I’ve been thinking about this question recently, not least because I was sent two different burgers to review, and I was also asked what my ultimate burger would be by Donald Russell.
Broadly, there are three aspects to a burger – the meat patty, the bun and the various condiments served inside or with it.
This is a contentious one, especially with my friends across the pond, many of whom insist that any patty that contains more than minced beef and seasoning is a not a burger at all, and might better be described as a flattened meatball!
I’ll have to agree to disagree as I happily enjoy both pure-beef burger patties as well as ones with all kinds of other ingredients mixed in. Since I eat the latter in burger baps, with burger condiments they are, as far as I’m concerned, burgers!
Pure Beef Patties
If I want a pure beef patty, then I don’t see the point of buying mince just to add salt, pepper and shape it myself, and I’m certainly too lazy to buy a steak and mince it myself, so we usually get ready-made patties from Waitrose – their Aberdeen Angus ones to be specific. These are pretty good and we’d not thought much about alternatives, until recently.
The Donald Russell patties we were sent didn’t measure up well against the Waitrose Aberdeen Angus ones. Cooked to medium in our normal way, they were chewy, a touch dry and under-seasoned. We were disappointed with them.
A few weeks previously, we were also sent some Waitrose Heston Ultimate Beef Burgers to review. I was dubious because, at the end of the day, they were still made of beef, so how much better (if at all) could they possibly be, really?
I read the blurb. It informed me that Heston has created a blend of three different cuts of (British) beef which, minced especially to ensure that the meat’s grain sits vertically within the burger. The cuts used are chuck and brisket, finely minced, plus 28 day aged fore rib, minced less finely to add texture. Plus seasoning and that’s it. The burgers are based on the recipe Heston developed for his In Search Of Perfection TV show.
To my surprise, we absolutely loved Heston’s Ultimate burgers. The flavour and texture were exceptionally good and they retained moisture very well. We thought they were significantly better than any other pure-beef patty we’ve tried; in fact we liked them so much that, despite the price tag of £4.49 for 2 burgers (weighing 125 grams each), we’ve bought them twice since and will continue to buy them regularly for as long as they’re available. (Note, because they don’t shrink like cheaper burgers, we’ve found one burger in a bun each to be sufficient for a satisfying meal).
It seems that there are as many recipes for burger patties, the kind containing more than just beef, as there are burger eaters. OK, this is probably an exaggeration but only a slight one!
In the past, we’ve enjoyed Pete’s mum’s recipe which combines minced beef, raw onions, pork sausage meat and seasoning. And we’ve made cheese burgers with the cheese inside rather than on top; blue cheese is my choice for this. We’ve also been inspired by Nigel Slater to add East Asian ingredients to flavour beef, pork and chicken patties and even to cook them in a bath of stock, in the oven.
But the recipe I’m recommending for my ultimate burger is a Felicity Cloake one, part of her “How To Cook The Perfect…” series (which earned Felicity one of two well-deserved awards from the Guild of Food Writers this year). (See below for recipe).
We particularly loved the flavours and moistness added by the stout and the lightly caramelised onions. These were seriously good burgers!
By the way, we used some Donald Russell mince for these patties, which we were sent at the same time as the burgers, and thought it had a decent fat content and flavour, so worked well for making burgers.
I am torn between the brioche bun (which adds a lovely hint of sweetness and also looks spiffing) and a regular white burger bap.
What is definite is that it must be soft, soft, soft.
I hate burger buns with a crust and using ciabatta (or any other trendy loaf) is a no-no.
But nor must it be so soft that it disintegrates while eating the burger, leaving soggy smears of bun remnants and a virtually bare burger between your fingers!
As Pete isn’t a fan of brioche, we opted for white and our favourite baker, Tom Herbert, came to the rescue and emailed over his ultimate burger bap recipe. It produces the perfect white burger buns – soft, with a lovely crumb and yet robust enough to remain in one piece while eating. (See below for recipe).
This one’s a bit of a free for all as there are many condiments people like in their burgers from a variety of pickles and relishes to cheese (American processed or real) to rashers of bacon, fried onions, fried mushrooms, onion rings and then there’s the question of sauces and salad…
In our ultimate burgers, we both went for romaine lettuce (picked fresh from the garden), thinly sliced red onion and some of my home-made pickled gherkins. In addition, Pete added thinly sliced tomato and I added sliced, fried mushrooms and a basic marie rose sauce (tomato ketchup + mayonnaise mixed).
On a cheaper burger, I might add stronger flavours such as bacon, chilli con carne, cheese or pesto but on a great burger, much less in the way of condiments are necessary, I think.
Felicity Cloake’s Perfect Burger
Ingredients 1 tablespoon oil or butter 1 large onion, finely chopped 1kg roughly minced chuck steak (or any non-lean mince) 100 ml stout 2 tablespoons brown breadcrumbs 2 teaspoons chopped herbs (parsley or thyme work well) 1 teaspoon salt Black pepper
Heat the oil in a frying pan over a low heat, and cook the onion until soft and slightly browned. Leave to cool.
Spread the beef out and sprinkle over the onion. Add the stout, breadcrumbs, herbs and seasoning and mix together with a fork, being careful not to overwork it.
Divide the meat into 12 flattish burgers, putting a dimple in the centre of each. Cover and refrigerate for an hour.
Cook the burgers on a medium to hot barbecue or griddle pan: leave them undisturbed for the first 3 minutes so they build up a good seal on the bottom, then carefully turn them over, adding a slice of cheese on top if desired. Cook for a further 4 minutes for rare, and 7 for well done, and allow to rest for a few minutes before serving.
Tom Herbert’s Ultimate Burger Bap
Makes 10 baps
Ingredients 500g strong white flour 200ml milk (tepid) 100ml water (tepid) 25g castor sugar 25g lard 25g sourdough (omit if necessary) 10g salt 5g dried yeast (or 10g fresh yeast) Egg, beaten (optional, for wash) Sesame seeds (optional)
Weigh all the ingredients into a bowl and mix thoroughly.
Knead for 10 minutes until your dough is soft and elastic.
Leave to rise in a covered bowl for an hour in a warm place.
Divide the dough into 10 pieces and pin out 10cm baps on a floured surface.
Place on a baking trays with baking paper on.
Brush some beaten egg over each bap.
Leave them in a warm place for half an hour.
Brush with a second coat of beaten egg.
Sprinkle a pinch of sesame seeds onto each bap.
Leave for a further half hour to rise.
Meanwhile pre heat your oven too 230 degrees Celsius.
Bake your baps until they are perfectly golden (about 10-15mins).
Note: We omitted the sesame seeds and egg wash. We were still rewarded with beautifully risen, evenly textured white baps that were pillowy soft but didn’t disintegrate whilst eating our burgers.
Continuing my journey through my last box of goodies from AlesByMail, we reach Oxfordshire Ales – a microbrewery based in the wonderfully named village of Marsh Gibbon. They produce a fairly small range of traditional ales, and here we have their entire bottled range.
First up is Triple B, a 3.7% session beer. A deep amber colour, with a fine-bubbled, velvety-looking lingering head. In the glass I can see a huge volume of rising bubble streams; it looks more like a champagne than a real ale!
There’s not much on the nose; a hint of sweet, lightly toasted malt but not he “full well hopped aroma” the bottle suggests. That lingering head feels almost like the froth on a latte in the mouth; those bubbles don’t translate into an unpleasantly excessive fizz. It’s a nice, medium-to-light bodied beer, gentle malt at first and a very subtle hoppy tang towards the end.
It’s hard to say much more about this one; it doesn’t stand out particularly; the flavours are subtle to the point of being obscure. That said, you don’t want a session beer that overwhelms your senses. It’s on the edge of bland, but it’s a good, if unremarkable, ale.
Next is Marshmellow, stronger at 4.7% and a slightly deeper amber than the Triple B. The head has a similar velvet appearance, but is much thinner in the glass. The aroma is much more pronounced, with dark cherry fruit.
It’s another smooth beer in the mouth, a slight sweetness on the front with a hoppy bitter undercurrent, leading through to a more obvious bitter tail and right at the end there’s an aftertaste of .. something dry, green, sharp. Watermelon?
You can tell that it’s a stronger beer; in many ways it tastes and smells stronger than the bottle suggests. An enjoyable bottle.
Finally, Pride of Oxford, a 5.0% pale golden ale. Another lingering, velvety head, with an incredibly floral, sweet lemon nose. That sweetness and those lemon flavours come through on tasting too, along with a lot of floral hoppiness and subtle lingering bitterness.
It’s a very drinkable, golden pale ale. As with the Triple B, there’s nothing that really stands out about it but it’s a perfectly drinkable pint.
It was during Lebanon’s golden era in the 1950s and ’60s that Lebanese businessman Najib Salha decided to build a world class hotel on the shores of Beirut. With a group of like-minded investors, he founded La Société des Grands Hotels du Liban and invited American architect Edward Durell Stone to design his dream hotel.
The Phoenicia InterContinental opened its doors 8 years later in 1961.
It immediately became a firm favourite with the rich and famous jet set and was party central for royalty, world leaders, celebrities, businessmen not to mention wealthy Lebanese.
After years of closure due to the war, La Société des Grands Hotels du Liban decided to rebuild Beirut’s grand dame. After extensive refurbishment and extensions, it reopened in 2000.
In its new incarnation, it offers 446 rooms and suites plus a residential complex with serviced apartments. As well as its own range of restaurants, the larger complex also provides a home to a number of other stores and restaurants including the Beirut outpost of Gaucho.
This year The Phoenicia celebrates 50 years since its original opening.
Invited for a review visit, we were allocated a Club InterContinental room which comes with its own check-in and check-out area on the 6th floor, a club lounge area in which complimentary breakfast, afternoon tea and an evening finger food buffet are served during the day, access to a business centre and library plus use of the meeting room if required, WiFi in the room and public spaces (and high speed internet in the room), complimentary limousine transfers (though these only seem to be offered for pick up from the airport and not drop off back to it), a butler service to help with in-room or concierge needs and a complimentary 15 minute neck massage, plus discount on any further spa treatments.
Our room was lovely and spacious. The king size bed was comfortable, a usable desk working area with internet, TV and mini bar fridge, wardrobe space plus a handy storage for suitcases and bags, so they didn’t clutter up the room. I would have preferred a two-seater sofa or two arm chairs to the chaise-longue but that’s just me.
I liked our little balcony, with side views of the marina and coast. The windows were well sound-proofed against the constant buzz of traffic below.
And the bathroom was super lovely, with a large walk-in shower closet, a separate bath, gorgeous L’Occitane toiletries and a separate toilet area.
What we liked about our room is that it was a space we were happy to relax in, and felt positive about coming back to during the day and for the night. You might think this is a no-brainer but, believe me, our first night in Lebanon (after which we moved quick sharpish) made it strikingly clear that this is not always the case!
The only negative with our room was the number of times we were interrupted for house keeping services, turn down service and then, the one that really annoyed, a manager check that the turn down service had been provided or offered. This was not just for us because we were on a review visit, but repeated along the length of the club rooms corridor, I think. I felt like responding that if they didn’t trust their staff to perform the duties they were paid for, they should employ people they did!
As expected from a hotel of this stature, public spaces are enormous and sumptuously decorated, though they’ve been refurbished lately with a lighter, more modern touch, introducing sleeker silver check in desks, purples and greys in carpets and furnishings and less of the heavy gold and red that we were told used to be prevalent. At the same time, with all the gleaming marble, one doesn’t forget one’s in a traditional luxury hotel!
Outdoors is an attractive pool area with plenty of greenery, day beds, seating areas and the Amethyste bar area. We tried to enjoy a drink here one evening but a wedding party in a nearby building had their music turned up outrageously loud, not the fault of The Phoenicia. What made it worse was the hotel bar’s insistence on keeping their own loud music switched on – the clash between the two was unbearable and we gave up and retreated indoors to the Cascade lobby lounge. A shame as the seating areas around the pool are delightful; one of my favourite spaces in the hotel.
We didn’t make it into the outdoor pool during our May visit, as the weather wasn’t quite warm enough.
located via Google image search, no photographer information found
Instead we used the indoor pool within the spa area. This has been well designed. The separate mens’ and womens’ changing areas each have steam rooms and showers. A large shared jacuzzi is in the open area next to the pool. The pool has high ceilings and is just big enough to do lengths if you want to exercise a little. (There is a gym nearby, for those who really want to work out; I walked past without giving it a second glance). I particularly loved looking out while I was floating in the pool, through immense glass windows, onto a residential scene that summed up Beirut – a number of beautifully refurbished buildings and one windowless shell, pockmarked by sniper fire and bombs.
Next to the indoor pool and changing rooms is the spa reception, and, up on a mezzanine floor, the treatment rooms. We booked a massage each, Pete opting for a 50 minute hour Ayurvedic Abhyanga massage and me for an 80 minute therapeutic deep tissue massage. Pete couldn’t work out why the treatment was classified as Ayurvedic, since it had no Ayurvedic aspects to it. At all. None. Moreover, it was an average massage at best. Not bad per se, but not good.
Mine was a bit of a disaster. Firstly, my therapist sulked when I didn’t take him up on his determined offer to split my treatment time between massage and therapist-directed (power) jet shower. This came up twice more during the massage itself, too. Then, we started the treatment to the thunder of drilling work, the treatment room clearly just on the other side of the wall from the construction work on Mosaic restaurant. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you I could feel the vibrations reverberating through my head. My therapist quickly worked out this wasn’t going to work and left me lying there as he went off, for a very long time indeed, to find an alternative. Of course, the spa were not to blame, having not known about it, but some internal communications in advance would have allowed the spa to avoid accepting bookings for those treatment rooms during the noisiest works. Eventually, he returned and said we’d use a free bedroom within the hotel, where a mobile massage table had been set up. I was not very comfortable following him through the hotel in a too-small bathrobe, but eventually we got into the room, only to find it didn’t have a massage table. Off he went again to get the key for the correct room, and then we had to wait again for the massage oils and towels to be delivered. The massage itself, sorry to say, was also not very good, with the therapist refusing to heed my requests about where on my body to focus his time, or to work more gently. Nor did it help that he sat down for so much of it, meaning he didn’t get a decent angle with which to reach my back muscles. He stopped to grab himself a drink from the minibar in the middle too! Near the end, he wanted to work on my neck. Immediately, I told him that I’ve had some issues with my neck, something I’d mentioned during our initial discussion, and to go very gently indeed. He ignored me once again, actually strong arming my resistance away, insisting he knew best. I’m just lucky he didn’t do any damage and I was not a happy bunny. Five minutes before the end of our allotted time, the spa reception called the room to check whether he’d finished; surely better to wait until he called them than risk interrupting the client’s treatment. And to cap it all, he then insisted on asking me in person, what I’d thought of the treatment. Alone in a bedroom with a therapist who had delivered a bullying treatment, I was too timid to say anything other than “time will tell” before escaping as quickly as I could and feeding back in detail to management shortly afterwards.
Offered a replacement massage, I was reluctant but agreed to give it ago. I was assigned to Imad who took genuine time to check my medical details and requirements, and gave me, in complete contrast, one of the best massages I’d had in my life, though marred a little by the bruising left from the first treatment. With his excellent massage training, not to mention diploma in osteopathy and further training in reflexology, Imad was a great therapist and he fixed a lot of the pain caused the previous day and helped with some of the aches I’d hoped to heal in the first place. He is one of the best therapists I’ve ever encountered, anywhere.
Were all the therapists at The Phoenicia of the same calibre, I would not hesitate to recommend that you book a treatment here. But our 1 out of 3 hit rate means I’m loathe to do so; it’s a hit and miss affair and the hotel needs to invest a lot more effort into hiring and training better therapists.
The hotel offers a number of dining options from casual to formal.
I met with the hotel’s executive chef Jacques Rossel and with Rabih Fouany, Eau de Vie’s head chef, ahead of our evening meal there. Here’s an interview.
Eau de Vie
The Eau de Vie is The Phoenicia’s flagship restaurant, situated on the eighth floor, with views out over the sea and the city and offering French and Mediterranean cuisine. It’s recently been refurbished and we all found it a calming space, in muted colours and simple, elegant lines. Window tables were each separated by chiffon curtained partition walls, giving welcome privacy. Live music was pleasant, but not too loud to preclude conversation. Service was helpful, friendly but not overly obsequious.
Foie gras was served in a generous slice though more brioche would not have gone amiss; rich and unctuous, as it should be.
Caesar salad was brought on a large trolley and assembled in front of the diner, with the dressing made fresh. The only question asked was whether the diner wanted anchovies and, disappointingly, these were not crushed and mixed into the dressing. The romaine leaves were very fresh and sweet, but the dressing was deemed so-so.
Cod croquettes were given the thumbs up.
The tomato tart with lobster salad was light and sweet from the small tomatoes. The lobster had a nice texture but didn’t have much flavour.
The wagyu burger was deemed excellent – cooked pink inside, as agreed on ordering, and decent moist meat.
Chicken chasseur was rich with the flavour of mushrooms and bacon in a thick sauce, and served without fussiness, befitting the nature of the dish.
I had been about to order a regular steak but was encouraged to try the wagyu version instead. All the beef, wagyu and regular, was from Australia, by the way. I gave in to the upsell and was pleasantly surprised. My steak had great flavour but was also far more tender than I would normally have expected from the cut (though which cut has slipped my mind, and I failed to note it down).
The stand out dish of the meal was seabass with mushroom sauce. The seabass was absolutely superbly cooked, if I’m pressing this point, it’s because it really was a perfect balance between firm, moist and tender. And, to our surprise, the robust and rich marsala mushroom sauce did not overwhelm the fish, the flavour of which came through very clearly. Vegetables were simple and cooked with a light touch. The odd pipette of extra sauce stuck into the croquette at a jaunty angle was an odd touch, an out of place nod to molecular cuisine, perhaps.
An assiette of chocolate desserts was decent, with mousses, a chocolate lychee shot and a macaron.
A chocolate praline (not pictured) was excellent, with great flavours and just the right crunchy texture.
The crème brûlée trio – vanilla, raspberry and sumac – was the winner for this course. Pete is very fussy about the texture of the crème custard and gave it top marks. Both the vanilla and the raspberry flavours were tasty. But, oh my, that sumac one was delicious, imparting a refreshing citrus flavour to the custard. I hadn’t thought it would work but everyone tried and really liked it.
With our meal we enjoyed a Ksara rosé Gris de Gris before and with the starters. With our mains, the restaurant General Manager, Nicki, recommended a Massaya red which she described as fruity and full but which would still work with the fish dish as well as the meat ones. She was right, the three red drinkers agreed!
After our meal we enjoyed a digestif each – two chose whiskies from the extensive whisky bar menu and two of us had a glass of dessert wine.
Coffees and teas came with a visit from the petits fours trolley, which is fun to choose from.
Our meal was on the house, but the bill would have been approximately $470 between four of us. That said, the red wine selected for us cost more than what we’d have selected on our own and both Pete and I were encouraged to have wagyu burgers and steak rather than regular. And we were invited to try the whisky bar too. You could dine for a fair bit less here, but you are still paying a premium for the view, the exclusive environment, the posh hotel level of service and the location within an expensive hotel.
That said, we did have a very enjoyable evening.
At the other end of the scale is Caffe Mondo, a casual Italian eatery that Bethany told us was a favourite hang out during her student days. The prices here were on par with many lower to middle range Beirut restaurants and we thought it great value and tasty too.
Most of the starters were intended for one but Pete’s caprese di bufala al pesto was enormous, easily enough for two and priced at similar point to my starter, labelled as for two. It was lovely good with moist, flavoursome mozzarella, decent tomatoes and a pleasant but not overpowering pesto.
I really really fancied the deep fried calamari rings (described on the menu as for two people) so ordered it anyway and stuck to my guns in not finishing it, so I’d have room left for my pizza! Fresh squid, a light batter, cooked for just the right amount of time, served hot with two dips, it was just the ticket.
The starters were on the pricey side, ranging from 15,000 to 30,000 Lebanese pounds (1,500 LP = $1).
Most mains were much more reasonable with pastas costing 12,500 to 19,000 Lebanese pounds and pizzas between 20,000 and 27,500 though fish and meat dishes ranged from 26,000 to a whopping 120,000 for a grilled wagyu sirloin.
The pizza chef worked at a counter open to the restaurant, so we could watch him tossing and stretching the dough, before adding toppings and cooking the pizzas in a proper pizza oven. They were both excellent and as good as my favourites in London and Italy.
Grazers also be interested in the lunch and dinner buffets which are extensive and varied, and I think priced at around $20. The buffet shelf features an integrated chiller unit that keeps the food cold. I have often found restaurant buffet selections disappointing but I’d have been happy to dine from this one.
Tiramisu (10,000) was pretty good. But hazelnut pannacotta (also 10,000) was awful, with about 10 times the amount of gelatine required, it was like spooning into solid rubber, and after a couple of bouncy bites, I gave up. A shame, as the flavour was decent.
Also in the hotel is Wok Wok offering pan Asian cuisine, Amethyste bar offering drinks and bar snacks and the Cascade Lobby Lounge serving drinks and light meals. The hotel’s all day dining restaurant, Mosaic, is currently undergoing major refurbishment, and is scheduled to reopen later in the year.
Service and Ambience
A friend had visited Beirut last year, accompanying her husband who was there on business. She had described The Phoenicia a little impersonal, and said that service (for their large business group) was a bit slow, so I’d been nervous about how we’d find it. To my relief, we genuinely enjoyed our stay, and were treated with courtesy and a helpful attitude by staff throughout the hotel. Of course, with over 400 rooms, there is a vast army of staff, most of whom will interact with any given guest only once, if at all. However, the staff in the Club lounge, who look after a smaller subset of guests, clearly made efforts to remember and interact personally with all their customers.
Certainly, The Phoenicia is a more traditional style of hotel than we naturally gravitate towards, but it’s attractive, comfortable and offers good service, albeit for a price (see below).
Additionally, my friend had commented on the views from the hotel out over derelict neighbouring buildings, finding them unappealing to look at. But I must confess, I found them a bittersweet reminder of Beirut’s war-ravaged history and often could not tear my eyes away from the contrast between new or refurbished buildings and derelict buildings standing cheek to cheek.
Even the Stop Solidere signs intrigued me, a political protest against state-approved but privately owned building projects that are erasing all trace of Lebanon’s conflict-ridden past. Returning Beirut to its pre-civil war appearance, argue the protestors, amounts to state-sponsored amnesia regarding a period that had such impact on Lebanese lives and culture. I’m not remotely qualified to hold an opinion, but find this debate fascinating, drawn as I am by the history those war-pocked shells evoke.
If you prefer modern style to traditional, my friend recommended the more intimate Le Gray, which has an excellent location in the heart of town, near the new souk shopping district, Place de l’Etoile, Martyrs’ Square and many other sites. The Phoenicia is about a kilometre or so further from these sites, so still well located for both business and tourist visitors.
The Phoenicia is not a budget option, by any stretch of the imagination. Standard rooms cost from $400 a night. Our Club rooms cost from $700 a night. (This is very comparable with other high end hotels in Beirut, including Le Gray).
Spa treatments are at the top end of what I’ve come across, even in hotel spas, with Pete’s 50 minute Ayurvedic massage priced at $110, my first (80 minute) massage priced at $133 and the replacement massage priced at $100.
The dining options range from very reasonable to pretty high. (We found eating out in Beirut was more expensive, generally, than we’d expected; on a par with London prices).
Extras are not cheap either; for example, we found the taxi service used by the concierge service was (literally) twice the price of the one we’d been using throughout the week, as recommended in our Taste Lebanon information pack.
views from the penthouse suite, an incredible and enormous space on the 22nd floor, yours for $9,000 a night…
For all that, you do get what you pay for. The Phoenicia of 2011 still reflects the opulence, tradition and service of i’s jet set hey day and offers what you’d expect from a hotel of its style and calibre.
Beirut is an expensive city, but one I am eager to get back to.
Now we’re ready to offer further classes covering “An Indian Meal”, “Indian Breads” and “Pickles, Chutneys & Ketchups”, the first of which is detailed below.
Date: Saturday 30th July Class: An Indian Meal Time: 11.30 am to approximately 8 pm Location: Mamta’s Kitchen, Luton, Bedfordshire Price: £95 per person
Tea, coffee and biscuits arrival
A light lunch that you will cook together
A tasty dinner that you will cook together
Wine and soft drinks with dinner
Tea, coffee and biscuits during the day
These are the dishes we are planning to make during the day, however the exact menu will depend on availability of ingredients, so we may switch one or more dishes nearer the time.
Lunch: Train Journey Aloo Bhaji
Lunch: Green coriander chutney
Break: Chai or Lassi
Dinner: Basic Curry Sauce and Meatball Curry
Dinner: Spiced Fried Fish
Dinner: Stuffed Aubergines
Dinner: Urad Daal Khada Masala
Dinner: Matar Pulao (Pilaf)
Dinner: Vermicelli Kheer
Mum will also make an Indian salad and some raita, to serve with dinner. And you will also be able to taste some of her home-made pickles and chutneys during the meals.
The class will start at 11.30 am and includes a refreshments on arrival, lunch and dinner, drinks and snacks during the day, and wine and soft drinks with dinner. We’ll aim to sit down for dinner at around 6 pm so finish time will be approximately 8 pm.
We are limiting class size to 4 students. They will be joined for the meals by Mamta’s little helpers, Pete and Kavey, and possibly one or two other family members for dinner.
As the class is being held in a domestic kitchen, with a single oven and stove top, students will be working together to create the dishes and will need to take turns to participate. But don’t worry, there will be plenty of hands on experience throughout the day.
The (Luton) address will be provided on confirmation of booking. Plenty of (free) parking is available. Alternatively, you can train to Luton station which is a short bus/ taxi ride from our house. We may be able to collect you from the station if we can coordinate your arrival times.
Living as we do in the boonies of NW London, Whole Foods in Kensington High Street is quite a trek, so not a regular shopping destination for me. Which is a shame, because it’s an utterly amazing place with all kinds of food and drink temptations. I could spend hours and hours and hours and hours in there!
Pete and I recently made our way to the flagship store (the American chain now has five London stores) for a Beer & Bangers tasting.
The event was to celebrate a new beer bar selling draft beers to take away.
The idea is that you make a one-off purchase of a “growler” and then have it refilled each time you visit, with draft beer from a regularly changing selection.
A growler is a half (US) gallon jug of beer. But the term originated in the late 19th century when fresh beers were carried home in small galvanised pails. It is said that the sound of CO2 escaping from the lid, as the beer sloshed around in the pail, sounded like a growl.
These days, modern glass growlers are commonly sold at breweries and brewpubs as a means to sell take-out beer. They are generally made of glass and have either a screw-on cap or a hinged porcelain gasket cap, which can provide freshness for a week or more.
Whole Foods have brought growlers to London in 946 ml and 1.89 litre sizes. The empty bottles cost £3.69 and £3.99 respectively and beer prices range from £3.49 upwards depending on the beer you choose and which size of bottle.
Beer buyer Gavin Stevens talked us through the three beers currently on tap.
Prepared Foods Head Chef Gerry Beck had matched each one to a Whole Foods fresh sausage from their extensive range. Hand-made in-store daily, the sausages are made from 100% British meat bought from farms that meet high animal welfare standards. Some of the recipes were provided by the head company, but many were developed in store for the local market.
Our first pairing was London Meantime Lager with a chicken, sage and apple sausage.
Although I don’t usually drink beer, I found the Meantime light and citrusy with no bitterness at all, and a beer I was happy to drink. Gerry agreed and said he also detected a hint of apple, leading to his sausage match. The sausage was mild in flavour, so didn’t overwhelm the beer, but at the same time, packed a lot more flavour than any chicken sausages I’ve tried before. It was also pleasantly moist, which Gerry said came from cooking slowly in the oven.
Our second pairing was Redemption Pale Ale with a pork, cheddar cheese and smoked bacon sausage.
Between all of us we described the beer as very hoppy with a long dry finish, a typically British bitter ale, though not really a session beer as it’s a little too hoppy for that. Gerry explained that the pork in these sausages came from the Midlands, and was full of flavour. He also added that, as there are no nitrates added to the bacon, it remains pink when cooked. I found the sausage very bacon-y in flavour, perhaps a little too much so for my tastes. And when eaten together with the beer, it tasted like frankfurters!
Our third pairing was Brewdog Punk IPA and an Italian-style pork, fennel and garlic sausage.
What an intriguing beer! Double hopped (during the initial boiling process for bitterness and then during fermentation for the aroma), we found this beer citrusy and fruity and refreshing. I was completely bemused that it smelled like mangoes – really, really like mangoes! The sausage was also robustly flavoured with a strong hit of fennel and just the right touch of garlic. This was a superb match, definitely my favourite.
Both these and the pork, cheddar and bacon sausages were really moist and Gerry explained that he’d poached them in beer before grilling them. A great tip!
I also wondered whether this beer might work with Indian food, though that may simply be because of the mental association that came from that surprising mango aroma!
To finish the session, our last pairing was one of the many bottled beers on sale in the store – Stroud Brewery’s Woolsack Porter with a Lincolnshire sausage.
This was a mild stout, not at all bitter. The Lincolnshire was decent, a good example of it’s kind, but this was the weakest match for me as I felt the beer and sausage didn’t complement each other at all.
It’s so odd that I’m the one writing about this evening, with Pete being the beer drinker in our house! We both love sausages, but I reckon he’s keener there, too. But, to my surprise, this beer and bangers matching really caught my imagination and I ended up writing copious notes to record my thoughts about each pairing.
Pete was, as you might imagine, suitably enthusiastic about the new Whole Foods growlers, especially given the inclusion of Redemption beer. Redemption is not available in the bottle, nor in any takeaway format directly from the brewery, so this is the first time it’s been on sale to take home.
If we lived locally, I’m sure we’d make more use of this new service; we think it’s a great idea!
Why? Because, for me, Soho is a lot more convenient than either his Islington Camden Passage or Bank locations. Which means more fabulous Paul A Young chocolate in my life! (OK, the only bit of not so good news is the impact this will have on my bank balance).
Paul’s third store is right in the heart of Soho, towards the top end of Wardour Street.
It’s more spacious than either of the other two locations, decorated in the same classy purple colour scheme, plus a feature wall of very pretty Cole & Son cocoa pod wallpaper. Big glass windows give plenty of light and the square shop space is furnished with some very beautiful hand-picked furniture including a huge, ornately carved church alter as a counter, a vast round table made from reclaimed elm wood, a white-painted Welsh dresser and a 19th century Parisian glass display unit. The only piece that isn’t reclaimed is a black Ikea unit which Paul customised himself with some fancy gold paint and golden cocoa pods. And crowning it all is a gorgeous blown glass chandelier, made by London company roast designs– eat your heart out Chihuly, this is simply stunning!
The shop looks good.
Not least because Paul has decided to pare back the number of products on offer, making for a cleaner look and allowing the customer to focus more easily on what is there. He also plans to offer more seasonal chocolates than ever before.
For those who’ve visited the tiny kitchen in his Islington Camden Passage store, an even bigger change is hidden below in the form of a huge kitchen area with high ceilings, lots of storage space and even a space for staff coffee and lunch breaks. It sits below the chocolate shop but also extends below neighbouring stores too. Given how much Paul achieved in the smaller space, it’s exciting to think what he will manage in this vast and shiny arena.
He’s already promised tasting sessions, classes and demonstrations down there, which I’m very much looking forward to.
(First. In. Queue.)
Invited to the launch day, it was a pleasure to see Paul’s (and partner James Cronin’s) plans come to fruition, albeit some months later than originally planned, due to complications with the planning approval process. When work finally started, it took them just six weeks to convert the entire space, upstairs and downstairs. This was a bigger job than you might think given the derelict state of the basement – it had formerly been a nightclub and had nicotine stained walls, a collapsed archway and walls that crumbled to the touch!
And of course, we were also invited to try some of Paul’s new seasonal collection.
A confession: I loved Paul’s chocolates when I first tried them a couple of years ago, but in recent months, I’d had less consistent experiences. Some of the chocolates I’d tried during the last couple of visits I’d found too insipid, lacking the punch and sheer excitement that had drawn me in before.
To my delight, the new collection were full of flavour and exciting combinations and I fell head over heels with nearly every chocolate I tried.
There were lots of new flavours including Appleton Estate rum and golden raisin, St Germain liqueur with elder flower, coconut water and lemon grass, delicately dark raspberry… (all of which I really enjoyed) and a number of classics including the summery Pimm’s cocktail, the sea salted caramel dome and the love it or hate it Marmite truffle. I was really impressed with the goats cheese, rosemary and lemon which is much more robust than previous incarnations thanks to Paul switching to a different goats cheese and goats milk. The new tomato, basil and olive oil chocolate (made with a tomato passata supplied by a fellow Soho trader) was intriguing; although tomato is a fruit it’s still odd to experience flavours that are normally associated with savoury dishes in a sweet chocolate!
The huge summer pudding chocolates, featuring berry compote, basil, raspberry ganache and caramelised hazelnut pieces in a white chocolate shell inlaid with freeze dried raspberry, were deeply satisfying. Before you wonder just how greedy I was, can I point out that several of us shared one of these beauties!
The three chocolates I loved the best were passion fruit curd and coffee (such a naturally balanced pairing it’s amazing it’s not been discovered before), sea salted black sesame tahini (which had a gooey interior balanced against the roasted sesame crunchy topping) and the Kernel Brewery stout and dark muscovado (which was out-of-this-world delicious; who would ever have thought that I’d be choosing a beer-based chocolate as my top choice of the day?)
I grabbed a few moments of Paul’s time for an impromptu interview. As always, no preparation in advance, so forgive me if the questions are a little disjointed. And, what can I say, I’m not a very steady camera woman!
Although we were given some samples to take away, I could not resist buying a couple of the Kernel Brewery stout and dark muscovado chocolates Pete and I both loved best.
To my delight, this resulted in my being the very first paying customer in the store, how cool is that? Well, I think it is, anyway!
As I posted last month, I’m one of the bloggers on the judging panel for the Tesco Real Food Challenge, looking for the nation’s best real food cooks. I’ve been partnered with Jamie Theakston on the Talk & Fork category, for which we’re looking for casual and easy meals that can be eaten with just a fork, relaxing on the sofa with friends or family or in front of the TV.
Tesco invited me to cook Jamie’s dish myself and share it with my readers, but I had booked far too much into my diary and knew I’d not have a night at home for quite a while. I turned to twitter and asked if any fellow bloggers could help me out by trialling the dish for me and writing a guest post all about it for Kavey Eats.
Fellow blogger Craig McKnight kindly volunteered. Craig started his own blog, We Grow Our Own, to record and share the trials and tribulations of his allotment, but when he won a competition last year, and was crowned Wahaca’s Chilli Guru, it gave it an extra dimension.
Passionate about growing good food and eating good food, here’s Craig’s post on Jamie’s risotto.
When Kavey asked on twitter for a volunteer to cook and blog a Tesco Real Food Challenge recipe for her, I jumped at the chance, particularly when she told me that she wanted me to cook Jamie’s recipe – ‘Mushroom and Herb Risotto’ – as risottos are one of my favourite dishes.
The idea behind the ‘Talk & Fork’ category is that these are casual, easy meals that can be eaten with just a fork while relaxing with friends and family or in front of the TV. Any risotto definitely fits into this category, because as Nigel Slater once put it, risotto is “as instantly soothing as sucking your thumb”.
It’s also ideal because although you will need to stir the risotto off and on over a twenty minute period, you can still be nattering to your friends while doing this, and you also have your other hand free to enjoy the rest of the wine from the bottle!
Right, onto the recipe. Here’s the ingredients that Jamie suggests …
Ingredients 50g (2oz) unsalted butter 1 tbsp olive oil 1 large onion, finely chopped 2 cloves garlic, crushed 225g (8oz) Arborio rice 1 glass white wine (optional) 900ml (1.2 litres) vegetable stock 450g (1lb) chestnut mushrooms, diced 1 bunch spring onions (use green parts also) 3 tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped 25g (1oz) fresh parmesan cheese, grated or shaved
Normally I don’t have my ingredients set out like this, but I thought I’d come over all ‘Delia’ for this guest post. :)
Something else I noticed from Jamie’s recipe is that he says that you should use 1lb of mushrooms and 8oz of rice, but according to his recipe, this serves one person! Hmmm, I think I need to speak to Jamie about his exercise regime ….
You may also have noticed two measuring jugs in the photo. One of them contains some wild mushrooms that I soaked and added to the recipe. I also added the soaking liquor to the stock once it had been strained to give a deeper mushroom flavour to the risotto.
There are also two glasses of wine. One is for the recipe and one is for the chef …. I’ll leave you to work out which one is which!
First, melt the butter & little oil in a roomy pan, add the onion and garlic and soften. There is a school of thought that it needs to be a shallow pan. I don’t agree. All it needs to be is one that isn’t thin and dented … unless you like the taste of burned rice.
Once the garlic & onion has softened, turn up the heat and stir in the rice, coating the rice in the butter and oil.
Pour in the glass of wine, turn the heat down, and stir the rice until the wine has almost evaporated.
It is a good idea to have the stock in another pan, simmering away. You can make it with cold stock if you want to, but using hot stock will certainly shorten the time that it takes to get from the start to your stomach.
Gradually begin to add the hot stock a ladle at a time. Wait until the stock has been absorbed by the rice before adding more. Turn the heat down so that it just bubbles gently, and stir from time to time. You’ll notice the grains of rice gradually getting plumper and plumper.
It will take about 20 minutes cooking time for the rice to be cooked, but still slightly al dente.
Stir in the mushrooms and spring onions, followed by the herbs.
I’ve tweaked Jamie’s recipe again at this point, as I’d recommend stirring in nearly all of the parmesan and a little more butter. Put a lid on the pan for 3/4 minutes, and when you take it off, you’ll notice the rice has become rich and creamy.
Serve with some grated or shaved parmesan, and a sprig or two of flat leaf parsley.
Now, if there is a recipe that is as easy to cook and enjoyable to eat after a hard day at work, I’ve yet to find it! Enjoy!
Incorporating home grown produce into your meals needn’t be complicated. This recent lunch used romaine lettuce picked fresh from the garden and served as it was, without any dressing.
This is a very quick and simple lunch using just four ingredients.
Honey Goats’ Cheese Toasts On Little Gem Leaves
Bread – your choice, ours was home-made soft white; a recipe from Tom Herbert, that I’ll blog soon Goats’ cheese – your choice, this time we used Montrachet from Burgundy via La Cave à Fromage Lettuce – your choice, ours was Romaine picked fresh from the garden Honey – your choice, we used a London one from The London Honey Company
Pick and wash the lettuce, tear by hand into small pieces.
Slice bread and toast one side under the grill.
Slice the goats’ cheese – approximately half a centimetre thickness.
Turn over the bread and lay the goats’ cheese slices on the untoasted sides.
Spoon a little honey over the cheese.
Grill until the honey has melted and the surface of the cheese shows a little browning.
Serve the toasts over the lettuce.
You could make a simple dressing for the salad if you wish. If so, I’d keep it simple again; just a little of the same honey, some decent oil and vinegar, ratios to your own taste, shake in a jam jar to combine and then toss with the lettuce before plating.
I’m not a huge wine drinker; the only kind of wines I usually drink and enjoy are syrupy sweet dessert wines such as Sauternes, Muscats and the like.
Most regular wines I find too dry, even those most wine drinkers describe as medium or even medium sweet.
My taste buds pick up the fruit, yes, but are overwhelmed by a vinegary sourness that is in perfect balance for most but can be eye-watering for me.
It’s a shame because I adore the aroma of wine and always take great pleasure from inhaling deeply to ‘drink’ in the complex fruity and grassy scent notes of the mostly old world red wines my husband enjoys. I can pick out and describe many smells in each one, from particular fruits (apricots, plums, red or black berries) to all manner of other aromas from hay to leather to tobacco to liquorice. But as soon as the wine hits my tongue, those subtleties are lost as my jaw tightens up in an involuntary reaction to the sourness. It’s so frustrating!
Wine buffs have advised me to try again, tasting lighter wines alongside food rather than on their own. A well-paired wine and food combination will change the characteristics of both the drink and the food, they tell me, and might balance that sour aspect that puts me off. Sipping the right wine with the right dish might just give me a way to appreciate regular drinking wines.
Luckily, just as I was pondering this, I received an invitation to an evening with Turning Leaf, a Californian wine brand within the Gallo range, to a wine and food matching evening.
Turning Leaf have collaborated with chef Esther Röling to create a series of recipes specifically designed to match with their wines and a group of bloggers and writers were invited to try the wines alongside their chosen dishes.
Esther preparing Pan Fried Mackerel, Fennel And Green Apple Salad With Lime Oil, Stephanie alongside
The wines were introduced by Aussie-chick-gone-Californian, Stephanie Edge, who was full of enthusiasm and encouragement about her wines. Stephanie grew up in Australia, the child of German immigrant parents, so she always had an interest in travelling abroad. Aged 18, she set off on what turned out to be a fantastic 6 years of backpacking around 6 continents of the world. Of course, during her travels, she was exposed to so many varied cuisines and cultures. In particular, she developed a genuine interest in wine, and returned home to complete a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Science Oenology from the University of Adelaide. That was followed by experience in Australia’s vineyards and cellars. And finally, an exchange programme took her to California, where she now leads the winemaking team for Turning Leaf.
The food was introduced by Esther Röling. At just 21 years of age, Esther opened up her own cafe in Amsterdam but was then drawn into fashion and finance. However, food called her back again and she travelled to Thailand to take cooking classes there, before ending up in London at Le Cordon Bleu, where she got her Grand Diplome. From there she trained with Paul A Young, worked in some top restaurants and then finally set up her own catering company, Sugar & Salt.
On arrival, we had the Pan Fried Mackerel, Fennel And Green Apple Salad With Lime Oil, in canapé format, paired with the pinot grigio. Then we took our seats and worked through the rest of the wines one by one. Esther demonstrated making a couple of the recipes in front of us, and we were able to watch, ask questions and then taste the freshly cooked dishes with the partner wines.
Sadly, there wasn’t time during the event for Esther to cook all 5 dishes, so we were only able to try the pairings for the Pinot Grigio (above), Chardonnay (see below) and the Cabernet Sauvignon (Pommery Crusted Beef Carpaccio, Oven Roasted Cherry Tomato, Parmesan Mayonnaise, Rye Bread Crumb And Red Vein Sorrel).
I would have loved to also taste how the red Zinfandel matched the Braised Veal Cheeks, Puree Of Butternut Squash And Sweet Potato And Girolles Mushrooms and the Pinot Noir matched the Pan Fried Quail Breasts, Oven Roasted Beetroots, Seeds And Beetroot Dressing.
While I didn’t learn to love red wine (baby steps!) I was surprised to find that I quite enjoyed the Chardonnay wine, once I tried it with the suggested dish, Red Mullet And Moroccan Spiced Couscous.
The paprika spiciness and umami meatiness of the chorizo together with Ras-el-hanout spice mix really mellowed the sharper side of the wine (though it was a light wine to begin with, and not tongue-curlingly dry like some I’ve had). The soft couscous, red mullet and yellow courgettes didn’t, on their own, do much to affect the taste of the wine, for me, but worked very well together. As a whole, drinking the wine with this dish was definitely more enjoyable for me than drinking it on its own.
If you’d like to try the recipe yourself, with a Turning Leaf or other Chardonnay, do give it a go and let me know what you think about how it changes the mouthfeel and taste of the wine, when tasted together.
Red Mullet and Moroccan Spiced Couscous With Chorizo
For the chorizo crumb 100g diced chorizo Parchment paper
Preheat the oven to 160°C
Place a sheet of parchment paper on an oven tray and spread the chorizo. Cover the chorizo with another sheet of paper and place a baking tray on top and bake for 15 minutes or until the chorizo is crisp.
Allow it to cool and then break into crumbs. Set the chorizo aside until needed.
For the rouille 3 cloves of garlic 100 ml boiling water 20 saffron threads 25 g breadcrumbs A pinch of cayenne pepper A pinch of paprika powder 2 eggs ½ teaspoon salt 50 ml olive oil 50 ml grape seed oil
Keeping the skin on the garlic, wrap the cloves in tin foil and roast in the oven for 20 minutes at 160°C. Set aside to cool then push the flesh of the garlic out of the skin.
Using a medium sized bowl, pour boiling water over the saffron threads and add the breadcrumbs.
Boil the eggs and once boiled drop them into iced water to stop the cooking process. Peel the eggs and separate the egg yolk, discarding the egg whites.
In a food processer add the egg yolks, garlic, breadcrumb mix, a pinch of cayenne pepper and paprika powder and salt and blend to a creamy consistency. Gradually add the oils until you get a smooth emulsion.
For the couscous 4 tbsp olive oil 1 onion, finely sliced in rings 150g couscous 240ml boiling water 1 tsp Ras el Hanout 20 parsley leaves, finely chopped 20 mint leaves, finely chopped Salt to taste Olive oil
75 g good quality Alejandro chorizo, cut into small dices
Heat the olive oil in a heavy based frying pan and add the onion rings. Cover the pan allowing the onion to sweat over a low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until golden. Add a teaspoon of salt and remove from the heat.
Put the couscous in a bowl and pour over 240ml boiling water. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave for 5 minutes to allow the couscous to absorb the water. Remove the cling film and with a fork, loosen the couscous. To make the couscous burst with flavour, add the cooked onions, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, a teaspoon of Ras el Hanout, parsley, mint and a pinch of salt.
Over a medium heat add a splash of olive oil to a frying pan. Add the chorizo and stir until the oil runs out of the chorizo. Add the chorizo and oil to your couscous to give it a golden yellow colour.
For the courgette 1 yellow or green courgette Olive oil Salt & pepper
Using a small melon baller, scoop out a small ball of courgette, if you don’t have a melon baller use a peeler to slice the courgette length-ways. Place a frying pan over a medium heat and add a splash of olive oil. Sauté the courgette for 1 minute. Cover to keep warm until needed.
For the red mullet 4 fillets of red mullet – around 150g each 2 tablespoons of olive oil 20g butter Salt Pepper
Season the fillets on both sides with salt and pepper. Place a large non-stick pan over a medium heat and add a splash of olive oil when hot. Place the fillets skin down into the frying plan for about 2 minutes. Add the butter then carefully turn the fillets to fry on the other side for another 2 minutes.
Turning Leaf Chardonnay is available at several UK retailers including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Co-op, Londis, Budgen’s and Spar. RRP £7.49.
Kavey Eats attended this event as a guest of Turning Leaf, Esther Röling and W Communications.
So I was a little apprehensive when asked to come along to an event celebrating the launch of their new one, incase I didn’t like this one either. There were new single pot products being launched, a rebranding of Frü into the main Gü brand, and a completely new design for all their packaging too.
Luckily, I absolutely love the new campaign, Give In To Gü, based on the premise of all those little temptations one just can’t resist.
In fact, it made me smile recalling a little moment a few months ago. Having spoken my piece at the Fire & Knives day, I had finally relaxed and was standing about in the entrance hall chatting to friends. When I felt a hand pop the label hanging out at the back of my blouse back in, I assumed it was a friend, and continued with my conversation, turning around when I’d finished to say thanks. To my surprise, it was a complete stranger, one of the security staff working at the venue. He was standing nearby, giggling whilst at the same time managing to look guilty, sheepish and embarrassed. I couldn’t help but laugh back, thanked him and moved on, but clearly, his little indiscretion stuck in my memory.
And I know I’m not alone in having leapt gleefully into a tidy pile of crunchy autumn leaves or grabbed at a friend’s kilt to get a glimpse of the goolies! Am I?
The launch event space was adorned with temptations from swathes of bubble wrap to a wonky frame that just begged to be straightened to a large (and very loud) drum kit to an already-assembled domino run to a wonderfully retro pin art block.
Unsurprisingly, I gave in to all the temptations and had a grand time. In fact, I was the first to have a go at the drums, making an almighty racket that was quickly (and mercifully) short!
There were some delicious sweet canapés designed and made by Gü head chef Fred and sous chef Jerome.
And of course, we tried the new range of anytime mousses – single portion mousse desserts in portable pots. They’ll probably prove popular with office workers looking for a tasty treat during their weekday lunches. I loved the raspberry and chocolate, liked the plain chocolate and wasn’t quite as keen on the passion fruit and yoghurt and the mango and lime. Size was spot on and I can see myself buying these for lunch myself, but I was worried the (genius design) plastic spoon might easily get lost, as it wasn’t securely attached to the pot or packaging.
It probably makes a lot of sense to amalgamate Frü into Gü as, apparently, a lot of customers don’t realise they are the same company. To be honest, I never really understood the need to differentiate their fruit products from their chocolate ones in the first place.
The new packaging, with a Venetian theme, is artistic and unusual and should help the products stand out on the shelves, especially given how closely some of the supermarket own-brand product packages apes the old black and white Gü look, lately.
What do you think of the new campaign? Does it make you smile? Are there any more temptations you can suggest, along the same lines?
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