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Friday 4 December 2015

The Hour Glass - The Fir Room at Piquet - Brunswick House

Today on the blog - a quick round up of some fine eats from last week:

Wednesday 25th November - The Hour Glass was refurbished and reopened as a pub and dining room a few months ago by Dave Turcan and Luke Mackay, who also own Brompton Food Market, a highly-rated food shop and deli near South Kensington station. The ground floor pub is a traditional boozer - a nice place for a pint and a bar snack, though the beer selection is behind the times. Upstairs, you'll find Chef Luke Mackay's dining room, a calm and cosy space for unfussy, upmarket pub grub.

I only had 60 minutes to spare at The Hour GlassAside from being mathematically and thematically pleasing, this was a good test of their lunchtime efficiency. I just about managed to get through bar snacks, starters and a main, though an Uber was required to get me to my next destination in time.

Bar snacks arrived in no time. The pick of the bunch, unsurprisingly, were the Rare breed Cumberland Scotch egg and the Rare breed herb & pancetta sausage roll. Add in Triple cooked beef dripping chips and some Montgomery Cheddar Welsh Rarebit and you probably wouldn't need to order anything else.

Starters also impressed. Wood pigeon with pickled quince, black pudding and toasted hazelnuts was a quartet of our favourite foods, smartly combined, and Potted Rabbit with Bacon Butter, Toast & Gherkins was full of flavour and generously portioned.

By the time my Flat iron steak with dripping chips, bone marrow gravy & watercress arrived, I was looking at my watch - my fault not theirs. But I couldn't leave behind those chips. Or anything else on the plate for that matter. I'm so often underwhelmed by mains after exciting starters, but this was glorious. Shame I had to wolf it down! [Don't pretend you would have eaten it any slower]

So I departed, leaving Dad The List and our foodie friend Chris to enjoy dessert at their own pace. They were so full up at this stage that they shared a delicious pudding of blackberry and almond tart with crème fraîche. This was a first for them as they are more likely to order two puddings each than admit to being beaten.  The other two puds on offer were buttermilk pudding, damsons and honey, and chocolate & porter cake with cornflake ice cream and honeycomb.  As he wrote this after a light breakfast on a freezing morning, Dad the List cannot imagine how he failed to sample all three!

The Hour Glass -

279-283 Brompton Road, SW3 2DY

Mon-Sat 12pm-11pm / Sun 12pm-10.30pm

Square Meal

The Hour Glass Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Thursday 26th November - Allan Pickett's Piquet arrived a couple of months ago, and handily picked up 4 stars from Fay Maschler not long after opening, and a great review more recently from Jay Rayner:

"...energetic, with an ear to the ground" - **** Evening Standard

"Piquet is terrific..." - The Guardian

Fay & Jay were referring to the downstairs dining room, which is only half of Piquet's premise. On the ground floor, you'll find The Fir Room where I spent most of an evening last week. Both levels show off Allan Pickett's combination of English and French cuisine, but The Fir Room is a more relaxed affair, perfect for a quick bite at lunch, sharing plates with friends, or even just a drink at the attractive bar.

We worked our way through some taster plates from The Fir Room's menu - photos you see below don't represent the larger portions that you would receive! Highlights included:

- Piquet Charcuterie Board - Rillette, Terrine, Ham, Coppa, Toast & Pickles - £12.00
- Le Piggy Burger - Smoked Patty, Pulled Pork, Streaky Bacon, Chips - £10.00
- Pork Crackling, Picked Crab with Espelette Pepper - £7.50
- Plancha Cooked Mackerel, Horseradish Cream - £6.50
- Pigs Head Croquettes with Sauce Gribiche - £5.00

Pork Crackling, Picked Crab with Espelette Pepper

Pork Crackling, Picked Crab with Espelette Pepper

Piquet Charcuterie Board - Rillette, Terrine, Ham, Coppa, Toast & Pickles

Pigs Head Croquettes with Sauce Gribiche

Pigs Head Croquettes with Sauce Gribiche

Le Piggy Burger - Smoked Patty, Pulled Pork, Streaky Bacon, Chips

Le Piggy Burger - Smoked Patty, Pulled Pork, Streaky Bacon, Chips

The standout plate (or rather bowl) was a comforting Casserole of Cod Cheeks, Baby Squid, and Haricot Blanc which would set you back £9.50 in The Fir Room, or £16.50 downstairs. It prompted several cries of "Please Sir, I want some more".  In this case, Sir was GM Alain Morice, a charming host and knowledgeable sommelier who kept us in line with several fine wines (and a sherry):

- Casa de Passarella, A Descoberta Branco, Dao,2014
- Santiago Ruiz, O'Rosal Albariño, Rias Baixas, 2014
- Ivo Pages, Me Gusta Tu, Tempranillo, Catalunya, 2013
- Gutierrez Colosia, Amontillado Seco, Sherry

There's plenty to enjoy at The Fir Room, and I hope to return soon for the full dining experience downstairs, especially when you can get 3 courses for £19.50 at lunch and pre-theatre.

The Fir Room at Piquet -

92-94 Newman Street, W1T 3EZ

Mon-Sat 11am-11pm / Sun closed

Square Meal

Piquet Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Monday 23rd November - Speaking of great value lunches, there aren't many better than those on offer at Jackson Boxer's Brunswick House in Vauxhall (whose "weekend lunch" I mentioned a month or so ago). 

Two courses for £16, or three for £19, 12pm-3pm, Monday-Friday, surrounded by all manner of mirrors, chandeliers and decorative elephants? Don't mind if I do. Be sure to look around LASSCO's rooms and cellars if you have time - I got a a bit snap happy as you can see.

Mirrors and lighting at Brunswick House

The menu changes regularly, but this is the sort of high-calibre food that you can expect:

- Squid, Charred Leek Puree, Confit Lemon
- Ox Tongue Pastrami, Radish & Capers
- Chanterelles & Smoked Egg Yolk

- Hake, Buttermilk Potato Puree, Bottarga
- Dexter Skirt Steak, Red Cabbage, Cauliflower & Yeast
- Salt Baked Celeriac, Parmesan Butter & Grellot Onion
- Roast Pumpkin, Marmite Butter

- Chocolate & Walnut
- Ardrahan, Quince, Thyme & Orange

The superb staff are always primed to expand on the economically described dishes. My standout dishes from lunch, in greater detail, would read as follows:

- Squid Noodles Sautéed in Coriander & Lime, Purée of Grilled Leeks and Squid Ink, Confit Lemon, Onion Ash

- Chargrilled Dexter Skirt, Yeasted Cauliflower Purée, Buttered Cavolo, Red Cabbage & Apple Mustard

I'm not sure which I'd prefer to see on the menu, but I'm always happy to have a chat with servers when they've got all the facts and more up their sleeves.

Squid, Charred Leek Puree, Confit Lemon

Chandeliers at LASSCO's Brunswick House

Chandeliers at LASSCO's Brunswick House

Hake, Buttermilk Potato Puree, Bottarga

The Cellars at Brunswick House

The Cellars at Brunswick House

Dexter Skirt Steak, Red Cabbage, Cauliflower & Yeast

A grand room at Brunswick House

The Cellars at Brunswick House

Glorious food, beautiful surroundings, great service.
3 courses for £19.

Brunswick House -

30 Wandsworth Road, Vauxhall, SW8 2LG

Monday 30 November 2015

Shaken Cocktails - Balcony Booze #2

Today I'll be looking at Shaken Cocktails DIY bartending kits in more detail after a weekend of #balconybooze mixology experiments at home (that you can see more of on Matt The Tumblr).

What's in the box?

Booze! Spirits, liqueurs, tinctures, bitters etc. Nothing perishable. Enough to make four cocktails plus a little extra for that all-important quality control taste test beforehand. There's also instructions and tips on how to make the cocktails, plus some interesting background information on the ingredients and recipes. Their introductory bourbon kit came with quite a large, wordy booklet, but I much preferred the smaller leaflet and cards included in the Reyka Vodka kit. The box itself is nice and sturdy, and pleasing to open - and I love the cheeky recycling message inside (see above!).

How much do they cost?

Each box costs £24 (including shipping), and it's technically a subscription / members service called the Shaken Explorer's Club. After you've chosen your first kit (Aviation or Manhattan), one box arrives every month, but you can pause / stop the service at any time, Netflix-style. Members will also occasionally get invites to special cocktail events.  Alternatively, you can give Shaken Cocktails boxes as gifts, in 1, 3, 6 or 12 month packages.

What do I need?

Basic cocktail equipment for starters - go and raid your nearest Nisbets for a Boston shaker, a Hawthorne strainer, a fine strainer, a mixing glass, measures / jiggers, and a bar spoon. If you are feeling fancy, get yourself a Mexican elbow - it's my favourite toy. Almost all of the glassware you can see in this post was rescued from charity shops. 

The boxes never contain perishable items so you might have to get hold of some limes, lemons, oranges etc. You'll definitely be needing some ice, ideally crystal clear which is hard to achieve from tap water. Try freezing a whole ice cream tub of water, and chip off the rubbish bits. Alternatively, buy a bag in from the supermarket, or steal some from your local pub! Or ignore me being fussy and use ice cube trays like a regular person. I'm a big fan of Tovolo's giant ice cubes and spheres too. Take it to the next level and make a Negroni cocktail sphere.

Are the cocktails easy to make?

Very. The instructions are clear and simple, and as long as you have the required basic cocktail equipment (see above), you should be able to whip up a cocktail in under a minute! Funnily enough, in both of the kits that I looked at (focused on Four Roses Bourbon and Reyka Vodka), there wasn't a "shaken" cocktail in sight. All four drinks were either stirred in a mixing glass, or built and stirred in the cocktail glass itself. Here's an example:

Equinox - get a stirring glass, a spoon, and a chilled martini / wine glass

- 50 ml Reyka Vodka
- 10 ml Dolin Blanc
- 10 ml Lillet Blanc
- 10 drops of black pepper tincture
- Ice cubes
- Lemon twist

Chill your glass. Half-fill a large stirring glass with ice. Add all the liquid ingredients and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into your chilled glass and garnish with a twist of lemon.

Easy peasy. I tend to chill my glassware in the freezer for a couple of mins, but if you don't have space, fill the glass with ice and discard it just before you strain the cocktail.

Is it a high quality product?

Yep. In quite a coup, they've got legendary bartender Dick Bradsell on board to oversee all of the recipes, so you can definitely trust the specs.

Shaken endeavour to use high quality spirits and liqueurs, and it's no surprise that top brands want to get their booze in to the hands of cocktail aficionados. I particularly enjoyed the Reyka Vodka which was new to me, and I was impressed by the generous provision of Bitter Truth Orange Bitters in the Manhattan / Bourbon box. Perhaps they could include something a little more exciting than Martini Rosso on the Sweet Vermouth side, especially when that category is booming - Belsazar Red or Cocchi di Torino would go down well.

Is it just for beginners?

Not necessarily, though they will definitely get the most out of an Explorer's Club subscription. As an experienced backseat cocktail maker, I enjoyed trying out a few new drinks and discovering some new brands, but I've built up enough of a back bar that I don't need these kits to explore new recipes. It's an expensive hobby though, and if you want to get into it gradually without spending a fortune on booze all in one go, then Shaken Cocktails are for you. With a different focus every month, you are bound to discover something new that you didn't think you'd like - don't skip that Tequila box, it'll be the best one...


Two thumbs up. £24 is about right, especially as there's a fair amount left over after you've made four drinks. The kits are easy to use, the booze is high quality, the recipes are trustworthy, and the extra facts included regarding the cocktails and spirits will stand you in good stead next time you are propping up a bar.

I wouldn't be a proper Matt The Journalist if I didn't mention the competition. In London, you can also turn to Taste Cocktails, who offer an almost identical service. Both companies are currently seeking investment to take things to the next level.

My American readers *cue tumbleweed* have a few similar options, including Cocktail Courier, Saloon Box (a Kickstarter success), and my personal favourite, Crafted Taste, who go all out and give you FULL BOTTLES of booze (at considerable cost of course!). There's a tonne of stuff out there, as this Trendhunter article shows.

You can find all of my Shaken Cocktails photos and thoughts on each drink on Matt The Tumblr

Shaken Cocktails -

Balcony Booze #2

I've been warned.

Last time out on Balcony Booze, I kept it brief with a beer and a cocktail, but with Christmas approaching, thoughts turn to presents. Here are some more substantial things that you might want to ask Father Christmas for. Click on the pictures for more info.

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