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Sunday 31 August 2014

Peckham Beer Rebellion - Four Quarters

Thursday 14th July - Those clever chaps at Late Knights Brewery have done it again.  Beer Rebellion Peckham is now their third pub / beer bar / brewery tap in South London after Beer Rebellion Gypsy Hill and London Beer Dispensary in Brockley - two of my favourites.  They've even got one in Brighton.

Each outpost has its own little quirks, and in Peckham you pick your own glassware off a shelf before you order.  You have 18 taps to choose from (10 keg, 4 cask, 4 cider), and all the beers are from London-based breweries.  Some of the prices seem a little steep compared to their other bars, but there are several pints around the 4% mark at £3.40.

There's no space for a kitchen, but their crafty burgers will be popping up outside from time to time.  It's lacking space in general, leading to bottlenecks at the bar and plenty of spilling out on to the street, but it's a good fit for Peckham.  The beer is great and there's not much else in the way of competition nearby (though Brick Brewery taproom is a 10 minute walk), so I expect it will be very busy for the foreseeable future.

Beer Rebellion, 129 Queen's Road, SE15 2ND

Fourpure IPA at Peckham Beer Rebellion

Whilst in town, we wandered over towards Peckham Rye to find Four Quarters, London's first arcade bar, much like Emporium and Beercade in Chicago, and Barcade in New York (guess where I've just been?). 

London is lacking in the fun department as far as bars go, as most leave the speakeasy quirks at the hidden door and take themselves very seriously, but hopefully, inspired by our friends across the pond, this is starting to change.  Bounce, Ping and Pop-Up Ping Pong have been leading the table-tennis charge, a game of cornhole was spotted outside Beavertown's new tap room, and Draughts board game bar is soon opening in Haggerston.  Now all we need are a few shuffleboard tables and some skeeball and I'll be happy.

Anyway, I digress.  As the name hints, you swap £1 for 4 American quarters (not a good exchange rate!) to use in a variety of lovingly restored classic arcade games and pinball machines.  Try your hand at Pacman, Tron, Point Blank, Star Wars Trilogy, Pong, Street Fighter II and more whilst consuming beer, wine and grilled cheese.  Games from your childhood and adult drinks - the perfect combo.

Since I visited, they have also opened an upstairs room to celebrate some old console classics such as Mario Kart, Micro Machines and Bomberman.  A perfect excuse for a return visit.

The draft beer options aren't terribly exciting but there's plenty of good stuff in the fridge including Odell 5 Barrel Pale Ale and the Fourpure range of cans.  If they upped their game on the taps too, I'd be there every week.  

With opening hours as late as 2am on weekends and a few night bus options nearby, it's the perfect relaxed place to end a Peckham bar crawl, and hopefully the first in a wave of similar fun-focused watering holes.

The Four Quarters, 187 Rye Lane, SE15

Thursday 28 August 2014

Kerbisher & Malt - Arabica Bar & Kitchen - Polpo

It's been a quiet 2 months for Matt The List.  At least, that's what the blog activity suggests.  In fact, a brave select team recently returned from a 24 day food & drink tour to New York. Toronto, Chicago & Minneapolis, fatter, poorer, happier.  This was swiftly followed by a trip to Edinburgh, Inveraray & Islay for haggis, seafood & whisky.

However, we can talk about all that another time (i.e. once all the maps, photos & notes are sorted out).  If you are heading to any of those cities soon and need tips, leave a message - we ate everything.

In the meantime, here is a round-up of three excellent meals that I had all the way back in June in quick succession.  Warning: Photos may cause salivation, especially Arabica's Knafeh.

Wednesday June 25th - One of the rare outings to be made at the same time as a World Cup fixture (remember that?) was a trip to Kerbisher & Malt's latest "modern fish & chips" outpost in Clapham South. Locals would probably rather I kept quiet about the lovely stretch of food & drink on Abbeville Road, but a spate of openings including Comensal & Bottle Apostle suggest that the secret is already out.

The front of K&M doesn't scream chippie so you may well walk past it if you aren't careful.  I suggest getting a pint in The Abbeville opposite beforehand to get your bearings.  Much like The Fish & Chip Shop, K&M has gone for a sleek but slightly too dark interior for my liking - a little more natural light wouldn't hurt in both.

I found my way to a corner table with fellow foodie Leyla (of The Cutlery Chronicles) and we promptly ate our way through the tempting menu.  Battered haddock, breaded plaice, fish finger butties, onion rings, chips, mushy peas and a fennel & dill salad all got washed down with Meantime beers & cups of wine in no time. 

It's all reasonably priced with the options of haddock, cod, plaice, pollock & coley ranging from £5.80-6.90. The fabulous butty and the sides (particularly the onion rings) impressed more than the fish itself which could have done with more seasoning, but it's all definitely a cut above your local chippie.  Calamari & whitebait are left for us to try another time.  Tartare sauce & lemon mayonnaise added some extra flavour, whilst red curry sauce didn't quite do it for us.

Kerbisher & Malt is simple, filling, tasty, family friendly, easy to recommend and it won't break the bank. Most of the time, that's all you need!

Browse the menu and follow Matt The List on Zomato

Friday June 27th - Two days later, I found myself eating out again, this time at the new permanent home for Borough Market regulars, Arabica Bar & Kitchen.  They have got themselves a wonderful, large, airy room right that opens out on to the heart of the market, round the corner from the superb Rake pub (which we may or may not have retired to after the meal).

Where to start? Well, I could talk about every delicious dish but I would soon be out of my foodie adjective depth.  My companion from the previous meal at K&M goes in to more detail on Arabica on her blog here

The exciting range of Lebanese 961 beers were sadly not available so we turned to the excellent wine list instead.  A few minutes in, and our table was full of small plates, including a Lebanese Lamb & Beef Tartare (Kibbeh Nayyeh) bursting with flavour, delicious air-dried Hereford beef (Basturma) and some delicious dips.  The Hummus and Smoked Aubergine dips were a little on the stingy side, as was the bread, but there was plenty else to go around.

Kibbeh Nayyeh - Lebanese lamb and beef tartare, olive oil, red mustard leaves, tropea onion and mint - £9

Basturma - Anatolian-style air-dried Hereford beef with baby leaves, flowers, olive oil and lemon - £8.50

Moutabel - Smoked Aubergine, Tahini, Garlic, Olive Oil, Lemon - £5.50

After several good decisions from the Dips and Raw / Cured parts of the menu, many more plates arrived from the Fried, Charcoal, Stove / Grill, Salads and Veg / Rice / Pulses sections.  Healthy portions of semolina-crumbed squid and whitebait didn't last long.  Lamb and Spinach Kibbeh (croquettes) were hard to share for more than one reason.  And Chicken & Pistachio kebabs & Beef Onglet on a smoked barbecue salad managed to impress even when split 5 ways.

Semoline Crumbed Cornish Squid - With Fennel and Sumac - £9.50

Makale Samak with Tarator - Crispy whitebait dusted with roasted cumin - £6

Chicken and Pistachio Taouk - Marinated in cardamom, honey and green chilli - £9

Sugar Cured King Prawns - With smoked garlic oil, urfa chilli and fennel salt - £11

Beef Onglet - With Smoked Barbeque Salad & Watercress - £9.50

Mjederah - Warm lentil and bulgur wheat pilaf with crispy onions and tahini salad - £6

Sayadieh Royale - Pan fried pollack with rice, tahini salsa and toasted pine kernels - £10
Three options from the Clay Oven section of the menu arrived last and nearly finished us off.  The standout was the Armenian-style Lamachun, a beautiful flatbread smothered with spiced lamb, tomato, onion, peppers and pine kernels.

Armenian Style Lamachun - Flatbread with spiced lamb, tomato, onion, peppers and pine kernels - £6

Suzuk Pide - Turkish pizza with smoked red pepper sauce, spicy sausage, haloumi cheese - £7

Three cheese Man'ousheh - Flatbread with haloumi, akawi and Westcombe ricotta - £6

18 plates or so later, we made it to dessert. Make sure you do too, and order the eye-catching Knafeh - warm, melt-in-mouth Levantine cheese pastry with orange blossom honey and crushed pistachio. There was a bit of a spoon scrum for this one, though the Levantine ice cream (Booza) provided a distraction. I have also heard good things about the Arabica Affogato and the Baklawa, but we had run out of space. A Turkish Coffee was the fitting way to finish, with a Pistachio Delight on the side.

Knafeh - Warm Levantine cheese pastry with orange blossom honey and crushed pistachios - £6.50

Booza - A unique Levantine ice cream made with Chios mastica, delicately perfumed with orange blossom water and served with lashings of green pistachios - £5

Turkish Coffee with Pistachio Delight
The menu is packed full of things you will want to eat, so I suggest going with a few friends and getting as much as you can!  As you can see from the multitude of photos, it is a feast for your eyes as well as your stomach.  Portions are small for the price, but the quality is definitely high enough to make one forget.  Highly recommended.

View the photos on Matt The Tumblr - Set 1 / Set 2

Browse the menu and follow Matt The List on Zomato

Arabica Bar and Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Saturday June 28th - Last but not least, ahead of my trip to Venice, I squeezed in a lunch time visit to Polpo in Notting Hill to sample Russell Norman's take on a bacaro (Venetian restaurant / bar that mostly serves small plates or cicheti).

After a Negroni & a Cynar Gin Fizz passed the first test, we ordered some food.  The table of 6 split neatly into meat eaters and veggies, and there was plenty on the menu to keep both parties happy.  The mixed Cicheti plate is definitely the way to start, covering fried stuffed olives, arancini (fried rice balls), crostini ("little toast" in Italian) and more.

Be sure to also dip in to the excellent meatball section - I especially recommend the spicy pork & fennel variety.

The veggies' Spinach, Parmesan & Soft Egg Pizzetta made me temporarily jealous but we retaliated with scallops supported by peas and rabbits hidden in endive, not that they cared.  The menu changes so you won't necessarily find all of these dishes if you visit, but I'm sure the replacements will keep you happy.

After just the right amount of savoury snacking, we moved on to dessert.  Feeling indecisive, we decided it was safest to order pretty much everything on the menu.  Small pots of strawberry and basil pannacotta & tiramisú soon made way for flourless orange & almond cake and a stunning nutella pizzette.

There are now four Polpo branches in London, but the quality doesn't seem to be diminishing.  The food was hard to fault, service was exemplary and prices are very competitive.  It doesn't manage to capture the atmosphere of eating out in Venice, but they've certainly nailed the cuisine.  Arabica Bar & Kitchen may have been slightly more thrilling, but you will leave Polpo content with more cash to spare!

View the Polpo photos on Matt The Tumblr

Browse the menu and follow Matt The List on Zomato

Polpo on Urbanspoon

Matt The Tumblr latest:

Wapping Market (organised by the clever folk behind Brockley Market) is now open every Sunday from 10am-2pm - Wapping Wall, E1W 3SG - Photo Set 1 / Photo Set 2

First look at cosy new café in Battersea - La Moka Café

New salads & specials at fantastic deli in Battersea - Park Road Kitchen

Wednesday 13 August 2014

Luxardo Distillery in Padua // Food, Drink & Art in Venice

MATT THE TRIP - A little jaunt to Padua & Venice to see the Luxardo Distillery in action with the Luxardo family, Craig Chapman from Cellar Trends, The Cocktail Lovers aka Sandrae & Gary, Mark Ludmon from Bar Magazine, Douglas Blyde & Su-Lin Ong.

Day 1 - Gatwick, 11.30am, flight to Italy in two hours.  Only one way to pass the time with drinks journalists - two rounds of Negronis and snacks from Jamie's Italian.  Matteo Luxardo, 6th generation distiller joined us for the flight, after a busy week of Luxardo promotion in London at Imbibe Live.

The first round were fine examples of the genre, but the second efforts were oddly different.   There would have been time for a third variation had we known in advance that our plane was delayed due to an inoperable loo - I've never heard that one before.  The pilot dealt with it like a true Brit - he came down to the departure lounge and advised us all to go for a pre-flight toilet trip.

Jamie's Negroni at Gatwick
From Venice airport, we drove to Montegrotto, a sunny spa town frequented mostly by Italians over 70 according to Matteo.  After a quick spritz / negroni in the hotel bar, we popped over to nearby Ristorante Cencio, a charming restaurant with a cosy garden on the hillside.  We started with a glass of Luxardo Sangue Morlacco with Prosecco, the first of many cherry based treats.  The combination doesn't have a name yet, so all suggestions are welcome!

Luxardo cherry liqueur was renamed with the curious name of Sangue Morlacco (Morlacco blood) by the poet Gabriele D'Annunzio in 1919, at the time of the Fiume military expedition, due to its dark red colour and in honour of the Morlaccos, fierce warriors of Dalmatia who fought for the Republic of Venice and defended their homeland against the Turks.  It is a liqueur of marasca cherries (a sour cherry variety exclusively cultivated by Luxardo), obtained by the infusion of fermented marasca juice, matured for two years in larch vats.  It does wonders for a Blood and Sand (with rye whisky, Angostura bitters & orange juice).

Fountain at Gran Hotel Montegrotto Terme
Ristorante Cencio in Montegrotto
Sangue Morlacco - now available in the UK
A fantastic dinner of aperitivo plates and fish followed, starting with two different fish tartares and octopus carpaccio.  This was followed by fried zucca flowers with anchovies (first of many on the trip), zucchini tart with fondue sauce, a wild herb soufflé, and porcini mushrooms served with polenta.  That would have been enough for any normal evening, but we pushed on with two beautifully cooked turbot twins on a bed of moreish potatoes, and an impressive tray of salt crusted seabass.

Matteo, "the wild child of Italy", kept us entertained with stories about his relations & upbringing, including his time in the navy, reminding us that whilst Luxardo is a worldwide brand, it is still just a family business.

Social media reaching the Italian hills

Small plates at Ristorante Cencio

Turbot twins at Ristorante Cencio

Salt Crusted Seabass

After the savoury courses, we had a pause with some Apricot Liqueur and Sangue Morlacco making its way round.  Hopefully, we might soon see Luxardo's Albicocca Liquore Della Lupa (Apricot liqueur of the she-wolf!) turning up in bars around the UK.  Lupa, the symbol of Rome, is reffered to after the liqueur won an award there all the way back in 1935!

Liqueur of the she-wolf

The evening finished in style with a boozy glass of vanilla ice cream laced with Sangue Morlacco and garnished with a luxurious Luxardo cherry.  The perfect nightcap ahead of a busy Friday.

Sangue Morlacco laced ice cream

Day 2 - After a healthy breakfast by the pool surrounded by octogenarians in loose-fitting dressing gowns, we made our way over to the Luxardo Distillery, a short drive away in Torreglia.  Before taking a tour, Matteo gave us a quick history lesson.

Girolamo Luxardo, originally from Genova, was sent to Zara in Dalmatia (now Zadar in Croatia) as consular representative of the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1817.  His first wife, Maria, was rather handy at making liqueurs using old monks' recipes, and in 1821 Girolamo founded a distillery to produce Maraschino. Girolamo was obviously quite a character, ending up with 20 kids (fifty years apart in age), and a second wife (originally intended for his son, but he fell in love with her on the boat from Ancona!).  

Fast forward almost century and 3rd generation Michelangelo Luxardo constructed an impressive modern distillery in Zara in 1913, though both World Wars caused closures and a lot of damage, and many family members lost their lives.  Matteo's grandfather Giorgio escaped with 3 families in 1947, and sensibly rebuilt safely outside of a city this time, in the Torreglian hills near Padua.

Firmly up to speed on the back story, we went for a wander to see the creative process behind their 5 lines - drinking liqueurs, confectionery liqueurs, fruit syrups, jams and of course, the famous cherries.

Vats from 1947 are still in use, ash for the 2 year Maraschino infusion (marasca cherry stones, pulps, leaves, branches et al) and larch as previously mentioned for the Sangue Morlacco.  Nearby, barrels of orange blossom, mandarin, bitter orange and sweet orange lie in wait to surprise a Triple Sec, one of many Luxardo products that hasn't made it to the UK yet.

No such problem for the Maraschino though, a mainstay of the majority of London back bars.  It's become an essential bottle, not only for Manhattan cocktails but also Aviation, Martinez, Hemingway Daiquiri and others.  It's one of a handful of liqueurs produced by distillation, making use once again of Luxardo's sour marasca cherries.

Matteo Luxardo

We soon moved to the futuristic bottling line, which was put through its paces in front of our eyes with some cheeky quality control tests via rogue pieces of paper.  Only James Cameron's T-2000 would have dealt with the obstacles more efficiently.

A little further on, the luxury jams were given a more hands on approach.  170g of fruit is used for 100g of jam, streets ahead of your average supermarket 55% fruit-based-ish jars.   Luxardo are famous in Italy for their confectionery products, but it's not a mass market thing for them.

The Luxardo Distillery from Matt The List on Vimeo.

Franco and Matteo Luxardo - father & son

Before a visit to one of their cherry orchards, we stopped for lunch at Ristorante di Rifugio Monte Rua, a secluded spot with a stunning view and food to match.

Su-Lin hard at work

Luxardo Aperitivo with prosecco set the tone for another excellent meal which kicked off with plates of zucchini, buffalo meat, sweet prosciutto and more.  

A cheeky plate of burrata & basil ravioli "sunflowers" with bitter chocolate shavings preceded cherry brandy soaked pork with Luxardo cherries on top, but dessert stole the show.  Peaches were flambéed live at the table with Maraschino & Sangue Morlacco, and then placed alongside semifreddo pannacotta & wild strawberries - heavenly.

Live flambéed peaches, Sangue Morlacco & Maraschino w/ pannacotta & wild strawberries
To end the Luxardo stage of the trip, we made a quick stop to look at one or two of their 29,000 marasca cherry trees, which had been harvested by just 4 people a week or two before our arrival.  To keep up with demand, the Luxardo family get local farmers to grow the cherries for them before buying them back.

Jars of the cherries bathed in sugar syrup fetch up to £8 (for 400g).  You will no doubt have had one as a garnish at some point in your life, most probably in an Aviation or a Manhattan.  They make a superb present for any budding home cocktail maker, and bartenders are always happy to receive another jar.

Cherry harvest in progress

Sour marasca cherries
Head to Matt The List on Facebook for more photos from Padua.

At this point we said goodbye to our wonderful Luxardo hosts and made tracks for Venice. An evening of spritzes, cicchetti and Don't Look Now references was ahead of us.

Free advertising for Luxardo

After a speedy turnaround at the hotel, we took to the canals of Venice to find some cosy bacari, the small bars that dish out spritzes galore and cicchetti, small plates of food, often eaten by hand or using toothpicks much like pintxos in the Basque regions of Spain.

Osteria alla Ciurma was our first stop for arancini (fried rice balls), baccala (salt cod) croquettes and bargain €3 Aperol spritzes.  In fact, despite staying only a little bit off the beaten tourist track, the cost of spritzes remained pleasantly low all night.  The high price tags attached to this "cocktail" in the UK are laughable.

Next up was the lively Cantina do Spade which lacked the basic ingredients for G&Ts and Negronis, so more spritzes arrived, along with some more fried zucchini flowers (eaten at every meal so far).

All the cicchetti were just a warm up for an enjoyable dinner at Antico Dolo, though the speakeasy style toilet and funky English translations (crunky nougat anyone?) left the biggest impression.  We washed down tasty local food (polenta, squid ink pasta, more courgettes) with Cartizze prosecco, the highly-rated variety often referred to as the "Grand Cru of Prosecco" that even has a bar named after it in London.

Whilst some went off to find one more canal-side bacaro, Craig and I came across an open air showing of Brazil vs Colombia.  We ordered two dreadful negronis and settled in for the second half near a bunch of hopeful Colombian fans.  45 minutes later, they weren't so happy, James Rodriguez was in tears and Neymar was on his way to hospital.  Bed time.

Day 3 - We had a free morning before our flight home so I squeezed in a trip to the Doge's Palace (Bridge of Sighs and all that), a 30 second gondola ride, a quick whip round the Guggenheim and some more food & drink.

View from the Bridge of Sighs

The Angel of the City at the Guggenheim

Cheeky sculptures inspired by Picasso sketches

Peggy Guggenheim's dogs

Our last stops were the classic Caffe Rosso for one last spritz, Grom for superb gelato and Ristorante Terrazza del Casin dei Nobili for lunch on the waterfront.

Ristorante Terrazza del Casin dei Nobili

Pasta with Arugula Pesto & Prawns

Il Cagalibri - type that into Google

And what better way to end the trip than by travelling to the airport in a speedboat driven by a fashionable Venetian called Mario?

The Cocktail Lovers

It was a short stay in Venice and Padua, but we certainly made the most of it.  The Italians know what they are doing, and I expect I will be back in that part of the world before too long.  

Endless thanks to Su-Lin, Craig from Cellar Trends and the Luxardo family for organizing such a fantastic trip filled with outstanding food and drink in glorious settings.  If only every weekend was like this...

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