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Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Westcombe Truffle Cheddar at Jamie Oliver's Fifteen

Thursday 25th April - How big is a truckle? Anyone? This is the question I was asking people most of last week after being invited along to a one-off dinner at Jamie Oliver's Fifteen to celebrate the creation of Westcombe White Truffle Cheddar, apparently the world's most expensive cheese at £2,000 a truckle! Here's what Wikipedia had for me:

"A "truckle" of cheese refers to a cylindrical wheel of cheese, usually taller than it is wide, and sometimes described as barrel-shaped. The word is derived from the Latin trochlea, 'wheel, pulley'. Truckles vary greatly in size, from the wax-coated cheeses sold in supermarkets, to 25 kilogram or larger artisanal cheeses."

Truckles vary greatly in size?! Well that's no use. Anyway, let's just say it was more expensive than the 2 for £3 Red Leicester from my Sainsburys Local.

18 months ago, Jamie teamed up with his mate Tom Calver of Westcombe Dairy to create this ridiculous cheese.  He had 1kg of white truffles lying around as you do (only £3,000 or £4,000 per kilo) and handed it over to Tom to combine with his oustanding cheddar, and the results were pretty spectacular (see video below). The truffles seemed to break down the cheese in a different way, with enzymes coming out of the truffles & splitting the proteins.



Westcombe White Truffle Cheddar
Jamie then passed the cheddar on to Jon Rotheram, Head Chef at Fifteen, to devise a menu based around it.  Jon really just wanted to have a load of truffle cheese on toast with some beers, but he stretched to an indulgent 7 course tasting menu in the end.  

All profits from the night went towards the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation which, amongst other things, supports the Fifteen Apprentice Programme that has been training up unemployed people in the restaurant industry since 2002.

Corrections: Substitute Spaghetti for Gnudi & wild garlic, and Mandarin for Blood Orange

Upstairs at Fifteen
After a welcome cocktail or two in the bar (a refreshing Daiquiri on the rocks & a boozy Gas Town w/ Mezcal, Punt e Mes, Fernet Branca, maple syrup, bitters), we made our way downstairs where Jamie introduced the room to everyone involved.

Downstairs at Fifteen

Jamie Oliver introducing the night

Jamie introducing Tom Calver

Jon Rotheram, Head Chef at Fifteen
Before we get to the cheese, we started with plates of cured meats from Cobble Lane Cured, an Islington based trio who used to work with Jamie.  They are dedicated to making high quality British cured meats in the heart of London, taking inspiration from all over and putting their own twist on proceedings.  Impressively, these three lads are solely responsible for all of the meat that is consumed at Manchester City's Etihad Stadium at every home game!

Their fantastic selection was washed down with some Nyetimber Classic Cuvée, keeping everything British for kickoff.

The Cobble Lane Cured boys - Matt, Mat & Adam

Cobble Lane cured meats 
I'll let the pictures mostly tell the tale for the rest of the superb menu which showed off the Westcombe truffle cheddar in a variety of ways - smoked, sweet & sour, grilled etc!  The two standout courses for me were the Slow cooked Roscoff onion, almonds, nettles & smoked cheddar (with a delicious Maison Deux-Montille Pouilly-Fuissé 'En Vergisson' 2008 Burgundy) and Jon's cheese on toast (Grilled Veal, Welsh truffle rarebit toast).  The Castello di Cigognola Barbera '12'12' 2011 red paired with the Gnudi was also pretty special.

Wye Valley asparagus & mushroom mayonnaise, Westcombe truffled cheddar

Slow cooked Roscoff onion, almonds, nettles & smoked Westcombe Truffle Cheddar

Gnudi, wild garlic, sweet & sour Westcombe Truffle Cheddar

Grilled veal, Welsh truffle rarebit toast

Where's the cheese? Blood orange sorbet w/ Mint Granita
The meal obviously had to finish with a cheese course, and Isle of Bulk Honeycomb was a wonderful match for the generous mounds of truffle cheddar.

Westcombe Truffle Cheddar, oatmeal biscuit & Isle of Bulk Honeycomb

Truffle treats
After Natalie and I had cleared up the plates of those around around us, we made our way back to the bar for a few drinks with Jamie & co.  

There are local bottled beers from the likes of Pressure Drop & Redchurch and plenty of top spirits to play with including St George's, Smooth Ambler and Few (all imported by Maverick Drinks), as well as Sipsmith, No.3 Gin, Monkey 47, and Death's Door.  A St George's Tom Collins recommended by our bartender really hit the spot.

From the cocktail menu we chose two from the "Strong & Serious" section - they weren't kidding. La Dolce Vita was not for the faint-hearted with Rittenhouse Rye, Pedro Ximenez & Campari undergoing a rigorous smoking procedure.  Also impressive was the Old Fat Fashioned - Fat Washed Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon with golden syrup & chocolate bitters.

The bar is a great hangout in its own right, with knowledgeable bartenders, interesting drinks, and predictably good bar food (e.g. Beef and barley buns / English smoked-ricotta and baby chard pizza with black olive dressing).


La Dolce Vita

Old Fat Fashioned
Hopefully this won't be the only ever outing for Westcombe Truffle Cheddar.  After all, who knows how large that truckle was?

Square Meal

Jamie Oliver's Fifteen on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Preview : Junipalooza


Junipalooza, 6th - 8th June 2014 - Factory 7, Shoreditch

Drinks shows can often be boring, bland trestle table infested affairs.  Thankfully, the team at Gin Foundry are putting a stop to this and are hosting Junipalooza.  With fun, immersive installations that combine botanicals, industrial warehousing, music and gin to create a unique experience, Junipalooza is set to be the UK's biggest ever event dedicated to gin.

With World Gin Day just around the corner on the 14th June, Junipalooza's three-day show (taking place in Factory 7 in Shoreditch) is the definitive way to get in the mood.  With a global gathering of gin producers scattered across the giant factory floor, visitors will be able to sample a variety of gins, meet the teams behind them, and make sense of this now revitalised and exciting spirit.

There will be the opportunity to enjoy familiar favourites, but also a chance to enjoy and try small batch, craft gins - some launching at the event itself and sever never seen in the UK before.  

Some of the UK's best bartenders will be making cocktails ranging from the classic to the contemporary, bringing the most out of the wide range of gins on offer.  Not to mention, there will be a Drinks by the Dram shop where 100 different gins will be available to buy in 30ml sample-sized bottles.

And as if that wasn't tempting enough, enthusiasts can try their hands at making their own gin and learning more about the spirit's controversial past with a series of masterclasses, including Blend Your Own Gin and An Anthology of Gin, taking place

Tickets for Junipalooza are available here

  • Day tickets at an Earlybird price of £15 (or £20 after 1st June / on the door)
  • Weekend tickets at an Earlybird price of £25 (or £35 after 1st June / on the door)
  • Each masterclass will be £25 per person (spaces limited to 20 per session)
Tickets include 5 tokens to sample gins (each sample is a generous 15ml gin, also available with tonic water depending on preference).

More details from organisers Gin Foundry:

"Having announced that we’ll be hosting the giant gin-fest that is Junipalooza, we thought you may like a few more details as to what to expect. Friendly competition has meant that each stand is trying to outdo each other and create something more unique to standout. With roll up banners banned and ideas flying about for new ways to present each gin, here are a few of the projects that we can share with you all…

"Where should we start though? Do we trace the room left to right or just mention a few things that caught our attention this week? This time it’s the latter.


"Cornwall based distillery South Western Distillery will be sampling its increasingly popular Tarquin’s Gin. This is exciting for those who haven’t tried the gin yet, and for those who have already – they will be bringing, much to our gin geek love of stills, Tamara.

"Tamara is their hard working miniature-sized still. She may be small but she’s a beauty and once buffed, polished and pruned back into pristine condition, no doubt she’ll become a magnet for all you discerning drinkers… Did someone say Junipalooza Gin 2014 Vintage anyone? Hopefully.


"Not to be outdone, on the adjacent stand, the team at Hayman’s Gin have decided to put as many gins as they can fit on their wooden pallet, bringing with them their entire range of 5 gins. Between their Royal Dock, London Dry, barrel rested, gin liqueur and their Old Tom Gin, expect there to be quite the fuss surrounding them.

"One pallet further along, the Hernö Gin team will be showcasing their Swedish gins – both London Dry and the Navy Strength version. Having heard about Tarquin’s nearby still, Hernö’s Master Distiller Jon Hillgren wanted to bring something special too and for the first time ever in the UK, he will be transporting a 40 gallon juniper wood barrel with him. We’re not sure it will fit in as carry-on-luggage but hopefully he’ll get here okay!


"Having created the first ever gin to be matured in juniper oak – the barrels are incredibly rare as sourcing juniper wood large enough to be shaped into a cask was a Herculean feat. He is the only one to have ever done this. Just to put that into context – there are over a million barrels in the Scotch producing region of Speyside alone. None of them are like this. It may well also mean that a lucky few might get to try his super premium and almost impossible to find Juniper Cask Gin. If that’s the case, it’ll be quite the treat we assure you!

"Between a still, a one-of-a kind barrel, 10 gins and 3 countries represented, it’s not bad for one corner of the room. How to top this next you may ask? Why, by bringing out the big guns.

"Bombay will be hosting the Classics Bar with the team from Forgotten Hospitality. Using Bombay Dry, Sapphire and Bombay East, the team will be selecting the very best flavour combinations to bring to life classic cocktails seen throughout history. Look out for the new labels on their bottles too, production has started to flow from their new distillery site at Laverstoke Mill and no doubt the gents have a treat or two in store for us all.


"Warner Edwards will be showcasing their ever expanding portfolio and are also working away on a very secret, yet possibly industry changing project that we hope to announce at the show. It’s early days still and much is in the air but we don’t use the bombastic comment of “industry changing” lightly. Stay tuned folks – more on this soon.

"Jamie Baxter, the man behind seemingly every new craft distillery in the UK, will be showcasing gin from his latest venture in Leicestershire. And Fever-Tree will be on hand to ensure that everyone is suitably refreshed and glasses are kept full of their tonic, ginger ale and other bubbly concoctions from their handy tricycles (incidentally, we need to get one of those for our own garden parties!)

"We’ll keep some of the other participants under wraps for now – too many good things in one go isn’t healthy – but hopefully this quick summary has whet your appetite and will have you more convinced than ever that there’s only one place to be over the weekend of 6th to 8th June. Don’t miss out!"


Saturday, 26 April 2014

Poppy's Place - Kansas Smitty's Backyard BBQ - Bonnie Gull Seafood Cafe

Wednesday 16th April - One for us South West Londoners, Poppy's Place is a charming café & restaurant tucked away in the backstreets of Fulham.  

Scarlett Guess, former director of Rowley's Restaurant in Jermyn Street, opens up at 7.30am every weekday (8am at the weekend) to serve highly-rated Workshop Coffee with breakfast to hungry locals.  On Wed-Sat, they stay open all the way through to 11pm (5pm on Mon, Tue and Sun), with light options at lunch and more of a focus on steak (from Lake District Farmers) in the evening.  They also make a mean burger with meat from HG Walter Butchers in nearby Baron's Court, who also supply Patty & Bun and Tommi's Burger Joint which tells you all you need to know!

Jason (posing below) and I went along for an early evening meal, allowing us to appreciate just how great it looks in the afternoon sun and also later on by candlelight.  The décor has a very homely feel with brimming bookshelves, kitchen cupboards and more adding to the welcoming vibe.  In the daytime, you should grab a seat at the window for some people watching, but at night it's all about the sociable central square table (don't you just hate long thin group tables at restaurants?).







Before we even made it to our first course, we filled up on the outstanding house olives.  I don't know what they had been marinading in, but it was addictive stuff.  Thankfully, our engaging waitress Nathalie took them away and replaced them with two cracking starters - House Chicken Salad with Squash & Pomegranate, and Ginger & Rosemary Sticky Chicken Wings.  Both dishes were packed full of flavour and we ended up sharing to cope with the food envy.


House chicken salad w/ squash and pomegranate
For mains we went for the daily specials - Smoked Haddock with Gratin, Spinach & Hollandaise and Ribeye with Onion Rings, Tomatoes, Mushrooms and House Butter.  Both of these came with unlimited chips. Yes, that's right. UNLIMITED CHIPS.  Scarlett has brought this over from her family's restaurant Rowley's that has been running a similar deal for over 30 years now, and I heartily approve. The medium rare Ribeye was a satisfying hunk of meat, and the onion rings etc deserved their place too. Jason's fish pie of sorts was a very comforting dish, though rather carb heavy with the never-ending chips on the side!

We can also now claim to have had some "Mafia free" wine (N.B. free of the Mafia, not a gift from the Mafia - very important distinction) after drinking some of their Sfuso Grillo white wine:

"Sfuso wines are expertly and responsibly sourced from Italian wine producers who share our ethical stance. This means that our wines come from vineyards that are run independently of the Italian mafia; that our wines certified organic; that our wines never contain additives such as chemicals or flavourings. In addition we import Sfuso by train in boxes to reduce our carbon footprint. So by choosing to drink Sfuso you are choosing to enjoy some of Italy’s most exquisite wines in a morally responsible way."

Smoked Haddock w/ Gratin, Spinach & Hollandaise
Despite filling up on the limitless fries, we had a little bit of room left for dessert.  Jason's Vanilla Cheesecake with Passionfruit Sorbet & Pineapple was an excellent palate cleanser and a manageable size.  Meanwhile I was presented with a monster portion of Croissant Bread & Butter Pudding - not the most photogenic course of all time, but one of the most delicious.  I've had several dreams about it since and you may spot me eating one in the corner if you pay Poppy's Place a visit.

Vanilla Cheesecake w/ Passionfruit Sorbet & Pineapple

Croissant Bread & Butter Pudding
By the time we left, Poppy's Place was buzzing with happy diners who had been charmed by Scarlett & co., possibly several times before by the looks of it.  Get over there with a group of friends and settle in for an evening of unlimited chips and Mafia free wine.






Friday 18th April - Two days after Poppy's Place, I reunited with Jason along with several others for Kansas Smitty's Backyard BBQ.  Kansas Smitty's are a phenomenal band that are "putting the danger back into jazz" and they held an all day party in a warehouse in Gillett Square in Dalston to launch their first single on vinyl.  It also marked the start of 7 weeks of events from The Liquor Store celebrating the Southern States with moonshine, craft beer and food.

I've mentioned Kansas Smitty's before, having seen them previously at Waterloo Vaults where they played regularly before departing with a massive Mardi Gras party that involved a parade & victory lap around Waterloo Station.  They are led by the charismatic Giacomo Smith, and rotate between performing as a quartet (Smitty's Big Four), sextet and octet (Smitty's House Band).  Think Count Basie in 1930s Kansas City and upbeat swing from New Orleans.




But who knew they were also all over it on the food & drink front too?  

Craft beers from Kernel, Five Points and Hackney Brewery (with a superb dark lager) stood alongside £6 cocktails at Smitty's Julep Bar. Struggling to find enough pewter mugs to go around, they instead bought up the world's supply of chickpeas, and emptied the cans (giving the contents to a local shelter) to make way for the drinks. 

We chose between Sleepy Time Julep (Monkey Shoulder Scotch, Chamomile tea, Lemon, Mint), Allotment Julep (Hendrick's Gin, Pear Infusion, Mint) and Smitty's Julep (Four Roses Bourbon, Cinnamon, Mint).  I got hooked on the £4 Bourbon Lemonade - simple but refreshing & boozy.

In between sets, Giacomo had his apron on in the kitchen, dishing out Hot Tamales, Cheesy Grits, Collard Greens, Chicken, Ribs, Potato Salad and some showstopping Grilled Beignets (finished off on the BBQ) with Sorbitium Bourbon & Salted Caramel Ice Cream.


Tom eyeing up Jason's beignets..
They transformed the space simply but effectively with coloured bulbs, plants and odd furniture, and played several sets on different stages, eventually moving into a separate room for the main 8-piece gig at the end of the evening where they were occasionally joined by "Washboard Man" making them a nonet.  

They are ridiculously tight live and I've never seen a band have so much fun.  One pro musician that I brought along remarked "That was one of the best gigs I've been to in my life", and many stayed right the way through to the end at 2am before facing a night bus trek across town back to SW London.



Smitty fans - SO EXCITED



Photo Credit : James Pollak
Photo Credit : James Pollak

Photo Credit : James Pollak
Photo Credit : James Pollak

Photo Credit : James Pollak



Smitty's Set List


Washboard Man
Kansas Smitty's House Band
Photo Credit : James Pollak

Photo Credit : James Pollak

Photo Credit : James Pollak

Photo Credit : James Pollack

Photo Credit : James Pollak
So, hopefully you are convinced and wondering where you can see them next? 

They have just announced several new dates on their website, including gigs at the awesome Quecumbar (1930s Paris gypsy jazz bar in Battersea), Underdog (Brewdog's hidden bar in Shoreditch) and Nightjar - three of London's best bars that you definitely need to check out if you haven't already.  They will also be back at the same venue in Dalston on Mondays throughout May running the Kansas Smitty's Club House with more juleps and craft beers.

5.5.14  Smittys Big Four at The 606 (8.30pm)
7.5.14 Smittys Big Four Lock-In at Le QuecumBar Battersea (10.30)
12.5.14  Kansas Smittys Club House at Dalston Liquor Store (6pm)
14.5.14 Smittys Big Four at Stories (8pm)
15.5.14 Smittys Big Four at Brewdog (9.30pm)
19.5.14  Kansas Smittys Club House at Dalston Liquor Store (6pm)
26.5.14  Kansas Smittys Club House at Dalston Liquor Store (6pm)
31.5.14 Smittys Big Four feat. Rebecca Poole at The Nightjar (9pm)
15.6.14 Music from the garden at The Stables 

Smitty's Big Four meets Le Quecumbar with a swing jam & late night lock-in on Wed 7th May
Saturday 19th April - Finally, some photos from dinner last Saturday at Bonnie Gull's new Seafood Cafe in Exmouth Market, following on from their Seafood Shack in Goodge Street.  As well as standard lunch & dinner within the restaurant, there is a raw bar for oyster shucking, and there is also a separate takeaway menu.  

The range of fresh seafood is impressive as always, with the likes of Manx Queenies, Dorset Grey Mullet, Selsey Cod and Looe Lemon Sole available on our visit.  Other highlights on the menu at the new Bonnie Gull include Smash Your Own Whole Crab, £5 Fish House Punch, Champagne & Negronis, and classic seaside treats such as Mr Whippy & Cornish Fudge for dessert.  The Northern Soul soundtrack is an added bonus.


I'm a huge Exmouth Market fan with the likes of Café Kick, GB Pizza Co, Moro, Morito, Blackfoot, Exmouth Arms and 5CC in close proximity.  The atmosphere at night is always fantastic, especially in the summer, and Bonnie Gull is sure to be a hit here.  


Raw Bar at Bonnie Gull Seafood Cafe

Bonnie Gull Seafood Cafe on Exmouth Market


Fish House Punch w/ rum, brandy & cognac & more

Pisco Aviation w/ pisco, maraschino, violet liqueur, lime, sugar

Photo Credit : Helen Cathcart

Photo Credit : Helen Cathcart

Grilled Dorset Crab, Avocado, Brown Meat on Beef Dripping Sourdough Toast

Manx Queenies w/ Welsh Leeks and Yorkshire Chorizo

Cured Loch Duart Salmon, Citrus, Cornish Mussels

Smash Your Own Whole Crab!
Photo Credit : Helen Cathcart

Baked Crock of Dorset Shellfish, Potato Bread


Mr Whippy

Cox Apple Tart w/ Caramel Syrup & Chantilly Cream

Cox Apple Tart w/ Caramel Syrup & Chantilly Cream

Millionaire's Shortbread

Square Meal