Delving into the politics and new advances in the world of Bordeaux Wines.
There is a well known joke that says: Heaven is where the police are British, the chefs Italian, the mechanics are German, the lovers are French and it’s all organised by the Swiss. Hell is where the police are German, the chefs are British, the mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss and it’s all organised by the Italians!
Put it this way, the British have never been famous for their cuisine. But it has been a week where a YouGov poll has caused controversy over its categorisation of British food. With favourites such as beef Wellington and Scotch eggs on a low tier and sausage rolls not even mentioned, the twitter sphere is outraged. There are inevitable comparisons to Brexit and complaints that the only colour on the chart was beige. But the most surprising point from my point of view was the revelation from the survey that 91% of Britons enjoy their national cuisine.
This figure sounds like a fairly normal number for a country with a proud and rich culture. However if we do have such a taste for our national cuisine, why isn’t this reflected in our restaurant consumption? A study conducted by Meerkat Meals in 2018 shows that the average Brit will eat out at least once a month with 6 out of 10 choosing the same places every time. The rise off the chain restaurant has certainly made it simple to make a decision. Wherever you are in England there is a guarantee that a Pollo ad Astra pizza. will taste the same in any Pizza Express you walk into, Wagamama’s will always deliver the same Pad Thai in London as in Manchester and the Brit obsession with a cheeky Nandos has been documented by everyone from MPs to boxing heavyweight champions. But the thing all of our favourite chains have in common is that they all showcase the cuisines of other nations.
Of the top 10 casual dining restaurants in England with the most outlets (last recorded 2017); 5 were Italian, 1 American, 1 Portuguese, 2 French, and 1 Japanese. Where are the national chain of fish and chip shops? Why did a chain of South African invented Portuguese food capture the imagination of the British public so much that they now have over 400 outlets whilst Pizza Express has never fallen from public interest since it opened in 1965, now reaching over 470 outlets across the U.K?
Of course the argument could be made that for when the 91% of Brits reach out for their fix of their national cuisine they so love, they can just pop down to their local traditional pub. Staples of the cuisine mentioned in the YouGov poll such as Shepherd’s pie, Sunday roast, Ploughman’s lunch would undoubtedly be available at the local Wetherspoons. But you would also find nachos, buffalo wings, pizza and curry. Presumably there is a reason that Pizza Express has never felt the need to offer anything outside the realm of Italian cuisine whereas Wetherspoon’s, Greene King and Fuller’s all offer British classsics alongside a huge myriad of dishes from cuisines across the globe. The demand just doesn’t seem as high for a solely British cuisine based restaurant. Or perhaps our cuisine has diversified to include a range of dishes from around the world?
What is interesting is that this bias against British food does not see to apply at the higher end of the market. Within the independent restaurant market with an average cost of c.£50 per head and higher per meal; British cuisine has been a food trend that doesn’t seem to be waning. Restaurants like Pollen Street Social, The Hind’s Head and Hawkesmoor go from strength to strength as consumers flock for traditional British grub, albeit elevated to a more refined level. Shows like the Great British Menu have championed the best of British. They have trumpeted the use of exclusively British produce and encouraged the public to embrace some of the more unusual historic foods such as bone marrow. Heston Blumenthal talked in an article about the change in fashion for British chefs from the popularity of French inspired food of the 80s and 90s to the British inspiration that dominates the industry. He said “There’s a new generation of chefs now doing some fantastic cooking of their own. Instead of being perfect exponents of French cuisine they are expressing their own personalities and experiences in their food”.
Given the higher end of the restaurant scene is so dominated by British cuisine, why isn’t there an equivalent chain restaurant monopolising on their success? Surely there is a gap in the market? Unfortunately it does not seem to be on the horizon. Jamie’s chain of Great British restaurants was the first to fold of his empire barely lasting a year. With all the patriotic fever of Brexit, perhaps this is the moment for an entrepreneur to step forward and create the ultimate British high street restaurant. But in the meantime we can only dream of a Shepherd’s pie and Treacle tart as we tuck into asome dough balls and garlic butter.g
Three things the Spanish get right about food:
- Spanish omelette, so simple yet never disappoints
Sharing is caring. Variety is the spice of life and I would much prefer to have a little of everything than a huge plate all to myself of only one flavour. With the exception of sweet potato fries.
Nothing beats simple seasoned tomatoes and hard cheese when consumed as close as possible to their point of origin.
The thing that immediately struck me while consuming a cup of gazpacho by the pool in my hotel was how perfect the food was for the weather. A balmy 22degrees and all I wanted was a cold, mildly garlicky, refreshing tomato soup. However I’m the first to point out that in the more dismal weather conditions in England all I want is roast chicken and an apple crumble.
It’s stating the obvious to point out that seasonality and produce should really have a higher place in our food consumption than they currently do but in the age of grab and go it is sadly not the case. I am particularly guilty of making cheap and easy the criteria for dinner.
However I am slowly moving to realise that the meat from my butcher is infinitely tastier than that from Sainsbury’s, it’s a shame in England that the price doesn’t match. In Spain it couldn’t be more different. Choosing an octopus dish when octopuses are plentiful in the surrounding area is not only cheap but delicious. Other tapas I would recommend next time you are in Jerez are; squid ink croquettes, thinly sliced Jamon with quince, marinated anchovies and of course the aforementioned Spanish omelette.
The prize for the best meal I ate in Jerez was undoubtedly the sherry and food matching menu at La Carbona. With a Michelin star and a jazzed up bodegas style interior, you could be forgiving for assuming this restaurant is hype over delivery but as the only non-local in the restaurant I beg to differ. A full 6-course sherry and food matching menu at €45 seems remarkably cheap and they could easily have cut corners on the food or wine they selected. However each course was carefully thought through and painstakingly matched not only to the style of wine, but to the individual producer style as well.
Upon arrival I was greeted with a smooth and silky chicken liver parfait with a Pedro Ximenez syrup. The sweet and savoury notes reminiscent of a Sauternes and foie gras blend but with a richer flavour. Then I moved to the first pairing. A Fino from William-Hubert with beetroot marinated salmon and guacamole. When I say this was my least favourite pairing, it’s merely because the following courses were of a particularly high standard, the salmon was melt in the mouth and the guacamole, punchy with flavour. The acidity of the Fino cut through the oily salmon like a knife.
Next up was my second favourite dish. I mentioned the proximity of Jerez to the sea makes for exquisite seafood dishes and this squid, wild mushroom and Parmesan risotto was no exception. Each component of the dish had been carefully thought out to match the Amontillado sherry by Dios Baco it was paired with. The wine was dark, savoury and caramelised on the nose whilst the palate displayed hints of a salty sea breeze. The dish was aromatic with Unami flavours of wild mushroom and Parmesan you could smell a mile off, but the taste had a hidden layer of salty squid, all stirred through a perfect al dente risotto.
The third pairing was surprising. A Palo Cortado, the smooth, lighter Oloroso wine style, with an Asian inspired dish. A pan fried sea bream with satay cream and stir fried vegetables. This turned out to be the ultimate winning combination of the lunch. The notes of sesame and peanut matched perfectly to notes of these sweeter nuts in the wine that I had barely noticed before but now will be forever synonymous with the Palo Cortado style. An explosion of flavour in the mouth and surely paving the way for a fusion style of cuisine.
Then came the classic pairing. Roast duck with pears and Oloroso. A pairing that exploits duck’s natural affinity to be accompanied by a touch of sugar and Oloroso’s ability to cut through the fattiness and match the rich dark meat of the duck breast. The Oloroso in question was a beautiful wine from bodegas Rio Viejo but unfortunately I had just tried an incredible Oloroso earlier that day (Faustino Gonzales) so unfortunately it somewhat paled in comparison.
The final course was once again surprising but less for the wine-matching than the dish itself. The sommelier explained that she had chosen a boutique cream sherry with a blend of Amontillado, Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez which would’ve gone wonderfully with any sweet ice cream and the delicious perfumed Fino tuile that accompanied the dish. The sugar in the dish mellowed the sugar in the wine, minimising your perception of it but retaining a caramelised flavour. However the astounding part was the ice cream, a cheese ice cream, that was surprisingly tasty. It was like eating a vanilla ice cream with a final afterthought of Unami Parmesan, subtle but with a lingering aftertaste. The strawberry syrup was not necessary on the dish as the ice cream spoke for itself and the syrup slightly overwhelmed it, but I would gladly eat a bowl of the extraordinary confection again.
It seems a shame that recreating the food in England probably won’t taste quite as good or authentic, but come the highs of 22degrees that we’ll inevitable get in the great British summer, I’ll certainly try.
Three things I learnt in Jerez:
- Sherry isn’t just a drink, it’s a way of life, particularly as you can get it for €1.50 a glass in most places. Long sit down meals are for the French and it is much cheaper and authentic to bar crawl and grab a fresh glass of sherry and tapas as you go.
Every style of sherry has it’s place and can be drunk at any time in the day, depending on the time of year and your mood. Except breakfast. At breakfast you drink cava.
The Spanish couldn’t care less whether we’re in the EU or not provided we get on and leave, then they can see the impact on exports and adjust accordingly.
It is clear when visiting the various bodegas around the city the impact that the British made on the sherry industry and that the residents of Jerez regard it with the fondness of an eccentric grandparent. The British have always had a certain taste for fortified wine and have made a huge impact on all of the major historic varieties. The majority of Port producers and Madeira producers have surprisingly English names owing to the family owners roots in the 19th century or so being British, partly due to colonisation. Travelling to Madeira last year I got the impression that whilst the wine is drunk throughout the area copiously at all times of the day, part of its longevity and success as a product was the British fondness for post-prandial fortified drinks. They were more alcoholic than wine but didn’t carry the lower-class connotations or burn that many spirits did.
The difference with sherry is that whilst they acknowledge that a fondness for the drink by the British not only supported the development of some of the major producers, (Tio Pepe springs to mind) it is very much a drink by the Spanish for the Spanish. The British butchered the nuances of the traditional dry varieties by insisting on the addition of sugar, particularly getting a taste for the cream style. The cream style (usually a blend of Oloroso/Palo Cortado/Amontillado and the naturally intensely sweet Pedro Ximenez wine, made from dried grapes) is a style of sherry that certainly has it’s place in the original line up, however the fino cream sherry, sweetened with grape juice and normally seen at Christmas of the Bristol cream variety, does not.
Recently we are seeing a renaissance in the British taste for sherry as a younger generation is introduced to the nuances of the dry styles and the development of the wine. Smaller producers that would never have made it across the waters to Britain in the past are now more common and the concentration of flavour and unique craftmanship is beginning to appeal to the market as oppose to the bulk production and continuity that used to be the required criteria.
Whilst in sherry I was lucky enough to be able to get a better understanding of the development of the wine by visiting three very different bodegas. The first was Lustau, widely regarded as the benchmark for premium sherry nowadays and of course by no great coincidence, stocked at Berry Bros. & Rudd. Their approach is fairly technical. The humid weather is crucial to the creation of the magical flor/yeast layer that covers the Fino sherry in the ageing process, protecting the wine from oxidation and giving it its characteristic bitter notes, hence the floor is wetted in the hotter months to maintain this perfect humidity. Tasting through the range means you start to understand the importance of the location of the barrels, those aged near the sea take on the characteristic of the flor from that area, a saltier quality if you like. Compare a wine aged near the harbour and you can almost taste the seaweed, marginally rougher than the more marine and mineral notes of those aged on the cliff sides. The Oloroso, fortified to a cool 20%, killing the flor and allowing the wine to oxidise, is carefully monitored and each of the marginally different varieties are named for friends of the family and aged in separate solera systems. An east India cream sherry, a blend of their Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez, is aged once blended to give it a softer characteristic rather than bottling immediately. The one exception to this military precision at Lustau is the enigmatic Palo Cortado wine, but more on that later.
The next style of bodegas I saw was the commercial bodegas. Tio Pepe is probably the most well known brand of sherry in the world and one of the largest scale productions. Unlike the other two places I visited they can proudly claim age on their side that led to the scale of the property as it is now. They place a great emphasis on their history, from the original Tio Pepe advising his nephew starting the project in the early 19th century, to the investment from the sherry-loving British banker, Mr Byass, that kickstarted the exportation of the product. They have two huge bodegas dedicated to a visit from the queen of Spain in the 19th century and other notable figures. They range from Churchill to Bobby Charlton, their signatures all preserved in chalk on the barrels, still containing a portion of the liquor that was held in it when they were embossed. They have become synonymous with consistency to be able to provide for the 150 markets they cater to across the world and they can achieve this with a solera system old enough to guarantee this consistency. The solera system is at the heart of the sherry production. The final wine to be bottled is drawn from a set of casks that can contain wine from when the solera first started. This barrel is topped up with wine from the next level up, which is topped up with wine from the next level up, which is topped up with the new wine, fresh from fermentation. In the case of Tio Pepe, despite the wine not having a vintage, some of the soleras can claim to contain wine that is 200years old. It is impressive on both a commercial level and to show the development of the sherry wine to its global popularity today.
The final bodegas I visited gave a sense of the community and passion of the sherry wine. I visited a small producer, Faustino Gonzalez, with a single large ageing house. Despite the family having been making sherry for a few decades, they had only started to sell the product four years ago as Spanish laws prohibited commercial sale of production under a certain amount. The change in law meant that a winemaking family with history, passion and experience were able to bring their expertise and craftsmanship over the years on to the open market. I was treated to a one on one chat with the winemaker and a unique chance to taste the development of a wine through the solera system. Starting with the original white wine, pre fortification, I tasted a standard inoffensive table wine. Then I tasted a single year-aged Fino with the flor just formed, ready to fill the next part of the system when required. Straight from the barrel we tasted the next stage of the system, the colour intensifying and the bitter notes starting to appear. Then the next stage, now at least 4 years in barrel and savoury and salty. Finally we tasted the solera, a minimum of 6 years old, almost golden, ready to be bottled and perfumed with salty almond and deep with concentration. The common thread running through Faustino Gonzales’s wines is the concentration of flavour. Achieved by the very fact that the wine was originally made for pleasure rather than commerciality. Jaime explained to me that the ethos here was to wait, and let the wines create themselves. There was no rush. For example their Amontillado, usually made by ageing a Fino sherry oxidatively to make it a halfway point between the Oloroso and Fino, is not fortified to 20% immediately. Rather the alcohol percentage is gently raised by 1-2% every years letting the flor die slowly and allowing the flavour to intensify over time. A nod should also be made to their extraordinarily good Oloroso. It has a nose of intense sweetness, reminding you of a candied Christmas cake, rich with dried fruit, orange peel and walnut, but the palate is dry, the flavours lingering but the acidity refreshing the palate at the same time. The best wine I tried on my trip. However there was one mystery that Jaime couldn’t explain to me, and that was the Palo Cortado wine. A wine traditionally baffling, originally classified as a fino sherry for its characteristics once fermented but then when re-tasted a year later, deemed to be better aged oxidatively as an oloroso. The wine is never quite as rich as an Oloroso but is smoother than any of the other wines in the line up. The only way Jaime could explain it was that it was a wine that had to be found, it couldn’t be made.
It was Jaime who clarified my impression of the Spanish attitude to Brexit. He asked me my thoughts and upon hearing a tirade of comments on the insanity of leaving a group that our modern institutions are so intertwined with, merely shrugged and said that the Spanish would adjust accordingly but they just needed a definitive stance from the British. He is of course correct. In a town with a heritage of food and wine that is much much older than any treaty agreement, they hardly need to worry about the British but it is always nice to know what’s going on.
I often think this blog should be renamed considering my life is not so much gullifereats as gullifereatsanddrinks. With my career developing in the wine industry, I am lucky enough to have exposure to and hopefully knowledge of some amazing wines. Therefore as a challenge to myself and to introduce you to some of the lesser known wines, I will be writing about a bottle a week. Why I bought it, why I like it and who I drank it with.
It was a cold and wet night in August and I was heading to Islington to visit a friend for dinner. Buried in my rucksack was a chilled bottle of white wine as we were determinedly clinging on to the last of the summer wine until autumn was well and truly upon us.
I’d been given the brief of a wine to match a tuna steak. As a cousin to the more red blooded beef steak, a tuna steak always suggests a white wine with more body than your classic vibrant and zingy white I would usually pair with fish. Searching through the selection at work I came upon one of my old favourites virtually designed for the threating storm clouds looming overhead. Wild Boy by A Bon Climat winery in California does not yell sophisticated, balanced and finesse. In fact at a first glance its label literally yells at you. However this is one of the finest Californian chardonnays on the market at the moment.
Made by the effervescent Jim Clendenen, Au Bon Climat vineyard produces some of the finest wines in California. The wines are heavily inspired by burgundy, eschewing the stereotypical high alcohol, full bodied Californian wines for a lighter, lightly oaked style of chardonnay’s and pinot noir. The cooling sea breezes and higher altitude means that Clendenen can control the ripening of the grapes and maintain the signature balanced acidity of the Burgundian style.
Wild boy itself is named after Clendenen. It is perhaps on the more extroverted side of Au Bon Climat’s range but still as beautifully balanced as all of his wines. There are hints of juicy citrus fruits and light oak, balanced with a refreshing soft acidity. It is deliberately created in a more opulent style than his other wines to reflect the untamed nature of the creator himself.
Jim’s tendency to court controversy with the critics is reason enough to try this wine. It certainly encompasses the winemakers unique personality. But personally, I still return to his range because it achieves an elegant balance which good wines are always striving to create. It may not be for those that love a punchy New World wine but it will pleasantly surprise those who favour a lighter style.
I may not have posted here for 6 months, but this is just proof that for any true show off flattery works wonders. So here I am writing up the recipe for my Easter Sunday rabbit dish on the request of my aunt. Does it sound a little sadistic to say the easter bunny was the main inspiration behind this dish? In my defence it is cheap, cheerful and goddamn delicious. Just don’t tell Peter rabbit.
Serves 6 (with plenty of pastilla for Easter Monday hangover/sugar overdose fix)
For the loin
2 boned rabbit loins, reserved bones
16 slices pancetta
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
100g assorted wild mushrooms, reserve a few for garnish
100g chestnut mushrooms
3tbsp medium sherry
For the braised leg pastilla
2 rabbit shoulders, 2 rabbit legs
2 onions diced
4 cloves garlic
2tsp caper brine
3tbsp white wine vinegar
Bouquet de garni
6 black peppercorns
1 shallot, finely diced
1 garlic clove, crushed
2tbsp sherry vinegar
1 packet filo pastry (you could make your own but lets be honest who has the time..)
For the jus
2 onions, roughly chopped
1 carrot, chopped
100ml white wine
5 cloves garlic
450g baby carrots
450g baby leeks
Reserved wild mushrooms
For the jus
- Preheat the oven to 200oC. Roast the reserved loon bones for 30mins.
Meanwhile brown the chopped onion and carrots in a little oil until well coloured. Add the white wine and bubble for 1min. Remove to a large pan and add the remaining ingredients gradually simmer for 3-4hrs, topping up occasionally with cold water and skimming.
For the pastilla
- Meanwhile sear the rabbit legs and shoulders over a high heat until a little browned. Remove. Sweat the shallots with a large pinch of salt and garlic for 5-7mins. Add the capers, brine, vinegar and bubble for 1-2mins. Remove to a large saucepan and return legs, shoulders, stock, bouquet garni and peppercorns. Simmer for 2-3hours or until meat is soft and meltingly tender, topping up to keep legs covered.
For the stuffed loin
- Roughly chop mushrooms. Sweat down the onions in the butter for 5mins. Add the sherry and cook for 2-3mins. Add garlic and mushrooms and a large pinch of salt. Add herbs and cook until mushrooms are soft and most of the water has evaporated. Blend and season to taste. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
Stretch out the pancetta on a sheet of cling film, overlapping. Place loin on top and fill centre with mushroom mix. Gently roll, bringing rabbit loin sections together and tightly wrapping with pancetta using cling film. Wrap tightly in foil to a thick log shape. Chill for at least 3hours, preferably overnight.
For the pastilla
- When the rabbit is cooked, drain and reserve cooking liquor. Let the rabbit legs cool a little then pick the meat off the bone into small pieces. Sweat down the shallot in a little butter with a large pinch of salt, add garlic and cook for 2mins. Add to rabbit. Stir in raisins, sherry vinegar, chopped parsley and 100ml reserved liquor.
Brush a 15cm x 22cm tin with melted butter, layer down 6 sheets of filo, brushing with butter between each layer so there is a wide margin around the sides of the tin. Fill with the rabbit mix, pour over 250-300ml of reserved cooking liquid and fold filo strips over the top to form a parcel. Layer over another 6-8sheets of filo, trimmed down to fit top of the tin. Place a sheet of grease proof on top and weigh down with another tin. Chill overnight.
For the jus.
- Drain the jus and reserve liquid. Reduce to a thin syrupy consistency.
For the final flourish
Par boil the leeks and carrots for 5mins, drain and reserve.
Preheat the oven to 200oC. Using a sharp knife carve pastilla into squares. Place pastilla uncovered in the oven for 20mins. Turn heat down to 150oC, cook for a further 20mins, until filo is crispy on top.
Brown the loins over a high heat until caramelised. Cook in the oven for 11-15mins. Leave to rest.
Cook veg in a little butter until beginning to brown.
Carve loin and serve with a square of pastilla, veg and jus.
I am not the only person or indeed the first person to express my hurt, anger and disbelief at the results of last weeks referendum and I’m sure I won’t be the last. Whether it’s my generation feeling betrayed by an older generation who had the freedom of the EU and didn’t use it as much as we do and will or whether it’s frustration at the expressions of regret from leave voters- oh I didn’t think my vote would count or I didn’t realise the pound would plummet so dramatically- the Internet and the world is full of reverberations of the result. We are looking for the loophole, looking for the way out of what we are committed to. There may be a petition out there calling for another referendum but I fear the damage is done. We’ve already told the EU we don’t want to belong. In the school playground we’ve already told the other kids we’re better than them and we don’t need them. Even if by some miracle this petition pulls off and we stay, Europe knows we didn’t want them. Whilst diplomacy shouldn’t fall to playground bitchiness the people of Europe won’t forget. They’re only human. We’ve lost a liberal, middle right wing prime minister for an unelected and potentially far right leader further widening the gap between the two major political parties and splitting the country into a worrying divide. We might lose Scotland, northern island and even London is jokingly threatening to declare independence.
Personally I’ve gone through the five stages of grief. I thought it was a bad dream when I woke up on Friday, I didn’t believe it. Then I was angry, I stewed for 2 hours on a bus to London muttering expletives under my breath, I arrived in London googling the loophole, signing the petition trying to bargain my way out. And yesterday evening? Well I got drunk and cried. But now I’m at a stage of acceptance. We’ve done it, we’ve put a message out there that we still think we’re the colonial powerhouse of the 19th century, racist, right wing and ridiculous. How else would a man such as Farage, a self reinstated leader of a party gaining a worrying amount followers who isn’t even an MP be listened to? ( anyone noticed as an MEP he’s just voted himself out of the job?) the Trump of England he’s just asked for a more lax approach to gun control.
But the world has moved on from the 19th century. Technology and communication has created a more fluid and developed world. My generation want to travel, have a cosmopolitan workplace, city, country…. But why does it matter so much to me particularly? I graduated from cookery school yesterday. I am trying to get a job in food and wine a subject I am passionate about but I’m starting to worry the world I want to enter is about to crumble before I can even latch on.
Has anyone noticed we are an island. We grow a fair amount of fruit and veg, a few lambs here and there – we could probably survive, we won’t starve. But again the world and what we expect to eat has changed. We’ve realised that food is exciting, it’s not just fuel. Food porn is a thing! That avocado you’re smashing onto your spelt loaf is in fact shipped in from Spain. Interesting fact, England simply isn’t hot enough to grow avocados, maybe global warming will change that in 50 years times until then… I know that we won’t still be able to trade with European countries but I can promise you it’s going to get a damn site more expensive. Don’t get me started on the price of wine. You know what happens when things get too expensive? People buy it less and the companies no longer have the money to employ the hotshot young graduate, there’s no point training them up for the future of the company because you don’t even know if there will be one. Rowan Gormley of majestic wine warned us about this before the vote and I hoped the 6th largest wine drinking country in the world might listen to him.
With the pound in free fall we all know what first happens in a recession. People stop spending money on restaurants, wine bars, regular nights out. At a point where more restaurants are folding within the first year year of opening than breaking even, it can only get worse. But what is going to impact the restaurant industry more than the lack of customers is the loss of a work force. It has been proved time and time again that British people don’t want to be waiters. They don’t want to clean. They don’t want to fold tablecloths or chop vegetables for hours on end. In Germany becoming a waiter is a craft, an art that millions aspire to every year and train painstakingly to become the best at it. In England it’s a gap year job, something to fill the gap before ‘real work’ starts. An overwhelming majority of staff in hotels, restaurants and bars are European immigrants. And no it’s not because they’re taking our jobs, it’s because we didn’t want those jobs. Whether it’s the local wetherspoons where a friendly Italian bartender is serving you your pint and there’s still a ‘staff needed’ poster in the window or the high end Michelin restaurant where the sommelier is a smooth talking French gent. Want to know why he got the job? Because frankly he’s better at it. He trained for years, crafting the art because where he’s from a waiter is the pinnacle of a career not the start.
I’m being dramatic I know. And I know the markets will stabilise and trade hasn’t completely gone down the drain. But in an industry that was heading towards an increasingly cosmopolitan and vibrant evolution I think we might back track. British cuisine has evolved to include staples of curries, pasta and fine wines. I know we’re not going to lose that but we’ve told the rest of the world we care more about ourselves than moving to a diverse multi cultural future. It’s not the result it’s the statement we’ve made. But I’m not going to rant any more. As I said I’m at a point of acceptance. The majority has spoken and we can’t ignore the marginalised British. I can just hope that they realise how much we’ve gained from a more fluid map of the world and how much we’ve moved on from the 19th century. Even if it’s in a tiny way. Noticing that the Spag Bol we’re rustling up for dinner was a result of an Italian loving, River cottage creating lady in the 1980s. Again I know that this would’ve happened EU or not. But ultimately it’s not abut the EU. It’s about sending a message to the world that we’re open to diversity and diplomacy. I’ll raise a glass of wine to uniting the two British camps first, it’s a s start.
I don’t think I felt a more at home then when in the liquid deli DemiJohn. I mean it’s got everything; from sumptuously fruity elderflower vinegar, to dangerously moorish Seville orange gin. Somewhere round about in the middle they round the whole thing off with so-smooth-it-could-be-fruit-juice olive oil and balsamic vinegar so flavoursome, sweet, intense that it costs £500/l, and trying a spoonful I can see why. Put it this way, you would not drizzle this over your bog standard toasted veg, this deserves, Parma ham, chunks of crumbling Parmesan, slow sun dried tomatoes (the posh kind) or perfectly ripe plump red strawberries. All this in a quirky shop in Oxford’s self styled independent hub on the border of town and the more edgy Jericho; Little Clarendon Street. You would be forgiven for assuming this is a one off, struggling business, but no. You can also buy their remarkable rhubarb vodka in a few shops all over the country, York, Glasgow and Edinburgh as well as Oxford. But we’re not talking some corporate chain here. Ex-army captain Angus Ferguson ostensibly runs the show from rural Scotland but in reality he is very much the life and soul of the party, at the heart of every shop, happy to serve customers, incite his employees and nth use about his products which he is clearly passionate about. In fact ut was his idea to throw the Little Clarendon street party which I attended and demijohn was certainly the centre of the party, if it wasn’t for the abysmal British weather I fully expect students and tourists alike (normally bitter enemies) might even have come together dancing in the streets to the sounds of various musical acts discovered by Angus for the event, from Acapella to hard rock (minus the cafe). As I walked off down the street at the end of the day merrily holding a cocktail invented after a recent challenge to the nearby duke of Cambridge cocktail bar my mind was running with ideas to use the raspberry vinegar in a kale salad dressing or the marmalady gin in a cocktail, or even the gooseberry vinegar in a cocktail! One thing is for sure, demijohn is an inspiring place, maybe it was the intoxicatingly depth of the fruity flavours or just the enthusiasm of Angus and his team, I shall certainly be returning to stock up for my kitchen/ cocktail cupboard and I urge you to pop in and do the same, you won’t regret it. It’s worth noting you can buy online too! http://www.demijohn.co.uk
I don’t know if you realise but in Oxford May Day is a big deal. I mean really big. We temporarily shed our old school – 14th century – eccentric reputation and go more old school 9th century pagan bat shit crazy. I’m talking brass bands in the streets, madrigals from Magdalen tower at 6am, Morris dancing in fancy dress and of course in the time honoured British tradition; drinking from dawn (although does it count if you never really stopped)…. I’m almost disappointed I didn’t join in this year. Then again being an old lady who survives on the minimum amount of sleep during the week, getting up at my usual time (6am) seemed a little unnecessary. Besides apparently in the modern age you don’t even need to be there to join in the festivities, the madrigals from magdalen college were live streamed on Facebook. I could enjoy them from my cosy bed a couple of hours later. However considering I was awoken by my father at 6.15am and informed we were going to breakfast to at least pretend we’d been joining the throngs in the streets, against my better judgement I was thrust into the bizarre dream world that is May Day morning. It’s like still that feeling after a crazy party which went on till dawn. Even if you weren’t drinking the night before. It feels like everyone is either still drunk, or on the cusp of a hangover. You can drink before 8am, calories don’t matter and the more you look like you haven’t slept, the better. What a beautiful may morning it was. The sun was out, the brass band was playing, everyone was smiling and I was heading to an free, albeit early, breakfast. What a disappointment. I didn’t mention the down side to this glorious Oxford only holiday. The restaurants know everyone will want breakfast. They know everyone will pay a bomb and seemingly not care what they’re eating. But I’m afraid I’m not everyone. Maybe it’s just me, but when I order smoked salmon and scrambled eggs in a restaurant I usually expect toast or something with it, especially at £8.50. Even worse when I asked for toast they said they weren’t doing bread today. I couldn’t tell whether it was a veiled attempt to encourage me onto a low carb diet or just a cheapskate restaurant trying to conceal the fact they’d run out of a staple of the breakfast menu on one of there busiest breakfast services in the year. Either way Quod was in my bad books. Especially because I don’t get treated to breakfast out often. Heck during the week most meals are a mixture of tasting as I cook and apples, munched sporadically through the day.This rant is mostly culminating in an explanation of why I felt a craving for such a ridiculously hipster lunch. I’m mostly ironically disparaging to the Instagram gurus obsessed with avocado and kale and cashew nut cheese. But secretly, I’m one of them. I’m probably the only person who genuinely really likes kale but it’s really tasty and it feels like your eating your way to the elixir of youth, which can’t be a bad thing. Maybe I’m just hanging out with students too much but feeling world weary and old at 23 can’t be a good thing. So here’s my recipe for avocado, marmite and smoked salmon toast with kale and purple sprouting broccoli salad, walnut and maple dressing. #notnigella #iknownigelladidarecipeforthisandgotridiculedmaybeimjustasbad #healthguru #deliciouslymeta #ironic #dontjudgemebecauseimgreen #marmitegoeswitheverything
1 slice toast (preferably sourdough)
Rice wine vinegar
Purple sprouting broccoli
It’s simple to be honest, but oh so delicious. Just toast the bread. Blanch the broccoli in boiling and refresh in cold water. Combine 3 parts walnut oil to 1 part rice wine vinegar and season to taste with sea salt and maple. Pour over kale and microwave for 1 min. Add broccoli. Top bread with a thin layer of marmite, avocado and smoked salmon. Eat.
I know you don’t really need a recipe but you’ll get over it. Some people like to follow instructions and if you follow these you get a damn good meal. I’d call it brunch, but I already had breakfast…