Thursday, 14 April 2016

A Lost Society Pop-Up Restaurant, 9th April 2016

Reviewed by Dee

A Lost Society is the name of a new Midlands based fine dining business run by Chef Josh Porter and Front of House Manager Jade Hollingworth.  It is so new in fact that the pop-up restaurant which was hosted in the 6/8 Kafe in Birmingham’s Millennium Point was their inaugural event.  Jay and I had been looking forward to attending, after being notified of the event via Twitter.

We were already acquainted with Josh, having attended a Pop-Up restaurant which he had co-hosted as part of a previous business venture back in August 2015 (click here for details).  We also knew Jade through the Bird with Words food blog (click here for details).

The name ‘A Lost Society’ reflects the 1920s/Prohibition-era which inspired Josh and Jade’s offering, and they had taken care to reflect this not only in the food that was served, but also with the music that was playing during the event.  There were definitely swing-style covers of Single Ladies and Seven Nation Army amongst others which we think may have been by the Postmodern Jukebox.  This pairing of nostalgic and modern would continue through the evening, and created a distinctive brand.

There were three other parties of diners in attendance, which made for an intimate evening.  The venue did feel a little dark, with the main light coming from the small candles on the tables, but the photos that will follow certainly don’t reflect that, so perhaps I’m being overly critical here.

The formal menu for the evening consisted of four courses, as pictured above.  The titles of the dishes certainly exuded classical dining, though the presentation of the menu on a luggage tag tied to an empty bottle was definitely more modern.

Jade introduced each dish as it was served, and Josh provided more details during the times when he wasn’t busy in the kitchen.  It was clear that both were passionate about their business and were keen to receive feedback from the diners.

The courses on the menu were preceded by Amuse Bouches of Parmesan Gougères, and Chicken Liver Parfait with Beetroot Gel and the smallest garnish of Thyme leaves.  The presentation of these was excellent;  The gougères were small, neat and baked just right.  Texture and taste-wise they reminded me of a much lighter and more delicate cheese scone.  The bold combination of chicken liver, beetroot and thyme worked well in the second amuse bouche, with all of the flavours, even the thyme, being easily discernible.

The Princess Consommé consisted of chicken consommé, chicken mousseline, diced pickled celery and carrot, and finished with a crispy chicken skin garnish.  We were informed that the chicken mousseline was authentic for the period of the Great Depression, when chicken breast was scarce and expensive.  It had a lot more flavour than I was preparing for.  The heavier textures of the chicken were in small enough portions to allow the freshness of the broth and vegetables to make their presence felt.  We both liked it a lot.

For the Fish course, the Ceviche of Sea Trout was joined on the plate by a Pea and Wasabi Sorbet and garnished with Rapeseed Oil Powder and an Edible Viola flower.  Needless to say this would prove to be the most colourful dish on the menu.  We were most curious about the Rapeseed Oil Powder, which we’d never encountered before.  It had a texture similar to very fine parmesan cheese, but melted in the mouth and had quite a subtle taste.  It went well with the fish, which was nicely finished in lime juice, but less so with the sorbet.  I was expecting jets of fire to shoot up my nose on account of the sorbet having wasabi in it, but the primary flavour was sweetness from the peas.  There was only the faintest hint of wasabi, though Jay noticed it more than I did.  I enjoyed all the components of this dish but ended up separating the sorbet out and eating it on its own, as I found its flavour profile too sweet when taken alongside the fish and powdered oil.

A much richer main course followed:  Breast of lamb with asparagus, potatoes cooked in Beurre Noisette, and a Sauce Paloise.  This was probably my favourite course of the evening.  It had a basic elegance, both in appearance and taste.  We hadn’t heard of Sauce Paloise before, but were told that it was made from a Hollandaise sauce base, with added shallots and mint.  It was served in a small portion, which was fine as it was very buttery and quite strong tasting.  The asparagus was slightly charred, just as we like it and the potatoes were lightly salted on the outside and soft on the inside.  The lamb too had a slight crispness to the edges but was cooked enough to give it a pleasantly soft texture.

Dessert was a slice of Lemon Tart, which Jade had baked.  Sometimes, lemon tarts can be ruined by either too much garnish on top of the tart itself, or on the plate, but it was good to see that this one was served unaccompanied and with a simple topping of caramelised sugar.  It was a great bake, both in terms of the tart filling and the pastry case.  This time honoured classic dessert made a great follow up to the Old-School style main course.

There was one final dish to be served before the end of the evening.  It was a Financier with a slice of pear, a garnish of pickled pear and finished with a treacle dressing.  It was described as a petit four, but was more of a second dessert (a grand four? - Jay).  There were some interesting contrasts formed by the financier and sliced pear, which were light and simple, and the small cubes of pickled pear and the dressing which were sharp and rich.

There was a ‘bring your own bottle’ drinks policy for the evening, so before we arrived at Millennium Point we called into Loki Wines to select our tipple.  We chose a bottle of Chateau Lestrille Capmartin, a white wine from the Bordeaux region.  The wine was straw yellow in colour, with a tart fruitiness on the nose, and a dry grassy taste with a hint of gooseberry at the finish.  It paired best with the first two courses but we enjoyed it throughout the evening.  It was kept chilled for us and refilled as we wanted it, which we very much appreciated.

All in all, we had a great evening.  We had been well looked after, and it was clear that our hosts were passionate about what they were offering and wanted to share their vision with their customers.  Price wise it was excellent value, with £30 buying what was in effect amuse bouches and a five course meal.

At the end of the evening, Josh and Jade shared a few ideas which they have for future events, so we wish them well with their new venture and look forward to joining them again soon.

Discover Rum! - Rum Tasting at the Cuban Embassy, Moseley, Birmingham, 6th April 2016

Reviewed by Dee 

Since Jay and I started writing the blog in August 2014, we’ve attended wine tastings, sherry tastings, beer tastings, gin tastings and whisky tastings.  However, rum and brandy were noticeable gaps, so we decided to take a step in addressing that by booking in for a rum tasting session organised by Dine Birmingham for Wednesday 6th April 2016 at the Cuban Embassy, a new venue located in the heart of Moseley.

A rebranded version of the Bull’s Head pub, the Cuban Embassy is decorated in typical Cuban style, with pictures of boxers, 1950s style cars and lots of colour.  The venue is identifiable from the outside too, with the model Bull’s Head from the original pub repainted in the colours of the Cuban flag.
The venue is small, with seating areas to the left and right of the entrance, which is opposite the main bar.  It was busy, even for a Wednesday evening, even accounting for the customers who were there for the tasting.  The venue also serves food, and we noted how appetising it looked as it arrived from the kitchen to the bar via one of those lift things.

At the beginning of the tasting event, attendees were given a rum cocktail, with crushed ice and big lime juice and coconut flavours. 

The event was introduced by Ahmed Ahmed, founder of Dine Birmingham, who explained that it was the second rum tasting that they had organised.  The presentation was delivered by Luke Todd-Wood, Brands Development Manager of drinks distributor Maxxium UK Ltd.

The presentation was accompanied by slides,  and began with an insightful history of rum, which presented several theories as to how the drink got its name, and went on to cover the naval rum ration, which attracted particular interest.

The rums which were provided for tasting were all from the Brugal brand, based in the Dominican Republic, where the rum is distilled, matured and bottled.
The company was founded by Don Andres Brugal, a Spaniard who emigrated to Cuba before moving to Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, where he founded the brand in 1888.  The business has remained with the Brugal family ever since, and is now in its 4th and 5th generations.

Five rums were on the tasting list, but before the tasting got underway, Luke pointed out that Brugal rums were noted for their refreshing dryness.

Rum #1:  Añejo
An aged rum, typically used as a mixer in cocktails.
Tasting Notes said:  Light and Woody aroma, hints of chocolate, butter, caramel
Dee said:  Light and oaky aroma, but I didn’t detect any of the chocolate that everyone else did.  A definite caramel and toffee flavour with no aftertaste.

Rum #2:  Especial Extra Dry
A white rum and another mixer.  Smoothness is enhanced, and colour removed, by triple filtering.
Tasting Notes said:  Crisp, smooth, notes of coffee bean, cocoa, butter and vanilla
Dee said:  A clear, fresh and slightly buttery aroma, but the taste was very dry and too harsh for my taste.

Rum #3:  XV
A sipping rum, blended from rums which have been aged for between 2 and 8 years in Bourbon and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks.
Tasting Notes said:  Golden Rum with aromas of honey, dried fruits, caramel
Dee said:  A rich, sweet and fruity aroma, followed by more fruit flavours and a welcome smoothness in the taste.  This one lingered far more than the first two rums, with hints of cardamom and to a lesser extent, cloves.

After the third rum was tasted, there was a break for food, which was included in the booking price.  I am pleased to report that the food tasted as good as it looked, and had a great home-cooked feel.  
Bread and a sweet Aioli style dip was followed by a plate of stewed black-eyed beans, and patatas bravas in a hot and spicy sauce.  
Both Jay and I would happily dine here again.

A choice of cocktails were available outside of the booking price, but discounted for the evening, so we decided to try a couple of them.
The first, an 1888 Old Fashioned, was made with Brugal 1888 rum (which we were yet to sample), Angostura Bitters, Maraschino Cherry, Sugar and Orange Peel.  This was a rich and fruity cocktail, sweetened by syrup from the Maraschino Cherry jar.  This cocktail proved a big hit with both of us.
The second, a Golden Mojito was more subtle, with fresh mint added to the Añejo rum, lime and sugar.

Rum #4:  1888 Ron Gran Reserva Familiar
A special edition rum, aged in American Oak and finished in Spanish Sherry casks
Tasting Notes said:  Smooth and full-bodied, spices, cinnamon, coffee.
Dee said:  A sweet aroma of sugar, cinnamon and honey, followed by a richer taste experience of dark chocolate, woodiness and even a hint of tobacco.

Rum #5:  Dry Spiced *Rum of the Evening*
A small-batch rum, which is currently being tested out on the market before being produced in larger quantities.
Tasting Notes said:  Deliciously balanced, distinctively spiced.
Dee said:  Very different to all of the other rums.  A super-sweet aroma which reminded me of buttercream icing but with extra spices, principally cinnamon and cardamom.  Taste-wise there was a big hit of vanilla and again a buttery taste, with a cardamom and slightly aniseedy aftertaste.

Both Jay and I enjoyed the event, which marked the beginning of what is sure to be a journey of discovery for us of the various different styles of rum that are out there. 
Based on this evening’s tastings, my initial preference is for the sweeter, spicier variety, but of course, we have barely scratched the surface and I look forward to trying out rums with different profiles in the future.

At £13 a head, plus booking fee, the event was very good value for money and is recommended for anyone who seeks an introduction to the world of rum.  On the downside, because of the small size of the venue and the fact that it was busy, we couldn’t always hear the presentation.  Tables were also a little on the cramped side, but this didn’t put anyone off and from what we could tell, all of the attendees seemed to be enjoying themselves.  On the whole, the evening was relaxed, entertaining and informative, and like the 1888 Old Fashioned:  A great mix.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Tasting Jerusalem #35 – Lentils

Dee – After the blow-out feasts that made up the last two Tasting Jerusalem blog entries, we were looking for something a little simpler and lighter, and March 2016’s theme provided this for us, at least in part.

The featured ingredient, lentils, weren’t the first ingredient that came to mind when we were looking for something to base a lighter meal on, but in the wider context  of a complete menu, they played an essential part.

Lentils only appear in one recipe in the Jerusalem book, the Mejadra on page 120, and the commentary preceeding it described it as being served as part of a lunch menu alongside a yoghurt based sauce and followed by fresh watermelon.

Mejadra is a dish made with lentils and rice, flavoured with a mixture of spices and topped with crispy onions.  It is familiar throughout the Arab world, with the inevitable variations in ingredients and spellings.

We’d made Mejadra once before, but I have memories of it having a soapy taste on account of the excessive amount of ground allspice that we’d added to it.  Determined not to make the same mistake again, I took extra care with the spices, and thankfully it was a lot more balanced flavour-wise.  Ground toasted seeds provided an extra dimension to the overall taste so that not everything was dependent on the flavour of the allspice.  The recipe called for crispy onions to be used as a garnish, but we opted instead for slow-cooked sliced ones, simply to reduce the calories a little.  We used green lentils in our Mejadra as we have found that they are a little more hardy than the red variety, which are good for soups, especially the Palestinian Shorabit Adas, which I will cover later.

For a dish that was based on a mixture of rice and lentils, it was surprisingly light in texture and was great when mixed together with the yoghurt and cucumber that we served it with.  We followed the recipe on page 299, but used shop-bought mint sauce instead of fresh and dried mint.  Prerhaps not an authentic preparation but the finished product didn’t look out of place and most importantly it tasted great.  It was more piquant than fresh and dried mint would have been, but that wasn’t a problem when served with the Mejadra.

The meal was concluded with some slices of fresh watermelon, which was both palate cleansing and refreshing.

As mentioned in the commentary accompanying the Mejadra recipe, this was a great lunch time or picnic menu, and even though it was very simple to prepare, it looked impressive, tasted great, and filled us up nicely without over-facing us.

Lentils also appear as the principal ingredient in the Palestinian soup, Shorabit Adas, which we could have made instead of the Mejadra, but we’d only recently finished the last portions of a huge quantity of watercress soup that we’d made several weeks ago, so we both agreed that we needed to give soup a rest for a few weeks.  It is a great dish though, and we saved a picture of it when we made it a few months ago.  It was a nice warming soup for winter, especially with the garnish of crispy toasted flatbread wedges, chilli flakes and a drizzle of Palestinian Olive Oil.

“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)