The London Experience – Wine Tasting @ The Saatch Gallery – 5 Pairs Of Tickets To Win!

This Friday and Saturday, 26 and 27 October, a wine-tasting extravaganza is coming to Chelsea’s Saatchi Gallery. The London Experience, devised by respected French wine critics Michel Bettane and Thierry Desseauve, will introduce visitors to 50 great French wines and 9 from the best Italian estates, alongside another 41 ‘rising stars’. Tasting sessions will involve French and British wine experts alongside some of the wine producers who will be attending this two-day event.

I am very pleased to announce that we are running a competition to win five pairs of tickets (priced at £30 each), valid for tastings at the gallery from 10am to 8pm on Friday or 10am to 6pm on Saturday.

All you have to do to enter is submit a picture on a wine-related subject through Twitter – perhaps a bunch of grapes, an artistic arrangement of your favourite stopper and corkscrew or you and your partner enjoying a glass of wine. Photographs will be judged solely on composition, so don’t worry if you aren’t able to lay your hands on an expensive SLR – shots taken with your smartphone will be perfectly adequate.

london experience wine tasting saatchi gallery chelseaJust send a tweet @thelondoneer linking to the picture and include the hashtag #londonexperience. Entries will be accepted until midnight on Wednesday, and winners will be informed as soon as possible on Thursday 25 October.

If you’re unsuccessful in the competition, tickets for the weekend are priced from £20 to £40 per person – you can purchase tickets online here.

Bettane and Desseeauve established the Paris Grand Tasting in 2006. This annual event, which takes place at the Carrousel du Louvre, is now an established date on the international wine calendar. Their new venture, The London Experience, is a rare opportunity to sample some of Europe’s best wines – no doubt this weekend focusing on the ‘genius of European wines‘ will be the first of many.…

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Shaker & Company’s Camden Cocktail Bar

Earlier this week I was invited along to an evening at Shaker & Company, the new cocktail bar devised by the guys who train many of the world’s top ‘mixologists’, which you’ll find in a rather ordinary row of retail outlets down towards the bottom of Hampstead Road near Warren St. If you’re a regular visitor to the site you’ll know that invitations to glitzy bars are the kind of thing that I normally decline, however the Shaker & Company offering is a bit different. Read on…

This new venue occupies a corner building which was clearly a pub in an earlier life – it retains the half-frosted etched windows that are a feature of many classic boozers, and the decor on the ground floor is quite rustic with a big, chunky bar extending along the long dimension of the space and bench seating running along the opposite side. However, any perceptions that you might have walked into a slightly upmarket pub are swept away by the sight of the literally hundreds of bottles of rare spirits lining the wall behind the bar and the interesting range of ingredients that sit on top of it – you won’t find a basket of fresh eggs, punnets of rasberries and bunches of mint on the counter of my local anyway! In keeping with its earthy vibe I’m glad to report that there isn’t a sniff of a Sloane Ranger about the place either – the punters here seem to be a well-heeled subset of the Camden crowd, which is a far more comfortable group of people to be around… unless you find the Chelsea set particularly entertaining.

The speciality at Shaker & Company is their range of uniquely formulated cocktails – we got to try a few (including one rather fiery concoction served straight out of a cute miniature cocktail shaker) but my favourite of the evening was definitely the ‘Potato Sack Sour’, a combination of (deep breath) Benedictine, Aperol, Pisco, lemon juice, Peach Bitters, egg white, and then a dash of Angostura and Peychaud’s Bitters to finish it off. Cocktails come in at a not-unreasonable £7.50 a piece, and to help you fortify yourself for the next round they also do an interesting range of ‘soul food’, taking their inspiration straight from the New Orleans scene. Take your pick from ‘hush puppies’, jambalaya, gumbo, sweet potato fries and lots of other Southern delicacies, priced at around a fiver or so for a generous portion of food.

 
 

To add to the atmosphere, Shaker & Company also have mid-week live music sessions – up until mid-January singer-songwriter Toby Connor will be entertaining customers from 8 until 10pm every Wednesday, with other artists to follow, and for visitors seeking a bit more intimacy for their evening there’s also a small space downstairs which is regularly re-decorated around a different theme. Switching from a Benedictine Monastery feel last month its now the BelvedereRED Room for Christmas (with Svarovski crystals and frosty Belvedere trees decorating the …

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TheLondoneer: Tequila Tasting @ Wahaca Soho

On arriving we were ushered downstairs from the main restaurant floor down into their more intimate bar space for a tutored tasting in that classic Mexican spirit, tequila. Before going on to describe how the evening developed I will just mention the decor – there’s a long coloured chainlink curtain that runs almost the whole length of the bar which is picked out with a Mexican ‘day of the dead’ theme that is very odd indeed, as are the strange arrangement of wall lights. That and the bank of table football contraptions overlooking the outlandish WC area makes for rather a jarring experience – the atmosphere is certainly not that of your typical soho bar… Before we got down to business we were invited to try out their unusual cocktails – I had a spiced chocolate cocktail that I can only describe as a punch in the throat from a velvet glove. I can imagine that if chocolate isn’t your thing you’d absolutely hate it, but the next time I’m back there its going at the top of my ‘wants’ for the evening.

So on to the tasting then , which was conducted by their chief tequila guru. Not many people are aware of the way in which tequila is made, so before I go on to describe the particular ones that we tried last night I’ll tell you some interesting facts about the drink itself. Tequila is made exclusively in the Mexican region of the same name (much like champagne can only come from the Champagne region in France) by harvesting the blue agave plant found in the valley of Tequila (from 1400-1500 metres above sea level) or up in the Highlands (at over 2100 metres) after it has been allowed to grow for a period of between 5 and 9 years. After it is picked this fibrous plant is then slow-cooked to bring out its sweet and syrupy qualities in traditional brick ovens or by using a more modern autoclave method, and then distilled in pot or column stills (not disimilar to the way in which whisky is produced).

Although blended tequilas are available, the ten different varieties that we tried tonight are all 100% (well 99% actually – producers are allowed to introduce 1% of a very limited number of additional ingredients if they wish to) and came from the three main kinds of tequila – tequila blanco (which is made from unaged spirit), reposado (which is allowed to age for up to two months) and anejo (which can be aged up to 1 year but only made in quite small batches). There are two other types which we didn’t try tonight but I’ll mention them for completeness – gold tequila, which is a mixture of blanco and the more aged spirits and extra anejo, which as you might guess is aged for up to 3 years.

Now I won’t go into copious detail about each one on tonight’s menu but I will just mention that the …

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Food Secret, Soho

Earlier tonight I was down at Food Secret on Broadwick St, Soho, for one of their demonstration evenings with their head chef Neil Armstrong.

 
 

As I said in my post last week they’re really into nutrition and freshness at Food Secret – you can go along and put together a hot soup, sandwich or salad on the fly, selecting from their fresh ingredients to make up what you want. They even prepare their pastes, sauces and stocks on the premises – so you can be assured that the pesto, harisa and so on that you put into your soup hasn’t come out of a jar. Now you might say that there’s nothing new there – in Soho in particular healthy eating has caught on. There are any number of other venues around that will offer the health-conscious a similar service, so let me tell you about what I think makes Food Secret unique.

What they’ve done, with help from nutritionist Sanna Anderson, is to devise a rather neat software application that helps you select precisely the right food for your dietary needs. Go up to the counter and start to put together your meal and you’ll see, on a large lcd screen below you on your side of the counter, the number of calories, amount of protein, carbohydrate and so on, as well as their unique star rating system, building up as you add more ingredients. So, for example, if you’re absolutely determined that your meal has to come in at 200 calories and only include 20% of your daily intake of fat , you can take things away from the mixture to get you to that exact figure with this really unique little visual aide.

 
 

The other thing that I think Food Secret has on its rivals is style. The walls and ceiling are lined in intriguingly lit frosted glass, and art and fashion videos are projected onto the walls all around the space. I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that when the big high-fashion people are in town for a show, such as Vivienne Westwood or Oswald Boateng, Food Secret is their first choice for catering to the nutritional needs of their notoriously fastidious models!

 
 

It certainly gets my recommendation for people who want tasty food but are watching their intake – given where I am at the moment I should probably visit them fairly often! I’ll also just mention their website, where you’ll find some sample menus but also some useful tips on nutrition. Of course they’re also on Twitter and on Facebook if you want to keep an eye on what’s happening at the store.…

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Party Like It’s 1922 With The Candlelight Club

There’s absolutely no doubt that pop-up restaurants and bars were the London dining craze of 2012, and it looks like this year is going to offer more of the same…

One of the quirkiest and most well-established of the bunch is The Candlelight Club (they’ve now been in the business for a positively middle-aged three years). Themed around the prohibition era of the 1920s they positively encourage diners to pitch up as gangsters and molls, and as well as the illicit booze a night at the club usually involves some authentic period jazz and a cocktail menu specific to each appearance.
I don’t know about you, but while I find the food at pop-up experiences generally exemplary the same usually can’t be said for the drinks, with cocktails being a particular stumbling block for many venues. There’s no fear of that at The Candlelight Club however – the top mixologists from the likes of Artesian, Soho House and the Langham moonlight behind the cocktail shakers and highball glasses.

Events planned for this year include ‘Sakura in Old Town’ on the 5th and 6th of April, ‘A New York Speakeasy Crawl’ on the 19th and 20th and ‘Kentucky Derby’ on the 3rd and 4th of May. Lined up on the 10th and 11th of May are two super-secret nights planned around the release of The Great Gatsby on the silver screen, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio and launches at the Cannes Film Festival on 15 May. Discover the door that you have to knock on to gain entry and you could find yourself centre stage as Daisy Buchanan or the  dapper Jay Gatsby himself……

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The City Of London Distillery & Bar – A Temple To Gin Making

For centuries London was a prodigious producer of gin – Nicholson’s operated their huge facility at Three Mills, Bromley by Bow until bombing caused their production to cease in 1941, and Gordons and Tanqueray continued to be made in Islington until the early 1980s. Of the big distillers, only Beefeater remains – their gin is still made on an industrial scale at a facility down in Kennington.

Up until last year, however, there had been no small-scale production of gin in the capital for decades. That’s all changed since the City of London Distillery & Bar opened its doors last November, and last night I was lucky enough to visit this temple to gin-making, which you’ll find on the narrow Brides Lane in the heart of the City.

Descend the stairs into this intimate bar with its low ceilings and the first thing that you’ll discover is their gleaming distillery, its shiny copper vessels looking like they’ve just been born out of the pages of some cyber-punk novel. These are tended by master distiller Jamie Baxter, who has years of experience in the field – his equipment here is capable of producing just over 200 bottles of their London dry gin per batch. They use a whole range of what are called ‘botanicals’ (a posh way of referring to a complex mixture of juniper berries, herbs, spices and fruit peel) to flavour their base grain spirit, which is then mixed with purified water to bring it down to 40% proof – a typical strength for a classic London dry gin.

 
 

 
 

 
 

The associated bar (which must have the largest collection of different gin brands anywhere in the country on display behind the counter) is owned by Lewis and Nate, collectively known as the London Bar Consultants, who have been one of the main forces behind London’s rediscovery of the art of cocktail-making over the last few years. As well as popping down to sample their range of gins, martinis and the like (which of course includes the very drinkable gin that they make on the premises) you can also participate in distillery tours where you’ll discover the intricacies of the gin-making process, masterclasses on gin tasting (there are three traditional types of gin and new styles being devised all the time) and also have a crack at making your own!…

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Pizza Primavera

This evening I went along to the Curtain Road branch of Pizza Express in Hoxton for a special event to mark the extension of their ‘healthy option’ Legerra range for Spring. Ushered downstairs we were treated to a few starters and a refreshing prosecco and also invited to sample the ‘Election Pizza’ which, appropriately, will be available again on May 6. After about half an hour of conversation, head chef and pizza supremo Antonio Romani demonstrated how to assemble the two new pizzas in the Legerra range, the Verdure (made with roasted peppers, courgettes and sweet baby onions layered over rosemary) and the Mare e Monti (with king prawns and vegetables laced with cajun spice, oregano and parsley).

Donning aprons it was then our turn to try our hand – we each started with a ball of dough that we had to press out into a circle and then stretch to the edges of a pizza pan, cutting out the centre at the end to make room for the pile of salad leaves that are the distinctive feature of the Legerra pizzas. Of course, being all fingers and thumbs my effort resembled a long sausage when everyone else’s was perfect so, with a raise of his eyebrows, the assistant chef who was helping us out on our table discarded it and presented me with a finished one! We were all successful in assembling the ingredients however, and the pizzas were then whisked away to be cooked and returned a little later so that we could then eat our creations…

I have to say that the pizzas were really rather tasty, with the added bonus of being relatively guilt free as they are less than 500 calories a piece. To complete the healthy range, Pizza Express also now offer mini versions of their desserts paired with coffee, and low calorie/low alcohol red and white wines, one of which we were given to take away at the end of the evening. The most important thing that I left with, of course, was a pleasantly full stomach, so thumbs up for Pizza Express 

UPDATE!

Pizza Express have kindly offered the prize of a £10 voucher to the reader of my blog who guesses the most correct answers in the attached quiz. Please pop your answers into the comments section of this post, and I will contact the winner by email directly so that Pizza Express can send you your voucher – the competition closes in one week – good luck!…

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I Can Has Cheezburger?

Tonight I paid a Valentine’s Day visit to Gourmet Burger Kitchen in Canary Wharf. I loved it. Sometimes I like elaborate food, but sometimes I just want something simple, and that’s what GBK offers. There’s very little on the menu other than their burgers (although they do a mean range of thick milkshakes – I had lime) however what they do, they do well. There’s a full range of fare for meat-eaters, and lots of options for vegetarians too. The burgers are well-cooked, and they’re huge and tasty. The meal we had wasn’t particularly expensive either, which is unusual for Canary Wharf. If you’re desparate to check out the restaurant and the food we had, there are some shots here, taken on the N95 so not particularly good but they’ll give you a good idea of what to expect.…

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Londoneer: Food Secret Event

Early next week I’m going to be attending an event at Food Secret, the restaurant and cafe on Broadwick St in Soho which focuses on good nutrition. We’re going to be looking at how you assemble some of their popular recipes and getting some tips from their head chef, Neil Armstrong, on knife and kitchen skills. Nutritionist Sanna Anderson will also be there to offer advice on healthy eating.

I’ll be giving some feedback on the blog after the fact – I’m rather looking forward to it because my cooking abilities don’t stretch all that far so I need all the help I can get.I’ll also be giving you my impressions of how they manage to square the circle of good nutrition and good tasty food at the same time!

Of course, being hip and Soho-based they’re all about social media at Food Secret – you can follow them on Twitter and look them up on Facebook. I’ve also found a video that shows you some of what I might be letting myself in for next week 🙂…

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Londoneer: Samosa Session @ Chilli Chutney

I’m glad that I’m a bit of a foodie, because here comes my second restaurant blog entry of the week. Courtesy of my friends at Qype (and TikiChris in particular) I was down in Streatham earlier this evening at Chilli Chutney.

You can find Chilli Chutney amongst a small group of bistros just down the street from Streatham’s 1930s era Odeon Cinema, and it’s not at all what you’d expect. In fact, there’s no flock wallpaper at all – instead you’ll find a bright and airy modern space where you can even take a seat at the window to watch the world go by. The differences don’t stop there either, as this restaurant specialises in cuisine from Lahore, located in Pakistan’s Punjab region, so apart from the usual staples you’d expect to find there are a whole range of specialities, some of which are new to me, and I thought I was quite well-versed in food from the Indian subcontinent.  

My main reason for being here tonight was to take part in a samosa-making event and so, after some introductions and a few samples of the restaurant’s dishes (including some slices of a very-moreish Roghni naan unique to the region – a soft, flat bread made with yoghurt and eggs and dusted with sesame seeds) we were invited to gather round for instruction on how to make the perfect samosa. Using a blend of eight spices, plain flour, water and the filling (in this case lightly spiced potato and peas and, for the meat lovers, lamb mince and peas) some of the restaurant’s expert chefs lined up to show us how it was done. They certainly made it look very simple and straightforward, but then I hadn’t taken into account the fact that these guys produce several hundred of these little parcels each and every day. My clumsy attempt, in contrast, was a disaster – I ended up with a scotch-egg shaped lump of pastry with a big bulge of filling in the middle which bore no resemblance to the delicate triangles the chefs were rapidly piling up on the table!

After the samosas that we had prepared were cooked and served we then sat down to sample some more of Chilli Chutney’s signature dishes. We were presented with a delicate lentil dhal and also an aromatic chicken achari (another speciality of the house), along with some more bread, including what I was reliably informed was a stuffed naan, but what a surprise! Clearly the cooking techniques from this region differ from what I’m used to, because instead of the bubbly, soft bread that is served at my local restaurant (and which, frankly, I find a bit sickly) this was dense and firm with a thin uniform layer of filling running through it. Like the rhogni we had tried earlier, it was very, very good indeed. 

In summary, we had a very pleasant evening in very nice surroundings, and the food and service at Chilli Chutney was excellent. In fact, …

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