Monday, 16 November 2015

A few of our favourite things: a flying visit to Brussels

We're missing Brussels already - but thought we'd take the opportunity to share some of our favourite places....

First stop: Cantillon Brewery to sample this year's Zwanze, a wild Brussels stout. Not as sour as expected, but it's still there...with a stouty sweetness as the base flavour. Very drinkable.

Only available to drink at the brewery, this Cantillon made with Carignan grapes was an unexpected (and delicious) surprise - we couldn't resist and weren't disappointed - the Carignan adds an earthiness and hints at terroir.

The beautiful ironwork outside Moeder Lambic Fontainas accompanies an amazing beer selection

We finally made it to the Horta Museum - well worth a visit.

This year's star find - an amazing pastelaria in the centre of Brussels - took us straight back to Lisbon, but with some amazing flavour twists - our favourites were the lime/pine nut/honey, speculoos and lemon varieties.

Oh, and they do takeout too...

No matter how many places we try, Fritland is still our favourite - there's a reason the queues are so long!

Love him or hate him, you can't avoid the Mannekin Pis

Not the best photo but the only one I have from our final evening in our favourite Brussels restaurant Wine Bar Sablon des Marolles, which has a great wine selection including the above, a great example of a natural wine.

A first for us and we've yet to try this, but it'll be our first taste of Belgian this space for a report back!

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Croydon/Purley Food Heroes - Dexter Burger

Britain’s taste for burgers, especially the gourmet kind, is on the rise. While the international mega-chains still dominate the market it is the hunger for better quality food in a casual setting that has fueled the explosion of fancy burger joints all over the country. And the good news is that Purley now has its own premium burger restaurant. Dexter Burger quietly opened on Purley High Street in late July and since then has been building a keen local fan base for their rare breed burgers and indulgent brunches. Having heard good things we met with some friends for dinner. The cosy restaurant welcomes you in from the street like an old friend. The care that the owners, Nick and Stewart, have put into the hand built furniture, stylish fixtures and fittings of the restaurant lend a contemporary but friendly atmosphere.

The proper test of any burger restaurant is the house beef burger and it’s with the “Dexter Beef Burger” that Dexter set out their stall. The carefully sourced, properly aged, rare breed beef is freshly ground in-house to produce the juicy patties. Refreshingly the accompanying garnish of rocket and bĂ©arnaise sauce enhance rather than swamp the delicious burger. The whole thing is housed in what I think is the best burger bun I’ve experienced. The grilled brioche bun is soft enough to yield but with enough integrity to contain the burger till the last bite. I wanted to completely indulge so I opted for the special for that week, the chilli burger. 

There is always a chance when you pile on the toppings that the flavour of the burger can be lost. But there is no risk of that at Dexter, where the slow cooked beef chilli makes a good thing even better. The accompanying chilli fries are drizzled with a tangy chilli mayo and sprinkled with a warming chilli seasoning. The regularly changing special burger is an opportunity for the chefs to experiment and on our second visit we tasted the new beef bourguignon burger with soft cheese which was a triumph. The chicken burger made with whole chicken breast is well cooked, juicy and delicious. Vegetarians can opt for the beetroot and goat cheese burger, a welcome change from the usual beany offerings. The best thing to drink with a burger is beer and here they offer beers from local brewery, The Cronx, as well as a modest and well-chosen wine selection.   

Back for Brunch

We were tempted back for brunch on the August bank holiday Sunday to meet some local Purleyite friends. The welcoming atmosphere of Dexter Burger works equally well in the morning too. Dexter only soft launched a few weeks ago but it already feels like a local favourite for families, friends and couples.
I have a soft spot for brunch, we don’t do it enough in this country, perhaps because of our fondness for roast dinners. It feels like a naughty extravagance or forbidden, conspiratorial rendezvous, especially when the pork, eggs and late morning cocktail is softening the effects of the previous night’s adventures. So doing it right is important and rather than juicy burgers the Dexter brunch menu covers diner classics and more. One restaurant trend that I’m yet to grow bored of is pulled pork. Slow cooked pork shoulder is finding its way into any dish that will have it and at Dexter Burger it has sneaked under the eggs benedict.

It works, it really works and if that forkful of soft pork, runny yolk and hollandaise is getting a bit too rich and you find yourself drifting from your co-conspirators then a sip of a homemade Bloody Mary or a Bucks Fizz will bring you back into the room even if only temporarily. They also serve a range of teas from Teapigs and invigorating coffee from London’s Monmouth.

My fellow diners were equally impressed with their choices. A rare breed beef sausage sarnie with onion was both huge in size and high in quality. The care with which Dexter source their meat shines through again. 

The baked eggs almost felt like a healthy option when compared to the pulled pork benedict but both haloumi and chorizo options packed enough nourishment to easily see you through till dinner. 

For the self-denialists among you there is a bowl of Bircher Muesli - but get real people, brunch is not part of a cleanse, live a little! We will be back for more brunch as we couldn’t quite stretch to the classic diner pancakes, here served with either bacon and maple syrup or blueberries. On all of our visits to Dexter the service has been excellent and we have been made to feel more than welcome. So whether it is quality burgers you are after or a robust and surprising brunch, I can heartily recommend Dexter Burger.

Dexter Burger
10 High St, Purley CR2 2AA
020 8660 9427
Open Tuesday to Sunday for dinner
Saturday and Sunday for Brunch 

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Marble Old Manchester - Three years on, the final sample.

Three years ago I bought three bottles of Old Manchester, Marble Brewery's collaboration with John Keeling from Fuller's. I tasted it then and wondered how it might age. One year on I tried it again and there wasn't much change apart from a hint of something medicinal (this should have been a clue for what was to come). So I decided to leave the last bottle for a further two years and for an occasion with some other beer lovers who would be interested in sampling the evolution of a beer like this.

The opportunity arrived when our good friend Nate "Mr Drink'n'Eat" Nolan invited me and two other beer writers, Matt "Total" Curtis who writes at Total Ales and Chris Hall who writes on his own blog as well as for the brand new site Beer Insider. We were at Nate's to try some South African beers which impressed me with highlights from Devils Peak's Blockhouse IPA and American Pale Ale. But we also took the opportunity to bring some interesting beers from our own stashes. I dusted off the Old Manchester and took it down to Camberwell.

A beer like this can become explosive over time so towels were prepared for the inevitable fountain. When I pulled the cork nothing came but it was obvious as soon as the bottle was opened that there had been significant development since 2013. The first soured sniff worried me but then a distinct "brettyness" took over and excitement kicked in. We poured it out, all tangerine and murk, and the murmurs of appreciation started.

Boak and Bailey recently wrote a short piece on the difficulty in describing the character of beer brewed with the wild yeast Brettanomyces (known as Brett to his friends). The established comparisons of horse blanket and barnyard don't quite cut it and really the best descriptor is Orval-like. Orval is a Belgian Trappist ale whose unique flavour is influenced by its fermentation with Brett.  And Orval-like is what has happened to Old Manchester. Whether it was intentional or not, there is Brett in this beer and it has turned a good beer into a wonderful one.

The hop bitterness is still big with that distinctive orange peel citrus character that was there from the beginning. It seems richer than before with an almost oily mouthfeel.
That Brettyness comes though with  spicy and woody otherness. That medicinal note that I barely tasted in 2013 was indeed a sign of age and it has developed wonderfully.
It accompanied the cheese spread admirably. The Stilton made a perfect match - this deep and complex beer able to stand up against the powerful blue cheese.

I could wax on about this beer for pages but it seems mean to do so when it's now so difficult to get hold of. I'm thoroughly delighted that the experiment worked, it really was worth the wait. I can highly recommend aging beers for yourselves. Orval is one of the best beers for aging and shows Brett's development in the bottle clearly. Get hold of four bottles, stick them under the stairs and try one every couple of months to really appreciate this intriguing flavour,

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Wahaca Supper Club - Yucatecan Regional Menu (April 2015)

I'm not going to write much about this as it was a while ago, but it was a fabulous meal - details as captioned!

Grapefruit and guanabana margarita, guacamole and chips

Onions in Black Tempura (sweet onions, battered with recado negro, served with a Xcatic chile mayo)

Just to prove it's not all coal....

A great Austrian Riesling, which worked with every dish (Gruber Roschitz Riesling)

Thomasina Miers in the kitchen

Langoustines and sweetbread salbute (with corn masa base, pumpkin seed mousse)

Berkshire pork chop with cured honey onions (with plantain puree and Yucatecan oregano pipian salsa)

Coconut Pie with fried rosemary and rosemary ash (surprisingly delicious!)

Oh, and that would be Sam on the left....the chef Roberto Solis on the right

Monday, 23 March 2015

Wahaca's Pork Pibil

Pork Pibil is one of our fail-safe dishes when we eat at Wahaca. No matter what we choose, you can guarantee this will be on the list! When I saw the recipe in Wahaca Mexican Food at Home I couldn't wait to try it out, but alas the gods were against me - I needed to get hold of one vital ingredient; achiote* paste. MexGrocer came to the rescue via Santa, and in my Christmas stocking there it was (and boy could we smell it!).

Finally the chance came to give it a try. A paste of onions, garlic, achiote paste, oil, cider vinegar, oregano, bay, cloves, allspice, cumin, salt and peppercorns is blended together and then loosened with freshly squeezed orange juice. The recipe uses a pork neck joint, but in the absence of that in our local shop I went with pork shoulder. This is marinaded overnight and looks delicious already...

The cooking process is very simple, tip everything into a pan, add a chopped (hot) chilli and a nob of butter and bring to a simmer. Then cover tightly and slow bake in a very low oven for 3-4 hours. In the meantime you can make your pink pickled onions (which really are worth doing); mix a thinly sliced red onion with the juices of a whole lime and half an orange, add a de-seeded chopped (hot) chilli, and leave for a couple of hours to do its thing.

After a lot of waiting and an amazing smell permeating the house, you end up with this; shred the meat, and serve with rice, tortillas and your pickled onions as a garnish. It was well worth the wait!

*interesting fact, whilst typing this I happened to randomly have Food Unwrapped on in the background, and discovered that the seed (annatto) which gives Red Leicester its colour is also the seed of the achiote tree!

Monday, 12 January 2015

Our brewery of 2014 - Wild Beer Co

In this new world of craft brewing it takes something quite unique to stand out from the crowd. One brewery that has uniqueness in spades is the Wild Beer Company from Somerset. Wild Beer have made a huge impact on the British beer landscape over the past couple of years with their inventive and delicious beers. To make their inspiring beers they have borrowed techniques from Lambic beers, Champagne and even Sherry. They are flavoured with apricots, pink peppercorns and even cucumber. But the unusual techniques and ingredients are never for the sake of novelty, they are always with flavour in mind. Of course it doesn't hurt that each beer has a fascinating story behind it.

Some of Wild Beer's most extravagant beers have been collaborations not only with some exciting breweries but also a local bakery. In order to explain why Wild Beer Co are our brewery of 2014, we decided to run through a few of their range with some tasting notes below.

Sourdough (3.6%)

This is a collaboration between Wild Beer and Hobbs House Bakery. The bakery have given their ancient sourdough culture to the blend (and we do love sourdough). It pours a light golden colour with some healthy carbonation. It might be the knowledge that there is a bread ingredient in the mix but there really is a whiff of toasted bread, a little like champagne lees but with a woody lambic like character.

This is the second time I've had the beer and it's sourer than I remember, with a lightly citrus character. It's an intriguing and refreshing light beer with an almost lager mouth feel. Lovely effervescence. The wild yeasts come through well giving what could be a one-dimensional beer a depth. This is lovely, even better than I remembered, and might be because we've held on to this bottle for a while as it's designed to evolve in the bottle.

Bliss (6%)

It's not the most appetising looking beer being a murky orange colour without any head at all. The smell is all Christmas fruitcake, heavily spiced with concentrated raisiny fruit. The beer doesn't sing of apricots but they do lend a roasted fruity caramel flavour. The spices make this feel very festive and although it's not our favourite wild beer it is still a strong beer from their range. Best not to chill this too much as it seems to kill the real fruity flavours which come through more as it warms in the glass.

Shnoodlepip (6.5%)

This is the beer that, in our eyes, took Wild Beer from great brewery to game-changing one. It's a collaboration with Burning Sky and Good George brewery. It contains passion fruit which gives the beer lashings of tropical fruitiness. It's a riotous adventure through sour fruit and intriguing spiciness from the pink peppercorns. A truly original beer, with a truly awesome name.

Ninkasi (9%)

Ninkasi is a special beer. A pale beer with a voluminous head that dissipates quickly leaving behind lacing on the glass. Delicious apples and hops on the nose. It has a strong carbonation from the champagne style bottle conditioning which delightfully fizzes on your tongue. The apple flavours build the more you taste. As with all of the Wild Beers the yeast gives a large part of the beer's character. Here it complements the spicy hops to give a savoury note to what could have been a bit of a pudding of a beer. The sugar from the apples has all fermented out leaving just the tang. It rounds out the beer beautifully and is dangerously drinkable for such a high ABV beer.

Raconteur (9.5%)

This barley wine has been aged in brandy barrels from Burgundy and this really comes through on the smell. Vinous aromas and flavours abound. There is an intense raisiny flavour too, with a sourness from aging balancing out what has the potential to be an overly sweet and cloying beer. It has a hint of Flemish red about it and there is a moreish nutty character there too which keeps bringing your lips back to the glass. A savoury touch of marmite is there but certainly not unpleasantly. This is a complex, challenging and ultimately sublime beer. It takes time to appreciate but is worth the effort.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Happy New Year! Meopham Valley Sparkling Rose 2009

For New Year's Day we thought a bit of fizz was in order!

We tasted Meopham Valley's Sparkling RosĂ© at the Canterbury Food and Drink festival back in 2012 where the quality of this English sparkling wine really stood out and we've finally got round to drinking it. Meopham Valley is on Kent's North Downs and the vineyard have been making sparkling and still wines since 1991. This one won a silver award at English Wine of the Year, and a bronze at the Decanter World Wine Awards.

It's a beautiful light salmon with a fragrant aroma of Strawberries and Raspberries with some yeasty, bready notes. This wine has a refreshing acidity, lots of fresh raspberry and lemon and lovely touches of summer flowers. It has a very long finish which really shows off the quality of the wine. A great wine to pop open on New Years Eve or at a summer evening garden party.

Meopham Valley is available from Waitrose Cellar (where it's currently on offer) amongst other selected stockists.

Beer of the week - Hotel Chocolat Beer Truffles

We are just past Christmas and the house is still full of chocolate. It's also full of beer; both situations the effect of over-ambitious ordering and generous gifts.

Hotel Chocolat have done a good job of combining these two household favourites with their beer truffles.

A crisp crack of milk chocolate yields to a creamy, boozy, white chocolate ganache. It's subtly enriched with familiar Belgian beer flavours of malt and banana rounded off by an intriguing hoppy bitterness.

I've tasted a fair bit of beer based confectionery and I think these truffles come the closest to properly capturing the flavours of beer in this format. Maybe not one for a chocolate connoisseur and they certainly won't satisfy your thirst, but for a bit of festive fun they hit the mark.

Maybe a kind gift for a beer fan who is abstaining for January!