Monday, October 23, 2017

Darjeeling Express, London

Darjeeling Express
Top Floor
Kingly Court
London W1B 5PW

020 7287 2828

Absolutely fantastic and authentic home style Bengali & Hyderabadi cooking with a few dishes from the rest of India.

I rarely rave about Indian restaurants in London, but Darjeeling Express is absolutely brilliant.

Run by the lovely Asma Khan who started out with Supper Clubs at her home and has recently moved to this permanent location in Kingly Court. The food on the menu reflects her background from Calcutta, Hyderabad and UP. So don't go here looking for tandoori chicken, paneer tikka, butter chicken and rotis. Indian food is much more than just that. What you will find on the menu are dishes that you would get if you were lucky enough to be invited for a home cooked meal at an Indian friends home.

None of the cooks in the kitchen are professional chefs, they are all talented home cooks who take pride in their cooking. And its an all woman kitchen where the the food tastes like "Maa ke haath ka khaana" - mum's cooking. When we had a quick chat with Asma, she told us that her chefs, only have to put in half a shift either for the noon or the evening sitting. 4-5pm is sacrosanct so that they can either go home to pick up their kids from school or pick them up before coming over for the evening shift. What a wonderful concept! This option gives opportunity to a lot of women who otherwise are unable to work and restricted by work timings and home responsibilities.

The menu itself keeps changing every 8 weeks, so I'm not sure you will find the same food when you visit.

The puchkas/paani puri/golgappas were better than any that we have had at a London restaurant. Husband loved the tangra chilli garlic prawns which he said were extremely fresh and very delicately flavoured.

We had absolutely outstanding shikampuri kebabs with luchchis/puris. We had FIVE plates of the shikampuri kebab! 3 to takeaway, but even then...

The Degh Ghosht - beef stew was brilliant and the gobhi, gajar, aloo - cauliflower with carrot and potato tastes like my best friends mum makes it. The mains all come with a very light pulao. But we also ordered a side of luchchis (Bengali style puris) to go along with it.

They serve India's favourite sodas - Limca and ThumsUp, but they also have a licence to serve cocktails, beer and wine.

Sundays are for biriyani and I look forward to making a booking there very soon.

We loved the food so much that we wanted to order some more to take away. They aren't really equipped for that, but when they heard us gushing over the food, they did their very best to pack it all up for us and I'm happy to report that every single item that we packed reached home in perfectly pristine condition!

Go, go, go. Don’t miss out on this amazing experience.

Rating : 5 / 5

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

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Schweppes Laboratory Experience

Schweppes’ Alchemy Bar
21 Slingsby place

The invitation to the Laboratory Experience said :  
"Schweppes Alchemy Bar invites you to explore the curious world of the original alchemist, Jacob Schweppe.

Coming to Covent Garden 2nd - 8th October to celebrate London Cocktail Week, the Alchemy Bar hides many secrets and is offering you the chance to delve into the wondrous science of cocktail making.

Dive into over 200 years of bubble-making expertise and book your place in the Schweppes Laboratory Experience. You’ll create your very own sparkling concoction and learn the secrets of flavoured bubbles from London’s revered experiential mixologists, Smith & Sinclair. From colour-changing gin & tonics to inhalable gin-based clouds, the Schweppes Laboratory Experience will take you back in time as well as giving you a glimpse into the future; that’s if you can find Jacob’s secret study of course. Schh!"

For £10, I thought this would be a great way to take a break, since I've gone back to studying for a bit and needed a rest. I thought I'd spend an hour listening to some interesting facts, maybe get to try some concoctions of my own and maybe meet a few new folks. To be honest I wasn't expecting much.

But when I got here, I realised that an entire full fledged bar had been set up at this spot. Once we registered, at the appointed time we were taken into a classroom with 5 tables where we could work in sets of two.

It was great fun, we donned leather aprons, inhaled alcoholic clouds, mixed some cocktails, bantered a bit, made some boba style bubbles (woohoo)and drank the coctails we had made.

I was quite happy with this itself, but then we were led to a secret bar - 1783, where we got to taste a couple of the new flavours that Schweppes is coming out with. I can't wait for the cucumber one to hit the market, it is amazing!

We also had a choice of cocktails mixed for us and got a chance to hang out and chat with other people in our group. I'm still curious about the group who popped in on their lunch break, did they get any work done after returning to office?



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