Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Christmas in Glasgow

Another year is coming to a close and it’s our second christmas in the UK. Our first, in London, we were hoping for a white christmas, but it was not to be. However, moving north to Scotland, we were confident of getting our wish of snow on christmas day. Sadly again it was not meant to be. But christmas is not all about snow, for us, it’s all about the food and drink.  I’ve always had the pleasure of having somebody else do all the hard work cooking on christmas day, so this year I decided to give it a crack myself.  I was excited about cooking my first christmas lunch. I had it all planned out in my mind, a three course meal consisting of a seafood starter, a traditional turkey main and ‘good old’ christmas pudding for dessert. 

This is not all that was on the menu. Since our travels to Italy, Cara and I have been lovers of antipasti. So, Cara was excited about making an antipasti selection, which would be nibbled on throughout the day between courses.  The meat selection began with slices of salami, smoked ham, prosciutto pepperoni and a smoked wild boar salami. To accompany this was a block of brie cheese and a ball of mozzarella, which I dressed with some finely chopped mint and chilli and drizzled olive oil over the top. I love mixing chilli and mint. The fresh flavours of the mint on the front of the palette mixed with a spicy chilli after taste is the perfect flavour combination. As if we didn’t need any more food, I decided to slice up some fresh focaccia which I drizzled with tiny bit of olive oil over the top then seasoned with salt, pepper and thyme and toasted for around 15 mins on a low heat. 

As we got stuck in to our appetisers, I began the seafood entree. As a kid I used to hate prawns, but as I’ve gotten older, I can’t get enough of them. So I decided to make Thai prawn skewers with a fresh crunchy veg. & pear salad. I pre-skewed my prawns early christmas morning and marinated them in fresh coriander, ground ginger, the juice of 2 limes and 1 lemon, fish sauce, brown sugar and once again some chilli and mint. By the time I got around to cooking these prawns, they’d been soaking in the marinate for around 2 - 3hrs. I simply pan fried the skewers for not even 5 minutes and they were ready to serve. My crunchy veg & pear salad consisted of carrot, celery, beetroot and slices of pear. I lightly dressed this in olive oil, dijon mustard, lemon juice and white wine vinegar.  

Next it was time for our turkey.  I was a little nervous about this. My fear was I'd start carving and it not be cooked all the way through. But I’d done my research, I knew the temperatures and the timings in relation to the size of the bird, so I was confident that it would turn out well.  I decided to stuff my turkey with a scottish inspired haggis stuffing. This haggis stuffing was made with sage, bacon, red onions, celery, breadcrumbs, haggis, lemon zest, garlic and ground nut-meg. So after stuffing my turkey, I placed it in the oven and planned to slow cook it for around 6 hours. When it came out of the oven it was golden brown and cooked all the way through just as I hoped. The stuffing was delicious too. The haggis stuffing added to the theme of christmas in Scotland. 

After all had been eaten, we were too full for christmas pudding. However we did have room for some Oreo Truffles. A extremely simple recipe which I’d picked up from my mum. You can find this recipe here...“ Oreo Truffles. These bite size sweets are amazing. Highly recommended. 

As we sat back, un-did the belt buckles and relaxed, I decided it was time for a Scottish malt whisky. Cara had got me the “Dalwhinnie 15 year old single highland malt whisky”. Dalwhinnie is a gaelic word which translates to “meeting-place”. That meeting place is the highest distillery in Scotland. It was founded in the Scottish Highlands in 1898. It’s gentle 15 years of ageing makes this scotch smooth and easy to drink. It has a slight honey flavour which therefore makes it a little sweeter than most malts. But this is counter balanced with a light smokey finish. 

So there ends our christmas in Scotland, and also our last christmas in the UK. Next year we’ll be back to the hot Aussie summer, sitting in the back yard and enjoying a BBQ. After my success cooking christmas lunch this time, I may have to give it a crack next year, back in Australia. 

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The Wild Hibiscus Project: Part 2

A little while back I got asked to create a drink for the Wild Hibiscus company. I created a variation on the classic sidecar and I simply called the “Hibiscus Sidecar”.  Well the challenge has been set again by the people at Wild Hibiscus. This time the task was to create a beer cocktail.

When creating this drink, I decided to take some inspiration from living and working in Scotland. So I began playing around with mixing beer with scotch whisky.  Choosing your whisky to mix beer with can be tough as there are so many different varieties of malts around. I needed a scotch that would work well with the sweet hibiscus flavours. I decided to go with the Laphroiag 10 year old malt whisky. The Laphroiag has got strong bold smokey flavours, which is needed when mixing it with the sweet hibiscus syrup and strong flavours of the beer. This mix alone was not to bad, but I felt that there was something missing. The cocktail needed a slight spicy kick. But not chilli or pepper, something which would go well with the scotch and still not over power the other ingredients. The answer was ginger. A pinch of ground ginger mixed in with the hibiscus syrup was exactly what I needed to give this drink the a spicy after taste.

I named this concoction “A beautiful hollow by hibiscus bay”.  The name Laphroiag is a gaelic word meaning “A beautiful hollow by broad bay”. Laphroiag whisky is arguably one of the most well known of Scotland's whiskies world wide. So it seemed appropriate to base the name of this drink around the famous Laphroaig name.

So now we’ve gotten our ingredients, we’ve gotten a name for this drink, It’s time to make it. Start with your beer glass and add a pinch of ground ginger. Then add 25ml Wild Hibiscus syrup. Stir this mix together, making sure that all of the ginger has been dissolved in the syrup. Now add 25ml Laphroiag whisky. Give this a quick stir too. Now add your favourite Lager. I’ve left the choice of beer open, as certain beers can be hard to find depending on where you are from. I’ve chosen to use Tennents Lager, a local beer brewed in Glasgow. But any lager will do. The beer is not meant to take centre stage in this drink, it’s mainly about the combination of Hibiscus and whisky. The beer is just what binds it all together. Once you’ve topped your glass with your beer, the garnish (which is entirely optional) is a slice of ginger and a hibiscus flower (you’ll need tooth picks to hold them together on the rim of your glass).

If your not a big scotch whiskey drinker, then this drink is probably not for you. But I’ve made this cocktail without the scotch and beer with ginger and hibiscus syrup is quite sweet and refreshing.

“A Beautiful Hollow By Hibiscus Bay”

In a Beer Glass:
A Pinch of Ground Ginger
25ml Wild Hibiscus Syrup
Stir until ginger is dissolved
25ml Laphroiag 10 year old
Top with Beer
Garnish: Slice of Ginger and Wild Hibiscus flower

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Our visit to the “Blue Dog"

Every city we go too, we get recommendations and ideas of places and bars we “need” to visit. So far almost every person we’ve spoken to in Glasgow has recommended one bar, the “Blue Dog” bar. It’s safe to say that Glasgow has not got a massive cocktail scene. The Scot’s are more into their pubs. So after hearing all the glowing reports on this cocktail bar, Cara and I had to check it out and see if it was worth all the hype.

The Blue Dog opened it’s doors in 2003. It instantly became Glasgow’s home to great cocktails. They complement their large cocktail menu with an array of live entertainment act’s playing piano and jazz classic’s all night long... so it certainly sets the scene and the mood for a great night out.  The Blue Dog instantly reminded us of many of the cocktail bars in London. It’s low ceilings, cosy lounges and with the sound of jazz music lightly playing in the background. This bar was right up our alley.

As we looked over the menu, we noticed that the Blue Dog were offering many concoctions. Certainly lots to choose from. But none of which jumped off the page like some of the drinks we’d seen and tried in London. This is to be expected though. Trying to sell cocktails to locals who are not big cocktail drinkers is always going to be tough. So the Blue Dog’s menu, despite being vast, is still very simple. It consists of many classics which have been slightly tweaked to make them more interesting.  However the drinks are still basic and they are not confusing punters with weird and wild creations.

As per usual, I always order the house signature cocktail. I believe that a bars signature cocktail is the drink that the staff are most proud of. It’s a drink that defines the style and standard of the bar. No surprises that the Blue Dog’s signature cocktail, was a drink called “A Blue Dog”. A fruity creation consisting of apple vodka, blue curacao, fresh passion fruit, lime juice, apple juice and pineapple juice. This was a very nice refreshing drink, but I feel for a house signature, it’s a little too safe. It’s hard to go wrong when mixing fruit juices together. I was hoping for something a more creative from the Blue dog team, but as I mentioned, things can’t get to crazy when trying to appeal to a "pub-type" crowd.

All in all, Cara and I had a great night. Listening to jazz and sipping our cocktails. Cara was drinking original daiquiris, a drink which has been her favourite for some time now. She’s managed to test out the original daiquiri all over the world.

This won’t be our one and only visit to the Blue Dog. We’ll definitely be back to see what other drinks they have to offer.

“A Blue Dog”
In a shaker:
30ml Apple Vodka
30ml Blue Curacao
Dash of Passionfruit pulp
15ml Lime Juice
30ml Apple Juice
30ml Pineapple juice
Add ice and shake
Strain over crushed ice
Serve in a tall glass
Garnish: 1/2 Passionfruit

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Drinking at the Pot Still

One of the things which I’ve really enjoyed during our travels so far, is scratching below the surface of cities and discovering it’s icons which are only well known to the local people. Glasgow is full of iconic places which are not famous world wide, but places that the Glaswegian's know and love. In my last post I wrote about the story of the oldest pub in Glasgow, The Scotia.  After visiting this pub, I got put on to another place, which was a “must-visit” during our time here, a place called “The Pot Still”.  Scotland is famous for it’s whiskies, and the Pot still boasts a collection of over 460 whiskies on offer, making it Scotland’s premier whisky bar. 

The premises of the Pot Still has been operating since 1867, but it wasn’t until 1981, when John Waterson took over the existing pub and rebranded it “The Pot Still”. The aim was to create a pub which was heavily focused on whisky and themed around stocking rare hard to find malts.  The bar was an instant hit. It has been known, that businessmen from London, would fly to Glasgow for the day, just so they could drink their favourite whisky, because the Pot Still was the only place they could find it.  Today the bar is owned by whisky enthusiast, Frank Murphy. Frank began working in his Dad’s pub many years ago, and now he and his Dad both run the Pot Still.  I had the pleasure of speaking to Frank’s dad, during my visit. He described his son’s passion and love for all things whisky and how he is now happy to now take a step back and let his boy run the majority of the pub. He also went on to say that Frank is constantly trying and sampling new and different whiskies. They are hoping to have the collection up to 500 before the end of the year. 

So of course a visit to the Pot Still would not be complete with out trying some of the collection. I decided to try one of the bosses recommendations, the Benromach 10 year old. It was recommended because it’s matured in a sherry cask and has a sweet chocolate and fruity sultana flavour which I love so much in some of the Australian fortified wines. This malt also had a spicy after taste which on further investigation, I discover was cinnamon.  It was light in smokey peat flavour too. Many malts can taste to smokey, almost burnt, but this wasn’t. The sweetness of the sherry cask took centre stage and the peat smoke taste lingered in the background. 

I’m definitely guilty of sometimes letting the complex world of cocktails and mixology take over,  causing me to forget about the raw spirits. When you are always trying to push the boundaries and create new tastes and flavours, you sometimes forget that the most satisfying drinks are the ones which are raw and pure.  Sitting at the Pot Still sipping on my whisky and water, it was great to have the chance to talk to people who don’t care about cocktails, they just care about whisky. 

Friday, 19 October 2012

What to do on a cold Scottish Day?

After our amazing adventure to Italy and Spain, It was time to get back to reality. We said goodbye to the warm weather and returned to Glasgow, where the weather was turning cold and grey as winter was soon upon us.  It was time for us to knuckle down and get into the day to day life of living and working in Scotland. After a busy few weeks, the day finally came when I had some free time, and wouldn’t you know it, It was pouring with rain and quite cold. So what was I to do on my day off?  I decided to look into some traditional Scottish pubs. The ones which were cosy and warm, the perfect place to be on a winters day. As far as Glaswegian pubs go, they don’t get any more traditional than “The Scotia”. So I braved the wet and went for a short walk to check it out. 

The Scotia was established in 1792. It’s Glasgow’s oldest pub. It’s located a short distance from the famous River Clyde. At the time the river was a thriving waterway for many sailors travelling through the area. When boats ported in Glasgow, The Scotia was the nearest pub. By 1862, the pub had already established itself as one of the most popular pubs around, but this was boosted even more when the 'Variety and Music Hall’ opened up right next door. This attracted a new cliental of performers and theatre goers to the Scotia. This influx of new patrons helped influence and shape what the Scotia is today, a music venue.  The pub is now one of the cities most popular live music venues. 

I’ve noticed many things about the Glasgow pub scene. One being that the city is littered with tiny (what they call) “Old-Man Pubs”. The type of pubs which are often quiet with a half dozen old men, hunched over a pint talking about football.  These are the types of places which can be quite intimidating to foreigners like myself. I’ve been into a few of these places already and have not felt welcome. I have to be honest, as I made my way to the Scotia, I expected a similar type of 'unwelcoming' atmosphere. I could not have been more wrong. As I walked in, I was instantly greeted by the man behind the bar. It was just the sort of pub I was hoping for. It’s low ceilings made for a cosy feel. The typical pine wood interior is exactly what you’d expect from a traditional pub. Around the bar was a collage of labels from previous beers that they have sold. Usually I’m not a fan of tacky signs or label behind the bar, but here it seemed to suit. It all added to the charm of the pub. As I pulled up a stool, I decided to try something new. I couldn’t go past the “William Wallace Scottish Ale”.  I’d tried traditional ale’s in London, and even though I could appreciate the flavour and I understood why people loved them so much, for me personally, It’s not my cup of tea. However, I love being adventurous, So I ordered a pint of the William Wallace. 

The William Wallace Ale is brewed by the TSA (Traditional Scottish Ale) Brewing Co.  They specialise in many different hand crafted Scottish beers. The William Wallace, is a pale ale which was made for people like me, who don’t usually drink ales. As I sipped on my beer, I could taste the hop flavours, but they weren’t too over-powering. Dispite it’s dark chocolatey colour, it was very refreshing.  It’s probably a bit to bland for your hard core ale drinkers. But for me it’s perfect. It’s advertised as having a fruity taste, but when you hear the description fruity, you may think citrus, which I don’t think this beer is.  If I was to pick any kind of flavour, I’d say nutty with a dry bittersweet finish, but overall quite refreshing.  The William Wallace was a good choice for me. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it has converted me to ales, but it was a nice change. I’d recommend it to any non ale drinkers. 

It’s was difficult to leave the warm and cosy atmosphere of The Scotia and make the walk home. But I’m sure I will return again on another cold and wet day in Glasgow. 

Saturday, 15 September 2012

The Tastes of Spain: Part 2

Spain is famous for it’s tapas food. You might say that when people talk about Spanish food, tapas is the first thing that comes to mind. During our time in Barcelona, Cara and I were excited to find some good quality tapas to sink our teeth into. After doing a little bit of research, we found a bar which boosted to have, not only the best tapas in Barcelona, but the best tapas in spain. This bar was called "Quimet & Quimet”. 

Many bars and cafe’s claim to have the best tapas around, but Quimet & Quimet had glowing reviews from many different travel websites. So with that in mind, our expectations were high and we were excited to see what they had to offer. As we arrived to the little cafe style bar, we were instantly impressed with the wide variety of wines along with the range of fresh foods. We’d heard that Quimet & Quimet pride themselves on freshness. The tapas on offer included, fresh seafood such as prawns, salmon, sardines and anchoivies, a variety of olives, stuffed peppers, a selection of breads served with olive oil for dipping, along with much more. But one thing that the team at Quimet obviously loved was cheese. The variety of cheeses was astounding.  So with this in mind, Cara and I had some tough decisions on what to order. We decided to get a nice glass of white wine and a selection of breads, olives, prawns and the famous cheese selection. 

The bread selection was a mixture of the basic pita bread, crusty bread, croutons and water crackers. It also included some homemade olive bread and chilli bread which was all very tasty. The freshness of these breads made the taste amazing just on it’s own, but it gets even better when mixed with different oils and stuffed peppers. The prawn dish was a very elaborate concoction which consisted of a slice of olive bread, a marinated pepper, with a king prawn on top and finally finished of with a spoonful of black caviar. I’m not much of a seafood eater, but I couldn’t resist trying something new and this was a dish I knew would be hard to find anywhere else in the world. We weren’t disappointed either. I expected a strong "fishy" flavour, but it surprised me. It did contain a seafood taste, but the peppers and the olive bread balanced the dish out nicely which made it so enjoyable to eat. Our olives were just a simple serving of chilli and garlic marinated olives, but freshness goes a long way, which made these olives very tasty. Lasty was our outstanding cheese selection. If you are a cheese fiend and just happen to be in Barcelona, Quimet & Quimet is an absolute must. The selection was amazing. I wish I knew what all the cheeses were, but I just couldn’t tell. There were flavours which we couldn’t pick. The obvious ones were, goat’s cheese, blue cheese, feta and mozzarella, but the others I couldn’t tell.  It didn’t matter though. We were both enjoying our tapas and savouring every bite. As we continued eating, we looked at some of the other delicacies on offer. Olives stuffed with sardines, Salmon served with yogurt and truffle honey, mussels and clams all seem to be popular. As I’m sure you’ve gathered, the menu was predominately seafood tapas. There was a meat selection, which seemed to be very similar to an Italian anti-pasti meal. So we decided to stay clear of that and try some different things, and we are so glad we did. 

By the end, we both agreed that we’d definitely found the best tapas in Barcelona, maybe even Spain. Our visit to Quimet & Quimet was certainly one of the highlights of our trip to Barcelona. We hope to return to Spain in the future to try some more tapas and see if anyone can rivals the food we’ve had. 

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The Tastes of Spain: Part 1

After another amazing trip to Italy, it was time to make our way back to Glasgow. But first we had to make a quick stop over in Barcelona. This was out first trip to Spain. We were excited about spending the last few days of our trip, eating tapas, drinking sangria and relaxing on the beach. 

As we walked the streets of Barcelona, I couldn’t help but notice the many influences in the food and drinks. Some of the bars and restaurants were very much influenced by Mexico, offering nachos, tortillas, enchiladas along with margaritas. Then I noticed the popularity of Mojitos and Caipirinha’s (Cuban cocktails) throughout many establishments. It’s not what I expected in Spain.  Despite the wide variety of food and drinks, there is one Spanish icon which is sold everywhere you go, Sangria. A Sangria is a mixer of red (or white) wine, fruit juices and chopped fruit pieces. It’s also common to add some herbs and spices to your sangria for extra flavour. If you’re interested in the history of the sangria, I covered it in a previous blog post (“The Sangria”).  

We were both very excited about trying a new cuisine during our time in Spain. No surprise one of the most popular dishes in Barcelona is 'Paella’. Paella is a simple dish which consists of rice, meat and vegetables, all mixed together and cooked in a large pan. In fact, the word “Paella” comes from the latin word ‘patella’ which means pan.  It was first served in Valencia in the mid-19th century, and today it is seen as Spain’s national dish.  Paella is not often cooked for only one person. It’s a dish which is made in large quantities with the idea being that you share your meal with the people you are with. The sharing philosophy is relevant to most of the food and drink in Spain. The sangria is shared amongst the group, as is the tapas and the paella.  

On this occasion, Cara and I decided to order the chicken paella to go with our sangria. But looking at the menu, there seemed to be endless choices of paella. Offerings of rabbit, duck, pork, seafood, vegetarian and even snail paella all seemed to be popular. It came out from the kitchen still sizzling. After our long day, we didn’t waste time waiting for it to cool down, we dug straight in. What we both loved about the paella is the level of flavour from such a simple dish. The chicken was well seasoned and marinated. This helped to also flavour the rice and vegetables. There was also a strong saffron flavour throughout the dish which is common in many paella’s. Coriander and thyme also featured  heavily in our meal.  There was also a nice smokey taste, which comes from cooking over an open fire. We thoroughly enjoyed our meal. We knew that it would not be our last paella whilst we were in Spain.

It was a warm night in Barcelona, so after our meal, we walked back to the hotel enjoying a hot summers night, similar to Australia.  On our walk we reflected on the day and looked ahead to the rest of our time in Spain. We both agreed that we needed to seek out some quality spanish tapas before we leave. Many of the places we had passed were of course offering many dishes on their tapas menu, but we found it to be much like Italian anti-pasti. We wanted something different, something that we’d never seen nor tried before. So the search was on.   

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Aperol & Fernet Branca

After an amazing few days in Venice, we jumped on board a train and took a trip back to Milan. As we were only there not even 2 months ago, the city was fresh in our minds. We easily were able to navigate our way around, as our plan was to show Cara’s mum and dad the famous Duomo Cathedral. The weather was again hot in Milan and we were all in need of some drinks. I noticed next to the cathedral was a small bar which specialised in serving Aperol drinks. This looked like the place to sit and relax. 

Without a doubt, Campari dominates cocktail menus in Italy. It’s the base to some of the most iconic Italian cocktails in history. But the Campari company also released another aperitif, Aperol. This product has always been in the shadow of Campari. It was first created in 1919, but did not become popular in Italy until after the second world war. With Campari being such a strong bitter flavour (which many people either loved or hated), Aperol was designed to be a lighter, softer alternative. It’s 11% alcohol rating makes it less than half the strength of Campari. Only in recent years, the Aperol name and brand has stepped out of the shadows and come into it’s own. In 2010, Aperol won the highest accolade possible by winning a double gold medal at San Fransisco’s World Spirits Competition. By far the most common Aperol drink to order is an “Aperol Spritz”. This is simply a single shot of Aperol, topped with lemonade and garished with a slice of orange, or lemon. It’s a light refreshing drink, perfect for a hot summers day in Milan. 

As I often do when we are in bars, I like to take a look at the back-bar, to see what else they have decided to stock. There is one product which I’ve noticed in all Italian bars. It is a product which is a household name in Italy, but a bit of a mystery abroad, It’s Fernet Branca. This unusual and lesser known spirit has a dark colour and a syrupy texture. Some have said it’s similar to Jagermiester. It’s flavour has been compared to a mixture of medicine, crushed plants and bitter mud. It’s exact recipe is a closely guarded secret, but what we do know, is that it’s production (both recipe and process) are still same as when it was first produced in 1845. 

Milan is the birthplace of Fernet Branca. It was created by Bernardino Branca at the Fratelli Branca Distillery. This spirit was claimed by Bernardino to have many health benefits. It could be used as a  digestive, to reduce fever, cure stomach bugs, along with being a basic warming medicine when you felt cold. It was said to be a “revolutionary liqueur”. This argument became useful during the prohibition years where Fernet Branca could claim that it was a type of medicine, which still made the sale of it legal.  

In the hot summer sun, I felt today may not have been the best time to try a Fernet Branca cocktail. I’m sure I’ll have the chance to try some again soon.  I was happy with sipping on my Aperol spritz, sitting in front of the Duomo Cathedral and enjoying the sun. 

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Our Visit to Harry’s Bar

One thing that Venice is fantastic for, is it’s wide variety of cafe’s, restuarants and bars. There is seemingly a place to sit, eat and drink on every corner. But out of all these places, there was only one which Cara and I were excited to visit, the famous “Harry’s Bar”. In the bartending community, Harry’s Bar is seen to be the pioneer of cocktail bars. So it was our mission to see if Harry’s was really all it is cracked up to be.

Giuseppe Cipriani
Outside his Bar in 1931
Harry’s Bar is said to be the first specialist cocktail bar to be opened. It was founded by Italian man, Giuseppe Cipriani. Giuseppe was born in Verona in 1900. His family immigrated to Germany, where he went to school and soon began working in a factory just before the first world war. When the war broke out the family fled back to Verona, where Giuseppe found work in a pastry kitchen. This is where his love for the hospitality industry started. After working in the pastry kitchen for a number of years, he decided to become a waiter in other restuarants. During this time Giuseppe moved for place to place only staying until he felt like he could learn no more at that particular establishment.  He traveled and worked throughout France, Belgium and Italy, finally settling in Venice where he got a job as a bartender in the Hotel Europa. The Europa is a luxury hotel which is still running in Venice today.  The hotel bar became a regular hang-out for the European and Venetian elite.  During this time at the Europa hotel, Giuseppe learnt and became passionate about cocktails. His dream then became to open his own bar, which was just as   elite and luxurious, but not attached with a hotel. It was a be a specialist cocktail bar. His only problem was his of lack of money to make this dream and reality.  

Whilst working at the Hotel Europa, Guiseppe became friends with a young American man called Harry Pickering. Harry had come to Venice with his aunt in the hope to cure his drinking problem. This attempt was hopeless as Harry spent most of his days sitting in the hotel bar. This caused Harry and his aunt to fall out. His aunt left Harry with no money and she returned to America.  Giuseppe lent Harry money to help him survive and not long after, Harry disappeared. After months of not seeing or hearing from Harry, Giuseppe gave up all hope of ever seeing his money again. Then in February 1931, Harry Pickering returned to the Hotel Europa and repaid Giuseppe his money, plus an extra 30,000 lira to say thank you and also to give Giuseppe the opportunity to finally open his bar.  Giuseppe went and opened his bar and suitably named it “Harry’s Bar”.  The bar opened on May 13th 1931. Coincidentally, this is the same day in 1806 where the word “Cocktail” was first published in print.

As we walked into Harry’s Bar, you really got the impression that the bar still looks exactly the same today as it did when it first opened. A waiter dressed in a smart white suit, sat as down and gave us the menu to look over. As in most bars in Italy, we were also given complementary serving of olives.  Sitting in Harry’s Bar you really got a sense of history. The menu is very minimal. It seems that the cocktail menu is exactly the same as it was back in 1931.  I think it’s nice that they are re-creating the original look and feel of the bar. As Cara and I both discussed our thoughts on Harry’s Bar, we both agreed that, if you are trying to recreate history and offer a very minimal menu and selling drinks at very exorbitant prices, the standard needs to be extremely high. Unfortunately when we saw Cara’s Bellini being mass produced in a shaker tin along with 3 other orders our expectation of quality started to fade. When her drink arrived, it looked nice and tasted ok, but that was all. It was just ok. During our travels through Italy, Cara has become a bit of an expert on Bellini’s and Rossini’s. She said that she has had better Bellini’s from other bars and we’ve paid a third of the price. I guess thats what you get when you mass produce cocktails. You get a drink which is just ok.  I ordered a classic Italian cocktail, the Negroni (gin, campari & sweet vermouth). My drink was a little better. A nice balance of sweetness and bitterness. But a Negroni is a simple classic, it’s hard to go wrong.  As we chatted some more, we really started to notice the finer details which really disappointed us. We noticed that the waiter had served us our drinks on a creased, almost crumpled napkin. In any other bar, we’d not have a problem with this. But in Harry’s Bar, of all bars, where you expect everything to be that little bit better than your average bar, it just wasn’t.  

So as we finished our drinks and left, we departed with mixed emotions. On the one hand we were thankful and happy for the experiance. It’s something that we’ll never forget. It was amazing to see something which is such a huge part of cocktail history. But on the other hand, we were disappointed, that the bar has lost it’s way. The passion of serving amazing drinks with outstanding service, seems to not be a priority anymore. The name and reputation of Harry’s Bar seems to be all that they are relying on. As far as Cara and I were concerned, we were happy that we’d been and done it. It’s just another thing we can tick off the list.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Italian Job

It seems that Cara and I just can’t stay away from Italy. We’ve done Rome, we’ve done Milan and Lake Como, but now it was time for us to visit the city of Venice. It was also Cara’s parents first visit to Italy, so they were just as excited as us to explore the canals and tiny alley ways of Venice.

Venice is a place famous for it’s beautiful scenery, It’s architecture and It’s artworks. The city is seemingly one island, but it is in fact made up of 118 small islands all linked together with hundreds of footbridges. It’s history dates back to the ancient roman times. The roman soldiers built and used Venice to flee mainland attacks. No one is sure when the romans first lived in venice, but the city was first officially founded on the 25th March, 421 AD, with the opening of the first church, the San Giacomo di Rialto. Since this day, a further 148 churches have been built and Venice has expanded to now have a population of around 270,000 people living on the islands. Known as the “Floating City”, it’s visited by approximately 20 million tourists a year.

One of the fun things about Venice is exploring the canals and It’s alley ways. It’s easy to get lost as the streets get narrow and wind through around the waterways. Whilst we explored, we walked past several little shops offering Italian souvenirs, I noticed that little bottles of limoncello were a popular item. Limoncello is huge in Italy. It’s common to finish off a meal with a small nip of this sweet digestive.  The Italians have been producing limoncello since the early 1900’s. It was homemade, by simply soaking lemon peals and zest with grain alcohol until all the oils are released, then mixed with sugar syrup and chilled and served ice cold. In 1988, Italian business-man, Massimo Canale became the first person to trademark the name “limoncello” and began mass production and selling of the product. The bottles of Massimo Canale’s limoncello were instantly popular in the local shops and markets throughout Italy and it was soon being exported to other countries. Limoncello is now an Italian icon, hence it’s popularity in the souvenir shops throughout Venice.

After a busy day, Cara and I decided to spend a night out at a local jazz bar, tucked away in a little lane-way just off the Grand Canal.  I couldn’t resist ordering one of the house specialities, a “Miles Davis”. A cocktail which had many similarities to a Long Island Iced Tea. It consisted of gin, vodka, rum, blue curacao (orange flavoured liqueur), grenadine, a dash of lemon juice and topped up with lemonade, all built in a tall glass over ice. Not the most original drink, and I couldn’t help but wonder what the correlation this cocktail had to the man Miles Davis himself.  What ever the reason, it didn’t matter. We were in Venice sipping cocktails and listening to jazz, both reflecting on how lucky we are to be doing what we are doing.

“Miles Davis”
Built in a Tall Glass over Ice
15ml Gin
15ml Vodka
15ml Rum
15ml Blue Curacao
15ml Grenadine
A Dash of Lemon Juice
Top up with Lemonade

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Only Real Scot’s Eat Haggis

If you were to ask most people ‘What is a classic Scottish dish?’, more often than not, the answer would be haggis. Now we’re living in Scotland, I was looking forward to finding some good haggis to sink my teeth into. Many people have said to be careful when you order this Scottish cuisine, as the quality of haggis can vary from place to place.  With Cara’s parents visiting from Australia at the moment, we decided to take a day trip to beautiful Edinburgh, and I decided to take the opportunity to seek out some good haggis for lunch.

The last time Cara and I were in Edinburgh, it was a gorgeous warm sunny day. This time we were not so lucky. But even in the wind and rain, Edinburgh is still very picturesque. As we walked toward the famous Edinburgh castle, the weather took a turn for the worse and we found a nice little Scottish pub to stop for lunch.  They were offering a traditional style haggis dish, served with mash potato and mashed pumpkin. Trying something new is always a gamble, but new foods don’t scare me anymore and I was looking forward to what would be presented before me.

It’s probably best not to speak about the contents of haggis, as it can sound quite off-putting, but i suppose it’s good to know what you are about to eat.  Haggis is a mixture of sheep’s offal (heart, liver and lungs), along with onion and oatmeal. It’s then well seasoned with spices and salt and pepper. Stock is then added to the mixture and It's left to simmer for 3 hours.

No one knows for sure where the idea for haggis came from. There is no definitive proof that it even comes from Scotland. However, the first recipe for haggis in print was around 1430, in a cookbook from the north west of the United Kingdom.  One of the theories is that haggis was offered to the workman in the slaughter houses. After all the prime cuts of meat had been cut and sold, the leftovers were minced and seasoned and given to the workers

When my meal arrived, It looked interesting, but quite nice. It tasted even better. The mixture of flavours worked well together. The use of herbs and seasoning is a huge part of the overall dish. Without it, it would be extremely bland. In this particular dish, I could also taste strong onion and garlic flavours. You could argue that the use of the garlic, onion, herbs and spices are there to disguise the taste to the offal, but what ever the reason, it works.  I washed it all down with a local beer brewed in Edinburgh, “Innes & Gunn”. This independent brewing company was established in 2003. It’s popularity in Scotland is largely due to it’s unique brewing style. It’s brewed and fermented in white oak whisky barrels which gives it an after-taste which is unlike any beer I’ve had before. Together with the haggis, I felt like I was having the full Scottish experience.

After an amazing lunch, the rain eased and we continued exploring Edinburgh. I thoroughly enjoyed my first haggis meal and I’m sure it won’t be my last.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Goodbye London... Hello Glasgow!!!

The Old Toll Booth of Glasgow
Glasgow’s bustling city centre
The time has come for Cara and I to start the next phase of our adventure. After our visit to Scotland earlier in the year, we’ve decided to move to Glasgow to live and work for the next 6 months.  To get into the new Scottish way of life, I’ve decided to pay tribute to one of the great scotch whisky cocktails, The ‘Hot Toddy’.

Like many of the classics, it’s history is rather vague. It has been said that the drink itself was created in India where the people used to mix fermented palm tree sap and hot water. The Scot’s claim that they created this drink in the 1700’s to make the strong taste of scotch whisky easier for women to drink. The locals also back up this story with a reference to the name “Toddy” in a poem by Allan Ramsey in 1721. Ramsey’s poem, “The Morning Interview” refers to the 'Todian Spring' (a.k.a Tod’s Well”) in Edinburgh which is the cities water supply. As water is one of the main ingredients in a hot toddy, the story seems to fit.

To make a basic hot toddy is very easy. Start with 2 - 3 slices of lemon. Add a tablespoon of honey. If you like your drinks quite sweet, you could also add a teaspoon of sugar along with the honey. Next, add 45ml of your favourite scotch whisky. I prefer a smokey, well aged whisky to give the drink the most flavour.  Lastly, top up your glass with hot water and stir the ingridients until it is blended together. If you are not a fan of scotch, rum or brandy are suitable substitute, but in Scotland making a hot toddy with anything else other than scotch whisky would be a crime.

I’m sure many hot toddy’s will be drunk over our time here in Scotland. We are both excited about exploring, living and working in Glasgow

“The Hot Toddy”
In a mug, or tall glass:
Add 2 - 3 lemon slices
Tablespoon of Honey
(Optional Teaspoon of Sugar)
45ml Scotch Whisky
Topped up with Hot Water

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Why Not Heat & Spice Your Wine?

As summer comes to a close in the UK, we look ahead to the chilly winter and all of the tasty hot beverages which seems to be a tradition in the UK. One hot drink which Cara and I had not heard of before our travels is “Mulled” wine. It’s a popular concoction served in all the pubs and at all the winter festivals. During our visit to the Tower of London, I managed to pick up a sachet of mulled wine spices to mix on a cold winters night. Although winter is not here yet, I couldn’t resist trying it out early.

The term ‘mulled’ means to simply heat and spice a liquid. Red wine is the most common beverage to mull, but other drinks such as cider and mead are common too. Originally mulled wine was served as a medicine to keep people heathy over the cold winters. But it is now a popular winter beverage, most commonly drunk around christmas. 

One simple way to make mulled wine is to start with a cup of water (measurements may vary depending on how much you’d like to make). Add spices such as cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. Boil the spices until most of the flavour has been extracted. Next add a cup of red wine, with a tablespoon of sugar. Bring the mixture to the boiling-point. Once all the sugar and spices have been dissolved, take the mixture off the boil. If you prefer a stronger drink, add a dash of brandy to the mixture. If you are a sweet tooth, you could also add honey with you mulled wine. If you fancy more citrus flavours, you could boil the wine with lemons or oranges. The flavours you add is only limited by your imagination. When serving mulled wine, It’s usually finished of with a slice of orange, but as mentioned, you have no limitations. Overall, you get a warming drink, which is a well balanced blend of spices and citrus flavours together with the smooth tannins of the red wine. 

I look forward to testing out some new mulled wine recipes over the winter. 

Sunday, 12 August 2012

London 2012 Olympic Games

It’s a time in London, which Cara and I have been excited about since we arrived in the UK, the London 2012 Olympic Games. Being in the host city for the games was the main reason for us staying in London as long as we have. We see it as a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience the Olympics first hand.

It’s a special time for London. The nations capital has had a big year with the Queens Diamond Jubilee happening only a couple of months ago and now the Olympics, the city is sure to celebrate in style. It is also a milestone for the modern Olympics. It is the first time that a city has hosted the games 3 times. London played host in 1908, 1948 and now 2012.

Cara and I were excited to go and see as many events as we could. However, ticket availability and the high prices only allowed us to see some of the free events that London 2012 had to offer. What better way to start our games experience by going to watch the men’s road race. Fresh of my Tour De France trip, I was excited to see some more cycling. We had a great day getting into the Olympic spirit, which continued over the next 16 days. We were lucky enough to attend the triathlon, men’s walk, the cycling time trial and the men’s marathon on the final Sunday.

During this exciting time in London, I began to do some research on some Olympic themed cocktails. I didn’t have to look far. The Hyatt Hotel had created a Gold, Silver and Bronze collection of cocktails to mark the occasion.

The ‘Gold’ cocktail is a built drink made of Sailor Jerry gold rum; mango flavoured lemonade, ginger beer and Goslings gold rum floated on top.  The ‘Silver’ cocktail took a different approach. A simple and refreshing drink, consisting of Absolut vanilla vodka, coconut water and sugar syrup, topped with lemonade, then garnished with sage leafs. Lastly was the ‘bronze’ cocktail. Another built drink which consists of Makers Mark Bourbon, green chartreuse, ginger ale, topped with soda water, garnished with mint leafs. All three drinks are simple and easy to make and all offering unique flavours and combinations of spirits.

We’ll never forget our time in London during the Olympic games. It has so far been one of the highlights of being in the UK so far.

Build over Ice
45ml Sailor Jerry’s Gold Rum
Top half the glass with Mango lemonade
Top the other half with Ginger Beer
Float 15ml Goslings Gold Rum on top

Build over Ice
45ml Absolut Vanilla
15ml Coconut Water
15ml Sugar Syrup
Topped with Lemonade
Garnish with Sage Leafs

Built over Ice
30ml Makers Mark Bourbon
15ml Green Chartreuse
Topped with Ginger Ale & Soda Water
Garnish: Mint Leafs

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The Tower of London

One of the things we love about London is the long and interesting history that the city has. We’ve been to a few castles and palaces now, and they all have an interesting story to tell. The more places we visit, the clearer it becomes to put the historic jigsaw together. Another piece to the puzzle is a place we’ve talked about visiting for some time, the Tower of London. 

Our travels through the UK don’t always involve drinking and cocktails. We are always interested in learning about the vast history that Britain has to offer, and the Tower of London is certainly a major part of it’s history. The Tower dates back to 1066, after victory at the battle of Hastings. William the Conqueror completed the construction of the tower in 1078. It served many purposes aside from being the royal residence for such Kings as King Richard, Henry III and Edward I. It was also used as a prison for intruders who were caught trying to infiltrate the towers walls.  The main section of the palace is the “White Tower”.  It is the strongest structure of the castle. It was built with such precision, so much so that the main centre stairwell had the ability to be easily discarded in case of an attack.  By the end of the 11th Century the Tower was described as being the most advanced fortress in Europe.

As I often do, I can’t resist picking up a souvenir for the day’s trip. This time I picked up a bottle of the “Tower of London’s, Kings Table Real Ale”. With Britain being such huge ale drinkers, I thought this would be an appropriate memento of the day.  This traditional English Ale has been brewed by hand. It’s golden in colour, As well as being light in hops, which make it’s flavour not to overpowering and easy to drink.  Most ale’s tend to be heavy and I personally have found them hard to drink. This however was different. It was heavier than a normal lager, but it was just as refreshing.  I realize that this Ale is meant to be served at room temperature, but it’s against everything I stand for as an Australian, so I couldn’t help but pop it in the fridge just to chill it down.  

So another tourist attraction is ticked off the list. Who knows what we’ll see and learn about next. 

Monday, 23 July 2012

History of the Brasserie & Cafe

After returning from Italy, we had only a couple of days before we were expecting a visitor from Australia. One of my close friends was making the trip to London, and we were both travelling south to France to experience one of the greatest sporting events and by far the most prestigious bike race in the world, the Tour De France. Cara and I were lucky enough to see the last stage of the tour last year, so Cara decided to sit this trip out whilst myself and my mate Evan would follow a number of stages in the race towards Paris.

Our journey began in the city of Toulouse. A city, which is famous for it’s pink coloured buildings, giving it the nickname “The Pink City”. It is also the gateway to the Pyrenees, which is famous for it’s grueling climbs in the Tour every year. Even though, we had a jam-packed week ahead following the bikes, we were lucky enough to still have the time to explore Toulouse and see what this little city had to offer.

As we got out of our hotel and into the sun and warmth of southern France, we made our way into the city centre. As we walked the streets, I noticed the endless number of café’s and brasseries. This got me thinking about why the French love the café or brasserie style bar.

My research began by looking at the term “Brasserie”. It is the French word for brewery. The story goes, that brasserie’s first began in the north of France, where the French border joins Belgium. Small microbreweries opened in an attempt to compete with the high demand for Belgium beer. After some time of brasserie’s only selling beer, owners began to offer food and other light snacks to their patrons. Over time, brasseries are now no longer associated with beer and breweries, but smaller restaurants, that are usually relaxed, with still an upscale setting. This setting, I’m sure, sounds much like a café. The two are both very similar. The word ‘café’ comes from the word ‘kaff’, which in French means, “drink”. So as the brasserie began in France mainly serving beer, the café was a place for people to have other drinks, the most common is of course coffee. When both styles of bars began serving light meals, they both became almost the same thing. As we walked around the streets of Toulouse, I noticed that the Brasserie style is often set up to look more like a restaurant. It’s designed to almost be a middleman between the café and the restaurant. For tourists, this can all get a little confusing because, in countries like France and Italy, a café is also another term for cocktail bar.

So what is the conclusion to this research I hear you ask… well the short answer is, they are all much the same. In France, brasseries, cafes and bars, despite starting off as three completely different types of licensed establishments; are now blending together all offering a similar service. The bar industry is now very competitive and Toulouse is no different to any other city. Owners now cannot afford to limit themselves (and there patrons) by sticking to one style of venue, as was the way many years ago.

Being a warm evening, we picked out a nice outdoor Brasserie to relax and eat over a few glasses of wine and prepare ourselves for a busy week ahead following the tour.

Scenes from the Tour De France

Scenes from the Tour De France

The Amazing French Alps

Friday, 13 July 2012

Back to Italy

Well it’s summer again in Europe, and Cara and I have been looking forward to getting out of the cold, wet weather that we’ve been experiencing in London and go back to one of our favourite countries in Europe for some sunshine and amazing food... Thats right, we were returning to Italy. Our first trip to Italy was very special. We travelled to Rome and had an amazing few days. This time round we made a trip to one of Europes fashion capitals, Milan.  Being a city of style and fashion, it was fair to assume that their bar and cocktail culture would follow the same trend. So we were both excited to explore another new city, try some new cocktails and of course eat the amazing Italian food.

By far the main attraction in Milan is the “Duomo di Milano”, which translates to the Cathedral of Milan. This gothic and impressive structure began construction in 1386. It was finally complete in 1965. Looking at the fine detail in the cathedrals exterior, we could understand why it took them so long to complete. It is the forth-largest cathedral in Europe, and it’s the largest in Italy. So Cara and I decided to find a perfect spot to have some of our much-loved antipasti and take in the grandeur of the Duomo, before continuing our exploration of Milan.

A trip to Milan is not complete without experiencing the cities high-end fashion scene. As we walked the streets, passing all the big name featured stores; we decided to make another stop. This time at Dolce & Gabbana, and more importantly the D&G Martini bar. This fashion icon is the brain child of 2 Italian fashion designers, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana. They came together in 1982 to launch one of the most sort after brands in Italy and the world. The D&G Martini bar has been designed to convey the same ideals of the high-end fashion label, which has made the brand so successful today. It’s relaxing, intimate and glamorous setting, gives shoppers the perfect place to unwind after a ‘hard’ days shopping. I wanted to order a cocktail from their menu that screamed “Italy”. I chose a cocktail called “Milano”. Not the most original name in the world, but one that was fitting. It was a martini that consisted of equal parts Campari (another great Italian spirit), Gin and Aperol. It was garnished with slice of orange, which was coated in saffron. This cocktail was exactly what I expected. Crisp clean, with a (what I like to call) razor sharp finish. It is certainly not a cocktail for everyone. Campari can be a tough spirit to drink. But as I looked around the room, I couldn’t help but notice that most of the other patrons were drinking the famous fiery red spirit. Only in Italy would you find so many people drinking Campari at the same time. Aside from the Campari, the gin and the Aperol added to its dry crispness. The Aperol gave the cocktail a refreshing apricot after taste. The garnish was a nice touch too. A saffron coated orange slice was something original. It gave the drink an acidity, which complemented the spirits nicely.

As we sat and enjoyed our drinks, we noticed every customer that walked into D&G’s Martini bar all came carrying a number of shopping bags from the various well known fashion label stores in the nearby area. Being typical Aussies, dressed in flip-flops and me in my Australian soccer top, we suddenly felt a little out of place. Not to worry though, the day was young and we still had lots to see in Milan.

D&G’s “Martini Bar”
The Milano:
In the cocktail shaker
30ml Campari
30ml Gin
30ml Aperol
Stir and strain into a Martini Glass
Garnish with a slice of Orange coated
in Saffron.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Imbibe London Bar Show 2012

Nothing brings out the countries best bartenders like a trade show. It’s a chance to research, learn and (the best part) try new products on the market. It’s also a great opportunity to meet with other industry experts and discuss all things drinking.

I’ve attended several trade shows in Australia, but this was on such a larger scale. There were many new products on display and I’d love to share my thoughts on all of them, but it would take me forever. I can however pick out a couple of products which have stood in my mind.

New flavoured vodkas seemed to be a popular trend this year. One which caught my eye was Belvedere Vodka’s new “Bloody Mary” flavoured spirit. This addition to the belvedere brand contains seven vital ingredients which makes the bloody mary cocktail such a popular drink today. It is a maceration of black pepper, horse-raddish, bell peppers, chilli, vinegar, lemon and (of course) tomatos. It also contains hints of other herbs and spices, such as celery. When I tasted this spirit straight, I could really pick up the smokey flavours of the black pepper instantly. The taste of the chilli’s was apparent too, but it didn’t make the vodka spicy. It was a nice spirit and I could see the potential of this flavour for home bartenders. It had strong bloody mary flavours, but not over powering. It is a spirit that has not been designed to replace the original cocktail flavours (like so many flavoured spirits try to do), it simply would compliment the ingredients which you’d use to make the classic drink.

Now something for the sweet tooth... Thunder Toffee flavoured vodka. Thunder toffee vodka is a triple distilled premium vodka, free of additives and preservatives. During the distillation process,  fresh toffee is melted down and added to give the vodka a smooth sweet taste. Thunder has been designed to be drunk as a shot or straight on ice. Although cocktails have been created with this spirit, it’s sweet and over-powering flavour can make it hard to use in drinks.  Thunder toffee has become a huge success amongst ski resorts mainly in France. I found it nice, but you could not have more than one or two. It is very sweet. In my opinion it must be served ice cold. Room temperature in good, but ice cold gives the spirit a clean and crisp taste.

As I walked around the Imbibe show, I came across several products which I’ve tried in the past. I can’t resist sampling them again. Some of my old favourites such as Ron Zacapa Rum and Courvoisier Cognac are always popular among us bartenders. I was also impressed with the wine component of the show. Wine often takes a back seat to the spirits and liqueurs, so it was good to see some of the top wineries from around Europe getting involved in a big way. I had the pleasure of visiting the French wine stand which had over 100 of the finest French wines on display for us to try.

By the end of the day, we were all a little tipsy. Trade show’s are always a lot of fun. I was able to learn a lot, try many new products and mingle with the UK’s industry experts.