It’s been a busy few weeks, so no time to write obsessively about any one thing. Here’s a few things written about slightly less obsessively:
High on my list of boozes to learn about at the moment is the oft-maligned ‘granny’ drink that is sherry. I’m a bit of a fan, knocking back at least one bottle of amontillado at Christmas and having grown up in a household where abstinence was enforced before 6pm with the understanding that sherry didn’t count as drinking. I heard rumours earlier this year of a sherry bar near Kings Cross and eventually discovered the location of Pepito and Camino, the restaurant that it’s attached to. I’ve still not made it over to visit and was rather pleased to be contacted by their PR people and offered a chance to be taught about sherry with an intake of new staff. Unfortunately this didn’t line-up with the world of the corporate wage slave (my world) and I resigned myself to not seeing behind the scenes. However, the staff training wasn’t just for a regular intake but for a new restaurant and shortly after opening I was invited along with the regular crew of London food and drink bloggers to have a wander round the new location – Puerto del Canario…or Canary Wharf as you may know it.
Situated right by Westferry pier on the former site of a Jamie’s bar it’s a restaurant of two halves – eating and drinking. Half of the restaurant is set up for sit down dining, the other with tall tables for more casual drinking with food. I think the same menu is served in both halves of the restaurant and it’s all spanish food, with a variety of sizes from small tapas dishes to main meals. I got to try some at the end of the evening and was very impressed – I’ll be coming back for certain, especially as it gives me an excuse to get the boat from London Bridge. I like boats. However, I was there to find out about the drinks.
While they aren’t Pepito, they do still have range of sherries with at least one entry in each of the major categories. We started the evening with some Tio Pepe Fino Palomino. Camino work closely with Gonzalez Byass and this is one of their key sherry brands. Served chilled it was light on the nose, but there was a hint of grass with some honey hiding behind it. To taste it was much dryer than the nose suggested, with green grass, yeast and dry grapes. Those flavours ended suddenly with a hint of sweetness and the whole lot was capped with a woody finish. I’m not a fan of dryer sherries, but this was quite nice, if not really my kind of thing.
To stick with the sherries for now, at the end of our meal we were presented with a choice of digestif. After a small amount of sweet talking I got to try both. I started with a Solera 1847 Oloroso Dulce. On the nose it had the pressed raisin sweetness of a darker sweet sherry as well a whiff of vanilla sponge cake. To taste it had cinnamon in with the raisins and a hint of apple, all sitting on top of a light yeastiness. I quite like sweeter sherry and this has definitely added oloroso to my ‘investigate’ list. The other dessert choice was a Moscatel (that I know nothing more about other than that). It was floral on the nose with light honey and a cloying perfumed floor cleaner astrigency. To taste the honey was dominant with the floral note hanging around and making the whole lot a bit intense and cloying. Not really one for me – a bit too much and more overpowering than the moscatel I have tried in the past.
The bar does of course have much more than just sherry. Along with the food we were served a selection of spanish wine, starting with a 2007 Val de Sil Godello – a wine made in Galicia in north-western spain. My notes are annoyingly light now that I’ve looked into the grape a bit more (as I’d not heard of or tried it before) and read simply ‘Sweet sugariness. Hint of lemon’. I’ve only more recently started getting into white wine and this is on the list of things to try again. From there we quickly moved on to reds, with a Viñas del Vero Pinot Noir 2008 as the first. On the nose it had a underlying bloody meatiness with a hint of salt and sour cherry. To taste it was piney to start with strawberries in the middle and a lightly sour finish with sweetness down the side of the tongue. We then moved on to a Cillar de Silos Torre Isilo, made with Ribera del Duero grapes. It had pine, almonds, redcurrants, dry card and sour cherry on the nose. To taste it had both sweet and sour cherries, a clove spiciness, some vanilla and a tannic woody finish. Rather pleasant.
Before I got to the eating stage of the evening I had a chat with a lady at the bar. She poured me a glass of 2009 Verd Albera (a rather nice peachy and lemony white wine) and after I did my normal waxing lyrical about spirits and cocktails she revealed that she was in charge of training the bar staff in the restaurant group and helped design the bars. The main design work is done by Interbar and currently (as of October 2010) the Camino Puerto del Canario bar is their flagship production – lots of fridges keeping wine at the right temperature (16°C for red, 6-7°C for white according to our tour), ice wells for chilling bottles and putting in drinks, and a general air of sensible lay out. After some further chatting about the wonders of whisky and cocktails (not what I expected in a Spanish bar and restaurant) I was presented with a whiskey sour. It was made with Four Roses small batch bourbon (which is a nice bourbon that I still need to grab a bottle of) and had a splash of Angostura bitters added for some spiciness, a twist I may have to try in the ones I make at home from now on.
The last beverage type to taste was their beer. They have the regular range of cold fizzy yellow Spanish beer (as well as, according to the menu, at least one Spanish dark beer), but one in particular caught my eye – Inedit, a beer designed in collaboration between Estrella and Feran Adrià. Adrià is the owner and genius/madman behind El Bulli, a 3 star Michelin restaurant that often tops World’s Best Restaurant lists (and that I very much want to go to, but with only 8000 diners per year and over 2 million booking requests [places issued via a lottery] I doubt I will any time soon, especially as next year looks to be the last season that it will be around) and along with St Heston of Bray one of my food heroes. Estrella approached him asking for helping in designing a beer to go with food and Inedit is the result of their work. On the nose it has wheaty coriander and a light sweetness. To taste it has a burst of malty sweetness, with flowers and a hint of citrus that stops dead and is followed by dryness. It’s quite strange how quickly the flavour stops, but it seems almost perfect for food and claims to be ‘the first beer to be designed to accompany food’ (a lofty claim that I can’t deny with evidence but am sure others can) – a burst of beer flavour followed by a hole that is almost marked ‘insert food here’. Tastewise it’s quite similar to Hoegaarden, but slightly lighter and much clearer in appearance. It’s not that available in the UK, appearing in Utobeer and other specialist beer shops but Camino is the only restaurant I know serving it.
Camino is most definitely on my list of places to visit again. I’m not a big fan of the layout bar side, with no general seating and the potential to become a noisy echo chamber as soon as it starts to fill, but their drinks menu is good and while similar it’s nicer than the other Canary Wharf drinking dens I’ve visited – it’ll be full of suits in no time… The restaurant was really good, an excellent addition to the crowded Canary Wharf scene and the easy access from the river (along with the accompanying view) is rather nice. To complete my need for sherry knowledge I still need to visit Pepito (and Camino: Cruz del Rey – they love the spanish names), but Camino: Puerto del Canario has filled the gap for now.
Tio Pepe Fino Palomino
Fino sherry. £3.50 for 100ml from Camino. £9.99 per bottle from Majestic.
Solera 1847 Oloroso Dulce
Oloroso sherry. £10.99 per bottle from Ocado.
Val de Sil 2007
Godello white wine. £32 per bottle from Camino
Viñas del Vero Pinot Noir 2008
Pinot noirred wine. £24.50 per bottle from Camino.
Cillar de Silo Torre Isilo 2006
Ribera del Duero red wine. £59 per bottle from Camino.
Celler Marti Fabra Verd Albera 2009
Mocatel, Garnacha, Empordà white wine. £20 per bottle from Camino
Spanish lager by Estrella and Feran Adrià. 4.8%.
Many thanks to Krista Booker from Neon for finally finding an event I could come along to (and trying to push as many new boozes my way as she could through the evening), Andrew Sinclair from Gonzalez Byass for listening to me witter about how little I knew about sherry and cava, Richard Bigg, former wandering barman, now Camino boss and all round nice chap, and to the staff at Camino, who were smiley and helpful all night despite being confronted by 30+ freeloading bloggers.
I was wined and dined for the evening at Camino’s expense and they gave us all a rather nice goody bag (I ate the cheese from it on the way home). They even put me on a boat for a bit, which was nice. I will be happily paying my own money to go again though and I wouldn’t do that if they weren’t actually good.
Despite several attempts I’ve never tried an British red wine. I’ve had whites at Denbies (having missed the open ‘to taste’ bottles of red by a few minutes and not wanting to spring £15 for a bottle without a taste first) and even some Welsh ‘Champagne’, courtesy of the Sugar Loaf vineyard, but as yet British red has eluded me. However, knowing this, my erstwhile flatmates, Dave and Let, picked me up a bottle of Setley Ridge Barrel Aged Oaked Red while on a recent weekend amongst the trees of the New Forest.
The Setley Ridge vineyard sits between Lymington and Brockenhurst in the middle of the New Forest and has been running under the current owners since 2001. They, as most english producers do, mainly make white wines, with our climate being a bit cool for much red wine growing, with Seyval, Schönburger and Muscat grapes for the white, and Regent, Triomphe and Rondo for the red. Their online list, which claims to be up to date as of 2007, suggests that I got a bottle of their 2005 red (as there’s no vintage on the bottle), which may mean that they haven’t bottled any since then – dodgy weather and the UK’s non-ideal climate may have worked against the increasing demand for British wine.
On the nose it has blackberries, pine and some dark woodiness. To taste it continues the theme, with a little bit of wood, blackberry, cherries and then some muddy vegetable notes (that lessened as the wine breathed, become more leafy [rhubarb leaves?] but still quite earthy) leading to a meaty finish. It’s got much more body than I expected from an English red (I’ve been told that they are mainly the lighter red grapes, with Denbies producing a lot of Pinot Noir, as these grow better) and while it’s not one I’ll be seeking out, it’s certainly a smooth and easy drinking red that improves as it breathes.
Setley Ridge Barrel Aged Oaked Red Wine
Regent, Triomphe, Rondo blend – 12%
Available from the vineyard – £8.95
Christmas is traditionally a time of over indulgence and I am far from being someone who wants to buck tradition (any excuse). There may have been turkey, pies, bologneses and casseroles over the festive period, but much more importantly there has been booze. Here’s what I’ve been drinking:
My friend Mr Utobeer came through for me again, after an unplanned drop-in while wandering around Borough Market with Mondoagogo a few days before Christmas, and added to my bottle of Orkney Dark Island Special Reserve (left until after Christmas so as to be shared with people who love nice beer more than my family). Other than some bottles grabbed as a present for someone (as my order from Brewdog hasn’t been sent yet as they haven’t yet brewed one part of it – a bottle of the second batch of Tactical Nuclear Penguin) I also grabbed, and have since drunk:
Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special 40 Reserve: I tried the 16 a few weeks back and discovered at the same time that they now did a beer matured in a 30 year old Highland Park cask. Then I went to the SMWS last week and was informed that they also do a 40, which they had a couple of bottles of at obscene prices. Then I found one at Utobeer for the scary price of £7.60. The verdict – much like with the 16 year old it wasn’t all that impressive. It was a marked difference from the younger barrelled beers, with more of a woody whiskiness than before, but still not worth the cost in my opinion. A really nice heavy dark beer still.
Brewdog Paradox: Isle of Arran: They may not have sent me my beer yet, but I still like the Brewdog chaps. And their beer. This, to continue a theme, is another whisky cask matured beer (Innis & Gunn have a lot to answer for) and one that I’ve tried before. I rather like the Arran distillery, producing some of my favourite SMWS whiskies as they have, and I really liked my last bottle of this that I tried. This one was slightly disappointing – not so influenced by the wood as the last one, but still a really good dark ale with more fruit and less vanilla than the Ola Dubh.
My Mate Nick’s Homebrew: Mr Martin, cow-orker and ginger bearded buddy extraordinaire, has recently started brewing and after discussing what he was doing to make his beer presented me with one of his first batch of bottles. I left it to settle for a while and then cracked it open on Christmas Eve. It was rather lively, needing several glasses to pour out into without overflowing with meringue-like head, and in true bottle conditioned fashion was quite sedimenty at the bottom, requiring some care in the pouring. It was very very dark and quite sweet – a definite hint of black treacle without quite so much of its burnt taste. I suffered none of the ill effects that homebrew is famed for and I also rather enjoyed it. The fluffiness and sweetness suggests that maybe it was bottled a bit early but it wasn’t the worse for it. I look forward to brew number 2. Hopefully I’ll get some more…please?
Realising a few days before Christmas that you have visiting wine loving parents and no suitable bottles on the shelf was a mild concern, as I’m a very lazy man who doesn’t like carrying things back from the supermarket. The nice folks at Naked Wines jumped in to save me with guaranteed Christmas Eve delivery if I ordered by 5pm the day before – I ordered at 4:45. The next afternoon the slightly harassed looking delivery man turned up, dumped my wine and ran away quickly – I think there were a few people who had the same idea as me. Anyways, combined with a few bottles contributed by my visitors I definitely have enough wine now, although still only 3 spare slots on the wine rack.
Milani Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (Naked Wine, Italy): My first out of the box and grabbed to match a spaghetti bolognese. I quite like Montepulciano and this was slightly disappointing – quite rough, although it did soften as it aired, without as much fruit as I hoped. However, a couple of glasses went in to the bolognese sauce and the rest of it went down quite nicely with dinner.
Vicien Syrah 2007 (Naked Wine, Argentina): Rolled into service when the first bottle from my case ran out prematurely, this was really quite good. A nice full Syrah with a good amount of fruit that got better as it breathed. I stoppered it and finished it the next day and it was still very drinkable.
Howcroft Estate Limestone Coast Merlot 2006 (Tesco, Australia): Grabbed from my step-dad’s wine rack due to the word ‘turkey’ being in the ‘goes with’ list on the back, this was a nice light Merlot, full enough to battle with the dark turkey meat as well as not being too strong as to drown out the (admittedly dry) white meat.
Hardy’s Varietal Range Shiraz 2008 (Sainsbury?, Australia): Another donation from the visitors, this one isn’t quite done yet, opened to provide some lubrication for dinner part 2 – the christmas pud (delayed until evening to allow some digestion of lunch to occur). It definitely needed some time to breathe, having a harsh edge, but it quickly softened (especially when poured through my newly acquired wine aerater [thankyou Dave’nLet] which worked much better than we had imagined) and was a nice, spicy, fruity wine, complimenting the pud better than expected.
I’ve had a Christmas uncharacteristically light on whisky, despite a trip to Milroy’s a couple of days beforehand. I stopped by to try and pick up a bottle of rye to make the Manhattans that my mum had demanded via SMS (she had already bought cocktail cherries specially) and found that they were out of everything but a £180 per bottle Rittenhouse. I turned that down and got upsold when I tried to buy a 70cl bottle of Buffalo Trace, coming away with a 1.75l bottle (with free julep cup). I also grabbed a bottle of 15 year old Glencadam, having liked the SMWS bottling I picked up a couple of weeks back. The Trace is a solid bourbon, smooth enough to go either in cocktails or be drunk on the rocks (something that I’ve done a bit too much of since picking it up). The Glencadam is interesting – similar to the production Arran whisky in a way that I didn’t expect, with a fizzy icing sugar start, but also with a thick wedge of rubbery niceness running through the middle. It seems that I subconsciously do know my taste in whisky and Arran and Glencadam slot into it.
I used Glenfiddich instead of brandy to ignite the Christmas pud – the fact that I consider Glenfiddich to be cooking whisky when not too long ago it was one of the best whiskies that you could expect someone to have on their shelf has been commented on. It is cooking whisky…
Anyways, a vaguely restrained christmas that should continue to be restrained through new year – I’m on call on New Year’s Eve and don’t feel like lugging multiple bottles of whisky down to Shoreham-by-Sea (where I’m going for a party), but I’m sure someone else will look after my boozey needs…