May 042015
 

Since my first smartphone, I’ve been a loyal Android girl. Having worked extensively with Apple macs in a professional capacity I was never as bowled over by their alleged coolness as many of my contemporaries, nor willing to pay the premium. I started with an HTC Wildfire which didn’t disappoint; I quickly became used to checking and responding to emails and social media, navigating via Google Maps and accessing the full extent of the web.

In 2012 I was given a Nokia Lumia 800 to review but quickly discovered that despite loving the physical design I absolutely hated the Windows platform. With a vengeance. I switched back to my HTC before the Lumia and I came to blows. When I eventually looked to upgrade the Wildfire I stayed loyal to the brand – that proved to be a mistake; the entry level HTC Desire was three years newer and yet slower, with poorer battery life, than the Wildfire it was intended to replace.

I was reluctant to blow the big bucks when I’d only just upgraded but was seriously considering it… when along came an offer to review the brand new Samsung Galaxy S4. I totally clicked with my S4 phone and have been using it happily for two years now.

Hauwei G7 - KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-165511 Hauwei G7 - KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-164435
Out of the box; after a few weeks

My latest review item is a Huawei Ascend G7, launched in the UK late in April.

The Ascend G7 is an Android smartphone with large screen size, smart, slim, metal casing, 4G capable and an attractive midrange price point – currently around £200.

If, like me, you hadn’t heard of Huawei, here’s the cheat sheet: Huawei is a global Chinese company specialising in telecomms networking and equipment; one of the largest manufacturers in the world. You may well have encountered their products before, as a large part of their business is making white-label products for other brands. Now they are promoting their own brand mobile handsets across Europe.

I’ve now been using the G7 for a few weeks. There are a few aspects I really like, but quite a bit that I find frustrating – I haven’t yet made a decision on whether I’ll be stick with the G7 or switch back to my S4.

 

MY THOUGHTS ON THE HUAWEI ASCEND G7

Physical phone

The slim form metal case is attractive, there’s no denying this is a good looking phone.

But bigger isn’t always better – I’ve come to realise that the size is just that little bit too large for my hands; the extra 7 mm width means I can’t comfortably use the G7 one-handed without quickly feeling muscle strain. That’s a personal issue, of course, and not a criticism of the G7 and it will suit those who are looking for a larger screen.

 

Image & Sound Quality

Sound quality seems pretty similar on the S4 an the G7, certainly I’ve not found myself thinking the G7 is better or worse than the S4. In fact, I just played the same music video on both phones and I’d say the sound is definitely comparable.

Officially, the resolution of the S4 is much higher (441 ppi against the G7’s 267 ppi) but I think the G7 does a fantastic job of harnessing those pixels – everything looks good and sharp, with nice colour definition and,to my surprise, I haven’t felt a step down from the S4.

However the (impressively large) screen shows every fingerprint and smear in a way that my Galaxy S4’s screen doesn’t. The smears are really intrusive in bright light, and I’m constantly rubbing the phone against my trouser leg trying to clear up that display.

Likewise, I struggle to see the screen in bright light, making outdoor photography and general phone use rather tricky when the sun is shining.

Hauwei G7 - KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-164306

 

Phone Manager & Battery Life

Hands down my favourite feature of the G7 is this clever app management (and security) software which allows me to easily and quickly close apps and clear trash files, thereby hugely extending battery life. I can choose myself which apps will never be closed by the Phone Manager and can manually override on an individual basis.

There are a number of power save settings available, which will likely come in useful for those occasional times when I am not able to plug the phone in for a charge overnight.

Apparently there is also a harassment filter which can be used to block nuisance calls or messages from specified numbers and even a Do Not Disturb mode which blocks all calls save those from your personal Allowed list.

And by the way, battery life is phenomenal – I’ve never come close to draining the phone, even on a really heavy-use day.

Hauwei G7 - KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-58 Hauwei G7 - KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-15
Before running the optimisation and after

 

Missing Apps Tray

In their infinite wisdom (I hope you can hear the sarcasm in my words, even in the written format?) Huawei have done away with the Apps Tray which means that every single app you install, plus all the ones they’ve preloaded the phone with (including quite a few useless ones), are crowded into your five home screen pages.

Having an Apps Tray (a standard part of the Android platform) means that all apps are automatically listed in alphabetical order, which makes it very easy to find those I only need to access very rarely. I can therefore create shortcuts on my home screen pages only for those apps I use on a regular basis, creating a layout that is customised to my needs.

On the G7, every time I install a new app it randomly inserts itself into one of the few free spaces in one of my home screen pages, and I have to waste several minutes moving several other app shortcuts around (rather fiddly) in order to position the new app in alphabetical order. This is utterly nuts and a really stupid decision on Huawei’s part, no doubt an attempt to emulate the iPhone platform.

Hauwei G7 - KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-26
My customised home screen centre page

 

App Names & Icons

Speaking of icons and shortcuts, I’ve quickly discarded Huawei’s own Calendar and SMS Messaging apps – they just aren’t very good – and unfortunately, when I install my preferred Google Calendar and the standard Android SMS, the G7 doesn’t pull through the relevant icons, using instead the same ones as it’s own label versions. Very confusing. I’ve had to hide the Huawei versions away in a dumping ground apps folder in order to keep them out of the way. (Yes, still missing the Apps Tray, here).

 

Camera

The camera really failed to impress for the first couple of weeks. I couldn’t understand why my images were so frequently out of focus until I eventually realised that it seemed to be back-focusing. Since social media is a key reason I use a smartphone, a camera that didn’t work for me was an immediate deal breaker.

Thank goodness, Pete suggested trying some other camera apps to assess whether it was the camera hardware itself at fault or just a poorly-written camera app.

I’m currently using the Google Camera app, which is much much better and gives me handy exposure compensation controls, which I appreciate. Certainly I’m not having any trouble with focus / sharp images anymore. Unfortunately, this app plays an annoying shutter click sound even when my phone is in silent mode and there’s no setting I can find to override that. That said, it has at least proved to me that the camera hardware itself is fine, which is a huge relief.

I’m keen to find a better solution and am considering Camera FV-5, but the free trial version restricts me to very low res images which are hard to assess properly. If you have any experience of Camera FV-5 or other good Android phone apps, please leave me a comment – I’d be hugely grateful for your suggestions!

For number crunchers, the G7 has a 13 MP main camera with f2.0 aperture and LED flash. The front (selfie) camera is 5 MP. (Virtually the same as my trusty S4, the only difference is a f2.2 aperture).

I’ve not explored the G7’s camera software features much as I so quickly gave up on using Huawei’s camera app but the app boasts HDR, panorama settings (on both front and rear cameras) and a facial-enhancement feature called Beauty Mode. An intriguing All-Focus mode allows you to take a photo and then select the focus later, blurring the foreground or background appropriately to create shallow depth of field after the fact – weird but it does work, should you want it!

 

File & Image Folders

Samsung’s Gallery feature was irritating as hell but once I worked out how to turn it off, I was happy with image organisation and could easily create folders and move / copy images between them.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be possible to create folders and sort content within the G7 File Manager, and that applies to image files too. Irritating!

 

Notifications, Shortcuts & Settings

Both Push Notifications and Shortcuts to key settings are accessed by swiping down the top menu. Unfortunately, the Huawei skin hasn’t made this user friendly.

On my S4, the first swipe down immediately lists notifications, and then a tap on either of the two icons provided will take me to either Shortcuts or to full Settings. On the G7, swiping down gives me access to either Notifications or Shortcuts, seldom the one I want at the time, and I have to switch between them.

Furthermore, the Shortcuts list is truncated and there doesn’t seem to be any way to tell it to always display in full; given that you can’t customise which settings are shown in the list, and that all the ones listed fit easily on screen, this seems a pointless extra step.

The main Settings panel has also been reskinned for no good reason, making everything that little bit trickier to find, but not offering a single advantage over the Android standard.

Although I’m open to innovations that provide a benefit, I’m really not a fan of change for change’s sake.

Hauwei G7 - KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-41 Hauwei G7 - KaveyEats (c)KavitaFavelle-48
Shortcuts shown as they first come up, and expanded

 

Performance

I remember from my brief switch to the HTC Desire (before I got my S4) the frustration of slow performance when I was used to fast.

Although the tech review sites have highlighted laggy performance in their G7 reviews, I can’t say this is something I’ve noticed at all and I’m very happy with the phone’s performance.

 

Other Niggles

I nearly always set my phone to Vibration mode (zero volume, buzzing for incoming calls and notifications) and it’s easy enough to select that option. Unfortunately, time and time and time again (several times a day) I discover that the G7 has switched into completely Silent mode, without vibration. This is driving me crazy, so if anyone has an answer to how it keeps happening, or better still, a way to stop it, I’m listening!

And speaking of Vibration mode, the vibration is really weak. Perhaps that contributes to the excellent battery life but I’d sure like a way to pump it up a little. (Hey, get your mind out of the gutter, yes you!)

Like most of Huawei’s in-house software, the Phone Dialler must surely also have been written by people who just don’t use phones very much! I can work out how to call a number from my Contacts and I can see how to type a number in myself. What I can’t readily do is paste in a phone number that I’ve copied from an email or tweet – the only way I’ve found is to start typing a number in to the Diallier, paste my copied number in and then go back and delete the number I typed in to bring the field up in the first place.

 

In conclusion

Although my review isn’t altogether positive, the Phone Manager / battery life are such strong additions to the Pros column that they do go a long way to balancing the Cons. And if Huawei gave up their insistence on replacing perfectly good default functionality with crappy in-house versions, most of the Cons could be crossed off the list.

Let me end with a few photos taken on the G7 (and posted to instagram):

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IMG_20150424_201734 IMG_20150423_145903 IMG_20150423_125706 IMG_20150419_201134 IMG_20150419_200029
IMG_20150419_194334 IMG_20150419_144036 IMG_20150418_220209 IMG_20150418_215705 IMG_20150418_174305
IMG_20150418_133028 IMG_20150416_080708 IMG_20150414_184322 IMG_20150412_131644 IMG_20150411_151708
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Kavey Eats was provided a Huawei Ascend G7 for review purposes.

 

If you were to write a wish list for the perfect, modern country house hotel, what might you include?

For me I’d be looking for a beautiful rural setting with plenty of varied attractions in the vicinity, easy to get to but still with that feeling of getting away from it all, sumptuous and spacious bedrooms with modern comfort and lots of personality, glamorous bathrooms with deep bathtubs and walk-in showers, appealing public spaces with comfy seating, an inviting bar and a delicious restaurant, all with modern decor throughout that is playful, quirky and fun to discover. Generosity of hospitality and genuine warmth in the welcome would also feature highly.

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Glazebrook House Hotel sits at the southern edge of Dartmoor National Park and is a very easy drive from London – less than four hours on the day we visited.

And it scores pretty damn highly against my wish list.

Collage Glazebrook outside (c) Kavita and Pete Favelle

After decades as a traditional, fairly uninspiring but perfectly decent hotel, it was purchased and completely remodelled by Pieter and Fran Hamman. They commissioned interior designer Timothy Oulton to create a stunning and eclectic luxury boutique hotel with just eight rooms, a bar and restaurant plus conference room and attractive gardens. The new Glazebrook opened last May and, as it comes towards the end of it’s first year in business, we were invited to visit on a glorious spring weekend.

Owner Pieter tells us that the Georgian house was built in 1865, the same year that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll) wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Accordingly, there’s a subtle Alice in Wonderland theme in play, though it’s not overdone or pushed to kitsch; the room names draw from the story and just behind reception there’s an unusual display of magnifying glasses hung on a wall over correspondingly-shaped holes through which little passages from the book can be seen – magnified, of course!

At the heart of the styling is Timothy Oulton’s range of furniture – beds, headboards, sofas, tables, storage trunks, wardrobes – a modern take on traditional styles with lots of leather and shiny metal. In the main part, the decor owes more to the sensibilities of an eBay and car boot sale addict, with displays of everything from road signs to bowler hats, trumpets to drum kits, old cine cameras to dolls houses, china plates to tarnished silver serving platters – all of it vintage, assiduously sourced by Oulton’s team and turned into artful knick-knacks. As a life-long collector, I absolutely love it!

Collage Glazebrook interiors (c) Kavita and Pete Favelle

The lobby is a rather fabulous space with grand chandeliers, a huge British flag draped behind the reception desk – large and silver with matching silver bulldog atop it, a taxidermy flamingo, an emu skeleton and many more fascinating details, plus some very comfortable sofas to sink into. From this central space you can take the grand staircase to the first floor, where seven of eight rooms are located, and there are also doors to the restaurant, the bar and a whisky and wine room.

Collage Glazebrook Mad Hatter Room (c) Kavita and Pete Favelle

I can’t wait to see our room and I’m not disappointed. Mad Hatter features a king size bed with large leather headboard above which are three vintage dolls houses suspended on the wall – lying on the bed, it’s a little discombobulating at first to look up into their interiors, but you quickly forget about the oddness. A huge marble desk sits below a flatscreen TV mounted on the wall within a frame of blue and white plates. Old hats and hat forms are mounted on another wall. Glass domes show off a tumble of tiny green glass bottles and tea cups and saucers with an illustrated page from Alice in Wonderland. The bathroom is huge, with a deep white tub, double marble sinks and a walk-in shower and gorgeous black and white Q*bert-esque tile floor.

A nice touch is that the wardrobe contains a fridge containing a nice selection of beer, wine and soft drinks plus tea and coffee making facilities and a basket of chocolate, sweets and snacks. All of these are complimentary, we are told when being shown to our room; such a welcome change from price-gauging mini bar charges. Later, sitting in the bath with a sparkling glass of Luscombe Damascene rose and a packet of fruit pastilles, this is even more appreciated – I’d much rather the room rate be an extra £10 or £20 a night with such extras rolled in than having to negotiate ludicrously marked up charges for wi-fi, bottled drinks, coffee and an occasional bar of chocolate.

The bed is supremely comfortable but both of us hate this style of feather pillow – the kind that squishes completely flat where your head lies, to create two enormous cushions trapping your head and providing no support at all. The only other gripe is the shower; you can flip the water between a detachable, wall-mounted shower and the overhead monsoon head but the wall-mounted one is barely high enough for me (and I’m only 5 foot 6 inches) and Pete can really only use the monsoon head, which is mounted just a few inches above his head.

But these are minor niggles and we love our room.

Collage Glazebrook other rooms (c) Kavita and Pete Favelle

The other rooms are just as beautiful. White Rabbit, with it’s giant sheepskin bedframe and playing cards is often sold as the bridal suite and has a white tub and walk-in shower like ours. Chesire Cat is the third luxury double (along with White Rabbit and our room) and I’m very taken by the purple colour scheme. The room is huge and has a pretty chaise longue but note that the bathroom doesn’t include a tub and both windows look out onto slate tile roofs and trees, quite a restricted if appealingly private view. Jabberwocky is a superior double, a little smaller than the luxury doubles and with shower only once again. Tweedle Deez is another superior room and the only twin, with two stunning metal four poster beds and a shower-only bathroom. Gryphon is the hotel’s only single room, the bedframe made with recycled metal from a Spitfire plane, so we’re told. Caterpillar, a standard double, is the smallest room in the house, although still with the lovely design touches of all the other rooms. Last is Bread and Butterflies, a wheelchair accessible room on the ground floor.

Collage Glazebrook dining room dinner (c) Kavita and Pete Favelle

The in-house restaurant is very popular with locals so do make sure to book a table when you make your room reservation, if you want to be sure of a eating in.

Benefitting from enormous floor-to-ceiling windows, the room has plenty of light during the day and lots of light from chandeliers and candle sconces during the evening. Walls are decorated with collections of vintage china and silver serving platters, with wooden flooring and comfortable leather chairs.

Cooking is solid, based on good quality ingredients, though some dishes wow more than others. Winners are the Ticklemore goat’s cheese fritters and gingerbread whipped mousse starter – light, crisp, delicately flavoured – and a phenomenal whole lemon sole with samphire, lemon butter and jersey royal potatoes – the fish is so perfectly cooked and the lemon butter dressing just right.

The chicken liver parfait with tomato chutney and brioche is decent but let down by a slimy chicken thigh terrine which tastes of very little and contributes nothing to the plate. My west country pork belly, seared loin, cream potato, apple and cauliflower is a strong combination but the loin is very dry and the pork belly could do with even longer cooking to make the fat more soft and melting. It’s decent but not excellent.

The main let down of the meal is a chocolate torte with espresso jelly and tia maria cream – the espresso jelly layer, tia maria cream and tempered chocolate triangle on top are all fine but the main torte is very grainy, like seized chocolate and the texture is too off-putting for me. I am kindly offered a switch and enjoy a scoop of thunder and lightning ice cream served with an excellent light and crisp chocolate chip cookie.

The cheese selection is a really good choice featuring west country cheeses Yarg, Cornish Blue, Sharpham Cremet, Sweet Charlotte Cheddar and Quirk’s Mature Cheddar, served with quince jelly, grapes and a nice plate of crackers; the Sharpham Cremet goats cheese is utterly fantastic, a perfectly ripe, incredibly creamy goat’s cheese in the Brie style.

Collage Glazebrook dining room breakfast (c) Kavita and Pete Favelle

Breakfast is served in the same lovely dining room, this time with wooden tables unadorned with white linen and pots of fresh herbs as centre pieces. Juices, fresh fruit and patisseries are excellent as is Pete’s cheese and ham omelette. My full breakfast is alright – the single tiny sausage is a little overcooked, the black pudding and bacon are OK. There is little to make my heart leap – close but no cigar. I would rate both dinner and breakfast as enjoyable meals, but with some room for improvement.

Current room rates are £159 for the single, £179 for the standard double, £189-£199 for the superior twin and doubles and £239 for the three luxury doubles – that’s for bed and breakfast, with bar drinks and dinner charged a la carte. We think that’s a real steal for a relaxing afternoon, evening and morning in this lovely property.

Pete and I fell pretty hard for Glazebrook and I know we’ll definitely be back. We talked about family celebrations we might hold here, to share the delights of Glazebrook with our nearest and dearest, but I suspect we’ll err on the side of selfishness and keep it as a romantic retreat to savour on our own.

Kavey Eats were guests of Glazebrook House Hotel.

 

Sous-vide is a wonderful cooking technique, but it’s not an ideal option for anyone tight on either budget or space. Our ‘prosumer’ water bath (the SousVide Supreme) is the size of a small microwave and has a list price on the wrong side of £370. Even disregarding the price angle, kitchens are already groaning under the weight of numerous popular appliances; the need to find space for a bulky water bath next to the toaster, the food processer, the stand mixer, the blender, the microwave, the deep fat fryer, the rice cooker, the juicer and the slow cooker rules out a traditional sous vide machine even for many who can afford it.

Hang on a minute… the slow cooker… the slow cooker is half-way to a water bath already; it’s a large container that can heat liquid (such as water!) for hours at a time.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a small device that could convert an existing slow cooker to a sous vide water bath by way of accurately controlling the temperature of the water inside? Well of course, that’s where Codlo steps in.

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Official product image; my Codlo in our Kitchen (don’t look at the un-grouted tiles!)

Codlo is one of those ideas that’s really obvious once someone else has had it, not to mention done all the hard graft in getting it to work. This clever device turns your slow cooker – or rice cooker, or tea urn, or anything else that holds and heats water – into your very own sous vide water bath. Essentially Codlo is a small plug-in gadget with a temperature probe which allows it to turn the power of the attached appliance on and off and on in order to achieve and maintain your target temperature. That’s the theory but how does it work out in practice?

Codlo with Slow Cooker adj
Codlo and glass slow cooker (image provided by Codlo, mine was completely out of focus!)

The short answer is, remarkably well.

In the name of science, we cooked two identical steaks (here’s my guide to cooking steaks sous vide) – one in our SousVide Supreme and the other in our venerable old Breville slow cooker attached to the Codlo. After cooking one steak in each bath, we fried them together in the same pan for exactly the same amount of time before tucking in to a delicious dinner, each of us eating half of each steak. We genuinely couldn’t perceive any difference in the end result; texture and level of cooking were identical.

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That’s not to say that the Codlo-controlled Breville performs identically to the SousVide Supreme. Firstly, it takes a little longer to come up to temperature – but that’s understandable, as our slow cooker is a 290W model and we ran it on Low (we will try the High setting next time) whereas the SousVide Supreme is rated at a much higher 550W. Given that sous-vide cooking is usually a long process, adding an extra 15 minutes at the start isn’t a big deal for us. Of course, this difference also depends on what appliance you plug the Codlo into – a more powerful appliance will likely reach temperature just as quickly as the SousVide Supreme.

Also worth noting is that the temperature in the Codlo-controlled Breville takes a little time to settle; it (deliberately) sails past the target by a couple of degrees, drops below it when the food is added and gradually heats back up again. However, once it’s settled at the target temperature – around 10-15 minutes on our slow cooker’s Low setting – it’s rock steady, varying less than the SousVide Supreme. And the food seems to be none the worse for wear because of that initial temperature variance. The makers of Codlo advise us that the device adapts to each individual cooker it is attached to so these times will likely vary depending on the appliance you use.

codlo book 2

In addition to the Codlo controller, there is also an accompanying cookery book – Codlo Sous-Vide Guide & Recipes – full of information on the sous vide cooking technique, on temperatures and times for different types of foods and lots of tempting recipes. This would be useful not just to Codlo users but to anyone starting out in sous vide cooking and I’m hoping to share a recipe or two from the book soon.

Codlo does everything it promises, turning inexpensive equipment we already owned into a functional sous vide water bath, with results that equal our bulky and pricy prosumer alternative.

Kavey Eats received a Codlo for review purposes. Codlo is priced at £119, available here. This is an affiliate link, please see blog sidebar for further information.

 

You can take the girl out of Luton…

Smack in the middle of the eighties – which I still hold to be the best decade, musically and fashion-wise (though I admit to harbouring some bias on this) – I did a German Language Exchange Trip through my secondary school. Luton and Hamburg were an odd pairing; the kids of that rather attractive northern German river port city must surely have been a tad disappointed when they discovered that the attractions of Luton amounted to little more than a biscuit-shaped pincushion in the local museum and a pink flamingos fountain in the Arndale shopping centre.

The (frankly marvellous) pink flamingos have long since gone, which is a huge shame as they were one of Luton’s best (if not only) attractions.

pinkflamingoesofluton

Worried I might be imagining the biscuit-shaped pincushion (though my little sister remembers it too), I made a call to the museum last week and was delighted to hear back from one of their specialist curators that they do indeed have a biscuit-shaped pincushion in their collection (though it’s not currently on display). It dates from around 1870 and was produced as an advertising product by Huntley, Albert & Palmers. I should add at this point that the museum did, of course, have a great deal more on display than the biscuit-shaped pincushion, including no-doubt-excellent exhibits about the local hat- and lace-making industries for which Luton was, once upon a time, quite famous. It’s just that, as a teenager, little of this captured my attention; I’d probably appreciate it much more today!

And, by the way, did you know that the expression ‘mad as a hatter’ originated in Luton?

Anyway, back to Germany…

I’d actually already dropped German from my curriculum by the time the trip came around. We signed up for the exchange in our second year but travelled in our third by which time, having mastered only ‘ich liebe dich’ and ‘du bist eine dumme ganz’, I decided to focus on French, which I found immeasurably easier. I added one more phrase to my German knowledge some years later, by the way; even today I still like to point at random plants and declare ‘das is kein gummebaum’ (that is not a rubber plant) – a very useful phrase, I’m sure you’ll agree?

Luckily, the majority of people I met in Germany spoke superb English, so I got along just fine.

My host family showed me around Hamburg, of course. It’s an attractive city and the views from the revolving restaurant up in the Heinrich-Hertz-Turm comms tower were beautiful. I also spent a few days visiting German Schleswig – a school trip within a school trip – with my exchange partner’s class.

One of the days I remember most fondly was a family outing to nearby Lübeck, just an hour’s drive away or 45 minutes by train.

Situated on the River Trave, Lübeck is the second-largest city in Schleswig-Holstein, and a major port in the area. For several centuries it was the leading city of the Hanseatic League, a commercial confederation of merchant guilds and market downs that dominated trade in Northern Europe, stretching along the coast from the Baltic to the North Sea. The Old Town, on an island enclosed by the Trave, is famous for its extensive brick gothic architecture and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Images of Lubeck from Shutterstock.com

Niederegger Marzipan

It was not just the beauty of Lübeck that won my heart, oh no! Lübeck is also famous for its marzipan. And I really, really love marzipan!

A local legend suggests that marzipan was first made in the city in response to either a military siege or a local famine. The story goes that the town ran out of all foodstuffs except stored almonds and sugar, and these were combined to make loaves of marzipan “bread”.

In reality, marzipan is believed to have been invented far earlier, most likely in Persia though historians are undecided between a Persian and an Iberian origin.

Niederegger have been making marzipan in Lübeck for over two centuries, and relate the story from the perspective of founder Johann Georg Niederegger.

Our marzipan was invented far away, where almonds and sugar are grown. Rhazes, a Persian doctor who lived from 850 to 923, wrote a book in which he praised the curative qualities of almond and sugar paste. When the crusaders returned from the Orient, they brought with them a host of spices and Oriental secrets. In 13th century Venice, Naples and Sicily, spices and confectionery were generally traded  in tiny boxes. The enchanting word “Mataban” (box) gradually came to be used for the contents of the box:  Mazapane (Italian), Massepain (French) and Marzipan (German). Did you know that even back in the 13th century, the renowned philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas reflected upon the indulgence of eating Marzipan? In his doctrinal teaching, he reassures enquiring and anxious clerics: “Marzipan does not break the fast.” In his stories, the great novelist Boccaccio clearly describes the correlation between passion and marzipan. In those days, marzipan was topped with gold leaf to crown the sweet temptation. Great Hanseatic merchant boats brought spices and other prized ingredients to the North. Initially, however, only apothecaries were allowed to trade sugar and spices. Not until confectionary became a trade in its own right were so-called ‘canditors’ allowed to produce marzipan. The first Europeans to indulge in marzipan were kings and rich people. It has been reported that Queen Elizabeth I of England, who lived from 1533 to 1603, was addicted to all things sweet.  The saying ‘regal enjoyment’ was coined. Later, at the French ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV’s sumptuous feasts, huge tables laden with marzipan were the order of the day. Marzipan reproductions of all sorts of fruits, poultry and game were created – anything you desired could be made. In the first half of  the general population were now able to sample the almond delicacy to their heart’s content in coffee houses. Now that sugar could be extracted from sugar beet, the costly luxury became slightly more affordable. Marzipan was also particularly popular and prized in Lübeck. I would now like to tell you something about my life: as a young man, I left my home town of Ulm to become apprenticed to a confectioner, Maret, in Lübeck. In 1806 I was able to open up my own shop. I supplied my wares to kings and tsars. From then on, my reputation grew thanks to excellent quality. My recipe for marzipan – as many almonds as possible, as little sugar as necessary – is secret, and has been passed on from generation to generation since my death. That way, Niederegger Marzipan remains what it has always been: a delicious speciality made from the very best almonds. New York, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, a sweetmeat goes on tour … Niederegger stands for “marzipan of world renown”.

The quality of Niederegger marzipan is certainly renowned, as is that of slightly younger Lübeck marzipan manufacturer Carstens (founded in 1845, 39 years after Niederegger).

At its core, marzipan consists of nothing more than ground almonds mixed with either sugar or honey. These days, a wide range of marzipan is available; many commercial versions contain a comparatively low volume of almonds; instead they contain more sugar with the flavour boosted by almond oils and extracts or even cheaper synthetic almond flavourings. They are often sickly sweet.

Niederegger marzipan is the very good stuff. With a high ratio of almonds to sugar, the flavour is subtle and natural and the sweetness is not overwhelming.

Germany grades marzipan according to the following ratios:

  • Marzipanrohmasse (raw marzipan) contains 65% ground almonds and 35% sugar. When you see a label of 100:0 or 100%, it means 100% raw marzipan with no additional sugar added, not that there is no sugar at all.
  • Niederegger Marzipan is raw marzipan, made to the 65:35 almond to sugar ration and labelled as 100:0 (100% raw marzipan).
  • Lübecker Edelmarzipan (Lübeck fine marzipan) is described as 90:10. That means it’s 90% raw marzipan mixed with an extra 10% sugar. Don’t forget, that 90% is not 90% almonds but a mix of almonds and sugar. More sugar is added to that raw marzipan paste. That means the ratio of almond to sugar falls to around 58:42 (58% almonds, 42% sugar).
    Lübeck marzipan has a PDO (protected designation of origin) and the label can only be used for marzipan manufactured in the region to the 90:10 ratio.
  • Gütemarzipan (quality marzipan) must be 80:20. It’s made of 80% raw marzipan and 20% sugar. Almond makes up 62% of the total and sugar the other 28%.
  • Edelmarzipan (fine marzipan) is described as 70:30. It’s made of 70% raw marzipan and 30% sugar. The almond now makes up only 45% of the total and sugar the other 55%.
  • Gewöhnliches marzipan  (ordinary or consumer marzipan) is described as 50:50, so is half raw marzipan and half sugar. That means only a third of the total content is almond and two thirds is sugar.
  • There are also other designations such as Königsberger marzipan, which is no longer associated with place of manufacture but describes a style of marzipan that usually contains almonds, sugar, egg white and lemon juice and has a distinctive golden brown colour.

For anyone looking for high quality marzipan, you can buy Niederegger here in the UK – I’ve seen different products from their range on sale in John Lewis, Waitrose and Tesco and of course, you can buy online (from the same stores plus Chocolatesdirect.co.uk, Ocado and Amazon, to name a few).

Probably the most common Niederegger product  is marzipan coated in dark-chocolate, which is always wrapped in red foil. Blue foil denotes a milk chocolate coating and other colours of foil indicate flavoured marzipans such as apple, caramel, espresso, orange and pistachio – the latter being one of my personal favourites. There is also a liqueur range available.

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GIVEAWAY

It’s my pleasure to join  with Niederegger in giving away two hampers worth £25 each to readers of Kavey Eats!

Each hamper contains:-

  • 1 x Milk chocolate marzipan bar
  • 1 x Dark chocolate marzipan bar
  • 1 x 125g Marzipan loaf
  • 1 x 200g 16 Piece mini loaves assortment
  • 1 x 100g 8 Piece mini loaves classic
  • 1 x 40g Marzipan stick
  • 6 x Mini Loaves
  • 1 x Gift hamper box
  • Free delivery within the UK

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the giveaway in 2 ways – entering both ways increases your chances of winning:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment sharing a memory of language lessons at school, when you were a kid.

Entry 2 – Twitter
Follow @Kavey on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter! Then tweet the exact sentence (shown in italics) below.
I’d love to win a marzipan hamper from @niederegger_uk and Kavey Eats! http://bit.ly/KaveyEatsMarzipan #KaveyEatsMarzipan
(Do not add my twitter handle or any other twitter handle at the beginning of the tweet and please don’t leave a blog comment about your tweet either; I track twitter entries using the competition hash tag.)

RULES & DETAILS
  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 1st May 2015.
  • The 2 winners will be selected from all valid entries (across blog, twitter and instagram) using a random number generator.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • Each prize is a hamper of Niederegger produts, as detailed above and includes delivery within the UK.
  • The prizes cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prizes are offered and provided by Niederegger .
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. You may enter all three ways but you do not have to do so for each individual entry to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
  • The winners will be notified by email or Twitter so please make sure you check your accounts for the notification message. If no response is received from a winner within 10 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

Kavey Eats received sample products from Niederegger.

 

Dutch cheese Gouda has a bit of an image problem in the UK, often dismissed as a somewhat boring cheese. This is no doubt because our opinions are based on the young mass-produced Gouda which has most commonly been available here in the UK in recent decades.

But, like many cheese, the best Gouda is absolutely terrific!

Kaashandel Peters aka the goudacheeseshop.com is a family business based in Harderwijk, about 40 miles East of Amsterdam. They specialise in selling high quality Dutch cheeses to both consumers and catering customers and since the launch of their web shop in 2009, have also been able to sell cheese to customers across Europe. The cheeses are cut into segments and vacuum-packed, making them suitable to store for at least 6 weeks, which means delivery to the UK is perfectly feasible.

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The Best Three is a selection of Kaashandel Peters’ top three Gouda cheeses, 500 grams of each and sells for €23.50 (plus shipping).

The three cheeses from left to right in both images above are Boeren Belegen – Stolwijker Kaas (farmhouse 6-month matured gouda from the Stolwijker region), Belegen Goudse Kaas (gouda matured for 16-18 weeks) and Oude Peter Goudse Kaas – Extra Kwaliteit (high quality gouda matured for 14 months)

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REVIEW

Boeren Belegen – Stolwijker Kaas

  • The Dutch term Boerenkaas translates as Farmer’s cheese and is a protected designation that can only be produced by Dutch farms to a traditional recipe. This cheese is made from fresh rather than pasteurised milk and is matured for about six months.
  • This was not disimilar in flavour to the Belegen Goudse Kaas (below) and had the same rich and creamy texture, but the flavour had a wonderful nuttiness too, and was significantly stronger. This reminded me of a good quality mature cheddar.

Belegen Goudse Kaas

  • This gouda has been matured for 16-18 weeks, less than the other two cheeses, but more than the youngest gouda available.
  • As you would expect, we found this the mildest of the three, a less complex flavour but still rich, creamy and with good flavour. It had a hint of sweetness and a little grassiness too.

Oude Peter Goudse Kaas – Extra Kwaliteit

  • This is a particularly high quality gouda that has been matured for 14 months.
  • Unsurprisingly, this was the strongest of the three cheeses with a pronounced (and gorgeous) nutty flavour, some crystaline salt texture but still a lot of creaminess in the mouth. A truly superb cheese and one that I’d happily choose for a special occasion cheese board.

Gouda-KaashandelPeters-KaveyEats-(c)KavitaFavelle-7483

GIVEAWAY

It’s my pleasure to join  with Kaashandel Peters in giving away three sets of the above three cheeses to readers of Kavey Eats! Delivery to any address within the EU is included.

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the giveaway in 2 ways – entering both ways gives you double the chance of winning:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment telling me about your favourite hard cheese – what’s it called and where is it from?

Entry 2 – Twitter
Follow @Kavey on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter! Then tweet the exact sentence (shown in italics) below.
I’d love to win three gorgeous Gouda cheeses from @goudsekaasshop and Kavey Eats! http://bit.ly/KaveyEatsGouda #KaveyEatsGouda
(Do not add my twitter handle into the tweet; I track twitter entries using the competition hash tag. And please don’t leave a blog comment about your tweet either, thanks!)

RULES & DETAILS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 24th April 2015.
  • The 3 winners will be selected from all valid entries (across blog and twitter) using a random number generator.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • The prize is Kaashandel Peters’ The Best Three selection, including the three cheeses listed. Delivery to any address within the EU is included.
  • The prizes cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prizes are offered and provided by Kaashandel Peters.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. You may enter both ways but you do not have to do so for each individual entry to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
  • The winners will be notified by email or via Twitter so please make sure you check your accounts for the notification message. If no response is received from a winner within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

Kavey Eats received samples cheeses from Kaashandel Peters and was reimbursed for my time. All opinions my own, as always.

The winners for this competition are Jackie ONeill and Philip Wright (blog entries) and @anglesey42 (twitter entry).

 

One for the Star Wars fans, this – an X-Wing Knife Block – created by bluw to celebrate the release of the seventh film later this year.

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The officially licensed set contains an X-Wing shaped knife block with five stainless steel knives – a bread knife, a carving knife, a utility knife, a paring knife and a cook’s knife. Each knife has a protection sheath that it slots into.

The block is frustratingly flimsy – you have to hold it with one hand to pull a knife from it with the other and the knives are very lightweight too; it’ll be interesting to see how long they last. This is much more of a novelty gift than a serious kitchen set, I’d say. However, I can’t help but smile at the idea, regardless. Prices vary considerably from £48.99 to £79.99 so it’s worth shopping around, if you want to buy one.

Kavey Eats received a product sample from bluw.

 

In the last few years I’ve discovered that I have a taste for sake. I’ve learned the basics about how it’s made and the different types available, but haven’t sampled enough to get a handle on my preferences. There’s a very distinctive taste that most sakes have in common, despite their many differences and it’s a taste I like very much. But having one or two sakes in isolation once every few months serves only to let me choose my favourite between the two – such tastings are too few and far between for me to build up a coherent library of taste memories in my head, and thereby gain more confidence on choosing well in the future. One of the outstanding items on my Food & Drink To Do list is to immerse myself more fully in the world of sake and work out which styles, regions and even producers I love the most.

The Chisou restaurant group have been running a Sake Club for about a year now, a regular evening of tutored tastings with matched Japanese snacks provided. I’ve been meaning to attend since they launched, but have singularly failed.

What finally spurred me to action was actually a deviation from the norm – a special umeshu tasting.

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The tastings are held in a private room – in Chisou Knightsbridge this was the upstairs dining room – properly separated from regular diners. We shared a table with a couple who were also first timers to the Sake Club, Gareth and Nirvana, and had a lot of fun talking about food and drink, life in London and visiting Japan.

Chisou’s Marketing Manager Mark McCafferty hosted the evening and started by giving us an introduction to umeshu, though a printed crib sheet was also provided for each guest. He introduced each of the six drinks, and the snacks that were served with them, sharing tasting tips and notes throughout.

Although umeshu is usually described in English as plum wine, the ume fruit is not actually a plum; although nicknames include both Chinese Plum and Japanese Apricot, it’s a distinct species within the Prunus genus (which also includes plums and apricots); if a comparison is still needed, the ume is a stone fruit that is closer to the apricot than to the plum.

Why did Chisou decide to hold an umeshu night as part of their Sake Club series? Because umeshu is traditionally made using surplus sake or shōchū – a distilled spirit made from a variety of different carbohydrates – or to use up batches which have not turned out quite as planned. That said, as it’s popularity has increased, many breweries make umeshu as part of their standard product range, and some use high grade sake or shōchū and top quality ume fruit to do so.

The method is very straightforward and will be familiar to those who’ve made sloe gin or other fruit-based spirits – strawberry vodka, anyone? Whole ume fruit are steeped in alcohol – the longer the period, the more the fruit breaks down and its flavour leaches into the alcohol. Some umeshu is left to mature for years, allowing the almond-flavour of the stone to become more pronounced.

In many cases, additional sugar is added to the umeshu, to create a sweeter liqueur. Many households make their own umeshu when the ume fruit is in season, as it’s a very simple drink to make.

The whole fruits are often left in the umeshu – both in home made and commercial versions – and served alongside the drink. Take care, as the stone is still inside!

The welcome drink, as everyone settled in and we waited for a few late arrivals, was a Kir-style cocktail of prosecco and Hannari Kyo umeshu. With this we enjoyed orange-salted edamame beans and wasabi peas.

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Next, an Ozeki umeshu on the rocks served with a generous plate of pork scratchings with individual bowls of an umami-explosion shiitake mayonnaise. In Japan, the highest quality of fruit is often very expensive, and Mark explained that this particular brewery use top quality ume for their umeshu. For Pete, this was “reminiscent of a sherry” and Nirvana liked the “aftertaste of almond”. I loved this umeshu, one of my favourites of the evening.

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Third was a cloudy version – Morikawa umeshumade with a ginjo sake (using highly polished rice), so quite unusual. For me, this tasted stronger than the previous one, but in fact it was a slightly lower ABV – I think this may simply have been because more bitterness was evident in the taste. Mark suggested we should “warm it up like a mulled wine, to make the most of it’s spiciness”. Gareth particularly enjoyed the “mouthfeel” of this umeshu. Pete thought it would an amazing match with a cheese – a perfect replacement for port.

With this came a small skewer of smoked duck with apple cider, miso and fresh ginger, served theatrically beneath a smoke-filled dome. I could have eaten an entire plate of these, instead of just one!

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I was surprised how much I liked the fourth option, as I couldn’t imagine the combination on first reading the menu. The Tomio Uji Gyokuro umeshu combines traditional shade-grown green tea with umeshu to add a rich umami note to the finished product. Oxidisation means the drink is amber rather than green, but the meaty and medicinal notes are evidence of the presence of green tea.

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Next was a cocktail combining Hannari Kyo umeshu with Yamagata Masamune sake, lime juice and angostura bitters. I found this a too bitter and dry for my tastes, so asked if I could taste the Hannari Kyo umeshu on its own, as we’d only tried it with mixers thus far. It’s a lovely umeshu but couldn’t compete with the Ozeki umeshu or the Tomio Uji Gyokuro umeshu for me.

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Last, we were served a cup of good quality vanilla ice cream with warm Morikawa umeshu to pour over the top, affogato-style. As you’d imagine, the sweet and sour notes of the fruit liqueur really work well with cold vanilla ice cream, making it what Nirvana called “a very grown up ice cream”. As Mark commented, “warm it up and it really comes alive”.

Pete and I decided to stay on and order a few dishes from the food menu to soak up the alcohol before heading home, umeshu-happy.

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agedashi tofu, gyoza, pork with kimchi, chicken karaage

After such a great evening, we are keen to attend more Sake Club events. Umeshu night was very well priced at £40 per person and was a great learning experience, a fun social evening and very delicious. If you book Sake Club, do take care that you go the right location. The club is alternately held at different branches of the restaurant and it’s not uncommon for regulars to go to the wrong one, resulting in a mad dash across town.

Kavey Eats attended the Umeshu tasting as guests of Chisou Knightsbridge. The additional dishes pictured at the end were on our own tab.

 

Pete and I are big fans of Salter equipment, having used a Salter scale in our kitchen for many years. And we’re already fans of Heston’s collaborations with appliance brands; I’ve recently posted about the Quick Touch microwave and Smart Scoop ice cream machine Heston designed with Sage.

So it was our pleasure to try out the Heston Precision range created by Heston and Salter, which includes dual platform measuring scales, an adjustable rolling pin, a balloon whisk, measuring spoons and cooking spatulas.

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The scales comes in a beautiful box with instructions on use printed on the inside lid. I asked Pete to review them, as they’re perfect for his home brew needs (as well as regular kitchen use):

Homebrewing makes some heavy demands on kitchen scales. Recipes can call for a total of 6kg or more of grain, and yet our standard scales can’t handle more than 5kg. At the same time, some of the minor grain ingredients can weigh as little as 100 grams – at which point, the fact that our scales measure in steps of 4 grams can introduce a significant error.

So the main platform on the Heston scale is a godsend – handling up to 10kg means that it can handle the biggest recipes in my book, and with a 1 gram accuracy I can be confident that my measurements are all spot on.

Of course, that’s only half the story; as well as grain, beer needs hops. While English hops are often measured in the tens of grams – and so can be weighed with some success on standard scales – with more powerful New World hops recipes can call for smaller quantities of 5 or 10 grams. Obviously when your scale only measures in steps of 4 grams, accurately measuring 5 grams of anything can be next to impossible.

This is where the secondary platform on the Heston scale comes in, which can weigh up to 100 grams in steps of 0.1 grams – perfect for lightweight ingredients such as hops.

Of course, you can buy separate scales for such small quantities but combining two into one is a much tidier solution – especially for a homebrewer with an ever growing pile of equipment.

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The rolling pin has adjustable depth guides to make it easier to roll to a depth of 3mm, 5mm and 8mm.

The measuring spoons have a leveller slide along the top to remove excess and ensure an accurate measure. They can be used for wet and dry ingredients, but are not intended for use with oils.

The spatulas are heat resistant to 250°C and dishwasher safe.

The large balloon whisk has a comfortable non-slip handle, is light and easy to use and is dishwasher safe.

HestonPrecisionRange

GIVEAWAY

Salter are giving one set of products from the Heston Precision by Salter range to a reader of Kavey Eats. The items in the set retail for over £100 and include:

  • Salter Heston Blumenthal Dual Platform Precision Kitchen Scale (RRP £49.99)
  • Salter Heston Blumenthal Precision Adjustable Rolling Pin (RRP £19.99)
  • Salter Heston Blumenthal Precision Adjustable Measuring Spoons (RRP £14.99)
  • Salter Heston Blumenthal Precision Professional Kitchen Whisk (RRP £8.99)
  • Salter Heston Blumenthal Precision Multipurpose Cooking Spatulas (RRP £14.99)

The prize includes delivery within the UK.

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the competition in 2 ways:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment telling me what you’d make if you won the Heston Precision by Salter giveaway prize.

Entry 2 – Twitter
Follow @Kavey on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter! Then tweet the exact sentence (shown in italics) below.
I’d love to win a set of Heston Precision kitchen equipment by @SalterUK from Kavey Eats! http://bit.ly/KEHestonSalter #KEHestonSalter
(Do not add my twitter handle to the tweet; I track twitter entries using the competition hash tag. And please don’t leave a blog comment about your tweet either, thanks!)

RULES & DETAILS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 10th April 2015.
  • Kavey Eats reserves the right to alter the closing date of the competition. Changes to the closing date, if they occur, will be shown on this page.
  • The winner will be selected from all valid entries (across blog and twitter) using a random number generator.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions and must be followed exactly.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • The prize is one Salter Heston Blumenthal Dual Platform Precision Kitchen Scale, one Salter Heston Blumenthal Precision Adjustable Rolling Pin, one set of Salter Heston Blumenthal Precision Adustable Measuring Spoons, one Salter Heston Blumenthal Precision Professional Kitchen Whisk and one set of Salter Heston Blumenthal Precision Multipurpose Cooking Spatulas.
  • The prize cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prize is offered and provided by Salter Housewares.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. You may enter both ways but you do not have to do so for each individual entry to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey at the time of notification. Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
  • The winners will be notified by email or Twitter so please make sure you check your accounts for the notification message. If no response is received from a winner within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

Kavey Eats received product samples from Salter Housewares. This post includes affiliate links, please see blog sidebar for further information.

The winner of this competition was Ann Goody (blog entry).

 

There’s a lot to like about Northbank Restaurant, not least it’s superb location on the bank of the River Thames, steps away from St Paul’s and the Millennium Bridge and with a view across to the Tate Modern. The restaurant is spacious and elegant, tables are not too close together for a private conversation and the bar area has a very lovely outdoor terrace, though it was booked by a private party on the date of our visit.

The menu is “modern British”; the produce British too, with a preference for Cornish that befits owner Christian Butler’s home county. The kitchen is lead by head chef Jason Marchant, who shares Butler’s focus on supporting local British producers.

Window tables are in demand, though be warned that in winter you’ll feel the cold when tucked up against the huge sheets of glass. The outlook onto the river and central London skyline are gorgeous though, so wear your thermals and book for the view!

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Images by David Griffen Photography, courtesy of Northbank Restaurant

Marchant has just launched a tasting menu, 6 courses for £55 or 7 for £60, and plans to create a new menu every month. The dishes below are March’s offering, so keep an eye on the website to find out what’s to come.

There is currently no matching wine flight available which is I think is missing a trick, but Northbank’s wine list is very affordable – surprisingly so for central London – with many wines available by the glass. Pete enjoys a white Candidato from Viura, Spain and a red Mon Roc (merlot and cabernet blend) from France, both keenly priced at just £18 a bottle.

The soft drinks list is a let down, with a couple of juices and the regular sodas, it’s crying out for some extra effort. The manager was more than willing to create a non-alcoholic cocktail of my choosing, but I’d like to see non-alcohol drinkers given some attention on the drinks list, rather than leaving it to us to venture off-menu.

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First, an amuse bouche served in a little espresso cup – Carrot and Honey Soup with a drop of olive oil. This was a punchy little soup, packed full of flavour and very intense – perfect to wake up the palate, ready for the dishes to follow.

Bread, served warm, was uniformly soft with no crunch of a crust at all; oddly reminiscent of airline bread though not unpleasant.

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Truffle Chicken Tortellini with Spinach Purée and Truffle Cream was a mixed dish. There was really no texture of chicken detectable in the filling at all but the flavour of the filling was still good, as is was the rich truffle cream served alongside. I didn’t like the spinach puree (which you can just spot behind the tortellini, obscured by the pile of salad); indeed I felt its flavour clashed with the truffle and wondered if peppery watercress might fare better? For me frizzy pile of salad piled on top was not attractive, didn’t add at all to the eating experience and almost completely obscured the slices of truffle draped over the tortellini.

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From there on in, however, the meal was markedly better. Seared West Country Scallops with Burnt Leek, Celeriac, Sea Purslane was a super, stand out dish. I loved the brioche crumb with nori and capers, I loved the celeriac puree and I adored that charred burnt leek – and all of it went fabulously well with the scallops. I couldn’t pick up the taste of the sea purslane leaves, perhaps only one tiny leaf per scallop isn’t quite enough for the taste to come through? But this was a great dish.

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Next up was Rabbit Mulligatawny, another of our favourite dishes of the menu. This dish had a really robust flavour – beautifully tender rabbit (with none of the dryness that is common in rabbit dishes), cooked in a vibrant sauce with a touch of heat to it and garnished with crisp, deep-fried kale. Another really excellent dish.

Given how much of a flavour punch this packed, I think it may have worked better after rather than before the halibut, even given the meaty nature of that fish.

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Panfried halibut was served with mashed potato, charred kale and nasturtium leaves, with a dark red wine sauce. The fish itself was cooked beautifully, firm yet succulent and very fresh indeed. The charred kale was good with it, the flavour from the char adding a hint of bitterness. But the mash was unforgivably grainy and the sauce was oddly sweet and sour. Friends who dined here the night before us absolutely loved this dish but neither Pete nor I liked the sauce much at all and I’m wondering whether there was an inconsistency in flavours from one day to the next? A good dish, but not as strong for us as the two courses preceding.

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Roasted Rump of Cornish Lamb, Potato Terrine, Shallot Purée & Salt Baked Beetroot  was a generous plate of excellent quality lamb with a very subtly flavoured fruit bread crumb. The beetroot was super salty, but balanced by the sweetness of the shallot and that potato terrine was a thing of beauty! A good solid dish.

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For dessert there’s a choice of two, so we each chose one and shared both. First up the Lemon Meringue Plate, a deconstruction that worked well enough with lemon curd, lemon sorbet, meringue and a sprinkle of crumble. Good clean flavours and textures, this worked well.

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The menu listed this as Cocoa and Chocolate, though we were told on serving that it was a chocolate and hazelnut praline dish. The mousse was excellent in texture and taste, with a really rich dark chocolate flavour that is often missing from restaurant chocolate desserts. The chocolate crumb around had shards of hazelnut brittle, more caramel than hazelnut but still added a nice crunch.

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We were told this West Country Cheese Board (£5 supplement) was a serving for one, but it was such a generous portion, plenty for two after the previous courses. Featuring Yarg, Golden Cross Goat, Devon Blue and Stinking Bishop; the only weak cheese for me was the Devon Blue which I found bitter and rather lacking in complexity of flavour; the others were perfectly tasty cheeses. The fig chutney was a perfect blend of sweet, savoury and spicy. Toasts (the same fruit bread that featured in the lamb dish) and crackers were decent. Fresh apple was crisp and sweet. But the grapes were far too ripe, so squishy it was hard to pull them from the stem.

The main negative for me about Northbank Restaurant is how dark it is. Really dark. Dark enough that we were not the only guests using mobile phones as torches in order to read the menu; as far as I’m concerned, that low a level of lighting is better suited to a nightclub than a restaurant and a step too far in the name of moody and atmospheric. If you’re thinking that my images don’t look that dark, be aware that I’ve pulled the exposure significantly in processing – the reason for the level of noise grain in the images. Call me old-fashioned but I really like to be able to see what I’m eating!

Despite my little nit-picks, the meal overall was very enjoyable and the £55/£60 price point is excellent value given the location and quality of ingredients.  I think Marchant’s tasting menu is definitely one to keep an eye on, and shall certainly look out for his new menu each month.

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Northbank Restaurant.

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You may also enjoy reviews by Cooksister Jeanne and Hot & Chilli Rosana, who visited the night before we did.

 

In a quiet road in the heart of Fitzrovia, Le Menar offers a modern approach to North African and Middle Eastern cuisine. The menu, developed by head chef Vernon Samuels, is predominantly Moroccan with a few Lebanese contributions and is so full of temptations that another visit is definitely on the cards to try the dishes we didn’t have space for this time around! Vernon’s twists include the skilful introduction of European ingredients and techniques plus a modern presentation style.

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Inside, the decor is traditional and customers can choose from regular tables towards the front or a colourful cushioned seating area at the back, which is altogether cosier.

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Sugared mixed nuts and plump green olives in a spicy paste are served with the menus.

The drinks list is a little disappointing – only two Moroccan wines (one of which is rather expensive) and no Lebanese ones at all, though there are some affordable French choices. Likewise a lack of Moroccan or Lebanese beers and a dull soft drinks list are equally disappointing. The drinks offering could certainly do with some of the creativity and love that’s been given to the food menu.

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Struggling to select from the Starters, our waiter suggests we take the Mezze for 2 (£18), a selection of eight mezze, selected by the chef. These are small portions, as promised, and served with warmed flatbread. Hummus is full of flavour, simple but tasty. Herb-packed Tabbouleh is fresh, though a touch lemony for me, Pete likes it more. Baby Okra Salad is always a hard sell to two okra haters but is well cooked and balanced with pomegranate seeds. Home made Falafel are crisp and light. Moussaka (not to be confused with the layered Greek version but the looser stewed style) is beautifully cooked and delicious. Moutabal (also known as baba ghanouj) is superbly smoky, silky and so good I could eat it every day. Mini Kibbeh (the Lebanese torpedos of minced lamb and bulgar wheat) are spot on though I’d like a little more of the smoked chilli jam they are served with. Neatly wrapped Waraq Enab – vine leaves with a tomato and rice stuffing – are improved by not being served fridge cold, as is often the case.

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Between two, you don’t need an additional starter, but we were so keen to try it that we squeezed in this Za’atar Burrata (£8), a fantastic fusion dish of creamy burrata, several different heirloom tomatoes (all perfectly ripe and full of flavour), fresh basil leaves, crunchy shards of baked flatbread (in the fattoush style), a light smattering of za’atar on the burrata (could have taken a touch more) and a fantastic dressing (which Vernon coyly revealed to feature merlot vinegar and pomegranate molasses at its base), sprinkled with citrusy sumac. I absolutely adored this dish!

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It was hard to choose from the main dishes too with tagines, slow cooked dishes and items from the grill competing for attention.

The Moroccan Style Sea Bass (£16) with rose harissa, za’atar, spinach, datterini tomatoes and kataifi wafers was our first choice. Isn’t the presentation beautiful, with the fish curving around the tomatoes and wearing that jaunty kataifi hat? The fish was perfectly cooked and it worked well with the selected vegetables and flavours. The cous cous served alongside was completely plain, I’d have liked a little flavoured sauce to mix into it, as there wasn’t much spare with the fish.

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Our other main dish was a neck fillet Lamb Tagine (£16.50), slow cooked until falling apart to the touch, the spices robust but allowing the high quality lamb to shine. Served with crispy potatoes, its cooking liquid as a gravy and a garnish of fried baby aubergine, this was another true winner of a dish!

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Were strawberries in season, these Mini Bingnes (£6) with rosewater, strawberries, lime, mascarpone cream and pistachio dust would probably have been wonderful. As it is, they were let down by seriously under ripe fruit, hard and sharp and lacking in strawberry flavour.

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Deep Fried Vanilla Ice Cream (£8.50) served with butterscotch Medjool dates was pretty good. The salted caramel sauce over the dates was perfect, though I’d have liked a little more of it, and of course, the dates were gorgeous. The Madagascan vanilla ice cream was good quality, no complaints on that front. The sole (and not very serious) issue was that crispy shell around the ice cream was so thick that it evidently needed quite some time to cook through and brown which meant that the ice cream inside was rather more melted than ideal. It was all delicious though, that crusty shell included.

We really enjoyed the food at Le Menar – the flavours are true to Morocco and Lebanon, British and European ingredients are used to good effect, the fusion touches are well judged and presentation is beautiful. Prices are reasonable for the central London location.

A little more attention to the drinks menu, bringing it up to the standard of the food offering, would be a welcome improvement, but even without that, this North African restaurant is well worth a visit.

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Le Menar.

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