London adventures: Dinner at the Corner Room

The Corner Room is a restaurant at the Town Hall, a boutique hotel in Bethnal Green in East London. At the time of my visit, the restaurant was in transition, with its star chef Nuno Mendes having recently moved on to Chiltern Firehouse, and his Michelin-starred restaurant Viajante, also at Town Hall, closed for an update (it has since been reopened as The Typing Room with chef Lee Westcott at the helm).

The Corner Room has a calm and casual vibe, with attentive service and extreme attention to detail. There is a lot of emphasis on the ingredients, with preparations that highlight them in unique ways with the use of other elements for little pops of flavors or texture. The dishes are delicate and refined. The small plate format gives an occasion to try a larger variety of dishes. The restaurant reminded me a bit of Relae in Coppenhaggen (this is very high praise, as Relae was one of my most memorable meals in recent years).

Beavertown 8 Ball rye IPA

Beavertown 8 Ball rye IPA

I started off the meal with some bread and a bottle of Beavertown 8 Ball rye IPA, an American-style IPA brewed in London. It was caramel-colored and had a nice mix of spicy rye and resinous hops. Very impressed, I will make sure to look for more of Beavertown’s offerings during future London trips.

The Corner Room

From bottom left, clockwise: sweet pickled mackerel & beetroot tartare; jersey royals, wild nettle purée, egg & ikura; bream with fermented buttermilk & apple

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San Diego Beer & Cocktail News (July 2014)

Polite Provisions won the Spirited Award for Best American High Volume Cocktail Bar last week at Tales of the Cocktail, the New Orleans cocktail festival. It’s great to see San Diego recognized, although there are other establishments of similar caliber that certainly merit a nod (maybe next year?). Craft & Commerce had been nominated in the same category in 2012. The full list of TOTC winners available on Difford’s also prominently includes London’s Artesian, which was crowned the World’s Best Bar (see here for my impressions).

The other exciting news from this weekend is that Stone has announced that they will be opening their first European brewery in Berlin in 2015-2016. This has been years in the works. Similar to the San Diego set-up, the facility will include a production brewery, a restaurant, and gardens. See here for the official press release.

MxMo Pineapple Challenge: the Riviera and the 1956 Zombie

This month, the Mixology Monday Challenge is hosted by Thiago of the Bartending Notes blog, and the theme is Pineapple. Of course one option is to go with pineapple juice as the pineapple component, and we will explore that option with the second cocktail. But unless making fresh juice from scratch, I often feel that the quality of pineapple juice is a bit left to be desired. Infusing the base spirit with pineapple seems like an excellent solution to get a fresh pineapple flavor. Typically pineapple is paired with rum which seems to emphasize its sweetness. But why not highlight the herbaceous nature of pineapple instead, and pair it with gin. So I decided to make a pineapple infusion with Beefeater London dry gin.

After 48 hours, I tasted the gin and it was intensely flavored. It is the main component of Toby Maloney’s creation, the Riviera cocktail. The other elements are Campari for a touch of bitter orange, maraschino liqueur for sweetness and funk, and orange bitters to round everything off. An egg white creates texture.

The Riviera (Toby Moloney)

Riviera Cocktail (adapted from Toby Maloney) | 1 oz pineapple-infused gin (Beefeater) | 3/4 oz lemon juice | 1/2 oz (short) maraschino | 1/4 oz Campari | 1/4 oz simple syrup | egg white | dry shake | shake with ice | strain into chilled coupe | mint leaf and orange bitters garnish (2 dashes Fee’s, 1 dash Regan’s) Continue reading

London adventures: Borough Market, Wright Brothers, and the Whisky Exchange

Borough market, London’s oldest market, is located near the London Bridge (that tourists like me often confuse with Tower Bridge, but that’s a different story). It is a covered market packed full of seasonal fruit and vegetables, cheese, meats (including game), fish, and hordes of hungry tourists on a Saturday afternoon. I walked around the stalls for a little while; people where lined up for prepared foods and it was easy to get overwhelmed with all the different options. It might be best to come back early in the morning for a more relaxing experience. In the end, I opted to flee the crowds and walked a few steps to Wright Brothers for a late lunch.

Wright Brothers is a seafood restaurant located near the market. I took a seat at the counter and decided to pass on the oysters this time, and instead started the meal with a plate of devilled whitebait with tartare sauce. Whitebait is one of these Proust madeleines for me; I used to have it all the time when I grew up in France, but it’s not something I see very often in the US, and I had not had it in ages. The plate was generous, and it was a delicious treat to eat these crisp little fish with a wedge of lemon, accompanied by a glass of Yakima red ale on draft. Yakima is brewed by Meantime, a local brewing company located in Greenwich, using five hop varieties from the Yakima valley in Washington state.  The beer was moderately hoppy with a good malt to bitterness balance. It was light and perfect to start my lunch.

London day 2

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Spring Sazerac and Summertime Manhattan

The Sazerac and Manhattan are classics that I enjoy all year long. But sometimes I look for variations with a slightly lighter feel to accompany the change of seasons.

Sam Ross’ Cobble Hill is a Manhattan with dry vermouth where half of the vermouth is replaced with Montenegro, an amaro. Cucumber is muddled into the drink. With dry vermouth and cucumber, the cocktail feels light and fresh which is unusual for a rye-based cocktail. The result still has the richness and complexity of a Manhattan/Brooklyn variation, the Montenegro contributing is vanilla notes and bitter finish.

I’ve tried Bulleit and High West Double Rye! in this drink and prefer the version with the latter. Its green and almost floral aromas go particularly well with the Montenegro.

 

Cobble Hill (Sam Ross) with High west double rye, Dolin dry vermouth, amaro Montenegro, muddled cucumber

Cobble Hill | to a stirring glass add | 2 oz rye | 0.5 oz dry vermouth | 0.5 oz montenegro | 3 slices cucumber | muddle | stir with ice | strain into chilled cocktail coupe | cucumber garnish

 

For his Spring Sazerac, Toby Maloney goes back to the roots of the Sazerac and uses cognac as the base rather than rye. He specifies demerara simple syrup with a touch of curaçao as the sweetener. The Peychaud’s bitters are replaced with a mix of orange (I used 5 drops of Regan’s and 6 drops of Fee Brothers) and aromatic bitters (I went with Angostura). The absinthe rinse is traditional.

The result is sweeter than a rye-based Sazerac, with the additional sweetness balanced by the orange flavor of the curaçao and orange bitters. The Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac and dry curaçao worked particularly well in the drink which is still a sipper, but one that is surprisingly easy to drink (a beginner’s Sazerac?). I am also very curious to try an armagnac version.

I’ve seen variations of this cocktail with apricot liqueur, and it would be fairly easy to come up with more by just changing the sweetening agent. You can turn spring into summer with a touch of chamomile, autumn with apple, or winter with coffee.

Spring Sazerac (Toby Maloney) with Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac and dry curaçao, demerara syrup, orange and Angostura bitters, St. George absinthe

Spring Sazerac | to a mixing glass add | 2 oz cognac | 1/8 oz (scant barspoon) curaçao | 1/8 oz demerara simple syrup | 11 drops orange bitters | 9 drops aromatic bitters | stir with ice | strain into chilled rocks glass rinsed with absinthe | twist lemon peel over the drink

Unfinished business in London

Recently I’ve had a chance to spend a bit of time in London, currently one of the most exciting food and drink capitals. This post summarizes part of a trip that took place in April.

The evening started with an early dinner at J. Sheekey Oyster Bar. Located steps away from the Leicester Square station on St. Martin’s court, the oyster bar is near its big brother J. Sheekey, a seafood institution which has been in business for more than 100 years. The oyster bar itself is a fairly small art deco room with an imposing marble horseshoe-shaped counter, and a décor of black and white photographs on wood paneled walls. Even though it opened just a few years ago, the restaurant as a certain timeless charm and a calm atmosphere.

The selection is extensive, from small plates of seafood to shellfish platters. I started with Gillardeau Speciales from France which were some of the best oysters I’ve ever had. They were crisp and full of delicious broth, similar to Fines de Claires but perhaps slightly more on the rich and savory side. Then came a bass ceviche with avocado and a plantain crisp, and razor clams with chorizo and hedgerow garlic, a type of wild garlic. Finally, the piece de resistance was a Devon Cock Crab. It takes a little bit of work to release all the sweet and succulent meat, but this gave me a chance to slow down and enjoy a glass of Sauvignon blanc from Touraine. As for dessert, the brown meat from the shell that I spread on a slice of baguette was rich like a delicious little seafood foie gras treat.

La Bodega Negra
Afilador and Martinezita at La Bodega Negra

On my way to the Artesian bar at the Langham hotel, I was enticed to stop at a sex shop turned Mexican speakeasy, La Bodega Negra. The décor of this underground bar is an amusing mix of lucha libre paraphernalia crossed with somewhat daring imagery and accessories. As expected, the bar has a good selection of tequila and mezcal. The cocktails are for the most part tequila and mezcal twists on classics. I sampled an Afilador, a Corpse Reviver No. 2 variation with tequila and absinthe, and a Martinezita, a Martinez with reposado tequila mixed with sweet and dry vermouths, which was my favorite of the two.

The Artesian bar
Cocktail menu at the Artesian bar

Then it was time to go to the Artesian Bar. Unlike the American Bar at the Savoy, another world class hotel bar, the bar is immediately visible from the entrance and dominates the room. The décor, a mix of chinoiseries and mirrors, is elegant and fun to look at. The menu designed by Alex Kratena and Simone Caporale seemed a little gimmicky at first with its butterfly wheel, a painter’s palette providing various options from “fruity & refreshing” to “woody & deep”. But it serves a purposes as it accurately describes the type of drink you are about to enjoy.

I started with the Unfinished Business which is served on a large ice sphere and garnished with a slice of chorizo and a caper berry. The drink, a mixture of Woodford Reserve bourbon, Martini Rosso, galangal, and bitters, slowly ages on the counter of the bar in a large leather “pig”. This custom-made wineskin is an interesting alternative to the barrel-aged cocktails that have been popping up everywhere. The result is a slightly savory take on a Manhattan which is very aromatic and smooth, a phenomenal drink. The Secret & Lies was refreshing scotch-based cocktail with pomegranate and rose.

Artesian
Secrets and Lies and Unfinished Business at the Artesian

I concluded with the Above & Beyond which is described as adventurous and came with a pillow floating above the glass. Eucalyptus air, once released from its plastic cloud, immediately transported me to a different place and surrounded the glass as I enjoyed my drink. Ron Zacapa rum (aged at high altitude, “above the clouds”) and sherry are the foundation of this cocktail, with coffee and banana accents providing depth and richness, and Fernet a lingering bitterness. What a great way to finish the evening.

 

References and Further Reading

 

Cold as a carafe of orgeat

I’ve been making orgeat for several years now, as this is an essential component in some of the most important tiki cocktails like the Mai Tai. Orgeat is an almond syrup that was originally made from barley (orge in French), hence its name. If you’ve only tried the common brands of commercial orgeat (Torani and co), then you are really missing the point. These commercial syrups are essentially sugar or corn syrup mixed with a touch of flavorings, and their artificial taste, which is reminiscent of the almond-scented Cléopâtre white glue that I used in kindergarten in France, won’t do much good in cocktails.

Trader Vic Mai Tai with Appleton 12, La Favorite rhum agricole vieux, Clement creole shrubb, homemade orgeat, and lime juice

Trader Vic Mai Tai with homemade orgeat

Homemade orgeat has a fresh and vibrant almond flavor that shines in many cocktails. Its texture is rich and silky, not unlike gum syrup. Technically, orgeat is an emulsion and the process used to make it extracts the oils from the almonds to produce almond milk, a translucent liquid. Orgeat is obtained by adding sugar and orange blossom water to this nut milk. A similar type of syrup can be prepared from other types of seeds, as long as they are rich enough in oils, which opens the door to exploration. It’s possible to make walnut (see the end of this post), pistachio, hazelnut, or even sesame seed orgeat…

The orgeat recipe that I have been using is adapted from of the bibles of tiki cocktail books, Jeff Berry’s Beachbum Berry Remixed, and was originally developed by Darcy O’Neil from Art of Drink. I typically make a quarter batch  – original quantities are noted in parentheses in the recipe below, with my notes in italics. When stored in a clean glass bottle in the fridge it can last for a couple of months.

Ingredients

500 g (125 g) blanched almonds

I use sliced blanched (skin removed) almonds, the freshest I can find. Some people prefer roasting them beforehand. I like the green/fresh almond flavor so I just use them as is and don’t roast them. My end result is milky white. With roasted almonds you get more of the caramelized flavor which can be distracting in certain drinks, and the resulting orgeat will be golden brown.

800 mL (200 mL) (filtered) water

700g (175 g) (white) sugar

100 mL (25 mL) vodka or brandy (I use Tito vodka which is neutral)

2 Tablespoons (1/2 tablespoon) (orange flower water or rose flower water (optional) (I use orange flower water)

Method

  • Place the almonds in a bowl with cold water, soak for 30 min. Drain and discard the water.
  • Grind the almonds finely in a food processor.

Orgeat

  • Transfer the almonds to a bowl with the 800 mL (200 mL) water. Let stand for 1 to 2 hours.
  • Strain the almond and water mixture into another bowl using a metal strainer lined with cheesecloth. (I use a nylon cheesecloth that I get from a cheesemaking supply store. The mesh size on regular fabric cheesecloth is way too big and it does not work for that purpose.) Squeeze to extract all the liquid.

Orgeat

  • Put the almonds back into the bowl and let stand for another hour, and then strain again. Repeat a third time if time permits.
  • Pour the strained liquid into a pan, discarding the almond pulp. Add the sugar and heat very gently, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat as soon as the sugar is fully dissolved.

Orgeat

  • Let cool as needed. Add the orange flower water and vodka. Transfer to a glass bottle.

Homemade orgeat

Yield 1.5 L (375 mL)

Note: orgeat has a tendency to settle over time, so just make sure to give the bottle a good shake before each use.

Variation: walnut orgeat

Same as above, but instead of the almonds, use walnuts (Smith & Cross-soaked if you have been making walnut-infused rum for your Rum DMCs),  and skip the first step.

I hope that I have convinced you to make your own orgeat, as it’s definitely worth the small effort. If not, you can always buy one of the artisanal orgeats that are now available. Small Hand Foods and B.G. Reynolds make good ones.

References