Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Mishkins, Soho: 20/20

Location: 25 Catherine Street


Visit: Saturday lunch

To Note? Arrive early

Ambiance 5/5
Design 5/5
Drinks 5/5
Staff 5/5
Extra LBS star: Another 20/20!

If you haven’t heard of Polpo, or Da Polpo, or Sputino in the last year where have you been? Seriously.

Due to their burgeoning popularity and mainly no reservations policy I have rarely felt like fighting for a table at these establishments but the universally good reviews of Mishkins, combined with the concept of Jewish food that I am not sure I have ever had, saw me taking up a stool at the bar/counter area of E.Mishkins at 11.50 determined to ensure no queue.

There has long been a Jewish Deli on this site, but as a cocktail fan and especially of gin, I am pleased to say that this is not 100% Kosher. I started with the first deviation from Judaism with a Gin Sour – recommended by the bar manager Alex – and they were more than happy to let me try some of the interesting digestifs, including one from artichokes. They have around 12 gin based cocktails, a special gin menu (do ask) and if that does not appeal around 7 white and red options, pop floats and their yummy homemade lemonade is an option too.

The menu is a simple typewriter printed onto lined A4 affair and do not forget the blackboard specials that are not immediately obvious but well worth a look. Also, do not be afraid to ask as I was unfamiliar with about 40% of what I saw! I opted for a bit of choice-by-food envy and ordered the pastrami sandwich “Reudben on rye” with pickles, and what a choice if I do say so myself. This monster of a sandwich took me about 40 minutes to get through and was delicious from first to last. It was either that or the Big Apple Hot Dog which I am assured was excellent with the piles of salad a positive addition to the street food version. My friend took the “knish”, a sort of meat ball made of fish with a parsley sauce. I will be returning for the Duck Hash alone and the desserts that I am horrified I could not manage but between Banana Fosters and Chocolate Bread and Butter pudding it could have been world war three to decide!

There was a lovely buzz from the minute it opened to the minute we left, and we were barely out our seats when they were taken so do arrive early if you don’t want to queue. I would definitely suggest trying to get a stool at the bar rather than taking a banquette in the main room as you can tuck yourself away for hours and ignore the growing queues looking longingly at your table.

Great interesting food, great cocktails, great staff, great atmosphere, all in all a must visit.
Square Meal

Monday, 19 March 2012

Presenting…Giuseppe Gallo of Martini

Martini. A drink I associate with my 17 year old flat mate in first year of university getting read for a night out and mixed with lemonade. A classic Italian aperitif to ready you for your big Italian family dinner originating specifically from Turin.

What is it though? Tuesday past a packed room of novices and experts packed Jub Jub to find out

It is vermouth, a fortified wine flavoured with over 40 botancials (herbs, roots and barks) both macerated into water and infused can generally be classified into two categories:

French aka Dry
Italian aka Sweet

So we started with ROSSO which smells distinctly of sage but the palate is very different with port like fruits, cinnamon and also citru lingering with a bitter, herb driven aftertaste. It serves in more cocktails than I can list including MITO (developed between Milan and Turin), Manhattan, Americano, El Presidente and Negroni – all with their own fabulous stories of origin and all coming seriously back into vogue. And of course the humble Martini itself.

The white or BIANCO was designed to appeal to the female population and has distinct notes of vanilla and again a bitter finish.

Serve – with freshly squeezed lime, lots of ice then you could always add basil too like a Caipirinha. No sugar required, the Martini is sweet enough.

ROSATO has a firmly fruitier nose with fruit, spice, banana and raspberry with a hint of rose.

Serve – described as one for the men (only in Italy!) and best served with Prosecco

Lastly the GOLD, almost impossible to find and soon to be discontinued as the design agreement comes to a close. This was designed between Martini and Dolce&Gabbana, made with saffron which also added to the colour and helped name it.

Serve – with ice and fresh ginger rubbed around the rim of the glass

So what do I think? Well I was looking for a vermouth at a decent price (it lasts about 6 weeks in the fridge if you are not drinking all the time) to make Manhattans with and I will certainly give this one a try. In fact if summer comes round this year I can see a punch bowl filled with Martini Roasto, Prosecco, mint , strawberries etc and see what friends think as a tasty and cheap alternative to Pimms. 

We finished the night upstairs in the Jub Jub Club enjoying a Spag's Head (on the new menu) and another Martini drink (I forget which) but both are on the left and both are delicious. As for our host, Giuseppe Gallo was personable, entertaining, charming and I hope to attend another of his events soon. As always, a huge thanks to Callooh Callay for putting this on.

Presenting...Lagavulin across the years

As the trains rattled over head, over 60 people were gathered in the tunnel like rooms of Vinopolis to enjoy an evening of the flamboyant Colin Dunn and lovely Julian Lafond of Diageo as well as a tune from whisky fan and blues singer Tim Hain. Excitement was palpable as we took our seats, and at £45 a ticket this was understandable; this crowd (a prosperous looking suited/booted lot) expected big things.

So there was a natural division in the line up, in that the first three were “food matched”.

We started with the classic malt that the distillery is perhaps best known by: Lagavulin 16 Years Old 43% paired with Mrs Bells (thick and creamy!) Blue Cheese.

The nose was instantly recognizable with iodine and bonfire smoke followed by some citrus that comes through later. It is viscous and if you hold it in your mouth eventually the different layers will open up including burnt orange. The cheese softens and rounds the whisky but highlights the iodine notes.

Lagavulin 1995 Distillers Edition 43%

There is more sweetness – think treacle – on this one with a bonfire but sweet wood thrown on it. The dark chocolate truffle it was paired with highlights well the PX finish and warm spice comes through with a bitter chocolate edge. With more time it softens enough for citrus to show and finishes fresh. (We also tried 1927 PX to highlight the flavours that could be picked up in the whisky, it was wonderful!)

Lagavulin 12 Years Old (2011 bottling) 57.5%

An old Victorian fireplace came to mind when I smelt this and the 57.5% is certainly quite raw to start with leaving a fresh clean feel. There is a burn, there is also that iodine note but a distinct sweetness of vanilla comes through and with water this becomes smokier with a cereal/grain edge.  Paired with smoked venison it worked through crunchy texture, iodine notes and onto sweet toned down flavours.

SERVE: The inimitable Julien Lafond stepped up to present Smoke on the Water #2

This smoking (literally) cocktail blends Lagavulin 16 YO with Grand Marnier, Byrrh Gran Quinquina, Dark Chocoalte Bitters and a twist of orange and is finished with a scoop of Lady Grey and Lapsang Souchong Smoke.

Then we had a lovely song from Tim about the power of Lagavulin to bring him and his father together before it was round two with Lagavulin 12 Years Old (1980’s White Horse bottling) 43%. This is such a rare whisky that two different bottles needed to be found to pour for everyone – the horse bottling and the Italian bottling. What a difference! In the days before Lagavulin’s virtues were recognised it was basically given away in Italy with other better selling products like rum. This was seriously substandard whisky and if I had tried it I would never try it again so it did not do the brand any favours.

“Horse” was bustling with mango and passion fruit on the nose, whereas “Italian” was tinny and a little bit “corned beef”. Both started the palate flavours with coffee but Horse moved onto sweet fruits and smoke and Italian, although drinkable, was indistinct. They continued to shift and develop throughout the night and if only for interest I would suggest buying either version if you find it for a bit of tasting fun.

Lagavulin 12 Years Old Friends of Classic Malts 1995 48%

A mere 12,000 bottling with oak sherry casks used for maturation, there were clear sherry notes on the nose. A strange sensation in the month, the mid palate seems to fill with smoke and then disapate out to a soft, honey finish. This is so long and has a hint of sweet vanilla at the very end.

Lagavulin 21 Years Old 56.5%

Lastly this 21 year old was released in 2008 and has a chocolate orange nose. The iodine notes pack a punch at the back of the palate but it remains remarkably smooth and it very very long, maybe even longer than FOCM 12 year old.

Few Facts

Ever thought about the difference in a Highland and an Islay whisky and the fact they both use peat (though at different levels)? Well think about the heather and the bracken based peat in the Highlands vs brine and seaweed based peat on the island. They are cooked for different times, at different temperature and all these factors and more affect the flavour characteristics.

Many many many (!) thanks to Colin Dunn for always perfectly leading a room through Lagavulin, to the Whisky Exchange team for creating this experience and helping throughout and Whisky Exchange owner Sukhinder for the opportunity to attend. Do yourself a favour, get down there and buy get your hands on these whiskies whilst you can.


Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Hawksmoor Spitalfelds - Downstairs 20/20

Location: Commercial Street


Visit: Monday evening - soft launch

To Note? Restaurant upstairs bar downstairs

Ambiance 5/5
Design 5/5
Drinks 5/5
Staff 5/5
Extra LBS star: It got 20/20 - it doesn't need it!

I am writing this from the point of view of someone who has never actually been to Hawksmoor before – and I LOVED it. We descended to what was previously a store room and entered through a heavy steel door to a sleek world of green leather banquettes, high tables and stools and aged mirrors to reflect the gentle candle light.

Although we were the only two in our area on arrival it soon filled up though the atmosphere remained intimate. Perhaps this was to do with the service. Now I know that although this was a “soft launch” this is not a brand new company or team however it was flawless throughout from the water on arrival to the waitress who was happy to explain the menu (and some of it needed explaining – Bermondsey Friar anyone?) finishing with the bar man who promised a “party in the mouth” with our last cocktail! I would genuinely like to thank the staff for being awesome at every point during the evening – and especially as we outstayed our time slot by 45 minutes. (Time slots are also only for the soft launch period.)

So, the cocktails. Their Ginger Brew which has been with them from the start was so fresh and full of flavour, the Old Fashioned blew my socks off and the Manila Julep was outstanding – even if under all that ice it disappeared very quickly. The prices vary wildly from £7.50 to £11 but it is good to know that each month the list will change and the Desert Island Drinks Section will feature five favourites from different barmen.

As for the food I had high expectations and really was not disappointed. Hawksmoor have pointed out this is a bar – there are no steaks here people! – but the single page of food offers more than enough choice. Starting with spiced up lamb in lettuce leaves, the cheeseburger was declared perfectly cooked, a chilli cheese hot dog hit the spot and accompanying triple cooked chips and coleslaw (which our waitress kindly agreed to request spiced up) were fabulous. And even better was all this left room to share a lemon meringue pie which had a perfectly thin crispy base, an oozing liquid centre and delightfully chewy meringue on top. Yum!

So three cocktails and plenty of food for two would come to (outside soft launch prices) around £70 including service which I really do not think is an issue for this quality of food and drink, this environment and for London full stop.

The crowd was mixed and will inevitably get some business from the nearby city institutes but like its upstairs restaurant it remains unpretentious and a really enjoyable place to spend an evening. I am already looking forward to the next visit – there is a chocolate malt cake with my name on it!

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Presenting...Chase Vodka and Williams Gin

I won’t go into the mission that was dealing with the new Gouman Grosvenor hotel – needless to say they are missing their bar manager who is on paternity leave – but made it to an upstairs room for a trade masterclass with James Chase.

James is really personable guy with great knowledge and an inexhaustible work ethic, bombing up and down the country to educate us about the family run property that is Chase. The brand started with the delicious potato product that we all know – Tyrells crisps. On a USA business trip to investigate deep frying, they were invited “round the back” of one small manufacturers to see their small time brewing facilities and there was the eureka moment

This vodka tastes of something

So this moment paired with the secretaries’ clear ability to guess the base product of the bottle they returned with (potatoes) and quantities of small potatoes that were not put through for crisps gave way to vodka and before they knew it (well another business trip including Austria this time – source of their still) they had a 3000l still with a rectifying column so large it emerged from the roof.

So Chase English potato vodka was born and is entirely produced by Chase from potatoes to vodka to maintain quality; quite frankly, it shows.

Chase Vodka

The nose is so different from most vodkas with a sweet creamy almost toasted marshmallow nose. The palate has the same creamy buttery potato mash flavour with some spice notes and an oily texture that combine to give a really long finish. This is very smooth and rich and tastes buttery to the end.

Serve: with soda water and a squeeze of lemon to cut the oily texture

When the Chase brains got buzzing next they moved to gin. Back to Austria for a 300l still with three rectifying points where the gin sits in the belly and above is a “pillowcase” filled with their 11 chosen botanicals – including barley apples, hops and elderflower. They are also moving towards growing all their own botanicals and hope to see this come to fruition in 2012 with new greenhouse plans. However, the potato vodka had too much flavour so they thought again about the local products and came up with…

Naked Chase (apple based spirit)

The nose implies spice and high alcohol but the palate is much more pleasant, smooth and although still quite raw there is a remaining sweetness and spice in between layers.

Serve: in a Vesper with Chase Vodka

William Chase Gin

Distilled to 48% to retain the flavor is not just a tag line. This is so smooth and strangely is very reflective of the creamy full body of the vodka. Then comes the juniper so essential to gin (debate still raging!) and then sweet citrus, next comes the clear elderflower notes though not sure I got hops.

Serve: as a gin and juice with organic cox apple juice

Lastly those crazy guys got experimenting with flavours (Christmas trees don’t work if you were wondering!) and came up with what is now a regular in their line –

Chase (Seville) Marmalde Vodka

Straw colour, the nose is of sweet zest oils. The more you get into this, the longer it lingers, the sweeter it grows on the palate making it definitely – for me – one to mix rather than one to drink straight. Breakfast martini, spice it up for winter warmers, the possibilities of this one are great.

Serve: with ginger beer, few drops of bitters and a squeeze of lime

So they do not grow the oranges themselves but they do make the marmalade that gets infused with the orange skins. I’ll leave you with an interesting fact: it takes 25kg of potatoes to make just one bottle of Chase Vodka

To look out for:

- Aged vodka expressions
- Chili infused vodka
- Rock the Farm – the generously put on industry festival in July