Friday, 21 March 2014

Gin Journey - an evening on the town

This is primarily a food related blog but recently myself and @bmcboy took part in a fun experience which I thought worth sharing. I had purchased a voucher for him as a Christmas present for a 'Gin Journey' after seeing a mention of it on Time Out. For someone who likes gin like him, I thought the idea of spending a few hours across London being driven in a minivan and tasting a few different types of gin would be fun. The tour, run by drinks expert Leon Dalloway via his company Shake, Rattle and Stir, "costs £50 per person and includes 5 samples of gin, 5 cocktails, a chauffeured drive from bar to bar, no hangover and a ridiculous amount of fun." Oh yes it does.

Photo by Shake, Rattle & Stir
On the night of our tour, we met at the first bar, the Blind Pig in Soho, where an area was reserved for us. Being a Wednesday night, I thought it quite peculiar that at 6.30pm, instead of my usual step class, I should be drinking gin!  The straight gin was quite pleasant, and I enjoyed it. It was Portobello Road No 171 Gin. Smooth, not too fruity. The cocktail wasn't my favourite: The Carnival Weekender, made with Portobello Road no 171 gin, jerk distillate, apricot liqueur, lemon juice, egg white, ginger beer. I think the ginger beer and the egg white didn't do it for me. Since the van was delayed due to traffic at this point we got an extra G&T, and why not!
We then moved off to the second bar of the night, a place I had heard of but not yet visited, in the shadow of St Paul's Cathedral and not far from the law courts (a few barristers in sight, indeed). The City of London Distillery looks very vintage and very London, if such a thing can be said. Dark, old fashioned and with an impressing amount of gins. We of course, tasted the onsite produced City of London Dry Gin. A bit too dry for me I think but with strong juniper aroma, we then also tasted it in a classic G&T: City of London Dry Gin and Fever Tree Tonic with a slice of grapefruit. Worthy of a stop are the toilets here, loads of gin facts all over the walls. 

City of London Distillery
The next stop surprised me as I worked nearby for years and never became aware: Perkin Reveller, a bar and restaurant with views of the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge, a fabulous London proper spot. I even managed to see a real beefeater guard and that made my night. Here we drank a great gin, of course a Beefeater London Dry. The cocktail here was definitely of my liking, a Beefeater 24 Gin Spring Revival with Pineapple, Black Pepper and Sage infused Beefeater, house grenandine, accent of house anise tincture garnished with house a pineapple chutney and Lancashire Bomber cheese topped cracker. 
Really very good. We also ordered some food, which was decent (fantastic pork cracklings) at an extra £22 for both of us, still quite reasonable. Like Leon said, 'eating is not cheating' so I didn't feel too guilty. I also still wasn't drunk by now which I thought was quite amazing. 
Bespoke tonic
Next, another bar I wasn't familiar with, in Shoreditch: Worship Street Whistling Shop. This reminded me of my addiction immersive theatre The Drowned Man. Dark, vintage, with an aura of mistery almost, I really liked the venue (described on their own site as "combining the charm of Victorian squalor with the elegance of grand Gin Palaces". The gin was also produced on site (you can see the distillery room): Shoreditch Dodd’s Gin. And, served in a cute bottle with a bespoke label was The Ultimate Tonic, made with Dodd’s Gin and Tonic flavoured with black cardamom, bay leaf, lavender, raspberry, cassia and chinchona. We thought the tonic was way too herby and medicinal for our taste and didn't finish the cocktail but I heard others in the group commenting this was their favourite drink of the night so far! De gustibus. 

The Anniversary
Finally, we moved onto our final stop, a place I knew of and wanted to visit, Calloh Callay (also in Shoreditch). While the venue was not as memorable as the previous one, the gin and the cocktail were the best. Martin Miller’s Gin and The Anniversary: Martin Miller’s Gin, rose salt, pink grapefruit, elderflower and prosecco garnished with a cucumber. Really very good, and light. Refreshing. 

Here the evening concluded. It was gone 11pm and we soon made our way home in a taxi, but we could have stayed longer. 
You do get to do the tour with a group of strangers and like at a supper club, sometimes you end up with a great group sometimes you don't. Our group wasn't particularly sociable despite the amount of alchool we drank, and we just didn't click with one another (or maybe just me and @bmcboy didn't) so it wasn't as fun or raucous as it could have been, yet Leon was a great host. 

Leon Dalloway - photo by Shake, Rattle & Stir
He's fun, knows his gin stuff, keeps the momentum going with little quizzes while on the van and he's very friendly. You do get to learn lots of facts about gin and its history, how it is produced and what gives it its distinctive identity.

I couldn't recommend this night out more if you like the London bar scene and especially if you like gin. I now know a bit more about the 'mother's ruin' tipple that is so very London. It is great value at £50 per person. And it is true: no hangover the next day!

Email or call 07513 751814 to book your journey.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Lower Marsh Saturday Market Launch + Supper Club

We have lived near Lower Marsh for almost 10 years and we have seen already a couple of times in the past attempts to revive what apparently used to be a thriving local market. Occasionaly there are fun events such as Scoot the Thames which bring crowds to the area but it is mostly very quiet especially at weekends. Two weeks ago the market 'relaunched' its saturday trading - weekdays in fact it is quite busy with street food catering mostly to local workers. The new saturday market was advertised locally and via newsletters and web posts and did look promising so of course, we took a stroll through the market during their first two saturdays and attended the launch pop up restaurant hosted by Chateau Marmot. Here's what we thought.

The Market
The launch day was quite busy. We browsed the stalls and made a few purchases, and the variety is quite interesting but truthfully I think the quality is a bit hit and miss. For example we do have a fishmonger (from my usual beach clean area of Leigh on Sea) but his fish (apart from scallops) is trawled, so I am obviously not buying it. Two fresh meat sellers, and we tried them both. While the ox cheek I picked up from the first stall (towards Radio Days) was expensive and not very good, the bacon and steaks we bought from Boarstall's was actually great and fairly priced so we'll definitely be buying more (and they stock also chicken and other meats). 

Cheese is represented by a couple of stalls including The Bath Soft Cheese company where I got a soft Wyfe of Bath cheese slice (at around £4).
Of course there are cakes, and plenty of. Delicious macaroons from friendly french seller the Crumbery (£5 for 6), slices and muffins and brownies for local patisserie Konditor & Cook who need no introduction and the Bad Boys Bakery, made famous by Gordon Ramsay in his Gordon Behind Bars tv programme. While I enjoyed the programme and really like the concept of the enterprise, the cakes I bought were really disappointing and not worth the money. A chocolate brownie at £2 was completely uncooked inside and the lemon treacle badly labelled (as if it had expired a month prior) but also had a bottom so soggy it would have made Paul Hollywood scream in agony. 

Other stalls include fresh organic vegetables, lovely looking Brixton made preserves (which i intend to try asap) and charcuterie from Cannon & Cannon

The second saturday unfortunately the market did not seem as busy as at launch. In my opinion it seems the sellers' selection has not been thoroughly researched. Why the empty western end of the road? And why such a difference in quality of traders, from a non sustainable fishmonger to very high quality British made charchuterie? And why not have some of the weekdays street food sellers present anyway? Maybe this would bring more people and entice punters to actually stay around for the market itself - easy to see how Maltby Street took off and it's now hugely successful. I hope my local market will pick up and continue to grow, we'll keep buying for sure!

The Chateau Marmot pop up restaurant
I had only read a couple of things about Chateau Marmot, and was keen to try it. Presented by the Grub Club, the evening at Lower Marsh was priced at £44 per person and the menu was created using produce from some of the market sellers, which was a good way of showcasing the products on offer to a wider public. Hosted for the occasion in the now sadly closed Cooper's Food shop, they had done a nice job of making the empty store attractive with candles flickering, tealights and wooden shelves. A few tables for 8 people each, this was a busy night. We had booked the dinner for the saturday but brunch at £25 was also available. 
The night was not BYO and Chateau Marmot had a decent selection of cocktails (£8), a very restricted selection of wines (two of each with a portuguese and a south african white to choose from) and a few beers. We had a round of aperitif and then two bottles of white for the 4 of us, encouraged by the keen staff. 
The amuse-bouche was lovely - a small pot of jerusalem artichoke soup with truffle oil, really delicious creaminess with a powerful truffle flavour. 

Our first course was a charcuterie selection from Cannon & Cannon with toasted bread and picalilli and chilli jam. I really enjoyed everything on the plate yet we all felt the portion was a little small, and the slices a little thin. What came next was replaced for @bmcboy as it contained mushrooms. For us, a Wild mushrooms, shiitake dashi, wakame, benito (sic), poached Orchard egg, textures and asian aromas blending beautifully together. Short and sweet, a taste of things to come.

This was followed by a great dish with Hansen & Lydersen smoked salmon, winter veg, blood orange gel and kolrabi. Delicate, foraged themed, this was certainly turning out to be a professionally managed menu with balanced flavoured. 

Next our main course, Ginger Pig pork belly, carrot and Karachi puree, 'Calabaza' bok choi, water spinach and tamarind chilli sauce. Really intense flavours on the vegetables, absolutely wonderful greens which were the best thing on the plate. The pork belly was good, but again the slices very small and very fatty - ultimately you didn't eat much of it. Having bought and cooked pork belly from Ginger Pig myself a few weeks ago, I felt once again a bit short changed ('s a cheap cut). 

Finally the dessert, hailed as Eaton Mess, 'The Pressery' almond milk and vanilla custard, palm sugar jelly, chocolate soil, passion fruit. For me this was the highlight of the evening - deliciously delicate, with some of the classic ingredients of the traditional dessert mixed with an ethereal jelly which was just spectacular. The problem however was that we all found ourselves wanting more, the portion size being ridiculously small. What a shame. Rare for me, I could have eaten more.

And with this, the meal ended. We paid our bill, which included service and was cash only. The final cost of the evening was £70 each and frankly this put a bit of a damper on the evening. I really don't mind paying money for a worthy night out, but we felt a little ripped off. For this sort of money, then I would rather have more choice on drinks, quicker service, credit card facility and more privacy. It is a shame because the quality of the food was exceptional and I loved every mouthful of our meal, but then the portion sizes were a let down, again comparing to the cost. I realise they don't look that small in these photos but after each course I thought I could have done with more on the plate, and so did each diner in our party.

Great for us to have a cool food related event in our neighbourhood, however, so thanks Chateau Marmot for visiting our SE1 shores.