Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Thornton Hall's Matt Worswick To Take on Great British Menu

The new executive chef at Thornton Hall Hotel & Spa will compete in the new series of Great British Menu.
The new BBC series airs this Summer and will see Matt Worswick (27) fly the flag for Thornton Hall Hotel & Spa and its fine-dining restaurant The Lawns, as UK chefs compete to cook at a commemorative dinner to celebrate 100 years of The Women's Institute.
Matt said: "I still can’t believe I’ll be on Great British Menu. Some of the UK’s best-known chefs have competed on this show and it’s an honour to follow in their footsteps, not to mention flying the flag for food in the North West."
Liverpool born Matt, who achieved a Michelin star at just 26, has worked at some of the UK’s most high profile restaurants including Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham and The Elephant in Torquay.
The series will see Matt pitted against three other North West chefs to represent the region, before the winner competes with the other regional finalists for one of four courses at the commemorative dinner.
Speaking about this year’s brief, Matt said: "This year’s brief really touched a chord with me as my grandma was a lifelong member of the WI. Researching the brief, reading her old cookery books and designing my dishes has made me feel even closer to her and I hope I’ve done her and the WI proud.
"Even though it’s a competition and places in the final are coveted, there was a real sense of camaraderie in the kitchen and it was pleasure working alongside other great chefs."
Matt kept tight-lipped about how his performance. He said. "You’ll just have to watch to see what happens."
Matt joined The Lawns in November 2014 to improve the creativity and quality of the food at the 3AA rosette restaurant and his new menus have received wide acclaim. He describes his style of food as bold, masculine and with European influences. Dishes include venison with bolognese and granola and halibut with salt milk crumble and smoked almonds.
Matt will compete against North West chefs Mark Ellis and Eve Townson.
Marcus Wareing, Jason Atherton and Mark Greenaway have all impressed in The Great British Menu in previous years, and myself and Nicola have been fortunate enough to have had all three cook dinner or lunch for us in the last 18 months. This year's series doesn't air until later in the summer but in the meantime we are both looking forward to trying the creative menu designed by Matt as we will be staying at The Thornton Hall Hotel & Spa this coming Saturday and will also be enjoying dinner at The Lawns. Keep an eye out for my review of Matt and The Lawns which I hope to have posted next week.


Monday, 29 June 2015

30 Second Beer Review - White Ale by Hitachino Nest Beer

Last year, as part of my Beers of The World Cup challenge, I tried to drink a beer from each of the 32 countries who were competing in Brazil. I struggled to source a beer from every country but still managed to drink some pretty tasty examples of fine brewing from around the globe, including a wonderful beer from Japan - Hitachino Nest Pale Ale.
I hadn't drank any of the other beers from 'the nest' since then but when we were in Wagamama in Birmingham last month, I was delighted to see that the restaurant chain have extended their range of Asian beers to now include Hitachino Nest White Ale.
White Ale (5.5% ABV) from Hitachino Nest Beer
  • Bought at Wagamama New Street, Birmingham for £4.50
  • Pours with a thin head that doesn't stick around (although I don't think the glasses in Wagamama do the drink justice)
  • Hazy golden colour, not as cloudy as a German weissbier but the Japanese attempt at styling a wheat beer is a good one
  • Notes of orange peel, coriander, clove and nutmeg on the nose
  • High carbonation
  • This is a great beer. The spice flavours come through well, with orange and clove vying for immediate attention before the coriander and nutmeg arrive on the tongue. Fairly complex in taste, the clove wins in the end and lingers in the mouth. It works well with spicy food, although not sure that I could drink too much of it in one sitting.
This is one of the better wheat beers from outside of Germany and I would definitely recommend you try it if you get the chance. You might find the Hitachino Nest Beer range at a good independent off sales but if you're struggling, you can just as easily get yourself along to your nearest Wagamama and treat yourself to some authentic Japanese food and drink.



Sunday, 28 June 2015

Recipe - Coriander, Chilli & Lime Chicken with Homemade Guacamole

Always on the lookout for quick and easy recipes, last week I spotted a recipe on the Facebook page of Olive Magazine that I decided to try out at home. All of the ingredients are things that I would normally have in the fridge and based on the end result, this will be a dish that I'll definitely be doing again soon.
  • 2 chicken breasts, butterflied
  • 1 lime, juice and zest
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped
  • Large handful of coriander, chopped
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 3 tbsp olive oil

  1. To make the guacamole, scoop out the flesh of the avocado and add to a bowl with the crushed garlic, half the lime juice, half the chilli, and half the chopped coriander then mix thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper and when you're happy with the balance, chill in the fridge until needed.
  2. To make the marinade for the chicken, mix the olive oil, lime zest, and the remaining lime juice, chilli and coriander before blitzing in a food processor or with a hand blender.
  3. Cover the chicken breasts and set aside for 20-30 minutes.
  4. Heat a frying pan or griddle and once hot, add the marinated chicken breasts. Cook for 6-8 minutes on each side or until the chicken is cooked through.

To serve, I kept it simple and accompanied the chicken with sautéed potatoes and the chilled guacamole. The chicken was wonderfully moist and full of flavour. My first attempt at guacamole was very good although it might be worth keeping an eye on the garlic!
You could serve this chicken up in so many way, perhaps with a salad and baked potato or why not load up a toasted brioche bun with salad, guacamole and a chargrilled piece of coriander, chilli and lime chicken?


30 Second Beer Review - Happy Chappy by Cromarty Brewing Co,

As I work my way through my Beer Bottle Cap Challenge, I'm getting to taste some pretty good beers (& some not so good) from all over the world . It's only right that I try to review some of those beers along the way. Budget supermarket Aldi have been a huge help in my quest with their Summer Beer Festival. Their shelves carry a fantastic range of craft beers from the UK as well as from elswhere across the globe, and on my last visit I picked up a bottle of beer from Cromarty Brewing Co. I'd tasted Happy Chappy before and recall liking its fresh flavours so was looking forward to it trying again.
Happy Chappy (ABV 4.1%) from Cromarty Brewing Co.
  • Bought from Aldi for £1.49
  • Pours with a foamy head that reduces quickly
  • Deep golden/orange colour
  • Notes of orange peel and gratefruit - not huge but noticeable
  • Medium carbonation
  • Light but not watery, bitter bite that is cleansed by the grapefruit and orange. Malted oats give a bittersweet finish. Easy drinking session beer.
I enjoyed Happy Chappy but not as much as the first time that I tasted it. I can only assume that as I have been drinking some big hitting IPA's over the recent month, my tastebuds are craving more from my beers now. That said, I'm sure that if I were sitting in the garden with the barbecue coals smouldering away, then Happy Chappy would be a welcome addition to the party.



Saturday, 27 June 2015

5 Questions - Derek Donaldson, Executive Head Chef, Hilton Glasgow

A few weeks ago I was honoured to be invited along to The CIS Excellence Awards at the Hilton Glasgow. The showpiece event in Scotland's food and drink calendar is held to recognise and reward innovation and excellence in Scotland's catering & hospitality sector.
The black-tie event, hosted by Kaye Adams, was attended by those individuals or businesses who had gone above and beyond to deliver top level service and quality who were all hoping to take home the trophy for their nominated categories.
The night started with a champagne reception with canapés from the kitchen and an endless supply of Loch Fyne Oysters before all of the guests were ushered to the ballroom to be seated. During the award ceremony, we were served a wonderful meal prepared by the Hilton Glasgow's Executive Head Chef Derek Donaldson and his brigade.
In fact, the chef had to take a break from service in order to accept his own CIS Excellence Award as he was crowned the winner in the new Banqueting & Event Catering Chef category. However Derek didn't get the chance to celebrate properly as he had to get back downstairs to continue serving dinner.
I had previously had the chance to put my 5 Questions to Graham Gardner, one of the chefs who works under Derek Donaldson, so it only seemed right that I gave the top man the chance to have his story told.
Here's Derek's story;
How did you get started?
I managed to get a Youth Training Scheme placement when I left school at the Stakis Normandy Hotel. I received training in the various departments of the hotel including housekeeping, concierge and service front of house until I picked the kitchen as I enjoyed that the most. After the Stakis I worked at the Thistle Hotel as a commis chef for two years, then as a chef de partie when Hilton Glasgow opened in 1992.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give any young aspiring chefs?
Work hard, learn from good chefs, read cookery books, be respectful to others, help others, stay humble and enjoy your cooking!
Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years time?
I think I would like to be setting up and running a couple of my own restaurants and guiding talented chefs within Scotland
If you could only cook one of your own recipes, what would it be & why?
I enjoy using and working with Scottish fish and shellfish especially hand dived scallops and langoustines. I love the smells obtained producing sauces to compliment them and the delicate cooking processes involved in producing fish dishes.
You can invite one person (living or dead) to your last meal – Who would it be and why?
It would have to be Sir Winston Churchill – I am interested in politics and I would love to chat about the many stories he would have had around the second world war!
Having worked at the the hotel since opening, although he did leave for a short spell at The Blytheswood Hotel in 2011 before returning to the Hilton Glasgow two years later, Derek is very much a part of the furniture, overseeing everything to do with food and drink to ensure that guests and visitors to Connich Bar, Morblas, and the Ti Tea lounge have a memorable time. So if you're looking for ideas for dinner in Glasgow, why not check out Hilton Glasgow? The five star hotel is located just off the M8 motorway at Charing Cross and only a ten minute walk from Glasgow's West End or George Square.
I'd like to thank Derek for taking the time out to answer 5 Questions and wish him all the best in the future. Keep up to date with Hilton Glasgow on Facebook and Twitter.


Thursday, 25 June 2015

Review - The Gilbert Scott, St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Euston Road, London

Earlier this year my brother-in-law had plans to run The Virgin Money London Marathon, so myself and Nicola booked up a city break so that we could cheer Phil on as he joined the other runners in taking on the gruelling streets of the capital. Unfortunately, less than a week before the race, a distraught Phil had to pull out of the race due to injury.
Whilst this was disappointing for Phil and family, it didn't stop them or ourselves making the trip to London as originally planned and although feeling a little sorry for himself, he still managed to meet up with us at Canada Water (renamed Buxton Water for the day) to cheer on the runners as they passed the nine mile marker.
London probably has more restaurant in a condensed area than anywhere else in the world so in the interests of being prepared before we made the journey south, I had taken a little time to research places that we might like to visit as well as booking a few tables for lunch and dinner over our trip to London.
Keen to match quality dining with great value, I booked dinner at The Gilbert Scott for the Sunday evening. Their Weekend Roast deal at a competitively priced £30 for three courses had caught my eye and as the restaurant is part of the Marcus Wareing group, I was confident that quality and value would be delivered in spades.
The restaurant is housed within the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel (which occupies most of the old Midland Grand Hotel) and is named after the architect who designed the original building, Sir George Gilbert Scott. We had previously enjoyed cocktails in the restaurant bar but never eaten there so we were both looking forward to our first visit to the grand restaurant.
We made our way to the restaurant and after walking through the main entrance of St. Pancras International train station and past the huge bronze 'Meeting Place' statue by Paul Day, we worked out that we had half an hour to spare before dinner giving us time to grab a pre-dinner drink at Searcys Champagne Bar.
St. Pancras International is a magnificent building with a fascinating history and as we sat sipping our champagne under Barlow's Train Shed we both agreed that the restoration work that had been carried out prior to the train station taking on the role of London's Eurostar terminal, was nothing short of breathtaking!
The minutes ticked by slowly, giving us time to feel a little jealous of the passengers who were boarding the Eurostar train that sat on the platform next to us but soon it was time for dinner and we made our way to the grand dining room of The Gilbert Scott.
We were warmly welcomed and shown to our table before being presented with a complimentary house cocktail, the 1873 (named after the year that The Midland Grand Hotel opened). The 1873 is a subtle mix of Bombay Sapphire gin, apple & rhubarb, cranberry juice and fizz - and definitely the best way to start off our dining experience. I would like to think that we had received this little extra because the word was out that 'Gerry's Kitchen' was in Old London Town, however it's more likely to do with the fact that Marcus Wareing has previously taken time to answer his own 5 questions plus I had been in communication with the restaurant prior to our arrival. Regardless, we were immediately made to feel very important and were even more excited about what dinner may hold.
As with most fine dining restaurants, the Gilbert Scott wine list is like Encyclopædia Britannica with literally hundreds of wines to choose from. Our original choice of wine was a French Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley but it was sold out so the maitre de kindly recommended a wonderful Chardonnay from Brazil. Yes, that's right - I said Brazil! I didn't know that they made wine there either but after tasting the crisp Casa Valduga Chardonnay, I will be looking out for Brazilian wines in future.
The Weekend Roast menu has a choice of three starters, mains, and desserts at a competitively priced £30 per head. To start, I ordered the Crispy Pigs Head with Coppa ham, gribiche and endive. I was slightly concerned that I might receive a bowlful of pigs ears but the dish actually comprised of two deep fried croquettes of pork made from the slow cooked meat from the pigs head. The contrast in texture and flavours was amazing. The textures of the crispy coating, tender slow cooked pork and crisp endive leaves were great together while the saltiness of the Coppa ham, the bitterness of the endive and sweetness of the pork were a partnership that I could eat all night. It has to be said that the gribiche was the start of the show - gribiche is a mayonnaise made from hard boiled egg (not raw) and flavoured with chervil, capers and gherkins - a perfect foil for the other flavours on the dish.
Nicola chose the home smoked trout, radish slaw, rye & horseradish. I have 'borrowed' the image from the Twitter feed of The Gilbert Scott as my own photo was very badly lit. Visually, the dish looked clean and fresh with two fillets of trout resting on a bed of crunchy radish slaw and dressed with a glossy drizzle of horseradish dressing. The fish had a very subtle smokiness which was balanced by the fiery horseradish and the earthiness from the rye bread, and once again the differing textures on the plate made sure that everything balanced well.
After a short break, it was time for the main event - The Weekend Roast. We could chose from Roast Beef, Roast Chicken or Pan-fried Sea Bass, all of which would be accompanied by crispy roast potatoes and roasted carrots.
I had eaten a fairly substantial lunch earlier in the day at Camden Market so opted for the sea bass thinking that it would be a lighter option. How wrong was I? One of the largest sea bass fillets that I have ever seen arrived, layered across creamed leeks and buttered greens and the other accompanying vegetables. The sea bass was cooked wonderfully and seasoned well, as was everything else on the plate. You couldn't accuse The Gilbert Scott of scrimping on portion size and after s valiant attempt at clearing the plate, I had to admit defeat in the hope that I could leave room for pudding.
Nicola loves a Sunday Roast so she was in her element, in fact she even made sure that we were married on a Sunday so that the Wedding Breakfast was Roast Chicken! She decided to go for the Goosenargh chicken for her main and couldn't believe her eyes when her plate arrived with a chicken breast, leg and wing stacked on top of the vegetables. The roast chicken was deliciously moist, helped by the rich chicken gravy that was seasoned perfectly, and the delicious bread sauce that was served on the side. Neither of us are usually big fans of bread sauce but when it's done properly, it can be a wonderful thing. This portion size was definitely too much for Nicola so I helped a little, even if just to help free up some working space on her plate.
We didn't order any sides as we figured that the roast dinner would be plenty, but the restaurant manager kindly brought us a side of tenderstem broccoli with walnuts and a side of more buttered greens, which were compliments of the chef. I know that they were covered in butter but I'm decided to count them as two of our five-a-day and we happily worked our way through the tasty side dishes.
As we were coming to the end of our wine, the restaurant manager presented us with a little pre-dessert appetiser in the form of miniature version of one of the puddings from the a la carte menu. The pineapple, coconut, guava and lemongrass had caught my eye earlier so I was delighted to have the chance to taste it. I'm glad that I did it acted as a very good palette cleanser, the sharpness of the lemongrass and guava helping to freshen up our mouths before our desserts were served.
By this time we had already had our money worth but things just got better as our desserts arrived. The restaurant manager informed us that as our wine glasses were empty, it would be a crime to have desserts without something to accompany them. At this point, the sommieler poured us each a glass of dessert wine that had been matched to our choice of pudding.
My own dessert was poached rhubarb with blood orange sorbet, ginger crumb and vanilla ice cream. This adult version of rhubarb crumble was delicious was delicious and worked well with the 2005 Castenau Sauternes that had been poured for me. The wine was very rich with sweet apricot notes and a hint of oak which cut through the sharp flavours of the rhubarb and blood orange sorbet easily.
Nicola's dessert was the pudding equivalent of a gin and bitter lemon which featured a jelly of gin, lemon and thyme scattered with crumbed shortbread and lemon parfait. The jelly was super sharp with zingy lemon but the subtle notes of thyme were definitely noticeable, whilst the lemon parfait had a sweeter finish that helped round off the pudding.
The accompanying dessert wine was a 2013 Seifried Nelson 'Sweet Agnes' Riesling from New Zealand. The wine had the intense flavours of lime and a passion fruit that worked in harmony with the tartness of Nicola's pudding but also had a rich sweet honey finish that brought the perfect end to her meal.
With dinner finished, we both agreed that the Weekend Roast at The Gilbert Scott was a great way to spend a Sunday evening and as we savoured our after dinner coffee, we got ready to settle the bill. However, before we could pay for our evenings enjoyment, we were invited downstairs to see the kitchen.
We've been lucky enough to been shown around a number of kitchen but we couldn't get over the size of the the industrial kitchen of The Gilbert Scott. In fact, the stainless steel work stations seemed to run for miles under the grand hotel The chefs and kitchen porters were busy cleaning up after the dinner service but we managed to interrupt them briefly to thank them for looking after us across the evening before we made our way back upstairs and into the London night.
We wouldn't hesitate in recommending visiting The Gilbert Scott as somewhere to enjoy a great meal if you do find yourself in London. Our dining experience was fantastic and certainly made all the better for the little touches that the restaurant manager put our way but even if we hadn't had those little extras, we would still have had a fantastic meal at an affordable price. So don't be put off by the fact that The Gilbert Scott is part of Michelin starred chef Marcus Wareing stable of restaurants, you could go to any number of the big chain restaurants in London to order three courses from their a la carte menu and end up spending a similar amount to what we spent that night. So why not spend the same money and enjoy a bit of class and style?
Once again I would like to thank the staff and management of The Gilbert Scott for their hospitality on the night and we look forward to returning for dinner or cocktails the next time that we are in the capital.
Keep up to date with The Gilbert Scott on Facebook and Twitter.


Friday, 19 June 2015

30 Second Beer Review - Perfect Storm by Williams Bros. Brewing Co.

One of my recent 5 Questions posts featured Scottish brewers, William Bros. Brewing Co. In the post I mentioned that they were one of my current favourite suppliers of craft beers so it only seemed right that I made them the focus of my next 30 Second Beer Reviews.
If you had asked me last week which of the Williams Bros. beers I like best, I would have been torn between either Joker IPA or Seven Giraffes as both of these beers are great, however that was before I tasted Perfect Storm earlier this week and now I have a new favourite.
Perfect Storm Epic IPA by Williams Bros. Brewing Co.
  • Bought at Aldi for £1.49
  • Pours with a creamy head that hangs around through the whole drink
  • Deep copper colour
  • Smells fresh and light with big grapefruit and tropical notes on the nose
  • Medium carbonation
  • The grapefruit notes are clearly evident but are crushed by a massive hops bitter finish. There a great balance of crisp and bitter fighting for attention but bitter wins in the end.
I really enjoyed this epic offering from Williams Bros. with Perfect Storm bringing an almost calming effect to my manic day and it definitely will not be the last time that I drink this fantastic IPA. If only Summer would hurry up and arrive as I can imagine enjoying this on a hot sunny day whilst quietly rearranging the thought in my overly cluttered head.



Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Royal Highland Show, 18-21 June 2015 Featuring Scotland's Larder Live

Not long now until the doors open on what is being billed as a moo-hoosive Royal Highland Show! Now in its 175th year, the Royal Highland Show organisers have rebranded the show’s food hall as Scotland’s Larder Live as part of Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink. The food hall has always been hugely popular with visitors and this year the focus on food and drink is expected to reach fever pitch. Over the last few years I have been lucky enough to attend The Show and meet some of the wonderful producers who used the event as a springboard to launch their products or help raise their public profile and awareness. Some of those businesses who will be back at the show have previously taken time out to have their own story told by answering 5 Questions. Have a read through the stories below and if you're at the Royal Highland Show this weekend you might get the chance to say hello to the men and women behind the brands.
Berry Good, run by Jill Brown, produce a range of award winning fruit infused spirits.
Coole Swan produce an amazing cream liqueur from Irish whisky and Belgian white chocolate.
Trotters Independent Condiments produce a wide range of unusual and interesting chutneys and relishes.
Mash Direct produce a massive range of award winning ready to cook meals made exclusively from the vegetable that grow on their own farm.
Kwan's Kitchen, run by the Stephen Kwan, produce a range of authentic Chinese condiment and stir fry meal kits.

Galloway Chillies, run by Sheena Horner, produce a fantastic range of chutneys and relishes from chillies they grow themselves combined with locally sourced raw ingredients.
This is just a snapshot of the producers who will be on show but if you do visit the Royal Highland Show, you won't go wrong by taking time to visit each of the producer stands mentioned above.
If you happen to be a producer and would like your own story to be told then get in touch and you can answer your own 5 Questions.

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