Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Tasting Jerusalem #9 – Preserved Lemons

Fricassee Tunisienne
Dee – Preserved Lemons were June 2013’s featured ingredient.  There are recipes in the book to make them from scratch, and also including them as a finished ingredient.
It is a simple process to make them from scratch, but it takes time, and I hadn’t allowed myself enough of it before the time arrived to use them in a recipe.  I have also noticed that the ready-made preserved lemons are significantly smaller than the fresh ones on the supermarket fruit section, so it was the ready-made variety that I used in my chosen recipe.
When checking through the book to find recipes featuring preserved lemons, the one which particularly attracted my attention was the Fricassee Salad on Page 227.  How did a salad with a French style and name find its way into a Jerusalem themed recipe book?  It turns out that the salad is an adaptation of a sandwich known as Fricassee Tunisienne, which originated in Tunisia when it was under French occupation and arrived in Jerusalem via immigrants from North Africa.
The ingredients of the sandwich filling are similar to those of the classic French Salade Nicoise, but with a few non-traditional ingredients added, one being preserved lemon.  Tunisian cuisine is noted for an abundance of hot spiced dishes, as evidenced by the inclusion of Harissa paste.
In the commentary accompanying the recipe, an option is given for the salad to be served as a sandwich filling, and as I always enjoy trying out different types of sandwiches, I decided to give this a go.  I made a couple of changes to the published recipe, mostly to keep the calorie count down.
The Fricassee Tunisienne in its authentic form is made with a fried bun, but I went for a small baked bun instead.  There were also directions for preparing a tuna confit, but I was happy with simple tinned tuna as there were plenty of other strong flavours included, not least of which were the preserved lemons.  Lastly, I replaced the potatoes with a pickled chilli.  Although pickled chilli wasn’t included in the recipe I had a few left and thought it would an extra couple of tastes on top of the many that were included already.
I was very happy with how the buns and the salad filling had turned out, The bun was soft enough to soak up some of the chilli vinegar and oil from the anchovies, while the lettuce added a welcome fresh and slightly crunchy texture.  The salad filling was nicely balanced with each strong flavour holding its own.  Even though only a teaspoon of preserved lemon skin was used, it was strong enough to make its presence felt.
The sandwich was easy to prepare and made a great lunch.  I will certainly be making it again.

“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ebury Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to  following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook Page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest
(Please note: I have listed the UK publisher and have linked to the UK Amazon site.  The US details are provided on the web site)

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Dee Reviews Tan Rosie’s Kingston Jamaica Cook-Up - 25th April 2015

We discovered the Tan Rosie Kingston Jamaica Cook-Up while searching for supper clubs based in Birmingham and booked our places several weeks ago.  That turned out to have been a wise move, as all the places ended up being filled, as was the case with the previous event in February.

The Tan Rosie business is run by hard working mother and daughter team Lee and Monica, and extends beyond supper clubs and private catering.  They also produce a range of Caribbean condiments and snacks which they sell both at local food markets and on line: Tan Rosie on-line shop

The supper clubs are held roughly on a monthly basis, at Lee and Monica’s house in Birmingham, with a different theme for each event.  There is far more to Caribbean cuisine than Jerk Chicken, and the Tan Rosie super clubs feature menus from all across the region.  Jamaican cuisine is the best known and most commonly encountered in the West Midlands though, and was the theme for the evening.

Several tables had been set up in the dining area and silver bunting added further decoration.  There was a covered patio area outside, but it was a bit too cold to stand outside.  A soundtrack of Jamaican Reggae was playing, though not too loud to drown out conversation, and a photo of Bob Marley was on display behind where I was sitting.  The atmosphere was friendly and the conversation already free flowing by the time we arrived.

We were among the last guests to be seated, and after a friendly welcome from our hosts, we enjoyed a glass of home-made lemon and ginger alcohol-free cocktail, which was packed with flavour and very popular with our fellow diners, as were the spiced plantain crisps and soft bread rolls that were served before the starters.
The crisps were accompanied by two dips; a hot garlic pepper sauce and a milder chilli jam.  The latter was the more popular, at least at our end of the table, though I was partial to the hot sauce, which I have a bottle of at home.

For the starter, there was a choice of vegetable or beef patties.
The patty shells were made from a type of rough puff pastry which added a flaky, buttery texture to the lightly spiced filling.  Jay and me both chose the vegetable patties, which were served with a mild pepper sauce and fresh rocket dressed with a little olive oil.  Portion size was generous and the sauce and rocket were a perfect balance to the richer patties.

For the main course we both chose the Brown Stew Chicken, which was served with rice and peas, a slice of deep fried plantain, and carrots and sugar snap peas.
From what I could make out, all of the diners had chosen this.  The alternative was a vegetarian Ital stew made from a selection of vegetables, tubers and beans and cooked in coconut milk. 
The Stew Chicken was deliciously rich and highly spiced, though not hot.  My portion included two thighs cooked on the bone with the meat coming away from the bone easily.  The rice and peas were ideal for soaking up the remaining sauce, while the carrots and sugar snap peas gave a fresher bite in between the richer textures present on the rest of the plate.

The most popular dessert choice was a Jamaican Ginger cake, which was served with cream and a tiny mint sprig, but I went for a fruit salad of melon, pineapple, grape, kiwi fruit and pomegranate seeds.
By this time, we’d enjoyed the meal so much that we almost forgot to photograph the dessert, but as the photo above shows, we remembered at around the half-way point.
I welcomed the fruit salad as a nice fresh palate cleanser after the rich main course.  The zesty ginger cake was loved by all and I certainly enjoyed the small sample of Jay’s that I tried.  It had a nice moistness to it, which could have been down to a coating of ginger syrup, but also a light almost buttery taste.  I’m not normally a great lover of ginger in desserts but would have been more than happy with this cake.

A cup of coffee rounded off the supper club and all of the diners seemed to be in agreement that it was a most enjoyable evening with pleasant company and of course fabulous food.  We bought a copy of the Tan Rosie recipe book, which includes some of the dishes we’d enjoyed, so we’re looking forward to trying some of them out very soon.

The next supper club, focusing on the cuisine of St. Lucia, is on 23rd May, with bookings now being taken.  Sadly we won’t be attending due to a prior commitment which we will be writing about in due course, but we will certainly be booking places for some of the future events.

For anyone interested in trying some fabulous home-cooked Caribbean food, the Tan Rosie Supper Clubs are highly recommended.

Tan Rosie Web Site

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Grand Budapest Hotel Night 18th April 2015

Dee:  After watching the Grand Budapest Hotel film a couple of weeks ago, I was inspired to create a themed menu around it. 
The film is set in a fictional country called Zubrowka, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the Austro-Hungarian Empire around the turn of the last century, so this, and of course the film’s title, pointed towards a menu based on Hungarian fine dining.  One of the three courses was chosen for me (more on that later) but I quickly settled on the rest of the menu.
I wanted to pair the main course with a Hungarian red wine but couldn’t get hold of any, so we went instead for a Malbec which was recommended to us at our favourite wine shop.  In addition, 18th April is World Malbec Day so it wasn’t  too out of place at the table.
Preparing the whole meal turned out to be quite an undertaking, but nothing was overly complex, so it was certainly worth it.

Starter:  Cold Cherry Soup
Recipe from the Time Life Book ‘The Cooking of Vienna’s Empire’
I’ve been curious about this dish for a while, as it always seems so incongruous sitting in the savoury section on menus.  I have always been too afraid to order it in restaurants so took the opportunity to try it out as part of this menu.  It’s certainly an attractive looking soup, pink in colour with the tops of the red cherries dotting the surface, and I also found some rather fetching glass bowls in a local charity shop so bought them to serve it in.  I see the soup as something to enjoy at a formal meal, which was another reason for choosing it.
The soup was fairly easy to prepare: First I made a sugar syrup with cinnamon, then added cornflour, water and the cherries and chilled it in the fridge until it was ready to serve.  Red wine and cream were then stirred in just before serving to complete it.
We both really enjoyed the soup and found it tasty and refreshing, although Jay struggled with the idea of it as a starter.  It was light in texture, despite the cream, but the wine gave it just the right amount of sharpness.  One thing I should mention though is that we used normal cherries instead of the sour variety as specified in the recipe.  The reason for this was the usual one about availability, but we liked the soup enough to make it again so if we see sour cherries anywhere in the future, we will certainly buy some and give the soup another go.

Main:  Steaks Esterhazy
Recipe from the Time Life Book ‘The Cooking of Vienna’s Empire’
These delicious steaks are first browned in the pan, then slow cooked in the sauce that they are served with.  They also have a colourful garnish of julienned carrot, parsnip and gherkin.
The steaks took about an hour to cook, during which time they became more tender and took on some of the stronger flavours present in the sauce such as vinegar, bay and allspice.
After serving up the steaks, there was still plenty of sauce and vegetables left over.  We kept the vegetables in the pan rather than discarding them as stated in the recipe, though we didn’t serve them with the steak and sauce.  We’re planning to use them for a tasty soup at a later date.
I wanted to serve the steaks with Tarhonya, which is made from tiny balls of dough cooked with onions and paprika but I hadn’t given myself enough time to get them ready so I opted instead for two different types of cubed potato; one firm and one floury, which I fried up with the onions, paprika and a small amount of butter.  These provided an ideal accompaniment to the steak as not only were they tasty in their own right, but they also took on the flavour of some of the steak sauce.
The main course was finished off with some tenderstem broccoli which we just blanched briefly and squeezed a small amount of lemon juice over.  I then salted mine, though Jay didn’t.

Dessert:  Courtesans Au Chocolat
Mendl’s secret recipe
Anyone who has seen the film will know all about this dessert:  The legendary iced chocolate-filled pastry made and sold by Mendl’s patissiers.  Even though I don’t make classical patisserie very often, I had to include this one in the menu.  The recipe gives quantities for twelve courtesans, so I just followed it and made the whole batch, which took me seven, yes seven, hours from start to finish, though that does include time spent waiting for various elements to cook, return to room temperature and chill.  Even so, I think I must have exceeded the time limits of both Masterchef and Great British Bake Off challenges several times over.
The recipe was sound and broken down into sections, which I simply followed stage by stage.  First I made the choux pastry, then the chocolate crème patissiere, and finally the icing.
With the pastry, I made templates, to ensure that each bun was the same size and therefore baked evenly.  I kept a close eye on them while they were in the oven, but thankfully there were no disasters.  When they came out of the oven they had the nice light texture and crispy finish that I was looking for.
The chocolate crème-pat was fairly straightforward and again the recipe didn’t need any tweaking.  I could maybe have used more of it when I piped it into the choux buns but as it was my first attempt, I was being extra cautious.
Finally, the icing was made with icing sugar, milk and food colouring.  No quantities were given so I had to make it up as I went along.  I went for a thick icing, which I felt would be easier to work with, though I ended up spreading it onto the buns rather than dipping them in it as stated in the recipe.  I managed to get hold of some great food colouring, which I was pleased about, and Jay did some great work with the final white icing decorations.
Getting each bun to balance on top of one another was always going to be a challenge, but I think we managed fairly well, and from the many photos on line of other peoples’ attempts, I don’t think we ended up too far adrift.
The taste was far more subtle and delicate than I was expecting.  For the final garnish I used a coffee bean rather than the specified cocoa bean and this proved a more than suitable substitute.  The initial crunch and intense bite of coffee served as a palate cleanser ahead of the chocolate, icing and pastry.  After that it was the sugar and icing that was the predominant flavour, and then it was gone.  Seven hours of work finished in seven minutes, although that is seven minutes for each batch.  We didn’t eat the whole lot in one sitting.
The courtesans were great fun to make and I was very pleased with how they turned out.  As to whether I would make them again? Yes, but only for a special occasion.

Wine:  Gran Mascota Malbec
I think this Malbec would have been too strong to accompany the cherry soup, so we saved it for the main course.  There were some quite strong flavours going on with the food, including gherkins, paprika and lemon juice, so any wine chosen to accompany it needed to be able to stand up to them, and this Malbec was well up for it.
Tasting Notes said:  “There are some small yet great things in life that are well worth waiting for.  Nurtured by patience and perseverance, this Malbec was aged in French oak barrels for 18 months.  Gran Mascota carries aromas evoking plums, red fruits and vanilla”.
Dee said:  “The dark colour of this wine gave an indication of the intense aroma and tastes within.  Blackberries and Blackcurrants were the most noticeable flavours, and yet there was a pleasingly smooth finish to it”.

Music:  The Grand Budapest Hotel (Original Soundtrack)
Although the musical accompaniment to the film was provided by various artists, it remains a score rather than a soundtrack.  This meant that some of the songs were very short and ended before we could fully appreciate them.  The thing to remember though, is that for the most part, it’s music specifically composed to be heard alongside scenes in a film rather than to be listened to during a meal, but we still enjoyed it.  My personal favourite tracks were the album’s opener ‘s’Rothe-Zauerli’ by Ose Schuppel, ‘Concerto for Lute and Plucked Strings I. Moderato’ by Siefried Behrend & DZO Chamber Orchestra, and Alexandre Desplat’s ‘Night Train to Nebelsbad’.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Tasting Jerusalem #8 – Nigella Seeds


Dee – April 2015’s featured ingredient is Nigella seeds, or Kalonji seeds.  Although most commonly encountered in Indian Naan Bread, they also occasionally appear in Jerusalemite recipes. 
Up until this point I had only ever used in bread doughs, so was looking to use them in a different way.  The recipe I settled on was for the Burekas, on page 254.  These cheese filled pastries were Turkish in origin but are now a familiar sight in Jerusalem too.
The published recipe listed ingredients for two different fillings: one with a fairly strong mixture of mature and hard cheese, leeks and parsley, and a second with lighter and softer cheeses.  I decided to give both a try as the directions weren’t difficult and quick to make. 
I must admit to using shop-bought puff pastry.  I fully intend to have a go at making my own one day (perhaps I should add it to my bucket list?) but the shop-bought stuff was ready rolled and saved a lot of time.
The Nigella seeds were used in this recipe as a type of mixed seed garnish decorating the edges of the pastry.  They were accompanied by sesame seeds, and caraway seeds.  The original recipe also added yellow mustard seeds and chilli flakes but I didn’t use these as I couldn’t find any yellow mustard seeds and was worried about the chilli flakes burning.  I did however add the chilli flakes to the lighter cheese mixture, in which they worked very well.
I baked them for 15 minutes, the minimum specified time, which was enough to allow the pastry to puff up and colour a little.  There was some escaping cheese but not the molten lake I had prepared myself for, and in any case it didn’t take long to cool down, allowing me to gently push it back into the pastry without damaging it.
The Burekas are pictured below as we served them, with a simple salad of tomato, cucumber, radish, red chilli and black olives.
I was very happy with how they turned out.  The edging of the black and white seeds were particularly pleasing to the eye, and they tasted amazing too.  The pastries with the lighter filling and chilli flakes slightly edged it on taste, but I would happily eat either again.  The Nigella seeds, along with the caraway and sesame seeds, provided a lovely spicy crunchy texture to the soft cheese and flaky pastry, allowing three delicious taste sensations in each bite.
They can be eaten warmed or at room temperature but I enjoyed them much more when they were warmed.
There’s no getting away from the fact that they are not in any way healthy or low-calorie, but as an occasional treat they are quite hard to beat.

“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ebury Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to  following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook Page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest
(Please note: I have listed the UK publisher and have linked to the UK Amazon site.  The US details are provided on the web site)

Monday, 13 April 2015

Tasting Jerusalem #7 – Desserts and Baking

Semolina, Coconut and Marmalade Cake

Dee – May 2013’s focus on Desserts and Baking offered a wide choice of treats to make, but I was particularly drawn to the Semolina, Coconut and Marmalade cake on Page 264.
I’d had success in the past with baking semolina cakes, a previous version from a Lebanese recipe which was flavoured with aniseed and garnished with lemon peel is still a firm favourite both with me and people who taste it.  I also had some Seville Orange Marmalade which Jay made in January and which I wanted to try as an ingredient in a cake to see how it tasted.
The recipe was simple to follow and I scaled down the quantities to make a single cake without any problems. 
Although I was a little nervous about the loose consistency of the batter, I left it as it was.  I didn’t take a note of how long it took to bake but from memory I tested it at the minimum specified time of 45 minutes but even though the skewer came out clean and hot, I gave it an extra couple of minutes just to make sure.  Once I took the cake out of the oven and let it cool down enough to remove from the baking tin, I was very happy with how it looked. 
While the cake was still hot, I brushed the syrup on in several layers, the orange blossom water giving off a strong aroma as it soaked into the cake.
I let it cool down completely before serving it in slices accompanied by a spoonful of thick yoghurt, as recommended in the recipe.
The cake had a pleasingly light spongy texture, and I’d used fine semolina rather than coarse, as I didn’t want the cake to be crunchy.  The marmalade and coconut were both easily identifiable in the taste, and neither overpowered the other.  The syrup added a little moistness and a just a tiny amount of sweetness.  The yoghurt was an ideal accompaniment as it added a cold creaminess without too much sugar, which I think would have upset the overall balance of flavours.
I was very pleased with how this cake turned out and would happily make it again.  Looking at my list of featured ingredients to come, the next few will be used in savoury dishes, but I will certainly be making more desserts and sweet baked goods when an opportunity next presents itself.

“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ebury Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to  following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook Page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest
(Please note: I have listed the UK publisher and have linked to the UK Amazon site.  The US details are provided on the web site)

Monday, 6 April 2015

A Review of Two Great Lagers

Dee:  “It was a warm, bright sunny day yesterday so before the sun went in and it started raining again I bought a couple of bottles of lager to try out.
There are many mass produced brands of lager on the market which all taste the same to me, but there are also those with their own distinctive tastes and characters.  It was of course the latter that I wanted to focus this blog entry on.”

Lager 1:  London Lager
Tasting Notes said:  “The countryside  surrounding London provides the world’s finest brewing ingredients:  Kentish hops and East Anglian malting barley.  At Meantime’s state of the art microbrewery we combine the two to produce the definitive London lager.”
Dee said:  “Mid gold in colour.  A nice, rich, earthy aroma.  Fruity tasting; mainly orange with a hint of grapefruit, and ever so slightly floral.  Paired really well with the spicy, lime-rich South East Asian stew that Jay and me were enjoying for our tea.”

Lager 2:  California Lager
Brewery:  Anchor Brewing Co.
Tasting Notes said:  “Anchor Steam’s roots go back to the gold rush, long before icehouses and modern refrigeration made traditional lagers a viable California option.  In 1876, thanks to an ice pond in the mountains and a belief that anything is possible in the Golden State, a little brewery named Boca created California’s first genuine lager.  Anchor California Lager is our re-creation of this historic beer.
Made in San Francisco with two-row California barley, cluster hops (the premier hop in 19th Century California) and our own lager yeast, this all-malt brew is krausened and lagered in our cellars.  Its golden colour, distinctive aroma, creamy head, balanced depth of flavour and smooth finish make Anchor California Lager a delicious celebration of California’s unique brewing heritage.”
Dee said:  “Red-Gold, almost copper coloured.  Lots of fizz on pouring.  Much earthier in aroma and taste than the Meantime lager.  There was a pronounced hoppy flavour which was carried through to the lingering aftertaste.”

Friday, 3 April 2015

Zeffirelli’s, Compston Road, Ambleside, Cumbria, 29th March 2015

Zeffirelli’s restaurant is located below the cinema of the same name, just outside the main shopping area of Ambleside.  The menu has a Mediterranean theme, with most dishes being Italian.  The menu is all vegetarian, including ten vegan dishes, though there is no particular emphasis placed on this either on line or in the restaurant itself.

The restaurant has two rooms, a smaller one at the front and a larger one at the back.  Seating areas and décor are all quite lavish, including a glass-encased neon-lit waterfall, and seating arrangements encourage an atmosphere of relaxed chat.  With there being only two of us dining, we were seated at one of the few square tables.  Most are larger and circular.

We’d enjoyed lunch there a couple of times during previous visits to the Lake District, but this was to be our first evening meal there.  We’d booked ahead; always a good idea as the restaurant is very popular and fills up quickly, this evening being no exception.

We took our time perusing the menu, which included a number of tempting choices for both starters and main courses.  For starters I opted for the Zuppa Del Giorno (Soup of the day), which was spiced tomato and rosemary, while Jay chose the Arancini risotto balls with tomato salsa;
The soup was full of flavour and served with good quality bread and butter which was nice and soft as opposed to ‘straight from the fridge’: always a good sign.
Jay’s Arancini were superb, and possibly the best dish of the evening.  Beautifully presented on an oblong plate, with the risotto balls being placed on top of the sauce and garnished with a parmesan crisp and fresh cress.  They were coated in breadcrumbs, providing an initial crispy bite, followed by creamy chewiness of the rice, which had been mixed with mozzarella.  We both would have been happy with these for both starters and mains.

The menu for the main course consisted of various styles of pasta and pizza, but a Vesuvian red bean chilli and aubergine and mozzarella parmigiana sounded tempting.  In the end though, I went for a Pizza Castello, whie Jay ordered a Broccoli and Blue Cheese Lasagne;
My pizza had a ten inch base, which was the restaurant’s standard size, with toppings of tomato sauce, kale, sweet potato and goat’s cheese.  A number of additional toppings were available for £1.25 each, so I added green pesto.  The pizza base was quite bready and even in texture, lacking the hand-stretched appearance and crunch that I prefer on my pizza bases.  The sweet potato didn’t quite work with the other toppings.  I think this was because of the relatively thick texture of the base; the sweet potato tended to distract from the other flavours.  I ended up picking it off my pizza and eating it as a sort of side dish.  This greatly improved matters, and the sweet potato was far more enjoyable.  I noticed for the first time a slight oily, buttery glaze and subtle sprinkling of dried herbs to bring them to life.  Similarly, the pizza itself regained its edge, with the goats cheese, kale and pesto all working well with the tomato sauce.
Jay’s lasagne was comfort food of the highest order, served in a big square bowl.  The blue cheese was the predominant flavour, as expected, but it worked very well with the broccoli which added a much needed bite to the dish.

The dessert menu contained the Italian favourite Tiramisu, ice cream, cheesecake, cheese board and a selection of sundaes which seemed to be popular choice with our fellow diners.  We opted instead for the Piccolo Dolce, which consisted of a small slice of pecan pie, a chocolate dipped strawberry and a scoop of ice cream served on a small spoon.  As we were both quite full after our starters and mains, this proved a perfect choice.  Unfortunately we were half way through it before we realised that we’d forgotten to photograph it.  Apologies for that.  It was served on an oblong plate, with the slice of pecan pie at one end, the strawberry in the middle and the spoon of ice cream at the other end.  We both liked this a lot.  It was a great idea and we were by no means the only diners to be ordering it.

We were both very happy at the end of the meal, which cost £42.35 in total.  We didn’t order any wine but prices started from £4.45 for a glass, and £16.25 for a bottle of house wine.  The usual beers, spirits, liqueurs, soft drinks are also available.

We would recommend Zeffirellis to vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike, but as mentioned earlier, booking is recommended as it gets very busy.  Long may it continue.

Reviewed by Dee 4th Apri 2015

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Manchester Gin Festival – Victoria Baths, Manchester, 28th March 2015

After missing the Birmingham Gin Festival by a matter of days, we booked tickets for Manchester Gin Festival several weeks in advance.  This turned out to have been a wise move on our part as the event was a sell-out.

We arrived at the venue at around 6.50pm, 20 minutes after the start time, and it was already busy, and continued to fill up once we were inside. 

The venue was fabulous; an old swimming baths, originally built in 1906 but converted in 2007 into a three-room event venue.  The building was full of character and provided an atmosphere which was perfect for an evening of gin tasting.  It reminded Jay of spending Sunday evenings learning to swim.

We were greeted on arrival by the event staff, who gave us a brief talk on how the event would run, and provided us with a commemorative glass, a comprehensive event guide and a rather fetching blue badge which acted as a re-entry token should we leave the venue and return on the same evening.  The organisation of the event was excellent throughout.  Staff were friendly and made announcements over a PA system periodically to give notice of when masterclasses and presentations were about to take place.
For the purposes of the Gin Festival, each of the ‘pools’ that comprised the old baths became an arena hosting one element of the event; The first was a bar area offering a choice of 100 gins, details of which were provided in the programme.  The second hosted cocktail making and exhibition stands by the larger distillers, while the third contained food stalls and entertainment.  There were walkways and seating on the ‘ground’ level and further seating available upstairs.
The programme was very good quality, full colour all the way through and containing concise tasting notes for each of the gins on offer, which aided our selection process a great deal.
The gin samples were purchased via tokens in a similar way to a beer festival, with single measures costing one £5 token.  Included in the price were the various recommended garnishes and tonic provided by Fever Tree, who were sponsoring the event.
The food stalls looked good but we didn’t sample any food, as we had eaten before the event began.

We didn’t attend any of the talks or masterclasses that were also provided but all appeared to have been well attended.

Initially we sat upstairs at a table in the corner of one of the rooms.  This proved helpful in drawing up a list of gins to sample, but we soon changed our minds and moved downstairs where the atmosphere was better.  The venue was of ample size for the event and we had no problems finding anywhere to sit.

Now to the gins themselves;

Jay’s Gins

Half Hitch *Jay’s Gin of the Festival*
Distiller: Half Hitch
Guide said:  Spicy notes of bell pepper and juniper meet citrus notes of sweet orange, nutmeg and a rich black tea.
Jay said:  Cor! Two of my favourites in one glass! Gin and Earl Grey.  Happy days. It would also be perfect with afternoon tea.

Distiller:  Martin Miller's Gin
Guide said:  Quite frankly insanely smooth and almost chewy on the palate.  Sweet liquorice builds to a mild spicy but not at all edgy mid-palate picked with citrus.
Jay said:  Sweet orange fizzy.  Nice for a summer evening in the back garden.

Distiller:  Ish Gin
Guide said:  That Ish juniper start with fresh lime, spicy ginger and lots of zingy lime, inspired by Brazil.
Jay said:  Lime:  Lots of it!  Would be good as a palate cleanser after a big meal.

Few Spirits Barrel Gin
Distiller:  Few Spirits
Guide said:  Aged in oak barrels, resulting in an increased level of sweetness, complexity and spice.  Dark, rich cherries and spices, clove oil, juniper and ginger nuts.
Jay said:  Oh! Love whisky: Love gin, but the two together didn’t work for me.

American Gin
Distiller:  Few Spirits
Guide said:  Unlike any other gin, this offering from Few Spirits is made using white whiskey (un-aged bourbon).  Fresh juniper and citrus peels, thick with sweet vanilla notes.
Jay said:  Pear drops:  Lots of them.  Fruity and Sherbetty.  Would be nice on a night out, but wouldn’t want more than one.

Geranium London Dry
Distiller:  Geranium Gin
Guide said:  Clean fresh palate, rightly led by Juniper, with strong citrus and aromatic tea-like floral notes adding to its considerable complexity.
Jay said:  Does what it says on the tin.  Sweet, light and fizzy with tonic.  A good quaffing gin.

Dee’s Gins

Distillery:  Daffy's Gin
Guide said:  A fresh and woody nose with smooth and vibrant spice palate.  Fine juniper and Lebanese mint (add) to a long, buttery, warm and elegant finish.
Dee said:  Clean, fresh aroma of pine.  A big hit of juniper but didn’t linger too long on the palate.

Jensen Old Tom
Distillery:  Bermondsey Gin
Guide said:  Jensen’s Old Tom is a recreation of an original Old Tom recipe from the 1840s.  An extraordinarily complex, intensely flavoured gin, with long lasting herbal spiced notes and a natural residual sweetness on the finish.
Dee said:  Strong initial aroma of juniper.  Intense, grassy flavour.  When tonic was added, it unlocked the spicy and herbal tastes, including rosemary and a hint of coriander.  It seemed to improve the longer it ‘stood’.  A superb gin.

The Exiles Irish Gin
Distillery:  The Exiles Gin
Guide said:  Traditional pot-distilling method.  Skillfully infused with shamrock, red clover flowers, honeysuckle flowers, rowan berries and bog myrtle, the essence of Ireland.
Dee said:  A much more subtle aroma than I was expecting, although I definitely got the berries.  Quite dry tasting with a slightly floral aftertaste.  Took on a little sweetness when tonic was added.

Burleigh’s London Dry Gin
Distillery:  Burleigh's Gin
Guide said:  Big, robust flavours with an initial hit of dry juniper followed by pine, eucalyptus and citrus.  Spicy and floral notes in the background.  Long parma violet and eucalyptus finish.
Dee said:  Spicy aroma, with eucalyptus very much in evidence both before and during tasting.  Another quite dry gin that had a nice lingering finish.

Terroir Gin *Dee’s Gin of the Festival*
Distillery:  St. George Spirits
Guide said:  You’re in a Northern Californian forest, surrounded by Douglas Firs, breathing in the local woodsy, herbal, aromas!
Dee said:  Fantastic initial aroma.  Took a while to pin it down but eventually managed to pin it down:  Bazooka Bubble Gum.  This gave way to a much drier taste; The rosemary made its presence felt and there was an added taste of pine needles.  No tonic needed.  This was fabulous and my gin of the festival.

Bathtub Gin Old Tom
Guide said:  Noticeably sweet, liquorice allsorts, light juniper and orange TicTacs.
Dee said:  Juniper and Citrus on the nose.  Sweet tasting.  Made a lovely, fresh summery drink when the tonic was added.

Plus a couple that we both tried

18th Century Gin
Distillery:  Eccentric Gin Co.
Guide said:  This gin was a special guest, so wasn’t listed in the guide, but was recommended by the bar staff as being good with a sliced of cucumber as a garnish.
Dee said:  A strong liquoricey aroma, followed by an equally strong woody taste.  I enjoyed it without any garnish.  Because of the intense presence of the liquorice it was fine as it was.
Jay said:  Very smooth.  A drink for the end of the night.

Blackwoods 60%
Distillery:  Blackwoods Gin
Guide said:  Floral notes on the nose are balanced with juniper.  Rich mouthfeel with pleasant citrus flavour followed by a long dry finish.
Dee said:  This was the strongest gin of the festival, and also came recommended by a couple of fellow festival attendees so we decided to give it a go.  It had a surprisingly fresh initial aroma, helped along by the mint and lime garnish.  This paired nicely with the strong taste of juniper, which had great staying power.  I decided not to add any tonic as it was nice enough with just the garnish.
Jay said:  Dangerously drinkable.  I’d enjoy this as an alternative to a mojito, somewhere hot while the sun goes down.

In conclusion, this was a great event, full of atmosphere and character.  It was exceptionally well organised with opportunities to sample a broad range of gins.  Highly recommended for anyone who loves their gins.  We will certainly be attending again.

Reviewed by Dee, 31st March 2015