Sunday, 11 October 2009

A week (and a bit) in the life...

This past week or so has been manic.
In fact, I've crammed so much in food-wise (literally as well as metaphorically), I just didn't know how I was going to find the time to get it all into my blog, and do everything I've experienced justice. Much hand wringing and tortured musing ensued, but then, suddenly sitting bolt upright, a sly grin spreading across my impossibly handsome features.(humour me)....inspiration!....a rather cunning idea began forming in my hungover little mind. (hangovers featuring a lot of late).

I'd wind back the clock, and write a post detailing everything I've experienced food wise this past week (and a bit....the 'bit' being 'Ham School' at Brindisa last Thursday)....this way, everything gets written about - no man is left behind, I clear the decks of the growing back-log and it's much back slapping and cheesy grins all round. And you, yes- you! my much appreciated blog readers (all two of you!) get to experience my foodie week first hand in full technicolour!!! Wow!! excited? Well sit back, strap in and lets rewind....

It's now last Thursday. Along with a hand full of fellow food blogger's I've been invited by Brindisa to their inaugural 'Ham School'. But first, a quick 'pre-Ham' drink with some blogger's in 'The Rake', a lovely little pub in Borough which I haven't visited before and which seemingly seems to stock just about every bottled beer in existence in four floor to ceiling size fridges, in fact - I was struck dumb when approaching the bar, frantically scanning the rows upon rows of unfamiliar beers for something,...anything that I actually recognised. I've never seen so much choice. They also have some quality beer on tap, this place is definitely worth remembering if your drinking in the area.

A couple of pints later, I'm entering Brindisa's Borough shop and taking my seat at a table loaded with fantastic looking plates of ham, olives, bread and olive oil....I eye the sherry on the table optimistically and it's not long before I'm offered some. It's excellent. After brief introductions to our principal hosts Alberto -the manager, and the interestingly named Zac Fingal-Rock Innes - Brindisa's master carver, Ham School commences! With the aid of a map, we are talked through the various Spanish hams, the regions they come from, what the pigs eat, why they taste like they do....all the while I'm eating the fantastic Manzanilla Olives, dipping my bread into the excellent Nunes Del Prado Olive Oil and sipping at my glass of Bodegas Hidalgo Manhandle Sherry, in between all this at various key points, we are encouraged to sample the slices of Ham on our plate, a Jamon de Monroyo Reserva - described as an 'Entry Level Ham', its from a White Pig and is young and fresh tasting - it's nice and is also the cheapest Ham we'll be sampling that evening at £6.75 for 100g.

Next, a Jabu Recebo, this is an Iberico pig, acorn fed and is also extremely nice with a subtle bacon flavour.

We move onto the third ham, I pick it up taste it and almost instantly experience a ham induced epiphany, I am struck dumb, I've never tasted any Ham this good ever....I have a strong urge to close my eyes and sit there making contented mewling noises. Umami rich, complex - I've never tasted anything quite like it. The Ham? Jamon de la Dehesa de Extremadura Bellota D.O.P. Again from an acorn fed Iberico pig, The price? £16.50 for 100g.....I suddenly realise that I am now ruined, there's no going back to inferior Ham's, now I've tasted the good stuff I could never eat anything else. Seriously, this is simply amazing if you get the chance - try it!

Onto the fourth and final Ham, this is described as the pinnacle of Spanish Iberico Ham - Joselito Gran Reserva Bellota, it's subtle and incorporates a lot of the tastes we've experienced in the previous Ham's, it's slightly sweet.....It's very nice indeed. But it's subtlety is lost on me, I only have eyes for the previous Ham, Jamon de la Dehesa de Extremadura Bellota, for me this was the best thing I tasted that evening.

Enough with the theory, onto the practical element - we get shown how to carve a ham by Zac, the expert and then are encouraged to have a go ourselves - carefully supervised of course. By this time, I've knocked back a fair old bit of the excellent sherry and I'm feeling confident, swaggering, how hard can it be? I take up the wickedly sharp knife and am positioned in front of an extremely expensive Ham - the carving method is carefully explained to me, the need for wafer thin, almost translucent melt in the mouth strips, I nod sagely taking it all in and instantly proceed to carve off a centimeter thick 'slab' (for there is no other word to describe the weighty lump of ham staring back at me) this leaden chunk would challenge even the most enthusiastic ham eater. Alberto looks slightly horrified by my effort, offering the consolation "Think that one would be more suited for stew perhaps" I'm briefly mortified, but with the excellent sherry pulsing through my veins, quickly recover and manage to carve some more suitably thin pieces.

The end of the session saw us being presented with goodie bags containing our hand carved efforts (mine thankfully minus the slab), some ham fat which is apparently perfect for roasting potatoes in, and some 'tacos' (meaty cubes of ham leg pieces, like pancetta).
What an excellent evening, really enjoyable. If you fancy attending the same session - it costs £65 and begins on the 5th November. Contact Brindisa (details at the bottom).

Tuesday evening saw me attending the 'Grape Expectations' Wine Tasting evening at Bibendum Wine, located in Primrose Hill, and what fantastic evening that was. Around 30 food and wine blogger's converged to taste and learn more about wine, after a brief and rather entertaining introduction to the subject by a real character and wine expert named 'Willy', we separated into groups and moved around between 3 tables, each containing two types of wine to taste, with another wine expert standing by to present a brief presentation on each wine, and to answer any questions. Wine types covered included Chardonnay, Rhone White varientals, Rose, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Savignon and Shiraz/Syrah.

It was a fantastic evening, not only due to the fact you learn so much about the wines, the Bibendum staff really knowing their subject inside out - but the social aspect of meeting so many like minded people...and getting stinking drunk with them. If your a food or wine Blogger, I seriously recommend signing up for the next event when it's posted on the 'London Food and Drink Bloggers' website.

Thursday lunchtime found me meeting fellow food blogger Food Urchin for Pie and Mash at Clarke's in Exmouth Market - with a brief visit to pick up some Olive Oil from an Electrical Shop. Yes, you read that right....Olive Oil from an electrical shop.
Turkish Embassy Electrical Supplies in Compton Street, Clerkenwell apart from dispensing all manner of electrical bits and pieces, also sells Extra Virgin Olive Oil made from the owners own Olive Groves in Cyprus and Turkey. Famously described as 'England's best olive oil' by the New York magazine, I heard about it recently in a Guardian article titled 'The 50 best things to eat in the world, and where to eat them', being located just around the corner from my old office in Clerkenwell, I just had to pick some up. It was indeed a bizarre experience walking into a dingy shop selling fuses, bulbs and cable and asking for Olive Oil, but no one batted an eyelid, and I was presented with a plastic cup to sample it. The verdict? light, slightly peppery - very nice indeed. The best in England? I highly doubt it. But, all the same - very nice. £5 and walked away with 1/2 a litre, so a bit of a bargain too.

Thursday evening and I'm meeting fellow food blogger's, Eatlikeagirl, Scandilicious and Mathilde's Cuisine for cocktails in the bar of the famous Covent Garden restaurant 'Rules', the oldest restaurant in London - being in business for over 200 years. This is somewhere I've wanted to visit for quite some time. We were introduced to the charming Brian Silva, the 'mixologist' and I sampled the best Vespa Martini I'd ever tasted, full stop. It's normally quite an acquired taste - rocket fuel, but Brian's version was smooth, subtle, with a slight hint of fruit - I was gobsmacked, obviously Cocktails of this quality come at a premium price, but believe me - they're worth it. It also helps that the Cocktail Bar at Rules is such a convivial setting, luxurious, laid back, I felt like I had one foot in the 1920's and the other in the present. I will be back! Highly recommended.

From Rules, we proceeded to visit a couple of restaurant's in the Covent Garden area to celebrate the opening of the London Restaurant Festival, which runs from the 1st-13th October with Covent Garden playing host as the official hub. (Visit the bright silver caravan for details!) The highlight of the evening, apart from the incredible cocktails at Rules was the Grilled Congar eel fillet with chorizo mash and basil pesto served at The Palm Court Brasserie. I've never eaten eel before to be honest, and it was lovely - rich and meaty with quite a subtle taste, very nice. I should add, my fellow food bloggers were excellent company, great fun and interesting. I had a very good evening indeed, helped along no doubt by strong cocktails and a fair old bit of red wine.

So, that was my week, granted, a particularly busy one, it's not always like that. In between I also managed to use the 'Tacos' from Brindisa in a version of their excellent 'Chickpea, Chorizo and Red Pepper Stew - Recipe Here, and cooked a fantastic Cheese and Onion tart, the recipe being from Richard Corrigans excellent 'The Clatter of Forks and Spoons'.

Massive thanks to Alberto, Zac and the other staff at Brindisa, Dan and the staff at Bibendum,
Celia Brooks Brown for inviting me along, Porters, The Palm Court Brasserie, Nik Thakkar and the ever cheerful and hardworking Niamh (eatlikeagirl) for the various parts they played in the past week or so - I salute you all!

This coming week will see me visiting Pierre Koffman's pop-up restaurant on the roof at Selfridges, and also a underground restaurant in East Sheen, so make sure to pop back for write up's of those.

Brindisa Ham Workshop
Tel: 020 7407 1036

Bibendum Wine
113 Regents Park Rd
Tel: 020 7722 5577

Embassy Electrical Supplies
76 Compton Street
Tel: 020 7251 4721

35 Maiden Lane
Covent Garden
Tel: 020 7836 5314


Kavey said...

Nyum! (that Y took a lot of effort on this German kezboard)

Niamh said...

What a week! Brilliant.

I had great fun that night. It's been non stop since, but looking forward to the next adventure and pie and mash lunch soon. The ham class was great! Rules 7 eel, with friendly fun company makeS a great evening.

Can't wait to try that olive oil too :)

Anonymous said...

That is definitely the kind of week that I love and that keep me happy on a Sunday night, just by thinking about all the great moments that I'm going to live the week after ... Long life to bloggers events and great food places!

neil said...

I find your journalistic style a little hammy for my tastes.

...Boom Boom ;)

Graphic Foodie said...

Wow! What an excellent week. Particularly cool place to buy olive oil from - why the heck not? If only you could get your weekly shop from Screwfix my life would be complete.

Dan said...

I must admit, you seemed a bit dazed when we met for pie and mash, didn't realise you were going out that night too. I commend you sir for your stirling epicurean efforts.

Dan said...

Kavey - hahaha thanks - I think....those damn German Keyboards eh?

Niamh - thanks again for inviting me along to the London restuarant thing - was great fun, and what a shame you couldn't meet me and FoodUrchin for Pie and Mash, we'll have to re-arrange that soon.

Mathilde - I'll second that, who'd have thought food blogging would be so social or such good fun!

Neil - been sitting here wracking my feeble brain for an appropriate ham pun to reply - but, it's just not functioning. nada. Well done sir.

Grafoo, yep bizzare isn't it? The thing I can't understand is - if he owns olive groves in Cyprus and Turkey, why's he hanging about in a dingy electrical shop in Clerkenwell?

Dan - correct, I was a bit dazed actually, what with my sisters wedding as well - don't think I've drunk as much for ages, constant late nights and hangovers seem to be harder to deal with the older you get. Looking forward to Sheen at the end of the week :)

Just like to add - (I forgot to put it in the post) - @Londoneating on twitter put me onto some decent street food in Camden, a Burrito stall in Inverness St, and a stall that sells Stew next door. Both pretty nice, been struggling to find something for lunch in Camden for a while. Tim Hayward in The Guardian also mentioned in his latest article a stall in Camden.. "serving arepas - a kind of Venezualan, corn-based, half-cooked English muffin full of beans, cheese and meat". So, I'll have to track that down and report back on it.

josordoni said...

what can I say.. BOOOUUFFFF

a great time seems to have been had, but how's the detox going now? LOL

I assume we can look forward to your report on the "decent street food in Camden" ?

The Ample Cook said...

You little socialite you! I think your new nickname will be Paris Hilton ;o)

I'm only jealous Dan, I don't get out much you see (cue the violins)

What a fabulous week and what a really great write up. So, it's all round to yours for ham egg and chips then?

Dan said...

Josordoni - Detox? hahahah.....hahahaha
Yes - we can look forward to something on the street food available in Camden, so far it'll be short but I'll write it to help fellow lost foodie visitors to that part of town.

Jan - It's a bit akward if you dont work in London really - seems to be loads going on - but it's all up here.
Round mine? round yours! - when's the big dinner planned for myself, Fran, Dan, Linda etc?

TheFastestIndian said...

Blimey- I have London envy. Puts my foodie highlight of last week (a trip to Waitrose) to shame!

Hollow Legs said...

I love busy weeks like the one we've just had... as long as there's time to catch up at the weekend!

EssexGourmet said...

Corr! What a week... I am left lusting! Will try that ham; I remember trying so many in Spain, all graded by acorns – difficult to source the best over here.

Love Rules too - fabulous game dishes, used to frequent often when I worked in London.

Dan - you have the best of both worlds - a coveted position. Thanks for sharing *cry*.

Alex said...

Don't know what I'm more jealous of... actually I do... your ham epiphany, definitely!

Dan Coward said...

Nice one Dan - thanks for giving the thumbs up to the 'knowledgeable' Bibendum staff. I have now set them study tasks and homework to complete before the next tasting!

Dan said...

The Fastest Indian - seem to have had a paticuarly busy week last week, it's normally nothing like that with a trip to Waitrose being my highlight as well!

Lizzie - agreed - what a cracking week, but nice to be able to chill out on the weekend and relax.

EssexGourmet - The Ham....the Ham.....oh my God....the Ham.
Blimey, you've been everywhere already - seems like I'm re-inventing the wheel here compared to you!

Alex - oooooh the Ham *clutches forehead dramatically*.....ooooooooh the Ham!!!!!. You have to try it - even if you run into brindisa - leap on a Ham, take a bite and then run out again.

Dan - What can I say, you literally do know how to organise a piss up in a brewery/wine merchants! Fantastic evening, really enjoyed it and amazed at the knowledge the Bibendum Staff have on the subject, I know it's their jobs - but....really impressive all the same, and great fun!

Kerri said...

I read about that electrical shop too, I love those quirky little places. Good to know the olive oil was decent, too.

Was great to meet you at the Bibendum tasting.

Dan said...

Kerri - exactly, crazy isn't it? Olive Oil in an electrical shop. Excellent.
Likewise, was very nice to meet you at the Bibendum tasting as well!

Helen @ World Foodie Guide said...

What a food-filled week! And more to come this week too. Sorry I missed you at Ham School, but I'm sure we'll catch up one of these days...

Dan said...

Helen, Pity you couldn't make Ham School. But like you say, I'm sure we will catch up soon.

Marcus Shingler said...

Nice piece Dan. You must spend lots of time in the gym as well I presume!:-) Definitely going to try the ham tasting session.


Dan said...

Cheers Marcus - Gym, no. I bloody should though if I have many more weeks like last one. Ham tasting - go for it, it's great fun.

TCake said...

have a great time at the resaurant on the roof!... my office is adjacent to the kitchen's that Pierre & his team have been cooking in... if it tastes as good as it smells you are in for a treat!.. have fun. Teresa

Dan said...

TCake - thanks a lot, I'm hoping for great things. Never got to sample Pierre's cooking first time around so this is a once in a lifetime chance. Can't wait. I'll let you know how it is.

Boo said...

Woah! What a week, sounds like loads of fun. Glad you've located some good lunch spots in Camden at last. Also great you made it to Rules, Brian's such a legend!

Su-Lin said...

Oh, I've always wanted to try that shop's olive oil. Always thought I'd never be able to find the place so I'm glad they've got a sign outside!

gastrogeek said...

i love the Rake. They used to do a really lovely coconut beer, I forget the name. And am gutted I missed you guys on the Thursday gastrotour thingy. I'm glad you didn't have to peel off any pigs faces(!) Sounds like you had a proper full on week of gluttony - superb!!

Dan said...

Boo - finally eh? Camden's been a tough one. Still devoid of options compared to Clerkenwell that's for sure. Rules and Brian were very cool indeed.

Su-Lin - its actually not that hard to find, it's just off St John St about 2 shops down from 'The Well' pub on the corner. I tried some of the Olive Oil last night for dipping bread in - and it was lovely...well worth £5 of anyones money.

Rej - such a shame you could come along. (Think I may have filled your place actually). Although I see on your blog you got the more upmarket gastrotour instead! hahaha nice.
Last week was manic food and drink wise - I was actually bored with drinking by the weekend - and that's not like me at all. Just can't handle the pace now I'm getting older.

But this week is a whole new one, and my liver is refreshed!