Tuesday, 29 November 2011

An Oyster On A November Day Keeps The Doctor Away

By Alwynne Gwilt.

When I arrived at the posh, tartan-interior Boisdale restaurant near Victoria for an oyster tasting recently, I was glad of one thing: it was November.
"Why,” you may ask, "would I care about that?"
Well, historical legend has it that one should only eat oysters in the months that contain an "r". And, November, most certainly, contains one. It may not be as good as February, with its boastful double-"r" bounty, but I figured I would be safe.
Now, whether this theory was all down to actual, proven evidence that it is indeed unlucky to eat oysters in "r" free months, or just the fact there was the lack of refrigeration a few hundred years ago which is rather pivotal to oyster preservation in those hotter, non-"r" containing months, it's hard to say. But, regardless I took note.
Boisdale was, you see, boasting an oyster extravaganza, having recently created a competition to find the best of the best in Britain. I was there to give them a go. How I was to tell them apart was a wee bit hard to say, given I know very little about these rocky beasts, other than that you eat them raw and that they do their darnedest to stay shut when a rude chef tries to poke them with a shiv-like instrument. Well, you would too right?As five, shiny and large oysters arrived at the table, I thought about just how I was supposed to eat these and still look elegant.
Here are my tips:
1. Even if you're put off by their slimy, gooey texture, if you're given oysters, give them a go. They have, after all, just been unceremoniously wedged open from their sleepy state to satiate your tastebuds! It would be rude not to.
2. When you decide to take the plunge, add sauce. Sauce helps everything. I am known as the mayonnaise queen around my house. And oysters usually come with a nice acidic shallot vinegar, Tabasco sauce and a good hunk of lemon to get your on your saucy way.
3. Oysters should already be loosened from their shells. If they aren't, take the small fork and slowly work it away from its umbilical shell connection. But, I repeat, do so slowly. Too quick and you risk sending it flying across the room, only to have it land in some poor man's toupee, or plopped unceremoniously down a well-bouffanted lady's decolletage. That's sure to get stares from the room.
4. Once loosened and sauced, delicately lift said oyster up and slide it into your mouth. It's nothing if not seductive. Then give it a little chew. People vary about this (some say, let it slide straight down your gullet) but I say a bit of a chew is best for releasing its flavour and stopping you from needing the Heimlich in the restaurant. Also sure to earn you glares.
5. Finally, have a good glass of dry white wine at the ready. This helps to a) mask any flavours you don't like; and, b) bring out the fresh, salty-sea notes of the oyster. And get you drunk enough to continue on your way.
6. If all else fails, smile serenely, and repeat step 2. Or, if you really decide you can't stand them, find a plant pot or large handbag nearby and subtly hide them. If you smile enough, no one will notice.
I was lucky enough to like my oysters, plain or sauced. Though, the top tier oysters weren't my favourite. I preferred the sad sod who came in second, the Maldon Rock oyster from Maldon Oysters. All in all, they were rather delicious. But maybe I wouldn't have been saying the same thing had it been May.
The Boisdale oyster festival has been extended until April. Oysters will be half price from 5-6pm, Monday to Friday. To make a booking, use the form below.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Spain Is But A Mere Tube Ride Away

By Laura Collins.

This time last week I was sat in Madrid eating chorizo, soaking up the atmosphere and loving life. Today I am sat in my freezing cold house in London tucked up in a blanket, munching cereal and cursing the broken boiler.

It’s times like this when there’s no way I can blur the boundaries between reality and fantasy. Life was better last week, no doubt about it. In fact, for me, life is always better when I have a shot of Spain running through my veins. Why? Because I’m obsessed with the place.

I’m not talking about the tacky Costas. There’s no room in my Spanish romanticism for brightly lit English bars, fat tracksuit clad Brits, and cuddly toy donkeys. I’m not even talking Enrique Iglesias and cheap cartons of Sangria (although both are rather tasty.) I’m talking the real Spain; the fascinating culture and lifestyle, the cobbled alleyways and old city streets, the beautiful language and, of course, the tantalising food.

Jamon, tortilla, paella, aceitunas, gambas; the list could continue and last week, it did. It continued so much that now my jeans are too tight. I spent my week discovering both Valencia and Madrid and although it was only a short break, it was an extremely enjoyable love affair. Sadly though, no sooner had it started than it was already over, a little like some other love affairs I’ve had!

When I touched down in London I returned with a heavy heart and a downtrodden mood. After a couple of days in Blighty I knew the only thing to rid me of my holiday blues was to get another good dose of Spain.
There are myriad of tapas bars and Spanish restaurants in London but those offering a true taste of Spain can be few and far between, or just ridiculously expensive. And I should know, I’ve tried pretty much all of them. That’s when I heard there was a new cat in town. A new branch of Iberica was opening in Canary Wharf and I knew that’s where I had to be.
Sure enough, the next day I found myself there (despite getting lost along the way!). Iberica stood proudly in front of me and my eyes glazed over in a dreamy state. My entrance was even better: I was greeted in Spanish by a smiling host and I was also welcomed by a delicious looking ham and cava bar.

Once my eyes moved from all the tasty looking legs of meat (and I’m not just talking about the waiters) I was able to take in the full restaurant. High ceilings, shelves full of wine and a modern but quintessentially Spanish interior lay before me. I was in a contemporary Spanish heaven.

The food (cooked by Cesar Garcia) was excellent, although certainly not as greasy as some of the dishes I’ve had in Spain. The staff were top notch, although again definitely not as greasy as some of the waiters I’ve experienced in Spain. It was like a neater, cleaner version of the places I frequented during my holiday and it seemed to rid me of any Spanish withdrawal symptoms, for the time being anyway.

The next time I feel them coming on I know I’ll be heading back to Iberica. Perhaps my Spanish dream can be fulfilled in London after all. I’ll be sure to book ahead of time too.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Made In West London: How To Fake It

By Imogen Rowland
Oh, how the other half live. Poached pterodactyl eggs on toast for breakfast. Emerald-encrusted sea scorpion for lunch. Liquid platinum cocktails after a hard day at the spa. It’s enough to fracture a nail just contemplating the strain of it.

Thanks to the likes of London's 'it' girls - Jagger, Ecclestone and Green, not to mention the Made In Chelsea massive - what was once safely confined to select postcodes of our fair city is now prolific throughout: air kisses are the new high-five; fake fur is the new LBD; and Dom Pérignon reserves are now officially on the endangered substances register.

However, there are benefits to this takeover. It’s not just high-street designer pair ups that give us lowly beings the chance to look as dubious as those who buy real Versace, but also bars and pubs, even if we can't fulfill the expected blue-blood door policy.In Notting Hill, for example, the above pictured Beach Blanket Babylon (or 'Bed Bath and Beyond' as I like to call it, to the horror of my well-to-do chums) gives you the chance to slum it like millionaires, all chintz, chandeliers and cocktails, and you can book a table at BBB using this handy form.

Venture to the hallowed ground of Chelsea proper, and you'll find the newly refurbished Hollywood Arms, proud purveyor of 'skinnytails', cocktails that come with a calorie count; including the tellingly-named 'Chelsea vs. Hoxton', a mixture of gin, fresh basil, raspberries, blackberries, agave and fresh lemon juice, and all at a mere 105kcal, in case you were wondering.It's not just for those watching their weight, mind; there's a fabulous menu to boot, from pepper-crusted fillet of venison with pickled mushrooms to fresh oysters and Ashbury game pie, this is posh without the price tag. And if you are feeling really, properly posh, treat your mates to a Darcy’s Lady: 6 shots of chilled Belvedere Bloody Mary, each topped with a floating oyster. It's all the rage in these parts. So Tatler tells me, sweetie.

Friday, 18 November 2011

5 Winter-Warming Christmas Afternoon Teas In London

How can you make the sugar, caffeine and cream-fest that is a traditional afternoon tea even more of a treat? Add a Christmas twist, of course!

London lounges are sprinkling a little festive magic over their afternoon teas this winter, so if you’ve got a few extra belt-loops to spare (and you do - it’s Christmas), check out one of these five top tea spots…

The Lounge Bar at the Lancaster Hotel, Hyde Park

With gold carpeting, dark wood and squashy sofas, afternoon tea at the Lancaster’s Lounge Bar feels like Christmas in a grand great-aunt’s living room. Work it off with a stroll in neighbouring Hyde Park afterwards.
What’s on the menu? Alongside fresh tea, scones and seasonal finger sandwiches like smoked Scottish salmon and baked ham, tuck in to Christmas tartlets baked with turkey and cranberry or wild mushroom and truffle. For sweet treats, there’s a selection of festive pastries including yule log, mince pies and carrot and sultana cupcakes.
How much? £20pp
Available from: 10th Dec to 5th Jan 2012

No 35 at the Hempel, Bayswater

No. 35’s dining room is all clean lines and minimalist black and white furniture, making Christmas afternoon tea a grown-up affair perfect for those tired of tinsel.
What’s on the menu? Sultana scones are served with spiced orange marmalade, mulled wine jam and Jersey brandy cream, while sandwich fillings include roast turkey and stuffing or brie and cranberry. On the sugary side of things, chocolate and chestnut brownies, mince pies and spiced apple crumble hit your sweet spot.
How much? £20pp, £26pp including a glass of Pimm’s and £35pp including a glass of Taittinger Brut N.V.
Available from: 1st – 23rd December

Palm Court Lounge at Sheraton Park Lane, Piccadilly

Art Deco rules at the Sheraton Park Lane’s Palm Court: tuck in to your Christmas afternoon tea under a stained glass ceiling, surrounded by marble columns and golden couches.
What’s on the menu? Take your pick of Christmassy finger sandwiches, from honey roast ham to turkey and mustard on a sour cherry loaf. Sweet specials include spiced apple and cranberry scones, plus traditional German stollen bread. Wash it down with a Christmas cocktail or a glass of seasonally-hued Mumm Rose Champagne, and don’t forget to grab your promised ‘festive treat’ on the way out; what could it be?
How much? £45pp
Available from: 1st – 26th December

RS Hispaniola, Victoria Embankment

All aboard for afternoon tea! The RS Hispaniola is docked opposite the London Eye and offers wrap-around wintry views of the Thames from its dining room. Sip and nibble as the sky gets dark and Christmas lights on the South Bank begin to twinkle across the water.
What’s on the menu? Kick off with a glass of mulled wine on arrival, then settle into a quintessentially Christmassy afternoon tea of turkey and cranberry finger-sandwiches, dainty shortbread biscuits, mince pies and Christmas cake slices. The selection comes with your choice of tea, plus scones, clotted cream and jam.
How much? £24pp
Available from: 1st – 30th December

The Hampshire Bar at the Radisson Edwardian Hampshire, Leicester Square

A surprisingly sleek and calm corner just off Leicester Square, Christmas afternoon tea at the Hampshire is the perfect treat for après-pressie shopping or before a West End show.
What’s on the menu? Inventive Christmas sweet treats include a mini flip-top jar of Prosecco fruit jelly, almond macaroons, meringue with winter berries, yule log and mince pies alongside your traditional scones ‘n’ clotted cream. Open sandwiches come with cranberry spread and hunks of turkey, and the whole lot’s washed down with mulled wine and your choice of tea.
How much? £22.50pp
Available from: 1st – 30th December

About the author: @Isabel_Clift is a London-based travel blogger for budget travel specialists AnyTrip.com (who do a fine line in cheap London hotels). A wee bit obsessed with miniature-sized sandwiches and pastries, she’s always on the hunt for a new place to try afternoon tea.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Where There’s Food, Let There Be Music; But No Craig David, Thanks

By Patrick Evenden

NEVER listen to Craig David’s Born To Do It while you’re eating beef stroganoff. Nothing out of the ordinary will happen. It’s just a really shit album. There are certain types of music that lend themselves to dining and unfortunately for Craig, his brand of laid back UK RnB is not one of them.

However, if you are reading this Craig, which you undoubtedly are, do not dwell on this thought for too long. There are entire genres of music that we should instantly dismiss come dinner time. No one wants to tuck into salmon en croute whilst listening to industrial metal. Similarly, I highly doubt anyone has ever served a soufflé to UK grime. I once went to an Indian restaurant that eschewed the exotic sound of the sitar, in favour of Mariah Carey, and I haven’t been back since.

Getting the music right is essential for a dining experience, and second only to the food and drink. I’d even put it above the service. It normally takes most of the evening to fully establish that you’ve got a rubbish waiter. It takes me around three seconds to recognise and become irritated by the sound of Paul McCartney’s voice.

A lot of people rely on Jazz. It doesn’t demand your attention and instead leisurely meanders along in the background. But then it is incredibly tried and tested and fairly predictable. Unless we’re talking about progressive Jazz. But you don’t want to open that can of worms, not unless you’re entertaining Belgians.

More recently the tendency has been to fragrance the air with the sounds of far-off places, to intoxicate guests into believing that they are not actually in Lower Sydenham. Twenty years ago, this accounted for the staggering success of the Gypsy Kings and meant you couldn’t get a Viennetta past your lips without hearing Bamboleo. Now, thankfully, the focus appears to have switched to Central and South America, as dining room conquistadors explore the continent’s rich musical treasures.

On Wednesday I had the good fortune to head to Emporio Sao Paulo in Parsons Green, a splendid new Brazilian café-bar which has started catering for those looking for the live Latin American experience. Already popular with the local community and Brazilians across the capital, the café is now playing host to musicians from Argentina, Brazil and Cuba. It was a great evening and it is not difficult to see why the sounds of South America prove so in demand.You only hope for the sake of our cultural reputation that there isn’t a backstreet bar in Buenos Aires playing host to Craig David, who is busy telling a group of bemused Argentineans what he gets up to in the week. Hopefully, he is much further away than that.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Regional Italian Dining In London: A Networker’s Guide

By Ben Brill

I was never any good at networking. When I started in my first job, I was supposed to do it with these things called ‘regional stakeholders’, but I always seemed to end up spending half of my time at meetings standing on the edge of the regional stakeholders’ conversations, running through my repertoire of nods and smiles and concerned looks like the person who does the sign language on BBC, and the other half of my time hiding in the toilets.

My boss wasn’t very impressed. She came right into the toilets and told me so. I tried to explain that I was painfully shy, and that I wasn’t really sure what a regional stakeholder was, but it didn’t seem to help. She just got angry. I don’t think she knew what a regional stakeholder was, either.

I rang my mum and asked her what I should do. “Are you calling me from the toilet?” she said. I explained to her that my office had high ceilings. “Look, bubbala,” she said, “you’re a sweet boy, just be yourself, and they’re sure to warm to you.” It seemed like good advice, so I went right back to the regional stakeholders, introduced myself, and made a rubbish self-deprecating joke. Nobody laughed. I made my excuses and returned to my cubicle.

These days, networking seems to be much easier. At Refettorio in the City of London, they even give you a glass of Prosecco when you arrive, and introduce you to the other networkers.

“I’m Ben, from Fluid London,” I say, and everyone nods and smiles and looks concerned. I nod and smile and look concerned back. A waiter fills up my glass with some more Prosecco. “Perhaps I’m better at networking than I thought,” I think.

We’re all here for the launch of the beautiful new book, Made in Sicily, by Giorgio Locatelli; he of Locanda Locatelli fame. Giorgio has created a special Sicilian menu using recipes from the book to celebrate, and they’re letting us try it out this evening. Refettorio is the kind of restaurant businessmen go to when they’re having quite important meetings, but the staff are friendly and relaxed, and it feels cosy and autumnal. I’m wearing my good brown cords, so I fit right in.

We sit down, and I decide I’m going to network with the person opposite. I crack a couple of jokes about The Godfather to break the ice, and start telling him how I'm a bit of an expert on Italian regional cuisine. He said he was from Enfield, so he’s probably not seen much of the world, I decide.

“Of course,” I say, feeling expansive, “it’s been really refreshing over the past few years to see so many places doing decent regional cuisine in London.” I tell him he has to try Pane Vino for Sardinian, and 500 in Archway, or Trullo in Highbury for Tuscan, and he nods and looks impressed. I’m about to mention Bocca di Lupo and Polpo in Soho, but I stop myself. I think he’s probably a bit intimidated by my knowledge.

“My name’s Ben, by the way.” I say reaching a hand across the table. “What’s yours?”

“Franco,” he replies.

It turns out Franco’s from Enfield, but his family is from Sicily. He’s probably forgotten more about Italian regional cuisine than I’ve ever pretended to know. I feel a bit of a prat, particularly after the jokes about The Godfather, but he doesn’t seem to mind. He tells me all about Sicilian food, and even invites me round to his for tea, so I can try the real thing. I nearly tell him that I’ve always wanted to go to Enfield, but decide that it’s not the right time to start making rubbish self-deprecating jokes.

The menu looks really good, full of the North African influences and robust flavours Franco says are characteristic of Sicilian food, but although every element of the starter of caponata, octopus salad and fritto misto is cooked beautifully, it doesn’t quite hang together for me. The Messinese swordfish main is bang on the money, though, and even though Franco doesn’t look too impressed with the deconstructed cassata they serve up for dessert (he says it’s not enough like a cake to be a cassata, or not enough like a cassata to be a cake; I forget which), I think it’s absolutely great.

“What’s not to like?” I say. “It’s light, frothy and fun; the perfect way to finish off a thoroughly enjoyable meal.”

Some people start to leave, and as they do, they shake my hand, and say, “It was lovely to meet you and hope to see you again sometime.” I nod and smile and look concerned in farewell. Some of them even hand me business cards.

“This networking lark’s a breeze,” I decide, as I nip to the toilet to freshen up before I leave. As I return, the lady who was sitting to my left asks me whether I enjoyed my meal.

“I’m not much of an expert, but I never turn my nose up at a free dinner,” I reply, with a self-deprecating chuckle. She doesn’t laugh. I make my excuses and return to my cubicle.

Book a table at Refettorio using the booking form below.

Monday, 14 November 2011

The Worst Fancy Dress of 2011?

By Anna Robin.

‘Twas the Halloween weekend. The time of the year when the normal rules we take for granted are gone. The dead rise from their graves, witches take to the sky, werewolves run through the woods, vampires go hunting for flaxen haired virgins and normal people up and down the country throw caution to the wind and indulge in crimes of fancy dress.

Any sane person would have stayed in, locked the doors and left a pumpkin at the window to frighten away the evil spirits roaming outside. A sane person would have snuggled up with a bottle of red wine and a season of True Blood.

But who can resist the call of the Halloween weekend? Themed evenings litter the town; from all-night horror films and ghostly pub quizzes to ghoulish wine tastings. I know I cannot. If only I could have looked into the future, maybe I could have saved my eyes from the two worst costumes of Halloween 2011:

1) I was casually tasting wine at the rather enjoyable Vinopolis Halloween Ball when there in front of me, it was…

…a monument to bad taste, the perversion of costume shops, the golem of fancy dress parties: a man wearing a giant novelty tie, with the words “Sex Instructor” emblazoned across it (disclaimer: he was not part of the Vinopolis staff). Oh the horror!

The room reeled. I closed my eyes willing it to be a nightmare but no it was all too true. A grown man believed that this was the height of wit. Blindly, I stumbled over for some delicious absinth tasting to help return me to my senses.

My fellow Londoners, I know you can imagine my pain. I prayed he was from elsewhere. Could someone who lives in our beloved city be capable of such a fashion faux pas?

But then later, having barely recovered….

2) I was minding my own business, getting some money from an ATM when a young lady walked past, dressed as Mrs Claus, if Mrs Claus wore micro-mini skirts and tinsel as a top. I felt weak, was she mad? Did she believe it was Christmas? Was she wearing the clothes of a child that she had put on by mistake? No, as much as I wished it, I could not shy away from the truth, this was what she believed to be an acceptable costume!

But do not despair! It seems that all is not lost in our beloved London town. Sitting on the tube, I saw a girl on her own, one side of her face a mass of bruises. This was clearly the work of a lover, I thought, a malicious slap across the face. Should I say something, I wondered? Should I approach? She turned her head revealing three deep gauges on the other side of her face, one oozing slightly. Unless she was suffering from the abuse of a werewolf, I had been had; a truly frightening sight.

Can you better an obscene novelty tie or a minute of tube terror? What was the scariest or most cringe-worthy costume that you witnessed in 2011? Overall, the participants at the Vinopolis Halloween Ball did rather well.

Friday, 11 November 2011

The Art Of Mixing In A Shoreditch Crowd

By Alwynne Gwilt.

It's never easy to mix with a new or unfamiliar crowd. It's something I know well. My weakness? Shoreditch people. Despite being a former Brick Lane resident, I still feel queasiness in my tummy when I need to attend events in the area. I can't help but wonder: will I be cool enough? Or will I stand out from the crowd, still a farm girl at heart? I can still barely pull off (or on, as it were) skinny jeans for goodness sake!So when I was recently asked to cover a whisky event in the skinny-jean capital of the world - at the Village Underground warehouse next door to the shiny Shoreditch House, no less - I felt those nerves tumbling back again.

But, being the professional that I am, I headed out with head held high, casting any fears I might have aside. The whisky I was going to drink would surely take the edge off.

The night was all about mixing, mostly due to it being a cocktail competition. The spirit on show: Auchentoshan, a rather fabulously smooth whisky that could easily appeal to even the teetotalers out there! I felt in tune with the competitors in the mix. You see, the cocktail king or queen of the night - ie: the one that could make the best Auchentoshan cocktail - would be flying off to New York to learn the art of mixing at the famous bar Apotheke. There was a similar competition happening on US soil, and the winner over there would be London-bound, working in prestigious 69 Colebrooke Row. As such, it wasn't just me who had jitter-bugs fluttering in my stomach.

Upon arrival at the super trendy, vast warehouse guarded by beefy rope-masters, my guest and I - also another non-Shoreditch type - began mingling.

Even if my jeans weren't quite right for the locale, I soon fell into a nonchalant "I'm not quite the right type for this place but I don't care" routine that I've perfected over the years.
Here are my tips for pulling it off:

1. Smile lots, look relaxed. If you can pull off that "I'm so relaxed I don't even need to pretend to be" persona, people will think you're too cool for school, in a good way.

2. Fake it. If you know nothing about the latest [cool artist, cool musician, cool chef, cool restaurant, cool bar], fake it. If you nod and smile, and throw in a few, "Oh yes, I do believe I've heard of [him/her]. What is your favourite thing about [him/her]?" sentences, you'll gain lots of information to use in upcoming conversations and pull off the fully interested listener pose pronto.

3. Keep watch. If canapes are on offer, stand near to where they emerge from. People gather around food like bees to a flirty flower, and it's a classic route for getting to know others, even if you do out yourself by questioning what on earth the strange floaty foam is on top of the weird grey base with unknown green bits.

4. Drink. For God sake, have a drink. Now, I won't lie to you, this can be delicate. It's all about getting the right balance. Too many and you're hugging strangers. Too few, and you begin to realise how boring most other people are. I recommend downing the first one quickly to get you feeling confident, and then easing through numbers two, three and four. Hopefully by then you'll’ve made friends.

5. Ditch the name tag. Now, this does leave you in the position of looking like you have gatecrashed the party. But, it also allows you to walk up to others and comment on their name badge (thereby starting a conversation) or, have others ask you where yours is. This could (a) lead to an Easter-egg style hunt for your "lost" badge, or (b) allow you to feel far superior, due to the confidence of not needing one. Either way, you're looking good.

6. Hide. If all else fails, grab whatever drink is nearby, and retreat to the loos until you get your edge back. Works like a charm and you can blame it all on indulgence of rule number 4.

For the rest of our evening at the Auchentoshan Switch - during which we watched numerous mixology masters make incredible cocktails under intensely-crazy, MasterChef-style time constraints - I followed my simple rules. I was even feeling so confident by the end that I strode straight up to competition winner, Martin Ball (pictured below) - a mustachioed, baggy jeans wearing bartender from the Corridor bar in Manchester - and started up a chat right in front of all of those cool hipsters. I couldn't tell if I'd conquered my Shoreditch dilemma, or if, in fact, it was just the effect of rule number 4. It is my favourite one after all.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, But What If She’s Holding A Beer?

By Flick Hardingham.

My experience of the amber brew is confined to a vague recollection of a few tasteless pints at Uni.  Following a game of ‘Fuzzy Duck’ that didn’t go my way, I had very little choice.  Ever since I’ve stuck to the girly basics: red, white, an occasional rose and plenty of spirits in various forms in between. 

I thought beer was limited to the bland, pale yellow lagers that soak the carpet of Infernos every Saturday night.  The booze of the wife beater vest and women’s rugby teams worldwide.

However, an invitation to the launch of St. Stefanus, a new craft offering from big shots SABMiller, was all too tempting so off I went, man friend in tow to guide me through this brave new world.

Highly sceptical, we arrived at the Vintry in the Square Mile and sidled up to the bar.  “Would you like your beer cloudy or clear?” announced the bar tender.  I opted for clear and a smooth blonde liquid was placed in front of me.

St. Stefanus is a partnership between Miller Brands (who brought us Peroni and Grotsch), the Van Steenberge brewery (Belgian folk started formulating the good stuff here in 1784) and the Augustinian monks of Sint Stefanus.  An unlikely alliance you may think but it works a treat.

St Stefanus is brewed using three different yeasts including the Jermanus strain created by the monks in the 70s.  It comes as a 7% Blonde or 9% Grand Cru but the best thing about this beer is that it continues to mature in the bottle until you pop the cap.

So how does it taste?  In the words of Carrie Bradshaw, ”me likey”.  We sampled the three month old Blonde which was fresh and fruity with a whiff of caramel.

London beer guru, Philip Harding, talked us through the brewing process and showed how well St. Stefanus matches with food.  Grilled chicken, dried hams and a good strong cheddar are particular favourites for the Blonde.  Whereas the Grand Cru prefers a spicy curry.

So what did my man companion make of me with beer in hand?  He likey.