Sunday, 25 June 2017


 Another London Wine Week has come and gone again, and this year I had the pleasure of attending a very classy evening at the five-star London Edition Hotel - a Val du Loire opening event hosted by wine connoisseurs Douglas Blyde and Lindsay Oram.
The Loire Valley, France's third biggest producer of AOC wines, is home to some of the world's very best wines, and Londoners are lucky enough to enjoy them in restaurants and bars scattered across the capital.

  Prior to dinner, we enjoyed a free pour preview aperitif of nine wines alongside some appetizing canapés, whilst I attempted to shake off the rain from my freshly styled hair. 
The wet hair look may suit others but dampness turns mine into a frazzled mess.

Dinner was held in an underground private salon, with technicolor, dim lighting that although created a seductive ambience, proved to be a challenge with food photography (!)
 Portraits of a young woman were lined up against the wall. She looked rather miserable and unhappy. I sat with my back towards her and continued enjoying my wine - I have a tendency to insensitive like that at times ... I blame the wine.

The technicolour lights changed throughout the evening, with background sounds and music, as part of our sensory Loire Valley Wines experience. 
The menu created by Chef Phil Carmichael sounded tantalizing, and made me feel hungrier than I already was.
The first course was a slice of sourdough toast served with a generous mount of Colchester crab seasoned with apple, coriander and topped with a dollop of brown crab mayo.
Ah crab, one of my favourite shellfish delights that brought back memories of our seafood feast in Lisbon - minus my clumsy attempt at hammering and squirting those around me with crab juice ...
As much as I love some hands-on action, this much more sophisticated de-shelled version was delicious nonetheless.
This was paired with a Muscadet cotes de Grandlieu Sur Lie, 2015, with a lovely combination of citrus notes and depth of flavour that goes perfectly with shellfish.

The second course was a pan fried rainbow trout with a nice crispy skin, balanced on top of some chargrilled courgette, cucumber and topped off with some caviar. The wasabi butter sauce got some mixed opinions from around the table, but I personally wiped my plate clean - I do love a bit of Asian fusion ...
Some suppressed sniffles were heard around the tables - either my tastebuds aren't very sensitive or they've built up tolerance over the years of me dousing my sushi in wasabi soya sauce.

Glasses were filled with Savennieres, Clos de la Hutte, 2015 - Savennieres which was described by wine extraordinaire, Douglas, as the most exciting region of the Loire valley for white wine (scribbles huge star on menu for future reference!). Made from a grape called Chenin Blanc which behaves in a little way like Reisling (I do like Reisling ...).
The lighting had now changed to a deep shade of purple before another momentary transition to deep blue, into 'blue water territory', as we headed further into our Loire journey.

This was followed by a meatier course of BBQ Dingley Dell pork chop, garnished with roasted calcots onions, apple, tomato and sage sauce. According to the chef, these pigs are handled delicately from farm to plate, and even given massages (!). 
The meat was cooked well - tender with a good amount of fat that contained most of the delicious flavours.

This time, we had not one but two glasses of red wines to accompany our dish:
The first was a Chinon Rouge, Clos de la Dioterie, 2009, by Charles Joguet: philosopher, poet, sculptor and a living legend in the Loire and for many years who produced the finest wines in Chinon. The product of 80 year old vines, it displayed deep, intense flavours of fruit and spice, and apparently tobacco, that I could not possibly determine having never smoked a cigarette in my life ...
The second was the Saumur Champigny, Lisagathe, 2014, a bright-garnet, rich and full-bodied wine from the Anjou-Saumur appellation.

The room now lit up with red lights, which felt all very risqué ...

And finally for our final course: a savoury dessert which consisted of a selection of cheeses, pear and saffron chutney, and homemade mixed seed biscuits.
A white and a red wine, Anjou Blanc 2015 and Anjou Rouge 2014 from Clos de l'Elu, personally chosen from the Berners Tavern wine list accompanied this sumptuous array. Although tradition dictates that cheese is best served with red, the acidity, freshness and temperature of the white makes it an ideal pairing to cut through the mellowness of the cheese. A show cheeseboard was paraded around the room, which got plenty of attention from the paparazzi cameras - definitely an Instagram-worthy shot.

Difference Coffee Company that uses 100% Arabica Speciality Coffee, the highest grade of bean, provided our caffeine fix to end our night, although I did opt for the decaffeinated version instead to avoid the risk of a sleepless night. They do say that it's all psychological but I didn't want to take my chances with my precious 5 hours of sleep.
Served in golden cups and saucers, it was just what I needed to warm me up before my drench-free Uber journey back home.  

In preparation for the event that evening, I also had the opportunity to enjoy a couple of bottle of these fresh and elegant wines that are starting to become trendy with today's customers:
Chenin Blanc which produces anything from searing dry, fresh and mineral examples, to luscious sweeties; and Cabernet Franc which has scents of violets and crushed red berries, and soft red fruits and tannins.  Although other countries produce wines from these grape varieties, the Loire is the real home of these grapes. If you're looking for something to sip in the summer months (summer has finally arrived!), these would be a couple of recommended options:


Clos du Gaimont, Vouvray, 2015  - refreshing, clean and crisp white wine, bone dry but bursting with mineral notes. Great with French cheese, pork and even Thai curry. An unbeatable choice of wine to pair with sweet and sour food.


Croix de Chaintres, Saumur Champigny, 2015 - full of rich raspberry and cherry flavours with a classic hint of herbaceous notes of Cabernet Franc. Great with barbecued meats, steak or meaty fish.

It has been an educational and entertaining journey tasting all these delicious wines - now all I need is someone to fly me to the Loire Valley for a relaxing summer holiday to complete the experience. 
Any takers?

The Cheekster, signing out x

I was invited to review, but views remain my own.

Thursday, 15 June 2017


Wine-tasting events always seem to me like a very grown-up thing to do, and in pursuit of educating myself on the finer things in life I recently attended the Mâcon pop-up at Carousel.
The event was hosted by Master Sommelier Xavier Rousset, that featured red and white wines from the Mâconnais section of Burgundy, France
Arriving fashionably early before the crowd, I was brought up to the tasting room where bottles of wine were numbered and laid out in rows. I was given a book titled 'The Bourgogne Secret South' which was like a guide book for the evening - a much more inviting read than the BNF at work. Not quite feeling in my element, I was glad that I was not the first to arrive and attempted to observe the mannerisms of other guests. I have been to wine events in the past, but this was my first solo endeavour as I spotted not a familiar face in sight ...
"I can do this", I told myself, as I moved around with feigned confidence.
There was the graceful swirl around the glass, 'The Look' (some more pensive than others ...), the smell, the swooshing around the mouth, where I tried my best to look classy as opposed to me when I rinse my mouth of toothpaste ...

All the above steps seemed quite easy to mimic, but then there was 'The Spit' ...
I was aware of this ritual, but have somehow never quite INDULGED in it personally.
Everyone else seemed to be spitting rather freely into the provided spit buckets, which was obviously very normal. I decided to hold back on this occasion - until the next time when I have gained some 'spitting confidence' ...
"MUST avoid eye contact to avoid small talk where I would be questioned about what I think about the wine (!)", I thought to myself, as I scribbled common words like 'fruity' and 'smooth' in my notebook - almost quite repetitively as I flipped each page. 
I was always fascinated on how the descriptions that people write about wines. Surely with my wild imagination I too could create my own taste-bud journey experience: "It started off with the feeling of rolling around in a silk robe, on a bed of fresh rose petals, and then suddenly falling off a cliff and plunging into the ocean in the middle of a storm, tossed around like a ragged doll before being pulled to shore on the glistening back of a whale - the same one that swallowed Pinocchio, probably ..." 
Fantasy time, over. I will clearly never have a courier in writing.
I did remember to 'star' a few wines that I particularly liked:
Mâcon-la Roche-Vineuse and Mâcon-Pierreclos amongst the few - not just because they have fancy-sounding names, I swear.
Thankfully with minimal sips and no spits, I managed to get through all 32 bottles. Despite my taste-buds feeling slightly jaded, I felt like I was on the right path to becoming a Mâcon wine connoisseur ... or maybe not (!) 

At the end of the tasting session, we were served a couple of canapes: a spoonful of cured sea trout with horseradish vinaigrette, and a seaweed tart with goat's curd - both of which were very appetizing but I failed to photograph in my state of hunger ... the foodblogger in me was disappointed in myself. Empty glasses around the room were filled with the selected paired wines, Mâcon-Chardonnay 2015 and Mâcon-Lugny 2015.

My excitement began to build up as we finally made our way downstairs to the dining room - food is after all my 'comfort zone'.
The food was prepared by guest chef, Avinash Shashidhara, from River Cafe, who had prepared a tantalizing menu of Indian dishes to be enjoyed alongside the wines.
We started with a light and refreshing salad of cucumber with Datterini tomatoes and split mung beans, paired with not one, but three (!) wines:
Mâcon-Fuisse 2015, Mâcon-Ige 2015, and Mâcon-La Roche-Vineuse 2015

This was followed by my favourite dish of the evening, a creamy and aromatic South Indian fish stew with langoustine and scallop. There was a nice balance of sweetness and a hint of spiciness, and the fermented rice cake on the side was perfect to dip and wipe the plate clean after. The langoustine flesh was fresh and springy, and I made sure that I had picked out all the meat from the tiny claws - finger bowls were gratefully received after. If I wasn't sat so far away from the kitchen counter I may have walked up with my empty plate and given my best interpretation of Oliver Twist's, 'Please Sir, I want some more".
Empty glasses were refilled, this this time with Mâcon-Aze 2015, Mâcon-Charnay-Les-Mâcon 2015, and Mâcon-Peronne 2015.

The last course was chargrilled pigeon marinated in stone flower, ginger and lemon juice, served with braised golden and pink beetroot and wood sorrel. I love game meat and the pigeon was pink and juicy when cut through. The marinade was interesting in a pleasant way and I nibbled every last bit off the bone, which is always a sign of a good dish.
We had now moved on to a couple of reds: Mâcon-Serrieres 2015 and Mâcon-La Roche-Vineuse 2015, described to be marked with pleasant, silky tannins, and a hint of spice. 
2015 appears to have been a good year for Mâcon wines.

Complimented with some fine company around the table, my evening ended on a much more relaxed and enjoyable note, perhaps also aided by the multiple glasses of wine that I had consumed ...
The smoothness of the wines with their fruit and floral notes have coaxed my taste-buds to want more now (I have been seduced by wine!), and I shall be on the lookout for more Mâcon wine encounters on my future restaurant visits.

And if you would like to find out more information about these wines which would contain much more information than my endless ramblings (hurray for the internet!) ...

The Cheekster, signing out x

I was invited to review, but views remain my own.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017


The weather outside may seem quite wet and gloomy, but the fresh new menu at Cafe Rouge is sure to put a spring back into your step. 
I revisited one of my favourite Cafe Rouge branches at Hays Galleria last weekend to try their Spring Menu, when the weather was much more pleasant, to enjoy lunch on their outdoor terrace. 
A combination of French classics with a British twist, the new menu is inspired by this season's flavours and tastes, as well as their Executive Chef Bruno Balle travels across France, from Calais to Corsica. Sourcing the best ingredients and suppliers, the new dishes are a culmination of traditional recipes and techniques, and welcomes families and friends to embrance the French way of life, and enjoy good French food and drink.

The drinks menu consisted of a list of refreshing Gin Blooms, Cocktails and fruity Mocktails - I started with a bubbly Kir Rouge followed by a much more innocent Peach Iced Tea.

For starters, we ordered the Tian of Crab and Avocado which was seasoned nicely with a touch of coriander mayonnaise, and the Mackerel Rillettes, a rich yet light mackerel pate with creme fraiche and horseradish, served with dill-pickled cucumber and chargrilled rye & caraway bread. 

The two mains that followed were just as vibrant and flavourful. I really enjoyed the Lamb Cassoulet, inspired by the traditional Southern French cassoulet originating from the province of Languedoc. The rump of lamb was really tender, and served pink on a rich cassoulet of haricot beans, bacon lardons, spinach, carrots, celery and onions. A hearty and comforting dish that I would be tempted to order again on my next visit.
I love a good tart, and the Tarte de Printemps had a nice, buttery pastry filled with confit shallots, Emmental cheese, goat's cheese, sundried tomatoes, baby watercress, and served with a colourful house salad.

And finally for dessert, we decided on the Torte au Chocolat that was highly recommended by the lovely manager - a French chocolate torte that was really rich and indulgent, with a smooth, gooey texture in the centre. The strawberry & black pepper sorbet that we had was also intriguing and perfect for a sunny day.

Alongside their extensive main a la carte menu, Cafe Rouge also currently offer a Spring Set Menu everyday from 12noon onwards, where you can enjoy two courses for a bargain price of £12.95 (with and additional £3.00 to include dessert). 
You can have a further browse of their tantalizing menu here, and find your closest cafe Rouge by clicking on this link.

The Cheekster, signing out x

The meal was complimentary, but views remain my own. 
Café Rouge Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato