back, but friendly enough
Decor: Pans Labyrinth meets Jean Paul Gauthier, absolutely fabulous, so many nooks and crannies to explore, however if you haven't booked a table it'll be a long night on your feet
Staff: Dreadful; on arrival one barman knocked over the raspberry drink he was preparing, covered my bag (and boyfriend's shoes) with no apology, no napkins, nothing. It was left to us to reach over the now-pink bar and grab tissues
LCW cocktail: they didn't even tell us what it was despite asking, it was overly sweet even to my friend's taste who loves sugary drinks. They also added 50p per drink tip AFTER SPILLING DRINK OVER ME!!

We stayed long enough to finish our drinks, keen to move on, with Portobello Star within sight

Ambiance: laid back and friendly
Decor: simple, clean and hilarious watching people try to get in/out by doors only open during market days!
Staff: friendly, knowledgeable
LCW cocktail: I was not at the bar to see it made but not too was tasty yet but was simply a Gin (Portobello Road) and tonic in  a glass. No ice, no garnish but a shot glass in the bottom. Perhaps the key was in the preparation...

And then finally Trailer Happiness

Ambiance: PAAAAAATY, but quite a squash!
Decor: tiki happy, bit 70's
Staff: dealt well with a busy bar and serving everyone in time
LCW Cocktail: a nuclear green daiquiri and delicious it was too, i'll be trying Midori with mine next time. In fact I would have stayed for more having bumped into the Bacardi team but alas, LCW got the better of me and flu was acomin'! 

So top West London bar: Portobello Star
Worst West London bar: BBB but I doubt they care if their barman's attitude is anything to go by

London Cocktail Week : Wednesday - Rhuby Cocktail Competition

Rosie Paterson, Voodoo Rooms

Rhuby Liqueur. From Rhubarb.

Its pink. For girls.

And so was the cocktail competition – Pink Your Drink - with the aim to support Breast Cancer Awareness as well as female bartenders.

So it was that I popped into the LCC Shaftsbury Avenue (with its female manager Sarah) to witness my first ever all female cocktail competition. And my, wasn’t it pink! From the hair and make up to the clothes to the Rhuby with prosecco drink. But despite the support that the girls had for each other they were also in it to win it.

The seven finalists from across the UK had a tough job on their hands with just minutes to make two cocktails as well as putting a Rhuby twist on a classic – chosen from a hat before their turn “on stage” – all the while entertaining the judges and crowd.

There were great drinks and even better stories playing on family ties and holidays but in the end the winner – by 0.5 points – was Naomi Fletcher from Hawksmoor with:

Flip It Twice
50ml Rhuby Liqueur
25ml Arette Blanco tequila
10ml Vanilla syrup
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 Whole egg
Small piece of lemon zest

Combine all the ingredients in a Boston tin and dry-shake first without ice, then again with ice. Double-strain into a chilled Sours glass and serve straight up. Garnish with grated nutmeg.
What struck me more about this competition than any other I have attended was the camaraderie. As the girls awaited their turn, chewing nails and running through supplies, the others were all there offering support, encouragement and friendship. Frankly, this is lacking at other events where bars form cliques around their contender. I wonder why no one thought of this before…?

Oh and the Rhuby liqueur itself? Ridiculously heavy yet beautiful bottle. Tasty surprisingly balanced drink. Look forward to playing with it soon.

London Cocktail Week meets Chocolate Week

Chocolate Tales from Dean Street

It was in the steadily increasing rain that a small queue of chocolate and cocktail lovers were standing outside 68 Dean Street. This was a timely collaboration as these two important weeks met and what an event it was. I will mainly do this by pictures, because when it comes to chocolate and cocktails what more do you want?

On the ground floor we had Damian Allsop and Martin Millers Gin, with a two tunnel truffle with one blackcurrant meringue and one green tea covered in ganache to go with the deconstructed Bramble with a ganache and macha powder rim! 

Next floor up was the delectable Santa Teresa Rum (I discovered it last year) forming a Hot Buttered Rum which was divine and paired to another favourite - Rococo Chocolates - and their  salted rum truffle. 

They also had an orange and coffee based liqueur that have been added to their range to try. This is definitely a rum worth looking up. Next door Johnnie Walker Blue were doing their thing with William Curley, a much awarded chocolatier. Johnnie Walker was neat in this case, to work with the complexity of the dessert which was a creme brulee centered chocolate mousse on a whisky soaked raisin sponge base and apricot sauce. William was on hand and very helpful with all my little questions. 

Onwards and upwards to the top floor and the first room was an aperol spritz cocktail with a salted caramel disc from Artisan du Chocolat. The cocktail was served with a cocoa pulp sorbet that did not work well, and this was the room where I saw more leftovers than anywhere else where it was empty glasses ahoy! 

So then onto the final room and one of my favourite chocolatiers - Paul A Young, a name that all Londoners should be familiar with. He was working with AquaRiva tequila - very drinkable - and started us off with a Parmesan chocolate to balance and work with the salt, and then another, I forget which, but god it was tasty! 

Overall this was a lovely evening with everyone talking to each other, people by themselves, with friends, in groups and all determined to have a good time. And it was a dinner in itself if not the most healthy one! Bravo @donalde, Kate and the team for such a sterling effort and such a turn out. 

London Cocktail Week : Tuesday - Johnnie Walker

This is Kabir, the very tall Johnnie Walker Reserve ambassador who packed out the room downstairs from the London Cocktail Week hub. Literally, there were queues of people hoping to get a last minute space!

And in front of us we had three glasses, which we could not touch, as the barman (sorry, didn't catch the name!) from Quo Vadis was mixing us a up Sazerac to get us started. This was done with 50ml Johnnie Walker Black, 5ml sugar syrup, 2 dashes of Peychaud bitters all stirred and strained into a Chartreuse washed glass and garnished with  citrus twist. A lovely smokey/sweet balanced drink. Now down to business!

#1 Johnnie Walker Gold - deep orange/gold colour. Caramel and vanilla nose becomes a little cardboardy (?) with a touch of smoke. There is a lot of smoke and spice on the finish and with a creamy vanilla expression lingering too.

#2 Johnnie Walker Platinum - medium orange/gold, sour pears nose but somewhat artificial, develops more sweetness with time. Thick, smooth and long dry finish but a little disappointing, doesn't pack the punch with spice or flavour...bland?

#3 Johnnie Walker Blue - medium gold/orange, more complex with honey and a memory of smoke, sherried, orange peel, nutty, spicy... Less oily on palate, smokey finish, long, delicious

Little facts for you

  • The main whisky in the gold blend is Clynelish, where gold was discovered in the water, hence the name
  • The first blends that Johnnie Walker (original) sold were old in a red label and very old in a black label, hence the label colour calling nowadays 

London Cocktail Week : Monday - Smatts Rum Shack

After the whisky show it was straight to my first official LCW event held at Smatt's Rum Shack, a pop up in Seven Dials, for an event hosted by "Terror" Tim (try calling him that, he loves it) of Twist London who now have an offshoot - Twisted.

We started off with a Dark 'n' Stormy and a brief history of Smatts, which I had not come across before. Smatts is the lovechild, shall we say, of two school friends. Having gone to university and launched their careers, they both felt something missing in life - rum. Ashley Smatt, one of said school friends, was from Jamaica, a rather important fact considering company laws there, and went about sourcing where their rum was going to come from both in terms of location and distillery to use. The number of distilleries on this island has dropped from 600 to 6 over 150 years so they also wanted to invest in the heritage to revive the industry. They have a white rum and a 5 year old gold rum.

So to the event, 3 cocktails twisted (see what I did there?!) into 3 very alcoholic ice creams.

#1 Dark and Stormy - very nice drink, very nice ice cream. Quite different, with the ice cream showing more ginger, which as a ginger fan I loved, and was also yoghurty. Finished with some fire and gingerbread. Note these also have 1 unit of alcohol per serving and it is all too easy to forget this after an hour's tasting...

#2 Smatt's Passoin - I am afraid that I have a deep psychological issue with passion fruit in drink so not one for me however I loved the showmanship of the fire to finish these off (other events were called ice and fire!) and the drink was very close in taste to the ice cream. The smell was like a banana brulee!

#3 Apple Crumble - ice cream won here again witha spicier more complex "drink" and it would have been even better with a crumble through the ice cream for texture. 

I have made alcoholic ice cream myself and the creamy texture is very easy to achieve with the alcohol preventing ice crystals however I am not sure mine were ever 1 unit per scoop! It was an interesting session, and would have been up there as excellent if one or two unnamed had not been enjoying the drinks and ice cream down to the last drop/lick...sore heads for some the next day I believe...

Good effort, look forward to more from the Twisted guys in the near future. 

Sunday, 28 October 2012

London Cocktail Week : Wednesday - LCC DIY Mojito

I love the London Cocktail Clubs. There. I have said it. You already knew it.

So how could I resist popping into Goodge Street whilst in the area to see their offering for LCW?
DIY Mojito! In a bento box! Oh, JJ, you have done it again!

So you get your mint, raspberries, rum, sugar syrup, ice and muddler. I was told that if you asked for advice the bar staff would advice on how to put it together but I had a lot of fun making this up and drinking it too. If only drinking in London was always this much fun! 

London Cocktail Week : Wednesday - Tanqueray Todd

Colin Dun of the whiskies.
Jill Saunders of the gin.
Diageo with the money.
Callooh Callay as the setting. 

This was Tanqueray Todd's Barber Shop. 

I started at the front with Mrs Lovett's LCW cocktail, which was delicious though I forget what was in it!

Then with my party arrived we were shown through that famous wardrobe door and into Colin Todd's (!) world of butchery and... pies. Yes, the deal here was pie and cocktail for £10 or pie, cocktail and a hot shave in the Jub Jub for £15. 

On being told the various pies that were on offer we then had four Beef and Potato thrown down.The service wasn't a problem - that was all very in character - but we had no choice as well as the pie being a tad hard. Oh well, soon our drinks followed in beautiful, specially made Tanqueray tankards complete with CC logos and glass bottoms. The mulled drink was delicious,  

We asked why there were glasses on the table and told it was for tastings. When we asked if we were going to get to taste anything some gin came over but with the caveat that most people don't get to taste. I think this was just a mix up with so many people coming and going for Colin to see.

And in between all this was the ever brilliant Colin Dunn circulating the tables as the gory Sweeney and recounting history to the soundtrack of rather scary music from Sweeney Todd the musical, at times making conversation with the person beside you impossible as the screaming crescendo-ed, very atmospheric!

We peeked upstairs at the barber shop and it seemed rather strange (to me) to lie, legs up, in a reasonably busy bar. However i was reassured by the hosts that the hot towels across the face is the most relaxing thing. Well! Not quite as good as last year I think, but a fine effort, far exceeding most bar's this London Cocktail week, and always different. 

Saturday, 27 October 2012

London Cocktail Week : Friday - Beefeater24 Competition

Another day, another cocktail competition.

This time Circus and Beefeater24 were hosting and it was another 1pm to 5.30pm marathon of tea-themed cocktails - The G&Tea Perfect Host competition.

And once again I wasn't able to do the whole session but I caught the last seven and they were very impressive. Not only was a huge selection of teas being used - English breakfast, Japanese, Indonesian... and presentation wise these were definitely the best of the week. 

There were cocktails served Japanese tea ceremony style in ceramic cups with mini scones on the side. There were cocktails in teapots with homemade gingerbread biscuits on the side. There were homemade bitters, and syrups, and the judges tasted all of these. And Beefeater and Circus also provided G&Ts and other cocktails to keep the crowd going. 

Nathan O'Neill from The Merchant Hotel, Belfast, walked off with the title. And with it, a trip to Japan for the global final!

Here is the winning recipe:  Mr Burroughs' Reviver

40ml Beefeater24
10ml Aalborg Taffel Akvavit
15ml Lemon juice
10ml Green Tea syrup
2.5ml almond water
2 dashes of absinthe infused with lapsang souchong tea

Shake and strain into a coupette and garnish with a lemon spiral

London Cocktail Week : Wednesday - Golden Bee

After 4 events I thought I was heading home but there was the chance to hit one more bar taking part in the £4 offer... so it was with foodie/drink-ophile Wilkes ( that I took advantage of a dry evening to visit roof top Golden Bee. 

This can be found above the aptly name "adult bar" The Horns and the door is just off Old Street. One flight of stairs, in which hangs an elaborate chandelier that would look tacky anywhere else, brings you to a rather spectacular display of bling. The bar was, I initially thought, sponsored by Finlandia but actually that was just one "swirl" (see pic) and they had a good range of products. Outside is the first level with seating and a mezzanine level which would be great to curl up in with a group of friends. But don't bother with all this. Take the spiral stairs up to the top - there is a bar there too - and snuggle under the rugs near the heat lamps to enjoy the views. OK. There are not like Paramount, this is old street after all. But it is a unique perspective on an area I know well. 

There were two barmen, one was training the other when we went, and since this was the first time he made the drink I say kudos to him, it was well put together. I suspected that Golden Bee may have missed the boat only opening at the end of the summer but on a dry winter evening they are certainly doing everything they can to keep you warm up there. The manager - who barely looked old enough to drink! - was friendly and helpful when he heard us discussing when it opened and informed us that it was generally pack Friday and Saturday nights with a clubby feel and the dancefloor will rock, So one to bear in mind if you are looking for a boogie in the area. 

I have heard some people complaining that it is tacky however I think you need to take Golden Bee for what it is: fun, roof top cocktail bar that doesn't take itself too seriously. I think I will be back, but if you go do take someone to snuggle up to as the temperatures drop! It may even be quite special in the snow...!

London Cocktail Week : Thursday - gaz Regan

I could not believe that I scored a place to meet industry legend gaz Regan. This was taking place at the excellent 69 Colebrooke Row and it was absolutely packed. They also offered round delicious negronis and manhattans to whet the whistle. 

Never noticed this at 69 before!
Advertised - and originally planned - as a talk on the legends of the industry, gaz instead chose to talk us through some of his eclectic and personable customers he encountered in the early 80's in the New York "English pub" called the North Star. There was the "father", the WWII night, the St Patrick days; he has described his time here as his favourite years in the industry. 

It was entertaining and insightful. And best of all was watching this legend. gaz Regan (with a small g) is a few inches over 5 foot, in his 50's, with his statement black eyeliner on one eye ("why not?" he says) and quietly spoken. Yet he held the room's attention the entire way through, he made you feel this is how bartenders should be - approachable, interesting, interested - and I hope that I may the opportunity to speak to him more in the future. 

London Cocktail Week : Wednesday - Monin Cocktail Competition

First cocktail competition of the week was hosted by Monin Syrups and the interesting aspect was that two cocktails were to be made - one alcoholic and one non-alcoholic. This started at 12 and ran to 5pm and i stayed for a few hours but it is dedication do do the whole session. Saying that, it ran smoothly with two prep areas so one contestant can prepare whilst the other presents. And the canapes were very tasty!

Monin has a huge range of flavours and the alcoholic cocktails presented a really interesting range but there were a few non alcoholic daiquiris going on so either not as much thought or great minds thinking alike! There were also two categories, under and over 27 years old. 

My favourite - and the only bar tender that I knew! - was the legendary Andy Mil. He set his mind to the competition with his usual flair pairing his creations to food and adding spectacular presentation. The non-alcoholic drink was a spicy hot chocolate which - inspired by the old fashioned flips - he heated with his wife's hair straighteners wrapped in foil... this was served in a mug decorated with a stripping lady (classy), marshmallows, squirty cream, and biscuits. The alcoholic was inspired by horror movies with beetroot to give a deep red colour and served in a martini glass with a Shining inspired picture and a mirror to reflect the details on the back ,Trust me, it was genius. (And Andy will be missed from LCC as he moves on soon!)

And the winners were...

Creme de la Creme by Susie Wong, Epernay Champagne Bar, Manchester (over 27)
45ml Cariel Vodka
15ml Cointreau
3 drops orange bitters
20ml Lemon juice
20ml Monin Butterscotch syrup
Shake and strain into a sundae glass, top with 50ml of soda water and garnish with a sugar nest and scoop of ice cream

Oliver's Rose by William Humphery, Hausbar, Bristol
60ml Poire William
25ml lemon juice
15ml Monin Bubble Gum syrup
1 fresh egg white
Shake, strain and garnish with hundreds and thousands

Oh and check out the amazing views from the Paramount bar in the centre point (add photo)

London Cocktail Week : Tuesday - Mini Ginstitute

So, first event of London Cocktail Week, and something I was sooooo excited about. It was a mini version of Jake Burger's Ginstitute usually based above the Portobello Star, a fabulous Portobello Road bar. Do not miss their Whisky Mac No 2 if you pass by.

The Ginstitute Batch Still
This had moved from west to east and set up shop in Seven Dials. On arrival we were offered a gin drink straight off with their own - very tasty - gin, Portobello Road. Then we settled in for some gin history from Jake himself. I have worked in the gin industry for almost year and I would say that about 40% of what we were told was new to me so totally interesting, even for the pros.

Then we had a quick break, moved on a Gin Collins, and started tasting. We had about 25 botanicals to work through, both smelling them and tasting them. We started with juniper, obviously, which Jake suggests makes up at least 40% of a gin. (Remember a gin by definition is a juniper forward distilled spirit) Then we worked through the spices from angelica to liquorice to cardamom. Next up was the fruits like lemon, lime, apricot stone and lavender. All the while we were taking notes as the important part was still to come...making our own!

Mixing Up My Gin!
I was up first and spent a few minutes discussing my favourite gins with Jake to decide which direction to take the gin. The conclusion - 'masculine', spicy, with body. Jake's assistants then stepped up and started measuring out my gin in a huge test tube. We then tried it and (very) happy with the results it was bottled, labelled and numbered so that Jake has my recipe when I want to reorder. And I will.

I did ask if anyone has tried their gin and sent it back to try again. Apparently not but that is why Jake is there, to guide you through the process, and advised you choose between 8 and 14 botanicals. I was hoping to be in the lower range but ended up with 11.

Bar Hopper Gin
The surprise of the day was the Yorkshire tea botanical. As a non-tea drinker I thought this would not be my favourite but I added a generous whack into my gin. It was slightly sweet and added nice tannins. This was specially designed between Jake and Yorkshire tea so I am not surprised it tastes so good!

I would thoroughly recommend this experience to everyone. It is not cheap but you do get a complete history of gin, you are surrounded by history and you leave with your own bottle that can be re-ordered for £37/bottle.