Friday, 30 November 2012

Jake's Orchard; Kent Cider & Food Matching

As mentioned in a previous post a recent visit to Hush Heath Estate meant we came home the proud owners of their range of still ciders - Jake's Orchard. The ethos behind the cider is for a crisp refreshing drink which could act as a substitute for wine - hence the large (75cl) bottles to share. As a cider designed to be consumed with food we thought it would be interesting to try some food matching with each of the four varieties.

Jake's Orchard Pure Still Kent Apple Cider

We've talked about this cider before, but just to recap, it is a fresh, fruity and refreshing cider with a big apple flavour. It's incredibly easy drinking, and you barely notice the alcohol on the taste. For the first food pairing we went with the classic combination - pork - using Marcus Wareing's 'Mum's Pork Chops' recipe from How to Cook the Perfect....

Marcus Wareing's Pork Chop
This picture really doesn't do this dish justice, and we've made it so many times before as we love it. What you end up with is a deliciously moist pork chop, and soft sweet onions, in a herby buttery 'sauce' (for want of a better word). Pork and cider is the classic combo, but it wasn't the best match in this instance, maybe this cider is just a little too dry for it. It works well with the herbs and onions balancing against their sweetness, but it might fare better up against roast pork and apple sauce.

Jake's Orchard Still Kent Cider with English Nettles

The cider has lots of apple on the nose with a dry herbal edge. It isn't as dry as expected, with strong fruit flavours, a floral and slightly sweet taste. It is really well balanced between at the right side of medium dry with a slightly bitter savoury flavour from the nettle. It was very easy-drinking, the alcohol not being at all obvious in the flavour.

Kinda Mac 'n' Cheese with leeks and cider
We paired the nettle cider with a variant on macaroni cheese, made with leeks, cauliflower and (one of our favourites) Montgomery cheddar. The cheese sauce was made up with some of the nettle cider, and this worked really well, the booze taking the edge off the sharp cheddar and balancing the dish out nicely. Apple and cheddar is a classic British combination and it works fantastically well in the dish, especially when served alongside a nice chilled glass of the cider. The cider cuts through the creaminess of the sauce and highlights the sweetness of the leeks.

Jake's Orchard Still Kent Cider with English Elderflower

The elderflower variety of the cider didn't yield much elderflower on the nose, nor is it very pronounced on the taste - which we both agreed was probably a good thing in terms of matching it with food. We paired this one with a salmon salad from Jamie's Great Britain, and it was a good match, nicely balanced and you don't notice the dryness of the cider. In this instance it very much works in the way a white wine would, complementing the dish without overpowering it on flavour.

Salmon and new potato salad, with mint, cucumber and yoghurt
Jake's Orchard Still Kent Cider with Strawberries and Blackcurrant

The cider itself doesn't have a huge punch of fruit flavour (which was a relief), just a hint of the red fruits mingling subtley with the apple. We struggled to taste the strawberries, but the blackcurrant was more pronounced - it may well be that the sweetness of the strawberries balances out the tartness of the blackcurrant. It is still a very dry cider.
Homemade almond macaroons
We weren't really sure about what to pair with this one, and referred to the website which suggested eton mess and pear crumble as food matches. As we had some homegrown Bramley apples in the fruit bowl the recipe we'd spotted in River Cottage Every Day for Bramley apple Eton mess was modified slightly to replace the (usual) meringue with some crushed homemade almond macaroons (the crunchy kind) I'd made a couple of days previous. The result was a rather visually unappealing, but incredibly tasty dessert which had both sour, nutty and sweet elements to it.

When paired with the dessert the cider works surprisingly well - the apple flavours complementing each other, and also cutting through the creaminess/richness of the dish. There's a surprising change when after a while when an almost tannic, lambic-like character comes out in the cider - this emphasized the sour notes, but was still very drinkable. At this point it was starting to remind us of a good quality lambic-based Belgian fruit beer. This flavour 'change' is fascinating, and we'd be really interested if they widen the range further down the line to see the effects of blending this cider with other fruits.

Bramley apple Eton mess
It is great fun to experiment with these cider and food matches, and some obviously worked better than others. In terms of the cider alone, my personal favourite was the nettle, whereas Sam preferred the standard traditional apple cider. When it came to the food matches the nettle/mac 'n' cheese was the most satisfying, but the Eton mess and strawberry/blackcurrant match was both delicious and intriguing in terms of the flavour profiles the dish brought out in the cider.

Some of the flavours were more difficult to match than others and maybe there are some foods which are never going to work with cider in the way wine would - for example a nice rare steak - but it will be interesting to experiment further with these combinations and branching out further than the usual pork and cider suggestion.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Kent Vineyards: Hush Heath Estate

We spent the last weekend of September in Kent, sampling some fantastic English wines. On our last morning we took a drive over to Hush Heath Estate where we met Victoria Ash (Winemaker) and Rupert Taylor (Sales Executive) who despite the rain took us on a brief tour of the estate and winery. Vicky has an impressive CV, having worked extensively in New Zealand (including a stint at Lindauer), and then moving back to the UK to work at Ridgeview Estate and now Hush Heath. Rupert too has an interesting background, initially as a Sommelier at top London restaurants including Locanda Locatelli and our new favourite Trinity

Hush Heath Estate has 450 acres of land. As well as grapes for their wine they are growing apples, although this years crop was bad due to the weather. In 2002 they opened the Oast House Meadow vineyard, from which they produced the first three vintages of Balfour Brut Rosé (2004, 2005 and 2006). Balfour Rosé is typically 50% Pinot Noir, 10% Pinot Meunier and 40% Chardonnay. 

We asked them about how the poor weather this summer is likely to affect this year's vintage. In 2011 the grapes were harvested in September, but this year they had decided to delay the harvest until mid October, in order to give the grapes more time ripening on the vine - this carries an additional risk that if the temperature drops too low, the grapes will all drop and be ruined. They are hopeful of having enough grapes for a decent vintage this year and they aim for a better quality of fruit rather than preferred timing for the start of the wine making process. The UK's challenging climate makes for a better sparkling wine.

Until now the wines have been made at nearby Chapel Down winery. The latest wines are being made in the brand new winery on the Estate which can make up to 100,000 bottles (in 2009 they produced 14,000).

For their sparkling wine they do not use oak or malolactic fermentation in order to retain the purity of fruit. The rosé sparkling is made with a separate ferment of the red. They have thought about doing some still wines but all the harvest has to go into the sparkling this year. In 2010 they made 6000 bottles of a still chardonnay but it commands a premium price due to the difficulty in making/growing, and can be difficult to sell at £20 a bottle.


Rectified grape must is used for the dosage. The 2008 vintage was on the lies for 3 years but they disgorge according to demand. A long discussion is always had regarding the correct dosage levels for the Balfour. We tasted the 2008 and 2009 vintages of the Balfour Brut Rosé. The 2008 has a high acidity, and a lovely finish with the flavours of peaches and strawberries. The acidity has changed and reduced over time. The 2009 vintage was just about to be released but it was used for hospitality at the London 2012 Olympics. It was a much riper vintage so has more fruit character and a rounder finish with a darker colour. It was a more immediate, intense and amazing flavour. The 2009 was our preferred choice, although Rupert and Vicky both favour the 2008 vintage - which just shows how much is down to personal preference.

It is testament to the high quality of English wines that they are now able to stand up in competition against Champagne producers. Hush Heath are regularly winning awards with the Balfour Brut Rosé, even from their first year as the 2004 vintage won gold at the 2008 International Wine Challenge. The 2005 vintage won gold at the 2009 Decanter World Wine Awards, and more recently their 2008 vintage won gold in the 2012 Decanter World Wine Awards (the 2009 vintage won silver).

We also got the opportunity to sample a new product they've been making - a range of still ciders. Jake's Orchard still cider has a refined fresh apple flavour, like a high quality juice. You barely notice the alcohol in the taste, and it's incredibly refreshing. It also comes in 3 flavoured varieties; elderflower, nettle and strawberry & blackcurrant. The packaging is very stylish, and it feels like a high end product, specifically designed to be paired with food. We took a sample of each of these away with us, which will be reviewed in a cider and food matching post coming soon.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Greater than the sum

Much like the Power Rangers, when a group of brewers get together with a mission in mind, what they produce can be greater than the sum of their parts.

We have recently come across some great examples of inter-brewery collaboration that highlight this. The first of these was the annual Kent Green Hop Beer Fortnight which took place back in September to celebrate the Kent hop harvest. More than twenty Kent breweries brewed special beers from fresh green hops, picked only hours before. These beers were then available for two weeks in pubs all over Kent. We popped along to the launch at the Canterbury food and drink festival - the only place where all the beers were available at once. This is where I felt the joy in this collaboration. With all the casks up against the back of the tent and the brewers who crafted them dishing them out to thirsty punters.

The different breweries obviously relished the challenge of brewing with the green hops. There were a wide range of beer styles on offer - from saison to cask lager - and each showed off the fresh and fragrant character of the green hops. The key here was that all these breweries were working together for the common goal and it was so successful that it looked like the beer wouldn't last the whole two weeks in the pub. Look out for bottled examples of these beers which may still be available.

The second look at collaboration is in a very different form. London Brick is a Red Rye Ale that has been brewed by The Kernel, Redemption, Zerodegrees, Dark Star, Phil Lowry, Brodies and probably a few more. Some of these breweries are part of the London Brewers' Alliance which was set up to celebrate and promote the resurgence in London brewing.

London Brick : Appropriately named!

The beer itself is a stunner. It grabs your attention with it's bright red muddy colour, it's intriguing to say the least. But it's the aroma of sweet tangerines and tropical fruits from the Simcoe that invites you to drink. This is the closest to a tropical island that you will get to in London. The heavy use of rye in the malt bill give a nicely sweet and full body which means this is a full, satisfying drink rather than a refreshing drier hop bomb style.

The last collaboration is one we came across in our last visit to Brussels. Horal's Mega Blend is an Oude Gueuze created by Horal, the High Council for Artisinal Lambic Beers and organisers of the annual Tour De Gueuze. Gueuze is created by blending spontaneously fermented lambic beer of different ages. In this case Horal have blended together lambics from eight breweries. Somehow what comes out is a well structured gueuze that gives you everything you could want in the way of citrus sourness and a heady funk. It is a refreshing and engaging beer but perhaps needs a year longer in the bottle. It would be impossible to pick out characters from all the breweries but this delicious beer is a symbol of the continuing resurgence of this traditional style of beer.

The brewery names on this label are enough to make a lambic lover weep with joy.
These collaborations are about more than the beer itself. They are important missions to celebrate and promote brewing innovations and traditions.

The Kent Green Hop Fortnight promotes the use of our excellent native hops.

The London Brewers Alliance celebrates the phenomenal quality of breweries in the captial.

Horal's Mega Blend helps to keep alive this most important of traditional beer styles.

The Kent Green Hop Beers are no longer available but look out for them next year. London Brick and Horal's Mega Blend are available from

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Future Food

This post is my entry into the Fork Magazine writing competition which was judged a few weeks ago.

I didn't win so I thought I would put it up here for the hell of it!

Future Food

Restaurant Review – L’Avenir
Much has been written about L’Avenir, the newly opened palace of neo-futurist nano-
cuisine from the notorious Shorai twins Nueva and Nuevo. Given the twelve month
waiting list which built up in the few weeks before launch I thought it only appropriate
that I should give my dear readers a report from the meal I was lucky enough to
experience last week.

The hovercopter flight into the remote restaurant complex shows off the stunning
location. We swoop over swathes of newly greened coastal region of the Atacama
Desert and the vast seawater greenhouses in which ingredients are grown and
power for the complex is generated. Just out to sea, huge fields of genetically
engineered algae look like a patchwork quilt - divided by species and more
importantly flavour. The pilot flies low towards the beach so that the strongly spiced
scents from the algae enter the cabin. This overture to the evening’s events is an
exhilarating start to what will turn out to be a truly unique dining experience. The
chopper lands and we are whisked off into a darkened building that houses the
preparative equipment for our meal.

I emerge like a new-born into the main dining room, blinking in bright lights and
astonishment after the hour in the sensory deprivation booth. I am led by the hand
to my solo dining table by the now infamous serving holograms. Ethereal and
androgynous in their beauty, attentive yet discreet in their service I now understand
why this magnificent front of house solution should replace fallible waiting staff in any
high end restaurant valuing its reputation.
Back to this bizarre practice of pre-dinner solitary confinement. The premise is that
after an hour in a pitch black, silent and odourless box you will experience your food
as if it was your first ever meal. Every aroma, flavour and texture will be like a new
dawn to you and, after my initial scepticism, it turns out to be a truly enlightening
experience. The booths were introduced by Nuevo, the wild child of the pair of head
chefs, who spends most of his working day in his “ingredients crèche” creating
new ideas whilst off his nut on hallucinatory narcotics. His innovation of his flavour
combinations are matched only by the robotically technical brilliance of his sister,
Nueva. This combination has rendered many critics speechless in wonder at the
creations to come out of this revolutionary kitchen. But not this critic, my friends, no
I will endeavour to do justice to my experience of this wondrous meal in these few

The first titbit brought to my table is an exemplary example of how to utilise artificial
meat to its greatest potential. Most of you won’t remember what the air dried ham
of Italy or Spain tasted like. I was lucky enough to taste one of the few remaining
legal hams, a few years ago in a barn just outside Seville. Even though it was a good
ten years after the international livestock ban came into force in 2017, the ham was
sublime. In a nostalgic attempt to recreate the feelings of hams past, this amusing
morsel of cured and air dried cultured meat is delicately placed on an Iberican acorn
weevil cracker. This playful and celebratory use of insects runs throughout the multi
course tasting menu and is certainly a refreshing change to the now ubiquitous use
of candied locusts that festoon every dessert that wannabe superstar chefs come up

The restaurant is quite rightly proud of the drinks list. The burgeoning Nordic wine
regions are represented with sublime examples, from the crisp, mineral whites from
northern Norway to the rich, ripe fruit reds of Denmark. There is even a beautiful
specimen of an Icelandic ice-wine which comes with the next course, a compressed
cube of jellyfish infused with aniseed producing algae and wrapped in nori. This
paper thin sheet of seaweed is the most traditional ingredient found in their kitchen,
such is the dedication to pushing the boundaries of possibility with engineering and
design in food.

The dishes arrive to the table in various amusing methods, sometimes delivered
from within the serving holograms themselves. Flavoured aerosols are emitted
from their fingertips, solidified with edible plasticising agents that can be plucked
from the air with your teeth. In the early part of this century, this use of synthetics
would have been derided, even mocked, as molecular gastronomy. Then it would
be copied, commercialised and cheapened by every chef who fancied themselves
as progressive. This is no longer a problem now that copyright laws have been
extended to include menus, recipes and cooking techniques.

The final dish on the menu is another cute look into the past and a first for me. To
recreate the ethically dubious and now highly illegal French classic, foie gras, the
Shorai’s have utilised a very unique product. They have discovered a particular type
of stag beetle larvae that will gorge itself on rotting corn before settling down for its
incubation period. This extreme feeding gives the flesh of the larvae a rich, creamy
texture and a delicately sweet flavour. This wonderful ingredient is simply shown off
here on a slice of lightly toasted brioche.

It may seem that I can’t stop fawning over this temple of modernity but this is the
first time in the past twenty years or so that I have eaten anything resembling the
sophistication and wit of the gastronomic heyday of the 2010’s. Since the necessary
evils of the global food laws governing production of meat and seafood came into
force it seems that the soul has been ripped out of restaurant dining. Here, if only
for an evening, I almost forgot that the world’s diet has been forced to change so

I’m brought back to the present with a bump when, as dictated by the nutrition law,
I’m handed a card with a complete nutritional breakdown of what I have just eaten.

This is the future after all.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Beer of the week: Petrus Aged Pale

This was by far our stand out beer from the Belgian Beer Weekend in Brussels so we brought a bottle back with us.

The people from Bavik were at pains to explain that this beer is not a lambic. There are some lambic-like characters to Petrus Aged Pale, it is wood aged and has a powerful sourness. It is more controlled than most lambics and is a very balanced beer.

It's a wood-soaked aged sour with delicious sherry, cherry and grape flavours. The age on the beer gives it unique yeast characters and the oak rounds this all off into a real treat.

If you like Belgian lambics you will really love this very special beer. Available at and most decent online beer shops for less than £3, it's an absolute bargain.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Beer of the week: Thornbridge Chiron

On a recent work trip to Brighton, Claire popped into one of our favourite beer shops, the inaccurately named Trafalgar Wines, and bought me amongst others a bottle of Thornbridge Chiron.

The brewery have been making consistently good beers since 2005 and are admired for their innovation and quality. Their flagship IPA, Jaipur, is a powerful expression of the style but at 5.9% doesn't meet the requirements of a session beer!

Chiron is a billed as an American Pale Ale and in many ways lives up to the title. The crisp American hops provide plenty of fruity tangerine and lemon but it still has a British quality of satisfying warmth from a pillow of sweet maltiness. This is a beer you can drink when its bigger brother, Jaipur, would be too strong.

Refreshing, satisfying, another excellent beer in the Thornbridge family.