Thursday, 22 September 2016

Vinothec Compass: golf, food and drinks

Vinothec Compass - Golf range

The other evening I enjoyed dinner in North Greenwich, but just before that, I learned the basics of golf in a lovely setting, Vinothec Compass,  Greenwich Peninsula Golf.  I manage to hit the ball first time - yes, beginners luck!   The place overlooks the iconic buildings of the city of London and Canary Wharf. An unusual setting to play golf and have a dinner accompany by a fantastic selection of 600 different wines and over 60 varieties of beers.

The head chef, Idoia Guzman put together an exquisite sampling menu from her heritage,  The Basque Country in Spain.  The evening started with a glass of bubbles,  Cava Conde de Haro from Rioja Bodega,  and a quick lesson in golf in the 60 cabanas, two-tiered, flood-lit golf range. Dinner followed, and it was a great feast. 

The restaurant decor is very easy on the eyes. It was a Friday early evening when I visited, and it was busy - quite surprising since it's out the way for so many people.  Gosh, It was worth going all the way to Greenwich for the wine, food and obviously the golf too. Now I can understand now why people like golf so much - It's a bit addictive.

Dinner by Chef Idoia Guzman

Chef Idoia Guzman

Spain is well known by their delectable  Tapas / Pintxos, Chef Idoia menu was delicious.

We started with Gilda an hors d’oeuvre of pickles, anchovies and olives skewered on a cocktail stick. It was named after the Hollywood film-  Gilda-  in the movie Gilda (Rita Hayward) plays a witty and spicy character.  This Pintxo is  pretty much like the character  'verde, salado y picante’ (green, salty and spicy)  The wine suggested : Its Mendi’s ‘7 Txacoli.'
Gilda an hors d’oeuvre of pickles, anchovies and olives

A warm shot of Jerusalem artichoke was topped with rocket and almond pesto - a perfect appetiser matched with unfortified sherry-style from Sanlúcar - La Bota Vino Blanco  - a very enjoyable tipple fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged for 8 months.
shot of Jerusalem artichoke
Basque Black pudding Pintxo had a strong cinnamon seasoning and a smooth morcilla on topped a piece of toast and was beautifully decorated with a Padron pepper. Cider or Sidra was the suggested match  Txacoli from Basque, Sagardoa Sidra - I don't usually like ciders, but this one was superb and not too sweet.

Basque Black pudding Pintxo

A lush, giant, Coeur du boeuf tomato salad, onions, chives and glug of olive oil, followed by flatbreads of anchovy, olive and basil, and ricotta, pancetta and truffle - these plates were cleaned very quickly indeed!
The surprisingly delicious, well-balanced, tannins and bodied wine from
Saperavi from Georgia was the match for these rather excellent dishes.
I love this wine. I bought a bottle to take home!

Coeur du boeuf tomato salad

flatbreads of anchovy, olive and basil, and ricotta, pancetta and truffle

Next on the list of this magnificent feast, was a light confit of cod from Billingsgate with pepper, black olives and tomato ragu, this dish is a crowd pleaser. It reminded me of Provençal dishes I tried on my travels.  The wine match was white Priorat,  a Catalan wine, a very impressive drink full of minerality that went down extremely well with this dish.

confit of cod

Belted Galloway onglet was a match with a decanted  Olifantsberg Syrah from South Africa’s Breede River Valley. Northern Rhône in style, it was elegant with an excellent natural acidity that complemented well the rare beef and rather unusual looking sweet potato gnocchi.

Olifantsberg Syrah
Belted Galloway onglet

And at last the dessert!  The course that celebrates the end of the meal and this one did not disappoint - poached white peaches with pistachio Anglaise with a touch of rosemary - Ouiii! It was a spectacular end to our meal.  The perfect wine match was a Swiss sweet Sauvignon blanc by by Favre John and Mike

I can't wait to go back to try more wines and food by Adoia! And who knows a bit of more golf too?   Highly recommended!

Disclosure: I was a guest of Vinothec Compass on this trip. All views are my own.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Postcard from Manaus, Brazil

A guest post by my good friend Alan Kershaw and his foodie experience in Manaus, Brazil

Fish was what I wanted. Fish was what I got. It could hardly have been otherwise, in the heart of the Amazonas region with the world’s largest river (up to 25 miles wide) providing fish in even more abundance than my excellent fishmonger in London’s fashionable Stoke Newington. Enough for the schools of friendly pink dolphins who allowed us to swim with them, more than sufficient for the sparse local population, and plenty for us too.

Five days in Manaus – a bizarre baroque city in the middle of the vast forest, and now the buzzing hub of Brazil’s IT and other industries – gave ample opportunity to sample the distinctive local cuisine, focussed heavily on (you guessed it) fish.

In that short stay we experienced fruits of heartbreaking sweetness, the characteristic tapioca pancakes made on the spot with any filling you choose (try white cheese grilled with the exotic fruit tucumã), and something that I now recognise as – not to put too fine a point on it – a Great Dish of the World.

I’ll begin at the beginning. The Hotel Tropical – which incidentally I strongly recommend – produced a crunchily fresh salad, a real reviver after being catapulted from chilly São Paulo to a steamy climate where, if it gets as cold as 25 degrees, they go into long sleeves. There’s a way to lay out a salad and a way not to. This was the way.

Great start, followed by the ubiquitous fish Pirarucu (don’t look to me for translations: they probably don’t exist and, in any case, you’re unlikely to find them over here). Pirarucu, another local fish,  can grow up to two metres long so a big one will feed an extended family.

They come as fillets cooked in a variety of ways – breadcrumbed alla milanese is a popular option – and with various sauces based on local vegetables and spices, mild compared with my expectations though ferocious bottled sauces and pickled peppers are provided at every meal, for the inquisitive and the courageous to add according to taste. Take care: I was a bit too courageous with a spoonful of these, mistaking them for beans, and went around with my mouth open for the rest of the day.

Pirarucu alla milanese

A local specialty is Pirarucu de Casaca, cooked as a stew with cassava flour, bananas, coconut milk, tomatoes, onions, chilis and green herbs. We picked it up at a street food stall (above, with a can of the Guaraná fizz that is yet to be overturned by Coke or Fanta). Filling, nutritious and, as I learned to say frequently in Amazonas, ‘muito gostoso’. The accompaniment was Vatapá, a sauce of bread, shrimp, coconut milk, peanuts and palm oil that is characteristic of the Bahia region (older readers: think Carmen Miranda). It’s surprisingly reminiscent of the kind of robust fish bisque you might get in a Paris bistro, underlining the surprisingly large number of Brazil/France connections you find in all parts of the country.

The Açai berry has been touted in the neurotic West as some kind of superfood – not sure I get that and, having seen the trees and the number of the tiny berries that are needed to produce even a small quantity of juice I doubt large scale production would be economic. But Brazil rates it high, its pulp forming a base for smoothies, sauces, ice creams and all sorts. It's bitter, earthy taste is not for everyone, and personally, I find a little goes a long way; but in an extravagant dessert designed for the legendary Brazilian sweet tooth, it offsets well the sugary sweetness of the cake, condensed milk, granola and other stuff that is likely to have been thrown in. Treat it with respect, though: its deep purple colour left charming but indelible stains on my best shorts.

Other fruits are, as I have said, spectacularly sweet. Only in Amazonas have I been able to eat the ‘indigestible’ core of a pineapple in the same way as the rest of the fruit – even elsewhere in Brazil you usually have to throw away that bit. Add in guava, papaya and passion fruit at least four times the size of the ones we see over here, and personally, I have little or no need for any other kind of dessert. Or breakfast, for that matter.

Main dishes are not all fish, of course. Brazilian taste extends to meat, beans, meat, rice and meat. Beans are usually presented as a side dish, pleasantly mushy. The rice is boiled with onions and maybe some spices – again, surprisingly mild considering the sauces available. For choice they will barbecue meat – beef, pork and chicken predominate - and it tends to come up a bit dry and too well cooked for my taste unless the meat is high quality, such as the gorgeous picanha steaks which, when perfect, run red on the plate.

Picanha, farofa and vinaigrette

As you see, the presentation will invariably include a dish of farofa – toasted manioc flour moistened with butter and flavoured with whatever they choose: bacon, eggs, garlic or parsley are not unusual. The idea is to sprinkle as much as you like of this on the meat. It adds crunchiness and some extra flavour but to the horror of Brazilian friends and family I can’t get the texture of sawdust out of my mind. Sorry.

The other pots in the picture are vinaigrette which is – well - vinaigrette; and a cup of juice from the Cupuaçu - local fruit – significant enough in the region to warrant its own festival which, conveniently comes early in the year so can be combined with Carnival: a typically labour-saving option. The juice – all this forest restaurant had on the drinks list (who needs anything else?) – is quite sour and needs sweetening but is mightily refreshing in the sticky forest climate.

Which brings me to the Great Dish of the World. Right in the centre of baroque Manaus, pretty well next door to the famous opera house (yes, opera house) Teatro Amazonas, is an unassuming restaurant called Tambaqui de Banda. You could easily miss it, but locals will tell you it’s the place to go. It looks nothing special, though it had a major refurb for the 2014 World Cup when in honour of the England team’s presence they took on some English-speaking staff and had the menu translated.

Get inside and the friendly welcome extends at once too cold local beers (Brahma, Bohemia). Plates of canapés appear by magic: soft cheese mini-pastel (like pasties, dry-fried); enormous breaded prawns to dip in Tucupi, a relatively mild pepper sauce popular enough for them to have to fill up the bottles three times a day; salad with another fishy dip. We feasted on the lot while we worked our way up and down the dog-eared (and obviously much-loved) menu.

Teasing ourselves before we got to the main item, we ordered a plate of six of these:

Caboco enrolado: a pirarucu (fish) mousse rolled in slices of fried banana and topped with a swirl of cream cheese

Don’t look much, do they? My photo is unlikely to do them justice. This is Caboco enrolado: a pirarucu (fish) mousse rolled in slices of fried banana and topped with a swirl of cream cheese. Utterly, utterly perfect and I would kill for the recipe. Six on the plate and there were five of us so it ended in a fight, but it was worth the hassle. Even then the best was yet to come.

And so the masterpiece. It’s their signature dish, and they call it (what else?) Tambaqui de Banda:

                 Before …

                                                          … during …

                                                                                                 … after …

This may have been caught in the Amazon but for me, this is just fish from the Planet Fish. It comes in various sizes so it can suit groups of different sizes. This was quite a big one and, as you see, it’s perfect for the kind of communal dining that’s so normal in Brazil. They bake it so that the skin is crisp and slightly burnt – I hear that in other places it can be baked in banana leaves, producing a gentler finish.

It was big enough to produce five decent sized steaks of a firm, meaty fish plus several fleshy ribs that wouldn’t be out of place at a barbecue. Fascinatingly, the aroma was strongly reminiscent of smoked bacon though infinitely more subtle. To say that we fell on it would be an understatement. We dived into it, swam, came up for air, dived again. We fought over it, each discreetly securing more than their share at each helping. We rolled it round our mouths to get the last fragment of flavour out of every bite. We hymned it, words giving way to uncivilised squeaks of pleasure so that I was no longer required to stretch my Portuguese to find new adjectives.

It took some time because decent behaviour eventually gave way to one of the pleasures I regard as essential to the enjoyment of food: you can prepare it, cook it, present it, smell it, talk about it, serve it, taste it, talk about it again. But there’s one more thing: if it’s worth the trouble, you must play with it. Take a look at the third photo: you should see a bone that’s been picked up, gnawed, turned round and round, relieved of every morsel that might get you closer to the soul of the dish you have just eaten. Tambaqui de Banda is like that.

Manaus is quite a long way, wherever you start from. In five days we sampled a good range, and there is much more to tell. In summary, though, I’d say the region amply bears out Brazil’s deserved reputation for diversity, quality, user-friendliness and communality, the local cuisine – as it should, anywhere - sufficiently underlining all those attributes. Get there if you can. I will certainly go back for more.

*- text and all photographs were taken by Alan on his trip to Brazil in August. 

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Mango, chilli, coconut popsicles recipe

Mango, chilli, coconut popsicles

Popsicle, known in Brazil as picolé,  is a variety of ice cream that consists of a solidified block fruit juice. It's usually in rectangular or cylindrical shape having a stick vertically through it and with a free extension of the solidified block in one of its ends, intended for easy handling and tasting.

It's believed the origin of popsicles came from Frank Epperson (1894-1983), when he was 11 and lived in San Francisco, USA, forgot a glass of juice with a spoon in the backyard on a very cold night in 1905. Upon awakening the youth realized that the juice had frozen, and I was stuck in the scoop creating a sort of ice with fruit flavor. After this event, only in 1912 that Epperson had a similar recipe to frozen juice of his 11-year-old. The formula was a success, he decided to patent the recipe in 1913 and market his invention. In 1925 the rights were sold to a  Joe Lowe Company, a New York company.

The first name Popsicle was "eppsicle", which then eventually changed to "popsicle" ("Pop's Icicle).  This ice treat is know as  popsicle in  Canada and the U.S, freeze pop in Ireland and U.S, ice lolly (United Kingdom and Ireland; ice block or icy pole in parts of Australia and New Zealand, or chihiro (Cayman Islands); picolé in Brazil and paleta in Mexico.

As the temperature rises so does the need for refreshing treats.  Mixing a little cachaca or rum with popsicle mix is an adult alternative option to relax with friends or alone.

A simple recipe, easy, practical and quick to make just a little patience waiting for the popsicle to set. Perfect for barbecues and Summer parties as a cocktail in the stick or served as dessert anytime of the year.  The flavours can vary according to the fruit of your choice, herbs, alcohol or chillies.
Invent, create and have fun! 

Mango, coconut & chilli popsicles recipe

makes: 8 popsicles
very easy

2-3 large mangos, pulp 450ml, when prepared
3 tablespoons of cachaca or rum
1 teaspoon of chilli jam, to taste
100ml simple syrup
3/4 cups Coconut Yogurt (180ml)
1 tablespoon of honey
1 chilli sliced to decorate

1) Place the mango pulp, simple syrup, chilli jam and cachaca or rum in a blender, mix well. Place in the container with a lid and the freeze for a couple of hours only. When ready to assemble, use mix well with a fork.
2) In the meantime, mix the coconut yoghurt and honey. Reserve
3) Assembly: place a slice of chilli in the mould, alternate the mango and yogurt mix in each lolly case, nothing too perfect to give a unique pattern.
4) Place the sticks and take the refrigerator for 6-8 hours or overnight to set.
5) Take out of the freezer and deep the moulds for 10 seconds in a bowl of hot water to loosen the popsicles.
6) Serve immediately. 

Mango, chilli and coconut popsicles

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