Thursday, 20 July 2017

The Transatlantic - a showstopping cocktail you can make at home

I was introduced to The Transatlantic this week, an incredible cocktail developed by Charlotte Wood of Manhattan 34, Leicester as her entry into the #SouthernShowdown17 - a cocktail competition where Hi-Spirits challenge bartenders all around the country to capture the spirit of New Orleans in their very own Southern Comfort cocktail creation.

Charlotte has already made it to the regional heats, so I headed over to the bar to catch up with her and find out what this cocktail is all about. Usually, we see bartenders concocting all kinds of infusions and emulsions and syrups and sprays to fancify their cocktails, so imagine my surprise when Charlotte challenged me to have a go at making The Transatlantic for myself, using readily available ingredients from the supermarket.

I thought making a cocktail this beautiful would be hard, but it turns out it is The Big Easy! 
You see what I did there?

I could tell you more, but we made a video, so why not watch for yourself?

Thanks to Manhattan 34 for putting up with my poor quality bar tending and for letting me drink the cocktail I made!

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Togfest: Sunshine and Facepaint

We had a fab time a few weeks ago heading down to meet friends in Milton Keynes and attending Togfest for the first time. This is a little two day festival that I had never heard of before, but is all centred around the classic stylings of the band Togmor - who gave a rousing set with lots of jigs and diddly-dee and were thoroughly enjoyable as the sun set over an absolutely beautiful day.

Sometimes only watery crap lager will do. Mainly when glass is banned so you can't bring wine in.

 We only went for the Saturday and took a satisfying stack of picnic food and booze with us. Yes, it's the only festival in the land where you can still take your own booze (no glass of course) and on that basis it wins for me (although I suppose Leicester's Riverside Festival is free and you can take booze also, but it's not quite the same).

We sat like royalty on our borrowed camping chairs and enjoyed getting nearly sunburned for the entire day whilst enjoying the bands on the main stage. There were also bands in the barn, but you would have had to move to see them. I have to say Jonny and the Mental Breakdowns were by far my favourite, and not just because they have an awesome name.

A craft ale bar was also available, along with other concessions including a children's art tent. It was true good, clean family fun and comes highly recommended.

Of course, the highlight was getting covered in as much brightly coloured glitter as we could and Sophia Tyler was on-hand to glam us all up. First up it was the girls. I asked for many colours and glitter, oh and a stick on thingumee and flowers and... well, it's safe to say I was quite over excited. Don't we look gorgeous - especially with a Snapchat filter to hand?

After we went up, it was the Boys' turn. Personally I think that bright colours and glitter would have suited them much better, but it seems that they gave off more of a tribal vibe as it turned out. And so the sun set over Togfest. Definitely something I would do again. 

What festivals have you been hitting up this year?

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Maiyango is changing!

We were invited to one of the final tasting evenings at Maiyango, Leicester this week. They are closing their doors on 22nd July for a complete overhaul, where the central concept of the restaurant will change entirely. There are still some tasting evenings left, as well as the final closing party, so head over to their website to find out more if you want to have one last hurrah. I have no idea what the new concept will be but the floors in the ladies bathroom is now pink and sparkly - so I suppose your guess is as good as mine!

One of the courses from the vegetarian menu - poached duck egg with cheesy polenta chips!

Maiyango is now one of the old guard of Leicester's fine dining scene. Not quite as long running as The Case, but still with 10 years under their belts, they have been providing beautiful food and great service to the people of Leicester with unfailing regularity. 

As you can imagine, I jumped at the chance to sample their 6 course tasting menu with matched wines. I've been a big fan of the wine list at Maiyango, as well as their cooking so it promised to be a beautiful evening. We started off with a Tequila Tea welcome drink, which I must confess was not really my cup of tea - despite the fresh strawberry muddled in there I found it a little watery and uninspiring, but I could hear murmers of approval from other guests as we waited in the bar, so it might just not have been to my taste!

When we were seated, we were treated to canape while we waited - a smooth, creamy cheese and onion bite with a perfectly crisp outer coating which was pure comfort food delight, and another deep fried treat this time made with mutton which had a bold flavour cut through with an edge of mint that had great balance. Appetite whetted, we were all eager to proceed.

The first course was achingly tender slow-braised pork cheeks, served on a watercress puree with sweet potato garnish and a fat, juicy king prawn. This was matched with a soft, velvety Monastrell which matched the delicious texture of the pork cheeks perfectly. I was quite surprised to start the menu with such bold flavours, but it showed a real ambition and flair that definitely impressed me.

Onwards and upwards and next we were presented with a picnic terrine. Each course was introduced by our host, as well as the reasoning behind the choice of wine. The variety of meats in the terrine and layer of cheddar mousse and half quail's egg combined to make a really quite salty dish overall, and Hacienda Lopez de Haro Rioja Blanco was beautifully dry, but had just a hint of a creamy finish which cut through this salinity with grace and ease. I absolutely loved this wine, from the delicate, almost lemony nose to its cool slide into a well rounded and complex finish, this was the star of the course and not the food. Sadly, neither The Boy nor I was impressed with the rustic crouton, a slice of crusty bread fried in olive oil which was hard and was surprisingly difficult to cut through without sending a shower of crumbs over your neighbour.

It's hard to pick which was my favourite course of the evening, but the seared scallops with a French Picpoul was a strong contender. Again, the ambition of the chef shone through, as international cuisines were seamlessly blended on the same menu. The scallops were cooked to absolute perfection, soft and full of sweet flavour, which was not over powered by the addition of a touch of fiery sambal, a bed of salty samphire and a coconut and lime leaf sauce. The crisp garnish and samphire both added to the expert blending of textures and the portion size was just right. The Picpoul was a much bigger wine, with baked apple notes and a subtle sweetness which partnered the scallops incredibly well as well as dampening the worst harshness of the fire from the sambal. Both had a pleasing end point to their finish, leaving your mouth refreshed and ready for the next bite. A true display of culinary skill.

Our fish course was steamed wild sea bass, finished in the pan to give a crispy skin. Again, the oriental flavours shone through, with a coconut laksa, bok choi and coriander relish. Another extremely strong dish with the fish being wonderfully moist and a real pleasure to eat. This was served with a Peter Lehmann 'Portrait' Riesling from the Eden Valley. I was a little surprised that the wine pairing was not as advertised on the website, or indeed on the menu on the evening, but I really enjoyed the wine. Contemporary Rieslings are really starting to get under my skin!

On to the main course, and Gressingham duck was up next. This was five spiced and unfortunately a little on the chewy side although it was gorgeously moist. This was served with shredded duck and the most creamy and light celeriac cream I have ever had, which was a triumph. For some unconceivable reason there was also a chunk of burned honeycomb, which I wish I had not bothered to put in my mouth, so the less said about that the better. This was all complimented with a fig sauce which complemented the absolutely marvellous Passimento wine incredibly well. This was probably the wine of the evening, rich and deep and a great match for the gamey duck.

I was sad that the purple potato crisps that the menu mentioned also did not materialise. It's a small thing, for sure, but I think that fine dining relies on that full attention to every detail. When the dish was planned, presumably the crisps were added to the dish for their texture and flavour as well as for aesthetics and so it is a little disappointing to think that we didn't receive it exactly as the chef had envisaged.

Finally a Californian Elysium Black Muscat - a dessert wine I had been looking forward to all evening - was matched with poached rhubarb and rhubarb parfait which was also omitted from the menu despite being the main component. I think they forgot to poach my rhubarb as it was impossible to get a fork or spoon through. Finally the caramelised puff pasty crumble was a little burned which gave an unpleasant flavour and therefore was best avoided. However, the parfait and custard foam were refreshing and delicious and brought out a fascinating rose water character in the sticky, dark dessert wine. So a mixed bag on the pudding.

A wonderful evening was had with great company and some stonking wines. I thought the menu showed the best of the Maiyango team's skill and creativity, but at the same time there were some basic errors in execution which surprised me and didn't match up to my previous experiences there. I'm hoping the new concept will see more of the bold and the brave without compromising on the little details that make fine dining such a special experience.

Thank you to Maiyango for inviting the Boy and I along to write up the event.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Behind the Scenes at the Gelato Artigianale Festival, Italy

We had a marvellous time at the Gelato Artigianale Festival in Agugliano, Italy last month. I thought I'd write a little bit about the behind the scenes action that took place there. It takes an incredible team of volunteers to run such a busy and complex festival that literally takes over the whole town.

The Maestro Gelatieri who featured at the festival came from across Europe - but naturally mainly Italy to compete and showcase their skills at the Festival. The small local cinema was turned into a gelato Laboratory and the gelatieri were assigned daily shifts in which to make their gelato for the day's festivities.

Typically, there were issues with the machines, bits breaking and gelatieri therefore being thrown off schedule, but everyone was able to work together and work through these problems so the visiting public never even suspected!

As you can imagine, huge quantities of milk and cream, sugar and the rest were used to make all of the gelato, as well as people peeling and chopping endless bags of fruit and vegetables for their fresh flavours. I got involved helping to weigh out Gelato Village's recipe, including the Leicestershire honey which had been shipped over in advance of the festival.

The pans of completed gelato were run off to their respective stalls by the eager volunteers and the crowds showed out in force to enjoy them, as well as the music and dance entertainment from local organisations on the stages, and a variety of stalls and shops that had set up to keep the crowds happy.

At the start of the festival a number of the gelatieri learned about making brioche in the local bakery and helped to roll them out. This was served with a pistachio granita - a traditional breakfast combination in Sicily which I had never tried before. I have to say I had my doubts, it didn't sound like a combination that should work but it was absolutely gorgoeous. Pistachio granita is my new thing now.

Some of our esteemed judges during the Coppa Varnelli

And then there was the food. Oh the food. A dedicated team of volunteers set up a camp kitchen in a community hall and we dutifully went by for lunch and dinner each day. And the food was superb. Nothing complicated, nothing fancy - just simple recipes using excellent local produce. As you can well imagine, dear reader, I was happier than a pig in the proverbial with all of this.

A two or three course offering was laid out each time, with a pasta primo and meat or fish secondi and generally some fresh fruit or similar at the end. Convivial jugs of local Verdicchio wine were placed out on the tables, along with fresh bread. It was described to me as 'peasant food' when we arrived and if that's the case then sign me up!

So a fantastic few days all in all and hopefully that's given you a little insight into how the festival ran behind the scenes. I'll leave you with a glimpse of the celebratory dinner held for everyone who took part at the very end. 

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Hidden Gem? Big tunes at Duffy's Bar

I have a (relatively) new local in the city centre. My go-to pub, when I just want a drink, a nice sit down and a warm welcome is Duffy's Bar on Pocklington's Walk. It was an excellent spot to visit to watch the LCFC games last season where you could get a table and the mood was jocular. They've got a pretty decent wine selection and fun locals. Prices are good too. It's an all round solid boozer - they just do 'being a pub' properly.

But it's aactually more than just that, I have been a few times in recent months and caught a whole variety of gigs and events. And so I thought it was time to spread the word about this hidden gem, smack bang in the centre of Leicester.

We had a banging afternoon on International Worker's Day, heading back to the bar for a range of fantastic performances, all free, after we had finished our May Day (peaceful) march through the city centre. It was actually the second time we'd caught the Brassick Bears, whose catchy ska-punk, brass led tunes will stick in your head for the rest of the week, as well as enjoying the opportunity to catch up with the seriously underrated Homeless Shakespeare, who as I recall we first came across at the Western Park Secret Beer Club in 2016. He is a joy to watch, but I won't ruin it for you with descriptions - you've just got to be there. Hopefully one day he'll get his own TV channel and then I can just tune in to him whenever I want.

The stage is small but perfectly formed, they have plenty of seating as well as room for dancing - the back room is surprisingly spacious when it comes to gigs. We have enjoyed a range of genres there, from Metal to the Masses heats to delicate acoustic flowers (like Jackie Duffy). So put it on your 'to do' list. Here's a couple of my recommendations from the forthcoming programme.

July 8th

Free/Pay as you Feel
Produkty/Try Subversion/Mess Yourself/Mark Cooper

Art rock, punk rock, grunge rock, punk poet. Now what's not to like there? That sounds like how a narrator would describe me and my mates at the pub.

Now I'll be honest, I don't believe I've ever seen any of these before, but I can guarantee you that punk is a solid choice at Duffy's. So I am putting my faith in their choice of line up and you should too. After all, it's pay as you feel - what have you got to lose?

July 27th
The Brandy Thieves Festival Warm Up

Yes! This is the one I'm most looking forward to. Multiple stages (including the Homeless Shakespeare as I mentioned earlier). The Brandy Thieves are one of the jewels of our local scene and I cannot describe them better than they describe themselves -

"combining gypsy rhythms and punk energy, ska grooves and folk storytelling, 
the band has created a sound that is uniquely their own, 
a sound that has stolen the hearts of all of whom that have seen them perform. 
‘Raucous’ ‘Infectious’ ‘Enthralling’ ‘Captivating’ and ‘Sweaty’ are just a few of the words 
that have been used to describe the alcohol stealing gypsy punks."

Tickets are already 25% gone, so don't hang around on this one. I'm going to pop by Duffy's for mine tomorrow.

August 4th

Tom Hingley (Inspiral Carpets) acoustic set

Fancy something a bit more chill, a bit more intimate? Then checking out Tom Hingley is bound to hit the spot. We all know the Inspiral Carpet's amazing pedigree, so this is sure to be a night to remember.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

La Campore - wines from Piemonte

I'll be honest, when I met Alessandro from La Campore at the Terra Madre festival in Turin last year, I didn't think for a moment that I'd see him again. However, as it turns out, their vineyard is right next to my friend's mum's village. It's a small world!

And so, on our recent trip to Italy to the Gelato Artigianale Festival in Agugliano, it would have been rude not to make a flying visit to see the vineyard that had been described in so much detail for ourselves.

La Campore is just an incredibly idyllic spot. Like the rest of the northern region of Piedmont, it exists in the embrace of the Alps to the north, which give a reassuring feeling of permanence and presence to the area. The vines are grown under a number of different trellis systems, according to the various needs of each varietal - including espalier, pergola and half-pergola. These systems also are a nod to the wine making traditions of the area.

The natural rolling hillside of the area creates a perfect microclimate for the grapes to grow. As you can see from the photos, an organic approach is preferred and although not all of the wines are certified, you can see the impact that it has on creating a long-term sustainable vineyard which is absolutely bursting with diversity and life. I think I saw more species of wildflower in one short tour than I do over a few months here in the UK and there were plenty of signal species of flora and fauna that demonstrated the overall health of the land.

I think this is a carpenter bee? It was very blue.

Teeny wild strawberries can be very fussy so they are a great indicator of health in the environment

After all that gorgeousness, you'd expect some pretty special wines and you would not be disappointed! We popped into the little cellar to have a look at the red wines taking on some age in the barrels and have an enticing sniff of the vintage yet to come and then it was out on the terrace for a tasting.

Bacchus wanted to know what we were all up to in the dark cellar.

We were looking at wine!

We started with the Erbaluce di Caluso 2016. Erbaluce is a very common grape in this DOP and this was a lovely refreshing wine with a distinctly rounded finish. There were hints of elderflower and even pineapple layered behind the initial crispness. A perfect balance in the heat!

Erbaluce di Caluso Spumante Brut 2012 came next, a formidable sparkling wine with delicate, small bubbles and a crisp flavour, which exhibited a slight sourness and even a tendancy towards biscuit and vanilla notes. In fact, all the characteristics that are highly prized in French sparkling wines, although this was not made with their traditional blend of grapes but just Erbaluce. It definitely puts itself forward as a contender in the sparkling world - not all Italian sparkling is prosecco (happily).


Finally, we tried theCanavese Rosso 2016. This had a fascinating aroma to it, which reminded me absolutely of rose foliage - almost walking through an English country garden. It also had a good body which belied the youth of the wine, with good black fruit notes. It is certainly the benefits of the summer sun and protective microclimate which allows this red to be so full of texture and complex flavours.

Along with this blended wine, they also make the prized Nebbiolo of the region which I did not try on this occasion but have enjoyed in the past.

All in all, this little vineyard is producing some absolutely delicious, incredibly well priced wines. Organic certification is present on some of the younger wines, so there are plenty of people out there who would enjoy getting the opportunity to try something so cost effective on the pocket but with so much flavour.

Sadly, it's a small vineyard and so your chances of finding the wines over here in the UK are minimal. So you'll just have to plan your trip to Piedmont and seek them out for yourselves. There are promises of a stage being built overlooking the vineyard and the incredible view for tastings in the future and I would sign up for that any day of the week. A beautiful place to visit and a rare treat indeed.

Monday, 26 June 2017

The Cank Street Cocktail Compass

33cankstreet, one of Leicester’s premier cocktail bars is celebrating its third birthday with the release of an exciting new cocktail menu.

Taking inspiration from the flavours, colours and rich cultural heritage of the city, the Canksters have carefully crafted a suite of new drinks that are innovative, beautiful and will delight the senses.

The Cank Street Cocktail Compass menu, which launches this week, includes the Earl Grey of DeMontfort, a mixture of Cank gin blend, lavender and white chocolate liqueur with citric & Earl Grey sake and a white chocolate foam. It is garnished with edible clock hands, made by the bar’s neighbours, Cocoa Amore.

Inspired by lazy summer afternoons at Abbey Park, the Park Life cocktail is a clarified milk punch, made with Glenfiddich 15yr infused with lemon and vanilla, silver birch and a cheeky raspberry sorbet on the side. The whole thing is naturally served atop a grassy flip flop.

The creativity doesn’t stop there. The Golden Mile has given rise to Golden Memories, made with a Cank cognac blend, pistachio orgeat, saffron, cardamom and condensed milk – this time topped with 24ct gold leaf.

Along with the high quality ingredients and clever names – Frog Island Iced Tea anyone? - 33cankstreet is taking great leaps towards increasing the sustainability of its offer. They are squeezing every last bit of flavour from ingredients that other bars might throw away, like making their own syrups from citrus rinds.

We will be the first bar in Leicester to stop using disposable straws,” says bar owner Kal Ruparell. “175 billion plastic straws a year are making their way into landfill and our oceans. As well as using a lot of non-renewable resources in their manufacture, they are a danger to wildlife when discarded.” Ruparell is looking at a variety of possibilities to replace the straws, including experimenting with using uncooked pasta tubes as an alternative.

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