Sunday 31 May 2009

Here comes summer...

So I'm sitting at home, reading one of my favourite books and contemplating a rather dull weekend when this pops up.

Surely that's a near perfect text message? 
Now safe in the knowledge something's happening tomorrow, I settle for a quiet night in and pick up this from Oddbins. Buy it, it's £6.99 and absolutely belting, a black cherry fruit bomb with a lovely streak of acidity.

A few hours later and I'm wrestling over whether it is actually black cherry or, in fact, blackberry that this wine most reminds me of, when this pops up:

Sometimes truth's not necessarily best, so to avoid any risk of my reply getting passed around for laughs, I say, "Err, not much, come round". So pretty soon this pops up.

Who needs telly? Using only a cigar as an improvised mustache Angus (or GUGUG as he's known to his YouTube fans) entertains us with a Sparks impression. He also turns up with this:

From a brewery founded before Harold got shot in the eye, it's delicious, and according to the label, is "one of Roger Protz's 300 beers to try before you die". Great, that means I've got 299 to go! On the back it says: "... tempting aroma of banana, clove, nutmeg and gentle hop resins". It came from 'The Doublet' on Park Road. 
Next day, it's Mary and Ross's BBQ.
First up: haloumi cheese with vegetables. Delicious. My contribution next, Scottish langoustine bbq'd whole then covered with lemon juice, lemon rind, olive oil, garlic and parsley while still hot.

After that it's monkfish kebabs- with croutons, ham and rosemary. Thought these were really good. With the lid on the bbq they picked up a really nice smokey flavour too.

With the offer of a lift Jo and Andy persuaded me to leave the car so I got stuck into this. Very tasty- lemony, minerally, complex. From Oddbins apparently.

They then said they were also having a bbq later and invited us to join them. I don't know, you wait all summer for a bbq then suddenly...... 

Actually, normally you wait all summer for a summer. Mind, when you get one, Glasgow's West End looks almost foreign....

More lovely food including giant prawns, sardines and a delicious lobster. 
Late on and Andy produced a bottle of rose picked up on holiday in St Tropez some years back. 

'Rose de Bertaud Belieu', from Gassin, made by M.Coencas in 2000. Conventional wisdom dictates that few roses merit keeping. This was nearly 9 years old and exceptional- a delicious drink- bizarrely reminiscent of very old chianti. What a surprise. 

Lobsters have an unusual nervous system, this one was dispatched hours earlier by the fishmonger, but check out this clip of it's claw in action on the grill... freak out!

Saint Cirice 2007
Vin de Pays du Gard 
£6.99 Oddbins

Gus and Fin and ukuleles

Seminal stuff, does anyone know where online I might find the original video for "Now that I own the BBC?"

Friday 29 May 2009

Chablis and Gypsies

This post started off along the lines of: "I often forget how much I like Chablis"... but fortunately I caught myself just in time. What was I trying to say? That I've drunk shed loads of it in the past? That because it's so well known I tend to ignore it? That I'm too busy drinking other expensive wine? None of this is true, a crying shame in the latter case, and if not kept in check, who knows what guff could spew forth ....."I will never tire of Chablis, be it with oysters, sea trout or simply unadorned, as 'al fresco' refreshment sat 'au jardin' with the first rays of summer tickling my newly shorn lawn".

I'm becoming increasingly aware of certain pit falls with wine writing. It's hard to ignore what has been written before, and a lot of my wine formative years were spent gleaning information from lifestyle magazines. Part of the problem is a lack of vocabulary. Things have to smell or taste "like" something or perhaps "evoke" something from the memory. One writer's description of a certain grape variety will never leave me:

"Flowers in the boudoir, ginger biscuits in the oven".

How fabulously laden is that? But here's a thing, try and guess which grape variety, because, and this is partly my point, despite never having seen a boudoir or baked a biscuit, I get it. 
(Answer at the end of this post). 

A friend invited us to dinner this week but asked to remain anonymous, so I'll call him Mr G. We often look after his dog, let's call him Dog A. We had some lovely food and wine at Mr G's. These two Chablis for starters. The straight one was good: minerally, buttery and no oak. I don't like oak in Chablis, it's just wrong. The premier cru Beauroy was more intense with a mid palate taste of what I can only describe as a boiled pineapple sweet. It has a finer acidity than the Chablis and is altogether more 'nervy' and complex.

Next up we had a 2005 Burgundy from a famous Cotes de Nuits village. Pretty special this one but still young. It's all there, but still developing the gamey, manure flavours pinot noir gets as it matures.

Finally a real cracker from St Emilion.

I love the idea of a "contemporary wine-maker". This is marvelous stuff from the 2004 vintage. Every time I drink something from this vintage I'm impressed, it's seriously underrated..... Right, stop, "Every time.... I'm impressed"...... 
I'm doing it again. Here's the truth: I've drunk 4 bottles of Bordeaux from the 2004 vintage, they were all very nice and I've probably read elsewhere about it being underrated. 
Anyway, Chateau Quercy 2004: "Lying by the campfire being fed plums by a ravishing gypsy, she tempting and dark, you, curious but afraid, the music starts up, wild and intoxicating, resistance is futile".

The answer is : Gewurztraminer.
If you want to try for that boudoir/biscuit experience go for M&S's own label Alsace. It's particularly good at the moment, but I'm afraid they're all out of ravishing gypsies.

Monday 25 May 2009

Stravaigin 2 for brunch

It's easy to forget about Stravaigin 2. The sibling to Stravaigin on Gibson Street. Tucked away down a lane off Byres Road. The advantage for punters is that seats are available outside long after everything else in the West End has been taken. Why are there so few places to sit out in Glasgow?

It's not a bad spot. You get to watch thin people trying on clothes in the Commes de Garcon Guerilla Store next door. Which, despite the name, doesn't stock much for the, ahem, larger sized. Still, while they flaunt their physique, or rather lack of it, we get to do something they can't.... eat food and keep it down.

We ate from the brunch menu. Other offerings looked tempting too. When they arrived, my eggs benedict were a bit, well, more than a bit, suggestive....

Nice hollandaise but the eggs were slightly overdone. I prefer mine gushing with runny yolk, these created more of a smudge effect and there was a strange dangly bit that shouldn't have made it to the table. That said, they were pretty good to eat. 
The French toasts with bacon and maple syrup caused instant dish envy.

Smokey maple syrup and bacon with the crunch of eggy toast. All washed down with coffee and a ginger beer.... that's Sunday for you.

Competent cooking, I'll come back to try the evening menu and wine list soon.

8 Ruthven Lane
G12 9BG
0141 334 7165

10 Ruthven Lane
G12 9BG
0141 339 2315

Saturday 23 May 2009

Dublin and Guinness

Just back from Dublin. My first time. You still see signs of the confidence born from what was, until very recently, one of the world's fastest growing economies. This is the Dublin Spire, 390 ft high, locals call it the 'Stiffy on the Liffey'.

But visually Dublin is most like a miniature London. Lots of Georgian and Regency architecture. There's even a mini Thames, House of Lords and..... 

Another thing about Dublin was the sense of being watched... and it didn't take long to finger the culprit..... 

You're never more than an arms length from a pint of Guinness. Look in any direction and you'll see a sign for it. 
Now I've never got the Guinness thing. It's not as strong as hating it, I just wouldn't choose something that thick when it's a drink I'm after. But so many people insist it's nicer in Dublin, and, the bombardment from such an intense advertising campaign makes it impossible to ignore. Could a drink really taste that different?

Well, this one slipped down a treat. Mmmm. Made a bit of an effort to think about the taste of the next one. It was creamy, complex, fresh and incredibly, actually thirst quenching. Surely though, I'd been intoxicated by the charm of the place and it's people.... I wanted to like their drink, be part of them, join in. Could this taste so good back in dank old Glasgow? Had I been missing out all these years? I would have to find out. Before that though, a visit to the Guinness Storehouse.

Claimed as the most popular tourist attraction in Ireland. It's where they used to brew the stuff. It's still brewed on site.... a site the size of a suburb. Three million pints a day. 

It's impressive. Apparently this year they've been getting loads of Italian tourists for the first time, no-one knows why. I wonder if they've asked them?

Seven floors up visitors enjoy a complimentary pint of the black stuff. No mean treat, this is a place where the price regularly tops 5 euros a pint. Ouch. They get to look out over a city dominated, and as far as most tourists are concerned, defined by it's brewery.

Dublin's a lovely place, but expensive, may have to wait till we join the euro before returning. 

A late flight back to Glasgow had me pelting to Stravaigin to try a Guinness here while the taste of the Dublin one was still fresh in my mind. The barman was Irish, so was the waitress speaking to him.... weird, am I still being watched? As he poured I explained what I was up to. He looked at me like I was speaking gibberish then said, "I never drink it over here", and added, "Next time, forget about Dublin, go to Ireland".

The Guinness tasted neither as fresh nor as complex. Far more of a bitter flavour and not very thirst quenching. But I'd have been disappointed if it was any other way!

St James's Gate
Dublin 8
+353 1 408 4800

Gibson Street
0141 334 2665

Sunday 17 May 2009

Mutton dressed as mutton

It's in the nature of revolutions to reject what is and sweep all before them. That was the fate of British cooking as the UK began it's foodie revolution. Instead, in turn, the cooking of just about every other country was eulogized. Even Delia forced a nod to foreign shores.

We were food sluts, happy to try anyones once, globe trotting pick-ups bringing back more than we'd bargained for. Poor old 'British' sat cuckold while we flung our affections across the globe. Then, by the millennium, having had every available dish, and just to prove we really were up for anything, we started coming on to our own grub.
But you can't undo what's been done.... and we'd done a lot. The temptation to elaborate is now too great. Does steak and kidney pudding really just have steak and kidney in it? Surely it should be browned first? What about frying a star anise with some onion too? A little red wine? Some soy sauce? Some thyme?

Boring old British was going to need a serious makeover if we were to be seen about town together.

This is the downside of embracing everything. Where do you draw the line? Food that has evolved over eons being tarted up beyond recognition. "Mutton dressed as mutton", that's my new motto! But it's a hard habit to kick, I'm taking it one stage at a time.....

So when friends came to dinner on Saturday I didn't all together hold back on my leg of Scottish spring lamb.

Three cloves of garlic crushed to a paste with salt. That was rubbed into the meat which I'd scored all over with a diamond pattern. Next chopped rosemary was rubbed in- from the garden, lots of it, it grows well in Glasgow but is nowhere near as intense as that grown in warmer climes. I grated the zest from a lemon, set aside, and squeezed the juice over the lamb. Finally a good rub of olive oil and black pepper. With it, Herefordshire asparagus and Cornish 'anya' potatoes in their skins, both roasted in olive oil.

This is a really good tip I picked up from Heston of Fat Duck fame. Soak anything green in water for as long as you can before cooking. It rehydrates it and makes an incredible difference.
The lamb weighed 2.3 kg and got 20 mins at 220c then another 80 mins at 160c, it was on a rack above the grill tray which I'd filled with water. A technique the Chinese use a lot that combines roasting with steaming and stops lots of smoke! After cooking it was wrapped in foil and rested for an hour. Then I made a gravy from the tray's juice filled water, a teaspoon of dashi stock powder and some cornflour.

The lemon rind was combined with olive oil, salt, the juice of another lemon and then poured over the lamb and potatoes.
This will sound like showing off, actually it is, but the effect was sublime. There's enough going on.... but not too much. In the past I'd have been smearing all sorts on it... cumin, smoked paprika, other herbs... so this was progress of a sorts. These were the wines....

The Pinot Bianco I've blogged about before. It's now just £5.99 in M&S and at that price is a serious bargain.
The Sancerre Rose, made from pinot noir grapes, was very summery, but not worth the normal price of £10.99... though it's on offer at £7.99 just now.
Mikey brought the Chateauneuf du Pape, Les Closiers, 2006, also from M&S. Really nice peppery, sweet grenache fruit and quite structured too. It went really well with the lamb.
Niven and Sabeen brought the Chianti Reserva 2003, it was very good, quite oaky but with a lot of ripe fruit to balance it out.
And finally, nearly the last of my delicious Leitz Auslese also mentioned in a previous blog. We drank that with Eton Mess - a mix of strawberries, meringue and cream- simple but delicious. By now things were getting a little hazy...

We finished the night off around the corner at Uisge Beatha. I think it's brewery owned these days but they've kept the eclectic interior of the woman who first furnished it. She combed sales rooms for cast offs from country houses that had been stuffed with souvenirs of colonial adventures... old paintings of men in uniform, antelope heads and other oddities.

Nowadays it's seen as a quintessentially Scottish experience, a tourist 'must see' on any visit to Glasgow.

236-242 Woodlands Road
0141 564 1596