The Perfect Serve

On Saturday my partner and I went along to Coventry Cathedral for the Gin Festival. I am a massive gin fan, him not so much, so to be faced with more than 100 gins was going to be a challenge.

Gin Festival 20 May 2017

On arrival we were handed our Spanish style balloon tasting glasses, a Gin Explorers Guide and a handy across the body bag. Then we were directed to the tills to purchase tokens – this is the important bit –  the bars do not accept cash and just like a coffee shop loyalty card each time you purchase a drink and mixer your card is stamped. A fiver gets you a shot of gin, mixer and garnish.

Then free to wander to the four bar stations A – D each containing different optics it was decision time. Classic London Dry? A sweeter Plymouth blend? A malty genever or fruit infusions?

Based on a very scientific method of attractive bottle shape, funky names and ingredients we would not associate with gin we chose –

Nelson's Gin.jpg

Nelson’s Gin

Created by a chef, vanilla and cinnamon are the standout flavours in this gin distilled in Staffordshire.

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Poetic License Old Tom

Aged in oak casks with a rose gold colour this is a sweet and peppery gin from Sunderland.

Da Mhile seaweed gin.jpg

Da Mhile Seaweed Gin

Infused for three weeks, the lemon, thyme and fennel make a striking combination in this Welsh gin.

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G’Vine Floraison

Special ingredients here are flowers that only bloom for a week to give this graceful French gin its honeyed taste.

As with beer and wine pairing with food, there are also recommendations on which mixer to accompany your gin.

According to the sponsor Fever Tree, juniper and robust gins go with an aromatic tonic; citrus and herbaceous gins benefit from rosemary, lemon and thyme; sloe and damson varieties need a lemon based tonic while fresh and floral gins match well with elderflower tonic.

The Gintleman gin cocktails

A team of mixologists were also on hand creating a menu of gin-based cocktails (at £10 or two tokens each).

Tinker gin at Gin Festival Coventry Cathedral

As well  as sampling gins, you can also learn more about the different brands, so we sat in on the Tinker Gin talk – a Spanish style gin which is distilled in Yorkshire.

Jym and Marie Harris Gin Festival

If not the first, then one of the earliest UK touring events Gin Festival  was set up in 2013 by husband and wife team Jym and Marie Harris. Across the country you can find new gins, learn more about the spirit and buy directly from distilleries.

My top five tips for getting the best out of a Gin Festival event are:

  1. Buy more tokens than you think you are going to need, as you can purchase a ‘takeaway tipple’ 25ml shot in a mini jar to take home with you.
  2. Ask the bartenders to go easy on the ice, so as not to dilute the delicate spirit too much.
  3. Make a note of your favourites in the Gin Explorers Book (unless you have a photographic memory.)
  4. Don’t expect a great selection of food, only olives and tapas were on offer in Coventry, this event is all about the booze.
  5. Fill in the mail order form and leave it with the onsite off-license so that you don’t have to carry your purchases home.

The next Gin Festival in the Midlands will be held in Stoke on Trent  at the Victoria Hall, from Friday 23 – Saturday 24 June.

Don’t forget to check my blog next week, for my round-up of gin tastings to celebrate World Gin Day on 9 June!

Meet the Chef : William Dimartino, The Ryder Grill, The Belfry Hotel

William Dimartino, Ryder Grill Restaurant, The Belfry Hotel

William Dimartino will celebrate his first anniversary as Head Chef at The Ryder Grill in a few months, so as he launches a new seven-course Spring tasting menu I grilled the chef for his inspiration.

Have you always wanted to be a chef?

When I was at school I wanted to be an accountant, but I always loved food as a child so when I started cooking in a pub on my weekends it naturally progressed from there.

Who taught you to cook?

My nan was probably the first one who introduced me to cooking, all be it a Sunday Roast.

Which chef has been the biggest inspiration for you?

My old boss and close friend Russell Ford, I worked with him from a commis chef and he was the one who gave me my first head chef job, he is a great chef and took me under his wing and really taught me a lot over the years I worked with him.

Where have you eaten your best ever meal?

The best meal I had was very recent and it was at The Frog by Adam Handling, the whole experience was great.

What are your favourite ingredients to cook with?

Game, butter, truffle and nuts

How would you describe your style of cooking?

I would say it’s clean and simple, we use great produce so we try and treat it with great respect and get the best out of it without messing with it too much.

What can diners expect at The Ryder Grill?

Diners can expect great produce cooked beautifully, with a relaxed atmosphere and top quality service.

Ryder Grill spring tasting menu The Belfry Hotel

To showcase the very best seasonal produce, William and his team have launched a new seven course taster menu. Available for £40 per person, with the option of adding paired wines for £25. The menu includes:

Amuse bouche

Asparagus with duck egg mayo, brioche crumb, burnt onion powder and edible flowers

Whipped chicken liver parfait, savoury granola, pineapple and vanilla gel

Sea trout with almond puree, charred spring onion, chorizo and purple sprouting broccoli

Spring lamb, charred baby gem, artichoke hummus, red pepper and broad bean

Vanilla crème brulee and poached strawberries

Passion fruit tart, mango, bitter chocolate and coconut.

 

 

Bellissimo desserts

MiSu

MiSU describe themselves as “the dessert explorer intrepidly travelling the world in search of the most scrumptious fusion flavours” but don’t let this put you off. These are tiramisu desserts with a twist – Matcha tea, salted caramel and rhubarb feature as ingredients in their take on the Italian classic.

Based in Leamington Spa, founder Yannan has always been passionate about desserts. She spent many evenings developing recipes and infusing various flavours and hey presto the MiSU desserts range was created.

A regular at the Wednesday University of Warwick market, you can also catch MiSU desserts from 18 – 31 May in the Bullring at their new pop-up and at the Kenilworth Food Festival on 23 July.

 

May’s marvellous food & drink events

May 2017 events

Welcome to my round-up of May’s marvellous food and drink events.

This month you can brush up on your Thai  cookery skills in a class with Suree Coates or learn more about your favourite tipple as Gabe Cook, aka The Ciderologist, hosts Birmingham Wine School’s first ever cider evening. Over in Coventry, the city’s cathedral is the backdrop to a weekend Gin Festival.

Food festival season kicks off in earnest, with four great events being held in the West Midlands. The inaugural  Independent Birmingham Festival, Ludlow Spring Festival (particularly for real ale fans) Alcester and Warwick Food Festivals will have all the locations buzzing with local producers, cafes and restaurants taking part.

Sate your  cultural appetite by joining  Annabel de Vetten of Conjurer’s Kitchen for an evening of deathly facts and food at the Midlands Arts Centre, or taste English wines while watching Four Weddings and A Funeral at The Electric cinema.

A Spanish festival or burger pop-up in Birmingham at Amantia and The Plough will get you into the party spirit, and special events include a one-off Pudding Club with five desserts from Sweet As in Leamington Spa to indulge in, plus the launch of a new monthly Sip + Supper Club in Stratford upon Avon.

Wherever you go and whatever you consume I hope that you have a marvellous May!

 

The Reggae Caribbean Cookout

Mr Jerk street food montage

In the scheme of things, £2,000 does not seem like an insurmountable sum of money to establish a food project that also benefits the community. So I’m wishing street food trader Mr Jerk the best of luck in his endeavour to find a new home for his Reggae Caribbean Cookout.

The Reggae Caribbean Cookout delighted foodies at The Coffin Works in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter last year. It’s a good old fashioned Caribbean style BBQ with jerk chicken, rum cake, curry goat, rice and peas. Listen to reggae, ska and rock steady music whilst drinking Wray and Nephew rum, Appleton Estate cocktails and cold Red Stripe beer.

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If the full £2,000 is raised via a Crowdfunder campaign, Mr Jerk hopes to provide a social network for people so they do not feel isolated within the Birmingham community. He says: “It is somewhere to meet friends, play dominoes and listen to reggae.  Somewhere for all the family and where local reggae singers and bands can show their talent.”

You can pledge your support from £10 at their crowdfunding page here and check out the food and vibes on Bank Holiday Monday at St Pauls Square Church in the Jewellery Quarter.

Bringing home the bacon

The Smoking Pig caterer Rugby

The Smoking Pig charcuterie and catering trailer started with a sausage making machine, just a simple meat mincer and about five kilos of pork shoulder.

The Smoking Pig Bombay bangers

Gregg Windsor then began to produce sausage recipes, experimenting with different ideas, that he would share with his friends and family. Including these Bombay bangers of The Smoking Pig currywurst sausage teamed with Bombay potato and spinach, topped with homemade raita and fresh coriander.
The Smoking Pig

But fresh sausages were only the first step, the forerunner into charcuterie. Soon Gregg was experimenting with bacons and hams, looking for the best flavours and unusual  combinations delivered in a traditional way. He began seeking out more information, reading books on charcuterie, exploring shops and delis, tasting and testing, searching for the best.

Gregg was pulled toward the finer arts of charcuterie and the enigmatic and some might say mystical powers of fermentation. Chorizo, salami, soppresata, sauccison sec, nduja, all these possibilities in a realm bound by time, care, consideration and passion.  And so The Smoking Pig began.

With a catering trailer in Rugby, Gregg  serves his passion for pork at local events and festivals.

The Smoking Pig trailer Rugby

If you missed him at Fargo Village last weekend then put Down on the close at Rugby School  in your diary –  where he will be bringing home to the bacon to his hometown on Saturday 26 August.

Henry Harris branches out

The Bower House dining room

In just its first week of opening, The Bower House is causing a stir in Shipston on Stour.

Just 10 miles form Stratford upon Avon, Shipston on Stour was recently named by the Sunday Times as the best place to live in the Midlands!

The Bower House Shipston on Stour

Now home to The Bower House, the restaurant occupies the ground floor of a former Georgian town house, with five boutique bedrooms above. Dishes on the sample menu range from Evesham asparagus with pink grapefruit to Herefordshire bavette with watercress salad.

The Bower House brings together a line-up of industry experts – Henry Harris (Racine and The Groucho Club) with Darren Brown as Head Chef (The Lucky Onion and 131 in Cheltenham) alongside General Manager Edward Cambridge from Soho Farmhouse.

Ladies who lunch

Restaurant 23 Leamington Spa Warwickshire

If visiting a fine dining restaurant is a little daunting, or you want to make sure that you will enjoy the experience before splashing out, then I’d recommend trying the lunch menu first.

Nearly all restaurants offer a fixed price lunch menu, with fewer choices than the evening a la carte menu, to get to grips with a chef’s style of cooking.

This was the view of my mum, who hadn’t eaten at Restaurant 23 before, when she joined me for lunch there on Saturday 25 March.

Bread and marmite butter at Restaurant 23 Leamington Spa

While we were reviewing the menu, a platter of freshly made bread with plain and Marmite butter arrived. This is the first indication that Head Chef Curtis likes to play with favours.

With three choices of starters, mains and desserts it was quick and easy to choose what we wanted to eat. From Rabbit (with peanut, gherkin and carrot, Mushroom (with pasta, balsamic and parmesan) and Salmon (with avocado, dill, buttermilk) I went for the veggie option.

Mushroom starter at Restaurant 23 Leamington Spa

The sweet beads of Balsamic vinegar were almost like berries, cutting through the earthy mushrooms. Then followed an amuse bouche of sweet tomatoes and knobs of mozerrella, which Maitre D Eduardo Nesto poured water into our bowls to make a refreshing, clear broth and imaginative change from sorbet as a palette cleanser.

For mains our options were Chicken (with swede, maple, and kiev) Pollock (with baby gem loveage seaweed) and Egg Yolk (with celeriac, burnt onion and watercress).
Restaurant 23 Leamingon Spa chicken swede maple kiev

Traditional roasted chicken melted in the mouth, the Kiev ball was deep fried to crisp perfection and the sweet maple syrup and swede alongside creamy mash were a winning combination as far as my mum was concerned.

Restaurant 23 Leamington Spa pollock loveage and seaweed

Eduardo was back to pour jus over mum’s chicken and a (I think) a lemon sauce over my pollock which made the loveage and seaweed crackle into life.

Restaurant 23 Leamington Spa raspberry dessert

Always leaving room for dessert, Mum was straight onto the Raspberry meringue, sorbet and panna  cotta without giving the Egg custard (with nutmeg and Yuzu) or Chocolate (with biscuit, clementine and fennel) a second look.

Facing competition from numerous branded chains as well as independent venues, Restaurant 23 is offering an exceptionally good value two course lunch for £19.95 or three courses for £24.95. On Sundays the prices are higher for lunch, at £37 for two courses and £45 for three courses.

I must make a special mention for Eduardo, who deserves a medal for the tact, diplomacy and charm in dealing with a non-eating toddler and a couple who wanted to order from the (unavailable) evening tasting menu for lunch. What a star!

I’d sum Restaurant 23 up as elegant without being intimidating and creative but not scary cooking making it a must visit eaterie.

Curtis Stewart chef

Find out more about Head Chef Curtis Stewart  here in the latest Meet the Chef article.

Spring into new events for April

April 2017 events

Tomorrow I will be sampling ALL the gin at a festival in Leamington and kicking off a month of events in April. Also on:

Guy Day

Weston Park is wishing a fond farewell to their head chef Guy Day with two special demos and tastings.

The Alchemist Birmingham

Whiskey fans will be torn between sinking a few drams at The Plough or The Alchemist who both have tastings on.

Seasons restaurant Leamington Spa

You can’t go wrong pairing craft beer with Aubrey Allen steaks, so head over to The Star & Garter in Leamington to meet the brewer too. Still in the spa town, enjoy tapas and raise funds for autism at the Season’s restaurant tapas and quiz night.

Yumlaut sausage

At Warwick Kitchen, Price’s Spices are hosting their first restaurant pop-up and  in the Custard Factory you’ll find street food fans tucking into everything from German sausages to curries, these are both brand new events.

Eastnor-Chilli-Festival

You’ll have to wait until the end of April to show off your chilli-eating skills at Eastnor Castle’s Chilli Festival.

My top tips for what to do are always popular, so as usual please check with the venues on ticket availability and enjoy filling your bellies!

Coming soon to Birmingham…

coming soon to Birmingham

A trio of new openings in Birmingham will be offering an appetising menu of truffle-topped pizza, street food and gin.

After India, Argentina and the USA, the Lasan Group are looking to Italy for their new concept which opens in the Selfridges Food Hall later this month. Izza! will serve sourdough pizzas, antipasti, cured meats and salads. The thin-crust pizzas will be baked in a beechwood-fired oven. Expect to pay £8 for a basic Margherita to around £15 for a truffle- topped pizza.

The Mosaic Pub and Dining Group (who own the Button Factory in the Jewellery Quarter) is turning the former Fiddle & Bone into The Distillery. The canal side pub will re-open after Easter with a gin bar upstairs and pub serving real ales downstairs.

During the Easter weekend, on Saturday 15 April, the Custard Factory will be launching Street Food Saturday their first monthly street food event. Expect German sausages from @yumlaut curries and chaats from @TheIndianRasoi homemade soups and deli sandwiches from @little6T3 and a selection of international dishes from @ChefShack627. For the sweet-toothed, @Churros_Susanna  will be on hand with their Spanish churros and chocolate sauce and there’ll be cakes, bakes, and proper tea from @HMS_Cupcake  @TheGinBoxUK will be serving  gin-based cocktails from their lovingly converted horse box.