Friday, 24 December 2010

Beer Review no.5: St. Bernadus Abt 12, Abbey Ale (Watou, Belgium)

I started off this feature by talking about Britain returning to tradition with new artisan ale breweries and learning to appreciate what we already have.  But some countries don't need to do that because they never forgot about their fantastic their beer heritage, few more so than the Belgians.  Trappist brews have been created for centuries and every bottle has that whiff of the middle ages about it.  More than that many of them are considered amongst the very best beers in the world.  It's no stretch of the imagination to see the St. Bernadus Abt 12 as drawing on generations and generations of experience to make it, it's a fantastic beer, and the monks are generous enough to give it to the outside world without asking for a vow of celibacy.  Hallelujah!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Summer Lightening, Golden Ale: Hop Back Brewery (Salisbury)

So at last as we get to beer number three we get an English ale and an award winner no less.  Summer Lightening, by Hop Back Brewery has won the  CAMRA gold medals for best new brewery in 1989, best strong beer 1992 and 2001 and best bottle conditioned ale 1997, as well as a gold Brewing industry international award in 1996, a 1998 National Hop Association, England award and a 2004 Taste of the West Food Awards gold.  None in the last six years though.  So is it trading on past glories?

Restaurant Review: Dotori

Korean food has made it to Soho in quite a pronounced way with Koba and a handful of others confirming that neighbourhoods continued status as one of those most receptive to new eating trends.  There's also a few good places in Holborn and around town.  But it's still not a cuisine that has captured the imagination like sushi, if sadly not the rest of Japanese cuisine, started to do in the mid-nineties.  Maybe that's why Dotori offers ramen and sushi alongside its Korean options to guarantee custom.  This stuff looked good, but we weren't interested in that, we wanted the satisfying bibimbaps and kimchi stews on offer, and we certainly weren't disappointed by their quality.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Beer Review no. 2: Snake Dog IPA, Flying Dog (Maryland)

'...suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming, 'Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?' It's almost certain that beer did not inspire Hunter. S. Thompson's famous first page in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but nevertheless the man liked a good drink... really, really liked it.  Pretty natural then to quote him on your bottle - 'Good people drink good beer' HST - and then hire his long-time friend to do your label designs.  Its a killer combination and one that I couldn't resist.  So here we go with American beer number two, brewed in Maryland this time but originating in Dr Gonzo's hometown of Aspen, Colorado in the Flying Dog pub, where the owners made friends with Dr. Thompson, hence the branding.  This time I'v gone for an IPA, one of my favourite styles and one popularised in the states by artisan brewers extrodinairre Sierra Nevada.  Let's see how Flying Dog's rendition works out.  Oh and 'no point in mentioning these bats... Poor bastard will see them soon enough'.

Beer Review no.1: Hades Belgian Style Ale; Great Divide Brewing Co. (Denver, Colorado))

There's a myth that ale is an old mans drink.  This is something that's perpetuated by any footage you see of the large beardy men in control of CAMRA (I intend to be large and am often beardy so don't take this the wrong way) and young codgers like James May.  I think this is pretty unfair.  One fifty-something who should no better - you know who you are - has repeatedly told me he doesn't like to drink ale 'because it tastes of fart'.  How rude.  On the other hand almost all my friends are ale drinkers and I think this is indicative of a wider trend.  Ale fits perfectly into the current interest in traditional British products, provenance, local buying and all of the other trends which have been mercifully rescued from the sandals and socks brigade.  The Germans, Belgians and Czechs have lager and wheat beers, the French, Spanish and Italians have wine, we have ale.  This item won't just look at ales or British beer, but I would like them to be a focus.  So it is with regret that I kick of my beer reviews with an example made by our cousins from across the pond, where micro-brewing is as cool as Lilly Cole buying a Rothko and has exploded way past our still endangered, if growing scene.

Restaurant Review; Flame

I love lahmacun, the crispy base, the rich meaty lamby topping, the fact that I can buy a great one for £1.40 round the corner from me.  Also it must be healthy, surely you can't buy that many calories for £1.40... surely (he says grabbing belly).  It is much to my surprise, therefore, that my new favourite Green Lanes restaurant does not sell lahmacun.  What's even more surprising is that it's still Turkish.  Turkish, no lahmacun, favourite... how odd.  So what's so great about this place (the food obviously, but why).  Amazing, amazing grilling skills - something key to any ocakbasi experience - and a real, attention and care to making sure that everything about what are at root simple dishes is just right.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Restaurant Review: Brawn

'My God, I've got to stop coming to East London.  There's a two year old hipster whose parents have put him in a Steve McQueen inspired skull beenie!!'  Girlfriend turns to look; child's jacket is taken off revealing a red and black striped top with a jolly roger flag on it.  'Oh,' I said' 'he's just dressed as a pirate... well it's not my fault, easy mistake to make, whoever heard of a whooly pirate hat, its stupid, hurumph.'

I could probably be forgiven, Colombia Road is after all a bit of hotspot for those dressed in, skinny jeans, and high waxy hair (as well as being very nice).  The latest edition in the sea of design shops and cafes is Brawn, a new project from the people that brought us Terroir an extremely popular French wine bar and eatery near Charring Cross.  Now you might suspect that by calling this new iteration Brawn the owners are indicating a shift towards gutsy, meaty British food.  Not quite.  It's still gutsy, meaty French (with a bit of Italian) food, they're just trying to cash into the cache of modern British food and offal that St John's made popular about a decade ago.  Mislabeling asside, however, there is very little wrong with this place, and lots to enjoy.