Giraffe’s Summer Menu | Guest Review

If you judged the nation’s eating habits from the contents of food blogs alone, you’d be forgiven for thinking we hardly visit restaurant chains at all. In reality most of my non-blogger friends, just like the wider population – especially those with young children – often favour chains, the best of which offer familiarity, family-friendly menus, a comfortable and pleasant environment, consistency (and hopefully good quality) of food and service, all at a known price point. And the truth is that us food bloggers visit chain restaurants too even if you don’t see it on our blogs very often; my personal favourites include Byron Hamburgers and Ask Italian, and I had an excellent meal at Jamie’s Italian last year. It’s just that it’s so much easier to write about (and let’s face it, more interesting and potentially more delicious to visit) one of the many exciting independent restaurants – and us Londoners are certainly spoiled for choice; our city has more restaurants than we could visit in a lifetime!

Today Kavey Eats is visiting Giraffe, a 60-strong nationwide chain currently owned by Tesco’s (but perhaps for not much longer, according to reports that they’re looking to sell).

Guest blogger Janine Marsh visited Giraffe’s London Spitalfields branch to check out some of their new summer dishes and cocktails, as well as a few menu stalwarts. An excellent writer with attention for detail and a nice turn of phrase, this is Janine’s first foray into restaurant reviews, and I think she’s done a great job of bringing the experience to life.

Over to Janine:

My lasting impressions of Giraffe were formulated from a trip once with a (now) ex-boyfriend who had decided that vegan was the best way forward for our relationship and for the ease of cooking. I would eat vegan at home (his not mine) and have non vegan food whilst eating out. This resulted in the exotic dish of Huevos Rancheros full of richness of eggs and cheese that turned me upside down and inside out and left me with a traumatic memory. Thinking it may have been food poisoning but actually now putting it down to my ex and his simple living ways, I have now returned to Giraffe a few years later as a newly reformed non vegan both at home and out and about, hoping to seek pleasure and comfort in a new summer menu.

It was early evening and the branch in Spitalfields was not very busy. Sometimes I have found this can make staff more lax in their service however it was the complete opposite during this evening service. The staff were welcoming and attentive right from the moment we walked in. I noticed everyone was keeping themselves busy cleaning, sorting and attending to the customers with a frequency that was not enough to overstrain anyone’s sense of personal space.

Grapefruit and Vanilla Daiquiri - Giraffe Summer 2016 by Janine Marsh for Kavey Eats - 2 Mango Colada - Giraffe Summer 2016 by Janine Marsh for Kavey Eats - 1

My friend (a fellow foodie) and I started with a cocktails from the summer menu and decided to taste one each of the Grapefruit and Vanilla Daiquiri (£6.75) and Mango Colada (6.75). The Daiquiri had an immediate kick to it although you couldn’t taste the vanilla. The grapefruit was really refreshing and summery with sour notes. It was sophisticated and easy drinkable and as a result of its deliciousness, finished rather quickly. In contrast, the Mango Colada was more watery than creamy, with a strong pineapple undercurrent and absolutely no taste of mango. It’s been a while since I had one but let’s say it didn’t take me back to the paradise that I had it in. It slightly changed taste when sipped with the starter of Prawn Saganaki and became a little more intense but still not something I wanted to finish.

Prawn Saganaki - Giraffe Summer 2016 by Janine Marsh for Kavey Eats - 4

There’s nothing to say about the Prawn Saganaki (£6.50) other than ‘bring me more please!’ From the minute you put the first prawn in your mouth which was succulent and full of flavour, the tomato sauce was simmered to perfection in a full flavoured and mildly spicy way. The feta cheese provided an amazing creamy contrast and depth to the tomatoes. The Tuscan bread was a little dry and not very flavoursome but worked well for finishing the juices off. I would eat that again and again!

Salt and Pepper Squid - Giraffe Summer 2016 by Janine Marsh for Kavey Eats - 5

My friend counts herself as a semi officiado of Salt and Pepper Squid (£4.95 and for sharing £8.95) and has eaten a lot of this dish from the antipodean lands of her husband’s birth to the variety of Vietnamese restaurants up the road from this Spitalfields branch, in Hoxton. It’s unusual to have the chilli sauce as a dip and the batter was a bit heavy but the squid was cooked well and it had a nice peppery kick but not very salty although with today’s health warnings, the chef may have been thinking of the customer’s tickers. The portion size was perfect for one.

Tuscan Lamb Meatballs - Giraffe Summer 2016 by Janine Marsh for Kavey Eats - 3

We also shared the Tuscan Lamb Meatballs (£6.25). I have had a love affair with meatballs since the heady days of the 90’s as a twenty one year old in Little Italy in NYC. It’s now one of my dinner party dishes and I pack a lot of flavour in when I cook them. With these though, there was not a huge amount of flavour. The lemon yoghurt granita topping overpowered a flavour that should have been there if there was anything to counterbalance. It definitely needed to up the amount of seasoning in the dish. More parsley, thyme, and maybe some evidence of pancetta needed to make it authentically Tuscan? It would give it something worth eating for.

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During the starters, there were eagerly awaiting for our humble fingers, a couple of those Lemon fronted ‘FRESHER PACKET FOR CLEANSING’ sachets. My first thought is, we are definitely not flying first class. Please bring back finger bowls and lemon slices? Hot towels? Nothing at all? The ladies toilets were out of order so we had to form an orderly queue but very happy to refresh my hands using the normal soap and Dyson high speed dryer which is a pre-requisite for most establishments now considering everyone is always in a twenty first century rush.

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For the mains, the waitress suggested we try another of the new cocktails and also her personal favourite the Whisky Cooler (£6.95). We found during the evening that she was very well informed and knew her food and what was the best on the menu. Woah! A straight up your nose fizzy, fruity, whisky with a rounded flavour, passion fruit seeds (like bubble tea but less work) wonderful summer drink! The Whisky Cooler. Finished.

The El Diablo (£6.95) with ginger beer, lime juice, cassis and Tequila, according to my friend was both sweet and sour and refreshing, similar to that of an adult ice lolly. The Tequila gave a sourness and the ginger beer its fizz. Like fangtastic Haribos she said!

Bombay Chicken Dahl - Giraffe Summer 2016 by Janine Marsh for Kavey Eats - 9

So to the Bombay Chicken Dahl (available from 12-5, Monday – Friday, for £7.95 as part of lunch menu). A plate of Dahl. You lost me at Plate! For someone who regularly eats out with a dining club called the #EATUPCREW based mainly of South Indian food experts, this was Dahl with an identity complex. Black bean, chickpea, butternut squash (hard and watery), chicken (watery), (I hate anything watery) this should be labelled curry but even that is at a push. The tastiest part was the Pink onions on the salad. Salad? Where was the rice? This dahl really doesn’t really know what it is yet in terms of evolution. I felt sorry for it. I now know that I should never go for curries in a non-authentic environment.

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The Scandi Salad (£11.95) however was love at first taste! No celery or cucumber for those whose reflux is of a delicate nature. This salad was packed full of fresh dill, crunchy lettuce, slightly crushed potato, a scattering of salty capers and a vinegary sharpness. It was like the best potato salad you have ever eaten but better as it was topped with a substantial portion of a lightly fragrant poached salmon. It was summery, moreish, light and hearty all at once. It was ‘forks at dawn’ for my friend and I. Never normally going for a main course salad, this was massively substantial and has changed my mind. I would go back for it in an instant!

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We decided to try a vegetarian option in homage to my previous life and Bowl for the Soul (£7.50) came recommended although the waitress said this was not a popular choice with customers but one she had tasted and loved. The dish was vegetarian only because the lack of chicken or prawns which was an extra you could add from the menu. I think that they should think of something hearty like tofu to add texture but the overall dish was exactly what it describes itself as. A comforting Bowl for the Soul. Oozy fried egg with crunchy edges that gave a lovely sauce, fresh coriander, a nice hit of chilli, peppers, French beans that felt like they had been lovingly bubbled in a steamy sauna to crunchy fresh perfection. It reminded me of my first taste of Nasi Goreng in Kuala Lumpar. There could have been an option of soy sauce in the condiments basket but we settled for a splash of tabasco instead.

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There was also a small cheeky side dish of Sweet Potato Fries with chipotle mayo (£3.95) which was crunchy soft and definitely moreish.

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For pudding I ordered the White Chocolate and Passion Fruit Cheesecake (£5.50) and my friend, the Banana Waffle Split (£5.50). I was a bit confused when ice cream sundae spoons were placed next to a fresh napkin. I couldn’t taste the white chocolate and the unusually chocolatey base was crumbly but not very flavoursome. The passionfruit overpowered everything. More flavour in the cheesecake was needed. Give me a good vanilla cheesecake done well any day. Another fall back from my days in NYC.

My friend’s reaction to the first mouthful of the Banana Split Waffle was ‘Oh that’s good’! With a banana gooey caramel taste, chocolate sauce and caramel. There were different textures in one mouthful alongside the sweet crunchy waffle which maybe, on second taste could have been a little lighter on the batter but apart from that it was a waffly good dessert. Could also be good for breakfast, was a suggestion.

Giraffe Moroccan Mint tea - Giraffe Summer 2016 by Janine Marsh for Kavey Eats - 15

My usual Giraffe Moroccan Mint Tea (£1.95), which was missing its normal sprig of mint in the glass, ended the meal whilst my friend’s chosen ending, a Flat White (£2.55) was too milky but that’s coming from someone whose husband’s antipodean roots invented the drink so she knows her coffee.

In conclusion, I think it’s ambitious to put yourself out there as a World Café. It doesn’t always work when you are selling a wide variety of dishes. I would say stick to simpler dishes that don’t take too long to create stronger flavours. Curries always need a lot of love and attention if they are to have the authentic taste. Make them authentic and bubble them for days, serve dahl in a bowl with a spoon. Be bold! That never to be mentioned again dahl had never even had a curry leaf wafted near it let alone in it.

There are certain world foods that could be created for the mainstream taste like Mexican although Wahaca has changed those flavour combos for me and constantly rocks my world. I will go back to Giraffe for the Prawn Saganaki, Bowl for the Soul (but for breakfast), my usual Mint tea and Halloumi Falafel Burger (a previous favourite) and of course breakfasts (my fave meal of the day) but until next time, I will dream of that Scandi salad. Did I mention that Scandi salad?

Kavey Eats reviewer Janine dined as a guest of Giraffe.

Book Review | NOPI: The Cookbook

The food at NOPI restaurant is a heady mix of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavours with additional influences from around the world – just the kind of cooking my friend and fellow blogger Lisa aka Cookwitch adores, so I asked her to review this new cookbook written by Yotam Ottolenghi and NOPI’s head chef Ramael Scully on my behalf. I am sure you will enjoy her guest post below; to learn more about Lisa read my recent Meet The Blogger interview with her, here.

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Most people have heard of Yotam Ottolenghi, the gently spoken Israeli of the big brown eyes and welcoming smile, wandering around the world in search of beautiful food. Many may not have heard of Scully.

No, this is not a foray into X-Files alien food, this is a wonderful partnership – sometimes more of a tug o’ war – between the more familiar Mediterranean influences of Yotam and the still slightly mysterious Eastern zing of Scully, a chef raised between Australia and Malaysia.

They say:

“The Mediterranean influence is still strong in our cooking but we are as likely, these days, to be reaching for the mirin and miso as we are towards the pomegranate molasses, olive oil and date syrup. The cupboard is wide, the menu ever-changing and the experiments ever-underway. We continue on with both a boundless enthusiasm and an unswerving dedication to detail. The result is some very merry-making food.”

Merry-making food? Bring it on, I say.

The book is an utter joy right from the start. The voice of it is extremely loving, and slightly teasing, telling of the differences in approach between Scully and Yotam, plus properly highlighting the brilliance and dedication of the rest of the staff. To paraphrase;

Scully: How about we put a chilli/salt/pickle garnish there?

Yotam: Do we even need a garnish?

It is a restaurant cookbook, yes, with the most popular dishes from NOPI, but everything in it seems achievable. If extra time is needed, it tells you. If an ingredient is hard to source, it tells you what you can use instead.

It also doesn’t talk down to, or over you, or assumes that you already know everything. For me, it gave me that bit more confidence in making some of the recipes.

Every photo almost glows on the page. There are simple dishes, with just a few ingredients, and there are long and involved ones, but you never get the sense that the author is telling you not to attempt them because you’re not a chef.

There are some I wouldn’t do unless I had a week off, and some I could probably do in an evening, if I was organised (or motivated) enough, but in the main I would put them down as being Weekend with Nothing To Do cooking. (Other people count a weekend spent cooking as relaxation too, don’t they? Not just me? Anyone?)

Having spent a week buried in the book, I finally decided on the courgette fritter recipe.

I’ve been on a real vegetable kick lately, and though the Mixed Cauliflowers with Golden Raisins, Ricotta and Capers called to me, I had overdosed on cauliflower the week before, so I felt a nice, green change was needed. Plus it has cheese in it, so that was a done deal.

I admit that I am NOT a recipe book cook. I am a recipe book reader. I honestly find cooking from someone else’s recipes quite tiring, as I think I get nervous that I’m going to do it wrong, or miss a step. If I try a recipe that I know I will want to make again, I write it down in a small notebook, and list the steps in the order that I would cook them. Once I’ve done that, it makes it easier. I know, I’m weird.

I really did want to give this a try though, so I persevered. Even though I read the recipe countless times, I still managed to forget things when I went shopping. I also changed some ingredients. One out of necessity and another because I loathe the original.

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Courgette and Feta Fritters

Adapted by Lisa from Nopi: The Cookbook

Ingredients
For the fritters
3 courgettes, coarsely grated, then popped in a colander with 1 tsp salt to drain
2 eggs, lightly beaten
60 g self raising flour (might use chickpea flour next time, lower the carb count and make it GF friendly)
2.5 tsp ground coriander
1.5 tsp ground cumin (original was ground cardamom, but I really dislike it, and 1.5 tsp is a LOT)
2 small shallots very finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, grated (I used a garlic press)
Finely grated zest of two limes
150g feta, crumbled into 1cm bits (original recipe calls for manouri cheese which is hard to find unless you have a Greek grocer near you)
For the sauce
200ml sour cream
5g chopped coriander (I had none, so I used chopped celery leaves that I had in the freezer)
1/2 tsp ground cardamom (nope, not me!)
grated zest and juice of 1 lime. (I totally forgot the juice)

Method

  • When the courgettes have sat for 10 minutes, squeeze all of the water out and put into a large bowl.
  • Add in the spices, flour, shallots and zest, then mix in the egg.
  • Gently mix in the crumbled feta so that it doesn’t disperse too much.
  • (The book says to put oil in a frying pan to a depth of 2-3mm but with a good non-stick pan, you probably won’t need that much.)
  • When the oil is hot, drop in dessertspoonfuls of the mixture, 4 at a time spaced well apart. Flatten them a bit with the spoon.
  • (I formed mine into loose and slightly lumpy quenelles, to see if I could, but that is really not necessary.)
  • Cook for 6 minutes, until they are browned and crispy on one side, then turn them over and cook the other side.
  • For the sauce, mix together all the ingredients.
  • Drain the fritters on paper towels, and serve hot with the dip, though they are equally good when lukewarm. I would reheat them in the oven, they should crisp up again.

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The second recipe of the day was the result of misreading another recipe further into the book. There’s a recipe in the book for lamb rump with vanilla braised chicory. I parsed it as vanilla braised lamb. When I realised I thought, well, why not? So this happened.

My Brain:

“Ooh, lamb with vanilla. No, wait, that’s lamb with CHICORY braised with vanilla.
Although…[goes to shops]
What would you braise it in? I’ve got red wine, but would rosé be better? Marsala perhaps? Nobody’s got that. No, I’ll have to stick with red. Maybe the butcher has venison! That would work.
[goes to butcher]
No, the lamb leg looks nicer. Still not sure about this cooking liquid though.
Hang on…[mentally catalogues shelves]
Tea. I have vanilla tea. And cinnamon sticks. Ok…this might work. ”
What was actually said out loud:
“Tea!”

Vanilla & Red Wine Lamb

Inspired by Nopi: The Cookbook’s Lamb Rump with Vanilla Braised Chicory

Ingredients
1/2 small leg of lamb, bone in, FAT ON, in a covered casserole dish
2 small bottles red wine (18.7cl)
2 small bottle’s worth of water
1/2 cup Vanilla Ceylon Tea
5 dried rosehips
1 shallot, cut in half (not peeled)
1 small stick cinnamon, snapped in half
1 vanilla pod, split in half lengthways
2 tbs honey
1 tbs date/carob/fig molasses – or blackstrap molasses

Method

  • Put all the above in a pan, bring to the boil, then lower the heat right down and simmer for an hour.
  • Take off the heat, leave to cool, then pour it all over the lamb. Place the vanilla pod on top of the lamb joint.
  • Cover, place in a hot oven (200C) for 1/2 an hour, then turn the heat down to 150C and let it cook for a good 3 hours. Test it for tenderness at the 3-4 hour mark, and if it’s tender (it fell off the bone for me) then keep the meat warm and reduce the sauce down in a pan on the stove top until it is thick and jammy.
  • Serve it with roasted squash or mashed parsnips, or perhaps a puree of white beans because that sauce, oh that sauce, needs a transportation vehicle. Or maybe just a loaf of good bread…

I am still reading through the book.

Venison fillet with Date Labneh, Blackberries and Peanut Crumble anyone?

 

NOPI: The Cookbook is published by Ebury Press, who provided a review copy to Kavey Eats. Currently available from Amazon for just £12.99 (RRP £28).

Brazilian Food by Thiago Castanho

TomCoxMini

Guest Post by Tom Cox.

 

 

 

A while ago now Kavey invited me to review a cook book on her blog. Me and my girlfriend Nat often do our share of the cooking in the household (currently living with her parents and brother) and I decided this would be a great opportunity to try something new. So after reeling over the dozens of cook books available on the list Kavey provided me, with it being world cup time and my particular penchant towards the new and interesting, I eventually decided on the extremely colourful Brazilian Food by Thiago Castanho.

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First impressions were great, it had loads of really interesting looking chapters with really rich interesting pictures and a short excerpt from a review by Michael Palin (a personal favourite of mine). I decided we were definitely onto a winner.

The one thing that I really liked about the book is that it’s not just a cook book, it’s a tome on Brazilian cooking and culture with tidbits of history about Brazilian cuisine and history, quotes from anthropologists and all in all you really get a taste of the culture that cultivated this cuisine. However, this blessing is also a bit of a curse as it’s not the most accommodating of cook books with a lot of ingredients you’d struggle to find at your local supermarket and although there are a couple of tips about visiting an African/ Asian food shop there is some stuff I’m pretty sure has simply never made it to our shores (a bold claim I know but seriously try and find annatto oil). Some of the recipes had some pretty advanced cooking skills and weren’t altogether clear at times.

In short unless you’re a professional chef or some sort of super foodie (I consider myself a pretty good cook) then I reckon you’ll struggle with quite a few of the recipes.

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Ultimately I decided to go for one of the simpler looking recipes Galinha Caipira, or for those of us who’s Brazilian Portugese is a little rusty, Braised Chicken. This recipe, Thiago notes, was one of his grandmother’s and I hoped it would give us a good example of real wholesome Brazilian cooking. This recipe had very few of the really difficult to source ingredients apart from annatto oil, annatto now being a plant that I’ve developed somewhat of a disliking for after trying desperately to find in every random foodie looking shop I could find. I did discover that annatto oil is also known as achiote oil, but in the end I substituted oil, paprika and turmeric.

The recipe was quite simple but the picture was somewhat misleading and had a few ingredients in the picture that weren’t present. Although it called for both red and white onion in the ingredients, it made no mention of when to use one or the other in the method of so I went with my best judgement.

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We decided to serve this with Coconut rice (as opposed to the serving suggestion of Brazilian-style white rice) which I think was a fantastic choice in the end as what the main lacked in flavour the coconut rice made up for by being a real treat! The taste of the chicken dish was a little dull and didn’t really have anything distinctive about it; this should have been pretty predictable from the list of ingredients but I thought I’d give the book the benefit of the doubt, somewhat to our disappointment.

In summary if you have a good couple of days to source, prepare and cook a meal then I’d say go for it this book is a real visual treat and gives you bucket loads of really great insight into the vibrant country in which the food was developed.

I’m sure if I’d had the time to dedicate to one of the more complicated recipes I’d have enjoyed it more but for the average cook I’m not so sure it suits. It’ll stay on my book shelf more as an interesting insight into Brazilian food and culture as opposed to something I’ll be trying to cook from again.

 

Kavey Eats received a review copy of Brazilian Food from Octopus Books. Brazilian Food is currently (at time of writing) available on Amazon for £20.40 (RRP £30).

Tom Tastes Tabasco Sauce & Marinade Collection

It’s not often I start a new job and discover fellow foodies in my team; more often new colleagues find my interest (they tend to use the term obsession) surprising, beyond their comprehension, even weird. Of course, they tend to come around when the chocolate review samples make it into the office…

TomCoxMiniWhich means it was nice to start my current contract and find that several of my teammates are pretty keen on food too. One told me about cookery classes he’s attended recently. Another discussed her weekend addiction to burgers (though she’s veggie during the week). And one talked animatedly about the forest of chilli plants he’s nurturing and the various cookery books which are most popular in his house at the moment.

It didn’t take long for me to invite Tom Cox to write content for Kavey Eats. He’s not only keen on eating out and cooking at home, he also loves reviewing stuff and writing about it!

Over to Tom for his feedback on Tabasco’s Sauces & Marinade collection.

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Chipotle and Smokey Bourbon (Mild) 3.5*

A tomato based sauce spiced with Tabasco brand pepper sauces, Scotch and Bourbon Whiskies

This had a nice smoky flavour, quite like a smoky barbeque sauce with just a hint of spice and a relish-like hit. Perfect on burgers or ribs (as the back of the bottle suggests and very rightly so). It is however quite sweet (although it has nothing on chipotle and cola) and I can’t really detect any sign of a Bourbon-y taste, more like smoky, ever-so-slightly spicy barbeque. We tried to use this as a marinade for some chicken we were doing on the barbeque but unlike the back of the bottle says, this isn’t suitable for use as a marinade on its own and may need mixing with some oil to avoid it sticking and stripping all the skin and sauce off.

Sweet Chipotle and Cola (Mild) 1.5*

A sweet sauce spiced with Tabasco brand pepper sauces and cola flavoured soft drink

We had really high expectations for this one, me being a fan of all the weird and wonderful things I can possibly find to eat (this is pretty tame but appealed). However, this was our least favourite. The problem was it was far too sweet and I swear even had a very mild foamy banana taste (the ones you get from the pick and mix, not a banana that had the misfortune of catching fruit rabies). It did however have a nice mild warmth and I’m sure if you like mildly spicy and very sweet then this would do it for you.

Peppery Deep South Creole (Medium) 4*

A tomato based sauce spiced with Tabasco brand pepper sauce

A nice mild heat and this is the one you definitely want at your barbeque. A nice blend of ketchup-like sweetness and tomato-tartness with a lovely medium heat and sweet peppery flavours. This would be absolutely perfect on your burger or an addition to a chilli for a chilli dog. A really great take on a barbeque classic.

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Fruity and Fiery Hot Habanero (Hot) 4*

This was the most interesting; the first 2 seemed like jumped up ketchup/ barbeque sauce (don’t get me wrong I’m all for making those two things a little more exciting) but this one was a little different. It had a nice manageable heat for people that like heat and had a really exotic flavour – like a fruity, spicy Indian piccalilli but a little less tart (owing to the mango and papaya I would guess). Again I would agree with the back of the bottle on this one – it would be nice in a stir fry as the main event but I feel it might be a bit out of place at your summer barbeque.

 

Overall I like that Tabasco are trying new things other than a scorching sauce that is useful only for supposedly encouraging growth of so far virtually non-existent hairs on my chest (I like to think of it more as highly evolved). They’ve managed to put a new, more flavoursome and spicy spin on some otherwise quite dull table condiments and hopefully we’ll see a lot more new and exciting innovation from this capsaicin crazed company.

 

Kavey Eats received sample products from Tabasco.