Here are my latest reviews.

Wines of Argentina Barullo Festival in London

For four days in October, Wines of Argentina recently hosted their Barullo Festival, celebrating the country’s finest music, art, wine, and of course, food, with Michelin 2* chef Mauro Colagreco.

It’s not every day that you get to sample the products of 40 of Argentina’s best winemakers from every region so I go along to JJ Studios in Bethnal Green, to see what’s on offer.Read more...

Two Exceptional Winter Reds from New Zealand

Now the nights are getting colder, it's worth stocking up on red wines, particularly those that go well with hearty meat dishes.

George Fistonich harvested his first grapes back in 1962 and Villa Maria is now at the forefront of the New Zealand wine industry, winning many awards. These two single varietals from the Private Bin range are fine examples of his reds. Read more...

Zia Lucia – Real Pizza on the Holloway Road, Islington London

The Holloway Road, in North London, is not normally a place you’d choose to dine, let alone sit out on the pavement and enjoy glorious Italian Pizza. However Zia Lucia is the new kid on the block and, judging by the queues outside on a Tuesday night, is a definite hit.

The interior is all bare brick, wood floor and hanging pendant lamps, filled with small tables each with its own bottle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar plus a flask of water filled with stalks of mint, just enough to give it a little tang. In the corner is the huge pizza oven, imported from Naples and affectionately named Dante.

They pride themselves on their 48 hour slow fermented dough and you get a choice of traditional, gluten free, wholemeal or vegetable charcoal for your pizza base. Whilst we’re trying to decide we opt for Tagliere, a plate of cheese, cured meats, olives and honey to share. Pecorino, dolcelatte, Taleggio goat cheese plus Parma ham, mortadella and speck mean that we begin to worry whether we’ll have room for the pizza since portions are so generous.

Now the big choice and the main reason we’re here. There’s standard Margherita with tomato, mozzarella and basil at £6.90, through Ndjuza, tomato, mozzarella and spicy pork sausage, to top of the range Arriana, with mozzarella, fresh sausage, goat cheese, pecorino and truffle honey at £10.80. We’ve overdosed on meat, so opt for the Ortolana, which has a topping of tomato, mozzarella, aubergines, peppers and courgettes. We upgrade to Buffalo Mozzarella for an extra £2.50. I ask about the vegetable charcoal base and am told that the black powder is added to the dough mix and left to prove. It’s meant to aid digestion and claims many health benefits so we go for it.

When it arrives it’s certainly striking, the crust crispy on the outside and slightly chewy and doughy inside, but definitely black all over. I’m not convinced it’s as tasty as a traditional base but it has a pleasantly bitter tang. What’s on top is certainly full of flavour, a generous selection of vegetables surrounded by slices of the mozzarella oozing goodness. Add to that a dollop of their chilli oil and you're certainly not getting anything bland.

I worry that the desserts will be standard Italian restaurant fare, bought in from outside. But both the tiramisu and the cheesecake are advertised as being homemade, and so they are. The intense yellow of Italian egg yolks stands out in both dishes and the cheesecake is baked, still slightly warm with a delicate crust. The tiramisu is so rich that we’re in heart attack territory but we press on regardless.

 

Real Italian pizza is something new on the Holloway road. Zia Lucia is a welcome addition to the culinary desert that is this part of London and the locals are flocking here. That makes booking essential if you want to get a table. If you're disappointed, they do takeaway as well.

Zia Lucia 157 Holloway Road, N7 020 7700 3708. Open Tues-Sun, 11.30am-10.30pm.

Jenkyn Place Vertical English Sparkling Wine

I’m invited to a vertical tasting of five Jenkyn Place sparkling wines, from 2006 to 2010, with the owner, Simon Bladon and his winemaker, Dermot Sugrue.

Situated just outside Farnham, on the North Hampshire Downs, the vineyards of Jenkyn Place cover around five hectares, on a chalky south-facing slope. Simon Bladon was inspired to grow grapes here after he’d tasted the sparkling wine at Nyetimber vineyards, around 40 miles to the South. His first vines were planted in 2004, on abandoned hop fields, and he tells me that the greensand soil is ideal for growing the classic Champagne grape varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Encouraged by his first vintage in 2006, he added more vines in 2007 and 2010 and he now produces around 55,000 bottles a year on average. He’s been helped by Dermot Sugrue, a talented young Irish winemaker who’s based at the Wiston Estate Winery, 90 minutes away. His enthusiasm for English sparkling wine is boundless and he’s confident that it’s got a great future. It has a lower PH than its French counterparts, which means more acidity, making it crisper on the palate. In many ways it shouldn’t be compared to Champagne as it’s almost a different drink. Of course it’s made using the traditional Champagne method, from classic grape varieties and spends around three years on the lees before being disgorged and aged in the bottle.

Simon and Dermot are both of the opinion that their sparkling wine doesn’t really reach its peak until 8-10 years after the harvest, so we set about a vertical tasting. It’s only around eight months since disgorgement but already the Brut Cuvee 2010 has got a freshness and a glacial quality which is only going to get better. I get a sense of pure, bright citrus, followed by tropical fruits, quince and baked bread. 2009 was an exceptional year, the vintage is more complex. This distinctly flinty, ripe, creamy orchard fruit is in the background. It’s still going to be around three more years before it reaches its peak, but you’d better be quick as there’s not much left.

I get to try the 2008 vintage which is the first wine that Dermot made here, and it’s good but not quite up to the standard of the 2009. The 2008, 2007 and 2006 are already sold out, so there’s no chance of buying any. What I find from my tasting is that the wine has become more refined, particularly after Dermot became involved, and it’s just going to get better. People are still skeptica

Jenkyn Place Vertical English Sparkling Wine

I’m invited to a vertical tasting of five Jenkyn Place sparkling wines, from 2006 to 2010, with the owner, Simon Bladon and his winemaker, Dermot Sugrue.

Situated just outside Farnham, on the North Hampshire Downs, the vineyards of Jenkyn Place cover around five hectares, on a chalky south-facing slope. Simon Bladon was inspired to grow grapes here after he’d tasted the sparkling wine at Nyetimber vineyards, around 40 miles to the South. His first vines were planted in 2004, on abandoned hop fields, and he tells me that the greensand soil is ideal for growing the classic Champagne grape varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Encouraged by his first vintage in 2006, he added more vines in 2007 and 2010 and he now produces around 55,000 bottles a year on average. He’s been helped by Dermot Sugrue, a talented young Irish winemaker who’s based at the Wiston Estate Winery, 90 minutes away. His enthusiasm for English sparkling wine is boundless and he’s confident that it’s got a great future. It has a lower PH than its French counterparts, which means more acidity, making it crisper on the palate. In many ways it shouldn’t be compared to Champagne as it’s almost a different drink. Of course it’s made using the traditional Champagne method, from classic grape varieties and spends around three years on the lees before being disgorged and aged in the bottle.

Simon and Dermot are both of the opinion that their sparkling wine doesn’t really reach its peak until 8-10 years after the harvest, so we set about a vertical tasting. It’s only around eight months since disgorgement but already the Brut Cuvee 2010 has got a freshness and a glacial quality which is only going to get better. I get a sense of pure, bright citrus, followed by tropical fruits, quince and baked bread. 2009 was an exceptional year, the vintage is more complex. This distinctly flinty, ripe, creamy orchard fruit is in the background. It’s still going to be around three more years before it reaches its peak, but you’d better be quick as there’s not much left.

I get to try the 2008 vintage which is the first wine that Dermot made here, and it’s good but not quite up to the standard of the 2009. The 2008, 2007 and 2006 are already sold out, so there’s no chance of buying any. What I find from my tasting is that the wine has become more refined, particularly after Dermot became involved, and it’s just going to get better. People are still skeptical about English Sparkling Wine, but at Jenkyn Place they're producing really high quality fizz.

Jenkyn Place has more information on the wines and the vineyard. They can also arrange visits and tastings.

Jenkyn Place Vertical English Sparkling Wine

I’m invited to a vertical tasting of five Jenkyn Place sparkling wines, from 2006 to 2010, with the owner, Simon Bladon and his winemaker, Dermot Sugrue.

Situated just outside Farnham, on the North Hampshire Downs, the vineyards of Jenkyn Place cover around five hectares, on a chalky south-facing slope. Simon Bladon was inspired to grow grapes here after he’d tasted the sparkling wine at Nyetimber vineyards, around 40 miles to the South. His first vines were planted in 2004, on abandoned hop fields, and he tells me that the greensand soil is ideal for growing the classic Champagne grape varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Encouraged by his first vintage in 2006, he added more vines in 2007 and 2010 and he now produces around 55,000 bottles a year on average. He’s been helped by Dermot Sugrue, a talented young Irish winemaker who’s based at the Wiston Estate Winery, 90 minutes away. His enthusiasm for English sparkling wine is boundless and he’s confident that it’s got a great future. It has a lower PH than its French counterparts, which means more acidity, making it crisper on the palate. In many ways it shouldn’t be compared to Champagne as it’s almost a different drink. Of course it’s made using the traditional Champagne method, from classic grape varieties and spends around three years on the lees before being disgorged and aged in the bottle.

Simon and Dermot are both of the opinion that their sparkling wine doesn’t really reach its peak until 8-10 years after the harvest, so we set about a vertical tasting. It’s only around eight months since disgorgement but already the Brut Cuvee 2010 has got a freshness and a glacial quality which is only going to get better. I get a sense of pure, bright citrus, followed by tropical fruits, quince and baked bread. 2009 was an exceptional year, the vintage is more complex. This distinctly flinty, ripe, creamy orchard fruit is in the background. It’s still going to be around three more years before it reaches its peak, but you’d better be quick as there’s not much left.

I get to try the 2008 vintage which is the first wine that Dermot made here, and it’s good but not quite up to the standard of the 2009. The 2008, 2007 and 2006 are already sold out, so there’s no chance of buying any. What I find from my tasting is that the wine has become more refined, particularly after Dermot became involved, and it’s just going to get better. People are still skeptical.

Simon Hopkinson Cooks

Simon Hopkinson is one of my favourite cookery writers and a very well-thumbed copy of his Roast Chicken and Other Stories is often my first point of reference when I'm looking for inspiration. So I was enormously excited to receive a copy of his latest book, Simon Hopkinson Cooks, designed to accompany his recent More4 TV series of the same name.

I have to say I missed the programmes but I can get the idea as the book is laid out, rather unconventionally, in 12 different menus, presumably an episode each. They range from a continental supper to a very British luncheon and there are sumptuous photos of most of the dishes.

As always, he doesn't disappoint, although I can't really see myself cooking complete menus, tempting although they may be. Rather it's enough to turn the pages and embrace his innovative take on old favourites. Unusually for a cook book, he has a number of cocktail recipes and I suppose these were deemed necessary for TV.

I'm not sure I need instructions on how to make a bacon sandwich either, but I loved his baked almond and raspberry soufflé puddings. There's some great stuff here and it does what all good food books should – it makes you very hungry indeed.

Pictures courtesy of Simon Hopkinson Cooks, published by the Ebury Press at £25.

On November 13, 2013, Simon will share the stage with The Magdalen Chapter's Head Chef Ben Bulger at The Magdalen Chapter, Magdalen Street, Exeter EX2 4HY at 7pm. Together the pair will entertain diners with their anecdotes of kitchen life and share an array of professional tips. Guests will enjoy some of Simon's favourite dishes – many of which appeared on his, Simon Hopkinson Cooks. The menu includes his favourite Prawn Cocktail, followed by Roast Lamb with anchovy, rosemary and garlic served with Gratin de Jabron. The meal will culminate with Simon's famous Sherry Trifle.

Tickets for One Night Only with Simon Hopkinson on November 13 are priced at £65 including a 5 course feast with accompanying wine. For more information telephone 01392 281000.

Ayrshire Veal and Fine Wine Evening at The Jugged Hare, London

Part of a series of wine themed dinners at the Jugged Hare, Ben Weatherall, of The Blackface Meat Company, gives us a chance to judge the quality of his veal.

The Jugged Hare
49 Chiswell St,
London EC1Y 4SA
020 7614 0134
www.thejuggedhare.com

The Jugged Hare is now owned by those fine folks from the Gun, in Canary Wharf, and they certainly know what they're doing. The event is held in the downstairs dining room which holds around 50 people, and Sommelier Guillaume Mahaut introduces each of his wine selections, with Ben Weatherall giving notes on the meat.

Veal in the UK has had a chequered past, with animal welfare scandals making diners boycott it, but that's al changing. A few years ago, Ben observed that the male calves on his brother's farm in Ayrshire were being destroyed at birth so he wondered whether they could be reared for their meat. He got restaurants interested and the results are very special. The calves are kept in open sheds for 6 months and the resulting meat, rather than being white in colour like Dutch veal, has a pinkish hue.

The starter is veal rump carpaccio, cider braised veal cheek croquette, radish piccalilli, and red sorrel. This is Chef Richard O'Connell's masterstroke, with the slightly acid radish setting off the carpaccio, and the deep fried croquette giving the dish depth. The white Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, di Gino, San Lorenzo, Marche, Italy 2010 is a good match and doesn't overwhelm the flavours.

Next is a milk-fed veal liver parfait with gooseberries, with their tartness a good foil for the liver. The wine is a Côtes de Ventoux, L'Eclat, Domaine Fondrèche, Rhône, France 2011. I'm not convinced by this and would prefer something sweeter, like a Sauterne that you might serve with Foie Gras.

I can't really complain about the peppered veal 'Wellington' with minted snow peas, nettle and pea purée and almond jus. It's a huge chunk of meat, wrapped in succulent pastry case, and pink, yet not too rare, delicious. The Pinot Noir, Château Citaux, Domaine Bouzereau, Burgundy, France 2010 also works well with it.

The cheese is a Dunsyre Blue from South Lanarkshire and is served with a peach and pepper chutney. It's nicely piquant and merits further investigation. Wine is a Valpolicella Classico, Bonacosta, Masi, Veneto, Italy 2011, a bit thin for my taste.

A second masterstroke from Richard O'Connell is the dessert. Match small shoots of rhubarb and panacotta with liquorice ice cream and add sherbet tuile and you have a great way of finishing an excellent meal. I also enjoy the Coteaux du Layon, Baumar, Loire, France 2010.

The next event at the Jugged Hare is a Wild Scottish salmon and Riesling Wine Evening on Wednesday 10th July 2013.

Scotch Beef PGI at Plateau Restaurant London

I'm invited to a Scotch Beef PGI dinner at the Plateau Restaurant, in Canary Wharf, with a 6 course tasting menu, uniquely created by head chef Allan Pickett, with matching wines selected by his sommelier.

Plateau
4th Floor, Canada Place,
London, E14 5ER
020 7715 7100
www.plateau-restaurant.co.uk

Canary Wharf on a Saturday evening is almost deserted, a sort of sunny ghost town, but I'm greeted by a glass of champagne in the Plateau bar. As we sit down in the private dining room there's an introduction to Scotch Beef from Laurent Vernet, Head of Marketing at QMS, Quality Meat Scotland.

He tells us that it's over 20 years since the launch of the current quality assurance schemes behind the Scotch Beef PGI label. These guarantee the provenance, production methods and quality of the meat from farm to plate. He tells us that red meat is a good source of iron, zinc and B vitamins, ideal as part of a healthy balanced diet. Tonight all the meat will be Scotch Beef PGI so we can taste and judge for ourselves.

After an amuse bouche we start with a beef tartare with quail's egg yolk and onion bread. This is a brave thing to do, given qualms about eating raw meat, but it's delicious and goes down well with the wine, a 2011 Casamatta Rossi by Bibi Greatz from Tuscany. It proves the excellence of the beef and leaves me in no doubt that the quality assurance schemes are working.

Next is a beef tea with tortellini of ox tail, again another risky tactic of Chef Allan Pickett to serve parts of the cow many people won't touch. For me this is one of the highlights of the evening and is matched with a 2011 Pinot Noir, La Petit Clos from Clos Henri in New Zealand.

Before the main we get a salt & sugar cured carpaccio with wild rocket, dressed with aged balsamic vinegar and 24 month old parmesan. It's a brilliant combination of cheese and cured beef and is washed down with a 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alpataco, from Argentina.

Now, as you'd expect, the main course is roast fillet of beef, with a boulangère of cheek, caramelized shallot purée and Burgundy sauce. Fortunately it's not overcooked and is rare enough to savour the true taste of the meat. The wine is a 2010 Silver Label Monastrell from Juan Gill in Spain, a perfect match for steak of this quality.


I really can't eat any more but there's a citrus sorbet with poured champagne, to cleanse the pallet, before a dessert of white chocolate mousse with raspberries and sorbet. Add to that a glass of 2010 Graves Superieures, from Chateau Mouras in France, and it's a great way to finish off an excellent meal. I'm now fully persuaded of the high quality of Scotch Beef PGI, greatly aided by the skill of Chef Allan Pickett of the Plateau.

If you want to eat Scotch Beef in a restaurant you can find one near you from their website.
If you want to cook for yourself check out Scotch Beef's Facebook page for recipes.

Matching Beer and Cider Dinner at Galvin Café a Vin, in Spitalfields, London

The culmination of the Galvin Brothers first British beer week at Galvin Café a Vin, in Spitalfields, is a five-course dinner matching beers and ciders with chef Jack Boast's dishes.

Galvin Café a Vin
35 Spital Square,
London, E1 6DY
020 7299 0404
www.galvinrestaurants.com

Tasting menus, where wines are paired with gourmet dishes, are all the rage in restaurants throughout the world, but this is the first time I've been to a dinner with matched beers and ciders...read more

Chéz Gerard Offers Succulent Steaks in the Heart of the City of London

Chéz Gerard is a direct descendant of what we used to call Steak Houses. Although there's some fish on the menu, this is really a paradise for carnivores.

Chéz Gerard
64 Bishopsgate,
London EC2N 4AW
020 7588 1200
www.chezgerard.co.uk

It's a cold wintery April evening as we make our way through a deserted city to Chéz Gerard...read more

Stars, Food & Art Gourmet Charity Event at The Balcon, Sofitel London St James

Four chefs, Raymond Blanc, Christophe Muller, Michael Moore and Guy Krenzer, with five Michelin stars between them, each prepare a course, complemented by wines selected by Baron Philippe de Rothschild.

The Balcon London
8 Pall Mall London SW1Y 5NG
www.sofitelstjames.com

This event, Stars, Food and Art, has been held in various countries since 2007 but it's the first time it's come to London...Read more

FishWorks Hold Its First Wine Connoisseur Evening in Piccadilly

Pairing extremely fresh Brixham fish with Loire wines is an excellent idea, particularly when the grower comes along to talk about his tipple.

 

 

 

FishWorks, in its new incarnation, has now slimmed down to just three restaurants in London, but if the food at Swallow Street is anything to go by, then each are worth a visit...Read more 

 

Brasserie Blanc Offers Rustic French Food at Accessible Prices

Raymond Blanc brings his unique touch to sensible, no nonsense dining, at outlets throughout the UK

 

 

Now a major presence on the high street, with 20 Brasserie Blancs in key cities and towns across the UK, it seems that the brand is here to stay... Read more

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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