Have you ever planned a day out around a meal? After seeing a friend’s Instagram pics from a restaurant, I knew that I had to eat there and planned to visit Bristol centred round it. Was it worth the journey? It turns out that Bristol is thriving hub of food and varied culture. Here’s how to get a taste in one day…
As I lifted my phone to take a picture inside Mud Dock cafe the waiter asked if I was playing Pokemon. Completely mystified I asked elder teen who filled me in – the new Pokemon Go app had launched that day. It explained the group of four young guys who were just behind us on our walk in from Bristol Temple Meads railway station. I’d assumed were all using Google maps to guide their way and couldn’t work out why they were all enjoying it so much.
I worked in Bristol during the early 1990s. Mud Dock has been around for years but I first heard of it much later in a Sophie Grigson cookbook when she published one of their recipes. It’s part of an edgier side of the city which was expressed in music back then (Portishead, Massive Attack, Shara Nelson) rather than food. You climb up some wrought iron stairs past a bike shop to get to the top of the building and cafe. We sat on the outside terrace with immediate views of freight and a car park below but it also looks out on the wider dock area. It’s a splendid, quirky space. Strong winds and a violent rain shower sent us scurrying inside for our second excellent coffee. The day’s lunch menu was being written on the board with much to tempt but we reluctantly tore ourselves away to the M Shed.
On the Banksy trail
Needing to do something to entertain mind, body and soul in between eating trips, we decided to find a few Banksy artworks which are dotted around the city. You can book a guided tour or try to find them yourself – we did the latter using this as a guide.
First stop, after dodging the rain drops over the footbridge to the other side of the harbour, was M Shed. Among its eclectic display dedicated to Bristol is a very famous Banksy, The Grim Reaper, removed from the side of a boat for preservation. To be honest it’s in a strange place for viewing, in a hallway and behind glass. I nearly asked a couple of museum curators where it was – they were standing in front of it!
Strolling up along the harbour was very pleasant. We turned away from the water once we reached the SS Great Britain, ducked down the first alleyway on the right, turned right again and were soon outside the gates of Bristol Marina – very much a working place for boat repairs. A bit puzzled we turned round, spotted a burger van and then, tucked into a recess in the building, was Girl with the pierced eardrum. Under the gaze of the workmen munching fast food at picnic tables by the van, we took selfies with this witty take on a renowned masterpiece, under cloudy skies, beneath a fire escape!
The Olive Shed
Retracing our steps along the harbour, a decision for lunch was in order. The Olive Shed is really pretty from the outside, but I had a twinge of regret as we were led past a dark, rather ramshackle, open kitchen and up the stairs to a slight shabby room painted in ochre. The service was good however, and the simple, seasonal tapas-based menu served well. A bowl of excellent moules with frites and a glass of wine for me and x for F. The only disappointment was the rather fluffy bread inaccurately described as ciabatta with our olives and balsamic. We polished it off though. The brilliant view over the harbour and city beyond was unexpectedly interrupted when a huge naval ship, complete with armed officers, moored right in front of the restaurant causing much excitement down on the quay.
Shopping and Zerodegrees microbrewery
We hopped on a bus to get to the city centre for some retail distraction (Loot Vintage shop and the main central Cabot Circus shopping mall). The sun came out and we strolled back to the Christmas steps, a picturesque collection of little shops, including Weber & Tring’s an intriguing family-run independent wines and spirits retailer, Twentieth Century Flicks DVD rental shop (great podcast about them on the BBC Radio 4 Film Show) and a specialist woodwind dealer Trevor Jones (veggie teen’s clarinet bought there about 10 years ago). At the top we were gasping for refreshment so climbed a few more steps and sat on the balcony of Zerodegrees microbrewery with a brilliant view of the steps and surrounding streets. This is an enormous place and I’m not implying you should make a special journey. There seemed to be just one poor barman in the whole building, but it was a great place to sit and watch the world go by.
The next Banksy was about five minutes walk away on the side of a house. It’s interesting that we were the only people taking the time to stop and look at this dramatic artwork Well Hung Lover at the side of a busy street. Bristolians are inured to them now it seems. After that we walked to the top of Park Street and stopping for a few more vintage shops on the way was our downfall. Bristol Museum and Art Gallery had just closed for the day and it was impossible to see inside the lobby where Paint-Pot Angel is situated. Ah well. The outside of the nearby Bristol University Will Memorial Building is magnificent especially bathed in the gold of the evening light. A taxi stand was a few metres up and we hopped in one to Southville.
Southville is full of narrow streets of neat, terraced houses painted in pastel colours. We arrived a bit too early so strolled round the block counting the number little china sunflowers for the Bristol garden award. On first glance from outside, this could be an art gallery – white walls, huge bare windows, screenprints on the wall. Or a Scandinavian homeware shop given the name. The plain formica tables and a tiny Harlequin bar at the back give its restaurant status away. When we round the corner a few minutes after opening time, the sun is streaming through the windows with some tables already occupied. This former Victorian corner shop (with several reincarnations including an Indian) has been transformed into a modest but comfortable space for a few lucky diners, I guess 25 people max. Birch was set up by a couple of friends who cut their teeth by running supper clubs in Bristol, went on to hone their catering skills, worked in some notable Bristol restaurants before clocking up more experience in London, including St John which is famed for the provenance of its produce. The latter is key to Birch which issues a daily menu of a few courses based on what’s in season. The produce is local, some grown and gathered by Sam Leach and Beccy Massey from their own allotment. The wine list is eclectic and all organic. I want to eat and drink everything.
A silky, daisy-fresh Portland pearl oyster piqued cleverly with a fresh rhubarb dressing put a big smile on my face. Crusty sour dough with hand churned butter celebrates just how perfect simple food can be. Tender, tiny, bright green broad beans, only achievable if you grow your own, are scattered with soft tangy goats curd, fresh cherries and hazelnuts. A swirl of rich pigeon sausage with chard, split peas and the warm tang of mustard is comfort food for a summer’s evening. Beet tops are braised with barley, and steeped with blackcurrants and malty Old Ford stout. Yellow courgette is draped over the tender, pink saddle of kid like a savoury veil.
I order sorbet – this is unprecedented – it’s gooseberry and mint; fresh, gleaming loganberry jelly and mousse with a cylinder of brandy snap is like all your childhood favourites dressed up for the night. Blackcurrants, picked that morning, with a whey caramel, whipped yoghurt and almond cake takes me in a time capsule to tastes from the garden and my spoon keeps scraping across the dish long after there is anything remaining.
A taxi whisked us back to the sweeping arches of Brunel’s striking Bristol Temple Meads station in a little happy bubble. KP will tell you that I have not stopped talking about this food all summer. Sam and Beccy clearly take the greatest pleasure in finding and combining the very best produce. It leaves you with the feeling of going round a summer veg patch, tasting leaves, roots and fruits, combined with elegance and joy.
- Self-guided Banksy tour
- Banksy guided tour
- Bristol walking tour – from Blackbeard to Banksy
- Banksy Bristol tour app
- A street art guide to Bristol (there’s a lot!)
- M Shed
- Mud Dock – Cycle Shop and Cafe
- The Olive Shed
- Birch – booking essential
- Where Bristol Foodies Eat
Click on the images to enlarge
This was just one day out in Bristol. There’s a vibrant food and art scene. I definitely returning again next time I’m in the UK. Let me know your highlights and recommendations.
Strapping on our boots and ‘can-do’ attitude my sister and set off just before 9am down the crumbling earth steps to the cliff path swathed in a heavy sea fog. We were still in shock, having discovered the night before, over a plate of fish and chips in the pub, that our second day’s hike of 15.2 miles (24.5 km) was “the toughest part of the entire South West Coast Path and involves a long hard day of walking, with some very relentless and tiring ascents and descents”. Buoyed up by an excellent breakfast, we descended to the start of the rocky coastline with black corrugated spines of rock forming dramatic lines up the beach, inspiring awe even through the mistiness of the day.
The reason for the arduous yet splendid nature of the path are the river valleys that carve they way through the cliffs. We didn’t see a soul – excepting various breeds of sheep – as we trod carefully down steps in the crags, crossed the rivers on little wooden bridges and then paced doggedly up the other side.
Remote and other worldly, this is far from the image of gentle rolling countryside that thoughts of Devon usually inspire. An elegant waterfall at Spekes Mill Mouth, a long streak of teaming water thundering down black cliffs, caused us to stop to admire and catch a breath for a minute before forging on.
At one point we could look back and see right along the coast to Hartland Point but mostly concentrated on the winding path along the headland and tip toeing down the valleys and then puffing back up the other side. My strategy for tackling the hills was to do 50 steps at a time and then take a breather. This doesn’t sound like a lot but the gradient and distance was pretty tough.
Near the top of one steep-sided valley we found a hut with a welcome sign to enter. It was where the playwright and poet Ronald Duncan used to write and there were some pens and paper on a small table in case you were so inspired. It was still a bit misty but thankfully no rain as we crossed a little stream over yet another wooden footbridge at Marshland Mouth and crossed from Devon into Cornwall.
The wild flowers throughout the walk were a joy and wild thyme scented our journey as our boots crushed the leaves under foot. My sister, who had an ornithology book fixation as a child, identified a little bird in the hedgerow as a stone chat. Super impressed – I had never even heard of one. We marvelled constantly at the rock formations; the movement of the earth in prehistoric times and layers of rock evident in spectacular zigzag folds.
Vicarage cliff was another steep climb and we could see across to Morwenstow at the top, home of a fabled tea rooms. There was no time for us to stop though so we carried onto another little hut, made of driftwood, just off the path looking out over the Atlantic. Hawker’s Hut is the smallest property to be owned by the National Trust and the place where local vicar the Reverend Robert Hawker would write poetry under the influence of opium in the 1800s. Under the influence of big floury baps with ham, cheese and homemade runner bean chutney for our lunch (made by B&B landlady Anna) and the breeze on our feet, liberated from their booted confines, we were very soon restored and set off again at around 2.30pm.
We were not liberated from the hills and valleys however, some steep some a little more gentle, and needed to keep our spirits up. A flatter respite took us past the wire fence and huge dishes of a satellite tracking centre where the path was covered in little flowers. There were a few more people on this section of the track as it can be reached from inland paths to make circular walks. We stopped to chat to a young chap walking his way round the whole of the UK.
A winding very steep path to Duckpool beach had my sister’s heart palpitating as she hates precipitous views. We got to the bottom and I was very pleased to see… public toilets; a luxury as the first we had seen on our two days of walking on this remote and beautiful coastline. Another couple of steep up and downs brought us to Sandymouth where we just caught the cafe for a cup of tea as it was closing.
After making our way back up to the top of the cliffs we strolled along the wide path with expansive views over to Bude which got nearer and nearer. The multi-coloured beach huts offered the jolliest welcome and it was a real effort to move my feet onto pavements and into Bude to find our Bed and Breakfast. If I could have hailed a taxi then, I would have thrown myself in front of it. We cheered as, when given a friendly welcome by Joanne at Teeside (opposite Bude golf course), she told us that our room was on the ground floor. No more stairs to climb – hooray – and a really excellent hot shower.
Supper was at the Olive Tree sitting overlooking the canal. The inside dining room was fully booked but you can pitch up and order for the bar area and outside tables, and after looking inside we thought the latter was by far the best option. The menu was good, food delicious but, apart from one sweet waitress, the service was disinterested to the point of rude. However, this didn’t spoil our evening watching people drift past by water and on foot. We topped off with a cocktail in North Coast Wine Co as we called it a night and shored ourselves up for the next day walking from Bude to Crackington Haven. We were absolutely exhausted, aching all over, exhilarated from having conquered such a challenging leg of the journey and rather worried that our battered feet and legs would make the next day’s route. Did I mention it contains the steepest and longest descent and ascent of the entire path?
- More about the Hartland Quay to Bude route on the official website
- A detailed description of this section of the South West Coast path here too
- The spectacular geology around Bude and how it was formed
- Tee-side Guest House
- The Olive Tree in Bude
- North Coast Wine Co
Click on the images in the gallery below to enlarge
Our next (third) day’s hike was Bude to Crackington Haven (having hiked from Clovelly to Hartland Quay the previous day).
What’s the most spectacular coastline you’ve ever visited?
Can you imagine living somewhere that you never look at the weather forecast? You open your wardrobe and decide what you want to wear that day based on your mood or the occasion but never with a range of climatic changes in mind. That’s my life in Dubai and when I return to the UK getting to grips with the weather excites and slightly challenges me. I enjoy wrapping up warm and even whipping out my umbrella. We had a few days last week that made me feel right at home with temperatures soaring over 30 C (although I wouldn’t be in crazy Dubai’s summer temperatures of over 50 C right now).
My bartending mentor Denzel Heath created a cocktail just right for beating the heat. It’s perfect to sip on my Mum’s patio overlooking her beautiful flower border, listening to her complain about how hot it is and how all the plants are dying!
A few things we did on sunny days during July… (click on a pic to see the full image):
Inspired by The Queen’s Park Swizzle which was named after the Trinidadian hotel where it was first concocted in the 1920s, this is The St James’s Swizzle as, instead of the original rum, it uses No 3 gin. This is one of my favourite gins made by Berry Brothers and Rudd, a wine merchant which can trace the foundations of its family business back to a shop in No 3 James’s Street in London opened in 1698 and has been there ever since. Simple to make; long, cool and green – just like the bottle. Here’s to more beautiful English summer days – and good weather wherever you are.
St James's Swizzle
- Long glass such as a highball
- Swizzle or bar spoon
- fresh mint sprigs
- 60ml No. 3
- 15ml green Chartreuse * optional
- 1 sugar cube
- 30ml fresh lime juice
- crushed ice
- 2 drops Bittermen’s Orchard Street Celery Shrub**
- 2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters**
- 2 dash Angostura Orange Bitters**
- Garnish: mint leaves, celery stick
How to mix
- Place torn mint leaves in the bottom of a glass and muddle gently (i.e bruise the leaves to release the aromatic oils – I use the end of a wooden spoon).
- Add the gin, Chartreuse, sugar cube and lime juice. Top up with crushed ice, and swizzle vigorously until the glass frosts (about 15 to 20 seconds).
- Add additional fresh crushed ice to mound the glass, and dash the bitters on top liberally.
*for depth and dimension
**if you don’t have the celery bitters you can substitute with 10ml of celery juice, for the 2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters & 2 dash Angostura Orange Bitters – substitute with 4 dashes of either instead of both.
Read more about swizzling and swizzle sticks or watch a video by Jim Meehan famous founder of PDT New York on how to swizzle. Don’t worry – a bar spoon works fine too.
Of course as I press publish on this post, the English weather has gone back to its usual varied self. I’ll have to pour myself one of these and dream. How’s your summer going?
As the rain started to spatter the windscreen, I regretted leaving my waterproof trousers behind. This was not what the weather forecast predicted for mid July. A ‘mizzle’ (a sort of misty drizzle) hung over the sky as we reached the visitor’s centre in Clovelly and we hurried inside. The lady on the desk was not a mine of information and didn’t really know where the start of the South West Coast path was. My sister and I had planned to walk just over 25 miles of the 630 mile path which is continuous round the coast of Devon, Cornwall and Dorset. This was the first of three days of glorious hiking, we hoped.
We had a cup of tea in the centre and looked around for maps and information. The books were designed for people sitting on the couch reading about the coastline rather than those wishing to walk. There were an awful lot of knick-knacks and an enormous amount of fudge. Clovelly is a private village and you have to pay to enter.
After weaving our way past a large party of German pensioners we soon stood at the top of the steep main High street made of pebbles. Even under an overcast sky it is chocolate box pretty and must be heaving during peak season. There was quite a bit of renovation going on and the workmen were pulling their materials up on sledges as the village is car-free. The alternative is by donkey although I think they are for petting not toil these days; we didn’t see any.
Clovelly had been yarn-bombed and crafty ingenuity ranged from a whole knitted beach-hut to a field of woollen pom-pom flowers. The high street leads down into a pretty harbour where you can buy some legendary hot smoked mackerel rolls. We plumped for a pasty for later and, after a fascinating chat to a lady with an owl, made our way up to the coast path.
A large sign on a gate showed up we were in the right place and from then on the whole path was meticulously signposted with little acorn markers (derived from the National Trust emblem). We could have done without the map but it did help us to gauge how well we were doing. With ten miles ahead of us we strode off through woodlands and onto a path bordered by shrubs and trees with glimpses of the sea below, stopping only for a short pasty-eating break.
We soon came to a wooden carved shelter known as Angel’s Wings, built in the 19th century by Sir James Hamlyn Williams, a former owner of Clovelly. He sited it here so that he could look across Bideford Bay to where his daughter, Lady Chichester, lived at Youlston. The name comes from the carvings of angels and angels’ wings supporting the roof.
Our walk was fairly gentle until we reached some steep and narrow winding paths going up through woods. Once at the top there were a series of open fields climbing upwards. It started to rain and the wind made it heavy going. Eventually we saw glimpses of the Sonar ‘mushroom’ and the promontory of Hartland point. The coastline started to become more dramatic which buoyed our dipping energy levels. Then we spotted something down below in a car park and my sister ran down the hill in excitement.
The Point at Hartland is a fantastic little tea cabin with a range of homemade refreshments. We were super impressed that they even stocked Compeed plasters – take heed Clovelly visitors centre! The steaming mug of tea restored us while we had a nice chat to the owners and a lady who was celebrating her birthday.
Rounding Hartland point and starting to walk along the Atlantic coastline we had around 3 miles to go. These were really tough with steep descents and ascents through dramatic river valleys – a taste of things to come for the next day. Eventually we reached the level higher ground, hiking past the remains of a folly and turned inland to Stoke across a path through a field. It was a short walk to 1 Coastguard Cottages and Anna the owner welcomed us warmly in every sense. She whisked our damp boots and belongings onto the Aga and supplied us with a brimming bone china teapot full of hot tea.
There is only one place for an evening meal here – at the Wrecker’s Retreat – although I believe you can arrange something with Anna too.
Boots back on, our weary feet made their way back towards the coast and down a steep narrow path. The Wrecker’s Retreat is in the Hartland Quay hotel and has a phenomenal view of craggy granite carved bays. It was once a thriving port in ancient times and the hotel is in converted warehouses and custom houses. The Wrecker’s pub is in an old stable block. There is a small museum which tells the story of four centuries of shipwrecks and heroic life saving services on this beautiful but treacherous coastline.
We entered the packed, warm, lively pub and were dismayed to find no tables available. However, after a short while we bagged one and tucked into fish and chips. The menu is unpretentious pub food, well cooked to order. Our fellow diners were a good mixture of foreign hotel guests, well-heeled British visitors, and locals. While sipping local ale (I recommend Legend from Dartmoor Brewery) you can view some relics of wrecks, including the ‘Green Ranger’ of 1962, that are part of the interior.
It was while enjoying our rest and evening meal we read that our next day’s 15 mile hike was the most challenging and strenuous of the entire 630 mile coast path. Eek!
With trepidation we climbed back up the path stopping every so often to look at the stunning sunset over the Atlantic. There was only one thing for it. We put in our order for a full English breakfast complete with homemade sausages and bacon from Anna’s pigs and eggs from her hens. Tomorrow would be quite a challenge but our spirits would feel brighter after a good night’s sleep.
- More about our Clovelly to Hartland Quay route on the official website
- Clovelly village and surroundings
- Wrecker’s Retreat at The Hartland Quay Hotel
- 1 Coastguard Cottages
I’d emailed ahead for the long-term parking arrangements and handed over 12 GBP for three days. Mrs Unhelpful at the Visitor’s centre advised me not to display the ticket in my car so I think I could have easily parked for free. The fee to enter Clovelly includes parking for the day so I ended up paying double for the first day too. Lesson learned.
Click on the images in the gallery below to enlarge
Our next hike was Hartland Quay to Bude, followed by Bude to Crackington Haven on day three.
Have you done any kind of hiking route or some of the South West Coast Path? What were your biggest challenges?
Have you stood behind me in the grocery weighing section?
Me: “Have you got any garlic that isn’t from China?”
Shop assistant: “Let me look for you Mam.” Goes off, returns. “Sorry Mam. Only from China.”
Me: Leaves shop without garlic looking peeved.
So what’s wrong with the bright, white abundant cheap garlic that most of us consume without thinking? Firstly it’s the taste – bland and un-aromatic, but with nothing to compare it to, we’ve become used to that. But more importantly, the Chinese garlic is treated with chemicals – some are highly toxic. Here in Dubai the authorities are pretty stringent about testing things but there may be residues of treatments that are used in China but banned in other countries. At the very least the garlic is white because it has been bleached by using chlorine dioxide or a mixture of sulphur and wood ash. Whitening is a long-used ploy to attract customers, see bleached flour (now banned in UK). Growth inhibitors to stop garlic from sprouting are also used routinely and can be made from hormones or chemicals. These same substances, together with gamma irradiation, extend the shelf life but do you want them in your food?
I try to buy European garlic (usually from Spain) but if I had the choice I would buy local. At the end of the Farmers’ Market there was very young or wet garlic; it looked like a small leek as the cloves hadn’t started to form and had a mild garlic aroma and flavour (good lightly roasted).
In Dubai you can find European garlic in Spinneys and Waitrose most of the time and at Lafayette Gourmet in the Lootah Premium Foods section. The Spanish garlic I got from Waitrose was sprouting when I bought it – this is a good thing. Organic garlic from China is available but aspersions have been cast as to the validity, plus it’s still gleaming white i.e. bleached. Spinneys assures me that their Spanish garlic is white because of the variety i.e. no bleaching. Their buyers travel with Taste of Spain several times a year and visit the farms of their producers. They are looking at getting organic garlic from this supplier too. It’s good to know they are a member of GLOBAL G.A.P. which promotes sustainable sourcing policies across the globe.
Laura from Slow Food Dubai recommends organic garlic from Organic Foods and Cafe. I asked her, a keen home gardener, if it was possible to grow garlic.
She has tried to grow it many times with very varying success. Garlic cloves need cold weather during their infancy to grow properly into bigger bulbs later. She’s trying to source a few heirloom hot weather varieties and doing some trials in the rooftop garden.
Tips for growing garlic in Dubai or warm climates
- Buy some organic garlic around end the of September.
- Separate the cloves and select the largest ones; put them in a paper bag in the refrigerator, with the date marked on it.
- After 4-6 weeks at temperature below 4°C (but not too cold, so don’t use the freezer) take them out for planting. Soak them in water for a few days until you see them sprout a green shoot. They might have sprouted already in the fridge, if so just soak in water overnight.
- Plant out during mid to end of November in a mixture of sand and soil with lots of nitrogen and organic compost.
- Don’t over water.
Aioli or allioli is a great use for good garlic, but what to do when you have a vegan in the house or people who are coming round who can’t eat raw egg (pregnant women for instance)? Thanks to Kellie for enlightening me to the magic properties of aquafaba – nothing other than the liquid from chickpeas (or some other beans). It really does whisk up in the same way as egg yolks with oil to form a thick unctuous dippable substance. Depending on the ingredients you use, the chickpea flavour is there in the background but it’s seriously addictive stuff. I’ve been dipping into this by the spoonful. Slightly less creamy than regular aioli but no compromise. I love the fact it uses something that would normally go down the sink too.
Easy vegan garlic mayo or Aquafaba aioli (for true garlic lovers)
- 1 tablespoon fresh juice lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (or to taste)
- 45ml liquid from a can of chickpeas
- 1 medium clove garlic, chopped finely
- 180ml vegetable oil (I used cold-pressed rapeseed oil)
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place all the ingredients except the oil and seasoning in a jug or beaker and blitz until combined with a stick (immersion) blender. Keep the blender running and add the oil fairly slowly until the mixture turns thick and glossy like mayonnaise. Taste and stir in salt and pepper as required.
It really does transform into thick mayo before your eyes, quite magically. The rapeseed oil in mine gives it a beautiful yellow colour. This packs quite a punch so halve the garlic if you are planning on doing anything intimate (or make sure you both eat it).
I’d love to hear about other types of garlic. It’s become one of those monoculture crops that we only see the same type of. Surely there must be a whole range of varieties somewhere. And have you ever tried growing it? Do let me know….
If we’re thinking about summery citrus things, let’s talk about Cointreau. It’s that forgotten bottle at the back of your drinks cupboard that gets whipped out to make a Margarita. It might get dusted off again at Christmas when it’s an awesome soaking ingredient for mince pie fillings or dashed into cranberry sauce (it’s super delicious with cranberries). But, if you’re like me, it languishes unloved for the rest of the year.
What exactly is Cointreau anyway? It’s a brand of triple sec and distilled from sugar beet, sweet and bitter oranges peels that was first made by the Cointreau brothers in the Loire in 1875; the exact recipe is a closely guarded secret. Why Cointreau over other brands? They claim it has ‘the highest amount of essential oils and the lowest amount of added sugar’. Is it the same as Grand Marnier? Nope – that’s made from aged cognac infused with bitter orange peel and is sweeter, heavier and less cleanly orange in taste.
So stepping out with Hazel at 6am this morning, I felt the full ‘open the oven door’ effect as 36 C enveloped us while we pottered round the streets. Only something cool, long and refreshing will do right now, after 6pm obviously. The classic Cointreau Fizz is a double measure of Cointreau with the juice of half a lime, topped up with about 100 ml of soda or sparkling water. Here’s my Middle Eastern, gin-loving riff on that.
Looking for a summer alternative to cranberries I settled on pomegranates. I’ll admit that I tried using pomegranate molasses but it sinks to the bottom of the cocktail shaker in a sticky blob. I think you’d have to dissolve some in boiling water and let it cool if trying this route. The light brown colour it imparts is not as attractive either. The ice cubes are easy – these are made in an oversized mould I got from Amazon.uk. Put a layer of seeds in (or lime slices) and fill up with water to one-third. Freeze and repeat two more times.
There are two ways you can go with this cocktail: sweet or bitter. We had a cocktail making session on elder teen’s last night before leaving us to return to the UK. She came up with most of this recipe and shares my bitter-loving taste buds. Veggie teen liked the sweeter version using grenadine, “it’s like an alcoholic Shirley Temple, and that’s a good thing.” The rosemary and lime peels add another layer of aromatic bitterness, the gin heady, citrus freshness. The bitters just take it to another level – Angostura is fine but orange is better. We can buy fresh pomegranate juice alongside the freshly squeezed orange juice here in Dubai but you can make your own quite easily if you have a blender and a sieve. The quantity here is for one glassful but you could easily multiply it and make a jugful for a crowd.
Pomegranate Cointreau fizz
- 1/2 fresh lime
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- 25ml Cointreau (1 measure)
- 25ml gin (I used Sacred Oris which I think is a limited edition)
- 25ml grenadine or 50ml of fresh pomegranate juice
- A dash of orange bitters.
- Tonic water
Squeeze the lime juice into a cocktail shaker then put in the peel along with the sprig of fresh rosemary. Add the Cointreau and lightly muddle (you can use the end of a rolling pin for this). Measure in the gin and pomegranate (juice or syrup). Shake with ice and strain into a long, tall glass over fresh ice. Add a dash of orange bitters and stir. Top up with tonic water.
Whatever the weather where you are in the world, get your sunglasses out, pour yourself one of these, put on DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, kick back and quote Frank Sinatra… who said (apparently):
“Orange is the happiest colour.”
Thanks to Cointreau for sending me a hamper packed with good things to experiment with.
Creative challenge to design some interesting flavour combinations with @cointreau_officiel Mind whirring right now and keep scribbling down ingredients, mixtures and garnishes. What would you like to pair with Cointreau? Off to Moscow tomorrow so stay tuned for when I'm back to see what's created. 🍸 #cointreau #creativecrew #dreamdarecreate
Check out what other people are doing by following the hashtags (above). I just love what my friend Sarah has created especially this cocktail made with custard.
This is getting me in the mood for another change of scene as I’m off to the UK next week. I’ll be getting reacquainted with my hiking boots, clouds, umbrellas and drinking tap water. Find me on Snapchat and Instagram if you want to join me for country walks, cosy pubs, farmers’ markets and cups of tea.
Are you traveling during July and August? Drop me a line below – I’d love to know.
What was the first thing you ever did in the kitchen? I’d like to say my first tentative steps into cooking were scrambling eggs or stirring a risotto, but it was far less auspicious. The pre-school memory of standing on a chair next to our formica kitchen table helping to make custard is very clear in my mind. It didn’t involve eggs or cream but a little paper sachet from a brightly coloured box marked Birds. My job was to tip some light orange powder from the sachet into a jug, add a spoonful of sugar and a splash of milk. With a spoon, I molded these elements into a bright orange paste, making sure there were no lumps. Meanwhile milk was heating on the stove. As soon as it boiled and started to creep rapidly up the sides of the pan, my Mum would snatch it away and pour it onto my paste, stirring all the time. Magically, a jug of steaming, yellow custard was the result which cooled to thick pouring consistency with a skin (which when my sister came along used to fight me for). We ate custard on an almost daily basis as pudding (we never called it dessert) was always served after ‘tea’ (our main evening meal).
This early processed convenience food was Bird’s Custard was first formulated and first cooked by Alfred Bird in 1837, because his wife was allergic to eggs the key ingredient used to thicken traditional custard.
A few weeks ago I spent a few hours with Jason Atherton, Tristan Farmer and the chefs of Marina Social. Jason first set foot in Dubai as Executive Chef for Gordon Ramsay’s Verre (now Table 9); after launching many other projects with the Ramsay Group he left to set up his own restaurants, earning a Michelin star for Pollen Street Social. At the last count he has seven restaurants in London, in addition to setting up others in New York, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Australia and, Marina Social in Dubai. His next to open will be on Cebu, the island in the Philippines where his wife Irha comes from.
The food is quite casual at Marina Social but a great deal of care goes into its preparation. We learned the secret of their slow-prove pizza dough and how to make tarte tatin without the pastry going soggy. Our reward for all that concentration and hands on cooking was to sit down for a late lunch. One of the desserts was a show-stopping rhubarb souffle with ‘Bird’s Custard’ poured into the middle.
The vanilla-flecked yellow stuff in a Bird’s custard jug tasted remarkably like a luxurious version of the packet stuff, which I presume is their aim. You won’t be surprised that this was the recipe I begged for. I would put a little less sugar but that’s my taste. They specify Italian eggs for the intense yellow of the yolks; I think the free range ones I get from local farms will do the job.
If you are put off making custard because you think it might split, this could be the recipe for you. Adding a bit of cornflour makes it more stable.
Here’s Jason’s advice for making English-style custard – although he says to add the cornflour after heating and then putting it through a sieve which is different from the recipe supplied below:
Marina Social Birds Custard
- 350 ml double cream
- 80g (approx. 4) Italian egg yolks
- 60g caster sugar
- 3g cornflour
- 1 vanilla pod
Pour the double cream into a pan. Split open the vanilla pod and, with the tip of a knife, scrape the seeds into the liquid and bring slowly to almost boiling point.
While the cream is heating, beat the sugar, egg yolks and cornflour together in a heat-proof bowl. When the cream is scalding hot and about to boil, pour it in a stream into the bowl while beating vigorously with a whisk. Tip the custard back into the saucepan and stir over a very low heat until the mixture coats the back of a spoon (approximately 75C). Do not let the custard boil, otherwise, it will curdle.
Remove from heat and place over an ice bath to cool.
Do you ever make custard from scratch? What is your first memory of cooking?