Monday, 24 June 2013

Taste of London 2013

When I was but a young thing, the idea of a festival dedicated to food and drink, seemed an insane idea. After all, who needed food when you were leaping around in a field wearing a crop top? Thankfully for us all, the crop tops have long since been consigned to the the charity shop and the concept of spending a day just eating wonderful food and drinking cocktails is idyllic.So you can imagine my delight when I managed to procure a ticket for this year's Taste of London festival which ran for four days, finishing up on the 23rd of June.

The festival is held in London's Regent Park and is host to over 40 of the capital's hottest restaurants and food and drink suppliers. There are opportunities to watch amazing demonstrations, taste an array of beautifully presented dishes and sample some of the best that our epicurean city can offer. Of course, for me, it was all about the spirits, not that I wouldn't have loved to try everything, but time was sadly limited and there's only so much a lady of my size can imbibe before incoherence overtakes and I was trying desperately hard to be professional about it all.

My first stop was at the Pinkster Gin stand to meet  these new kids on the gin block and chat to the creator of their undeniably appealing, pink gin, Stephen Marsh.  Although he has making gin for the pleasure of friends and family for years, Pinkster has only been available to the public for the last 6 weeks. However, I suspect that it's natural, pink colour which comes from the raspberries used in it's distillation will set it apart from it's peers and make it a popular choice, especially with the ladies. There are a lot of gins on the market and no doubt some purists will baulk at this young upstart, but the taste is very pleasant and it makes a terribly  pretty G&T, especially with the addition of a raspberry and a sprig of mint. Sadly, there were no bottles available to take home on the day, so you will have to wait a bit longer to find out it's cocktail making potential, but I have high hopes...

Fortified by my Pinkster G&T, I popped over to the Sipsmith stand to sample an altogether, far more traditional gin. Sipsmith are master distillers of small batch, artisanal spirits, created in their bespoke built still, (charmingly named Prudence) in Hammersmith, west London. Their reputation for making high quality products is well deserved and I was keen to sample their take on Pimms, the Sipsmith Summer Cup. It is sweet and fruity with definite flavours of early grey tea and lemon verbena. For me, I would serve it with a lot of lemon and topped up with sparkling water as it is very sweet, but the bergamot and verbena tastes are right up my street. I also sampled their well renowned gin which did not disappoint. It's a very traditional, dry gin, flavoured with 10 different botanicals, all of which the young man behind the bar was able to name, but I have forgotten. However, there was definitely citrus, juniper, coriander and cassia bark in there, but whatever; it's good. In the end, I decided to take home a bottle of their barley vodka. It's unfiltered, but smooth to drink, with a hint of peppery spice and if you are the type to sip vodka neat, then this will perform well.

Feeling just a little wobbly, I swayed over to the Martin Miller stand, just to tell them how fantastic I thought their gin was. Admittedly, I may have been slightly buoyed by the two drinks I'd had, but it was true nonetheless - Martin Miller Gin is exceptionally good. I tried an array of gins at a tasting in Amathus Soho and it was my clear favourite. The flavour is incredibly fresh and light with all the flavours you expect from a gin, just arranged in an exceptional way. Perhaps it's the Icelandic water that Martin Miller insists is used to make his gin? As he rightly points out, over 50% of gin's volume is water so it should be the best of the best and Icelandic water is probably the purest and softest there is. As I already have a bottle of their wonderful spirit, I made my excuses and moved on, but it would wrong not to mention it as a stand out star of the show.

At this point I decided it was probably wise if I had something to eat or my impartiality was likely to be somewhat impaired and sustenance was provided, beautifully presented, in a scallop shell, by Theo Randall restaurants. Admittedly, I could have done with about 8 of these, but it was such a delicious combination of flavours that I was temporarily sated.

My final port of call was over to the Chase Distillery stand, where, stomach duly lined (sort of), I was able to finally sample their delicious Rhubarb Vodka, mixed up in a Rhubarb Sour cocktail. I have to confess that since first trying their Elderflower liqueur a few months ago, I have become a bit of a 'fan girl' to the Chase brand as is probably apparent from reading through many of the cocktail entries. Anyway, it was a real pleasure to meet the Alex and James who were behind the bar, coping admirably well with the high volume of visitors and I am looking forward to visiting the distillery in Herefordshire, this summer. Mr TG and I are planning a little pilgrimage there to see just how it is all made and maybe to sample a beverage or two.... In the meantime however, I left, having weighed myself down with a bottle of Rhubarb Vodka, Marmalade Vodka and their Extra Dry Gin.

So, on to the cocktails. What did I make with my fantastic array of delicious new spirits. Well, let's start with the Martin Miller Gin which, although I bought the previous week, I hadn't actually used to make any cocktails having been side tracked by bourbon (click here for Bourbon post). The cocktail I have made is a take on the modern classic, Bramble cocktail, given a raspberry twist and shaken up rather than stirred.

Raspberry Tumble

2 oz Martin Miller Gin
3 fresh raspberries
1/2 oz creme de framboises
1 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz sugar syrup

Muddle the raspberries in the bottom of a shaker before adding all of the other ingredients.
Add a handful of ice and shake vigorously for 20 secs.
Strain into an ice filled rocks glass (double strain if you don't want any raspberry pips)

This next cocktail I created to give a fresh, green flavour that would work with the spicy finish on the Sipsmith barley vodka.. Mr TG did question the pizza topping garnish, but was agreeably receptive to the flavour of the drink.

Lime and Basil Fizz

2 oz Sipsmith vodka
8 small basil leaves
1 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz sugar syrup
1 egg white
sparkling water

Muddle the basil leaves and lime juice together in the bottom of the shaker.
Add the vodka, sugar syrup and egg white and dry shake for 20 secs
Add ice and dry shake for another 20 secs then double strain into a chilled tumbler or highball.
Top up with a little sparkling water.

This next cocktail uses Chase Rhubarb Vodka in a martini style drink that is perfect for summer, combining the quintessentially British flavours of rhubarb and strawberry with a dash of bitters and lemon juice to cut through the sweetness and give a little more complexity to the drink.

Chase Summer Martini

2 oz Chase Rhubarb Vodka
2 fresh strawberries
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
Dash of Orange bitters

Muddle the strawberries in the bottom of a shaker and add the remaining ingredients with a handful of ice.
Shake vigorously for 20 seconds until the outside of the shaker is frosted and double strain into a chilled martini glass.

Our final cocktail for today uses the magnificent Chase Marmalade Vodka. Regular followers will know that I love this stuff and have used it previously to create the King's Marmalade cocktail, a delicious combination of King's Ginger, Chase Marmalade vodka and citrus (get the recipe here). This time I wanted to create something totally different and combined the vodka with sweet vermouth to highlight the bitter orange flavour of the marmalde and take away some of the sweetness. I thought Mr TG would hate this as he is not keen on vermouth, but once again he surprised me by being actually rather positive. This is a great summer drink for enjoying outdoors in the sunshine, should we actually get the chance.

Wake Up Call

2 oz Chase Marmalade Vodka
1 oz Martini Rosso
3 dashes orange bitters
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
Sparkling water

Add all of the ingredients apart from the sparkling water, to a cocktail shaker with ice.
Shake hard for 20 secs and strain into an ice filled tumbler or highball.
Top up with a little sparkling water

If you didn't get the chance to visit Taste of London 2013 this year then I highly recommend you try and make it along for next year. I will definitely be going and this time I'll make sure I don't have to rush home! Luckily, I can create a little Taste of London at home with my fabulous haul from the show. If you would like to get hold of any of the spirits I've mentioned, you can do so at Amathus Drinks or other, similar purveyors of fine wines and spirits. If you are confused by any of the terms used in the cocktail recipes, there are explanations provided here.

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