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Friday, 30 May 2014

5 Questions - Silvio Ursini, CEO of Obikà Mozzarella Bar & Ristorante

When Nicola and myself visited London at the tail end of last year we stayed at The Rathbone Hotel in Fitzrovia, just off Charlotte Street. I had travelled on the early train and had hoped to have the day to myself in London before meeting Nicola when she arrived later in the evening. We were travelling on different trains because Nicola was unable to take our travel day as annual leave. As it turned out, this was the worst day to travel last year as heavy storms across the north of England cause page disruptions, resulting on Nicola arriving into Euston Station over four hours later than originally scheduled. It's fair to say that I was at my wits end.
As I anxiously waited, wondering if she would actually make it all the way to London, I wandered up and down Charlotte Street in search of dinner. For those that don't know, Charlotte Street is packed with restaurants and bars serving a huge range of food from across the globe. However, to my surprise, the week between Christmas and New year is a time when lots of the eating establishments take their annual leave.
One of the restaurant that were still open for business at Christmas time was Obikà, a traditional looking Italian trattoria. The restaurant was half full when I entered and rather than take up a table, I was able to sit at the bar with a beer and enjoy my supper of meats, cheese, pesto and bread.
It wasn't until after we came back home that I looked into the background of Obikà and realised that there was a story waiting to be told. You see, Obikà is the brainchild of Silvio Ursini, who is a Group Executive Vice President of Bulgari, in charge of the Bulgari Hotels and Resorts, who took a sabbatical and instead of relaxing he launched the first of his mozzarella bars in Rome. Since then, Obikà has grown and now has branches in the UK, Japan, Dubai and the USA. I made contact with Obikà through Twitter to see if they would be interested in having their story told across Gerry's Kitchen and with the help of Jane in their marketing department I was able to have the questions answered by the man at the top.

Here's Silvio's story;
How did you get started?
I started ten years ago in Rome with a very simple idea : the Mozzarella Bar. A place where you could taste different kinds of the freshest mozzarella di bufala together with the best products from all over Italy.
What’s the best piece of business advice you could give?
Choose your partners carefully.
Where would you like to see your business in 5 years time?
I would like to see 100 Obikà Mozzarella Bars around the world.
If you could only cook one of your own products/recipes, what would it be & why?
It would be Burrata with crostini and Bottarga (dry Tuna roe), Amalfi lemon peel, sliced Tomato, and Basil.
You can invite one person (living or dead) to your last meal – Who would it be and why? …and what’s on the menu?
It would be my wife Desi, I think it would be a fun meal. We would share mozzarellas, pizzas, and ricotta cake, with a great bottle of Taurasi wine.

So impressed with my visit last year, I had plans to take Nicola to the Charlotte Street branch for a quick drink, time permitting. As it turned out, we were able to make two quick trips in between our hectic sightseeing days. On both occasions, we were well looked after and even although we were only in for drinks, on both occasions we were treated to samples of Italian meats and cheeses. As a result, Nicola is now a huge Buratta fan!
We hope to be back in London before the year is out and have decided that Obikà is one place that that we definitely want to visit for a proper evening meal. Although if Mr Ursini gets his way, maybe there will be a branch of Obikà opening closer to home in the months to come?

Keep up with Obikà on Facebook and Twitter.







Monday, 26 May 2014

Preview Night at Alston Bar & Beef, Central Station, Glasgow

Have you heard about the new steak restaurant on Alston Street in Glasgow? No? Well let me tell you about it.
I was recently invited to a preview night at new steak house, Alston Bar & Beef, which is located under the main concourse of Glasgow Central train station. Alston Street was the main street of the old village of Grahamston, but the village was absorbed by the construction of Glasgow Central station by The Caledonian Railway Company in the late 1800's. The use of the 'Alston' name is a fitting tribute, by owners Glendola Leisure, to Glasgow's little known but rich history.
My invitation to the preview night had come from PR agency The Big Partnership who deal with the PR for Alston Bar & Beef. I was a little early on the evening so had time to chat with agency girls, Kelly Paterson & Lucy Nicolson, & Euan Robb and Matt McKenna who are Glendola's Group Sales Manager and Operations Manager respectively. Restaurant manager Matthew Mustard was also on hand to welcome myself and the few select guest underground into the restaurant.
Alston Bar & Beef has set out a clear focus of being the best restaurant in Glasgow for quality steaks and the best bar in Glasgow serving quality gin. The first of many drinks served over the evening was The 1873, a wonderfully fresh cocktail made from Caoruun gin, blueberry jam, lemon juice and topped with Champagne. Once again, the name a tribute to the past - Alston Street disappeared from the Glasgow map in 1873.
Once all of the guests had arrived, we were treated to a gin tasting under the watchful eye of hugely knowledgable assistant manager & 'Gin-noisseur' Chris who talked us through the dark history of gin. Gin was once known as "mothers ruin" and the "scourge of society" however these days gin is undergoing a bit of a ginaissance. Alston Bar & Beef has over 50 gins on the bar including a dozen or so that are produced here in Scotland, including the three gins that we sampled, The Botanist, Pickering's and Caorunn.
After the gin tasting, we were shown through to the restaurant where we each had personalised menus waiting at our place setting.
The meal was kicked off with a wonderful Steak Tartare topped with a raw quails egg yolk. The tartare was perfectly seasoned and accompanied by a lovely little micro herb salad. The first matching drink was a perfect serve Citadelle gin, garnished with a cinnamon stick and twist of orange.
Next up was a chunky ham hock roulade, with cauliflower purée and pickled beets. This was another tasty dish, although I thought that the ham hock could have been seasoned a little more. Maybe if the beetroot wasn't pickled, the earthiness of the beets would have been a better balance? This course was served with a wonderful glass of Pencarrow Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. This wine is my new favourite!
Our next course was a beautiful presentation of two huge seared scallops with crispy black pudding and Parma ham served on a bed of pea purée. Cooked to perfection with the right balance of sweet from the peas & scallops and the saltiness of the Parma ham, these were the best scallops that I've had in a long time. This was served with a bone dry Picpoul de Pinet which was too dry for me. Of all of the drinks served on the night, this one didn't work for me.
With three courses down, it was time for the main event and we were each presented with a huge chunk of cow! All of the beef served in the restaurant is sourced from family run butcher J.Gilmour & Co Ltd who takes great care in choosing the best beasts available each week at the St Boswells Livestock Market in the Borders. My steak was a 14oz bone in Rib Eye that looked like something that Desperate Dan had ordered. My steak was served medium-rare, just how I like it and accompanied by a little copper pan of chips and an assortment of butters and sauces. I can't believe that I managed to finish the whole steak but I think that is testament to just how well it was cooked. There had been a issue with the wine suppliers in getting the matching Malbec Reserva but the replacement Rioja was a brilliant match to the smoky chargrilled steak.
You would think that at this stage there would be no room for pudding but I didn't want to hurt the chefs feelings by turning down the final cooked course of the evening. The dessert course was crumbled pear with Creme Anglaise, which was actually a well presented deconstructed pear crumbled and custard. The soft poached pear was infused with vanilla and spice flavours, dusted with sweet crumbs and served with a little copper pot of smooth Creme Anglaise. Matched with a glass of Sauternes dessert wine, this was a great way to end a meal.
By this point I was well and truly stuffed? In fairness I was also suffering from the effects of having drunk too much booze. So by the time the cheese board was served, with a selection of cheese from George Mews Cheese, I really couldn't manage to eat anything else. Although I did manage the final drink of the evening which was a barrel-aged Martinez, a blend of Haymans Old Tom Gin, Sweet Vermouth, Maraschino cherry liqueur and bitters that are blended and then aged in an oak barrel. This was a potent alcoholic blend that works as a digestif and after all the high end food that had been consumed, I hoped that it worked on me. It was getting late now so I made my way into the night, Making sure to take the goody bag that had been placed at my seat earlier in the evening.
What a night! Great food, quality drinks and staff that know what they are doing, front of house and back. I would like to thank the staff at Alston Bar & Beef for their hospitality, and also thank the girls at The Big Partnership for inviting me along and allowing Gerry's Kitchen to help tell the story of what's going on under the streets of Old Glasgow Town.
So there you have it, my write up of my preview night at Alston Bar & Grill. I can't wait to get back with Nicola for a meal, hopefully we can find a free Saturday night in the coming weeks. Until then, I might need to make do with popping in for a cheeky gin on the way home from work.
Keep up to date with Alston Bar & Beef on Facebook and Twitter.











Thursday, 22 May 2014

Food To The Fore at The Royal Highland Show











It’s all senses to the fore for foodies at this year’s Royal Highland Show, a Homecoming Scotland 2014 event, where the Scotland Food & Drink Hall will feature a host of quality and award-winning products from almost 100 companies, plus a line-up of some of Scotland’s top chefs demonstrating their culinary skills.

With surveys concluding that 90% of show visitors view the Food Hall as a “must see” attraction, thousands are expected to see, smell, taste and listen to all that’s best about preparing, cooking and eating Scottish food and drink (and some of the best produce from a few other places as well). To top it all off, a number of short-listed companies from the 2014 Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards will be exhibiting, including Summer Harvest Oils and Graham’s The Family Dairy.

Once again, the Scotland Food & Drink Hall will feature the whole range of Scottish food and drink producers, from big hitters such as Mackies of Scotland and Walkers Shortbread, to smaller concerns like Stahly Quality Foods who are based in Fife and sell delicious black pudding, bacon and haggis made to the European Gold Cup winning recipe.  There is also another Fife based company, Laura’s chocolates, a regular show exhibitor and new for 2014 is Strathearn Distillery, a botanical gin producer from Methven, Perthsire.

One of the top attractions will be the Cookery Theatre, with a four day rolling programme of more than 30 absorbing demonstrations by top chef’s, including Roy Brett, Neil Forbes, Paul Wedgewood and David Haetzman. Managed and organised by passionate Scottish food advocate, Wendy Barrie, the theatre’s title sponsor is Marine Harvest, one of the biggest producers of high-quality Scottish salmon.

Royal Highland Show Manager, David Jackson, said: “With a supportive new sponsor and the enthusiastic input from organisers and exhibitors the Royal Highland Show cookery theatre is worth the cost of the show entry ticket all on its own. 

He continues: “Food and drink production is growing in importance year on year for Scotland and it is encouraging that we have more Scottish producers than ever before.  As an event highlighting the whole chain from farm to retail counter, the Royal Highland is a unique food festival and an essential shop window for our great Scottish produce.”

The Royal Highland Show runs from 19th June -22nd June 2014. Check out the website for more information or to book your tickets.



5 Questions - London From Scratch

Social media is a wonderful thing when it's used to help people connect. When myself and Nicola were down in London a few weeks ago, I was using Twitter to get recommendation for places that we could grab top quality cocktails near Covent Garden. We had just had a very poor experience at dinner at The Savoy and needed a little cheering up. One of the voices that threw her tuppence worth into hat was Michelle Francis, the girl behind London From Scratch, who quickly rhymed off a handful of funky bars all within walking distance of Covent Garden. The following day I got back in touch with Michelle to thanks for her input the previous evening and as I had been able to look over her website I could see that there was a story waiting to be told, so I invited Michelle to answer 5 Questions. You see, London From Scratch is a company who provide regular walking tours through the fashionable district of Soho, educating tourists and locals alike on some of the best places to eat and drink. The tour has plenty of pit stops along the way so that the hungry walkers also have the chance to sample some of the gastronomic delights from some of. Michelle's favourite hotspots. Had I known about these organised food tours before heading to London, we would have booked up months ago!
Here's Michelle's story;
How did you get started?
I'm from Melbourne, Victoria. We like to think it's the 'cultural capital' of Australia. Sydney is sparkly with her stunning harbour and gorgeous beaches, but Melbourne has a better food culture, in my opinion.
In my 30s I owned a couple of food businesses at the end of the Great Ocean Road. A small casual cafe and a slightly more high-end restaurant. Like a lot of people in hospitality I developed a love-hate relationship. It's 'in my bones', but I felt a little 'burnt out' after several years dealing with the highs and lows and have since resisted the temptation to get back into kitchens in a 'full-on' way.
I really missed it though, as every foodie addict does, so I decided when I moved to London five years ago that I'd dip into the supperclub scene here. Supperclubs aren't so big in Australia - I think it's maybe because the health regulations there are much tougher than they are here. I love supperclubs. It's a great way of being able to indulge your inner chef. You can cook as much or as little as you want, you choose the menu and the number of courses and the frequency and complexity. It's perfect for me.
The supperclub is called "Scratch" because I make everything from scratch. I decided to set up the Soho Food Tours under the 'Scratch' banner and call them London From Scratch as it says a lot about the way I hope people will experience London - not the way they think they 'know' London, but looking at it slightly differently - from scratch.
What’s the best piece of business advice you could give?
I tend to be something of a perfectionist. I like to wait until all the planets are in alignment and I've got absolutely everything sorted and locked in to place before I tackle something. I don't like to fail. As you can imagine, mostly the planets aren't in alignment and one can get old and wrinkly waiting until it's all 'just so' before you start something. My advice is not to prevaricate. Have quality standards, sure, but work out what you absolutely need to do to get something off the ground and let the optional stuff slide.
Where would you like to see your business in 5 years time?
I'm aiming for world domination with the 'Scratch' brand.
If you could only visit one of the food venues on your tour, where would it be & why?
You do know you're asking me to choose between my babies, right? Hmmm. Ok then, if I could choose just one it would be Yalla Yalla. An amazing hole in the wall diner, down one of Soho's seedier lanes and just up from the 'pleasure aids' store. This place represents so much of the wonder of Soho. It's in an alley which hasn't yet been completely gentrified or zoozhied up. It's rustic, welcoming and humble. But when it comes to it, it's a sort of magical alchemy; way more than the sum of its parts.
The food is seriously good. We sample homemade spicy lebanese, chilli and tomato chipolatas and the best babaganoush (aubergine dip) you've ever eaten. I love taking people here because they 'think' they've eaten babaganoush before and they're all 'yeah, yeah, babba-whatever'. It's ubiquitous now. You can find it in almost every supermarket and online store. But, in general, it has no 'food soul'. Food that's packaged and preserved in such a way that it has a longer life than many animals can only ever taste beige. Yalla Yalla's food sings with freshness and integrity and lingers with you for days after.
Here's my own take on babaganoush - try it and let me know how you get on.
You can invite one person (living or dead) to your last meal – Who would it be and why? …and what’s on the menu?
I would invite my Mum who died a few years ago. She was a wonderful warm, charming and funny woman with an amazing capacity for life and laughter. I would make Vietnamese style calamari stuffed with coriander root, mint, ginger, pork and toasted coconut. Then we'd probably eat a very aged eye fillet (you never age them for long enough in this country!), with caramelised onion, horseradish butter and a gloriously sticky jus. She had a sweet tooth like me and would have loved my deconstructed snickers. We'd finish with a baileys.

The London From Scratch concept has been well received with glowing reviews on Trip Advisor for Soho Food Tours with praise for both Michelle knowledge and passion as she leads the walkers through the tastier side of Soho.
So the next time that you're heading to London, don't spend endless hours searching the internet trying to find the coolest food and drink venues that you just have to get to - take the hassle out it and book yourself onto the Soho Food Tour and let Michelle do all the hard work, I know that we will!
Keep up to date with Michelle and London From Scratch on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

5 Questions - Katie's Homemade Tablet

A few weeks ago I received an email through the contact form on Gerry's Kitchen from a local food producer asking where she can send some samples to. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I promptly fired the GKHO address and waited to see what would turn up in the post.
The producer in question was Kathleen Bryce, the inspiration behind Katie's Homemade Tablet, a confectioner based in the sleepy North Lanarkshire village of Gartcosh.
To most people who grew up in the West of Scotland, homemade tablet is the sugary sweet treat that your gran would have made. Everyone's gran made the best tablet in the world, each using just three simple ingredients, butter, sugar and condensed milk. You would think that if tablet uses just three ingredients, surely everyone should be able to make it? Unfortunately not, tablet differs from fudge in that it has a brittle, grainy texture, and getting the consistency just right proves difficult for most.
Here's Katie's story;
How did you get started?
Having made tablet for many years for family and friends, and being told time and time again that I should start a business; I finally decided to take the plunge! I come from a family of foodies who all love to cook, eat good food and share recipes. Tablet has always been part of our family celebrations, whenever it’s shared with others they all seem to comment that it’s “just like their Gran/Mum/Dad used to make”, they would then ask us to make it for them. The feedback and response from testing the market with our product was pretty overwhelming and encouraged the development of Katie’s Homemade Tablet. We are passionate about retaining the taste and texture that we remember from childhood.

What the best piece of business advice you could give?

It’s very early days for this business and we are learning so much every day, some of the best advice received has to be from Entrepreneurial-Spark Business Accelerator, they love the product and offer an enormous amount of help, advice and support. For me personally their advice “Be comfortable with being uncomfortable” has huge significance and also to build relationships with your customers, I feel that’s really important. The only other piece of advice I would give is to just keep going and don’t stop, even if your moving slowly your still going in the right direction.

Where would you like to see your business in 5 years time?

To be known as a quality Scottish producer would be fantastic and for our product to be stocked throughout Scotland and abroad would be the icing on the cake.

If you could cook one of your own products what would it be and why?

This would need to be vanilla tablet, at the moment we have one flavour of tablet, we wanted to get this well established before expanding our range. We are currently experimenting with new flavours and they will be added when we are 100% happy with them.

You can invite one person living or dead to your last meal, who would it be and what would be on the menu?

This would need to be my Gran who died many years ago. Her friend and neighbour gave my family her tablet recipe and I still have her handwritten recipe to this day, although it has been tweaked a little it still has the three key ingredients that every good tablet needs; butter, sugar and condensed milk.

My Gran and our whole family made this for years, it would be fantastic for Gran to see what is happening with the business, I know she would be delighted. Anyway let’s get on with dinner, for Gran it would need to be a traditional dinner and my all time favourite to cook is leg of lamb with all the trimmings. For pudding, rhubarb crumble is a must, another of her neighbours used to shout me into her garden and give me armfuls of rhubarb wrapped in newspaper to take to my Gran’s house, this was made into the most amazing jams and crumble. Again I tweaked the recipe and like to add a couple of spoonfuls of Crème de cassis to the rhubarb, it just makes it even more yummy.

True to her word, Katie had my samples delivered in just a few days with three 100g bags of Katie's Homemade Tablet arriving through the post. Myself and Nicola were just about to embark upon our trip to London so I stuffed a couple of the bags into my man-bag so that we could enjoy our samples on the train.
The tablet was rich & buttery, with the right grainy texture that dissapeared to a smooth, sweet finish. The first bag didn't last too long as both myself and Nicola couldn't get enough of Katie's Homemade Tablet, both of us really enjoying the taste from yester-year. We decided to keep the second bag in case we needed an emergency hangover cure whilst in old London Town.

Available in a single bags or gift boxes, as well as options for weddings, corporate events and wholesale, Katie's Homemade Tablet is able to offer a wonderful sugar rush to satisfy many a sweet tooth. Check out the Katie's Homemade Tablet website for details on how to order your own personal stash of tablet, or to find out more about wholesale orders.

I would like to thank Katie for getting in touch and letting us sample her delicious product, and also thank her for letting me tell her story on Gerry's Kitchen.

Keep up to date with Katie's Homemade Tablet on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Monday, 19 May 2014

An Ideal Homecoming for Ideal Home Show Scotland

It’s the year of Homecoming Scotland and often it’s the simple things that remind you of home. It could be your granny’s shortbread, mum’s Sunday roasts or maybe your dad could rustle up a mean mince and tatties.
For some people their favourite dish from home is chicken soup for the soul, prescribed to comfort, cure homesickness and lift the spirit.
Even if your mum is a domestic disaster and nothing like goddess Nigella, you’ll remember the charcoal dinners that set off the fire alarm because these memories bring us back home.
Ideal Home Show returns to its Scottish home at Glasgow’s SECC for a fourth year and our favourite foodie expert Gregg Wallace has created a special homecoming themed menu, available at his pop-up Restaurant sponsored by Regina.
We’ve also asked Gregg and our other celebrity ambassadors what dish takes them back to their roots.
Gregg Wallace:
Rhubarb Crumble recipe from his Puddings Book:
Serves: 6
Prep time: 20 mins
Cooking time: 40 mins
Total time: 1 hr
Skill level: Easy peasy
Costs: Cheap as chips
Ingredients
  • 1kg (2lb) fresh rhubarb
  • 125g (4oz) caster sugar
  • 2 pieces of stem ginger, chopped
  • 2 tbsp stem ginger syrup
  • whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, to serve
  • custard, to serve
Crumble
  • 250g (8oz) plain flour
  • 125g (4oz) butter, diced
  • 25g (1oz) caster sugar
  • 25g (1oz) demerara sugar
Method
  1. Top and tail the rhubarb and remove the stringy skin. Cut the sticks into 2.5 cm (1 inch) lengths, put them in a large ovenproof dish and sprinkle with the caster sugar. Add the stem ginger and stem ginger syrup.
  2. To make the crumble, sift the flour into a bowl. Add the butter and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the caster sugar.
  3. Cover the rhubarb with the crumble and press it down lightly. Sprinkle the surface with the demerara sugar.
  4. Bake in a preheated oven, 190°C (375°F), Gas Mark 5, for 40 minutes until golden brown. Serve hot with custard.
By Gregg’s Favourite Puddings by Gregg Wallace, published by Hamlyn, £17.99
Gregg’s comments:
“This is my favourite pudding and has been since I was a small child. Some of my happiest memories are visits to my grandmother’s house. She was a wonderfully skilled old-fashioned cook and I adored her food. All great dishes evoke fond memories, this one is full of love and cuddles. The combination of sweet/sharp fruit with a toasty crunchy topping was and still is irresistible to me”.
John Amabile - Mum’s Beef Olives:
“Growing up, my mum and family always ate hearty, wholesome food. When I was living in London, I missed my mum’s beef olives, which reminded me of home. This homemade dish was made with good quality sausage and beef ham. My mum would cook them in a casserole dish with carrots, onions and potatoes. I loved the smell of the cooking and soaking up the gravy with an outsider of a plain loaf. When I want a hearty winter meal, I still make this. It’s also really convenient when you’ve been out all day, pop in all in a slow cooker and it’s ready when you get back”.
Suzi Perry - Mum’s roast dinners:
“My mum’s roast dinners are legendary! We would sit round an oak dining table swapping stories. My brother, grandparents and uncle were often there too. Roast beef was a favourite and my nan made wonderful Yorkshire puddings and a fabulous thick gravy. My mum always made lots of vegetables and we would fry the leftovers on a Monday with some grilled bacon. She also made the most divine roasted vegetable mix of onion, garlic, peppers and courgettes and I still make this for my family. Afterwards we would have apple crumble made with cooking apples from the garden, with melted brown sugar and custard or a lemon meringue tart. My nan also made ‘cheese straws’. These consisted of cheddar cheese grated into pastry, add in streaks of marmite, then twist and bake. I really miss those”.
Carol Smillie - Mum’s Chicken Soup:
“My dear mother, rest her soul, was not much of a cook. She thought pizza was too fancy and foreign! Fortunately I married a restaurateur, who changed by palette dramatically. My favourite meals as a child were mince and potatoes, Sunday roasts and mum's chicken soup. Even to this day, if I’ve not been feeling well, it’s this chicken soup that I really want”.
George Clarke - Shepherd's pie:
"A dish that reminds me of home is something that is simple but a classic British dish, and it’s a good old-fashioned shepherd’s pie. My mum would make a gorgeous homemade pie and it was something to look forward to all week. We would all sit round the table as a family in my home in Sunderland. Even today, this dish reminds me of those times”.
Diarmuid Gavin - Home baked bread:
"Mum wasn't the best cook. Our meals were however full of fresh food, made with basic ingredients. Her speciality was brown bread, baked in a round cake. The smell of a loaf straight from the oven would hit you as soon as you opened the front door. And eating it while still warm, with salty butter melting on spongy dough, and the hard crackly crust providing some bite, was delicious”.
The Gregg Wallace Restaurant sponsored by Regina will give visitors the chance to engage in some luxury dining to break up their busy shopping schedule. Open daily from 11.30am with 2 courses priced from £13.95. Table reservations to be made on site.
Book tickets to The Ideal Home Show Scotland here.



Searching for Scotland's Best Kept Hidden Larder Secrets

Foodie flagship event of the Autumn, ‘Eat Drink Discover Scotland’, has teamed up with celebrity chef Mark Greenaway to embark on a mission – to discover the secret ingredients that Scottish cooks just simply have to have in the pantry.
The public are being invited to reveal their favourite Scottish ‘secret ingredients’ by detailing what they are and where they’re purchased. The criteria range from herbs to condiments, alcohol to meats and even vegetables, providing they are either grown or produced in Scotland. Applicants are being encouraged to be as unpredictable, creative and unusual as possible. Mark and the Eat Drink Discover team will draw up a shortlist of the best entrants who will be invited to join him in a ‘cook off’ at the event, where the winner will be chosen. The producer or retailer who supplied the winner with their ‘secret ingredient’ will be given a free exhibition stand at next year’s event.
Eat Drink Discover Scotland, which is taking place at the Royal Highland Centre between 12th and 14th September, will bring to life the rich diversity of Scotland’s brimming larder by featuring exhibitors from the length and breadth of the country. One for the foodies, it will be offering something for every palate, plate and price range and, with a regional focus, it will be providing opportunities for smaller rural food producers to share centre stage with more established brands. The weekend will also include demonstrations and master classes such as chocolate workshops, cocktail making, game butchery and craft bakery.
Mark Greenaway said: “It’s all too easy to keep using the same ingredients for the same dishes, so this competition is all about discovering new ingredients and new ways of using them. I’ll be sharing my favourite products from the length and breadth of Scotland on my website’s blog, suggesting ways to make the most of them. But I want others to follow suit and share their favourites with me. This is what food and cooking should be about and, with Scotland’s truly amazing larder, I’m sure I’ll find it extremely difficult to choose a winner."
For more information on the competition please visit www.eatdrinkdiscoverscotland.co.uk or keep up to date on Facebook or Twitter

5 Questions - Heart & Soulfood Ltd

A few weeks ago myself and Nicola made a trip into Glasgow for lunch and drinks, starting off with a cracking set lunch at Arisaig in Glasgow's Merchant Square, before drinking far too much in far too many bars across the city. Our trip also allowed me to catch up with an artisan baker who I had been talking to on Twitter over the previous weeks. Heart & Soulfoods, run by Oban based sourdough baker Vicky Manning who regularly makes the lengthy journey down the A82 in order to sell her wares at the weekly Merchant City Craft & Design Fair.
Vicky's stall was a visual delight with a huge array of breads including a fantastic red wine & chorizo sourdough that we bought with plans for Sunday lunch already in mind. The stall also had a selection of other baked products and I struggled to take my eyes off Vicky's buns (brioche), sweet & savoury pastries, and assorted quiches. We also bought a couple of her marvellous cinnamon & marmalade swirls which were the perfect sugary hangover cure the next morning.

Here's Vicky's story;

How did you get started?

I love experimenting with baking so it was really just a natural progression for me to go from making bread with conventional yeast to using sourdough, which is much more complex and challenging. Besides, I couldn't get fresh yeast in Oban and didn't like using the dried stuff so found making sourdough much more satisfying. After many hours in the kitchen making sourdough and with friends and family trying my doughs I decide to start selling my creations to the public.

What's the best piece of business advice you could give?

The best advice I could give anyone starting up their own business is to try and do as much of the leg work yourself. Try not to rely on others if possible.

Where would you like to see your business in 5 years time?

Phew! In 5 years time, I honestly don't know where the business will be. I love what I do but if I ever stop enjoying it, then I won't do it anymore.

If you could only cook one of your recipes/products, what would it be and why?

I would make my smoked & caramelised onion and mushroom sourdough because it's a meal in itself. On top of that, it tastes great too.

You can invite one person (living or dead) to your last meal - Who would it be and why? ...and what's on the menu?

That's easy, It would have to be John Lennon as one of my other passions is music.

As John was he a fellow Scouser I would cook him a big pan of Scouse as I know his Aunt Mimi would have cooked that for him on a regular basis.

One of my favourite food pleasures is a thick slice of buttered bread and the flavoured sourdough so that Vicky creates takes this pleasure to another level. Make sure to check the Heart & Soulfood website to see when and where Vicky will be selling her baked goodies.

In addition to the bakery side of her business, Vicky also provides vintage tea parties and evening supper clubs in her home town of Oban, offering the locals the chance to 'break bread' with friends or meet new people in a relaxed atmosphere over good food.

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Saturday, 17 May 2014

Review - Pollen Street Social, Mayfair, London

On our previous trip to London in December myself and Nicola had treated ourselves to lunch at Marcus at The Berkeley, one of London's 11 restaurants that hold two Michelin stars. The fine dining experience was wonderful, so much so that we made a very early decision that on our next visit to the capital we would try to squeeze in another Michelin lunch experience.
It wasn't long before we had started organising our next trip and with train, hotel and theatre tickets booked, I started researching the many Michelin restaurants in London, knowing that one of them was going to be our next fine dining experience.
One of the more affordable ways to experience Michelin dining is to book a table over the lunchtime service. Most restaurants offer a pared back lunch menu for under £40 that still let you get a feel for top quality food and service. Sometimes you can find deals on the popular restaurant booking sites that might include a glass of wine or two for the same price. After much research, we had made our decision - Pollen Street Social was where we wanted to be.
Pollen Street Social is a 1 star Michelin restaurant located just behind Regent Street and is the flagship restaurant of Jason Atheron, a chef who is easily recognised from his recent TV work over the last few years. In 2008 Jason won the starter and main course sections of Great British Menu for a meal hosted by Heston Blumenthal at the top of The Gherkin. With regular appearances on Saturday Kitchen with James Martin and most recently a co-host on My Kitchen Rules with Lorraine Pascale, Jason Atheron in no stranger to our screens. Despite the regular TV work, Jason still manages to oversee a growing and well respected restaurant empire that currently has restaurants all over the globe, employing over 1000 staff.
After a casual stroll from our hotel in Bloomsbury, via Forbidden Planet in order for Nicola to get a little Doctor Who fix, we arrived at Pollen Street Social. We were a little early for our reservation so this allowed us to unwind with a cheeky wee aperitif. With a huge range of premium spirits to choose from, Nicola decided on Crystal Head vodka whist I tried a chilled bottle of Gentleman's Wit from Camden Town Brewery. I had been communicating with the restaurant prior to coming to London, enquiring whether Jason would be in the restaurant on the day of our lunch but had been advised that as he was in the final stages of opening his new restaurant, City Social, that he would not be around during our visit. Ah well, maybe another time.
As we sat enjoying our drinks we were a little surprised to see someone walking through the bar wearing 'chef whites', looking like he owned the place! It turns out that Jason was indeed in the restaurant and kindly came over to introduce himself and welcome us to his restaurant. I'll admit to being a little star struck (so much for the Gentlman's Wit!) and don't recall much of the few minute conversation that we had before he shot back into the kitchen to get on with the busy lunch service.
Still a little in shock, we finished our drinks before being escorted to our table in the restaurant, and once comfortable we were left to cast our eyes over the food and drinks menus.
We had already seen the set lunch menu online and were both happy that we could easily order three course from here without the need for the a la carte menu. (The set menu does change dependent on season) Like most high end restaurants, the Pollen Street Social wine list reads like a copy of Encyclopedia Brittanica with something to suite every taste and budget. In the end we ordered a fantastic bottle of Sauvignon Blanc Ventolera from the Chilean Aconcagua region of Chile. We also asked for some iced water which was served through our meal without the awkwardness of being forced to choose between still or sparkling.
Pollen Street Social presents itself as a contemporary bistro, offering deformalised dining and the design vision of Chinese design agency Neri & Hu back this up. The open plan restaurant and dining area, complete with wood panelled tables & booths, Chesterfield inspired leather sofas is a great mix of traditional with a modern twist. As we sat sipping our wine we commented on the fact that there weren't a huge number of women dining but just at that, two young ladies were ushered to the table next to us. It took is just a second to realise that one of the girls was TV presenter Davina McCall who was having lunch having just done a charity photo shoot for Stand Up 2 Cancer. It's really odd trying to relax when there's someone sitting across from you that you think you know, who doesn't know you! It didn't get any easier Ant McPartland stopped by Davina's table for a quick chat.
Before we could get too carried away with celebrity spotting, some warm bread served with salted butter (hoorah), and a paste of salt cod, potato and olive oil, were served. We also received an amuse bouche selection, neatly presented inside an old book. The three appetisers were Crispy artichoke skins with truffle ricotta, Parmesan sablè, tomato fondue, black olive crumbs, and Prawn crackers, brown crab mayonnaise. Each tiny morsel was packed full of flavour, and we both struggled to pick a favourite but our taste buds were warming up nicely and we were both loocking forward to our starters.
The next dish to arrive at the table was compliments of the chef.
Inside the ceramic egg cup was what can only be described as a fancy 'all day breakfast' as we were served Jason Atherton's Breakfast egg mousse. The hollowed out eggshell had been carefully filled with layers of baked potato foam, tomato fondue, scrambled egg, then topped with crispy pancetta. This playful dish was fantastic, and demonstrated the skill and imagination that Jason is known for.
After 'breakfast' we were treated to yet another dish with the compliments of the chef. This next surprise course looked lovely and tasted even better. I never thought that I would like cold soups but this starter of poached prawns with peas, shallots and a quinelle of crème fraîche, lemon zest and lime juice which was then ceremoniously drowned in a chilled pea soup was outstanding. The vivid colours and clean, fresh flavours of this dish have definitely changed my opinion on cold soups.
Our original three course lunch was now turning into an impromptu tasting menu, thanks to the generosity of head chef Jason, and it wasn't too long before our actual starter arrived at the table. I had almost ordered the wild garlic soup with crispy pig's trotter but bottled out of it at the last minute and as a result we both ordered the English asparagus with Dorset crab, passion fruit gel & blood orange.
Blanched spears of asparagus were joined on the plate with a generous amount of sweet flaked crabmeat, sharp passion fruit gel and blood orange segments. Perfectly balanced and visually stunning, this dish was a wonderful way to showcase seasonal produce at its best.

By this point of the afternoon it's safe to say that we had both been suitably 'wowed' by the quality of food coming out of the kitchen, and it just kept coming.
I would have been happy with any of the three main courses as they all sounded great, but I'm delighted that I chose to order the rabbit. Without a word of a lie, this has been the best plate of food that I have ever eaten. Once again the presentation was exceptional and this added to the attention to detail in the preparation made for a truly wonderful dish. As I cut into the tender rolls of soft rabbit, I could see that the loins had been stuffed with softened carrot and broccoli, this was accompanied with perfectly cooked baby carrot and tender stem broccoli, and a tomato purée. To top the dish off, the rich rabbit reduction from the cooking pan was poured over the top of the rabbit at the table. I could have eaten another serving of this fantastic rabbit without hesitation - it was perfection on a plate!
Anyone who knows Nicola will know that she loves lamb so it will be no surprise that as soon as she spotted the Lake District lamb neck then her mind was made up. Her main course of braised lamb neck, with wild garlic, peas and asparagus was a delightful plate of food. The lamb was unbelievably tender, almost falling apart as the fork touched, served with a rich lamb jus. Once again, everything was perfectly cooked and seasoned well. The lamb worked well with the fresh asparagus and peas, and the addition of wild garlic lifted this dish to another level. Neither of us could believe how much flavour is in the little wild garlic flowers that were scattered across the top of the lamb.
With the mains course now over we had a glance over the dessert befor making our choices. Our sommelier asked if we would like a dessert wine to go with our puddings so we left it to her skill and knowledge tto match an appropriate wine for the two desserts that we had ordered. Both were inspired pairings.
It is not uncommon to have a sorbet served after the main course as a palate cleanser. At Pollen Street Social, Jason Atherton had his own twist we were served the cutest strawberry milkshake between the main and dessert.
The 'milkshake' was actually a sharp strawberry compote with vanilla foam, olive oil and what I think may have been a basil flavour crumb on top, all served in a cute little tumbler with its own tiny glass straw.
As we waited on our dessert to be served, we were invited to sit at the pastry bar. This allows diners to watch the pastry chefs preparing all of the desserts before they are dispatched to the waiting diners. From this vantage point it is also possible to see directly into the kitchen however as we were now at the end of a busy lunch services, we could only see chefs and kitchen porters frantically tidying up in preparation for the approaching evening service.
My 2006 Sonnenglanz Grand Cru was full of body with a sweetness that cut through the rich dark chocolate from my dessert.
Nicola had ordered the English strawberries with vanilla sabe, custard, and strawberry sorbet as her pudding. Fresh strawberries were hidden under a sharp sorbet and a custard foam that was flavoured with fresh ginger. To finish the dish off, strawberry ice cream made using liquid nitrogen was scattered around the custard. This was a really playful dessert showing what can be done with simple flavours and little imagination.
My own dessert was a much more adult affair. I had ordered the 'millionaire shortbread' with hazelnut praline and stout ice cream. Talk about rich? The sliver of dark chocolate torte was balance perfectly with the sticky sweet caramel and almost coffee like flavour from the ice cream. I would like to say that I could have eaten this all day but after the previous courses I was now beginning to feel a satisfyingly stuffed.
As we sat finishing our drinks, the pastry chef was busying himself making a batch of Pollen Street Social's renowned 'Nitro Peanut', which is as it sounds - peanut butter cream & liquid nitrogen, and he kindly let us try some. It was lovely, tasting how I would image the nougat layer of a 'Snickers' to taste if you had left it in the freezer overnight.
With only a couple of hours until our train left Euston Station, it was time to draw a close to our lunch. Upon asking for the bill, we were presented with a final few little treats at the pastry bar. Freshly baked mini sponges filled with white chocolate, more nitro ice cream, (chocolate flavour this time), and little cones with liqueur filled bonbons were a wonderful way to end our meal.
As we were getting ready to leave, so too was Davina, so Nicola took her chance to have her own celebrity photo moment. We would like to thank Davina for taking a few moments out to stop for a photo and quick chat about lunch.
By the time we were leaving, Jason had already left the restaurant. We found out later that he had a TV interview as part of the promotion of the new restaurant, but before he left he had asked that I be presented with a signed copy of his 'Gourmet Food for a Fiver' recipe book. What a nice gesture and a great way for me to finish of my afternoon.
So how did our second Michelin experience compare to our first?
The food at Pollen Street Social was outstanding and could not be faulted, whilst the service was impeccable. I don't think it's fair to compare the two restaurants as they are both very different in setting and target market. What I will say is that our expectations of the day were very high and Pollen Street Social delivered in spades. I would not hesitate in recommending to anyone visiting London to consider making Pollen Street Social one of the things on their list of things to do.
I would like to take this time to thank Jason and all of his staff for making us feel very welcome at his flagship restaurant, as well as thank him for the 'little extras' that helped make our visit a memorable one.
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