Monday, 31 October 2011

And The UK’s Most Popular Burger Flavour Is....

By Christian Rose-Day.

We Brits are a simply lot, it seems. Traditional, reserved, and uncomplicated; aside from that there cricket. We know what we like, and we know what we don’t like. Any deviation from the norm only strengthens our habit-forming resolve.

This is why 100% West Country English beef combined with salad, mayo and relish is our most popular type of burger. Tamely, and rather aptly, named The Classic, this burger is the biggest seller at 54-strong burger joint, GBK, or the Gourmet Burger Kitchen, to give it its full regal title.Try as they might to persuade us to veer from the conventional, the three New Zealander owners of GBK have not managed to ply us with as many Habanero or Avocado Bacon burgers as they have The Classic.“People will get a Classic, a Classic, a Classic,” says Kiwi Peter Gordon (pictured above), GBK’s (celebrity) Chef in Chief, and owner of The Providores in Marylebone and Kopapa restaurant in Covent Garden. “Then one week they decide they want something different and order the Chorizo burger, but then the next time will come back to the Classic again. It’s like the brunch we do at Providores for people who’ve been coming twenty Saturdays every year for 10 years: they always always always order exactly the same thing. They come in and think ‘I’m going to order something different’ and then just cant because what they get is what they really love.”

I spoke with Peter at the 10th Anniversary of GBK (coincidentally the same week in which the All Blacks won the Rugby World Cup) at the Northcote Road restaurant, the very first in the chain.

“I’d like to think it’s the Kiwi burger [that is most popular] with the pineapple, beetroot and a fried egg but our Blue Cheese comes a close second. And now, Tim, who is the Head of Food for GBK, has introduced a non-mayonnaise blue cheese so it’s just a slab of gorgonzola instead of cheese mixed with mayonnaise.”

“So is there a difference between the UK and NZ burger joints?” I asked.

“In New Zealand they can be a little bit more adventurous because it’s a smaller market. They can make changes quite quickly. But burger tastes are quite similar. People want a slightly smokey, BBQ, slightly charcoal slab of meat, and they want it to be nice and moist. I don’t think there’s too much difference but in NZ you could put on something like a Tandoori burger whereas here it might look a bit naff. But then the whole Indian food culture isn’t so prevalent there.”

So maybe it’s because there’s just so many more of us in the UK that we always turn to the simply option. Or maybe it’s because us Brits are already diverse in ourselves, living a multi-cultural existence outside of our burger homes. Or maybe it’s simply because The Classic is the cheapest option on the menu and we’re just a nation of frugal diners.

Incidentally, the Northcote Road restaurant has just been given a new facelift, and now looks more like a cross between a rustic New Zealand holiday ‘batch’ and an American diner. Hopefully the same treatment will be dished out to all the other GBK venues shortly.Peter had the Wild Boar burger, which he hadn’t tried for some time, and which looked like it might have made poor Peter shed a tear or two. Perhaps it was hotter than he remembered.

I had the Minted Lamb burger, which was much more delicate compared to some of the behemoth creations coming out of the GBK kitchen. I also had the Oreo Milkshake for afters which is delicious but only recommended if you order a small burger as your main. Trust me!

Chocolate: Unwrapped!!

By Laura Collins.

Fast, slow or any which way you can get it? Unwrap and find out.

Do you prefer it slow and fruity or do you prefer it bitter and fast? Don’t be shy now, everyone enjoys it differently. It’s a personal preference and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. It can be a hard decision for some – people may like a mix of fast and slow – but I know exactly how I like it and that is how I will do it every time from now on.

I only found out just how much I like doing it slowly last week. I had my own personal investigation with a professional and extremely knowledgeable gentleman last weekend. He taught me everything he knows so I managed to try it fast and try it slow. The slow way was for me. It was flavoursome and pleasurable, whereas the fast was more bitter and dry. The slow way allowed all the true flavours to come out and was much more memorable and enjoyable. Just thinking about it makes me hot under the collar and gets my mouth salivating. I never knew I could get so involved; with chocolate. I never thought the very process of eating it would be so enjoyable, but now I know I don’t think my experiences will ever be the same again. That’s right, I had an education in chocolate and it was certainly a learning curve that was a treat to the tastebuds.Learning to eat chocolate properly is as interesting as it is tasty. It showed me that eating chocolate isn’t a purely gluttonous indulgence; it’s an art form. To really taste the cocoa bean and allow it time to melt, you have to savour the experience. This lesson came to me from a company called Seventy Percent just one of the exhibitors at Chocolate Unwrapped, a two-day show dedicated to the nation’s favourite treat.

Held in the impressive surroundings of Vinopolis and timed for the end of National Chocolate Week, Chocolate Unwrapped brought together some of the world’s best chocolatiers and chocolate companies. It allowed visitors to experience chocolate from all over the globe. They could taste it, drink it, carve it and even write with it. There was everything from chocolate brownies and chocolate truffles to chocolate fondue and chocolate wine. There was even a chocolate graffiti wall that people could etch their thoughts into and an intricate sculpture made purely from chocolate (brought to Chocolate Unwrapped by Paul Wayne Gregory).My time at Chocolate Unwrapped taught me more about chocolate than I thought possible and allowed me to meet some of the best people in the business, including Marco Colzani, the craftsman behind C-Amaro Chocolate. This friendly Italian gentleman was on his first visit to the UK and had proudly brought with him some of the finest chocolate I’ve ever tasted. Marco alone showed me the passion and fire behind chocolate making and proved that there is a lot more to this industry than meets the eye.

I never realised chocolate was such a big deal. If Chocolate Unwrapped graces London with its presence again I highly recommend visiting. You’ll come away with both a tummy and a head full of chocolate, plus you’ll find out if you prefer it fast or slow! A life lesson that is well worth learning.

Friday, 28 October 2011

The Meat Lovers’ Guide To Argentina & The Asador

By Nina Koo-Seen-Lin.

An adage by the Asador
Maradona. The Tango. Evita. Meat.

This was the complete list of what I knew about Argentina before attending the Autumn Lamb Feast at the South American restaurant, A La Cruz. Owned by chef John Rattagan - of Buen Ayre fame - Marcelo Porcu and Roberto Jellinek, this reasonably new restaurant (only two years old this November) fits nicely along a bendy road in Farringdon/Clerkenwell.Now, I can’t play football, I prefer watching the Paso Doble on Strictly Come Dancing, and my patience for Andrew Lloyd Webber has really worn thin (how could anyone even think making a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera?!)I do, however, love meat cooked in the Argentine way. Meat Free Monday does not exist in my diary if an Argentine sirloin or fillet is on offer. So I am excited when I find out I’m going to dine at the first Argentine restaurant in London to possess an asador: a fire pit used to roast whole sides of meat (sorry veggies). I do however want to know more about Argentina, though, and I am looking to John and Marcelo to fill me up with facts as well as food. “Of course!” says John. “We’re not all about playboy Polo players and mullets!” Marcelo declares. Mullets eh? I’m learning a lot already.Starter 1
Empanada: Argentine style pastries filled with beef, spinach and ricotta.
Provoleta: Grilled provolone cheese and crusty toasted bread.
Mollejas: Grilled beef sweetbreads cooked with lemon juice.
Argentina is a rich stew of a country full of people descended from different countries and cultures that range from Spanish and Italian to Irish and Japanese. Our hosts are perfect examples of such a wonderful mix. Marcelo is of Italian and Spanish descent, while John is from Irish stock. This is most definitely seen in the food, which is full of flavours from Europe and Asia in particular.Starter 2
Beef fillet and rib-eye.
Not all guys are breast men. According to John and Marcelo, us Brits don’t know what we’re missing when it comes to eating the ribs because in Argentinean culture it’s an honour to be offered the ribs. The reason for this isn’t explained. I can’t help thinking there’s something biblical behind the idea (Adam’s rib perhaps?). I’ve always been a rump person myself. Each to their own.Main
Cordero Entero a la cruz: Whole lamb on the asador.
Sauces: Chimicurri, and yoghurt with mint.
Espinacas a la crema: Creamy spinach.
Asadas a la sal: Rock salt baked baby potatoes.
Salads with palm herts, beetroot, beans, tomatoes and free-range egg.
The asador is easier to cook with than a spit roast, though it can take just as long. It’s easier because you don’t have to rotate the meat constantly. A few turns every now and then to maintain the fire, and spray the meat with salt water, rosemary and tarragon is the most work that’s involved. A La Cruz offers the Cordero Entero from the asador on request. The price is roughly around £210 for a 10kg lamb, which can easily feed 12 people (around £20 a head). The meat can take up to seven hours to cook on an open fire. The lamb I had took five hours to roast. If you want this meal experience (and I think you do) then you’re going to have to book well in advance.Dessert
Panqueques: Traditional Argentine pancakes filled with dulce de Leche.
‘Man is the only animal to trip twice on the same stone,’ says John Rattagan on past mistakes and starting all over again. This adage could be the beginning of some deep and dark conversation about the state of mankind. But thankfully the dulce de latte is too much of a delight, and John and Marcelo are far too cheerful, Anyway, A La Cruz is no mistake. I predict John Rattagan has come to the end of his stumblings.

The Extensive wine list (and a herbal tea)
Argentina is very proud of its wine. Just feast your eyes on this list:
Alamos Bodegas
Pasion 4 Chardonnay-Chenin Joffre & Hijas
Calathus Pinot Noir Finca Don Carlos
Malbec-Corvina Masi Tupungato (the acclaimed Italian wine maker’s Argentine venture)
The Argentineans make drinking herbal tea cool. Their version is called Yerba maté and is a popular digestive in South America. The leaves, in dry form, resemble something you could roll up and smoke (you know what I’m talking about, don’t make me say it). Add boiling water and it turns into a substance too dissimilar to papier mache. Traditionally the host prepares the drink (in our case that’s Mr Rattagan) and takes the first sip from a special straw called a bombilla, which prevents the leaves being sucked up along with the liquid, then passes the cup around. Sharing the drink is a sign of friendship and bonding, and as such has a certain ceremonial aspect. It may not sound hygienic, but hey, if you can share a whole lamb what’s so big about sharing a bombilla in a silver cup?

In November, John has promised to don the chef’s cap and apron on Monday evenings to keep up his carnal cooking skills. At A La Cruz there’s no such thing as Meat-Free-Mondays so I’ll definitely be booking a table. So who’ll join me?

To book a table at A La Cruz, use the form below.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Canapés: The Rules Of Engagement

By Patrick Evenden

This is no game. This is a war of nutrition.

As anyone who has read The Game by Neil Strauss will tell you, there is no more pathetic creature than the pick-up artist. For those not familiar with Strauss’s work, The Game sets out how to manipulate unimaginably stupid women into jumping into bed with you. As far as I could gather, Strauss’s strategy hinges on elevating your status above that of your target by a series of well-placed insults, delivered whilst wearing a hat. In spite of its simplicity, the book has proved popular amongst the type of men who have previously conducted their relationships through the medium of World of Warcraft and now fancy a crack at engaging with fellow humans offline.

There is, however, a social situation that is crying out for clearly defined rules of engagement; an insider’s guide to conniving your way to success; a Machiavellian method of manipulation: canapés.

Last week I found myself in the theatre of combat at the reopening of Kensington Place in Notting Hill. The popular brasserie has just undergone a redesign and employed a new head chef, Dan Loftin, who was eager to show off his considerable talent on a miniature scale.The Champagne was on ice and the canapés were fantastic. But I turned up like a tit in a trance, with no preconceived idea of how I intended to lay my hands on them. What’s more, over the course of the evening I made a number of fundamental errors that hampered my ability to tuck into the culinary treats, being paraded around the room in front of me like a really delicious version of The Generation Game.

First I brought my girlfriend. Big mistake. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a lovely girl, one of the best and we had a great time. But we wasted far too much time going through the standard relationship chat routine of discussing our respective days and working out what so-and-so meant the other night when she said such-and-such. We were not focused. We were under-prepared and we paid for it. It was twenty minutes before I got my hands on the duck tartare!

I also discovered, that my looking-for-canapés face is remarkably similar to my looking-at-other-women face. Often, after eyeballing a plate of smoked mackerel pate from across the room, I would return to meet my girlfriend’s deeply-unimpressed-face.

These opening exchanges all took place next to the bar. Mistake number two. Admittedly, we were never short of fizz. But then each glass of Champagne tasted the same as the last. There wasn’t the myriad of flavours that was marching forth from the kitchen. We quickly relocated.

We found ourselves a prime location on one of the main thoroughfares leading out of the kitchen. A tray full of cheese-filled profiteroles came through the door and started towards us. We thought we had it sussed. This was the pay off. The waiter was about to walk unwittingly into our hastily assembled sting. Then he stopped at the group next to us. They must have been 20 strong. Hands were everywhere, like a Rihanna video, but less dignified. Once everything had been consumed, he was ejected as suddenly as he’d been enveloped, with an empty plate and his bowtie at a slightly squiffy angle. Once again we had been thwarted.

We later found some success by befriending an Italian waiter with whom my girlfriend shares a common language. But by this time much of our competition had departed, sated from happily grazing on the mobile buffet that had, until now, evaded us. We had to accept we had been found wanting. Difficult questions need to be asked. Next time I go ‘live’, I want data. Shit loads of data. I want room plans, personal information on my fellow diners and an accurate waiter-to-guest ratio. My girlfriend and I have even been rehearsing an elaborate pincer movement, with my mum playing the role of waiter, complete with a plate of Scotch eggs. Next time we’ll be ready for them. Watching. Waiting. Peckish.

Alternatively, we could just return to the new Kensington Place brasserie in Notting Hill at a later date, booking ourselves a table beforehand. If only there were some masterful way in which to do this automatically. Oh, hang on....

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Wannabe A Malaysian Restaurant In London?

By Philippa Morton.

“I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I really really really wanna ziggazig ahhh!”

Well said Spice Girls. Although, even I know that what they meant to say was “Awana” in honour of their favourite Malaysian restaurant in London. Possibly.

[Corny! Ed].

So what do Sporty, Ginger, Baby, Posh and Scary have in common with Malaysian restaurants? One concept: spice. And where do you find spice on a (very) late summer’s eve in London? In Trafalgar Square, of course. At this annual Malaysian Festival in the centre of town, there were a multitude of Malaysian restaurants to choose from: Tukdin, Bintang, Malay House, Delima, Puji Puji, Melur, and Satay House, which just last week was awarded the Best Malaysian Eatery in the UK at the Asian Curry Awards.

I was surrounded by a wall of food stalls and a stage in the centre, but was sadly too late to witness Masterchef Winner Tim Anderson’s performance. Luckily, I was not too tardy to sample the food from the variety of restaurants around London; although much of my time was spent jostling the crowd, trying to buy some spicy goods. I eventually succeeded at the last moment, and, whilst everyone else was watching the stunning Malaysian sword fighters, singers, dancers and drummers on stage, I was guzzling down delicious chicken dumplings, and fish, rice and spice wrapped in a banana leaf from Tukdin.

The night seemed to close off a tad early for my liking - it must have been only 8.30pm when the bargaining for the last sales began - with the last performance completed just after 9. The spice for nightlife had started to kick in, but, unfortunately, it didn’t last much longer. That’s all folks.

To book a table at Awana, use the booking form below.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

4 Sibling Restaurants You’d Never Guess Were Related

By Christian Rose-Day.

Drape a thick cloth in the palm of your hand. Place the shuckee on top of the cloth, bulbous part face down. Grip and shuck from the sharp end. Elbows high. Twist when you feel you’re getting close.

And that’s, more or less, how to shuck.

No, not the instructional theme song for a remake of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, but the basic schooling I received earlier this month from Richard Emans, director of Maldon Oysters, on removing the outer casing of an oyster at great speed. I was taking part in a competition at Thai restaurant, Patara, in Soho, where Maldon Oysters are available until the end of November.

Sadly, my adroit partner and I didn’t win the ultimate prize, but we did manage to murder a fair few oysters (who knew they were still alive during the whole experience?!). We did so with impeccable style (as you can see from the picture below), before devouring them gleefully deep fried in non-greasy soda batter (the oysters, not us).

A few days later I attended another event in central London at Suda, the Siamese Rice Bar, in Covent Garden. There, the Thai Ambassador accepted a cheque on behalf of the Thai flood victims from the restaurant’s proprietors. Watching on, I munched on dense fish cake canapes, sipped on refreshingly floral cocktails, and marvelled at the Thai puppetry that was laid on for the event, and I couldn’t help but think that I’d seen some of the gathered party somewhere before. I later discovered that the relatively new Suda is the sister restaurant to Patara, where I had shucked the night away, and the faces I was recognising were staff at both venues.

Despite the two restaurants sharing owners, similar West End territory and a proclivity toward Thai cuisine, these siblings are remarkably different and it’s not immediately obvious that they are related. This got me pondering the idea of brand identity and the amount of restaurants in London that have the same life-force running the show, but yet display almost conflicting personalities.

Here are four that I’ve chosen to highlight. Why four? Because that’s the number of siblings I’m blessed with, obviously.

Patara - Suda
Whilst the cosy, almost clandestine Patara Thai restaurant is all fancy gold and dark autumnal colours, Suda is bright and airy and filled with light. Patara is definitely a destination restaurant, and the service is testament to that. Not that dining at Suda is not a pleasurable experience, but the speed at which the staff work, and the open plan dynamics, lend it more of a ‘Wahaca-at-the-local-Westfield-Mall’ feel, which is probably ideal given its proximity to Covent Garden’s shopping options.

If were you, at Patara I would sample the tenderest slow braised beef in London, with aromatic coconut reduction, fresh lime, lemongrass and chilli accompanied by pak-choy, shiitake mushrooms in oyster sauce and fragrant rice. Whilst at Suda you must go with a rice dish, as that is clearly the speciality. I gambled on a stir-fried tofu rice dish with cashew nuts, chestnut and ginko nut, which made me feel virtuous (although the £7.50 price tag felt unscrupulously low).

Polpo/Polpetto - Spuntino/Mishkin’s
We all know how Russell Norman has been flooding the West End over the past couple of years with his laudable brand of casual, walk-in, snack-based restaurants; the Italian-leaning Polpo was the first to arrive in Soho with its Venetian style small cicheti plates and tiny glasses of wine; followed closely by Polpetto (pictured above), which was almost a carbon copy in miniscule form, and bookable. Then Mr Norman turned his gaze west towards New York, and gave London Spuntino, an industrial NY diner serving amazing mac & cheese. But there is yet more eastern seaboard obsessions to come because as of today Mishkin’s has arrived in Covent Garden. Here, we are promised “a Jewish deli with cocktails” so expect to see salt beef on soda or rye bread with martinis.

Giant Robot - Redhook
Clerkenwell neighbours they might be, but this brother-sister duo are dissimilar in a number of ways. On the one hand Giant Robot’s bar-café-deli-diner feel (pictured above) will appease hungry fixie-wheel scruffs looking for spaghetti meatballs and baked Alaska before heading east to a basement bar in Shoreditch that’s so hip and new, it’s not even open yet. Whilst on the other hand, Redhook’s surf and turf decadence (see below) will keep besuited City lads entertained with Canadian lobsters, Norwegian crabs, Australian Wagyu beef and Madagascan giant prawns dancing across their plates. Although an industrial layout can be seen at both, Redhook is more open plan, light filled, and elegant. And closer to the tube. Personally, I still prefer Giant Robot though.

The Hat & Tun - Chiswell Street Dining Rooms
Both of these venues are part of what is known as the ETM Group, which includes favourite of Canary Wharf bankers, The Gun. It was probably using the blueprint of the aforementioned Docklands’ hangout that helped to inspire the thinking behind the newest edition to the group, Chiswell Street Dining Rooms (above). This new restaurant in the City of London is very much geared toward business lunches and afterwork client entertaining. Hence ETM have installed swanky banquettes, afternoon tea and an air sophistication that prompted our critic, Claire Williams, to confess “Delicious food, great service - wanted to stay all night!” You too can have this experience simply by using this handy booking form.

If Chiswell Street Dining Rooms is the over-achieving baby of the family, then The Hat & Tun (below) is the first-born that has grown up, lived a hard life, and now just wants to chill out and settle down privately. Here it’s all peaceful pints of Adnams, steak and ale pies (the specialty at this Farringdon pub) and some quiet time thanks to bad phone reception.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Weird & Wacky Drinking Experiences in Londontown

By Alwynne Gwilt.

As a journalist in such a big city as London, I’ve been to a fair few funky and fun events. But when I arrived in London four years ago, never did I think I would find myself sitting in a window display at Harrods drinking cognac in the middle of the afternoon, as tourists streamed by, peering in the window at me.The reason for all this fanfare is a rather special trunk that has been made to showcase Martell Cognac, which has been placed in a window display facing Brompton Road at Harrods. The trunk - worth a cool £200k - was designed by Parisian outfit Pinel & Pinel, and took mastercraftsmen over 1,000 hours to create. It comes equipped with all of Martell's gorgeous cognacs, including the L'or de Jean Martell, worth a rather hefty £2,998. Then again, if you can afford £200k for a trunk, I suppose you won't mind that price tag.

And it is impressive, there is no doubt about it. Our event was not just about going to view the case in all its sleek leather and artisanal glory, but also about tasting some of the fine cognacs that were included with it. So, as good intrepid journalists, we all sat around the large table in the huge, classy leather-backed chairs to have a bit of afternoon indulgence and learn more about cognac - a spirit which I am not personally very familiar with - from Brand Development Manager, Thierry Giraud, pictured below.As it turns out, Monsieur Martell was originally an Englishman who headed from Jersey to the south western France (well, who wouldn't?) at the start of the 18th century. He founded his Maison de Cognac in 1715 and the rest is, well, history.

We tasted a wee bit of the company's most famous style, Cordon Bleu - a blend of more than 100 eaux-de-vie - and followed up with the Martell XO, a stronger, peppery flavoured smooth cognac. Finally there was the Creation Grand Extra, a honeyed, fruity and spicy blend, and the creme de la creme, L'or de Jean Martell. The latter comes presented in a crystal bottle, with a gold stopper and hand-painted gold inlay decorating the outside; all rather decadent.

The flavours were immense and as I sat back and enjoyed the delectable delights while tourists looked in, my thoughts wandered to other quirky bars and restaurants in London that I've been to which are fab for a weird and wonderful experiences.

In the daytime, my choice would be Sketch, on Conduit Street. Heading into the parlour feels like entering the world of Alice and Wonderland with its strange decorations and interior design style. If you're there at night, check out the gallery upstairs, which is open from 7pm, and includes a rotating list of video installations by emerging artists, to enjoy while you sup a drink or eat something from the brasserie menu. To book a table, use this booking form.

Then there's the Old Vic Tunnels hidden under Waterloo Station. It's currently featuring a Michelin star pop-up restaurant as a part of London Restaurant Week but always has some sort of exciting collaboration going on, such as the premiere last year of Banksy's film: Exit Through the Gift Shop.

And finally, one can't forget the ever-bizarre Lounge Bohemia, on Great Eastern Street in Shoreditch. The bar is renowned for its strange molecular cocktails and basic, Soviet-era stylings. Think the same colour scheme as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, only set in 2011 and served with smoking drinks.

Once my brain stopped wandering and I came back to the reality of being sat in the window display at Harrods, I could only think London is a rather fantastic and bizarre place to be on a day to day basis. Or maybe that was just the cognac talking.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Wine Lovers Unite: Where To Drink Wine In London

By Alwynne Gwilt.
A few years ago I started making regular trips to France. Not just in the “booze cruise” style, but because my other half’s family live there. It has, over the years, inadvertently become a bit of a “booze cruise” each time, because we’ve discovered boxed wine: 5 or 10 litre boxes, all for less than £15. Now, most wine critics would shun my choice but I have justified it in this way: 1) it’s often surprisingly good, AOC rated and sometimes even organic; 2) obviously, it’s cheaper; and 3) it means I don’t have to haul back heavy bottles from Sainsburys every other day.
So, when I went to an event at Benares restaurant (pictured below) in Mayfair recently to celebrate a massive new wine and food festival called, logically, The Big Wine Festival, I worried the attendees would know my little secret. There were wine connoisseurs there, after all. They could smell the boxed wine goodness radiating from my skin.
As it turns out, I don’t think they knew (until now, that is). And as I sipped some rather delicious red wine, remembering how nice it can also be from a bottle, I learned just what this fantastic fest aims to be for Britain.
Happening in Reading in June 2012, the festival is set to be the largest consumer event outside of the Olympics with the goal of attracting 120,000 people. There will be wine representatives from all around the globe, along with food stalls featuring international cuisine, a cultural stage with performances from worldly groups, and a 5,000-seat arena where jazz, blues and soul bands will get down and boogie. And all this in a pop-up setting that will be there one week, and gone the next; like a modern day Brigadoon.
“But,” you might say, “that is still eight long months away! Where will I drink wine and eat great food before then?”
Pop a cork in it, that’s why Fluid is here. We’re specialists at finding places to drink in London, and vino is certainly a part of that remit.
First off, I suggest the rather fabulous and famous Gordon’s Wine Bar at Charing Cross. If you’ve not been before, you’re missing out. Hailed as the “oldest wine bar in London”, Gordon’s has been serving tasty tipples since 1890 in its dark, cozy, cave-like setting.
Outside of that, there is also the rather extensive list at Vivat Bacchus Restaurant and Wine Cellar in Farringdon, where guests can choose to wander the vaults, or sit back and relax with a glass of wine and some jazz every Friday night. To book a table at Vivat Bacchus use the booking form below.
And one can’t forget Wine Wharf, which is a part of the massive Vinopolis complex at Borough. Its comfy sofas, large range of wines, and tasty accompanying food menus are all just right for a lazy Saturday afternoon down by the riverside. Again, tables can be booked using the below form.
So, until the Big Wine Festival hits Reading in June, we here at Fluid hope you enjoy your wine all winter, whether from a box or bottle!

For more wine bar inspiration, check out the Top 10 wine bars in London.

To book at table at the Atul Kochar’s Michelin Star Indian restaurant, Benares, in Mayfair, use the below form.

Tickets to the Big Wine Festival, happening from 7-10 June, 2012 in Reading, Berkshire, will cost £37 for adults and be on sale on the Big Wine Festival website this month.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

£5 For A Loaf Of Bread?

By Flick Hardingham.

Last week shoppers at Spitalfields market were shocked when food prices soared 800%.
Were the £10 cupcakes and £2.50 apples made from solid gold?
This was the UK’s first Food Insecurity Market hosted by TV broadcaster Hardeep Singh Kohli and the British Red Cross to highlight the cost of living in developing countries. 
Food insecurity is the term used to describe the issues behind lack of food or poor nutrition, which includes high food prices that fluctuate, making it impossible for families to know if - and what – they can afford to eat.  
It’s a complicated issue to do with high food prices and the many things that affect food availability such as conflict, drought, floods and other pressures. The result is that in some countries families are forced to spend 50-80% of their income on food if they are to live.

If we had to spend 50-80% of our income on food a tin of baked beans could be £5.60 and a pint of milk might be £4. 
Before dashing to lunch at the reasonably-priced Lahore Kebab House in Whitechapel, Hardeep told us “Food prices have gone up in the UK, but it would be a real shock for someone in this country to get to the supermarket and find a loaf of bread suddenly costs £10. For someone living in a food insecure country, these kinds of prices are a reality.”

Friday, 14 October 2011

London’s 5 Most Exciting Vegan Restaurants

We’re talking vegan restaurants in London, and – what a relief! - all mentions of sandals, hemp, beards and ‘boring’ veg normally trotted out alongside the subject are banned. Instead, it’s straight to the good stuff with recommendations for 5 restaurants serving super-delicious cuisine that just so happens to be vegan. How exciting…

1) Lunchtime genius: 222 Veggie Vegan, Earl’s Court
With a £7.99 all-you-can-eat buffet lunch, Earl’s Court’s 222 Veggie Vegan is a bit of a legend in London vegan circles. Armed with a plate and the knowledge that refills are a-ok, tuck in to chickpea curry, carrot tofu and wild mushroom pasta to your hearts’ content. An a la carte menu is available in the evenings (the creamy seitan stroganoff is a favourite), complete with dessert section including vanilla ice-cream wrapped in a wholemeal pancake and topped with hot choc vanilla sauce – who said vegan had to mean virtuous? The dining room itself is a clean white space with scrubbed pine tables and a friendly, café atmosphere. Elbow in among the regulars and you’ll find a steady stream of newbies also here to check out what all the fuss is about.

2) Trendy trappings: Saf, Shoreditch
Slick, stylish and shiny; that’s Saf. Blonde wood and a perch-up bar give the restaurant a dynamic-yet-polished feel, a theme continued in a menu packed with botanical cocktails, vegan wines and raw food (nothing is cooked at a temperature exceeding 48 °C). If you’re making a night of it, start with a Thyme Time cocktail with fresh thyme, vegan Worcestershire sauce, lime juice, celery sticks and orange zest, or get stuck in to a vegan Freedom Brothers’ organic lager. Appetites are satiated with a globe-trotting mix of tasty treats: three-course lunch, dinner and Sunday menus let you try everything from southeast Asian laksa with organic tofu to a spicy Moroccan veg tagine.

3) South Indian specials: Sagar, Fitzrovia
It’s impossible to be left wanting at Sagar in foodie-haven Fitzrovia. Serving up piles of delicious south Indian vegan fare (alongside vegetarian and wheat-free options), Sagar delivers on diversity as well as taste: you can visit once a week for lunch or dinner for months without trying the same starters and main combo twice. A vegan thali is hot stuff, while rice and lentil pizzas (uthappams) topped with coconut, tomato or onion are a fab option you mightn’t have tried before. Best of all is the lunchtime deal, with two curries, salad and a freshly-baked naan on offer for £2.95: unbeatable value in this part of town. Book a table using this form.

4) Cosy treats: The Gallery Café, Bethnal Green
Bethnal Green locals tend to use the Gallery Café as more than just a place to grab a bite to eat. You’re just as likely to park on a sofa with a laptop, hold work meetings across chequered table tops, listen to the strum of live bands or come for a knitting workshop as you are to order from the vegan/veggie menu chalked up behind the till. Daily pastas, curry and soup specials are fresh and seasonal, and a roster of tried-and-tested favourites like tofu stir-frys, falafel wraps and home-made burgers keep lunchtime growls away. Looking for dessert? Try the super-light vegan mango cake for a sweet pick-me-up.5) Japanese zen: Itadaki Zen, King’s Cross
Sushi and fish go together like birds of a feather, right? Itadaki Zen in King’s Cross does a good job of convincing you otherwise with its all-vegan, mostly-organic Japanese menu, including a fine veg-and-seaweed sushi selection as well as soups, rice, noodle dishes and salads. Those in need of a shot of vitamins can select from a ‘healing menu’ stuffed with health-giving seaweed wraps and seasonal veg dumplings. Ingredients are sourced from farms following sustainable agricultural practises, and local artists’ work is exhibited on the walls for free. Book a table using this form.

Isabel Clift is a London-based travel blogger for AnyTrip who loves finding new places to eat in the city. If you fancy visiting London, check out some cheap London hotels.