Tuesday 29 September 2009

Fashion Whine

There's an old saying that goes 'the more fashionable the party the more unspeakable the drinks'. Well there isn't, but there should be.

In fairness, fashion shows are about clothes so the drinks are probably an afterthought.

The white wine at the L F Markey Show was so utterly, totally inoffensive and completely forgettable I've forgotten what it's called. Imagine if it was the same for their clothes? Then I had a fashion moment...

Of course, the wine's perfect!
Later on I met some very nice people at Digitaria's end of London Fashion Week party.

One of them suggested visiting the basement for a spot of graffiti and a snifter.... of a strange Thai drink they'd got their hands on. How old school Soho is that!

Mine came with lime and the warning, "That's lethal". It had the weirdest taste. I couldn't quite put my finger on it... then I remembered....

Years ago I was staying at a friends house in the wilds beyond Brecon. We were off to a 16th birthday party and, as we headed out the door, his mother, a hippy type, said, "Now boys, will you have a glass of something to get you in the mood, I've just brewed it". It tasted utterly odd but I managed to drink it without gagging. As we left I asked her what she'd made it from,"Mushrooms my love" she replied...

Thankfully, weird taste aside, Mekhong did exactly what it said on the bottle, nothing more. Wonderful party, super, gorgeous, fabulous, talented people.... mmm, maybe it did do a little something after all.

Tuesday 22 September 2009

Mauled in the Mall.

After a week centred around the Abergavenny Food Festival, non stop tastings, cookings, meals and even an attempted Basque BBQ, of which more in a later post, we decided to head off to London for a respite.

A cunning plan that immediately fell apart when our very generous friends announced we were off for an evening of wine in Pall Mall. It's a tough life.

The host for the evening was Akos Forczek. He runs Top Selection Ltd who supply wines to many of the country's best restaurants. He told me the most oversubscribed events were always what he calls his "extreme tastings". Like his all 'Grand Crus' or, tonights, with 150 wines accompanied by many of their producers. Our friends had bagged the last four tickets.

We arrived with an hour to taste before dinner. No-where near enough time to taste so many wines... but I gave it my best shot.

Dinner was in private rooms upstairs.

We were greeted with a wall of wine left over from the tasting and told to help ourselves.

With it some fabulous food. Someone said the chef here had previously taken over the cooking at L'Aubergine when Ramsay famously walked out. Lobster ravioli with cauliflower, cauliflower cream and a delicious shellfish sauce. Generous chunks of lobster too.

A daube style piece of beef was exceptionally well executed. With it drank a great Crozes Hermitage that I'd missed at the tasting. All purple, peppery, syrah juiciness.

Excellent Creme Brulee and a chocolate and vanilla ice cream for desert.

With this we drank the best Pedro Ximinez I've tasted. Only 600 bottles will make it to the UK, and Stephane sitting opposite, had already bagged a hefty allocation!

It's an incredible wine. Nothing like the usual overtly sticky stuff best poured on puddings. At the tasting I'd had it after a top Sauternes and an Austrian Eisewein. It was miles better. A sublime combination with the salty chocolate sugar puff things.

Stephane told me something I didn't know. Apparently Pedro Ximinez owes it's origins to the Germans. They wanted to make something akin to Esiwein in Spain but lack of frost meant instead they dried the grapes to concentrate the sugars... and the grapes they used were from home...Riesling. Yes, Pedro Ximinez is the Riesling grape. That's news to me.

It was a great night, Arkos was a super host. And a big shout out to Tio and Ed for inviting us.

Click here for Arcos Forczek's:
There were some crackers and I didn't have time to taste many, missed some splendid looking Italian and Spanish wine. Of what I did taste the following really stood out:
Andre Jacquart Grand Cru Le Mesnil. Pure chardonnay foaming creamy lushness. The Belle Epoch in a glass... bring on the dancing girls. Andre's daughter does the marketing and explained that all their wines are aged on the lees for 3 years. The vintage for 4. You could taste it too.
Christophe Coquard Saint Veran 2007. Super Burgundy class for the money. The same negociant's generic Macon was also very good.
The Gem range from New Zealand. Particularly the sauvignon blanc (bone dry, how refreshing) and the pinot noir. The wine maker explained he is using a technique that allows some alcohol to evaporate during the fermentation process. Fascinating. Thus he manages to ferment ripe grapes to a more acceptable 13% abv rather than the often standard 14.5%. As consumers seek out lower alcohol wines that has to make sense.
La Ferme Du Mont's Hermitage was my favourite wine of the night. Fabulous dense syrah nose and a real power that came from strength of flavour rather than over extraction. Reminded me of La Chapelle.

Saturday 19 September 2009

The Walnut Tree

The Walnut Tree has been a part of my life for longer than I can remember. In the 1970s my parents came here to sit in the bar, eating what back then was considered exotica for such far flung boondocks. They recount overhearing neighbours send back a chilli con carne with the instruction to, "Tell Franco it needs more chilli powder, it's not hot enough".

As the clientele grew up so did Franco's cooking. By the time my brother and I made it through the door there was little sign of the chillis and spag bols that helped make the place. Lasagne had mutated into a dish of fresh porcini in bechamel, layered between fresh pasta with copious amounts of white truffel on top. God it was good. It was here that I got my first tastes of woodcock, porcetta, bresaola, samphire, laverbread and fresh cockles. The Walnut Tree was where we came for big birthdays and celebrations. When Franco sold up just after the millennium we were a family in mourning.

There have been several incarnations since then and the latest has Shaun Hill on board. I've been lucky enough to go three times in just over a year. The previous two visits were sublime- the food was knock out- so I was very excited as we arrived here to eat two days ahead of the Abergavenny Food Festival.

We had a kir in the bar. It's what we always do. And read the menu. It hadn't changed much since my last visit back in January. Still it made me hungry. The interior is perhaps best described as 'nouveau Presbyterian'....

More polished than in Francos day, but lacking the charm. The wine list wasn't quite as interesting as I remembered it, not bad, but pricey. We got a large 'little' something to go with our drinks.

A courgette flower stuffed with ricotta and this years fave cheffy ingredient, beetroot. Really good, light cripsy batter and almost sweet tasting centre. I'd happily scoff a plateful.
Our starters were smoked eel with brandade and horseradish cream and griddled squid with chickpeas.

The squid was over griddled and the chickpeas were chickpeas. The eel however was sublime, I've no idea if they smoked it themselves. The brandade appeared to be made with more smoked eel rather than salt cod. Good starter, really appetising, and worked brilliantly with the wine.

Delicious stuff. Minerally, not something I normally associate with Gewurztraminer, and with a lick of oiliness that complimented the fish. A really well balanced wine with nice acidity too. Will search this out again.
Main courses were venison, partridge, veal- escalope, kidneys and black pudding.

The venison was super. Perfectly cooked. Full of iron and tasting of the fields. The partridge was excellent too but I've had my fill of confited birds legs. And the veal.... well, it was nearly very good indeed.

The escalope was a bit overcooked and the crumb coating was dripping in fat. It may have been the kidneys dribbling theirs over it. The kidneys themselves were nice, but had a tad too much of a whiff of their original purpose. The sauce was a bit greasy. In fact the whole dish had a sheen, like it was varnished. It was off putting and underneath there was some lovely food struggling to get out. The black pudding was the exception. Utterly delicious.

Chose a bottle of Allegrini's 2005 to go with it. Apparently this has been on the list since Francos day. Fabulous wine. Plum, oak and polish. More Bordeaux than Italy.
Puddings were chocolate marquise, white chocolate and cherry pot, damson fool, Hungarian trifle.

All very good...

... except the damson fool, so sharp and acidic it could strip the enamel from your teeth. Can't believe this was tasted before sending out.

On the previous two visits Shaun seemed omnipresent. Like a reincarnation of Franco he'd pop up behind the bar for a quick slurp, then, on going outside to the loo I'd catch him through a window directing frenzied activity in the kitchen. A few minutes later I'd spot his bobbing head shed bound for ingredients. He was nowhere to be seen this time.

In an interesting interview with 'Silverbrow on Food' recently, Shaun Hill explained that it was necessary to be at The Walnut Tree much more than he'd originally anticipated. On tonight's evidence, I'd say he's right. There were some real highs on this visit but there were quite a few mistakes too....but without a doubt, I'll be back.