Archive for July 2010
It isn’t often you catch me getting stuck into the cocktails in the middle of a Monday lunch time, but for a certain group of people I made an exception.
Chase Vodka has recently been voted the Best Vodka in the world and now it was hosting this Vodka cocktail competition.
The competition took place at the Crystal Rivers bar in the Mailbox, one of the most high class retail centres in the city. The bar itself is a plush, high class number frequented by the high-rollers of Birmingham city. Their new cocktail list starts in a few weeks, but more on that later.
The competitors were mostly local bartenders from the Kenilworth, the Malmaison, the Victoria, and other cocktail bars dotted around the city. Young guns with a love of their job and a real talent for mixing flavours. Underpaid, overworked, retaining pride in their profession and there to represent their bar.
Watching them prepare was Caroline Clarke, there to represent Chase Vodka. It was down to these young bucks to get her product into her customer’s glasses. Could they do it?
The winner was Darren Thrower, he explained his drink even as he made it, in some detail while he produced an amazing foamy drink.
Chris Hoy came next, his drink came with it’s own appetizers and was served in silver goblets.
Bex O’Neill was the only girl entrant, and her apple loaded drink was a wonder.
Ash Lambert, the host, didn’t have a good day out. He started well, flambé-ing fruit, then a faulty stopper drowned his drink in Vodka. But he persevered to pull off a respectable fourth place.
Christian and Rob produced potato martinis and other drinks but sadly didn’t make the running. Not that it stopped me trying them, and they were rather good. And rather strong!
So if you want to try the winning cocktail yourself go catch up with Darren Thrower at the Kenilworth Hotel.
To purchase your own bottle of Chase Vodka, made in Britain and officially the best Vodka in the world, check out this site:
If you want to try Darren’s winning cocktail you will find him here:
http://www.thekenilworth.co.uk/ (Just don’t ask him if he is really busy, it takes a while to make)
If you want a new place to take your friends for amazing drinks try Crystal Rivers
It was a kind of a spur of the moment thing when I decided that even though I could not really afford it, I would go to the Taste of Birmingham show taking place in Cannon Park on Saturday last. After all what did I have to lose apart from some stomach tissue?
And I am certainly glad I did, as it was an experience that any food lover would enjoy, a real carnival for the taste-buds.
Being new to the area, I knew virtually nothing about the culinary traditions of Birmingham, except that it has a lot of curry houses. In fact it has a lot of everything, and on this one day, they had all set up their stalls like one big picnic.
The first stall I visited was a Cider vendor, and it had a fair old few to offer. Thistly Cross Cider, was in fact Scottish, and they had a good variety on show. Normally I love Cider, it just doesn’t love me and seeks to give me the worst hangovers imaginable. But it would be bad form not to sample their wares. The strawberry flavour was sickly sweet and more one for the teens. The ginger one just tasted weird (but this winter, try it heated with a cinnamon stick). But my outright favourite was the Thistly Cross Gold, which is matured in Whisky barrels, which gives it this lovely mellow flavour. You really should try it.
Next door was something I had not seen since my childhood. Soda Stream was there to make it’s big Elvis-style comeback. In these recession hit times it provided an alternative to supermarket brand fizzy drinks. Did it taste exactly as I remembered? Yes it sure did.
I moved on to look further around the drink section. San Miguel had a stall going on, as did Havana Club. But since I was driving I could not make a nuisance of myself, which was a shame. But I did spot a familiar face on one stall.
John Tipton was a man as happy as a puppy with two tails, and he was eager to tell me why. He was there to promote Chase Vodka, a product from Herefordshire that had just been voted (wait for it) Best Vodka in the World by the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. A British product had indeed trampled the hopes of Russia, Poland, Finland and France to produce a Vodka that was indeed, a world champion. For Bartenders, this is like watching your team win the world cup from behind the gold post. Chase Vodka is indeed a rather tasty specimen, with a smooth taste, it doesn’t make you cringe like some better known brands of Vodka. It is made from two types of potatoes from a farm in Herefordshire.
John works for the Jeckyll and Hyde pub, but we will hear more of them another time.
I had a look around the foodie stalls and browsed a few oils that looked lovely and burnt my mouth to hell. I have David’s Chilli Oil to thank for that. But as a guy who is pretty handy in the kitchen I tend to collect this kind of thing.
Next over from him was a cookie stand. Taste of the Moorlands has been producing biscuits since 2004. It’s owner, Sarah Gayton, herself of a family of bakers, set the business up after spending four years working in Kosovo in environmental protection. Her ginger biscuits are the work of the devil, especially after my tongue was still recovering from David’s Chilli oil.
One sign really caught my eye, Brockleby’s, advertising Wild Beaver Pies no less. Well what man can resist a bit of Beaver? Don’t answer that. Apparently it was lamb, but personally I found it a little too subtle for my taste (maybe I had just burned out my taste-buds). I did however take to their Chicken and Asparagus pies which blended the flavours so well. And you didn’t get that stodginess that you get with some pastries.
I was having a look round when one young lady, whom I had seen on TV the previous day, approached me with a claim that her restaurant does the best Fish and Chips in the UK. Now us Yorkshire men are pretty fussy about our Fish and Chips, particularly in the middle of Chicken Tikka country. But she went on to describe in detail how their Icelandic Cod was cooked in beer batter and dipped in proper dripping to give it a unique flavour. Yes, she sure knew how to make a man weak at the knees. I promised to pay The Great British Eatery a visit. More on that when I do.
Further down, we had the Kinnaree Thai restaurant, which was the most impressive of all the stands. Their fruit carvings were highly intricate (coming from a guy who can barely peel an orange), melons cut into the shapes of flowers, and their food was a riot of colour and flavour rarely seen outside London. The girls running the stall looked like they had stepped from the pages of FHM Asia, and were dressed to the nines.
I could have stayed there all day and looked around but sadly I had to roll, so I made one last port of call, and it is one I am very glad I made.
Ben Ebbrell is a young whipper-snapper fresh out of college who had just written his own cookery guide especially for students. As someone who has done a fair bit of food writing I was very pleased for him. His guide ‘Sorted – a Rookie’s Guide to Practical Cooking’, is now available via their website, listed below.
More news on Ben and his associates will follow.
So it was with some regret that I had to leave this on-going food fest, but I had met some very interesting, and inspirational people and tasted some food that was out of this world. Yes I think I am going to be very happy in the Midlands.
For further details on anybody I mentioned above please check out their websites:
Please check them out, support these great British cooks and innovators. We need them