Sunday, October 22, 2017

Rum Masterclass at Cottons, London

Rum is my normal drink of choice. If I have to have alcohol, (my frequency and quantity has been drastically reduced voluntarily. I know friends who knew me from before, may not believe that I barely drink alcohol once or twice a month now) in the summer its cider or beer and in the winter its rum.


I love my alcohol sweet without being too fruity. My absolute favourite is Old Monk and Thums Up. Yes! Still! Even after 22 years! I also prefer rum based cocktails like dark & stormy, mojito, bushwhacker, daiquiri, caipirinha and hot buttered rum in the winter.


So when Joanne from Love Pop Ups London mentioned that Cottons at Vauxhall (the newest of four branches - opened last month) was looking for some bloggers to sample one of their Rum Masterclasses, I jumped out of my eating/writing ennui and applied.


The setting of the restaurant itself is absolutely serene and beautiful on St George's wharf. And I suspect their outdoor tables will be heavily coveted on warmer days. They also have a huge indoor area which is well lit and very comfortable with bar seating and table seating.


We started the masterclass at the bar. Barry was in charge. The wealth of information that he has regarding rums is mind boggling. Rum tasting is as complex and complicated as single malts. Their origins could be from anywhere, where sugarcane is grown.


Then its a matter of distilling, fermenting, ageing, shipping etc. This branch of Cottons has over 250 varieties of rum, their Notting Hill branch has 372+.


We started with a 5 year old Plantation Rum from Barbados. This was aged twice. First in Barbados for 3 years and again in France in Cognac casks for 2 years. Plantation Rum, are originally from different Caribbean islands (original island clearly marked on the bottles), but the company is based in France. This particular rum had its own sweetness from its contact with the cognac casks.


We next sniffed at a Goslings Black Seal Bermuda Black Rum. 151 proof makes it an overproof rum with 75.5% alcohol. Barry recommended that this one would go best with ginger beer and its also a great rum to flambe with.
 

The Angostura 1919 is a Trinidadian Rum. After a fire in 1932, which destroyed the Government Rum Bond, the master blender of Fernandes Distillers, bought the charred casks, only to discover they had been filled in the year 1919. The prized rum was skillfully blended and called "1919 Aged Rum." Even today this rum is aged in charred Jack Daniels casks. So while the rum itself is fruity with vanilla flavour, the undertones are markedly woody. This particular one is aged for 8 years.


This limited edition Venezuelan Rum from Diplomatico has won best rum 4 times. This rum is made from sugar honey which makes it sweeter than the other rums that we tasted and is aged for 12 years. This was my second favourite rum of the evening.

Barry also produced some lovely home made dark chocolate chunks which added so much to the flavour of the following rums. I suspect that I may have enjoyed the chocolate much more than the rum.


We next tried a Demerara Rum from Guyana - El Dorado. The rich soil and Demerara river lend their name and flavour to these rums. This particular one is aged for 15 years. While it had a lovely taste, I found it a bit on the heavier side. More suitable as a liqueur than for pre-dinner, for me.


Since we specifically asked about rum agricole (we were in a Caribbean bar after all) which is made directly from sugarcane juice (rather than its molasses), Barry recommended the Clement XO from Martinique. This is an Extra Old 7-8 year old rum and because it has been aged for so long it can be drunk on its own, unlike younger agricole rums. Given the smooth seductive tastes of the the other rums that we had sampled, this one tasted lovely, but felt much harsher on the throat and in its after taste.


The 20th anniversary Plantation Rum was our last taster of the evening and also my absolute favourite.This rum is blended from 12-20 tropically aged rums from Barbados and then aged again in cognac casks in France. While I could taste vanilla and citrus, there were also hints of cinnamon, cocoa and other christmassy spices.


Every single rum that we tried was amazing enough to be drunk on its own. The experience has forced me to rethink rums as just an alcoholic base which needs a mixer, to something that can be savoured on its own. They are great in cocktails and some rums go partuicularly well with certain specific mixers - like Ginger beer. But a lot of them can be slowly sipped on and enjoyed for just what they are.

There's such a large variety out there, that an experience of a masterclass like this one really helps start you down a wonderfully interesting path. Priced around £20 per person for rum masterclass only or £35 per person which includes a 2-course dinner after the class, its money well spent.


After we were done with the class, we were allowed to choose a cocktail from their menu. This was a tough choice as the menu had some of my favourites, but also some very intriguing new ones. My curiosity won out and I ordered a Strong Back - with dragon stout, Jamaican Wray & Nephew Rum, condensed milk and nutmeg. This was like a lovely iced dessert. I was surprised at how much alcohol was in the cocktail and everyone else at the table said the same about their drinks too.


We also had some nibbles to share at the table. Caribbean food served in style. I've previously eaten Caribbean food at the Notting Hill Festival - a disaster, and some really tasty places in Brixton which focus on food rather than seating / atmosphere etc.


The salt & pimiento squid was lovely and really did not need the accompanying pesto sauce. The pork ribs with the rum and molasses glaze was outstanding as was the ebony wings. I've had much better salt fish fritters made by Vanessa Bolosier, so I found these a bit dry and too tightly packed to enjoy the flavour. But the others at the table did like them and also raved about the whole grilled prawns (I'm allergic)



The sweet potato patties and the chick pea patties were lovely, so I'd say the vegetarians could enjoy the food here too.

Great rum, exciting cocktails and finger licking food. Definitely a place to bookmark and visit. The Notting Hill location is much closer to me, so maybe I'll try that one next. But I'm definitely returning here on a warm sunny day to enjoy the outdoor location.

Joanne has made a lovely video of our experience and its up on youtube.

Cottons -Vauxhall.
Unit 12 Flagstaff House,
St Georges Wharf,
Vauxhall, SW8 2LE
-
T: 0207 091 0793

Friday, October 13, 2017

Thai Cottage, Berkhamstead, UK

Thai Cottage
149 High Street
Berkhamsted HP4 3HH

01442 870808

After spending a couple of days at Ashridge University, I wanted to explore Berkhamsted town and grab a hot lunch before catching the train back to London.

I avoid chain restaurants when I can and this one had a good rating on yelp.


It was a fixed lunch offer only (no a la carte) with one soup or starter and one main course served with rice for 10 Pounds.


I ordered the sticky pork ribs as a starter - they were very well cooked and were almost falling off the bone, but the sauce on them was sickly sweet.

My main course was a beef stir fry (I asked for a spicy option and the server recommended this) Again the meat was well cooked, but it was so salty!

While main courses are normally served with rice, I requested if I could substitute the rice for noodles. The egg noodles that were served with the beef was very tasty (and they weren't even on the menu)


The place was quite full in the noon and most people in there were locals.

The staff was really sweet and obliging.

However the food was a disappointment. I just ate the noodles and picked at the beef and pork. Even mixed with the noodles the sweetness was cloying and the saltiness overwhelming.

Next time I think I'll just eat at Ashridge before leaving, the buffets there were amazing.

Rating : 2 / 5


Thai Cottage

Thai Cottage Menu

Friday, June 16, 2017

Camden Coffee House, London

Camden Coffee House
30 Camden Road
London NW1 9DP

Phone number 020 7428 9477

Given the high rating of this place, I've been trying for awhile to grab a coffee here, but they shut quite early (last orders around 16:45), so yesterday was the first time I actually managed to step in by 16:30 and order some takeaway coffee.

The people at the counter were really sweet and polite and it looked like they had a lovely garden area downstairs.

When we arrived, they warned us that they would be shutting in 20 minutes, in case we wanted to linger over our coffees. After 4 hours wandering around the warrens of Camden markets, We just needed to sit down for 5-10 minutes and get our caffeine fix before carrying on, so this wasn't a problem.

The reason I haven't given the place a higher rating is
1. The seats were low and slightly uncomfortable. (We sat upstairs) I understand the tighter fit (think economy seats on budget airlines) as their space is limited in a small shop, but they were really low or maybe it's just my bones growing older.

I could ignore this completely as I mostly take my coffee to go and don't bother with sitting down.

However,
2. We ordered 2 iced coffees and my mum got a nice iced latte type coffee, but mine barely had a spot of milk in it. Mums looked and Tasted like it had been well blended, mine looked like a black coffee poured on ice and a spot of milk added to it.
I had to go back and request more milk in my coffee as I couldn't drink it the way it was served.

Unfortunately, we were so hot and tired that mum finished her coffee before I even got up to add more milk to my coffee, so I didn't have the chance to click a comparative picture.

Dad's hot latte was fine. I'm not sure if this was a shop / machine closing time problem, but if I order 2 of the same thing, I do expect them to look and taste similar.

We had a lemon white chocolate muffin and that was good too, but for a coffee shop to not make my coffee right? I really wanted to like this place and was sadly disappointed.

Rating : 2/5

Monday, June 05, 2017

Hofburgstüberl, Vienna

Hofburgstüberl
Hofburg 4
1010 Vienna
Austria

+43 1 5351932

Our cheapest sit down breakfast in Vienna. Thanks to Rick Steeves who recommended this place. It's quiet, a little haven in the midst of the Hofburg palace tourist throngs.


When we entered, I was a little wary as to what this tiny cafe could serve. It looks like one of those many tourist trap cafeterias.

But the young lady at the counter was super efficient and friendly. She had sausages on the boil in various containers under the counter.

We got our order including 2 melange (coffees) in under 5 minutes and were done with breakfast in 20 mins.


Such a change from all the sedately paced coffee houses around town. I do enjoy a leisurely meal, but not when every minute lingering over a meal could have been spent at a sightseeing location, staring at the imperial crowns or a Klimt.

3 breakfast plates and 2 coffees and we had the seating space to ourselves all for the kingly sum of 13.5€ !

Rating : 4.5 / 5

Friday, May 12, 2017

Shoryu Go, London

Shoryu Go
19 Air Street
London W1B 5AG

The first time I went to Shoryu Go, it was because this is the only ramen "specialised" outlet that packed it as takeaway.

I'd ordered 4 ramens and some buns, but when I got home I realised that one of the ramens hadn't been packed. I called them and they said that unfortunately, I would have to come back to the store either to get the money returned on my card or to pick up a fresh ramen to replace the one that had got left out. I told them I would only be back in the area after a week and they said that would not be a problem.



When I returned after a week the manager refunded the money on my card AND offered me a complimentary ramen for the trouble. Which I unfortunately had to decline as I had a lunch appointment elsewhere and couldn't be carrying a takeaway bag to the other places on my agenda.


Yesterday, we wanted a quick snack before heading to the Haymarket Theatre and I immediately thought of their buns. Since it was early and Shoryu Go is a small place (They have a few canteen style seats - about 10) and it was on our way, I hoped for quick service and yummy food.

We just focussed on the gyoza and the buns. The pork gyoza (£7 - 6 pieces) are much better than the chicken gyoza (£7 - 6 pieces) IMHO and if you have them to eat in, they fry them in a pan so they get all joined together in a very pretty lacy design.


Their buns (£4.50 per piece) are absolutely amazing. We tried the chicken karaage, pork belly and salmon tempura and I'm hard pressed to decide which was my favourite.


Loved the yuzu drink (£3.50) too, a nice change from regular lemonade.

Shoryu doesn't offer my favourite Ramen in London, that honour goes to Kanada-Ya and Bone Daddies, but they are very good and they offer takeaway (only at this outlet)

There are some offers that discount your bill if you order particular combinations or based on the days of the week, so do see what the offer of the day is.


Rating : 4 / 5


Shoryu Go Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Flour Station Bakery, London

The Flour Station Bakery
91 North Yard
Camden
London NW1 8AH
020 8457 2098


The Flour Station Bakery has an industrial interior and serves up baked goods and cold meats. Cold meats and drinks come from their curated suppliers.



I was in the area for the Camden cheese festival this weekend and wanted to pick up some breads to accompany the multiple cheeses I had bought.



Their English muffins (£1 each) were ok. The jalapeño corn bread(£1.50 each) was good, but I had to fry them in a pan to get a crisper crust, like I prefer. The sticky toffee buns(£2.40 each)are very similar in flavour to cinnabon, but with less sugar, so it's a great way to enjoy the pecan toffee cinnamon bread combination. The brownies (£2.50 each) however were the crowning glory. Absolutely decadently satisfying.


They advertise their scones as the best, but there weren't any left by the time I got there.

I tried the locally made ginger beer from Hackney by Square Root London,  and it was lovely.

I'd go back, but for the sweet stuff rather than the breads.

Rating : 3 / 5

Rapha Cycle Club, London

Rapha Cycle Club
85 Brewer Street
Soho
London W1F 9ZN
Phone number 020 7494 9831



It's a coffee shop inside a cycle store. The cycle store is amazing if you are a cyclist, but my only self propelled motion activity is walking, so I have to confess I haven't paid too much attention to the store itself.

I've only ever picked up takeaway coffee from them and the coffee is worth a little detour when you are in the Piccadilly Circus area.

They do have seating space with large tables and I've always seen people working on their laptops or having quick meetings here. So it's a nice quiet space to get some work done too with awesome coffee on the side.

They offer some basic snacks and lunch options too. But that coffee is 5* and what keeps bringing me back. The staff is pretty awesome too.


Rating : 4.5 / 5

Rapha Cycle Club Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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