Tag Archives: Europe

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.

Hot beer, Polish dumpling and plums in Krakow

7 Mar

Image

By Andrea McVeigh

If necessity is the mother of invention, then freezing cold winters in Poland necessarily gave birth to mulled beer.  Not wine (although there’s plenty of that too) but beer.

I’ve long been a fan of mulled or gluhwein, that staple of Christmas markets in northern European Medieval capitals.  But hot beer was a new one to me.  We discovered it in arty, cultural Kraków (also known as Cracow or Krakow) Poland’s second largest city after its capital, Warsaw, and located in the south of the country.

Hot beer, or grzane piwo as it’s called, is a staple of the Polish winter, something to not just delight tourists beating a path around the streets of the Old Town, but essential to the survival of its residents.  It’s not just warm beer, of the sort served in British pubs in the 1970s, but mulled beer – a brew that has been heated and infused with cloves and cinnamon plus other spices and herbs such as nutmeg and either fresh ginger or ginger syrup, sweetened with honey or sugar.  It’s considered good for you too – there are tracts dating back to the 17th century which enthuse about the healthy properties of a warm frothy tankard of the stuff.

While the barrel-shaped huts in the main square’s Christmas Market served mulled wine (the perfect accompaniment to a large pork knuckle or Polish dumpling, with the fresh air acting as a powerful aperitif) we found the beer in several restaurants including the Czech restaurant Ceska Chodba – yes, we went to Poland and, tempted by the rich roasted goose, ended up eating in a Czech restaurant.

Mulled beer turned out to be the perfect accompaniment to a festive winter goose, served with a mushroom and prune sauce along with nutty buckwheat groats (the Cerna Hora photo shows the brand of Czech beer that was served warm/mulled in the restaurant).

In Poland, prunes are big, as are plums – in popularity and ubiquity, if not necessarily size – and, for a nation that takes the time to mull its beer, it’s unsurprising that the Polish have thrown their considerable brewing expertise into creating a wide and varied selection of beers.

You can find beer with ginger (not, you will note, ginger beer, but actual beer with the addition of ginger), alongside the plum beer and honey beer which you can find in off-licences and liquor stores (you’ll recognise them from the giant Alkohole signs outside) as well as supermarkets.

The other hot alcoholic beverage we tried was mead (honey wine), which we found in a Medieval-themed restaurant – possibly making us the first people to get mead hangovers since 1485.

Bellinis and Focaccia in Venice

6 Jun

We’d had Bellinis before, but never in Venice, home of Harry’s Bar, the  place where the cocktail was invented.  We didn’t really have the money to afford Harry’s Bar prices, but then we couldn’t afford not to either.

Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of Harry’s Bar, first created this sweet, bubbly mix of peach puree and sparkling wine (traditionally Prosecco – which, in sparkling wine terms is to Italy what Cava is to Spain) sometime between 1934 and 1948 we were told.  The dates are a bit vague, but then maybe he celebrated his invention with a 14-year Bellini bender?

Inside the bar – where Ernest Hemmingway used to hang out, as did Bogart and Bacall – it’s all butterscotch hues and polished wood, elegantly faded, like many of its customers.

Star-struck, we spotted the actor Kenneth Branagh, born in Belfast, our home city.  If it’s good enough for Hamlet…

The Bellinis were delightful, but set up behind the bar in a production line ready to be topped off by the fizz, so we didn’t feel particularly special or decadent.  But then, the bar is on the tourist trail, and it’s hard to recreate the allure of 1930s Italy for 21st century backpackers and weekend wanderers.

Tourists are often told to avoid Venice in the summer, when it’s not so much a case of see Venice and die, as smell Venice and die, as the heat added to stale water in the canals is said to create a signature aroma.  It’s a hotly debated topic, with some saying its reeky reputation is a thing of the past, now that the canals have been cleaned up.

Our reason for choosing winter over summer isn’t to do with odour at all, but with ambience.

In winter there’s a eerie mist that settles over the canals and on our gondola ride (expensive, but when in Rome…or Venice, and all that) we found ourselves enveloped in an atmospheric haze.

Earlier that winter we’d stuck a pin in a map and come December 31 we found ourselves in St Mark’s Square for some very noisy impromptu fireworks amid a throng of tourists and locals chanting the countdown to the New Year.

Strolling back to our B&B at 2am we had the inevitable munchies, brought on by cheap Prosecco and an over-exuberance when it came to jumping up and down hugging strangers at the stroke of midnight.  We needed food.  So did everyone else it seemed.

The narrow cobbled alleys fanning out from St Mark’s Square boasted one sole open late-night bakery offering takeaway snacks, its lights drawing the revellers like ravenous moths to a particularly bountiful culinary flame.

We queued – and queued and queued – until we counted out the remains of our Euros and handed them over, to be presented with one of the best meals of our lives – mozzarella and sliced tomatoes, with ham and lettuce,  on fresh white focaccia bread.  Few things before or after have tasted so good.

Sometimes it’s not what you eat, it’s also when and where you eat it that counts.

The classic Bellini cocktail recipe:

2 parts dry sparkling wine (usually Prosecco)
1 part fresh peach purée
Pour the puree into a chilled flute and slowly top with sparkling wine.

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.

ABOUT US

1 Sep

where we’re from

We are Patric Baird and Andrea McVeigh and we love travel, we love food and we love drink – and we love it when all three of these things are combined!

We’re married to each other, based in both London and Belfast, with a wealth of  passport stamps under our ever-expanding belts.

We’ll be writing about the places, people, food and drink we discover on our adventures.  Come on and join us y’all – the drinks are on us!