Tag Archives: cocktails

Gin and sausages in south London

7 Jul

Little Bird bottleLittle Bird signLittle Bird cocktails
By Andrea McVeigh

Both gin and south London are having a bit of a moment right now.  The city’s skyline south of the river was transformed when The Shard was completed in 2012 and when it opened to the public earlier this year, tourists started traipsing over London Bridge to Southwark.

With gin, the rise in boutique and craft distillers has helped to make it the trendy tipple du jour, but its growing popularity also rests on the fact that the big brands have been busy sponsoring TV programmes, festivals and vintage club nights and increasing its visibility.

So when two trends collide, the result, in this case, is one of the best little drinking spots in London.  The Saturday market at The Ropewalk at Maltby Street (www.maltby.st) in Bermondsey has been luring foodies away from Borough Market thanks to treats such as artisan chocolates and pulled pork brioches, seafood sliders and Monty’s Deli’s Jewish soul food.

With Union Jacks fluttering in the summer breeze and bunting hanging overhead, it’s the hipster in-the-know alternative to Borough Market’s mainstream touristy vibe.

If Maltby Street’s Ropewalk had an official drink, it would be Little Bird Gin.  On Saturdays, 11am somehow doesn’t seem too early to be sitting at an outside table, sipping a gin cocktail from mix-and-match vintage glasses at Little Bird’s pop-up bar.

Sharp yet smooth, this London Dry Gin – among other things, a London Gin doesn’t contain artificial colouring – has been distilled in small batches in London using botanicals such as grapefruit and orange to give it a clean and more rounded taste.

The fun lasts until the gin runs out, and you can choose from cocktails such as the divine Early Bird Martini (Little Bird, Seville orange marmalade, orange liqueur) or the refreshing A Bird on the Field (gin, London Fields Hackney Hopster beer, honey & ginger).

As well as picking up a bottle to bring home with you, a few stalls down from Little Bird’s bar you can find the guys from Honourable Sausages and their gin & ginger snorkers, made from rare breed, free range pork and Little Bird.

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Dawa, ox testicles and crocodile in Kenya

29 Nov

By Andrea McVeigh

Guinness goes with Irish stew; coffee goes with croissants and red wine goes with steak.  But what should you drink when you’re chowing down on crocodile, ostrich and ox testicles?  Dawa, as it turns out, the national cocktail of Kenya.

Vegetarians, look away now…

We were in the world-famous Carnivore restaurant in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi (there’s one in Johannesburg too).  Open since 1980, it’s renowned for its speciality meats – whole joints of lamb, pork, beef, ribs, sausages, chicken and kidneys roasted on traditional Masai swords over huge charcoal pits.

It’s a moveable feast, with waiters coming to your table to slice off morsels of whatever takes your fancy – they only stop when you finally admit defeat and lower the Carnivore flag on your table.  But despite the fleshy feast that it’s famous for, Carnivore does a pretty great vegetarian menu too.

Some might balk at the idea of crocodile, ox balls and ostrich, but it’s these exotic meats that tickle many tastebuds and prove to be the big draw.  It’s not a habit that’s exclusive to Africa either.  In north America, Rocky Mountain Oysters are bull calf testicles, usually deep-fried and served with a dipping sauce. In Spain, Argentina and some parts of Mexico, they’re given the slang name of huevos de toro (bull’s eggs).  But no such euphemisms exist at Carnivore, where they’re on the menu as plain old ox balls.

So what do ox testicles taste like?  They have a texture like pâté and taste just a little bit salty; exactly as you would expect, had you ever given the matter any thought.

As for the famous ‘tastes like chicken’ sobriquet, that rests with crocodile.  What does crocodile taste like?  A sort of fishy, almost citrussy, chicken-like meat actually.

A cold Kenyan Tusker beer goes down well with pretty much anything, but the speciality at Carnivore is the Dawa cocktail (its name translates as medicine or ‘magic potion’ in Swahili).  Based on the Brazilian Caipirinha and subsequently introduced into Kenya and adapted, it’s ‘Hakuna Matata’ (the Swahili phrase for ‘there are no worries’) in a glass.

Recipes vary slightly, in terms of measures and quantities, but they’re all based around the same ingredients.

DAWA COCKTAIL RECIPE:
vodka (one or two shots depending on how strong you like your cocktails)
two lime quarters unpeeled
a teaspoon of sugar
honey
crushed ice

Pour the vodka, honey and sugar into a whisky glass and add the lime quarters and crushed ice.  Use a muddler or honey stick to crush all the ingredients together really well.  The key is to mush the ingredients together as much as possible and swirl the mixture until the honey has blended well too.

Pisco Sours and Ceviche on Easter Island

22 Aug

By Patric Baird

What do you do when you arrive on Easter Island, having flown for almost 24 hours from the UK?  Have a lie down? Head straight for the iconic statues which are featured all around the island? Or, as I did, go into town for a much anticipated lunchtime cocktail, namely Chile’s national alcoholic beverage, a pisco sour.

Actually there’s some dispute as to whether Chile or its neighbour Peru have ownership of this sub-tropical tipple;  they do it differently anyway, with the Peruvian version containing egg white, sugar syrup and angostura bitters, whereas the Chilean version is a simpler mix of the spirit pisco, sugar and lime (or lemon) juice.

To confuse things even further, both countries have their own version of the spirit itself, although maybe only an expert could distinguish the subtle nuances in taste between each of the South American country’s offering.  There’s no denying that Chile has the best bottle – one of the country’s biggest manufacturer is Capel and their Pisco Reservado comes in a black glass bottle, shaped like one of Easter Island’s statues.

So what is pisco and why the odd name?  It’s basically a brandy made from grapes, much like its Greek cousin, grappa, sweet tasting and ranging in colour between almost clear to a dark yellow hue, depending on the quality and strength of the liquor.  Some say the name comes from the Peruvian town of Pisco (probably the most likely explanation), but Chile disputes this (not surprisingly), claiming that the word pisco is of Quechua origin and means ‘bird’.

There’s another school of thought which suggests the word pisco means a clay pot, so make your own mind up on that one.  More importantly, how does it taste?  On its own, not much to write home about but, when turned into a pisco sour, it has a unique and delicious taste and, as it turned out, the perfect pairing for that other South American staple, ceviche.

The Japanese don’t have a monopoly on raw fish, although ceviche, which is found in most coastal regions of the continent, as well as in Central America and as far west as Polynesia, is usually ‘cooked’ by marinating the raw seafood in a mixture of citrus juice, chilli and seasonings.   Each region has its own particular style, with mainland Chile and Easter Island favouring fillets of halibut, or the native and delightfully-named Patagonian toothfish, marinated in lime or grapefruit juice, flavoured with garlic, red chilli peppers, mint and coriander.  Combined with a refreshing pisco sour, the zing of a well-made ceviche proved to be the perfect antidote to seemingly incurable jet lag and was by far the best thing about Easter Island – until I got my first glimpse of those amazing statues, that is.

Got (camel) milk?

26 Mar

Got (camel) milk?

By Andrea McVeigh

Camelicious brand camel milk, from Sharjah, UAE

“We are on a mission; what is our mission?” said my tour guide, Asad.

“Mission impossible?” I volunteered.

“No, it’s not impossible, this is possible, just tricky.  Let’s go,” Asad urged as we drew up outside Sharjah’s central souk. “Let’s find a camel.”

We didn’t need to find a camel, just a supermarket.  We were on the hunt for camel milk.

Sharjah – one of the United Arab Emirates’ seven emirate states and a neighbour of Dubai – is a dry country which means the sale of alcohol is forbidden.  Non-alcoholic cocktails are abundant, and very well-received in the dry Arabian heat, but I wanted to try something I couldn’t get at home.  And camel milk wasn’t anything I could find in my local branch of Tesco.

Our mission had been joked about and talked about the previous day.  It was proving more difficult than Asad expected.  Sod’s law was proving that when you go to look for something you can’t actually find it.  The first supermarket we tried only had deliveries of it twice a week, and the day we arrived wasn’t one of them.

Eventually though, Asad turned up at my hotel with two plastic bottles of Camelicious camel milk.  And I don’t think he had to resort to milking a camel for them either.

It looked like milk, but this wasn’t like the semi-skimmed liquid I was used to.  It’s less fatty than cow’s milk, so it’s popular among people with high cholesterol and on a health kick.

The lower fat content also gives it a taste and consistency a bit like skimmed milk, but with a strong aftertaste – not exactly bitter, but sharp.

I drank it, but I couldn’t get the image of camel udder out of my mind – not exactly the most pleasant of pictures.  I drank, not so much with gusto, but out of politeness.  So what does it taste like?  Some say it’s mildly salty, but I didn’t get that, just a sharp aftertaste a bit like the stronger brands of soy milk.

I didn’t hate it, but I don’t know if I’d have it again.  But if it’s good enough to have sustained the Bedouin nomads for thousands of years, who am I to start getting the, er, hump in a taste test?

So could it prove popular in Europe or America?  Every few years the Press run stories that suggest it could be the newest superfood – high in potassium, iron and zinc as well as vitamins C and B, and low in cholesterol.

In July 2010 the BBC reported that the UAE has been pushing for the EU to accept imports from its camel farms.

Camel milk chocolate is also being produced in the UAE.  So move over Daisy – Humphrey the camel could soon be taking your place on supermarket shelves.

But why stop at chocolate?  Camel milk ice cream, milkshakes, smoothies, yogurts, cheese and butter could all benefit from the Camelicious treatment.

Now who’s for a cuppa?  One hump or two?

Pisang Ambon and Patat Mayonnaise in Amsterdam

25 Nov

By Andrea McVeigh

“Trust me, it’s what the locals drink,” said my friend Sean, as he ordered us two Pisang Ambon with orange juice – a staple in Dutch bars in much the same way we’d drink vodka and orange in the UK and Ireland.

Amsterdam may be famous for its doobie-tooting tourists and space cake- selling coffee shops, but we’d staggered along to a gay bar near Dam Square, fuelled not on cannabis but on alcohol alone.

Don’t ask me exactly where the bar was or what it was called.  We may not have been on the wacky baccy but, as they say, if you can remember Amsterdam then you weren’t really there.

Sean worked in the airline industry and benefited from the perks of the job, in this case a fridge full of the mini champagne bottles usually served to business class passengers, which we drank on the tram from his apartment into the city centre.

It wasn’t quite a case of ‘I liked it so much I bought the company’, but I did buy a bottle of Pisang Ambon to bring home from the trip.  And I’ve been drinking it ever since, even creating my own cocktail around it – the Sans Souci.

This banana-flavour Dutch liqueur (pisang is Indonesian/Malay for banana while Ambon is the name of a former Dutch colony) is also bright green, so there’s no mistaking it, even when mixed with OJ.

As for what best offers sustenance after a boozy night out in Amsterdam’s gay bars, I’d discovered Dutch street food years ago as a child, on a family holiday to stay with an aunt who lived in Den Haag/The Hague.  My eyes were opened to the most exotic use of potatoes I’d ever come across – patat met (with) mayonnaise, served in a sturdy paper cone.  A CONE!

These tasty fat chips – patat frites – come topped with a dollop of creamy yellowy mayonnaise, best eaten with your fingers or the little coloured plastic pronged forks provided, on a late summer evening as the crepuscular chill that signifies night-time slowly advances.  Back in the late 1970s, my family, struggling with the Dutch language, dispensed with the ‘met’ and took a liking to our ‘patat mayonnaise’.

Most cultures, I later learnt, have their own way of doing chips.

The Americans have skinny, salty French Fries.  The Scottish, in particular those in Edinburgh – arguably only those in Edinburgh – favour the flavour of chips with salt and sauce (a mix of brown sauce and vinegar).  In Ireland and the rest of the UK and it’s chips with salt and vinegar.

In Holland, you can opt for ‘patat zonder (fries without) mayonnaise’ but really, what sort of patat-hating, anti-gourmand would skip the mayo?

For some unknown reason, in my family we were unable to get our Celtic tongues around zonder, and took to calling it ‘patat nee (no) mayonnaise’, on the grounds that nee even sounded a bit like no.  The Dutch, being kind, generous, civilised people, ignored our crude and sloppy translations and luckily recognised fellow-potato lovers, and served us anyway.

As for my own Pisang Ambom cocktail creation, it was named after a street my husband and I used to live in when we were still boyfriend and girlfriend: the exotically-named (for Northern Ireland) Sans Souci Park.

Translated, sans souci means ‘without care’, or carefree; so the cocktail is perfectly named considering it was thrown together without much care, based on what alcohol was close to hand at the time.  However, the results, even if I do say so myself – and I do – are delicious.  And after a few Sans Soucis we do feel decidedly carefree.

It came about, like all the best concoctions I think, by raiding the drinks cupboard and pouring in varying measures of whatever we had that looked vaguely suitable.  The result, in my humble opinion, was a triumph that we still drink, and serve up to friends at parties, to this day.

I’m not a stickler for recipes and so the rules are there to be broken.  Below you’ll find my favourite combination of ingredients, but feel free to substitute at will – I sometimes add lychee liqueur if we have any in the house.

Andrea’s signature cocktail: the SANS SOUCI

one shot of Pisang Ambon
one shot peach schnapps
one shot malibu
one shot vodka
one shot lychee liqueur (optional)
orange juice to flavour

Serve in any glass you want (I favour a long, tall straight glass with a straw and ice cubes).  Drink.  Enjoy.