Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Nilgiri Black from India's Blue Mountains

Last month, I attended the launch of JING's Coonoor Estate Nilgiri Black tea, hosted by The Cinnamon Club.

I'd never heard of Nilgiri before so was curious to taste and learn more about this lesser-known Indian tea.


David Hepburn, who introduced me to a range of Jing oolong and puerh teas a few months ago, told us about his April visit to Tamil Nadu in Southern India and the resulting addition to Jing's product range.

David Hepburn

Jing were looking for a producer creating a high-quality, loose, whole-leaf tea that expresses the best characteristics of Nilgiri tea – a rich fragrance and full body.

Jing Nilgiri 1
image from Jing's presentation

The Coonoor Estate is located in 'The Nilgiris', which literally translates to 'Blue Mountains', named for a local shrub that blossoms once every twelve years, covering the hillsides in purple-blue flowers. The region offers a perfect climate for tea growing, but perhaps its teas have been undervalued – Nilgiri teas have predominantly been used in blends and teabags.

Jing Nilgiri 2
image from Jing's presentation

The Coonoor Estate tea plants grow in a 46-acre organic-certified plantation at an elevation of 6,500 feet. Producer, Indi Khanna, has a wealth of experience and knowledge and manages a highly skilled team working in a state-of-the-art purpose-built factory. We see pictures; it looks amazing!


The leaves of the resulting tea are exceptionally large and produce a wonderfully fragrant and rich-yet-light black tea with an appealing amber colour.


David recommends brewing a generous tablespoon or so of the tea for between two and two and a half minutes, though says it can be brewed a little stronger if you prefer.


The scent has hints of citrus; the taste is toffee rich. It's delicious!

In the last couple of years, I've drunk far less black tea than I used to and far more oolong – I love it's combination of freshness and richness and the merest hint of smokiness.

So it is genuinely quite a revelation to taste a black that so forcibly tempts me back to the world of black teas!
I figured I'd find it decent enough, but I really didn't expect to fall in love with it.

Lucky me, then, that guests are sent off with goodie bags containing the Nilgiri Black as well as a fragrant Earl Grey. I can also pick up more for £7.00 a 50 gram pack.

One of the tea-based cocktails served during the evening; it was delicious but I can't remember what it was

Whilst the oolongs and puerhs I tried with David a few months ago didn't make a strong impression, this Nilgiri Black is really rather special and one I'm very happy to recommend.


Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Kavey Eats, Pete Drinks: Chocolate and Whisky

Our first opportunity to attend a blogger review event together came in the form of an invitation from The Macallan to attend a special chocolate and whisky tasting featuring their whiskies paired with Artisan du Chocolat chocolate.

But we couldn't go! I was quite disappointed, let me tell you and Pete had a few choice words to say about it too!

He's been a fan of The Macallan for quite some time, and remembers fondly a couple of bottles from their Travel/ Decades series, no longer available but blended to emulate the styles and tastes of their whiskies through the twenties, thirties, forties and fifties.


And I, of course, am a fan of Artisan du Chocolat!

But the kind folks at We Are Social, who look after social media for The Macallan, took pity and invited Pete and I to a private tasting session in their offices instead.


Lucky us!

Whilst we didn't have Toby Shellard from The Macallan or Artisan's Gerard Coleman on hand to guide us, we did have the lovely Ingrid Thorpe (a bit of a whisky aficionado, or should that be addict?) and the handsome Mauricio Samayoa.

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First of all, they explained why The Macallan and Artisan du Chocolat had teamed up in this way.

The Macallan are, so we were told, very particular about sourcing their barley and their wood. Very particular indeed. They believe that wood accounts for much of the flavour in a finished whisky and claim to spend 40% more on their barrels than any other whisky brand. Their "Master of Wood", George Espie, is responsible for sourcing and maintaining these barrels and The Macallan are known for their use of sherry oak barrels (barrels formerly used for Oloroso sherry).

They also have the smallest stills in Speyside – they refer to them as their "curiously small stills". They take only 16% of the new make spirit, what they call "the best cut", which is then transferred into wooden barrels for maturation into whisky.

Ingrid explains how The Macallan felt that Artisan du Chocolat's Gerard Coleman showed the same commitment to careful sourcing in the chocolate world and hence approached him for his suggestions about pairing his chocolate with their whiskies.

The first whisky we try is the 15 Years Old Fine Oak. It's triple cask matured in both Spanish and American oak.

"Why is it relevant that the oak is American?" I ask.

Apparently, because of our changeable seasons in Europe, the rings in our oak are also more variable and the wood itself is more porous. American oak is grown in regions with a more consistent climate which results in a more even, less porous wood.

Ingrid also explains that, when making barrels for sherry, in Europe, the inside is only very lightly charred. When making barrels for American bourbon, the insides of the barrels are charred much more heavily. This caramelises more of the sugars naturally present in the wood and has a resulting impact on the flavours of drinks matured in the barrels.

Fine Oak is matured in both the Spanish sherry and American bourbon barrels. Every barrel imparts subtly different flavour characteristics to the whisky. Balancing which barrels to use and for how long is all part of Bob Delgarno's job, as The Macallan's whisky maker, he is responsible for ensuring a consistent quality and character for the whisky year after year.

This particular whisky is popular with women drinkers who like the light, vanilla and citrus notes.

Pete nods in appreciation. I think it tastes like eating garden.

We try the whisky with three Artisan bars – Jamaican Milk, Ginger and Lemongrass (milk) and Orchid and Orange Blossom (dark).

For me the Jamaican Milk brings out the sweetness in the whisky and balances the smokiness. The Ginger and Lemongrass, unsurprisingly, brings out the citrus notes. And, oddly, the Orchid and Orange Blossom draws out some hidden spiciness and makes the whisky taste like chilli! On it's own, I like the Orchid and Orange Blossom chocolate a lot but with the whisky, it doesn't work at all for me.

Pete also thinks the Jamaican Milk is the best match as it allows the whisky to retain it's original character most faithfully.

Next, we try 12 Years Old Sherry Oak.

This is a much darker spirit, aged solely in casks from Jerez in Northern Spain.

An individual cask displays it's characteristics very early on. The Macallan have a spreadsheet with notes on every single cask that helps them decide which ones are suited to which final products. When the whiskies are mature, a process called marrying and vatting occurs – 12 year olds from different barrels are blended, their alcohol level is set and then they are bottled.

I find I need water with this one. With that little added loosener, I clearly detect raisins and spices. Ingrid agrees and describes it as "an enormous Christmas cake of a whisky". It reminds me of my much-loved Pedro Ximinez.

The Mole Poblano (chilli) bar is an interesting match. It's very nutty and smoky and that really echoes the whisky very well. Both Pete and I agree that the two complement each other strongly.

We also try the Sherry Oak with the Tonka bar. Tonka is a South American bean – it has the flavour of citrus without the usual citrus tang. Pete isn't a fan of the bar at all, disliking the strange aftertaste. I don't mind the bar on it's own but find it an unpleasant and jarring mismatch with the whisky.

I decide to also try the Sherry Oak with the Orchid and Orange Blossom and like it a lot – the chocolate mutes the spiciness of the whisky but brings out it's sweetness – the element I most like.

For our third whisky we move on to Select Oak from The 1824 Collection.

Age isn't specified as the idea here is to focus on the flavour imparted by the oak. It's all about finding the best casks to add the very best characteristics of oak.

It has a hint of vanilla and a distinct creaminess, which is an odd thing to say about a whisky, but there it is.

Almond Milk is, as you might expect, a rich, creamy, nutty chocolate and definitely emphasises that sweet, creaminess in the whisky. This is, hands down, my favourite pairing, I think it's fantastic. And I don't really like whisky!

Incidentally, Ingrid tells me that, despite the packaging for this bar listing cow's milk, it is in fact made with almond milk and therefore, it's a vegan bar. (Perhaps the packaging has been corrected by now; this tasting session happened a couple of months ago).

The Tonka pairs a little better with the Select Oak than it did with the Sherry Oak but not enough to make us love it.

We have one more whisky to taste – The Macallan 18 Years Old.

This is probably The Macallan's signature whisky, or at least, the one that made them famous.

My notes tell me I found it "proper sweet" (a good thing) and "smoky". Pete too declared it his favourite of the four.

This whisky was so good that Pete refused at first to "distract the palate" with anymore chocolate but relented and tried some pairings. To my surprise, as he doesn't like almonds or almond-flavoured products, he felt Almond Milk to be the best match, as did I.

The whole tasting session was an interesting experience, not least because I really never imagined that the different chocolates would have such an impact on how the whisky tasted. Which is daft, really, given the word count expended on discussing food and drink matches for wine, and even beer!

I'd encourage anyone who found this interesting to assemble a gang of friends with which to share the costs and try some whisky and chocolate pairings of your own!


Monday, 27 September 2010

Meet A Slice Of Cherry Pie

Even after a year and a half blogging, I still feel like a newbie and look to long-standing, talented and successful bloggers for inspiration and advice. Foremost in that list is the lovely Julia Parsons, creator of A Slice Of Cherry Pie.

Blogging since 2006, Julia has created a fantastic resource of recipes, many of which will be featuring in her first book, also called A Slice Of Cherry Pie, coming out this autumn. She has contributed to magazine and newspaper features and her recipes already appear in at least one cookery book on my bookshelf.

Julia also founded the UK Food Bloggers Association to give bloggers old and new a place to meet and talk, to ask questions and share advice and to discuss all manner of food blogging topics.

I first met Julia at the UKFBA Stall at the Covent Garden Real Food Market last summer – a fantastic experience for me – and we've since met again at blogger events in London.

Recently, Julia e-interviewed me for her new Community feature where she showcases a range of British food blogs. I was absolutely honoured to be included (read my feature here) and cheekily asked Julia if she'd answer the same questions in return, for me to share with you here on Kavey Eats.

Over to Julia!

Name: Julia Parsons
Blogging since: 2006
Location: London

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I live in the outskirts of London with my husband, Rob, who I’ve been married to for 6 wonderful years. When we met I had two little Lhasa Apso dogs and so it was a case of love me, love my dogs. Fortunately, Rob grew up with dogs, albeit somewhat larger ones than mine, and so this ultimatum didn’t scare him off! The dogs lived to ripe old ages and are sadly no longer with us but last year we adopted a 9 year old Labrador, Ben, who’s a big, bounding joy!

As a child I loved creative and artistic activities - writing stories; drawing and painting; taking part in plays – and as I developed a love of cooking in my twenties when I moved into my own home I found a way of combining those loves through food writing, blogging and photography. When I started writing about food and creating recipes something really connected in me and it has become an integral part of my life ever since.

How would you describe your blog?

My blog is a place where I can share this part of my life with others, where I can write about food, the recipes I create, the places I visit, and connect with people all over the world who enjoy food as much as I do.

I like to think of my blog as homely and welcoming, and I love that I visitors come from all over the world. It’s great when I receive lovely emails and messages from people telling me how they get to see places in Britain through my blog and my eyes that they otherwise wouldn’t.

Where do you find inspiration for your cooking and blogging?

Inspiration comes from everywhere; food is so much a part of my life that I find inspiration wherever I go. My cooking is very much influenced by the weather and the changing seasons; I feel very much in tune with the elements.

I particularly love this time of year, as the season changes from summer to autumn. Autumn is an incredibly rich and abundant season and there’s so much for the cook to choose from so it can be a very exciting time in the kitchen with lots of variety for the week’s meals.

What do you like the most and the least about blogging?

Blogging has had a very big and positive impact on me; much more than I ever could have imagined when I started. It’s given me a whole new direction in life and has led me to write my own cookbook, as well as enabling me to meet many great people who share my love of food.

I’ve always been fascinated by diaries and so the idea of an online diary was immediately appealing when I first came across food blogs in 2006. At the time I had already developed a love of cooking and had been collecting recipes, notes and ideas for a long time and so blogging seemed the perfect way of sharing what I was learning and also trying my hand at food writing. I wasn’t sure when I started how I would take to it but as time went on and I grew as a cook and a writer I knew I’d found something that I had a real sense of harmony with.

Despite having a background working in IT, I still find it fascinating that I can connect with so many people all over the world through the internet, and I love the interaction I have with people through my blog, and social networking tools such as Twitter and Facebook. I feel very fortunate to live in this technology driven world.
It’s so great how the blogging world has grown and gone from strength to strength here in Britain. There’s an incredibly strong sense of community with friendships developing on and off line, and there’s real recognition outside of the community for the talent that’s out there.

Like many bloggers, I only wish I had more time to spend on it, especially now that I’m writing books and getting involved in other projects, but that’s something I’m working on; I’ve recently taken a decision to move from a permanent job to contract work in order to give me more flexibility.

Do you have a favourite recipe you’d like to share?

Here is one of my favourite recipes for this time of year from my forthcoming cookbook, ‘A Slice of Cherry Pie’. In a few week’s time the pheasant season will be upon us and this is a great recipe to make the most of it. It’s very autumnal and perfect for cosy days or nights in.

Pot Roast Pheasants with Chestnuts and Mushrooms

Serves 4

olive oil
2 oven-ready pheasants
1 onion, diced
250g mushrooms, wiped clean and left whole, or roughly chopped if very large
1 tablespoon plain flour
200ml chicken stock
2 sprigs of thyme
a handful of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
250g shelled, cooked chestnuts (pre-roasted, canned or vacuum-packed)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
seasonal vegetables and potatoes, to serve
  • Heat a little olive oil in a flameproof casserole dish over a high heat then add the pheasants and brown them all over. Remove them from the dish once browned and reduce the heat down to medium.
  • Add the onion to the dish and sauté it for a minute or so then add the mushrooms. Cook the vegetables for about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour and gradually add the stock, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon. Add the herbs to the dish and season well.
  • Bring the stock up to a simmer and return the pheasants to the dish. Put on a lid and pop the dish into the oven. Add the chestnuts after the pheasants have been cooking for 40 minutes and cook them for another 20 minutes or until the pheasants are cooked through.
  • To check that the pheasants are cooked, pull on the legs to check that they have some give in them and can easily be pulled away from the body, and pierce the thigh with a skewer to make sure the juices run clear.
  • The cooking time will depend on the size of the pheasants but average sized ones should take about 1 hour.
  • Remove the pheasants from the dish. Spoon off any excess fat from the delicious cooking liquid and either serve it as it is or if you prefer it thicker, boil it on the hob to reduce it down. Serve the pheasant with the sauce and seasonal vegetables and potatoes.

Pre-order Julia's book, published by Absolute Press, from (below) or from or WHSmith.


Sunday, 26 September 2010

Pete Drinks: Thwaites Flying Shuttle


Name: Thwaites Flying Shuttle

ABV: 4.9%

Bottled/ Draft: Bottled, not conditioned

Colour: Deep, deep brown

Head: Short lived, not over fizzed.

Mouthfeel: Light, but not watery.

Taste: Nutty maltiness, sweet with not much in the way of hops. Lighter tasting than you might expect such a dark beer to be.

Comment: This is clearly my kind of beer, as my tasting notes have both "very nice" and "delicious!" scribbled across them. It's dark and sweet like a good porter, but not overly heavy, and very drinkable - if I'd had a crate instead of a bottle I can well imagine losing an evening to this beer.

It's not a light summer ale, but as a fuller, richer beer for cooler times, you couldn't do much better; it has the tastiness of a winter ale but without the "one bottle and you're out" punch.

Named for one of the key developments in weaving during the Industrial Revolution (and invented by Lancastrian, John Kay), this beer is brewed specially for Lancashire Day (which, as I'm sure you know, is on November 27th) but is available all year around.



Pete Drinks: Thwaites Very Nutty Black


Name: Thwaites Very Nutty Black

ABV: 3.9

Bottled/ Draft: Bottled, bottle conditioned.

Colour: Black, coke-like.

Head: Almost none; positively flat-looking.

Mouthfeel: Quite watery.

Taste: A strangely light, roasted malt with a slight bitterness at the end.

Comment: This is a confusing beer; in appearance it almost likes like a porter but even in this "export strength" form (it's based on their 'Nutty Black' ale) it manages to be very light at the same time as having a roasted flavour (and nose) from the chocolate malt. When you realise that 'Nutty Black' is just a new marketing name for their old Dark Mild, the lack of 'oomph' starts to make a little more sense.

There's nothing exactly *wrong* with the beer - it's perfectly drinkable and I'm a fan of milds - but at the same time, there's not much to really mark it out as special. Its lack of body isn't balanced out by the dark malts and I'm left wishing that Thwaites either pulled back a little on the roasted blackness, or had the courage of their convictions and gave it more body.



Saturday, 25 September 2010

Quilon: A Taste Of The Malabar Coast

A little skeptical about Michelin's standards after our recent meal at Holbeck Ghyll I was nonetheless curious to visit Quilon, an Indian restaurant in the heart of Westminster that I'd heard very little about.

Familiar with a wide range of Northern Indian dishes (well, I would be, wouldn't I? This is my mum's website) I know very little about the cuisine of the South-western states of the Malabar Coast, from which chef Sriram Aylur takes inspiration.

Unlike many Michelin starred chefs, Aylur doesn't seem to be interested in celebrity, so I do some googling to find out more. I learn that he gave up studying law to follow his real passion and his father's footsteps. He started cooking in his father's restaurant, working his way up to head chef at the Taj Gateway Hotel in Bangalore and launching the much-lauded Karavali restaurant. There he earned himself a reputation as one of the very top chefs in India. Just over 10 years ago, he was invited by the owner of the famous Bombay Brasserie, Mr RK Krishna Kumar, to move to London and open Quilon.

He has described his food as "authentic cooking but with a slight twist for the UK market".

It's time to find out more!

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Lunch offers the promise of a taste of Goa, Karnataka and Kerala for just £23.00 for three courses plus tea or coffee. Better still, you can select from a whopping great choice of 6 starters, 7 seafood/meat main dishes or 7 vegetarian ones or 2 thalis, 10 sides and 5 desserts!

miniatures from the Elephant Parade 2010, raising funds to save the Asian elephant from extinction in the wild

Struggling to choose from the many temptations, the restaurant manager suggests, as we've been invited to review the restaurant, that we might prefer to taste a selection of the chef's dishes in small portions. This seems a fantastic opportunity, so we mention a couple of dishes that have particularly caught our eye and leave the rest to chef.

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Now the food is taken care of, what about the drinks?

I cannot resist the temptation of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice (£7), something my grandmother used to squeeze for her children when they were poorly, and which my mum has sometimes made for me – it's a fiddly job; you can't take the easy route of blending or the bitter seeds will affect the taste. I've never found a shop-bought pomegranate juice that tastes remotely right but this is it – freshly squeezed from the fruit.

Later I order a sweet lassi (£4) and am blown away even more. So many places seem to miss the essence of a lassi – the yoghurt itself. But chef Sriram Aylur has my undying respect for his lassi alone – it has the unmistakable rich tang of home-made yoghurt. It's thick and creamy with just the right balance between sweet and tart. I'd like it to be served a little cooler, but otherwise, it's absolutely fantastic and I can't stop myself grinning and exclaiming about as I drink it!


Pete is very pleased to choose from Quilon's special beer list. Sadly more than a little sticky from the previous guests' fingers, the list is nonetheless quite an intriguing one, with some familiar names and a few he's not encountered before.

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He starts with a Kasteel Cru Rosé and moves on to a Pietra (both £4.50). We'll be posting separate reviews of these beers soon but, in summary, the former has a subtle lager taste with champagne style tiny bubbles and a pink hue whereas the latter has a distinct flavour from the chestnuts it's made with.

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Tiny popadums are served to all diners, with coconut and tomato dips. We also supplement these with the table condiments; from left to right they are ginger and tamarind, red chilli and lime and garlic, mustard seeds and oil.

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As we sit munching the little crisp breads, we take in our surroundings. I have to say, they're a little disappointing. Although I rather like the somewhat kitsch murals of gentle Malabar backwater scenes – luscious rubber plants, monkeys grooming beneath the trees, boats sailing along the water. But neither they nor the wall-mounted bromeliads manage to negate the hotel restaurant feel of the space.

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Still, it's all about the food and it's not long before we're presented with a taster of three starters to catch our attention. From left to right are dakshini pepper chicken, seafood broth and crab cakes.

Although the dakshini pepper chicken (from the lunch menu or £9 à la carte) is described as 'green pepper corn, yoghurt and chilli flavoured' the dominant flavour for me is aromatic cardamom. The chicken is extremely moist and soft and the flavours are delightful. It's served on some gentle curry sauce, which adds a nice kick.

The seafood broth (from the lunch menu or £9 à la carte) is my least favourite, though Pete's more of a fan. In the bowl are plump prawns, a slice of scallop, some soft squid and a mussel. Our waiter pours the broth over them at the table. Whilst Pete likes the light spicing in the broth I find it too bland and slightly muddy tasting.

The crab cakes (£10 from the à la carte menu) are gorgeous. The menu describes them as 'crab claw meat tossed with curry leaves, ginger and green chillies'. Certainly, the quality and sweetness of the crab meat, and it's distinctive texture, come through clearly. So much crab meat is used that the cakes only just hold together! The sweetness is balanced by a mustard sauce beneath that brings a welcome sharpness.


After the starters, all diners are served an small glass of rasam – a warm tomato, lentil, coriander and tamarind soup that tastes a little like a hot, spicy bloody mary. It's fresh and fiery but not too heavy – this is the kind of kick I'd have enjoyed in place of the seafood broth.

We're slightly overwhelmed by the number of dishes that come out next, though we remind ourselves that the idea is to try – we don't have to finish them all!


Guinea fowl masala (from the lunch menu or £17 à la carte) comes covered in what is described as a coriander, green chilli and tomato 'rug'. I can't detect any tomato but the paste reminds me of my mum's green chutney, which I adore. The guinea fowl is surprisingly soft – it's so often been tough when I've ordered it elsewhere. If you love coriander as much as I do, this is a dish you'll enjoy, but it may be a little OTT on the herb for some.

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The pistachio lamb (from the lunch menu or £17 à la carte) looks more impressive than it tastes. The green sauce is vibrant but lacks punch and I simply can't detect the flavour of pistachio at all, despite the colour. There is a lot of sauce to meat but the three pieces of meat are extremely tender. This is a very mild dish.


Two type prawns are available on the lunch menu for a £6.50 supplement, or à la carte for £10/£20 for a small or regular portion. One bread-crumbed and deep fried, the other plain, the giant prawns are served on a 'Manglorean masala'. Whilst the prawns taste great, I find them altogether too chewy – I prefer prawns to be softer and juicier. The tomatoey masala sauce beneath them is good though, especially with the paratha.


The cottage cheese and coloured peppers with lotus (from the lunch menu or £8 à la carte) is not like anything we've had before. The paneer is cut into small slivers and is firm like halloumi. I like that, though Pete expresses a preference for a softer, crumblier paneer texture. The small deep-fried kofte or balls of vegetable – presumably lotus – are fantastic. Pete rates them one of his favourite elements of the whole meal. Both cheese and kofte are lifted by the sweet crunch of peppers that have not been cooked to a mush and soft browned onions. The spicing is excellent.


The baked black cod might just be the most fantastic thing that's passed through my lips this year! The cod is as soft as silk and juicy, so juicy! And the charred edges of spice and molasses are smoky heaven. Available à la carte for £12/£24 for a small or regular portion, it's one of the few things we try that's not included in the set lunch menu. It is, we're told after enthusing about it, one of chef Sriram Aylur's signature dishes. It's a revelation; I've never had anything like it and have thought of it every single day since our visit!

Of course, black cod, you may be muttering to yourself, is a sub-Antarctic species and hardly forms a part of traditional Indian cuisine. Is this fusion? Chef Sriram Aylur's describes it rather as the "progress of food". Keen to remain grounded in his Indian roots, nonetheless he is happy to apply his own take on a traditional recipe, a take that makes use of ingredients available here in the UK.

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From the long list of accompaniments we choose a Malabar paratha and lemon rice (both £3 à la carte). The paratha is flaky, soft and suitably ghee-laden – Pete says it reminds him of a flat, savoury croissant! The sour lemon rice (basmati with lime juice, curry leaves, split bengal gram and ghee) is not to either of our tastes.

I'm really not sure why we order desserts, other than the fact that we're greedy and we're curious. Curious, greedy bastards! And they're part of that great value set lunch menu too.


Pete selects the manuka honey cakes served with pistachio ice cream and white chocolate mousse (£8). The cakes are sodden with sharp, tangy manuka honey. They are good. The white chocolate mousse, served in a dark chocolate cup, is declared rich and creamy. The pistachio tuile I eat, as Pete's not a fan of nutty textures. It's delightfully crisp and crunchy and the very essence of pistachio. Disappointingly, the pistachio ice-cream, like the sauce for the lamb, doesn't taste of pistachio at all.

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I go for hot rice kheer (£8), described as 'creamy hot rice pudding served with rose ice cream'. I love rice pudding and am not fussy about style, having grown up enjoying both the stodgy rice puddings of school dinners and my mum's lighter Indian kheers. But I really don't like this version at all. The texture is gritty, like it's full of broken rice and sand. The taste is bland. It's not sweet enough, though as the waiter was about to drop my ball of rose ice cream into the kheer before I stopped him, I guess that would have added sweetness. The sharp, acidic pieces of fruit beneath and on top of the rice pudding clash with the cream, for me.

The rose ice cream, on the other hand, is delightful, and I'm pleased I saved it from the sandy bowl of rice sludge. It's a very refreshing scoop of turkish delight flavoured cream.


Coffee (£4 or included in the lunch menu) comes prettily presented with sugar and a chocolate.

When I ask for mint tea (£4 or included in the lunch menu), made with real mint leaves please, I'm impressed to be immediately asked whether I'd prefer an infusion of the leaves or for them to mixed with black tea. I go for the former and am also rewarded with a little chocolate alongside.

Finally, our meal is over and we are replete. We've enjoyed a fantastic introduction to South-western Indian cuisine and have been very impressed indeed by much of what we've tried.

So much so that I'm determined to take my mum to visit soon – I know she'll enjoy it.

Pete, through a modern art glass sculpture near St James Park tube station

Of course, our bill for such a feast would have been higher for the vast number of dishes we tried than if we'd stuck to the set lunch deal. But we were very impressed with the choices on the £23 menu and would happily choose from this on a future visit.

Many thanks to Quilon and SLO London for arranging our visit.
Quilon on Urbanspoon


Thursday, 23 September 2010

Holbeck Ghyll: A Disappointment

Our most disappointing and overpriced meal this year was at Holbeck Ghyll in Cumbria, during a week in the Lakes.


I can't even begin to imagine how it merits a Michelin star, but can only guess that standards have dropped sharply since it was sold in January this year. I'll be gobsmacked if it retains its star in 2011, based on our meal there at the end of July.

HolbeckGhyll-3282 HolbeckGhyll-3291

The setting is lovely, in a 19th century hunting lodge with fabulous views down to Lake Windermere. The lodge is now an upmarket hotel with onsite restaurant.


We were shown into a sitting room on arrival, with wonderful views, and given the menu and canapés. They were alright, not as tasty as they were looked, but nothing glaringly wrong either.


After making our meal choices, we were eventually shown into the dining room. It felt dreadfully dated (not in a gorgeous historic way) and the motel style carpet did not help to bring out the potential appeal of the wooden panelling.

Still, the menu sounded good and we looked forward to the meal.

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Butter was beautifully presented on a slate, with sea salt crystals but the bread was so-so.

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Next came an amuse bouche of foamy soup in a small coffee cup. I didn't make a note of what vegetable it was but remember finding it pleasant, though a little plain. The green herb oil in it was pretty but I couldn't make out the flavour of it.


I chose the salad of warm Perigord quail with white grape and Sauternes dressing. This was a pleasant dish, nicely presented and with some decent, rich flavours. A good starter.


Pete selected the rillette of rabbit with crostini and truffle cream vinaigrette. Presentation was the best thing about this dish – it looked very pretty. Taste-wise it was alright, though not as rich as expected. The texture of the filling within the cylinders was also much more mousse-like than rillettes as we've had them before.


For my main I had the best end of Cumbrian lamb in herb crumb with girolles, shallot purée and rosemary juice. All I can tell you is that if this was the best of the poor lamb, I'd not want to taste it's worst. It's seriously hard work to lose the distinct sweet flavour of good lamb, especially well-reared British lamb from Cumbria. Whilst the meat was cooked properly pink and was fairly tender, the lack of flavour was a huge disappointment. The girolles were few and far between and gritty to boot. The vegetables were probably the best things on the plate.


Pete, a fan of game, ordered the roast loin of Lakeland venison with herb spätzle. This was another disappointment. Again, whilst the texture of the meat was OK the all-important flavour was lacking. How had they managed to make venison taste of so little? Worst of all were the deformed and rubbery little pellets they passed off as spätzle – they bore no relation to the solid but moreish egg noodles we've enjoyed in Germany. Spätzle should not be rubbery! The sauce they were drowned in tasted good though!

Since the price of the meal was £56.50 for three courses, we figured we might as well order desserts, since we'd be paying for them anyway.


I chose the chocolate soufflé, delice, tart and orange sorbet. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love chocolate. And a good dessert can make me forgive a lot in the dishes preceding.

But the collection of miniature offerings was so poor I left most of it. I love dark chocolate and can take it pretty bitter but the tart was so bitter it was, for me, inedible. The layered concoction in the glass was, on the other hand, sickly sweet and tasted like the cheap pudding mixes of yesteryear. The soufflé was OK, though only OK. I can't even remember the circle of mousse at the top left. The best thing on the plate was the orange sorbet – ironic for a plate all about chocolate. I really can't remember when I last had a more disappointing dessert and, gosh they had 5 little chances to impress me right there!


Pete went for the crème brûlée with apple sorbet, poached apple and cider sauce. He loves crème brûlée and though he loves a good one, he's fairly forgiving. But the texture of the crème was strangely spongey and we both only realised on eating it how unpleasant acidic apple and eggy creams can be together – in this incarnation at least. Another fail!

If the food wasn't disappointing enough, one of the bugbears we had during the evening was the standard of service. Whilst no-one was rude or grumpy, the service was sloppy and casual and there seemed a distinct lack of training. Some plates were virtually thrown down in front of diners (not with any sulkiness attached, just lack of care and attention) leading to sauces slopping over the lips of the plates. Some staff didn't seem to know who at a table had ordered which dish and had to ask (though this depended on who was serving the table).

There seemed to be only one member of staff who had any inkling about formal service standards and he seemed to be assigned to plate clearing duties, though we often saw him take the initiative to assist a diner with something else when he spotted that none of his colleagues had picked up on it.

This standard of service might be OK in a less formal, less expensive restaurant (after all, we got what we ordered, in the right order, and our water was replenished reasonably regularly) but for an establishment charging these prices, and trumpeting it's Michelin star so proudly on its website, it wasn't remotely good enough.

When one couple politely complained that they were too hot, as the radiator by their table was switched on (it was very warm and had been all day) they were told it wasn't possible to turn it off. But no one offered to move them even though they hadn't yet started their meal and there were several other suitable tables available and set, none of which were occupied by other diners during the evening. It was so warm that, even sat at the other side of the room from this radiator, I felt like I was having a hot flush and in the end, having also mentioned the heat to members of staff to be answered with a shrugged apology, I took matters into my own hands and opened the French doors behind us. As I started to do so, finally a member of staff offered to help me. There was an audible gasp of relief around the other few diners in the room as a cooling breeze wafted in.

There didn't seem to be anyone managing the team nor keeping an eye on service and issues. The one person we initially thought might be the restaurant manager seemed to be the sommelier. To be frank, no-one seemed to really care whether we were enjoying our meal, whether we needed anything or whether anything was wrong.

With food as above and one (inexpensive) glass of wine each, the bill came to £125.55 without service. As I waited outside for Pete to retrieve the car from their lower car park, I confess to asking myself why I added service at all but I didn't want to blame the staff for what struck me as a lack of proper management and training.

Thank goodness we didn't opt for the £74/ head gourmet menu featuring many of the same dishes or I'd been even more upset.

I'm curious about whether our experience was atypical (I'd like to think so given the glowing reviews that abound on the web) or whether standards have slipped since new ownership took over.

If you've eaten at Holbeck Ghyll recently, do please let me know how you found it.