A festive break – 16th & 17th December 2014

We booked to attend our first Wine Society Christmas Dinner on 16th December, and decided to use the occasion for a mini-break. We booked two nights in Claridges so that we could attend the dinner on Tuesday, take afternoon tea on Wednesday, then follow it with a show (Miss Saigon), before taking a late dinner at the Ivy on Wednesday night.

WS_CD_Wine_smallThe highlight of the dinner was the Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle 1990, along with seven other wines, a sumptuous six course dinner, and a renowned guest speaker: the winemaker, Caroline Frey. In summary, this was a wonderful evening. You will find a more detailed account of our impression of the food and wine here.

CL_AF_AngAfternoon tea was a special treat for Angela. It was her first experience, and where better place to start than the Foyer and Reading Room at Claridges? We sipped champagne as we perused the extensive list of teas. Ian chose an Earl Grey; Angela chose a breakfast tea.

We were served two plates of sandwiches, followed by scones, Christmas pudding and pastries. The tea was excellent, plenty of flavour with just enough drying tannin to give a satisfying finish. It would seem pretentious to describe the food using the colourful phraseology that we might use for a Michelin star restaurant, but the impeccable service, the ambience, and the care and skill spent in producing these beautifully presented dishes all combined to make this a delightful and unforgettable experience.

Ivy_ang-_startWe thoroughly enjoyed Miss Saigon and arrived at The Ivy with a weary happiness that you might see in a dog dozing in front of a log fire. For starters, Angela chose the potted salmon with lemon remoulade. She felt the dish lacked salt – not unusual for Angela – and found the remoulade a little tart and lacking balance. But these were minor gripes as with a little added salt the dish was pleasant to eat.

ivy_ian_startIan chose the squid, chorizo and spicy peppers to start. The dish had plenty of body with a meaty consistency and the salad was well dressed with strong mediterranean flavours – quite delicious! To accompany the first course we chose a Touraine. It was always going to be a tough comparison following the hedonistic pleasures of the previous evening, but the wine was everything you would expect from a modestly priced Sauvignon Blanc.

ivy_ang_mainAngela had the pan fried calves liver with mash, melted onions and devilled sauce for the main course. Delicious! The liver was delicately cooked with wonderful sweet onions on top and a crispy smoked bacon, We ordered cauliflower cheese to accompany and it was very flavoursome with a lovely, breadcrumb crunch on top.

ivy_ian_mainIan chose the rib eye with fries. The steak was lean, and beautifully cooked with a subtle, charred outside and a pink juicy inside with a good beef taste. The Moulin de Gassac that we chose to accompany the main course was a typical South of France red – fruity and unrounded with little tannin. But good drinking nevertheless for a late night supper. After a wonderful couple of days we left for home very happy with the world in general.

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A Worker’s Reward – 12th December 2014

rec_lamb_in_winterAngela has been working hard lately – her ‘day job’ is owning a soft furnishing business (see AngelaAdamsSoftFurnishings.co.uk). Her current project involves transforming an old night club into an elegant wedding venue, by means of a tented ceiling – a huge undertaking. There has been much burning of the midnight oil.

I decided to give her a treat on Friday – a lovely slow braised lamb shoulder with red cabbage and a velvety Rioja. I braised the lamb shoulder at a low temperature, cooking the cabbage at the same time. The lamb was falling apart and the red cabbage had that spicy, sweet/sour taste that goes so well with winter faire.

For me, roast potatoes are the perfect choice for a flavoursome winter dish. I was lucky enough to pick up some Mayan Gold potatoes at our local supermarket. Cooked in goose fat, they were crispy and tasty with delightfully light fluffy centres. To complete the dish we steamed a few broccoli florets – just for a few minutes to keep them tasty and crunchy. 

rec_LIW_riojaThe wine we picked to accompany the dish was the 2005 Viña Arana by La Rioja Alta – a perfectly balanced, velvety, vanilla Rioja in the traditional style.

Angela loved it. A very well deserved treat to finish a hard-working week.

I’ve added it to our recipes list. See Lamb in Winter.

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A Mid-Week Salmon Treat – 4th December 2014

When Angela and I visited the local supermarket we noticed that salmon side fillets were half price. Normally we don’t eat fish in the week, because my 17 year old daughter, Anna, is a fussy eater and doesn’t like fish. But as we had some of Angela’s Winter Warmer left over from the night before for Anna, we decided to take advantage of the salmon offer.

rec_salmon_crispy_skinWe already had some red pepper, spinach, tarragon and coriander in the fridge. I like spicy white sauces with Salmon, so I decided to improvise and the dish I came up with was Ian’s Crispy Skin Salmon with Spicy Red Pepper and Spinach.

Angela loves to poach salmon gently, so I thought a fried crispy skin would make a nice change, with the creamy sauce making a good contrast. To accompany, we had a glass of Menetou-Salon Morogues, Domaine Pellé 2013, an understated, elegant Sauvignon Blanc, less aromatic than its Loire neighbours, but a perfect match for the salmon.

We chose to have it with some new potatoes – simply halved and thrown in the steamer for 22 minutes – sprinkled with plenty of seasoning and a few slices of butter on top to run over the spuds as they are steaming.

We found the meal simply delicious!

To see the full recipe click here.

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Angela Finds Comfort in the Cold – 3rd December 2014

It was cold outside and I just wanted a bowl of something comforting and warm, so I looked in the fridge to see what I could come up with. A good rummage produced onions, mincemeat some vegetables, red chillies and herbs.

I fried the onions, added the mince to brown, then added my spice mix, some red wine and beef stock. After adding the vegetables and simmering for a while I tasted the dish and found it ‘OK’.

But I really needed some comfort on this cold night and ‘OK’ just didn’t seem to fit the bill. So I turned to Ian for inspiration, and just as I did so the ‘phone rang, and never needing a second invitation to interfere, he started fiddling with the dish while I chatted to my daughter.

rec_ang_winter_warmerWhen I eventually got off the phone, Ian appeared with an outstretched tasting spoon, and, I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised. The dish now had more body and the taste had been given a real lift. Ian had added extra beef flavouring (‘stock pot’), some redcurrant jelly, red wine vinegar, additional seasoning, additional Worcester sauce and the real star – literally in this case – a large whole star anise, which gave the dish a lovely overtone, complimenting the beef perfectly.

We thoroughly enjoyed the spicy warmth with the perfect accompaniment – a generous glass of Argentinian Malbec.

You can see the detailed recipe here.

Enjoy!

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Wines for Christmas – 2nd November 2014

When we learned that The Wine Society was hosting a tasting in Swansea, we felt that we had little option but to go along and put in a hard evening’s research. Life can be tough at times…

The tasting was organized into 5 sections:

  • Aperitif Wines
  • Party Wines
  • Christmas Day
  • Boxing Day and Beyond
  • And Relax…..

There were twenty wines in all, and we managed to taste eighteen of them. We have posted our detailed notes on all the wines here, but for those of you who just want to know the good stuff, we have picked out our favourites. Some of our choices surprised us. Angela normally prefers Sauvignon Blanc, but on this occasion we had to give the accolade to a Chenin Blanc. Ian is big on Kiwi Pinot Noir, but found he had to pass over the (very good) example on offer because the Bordeaux was exceptional.

Aperitif Wines

ws_montbourgeau Angela loved the Crémant Du Jura Brut, Domaine De Montbourgeau. Beyond a floral aroma, the chardonnay came through on the palate with a fruity taste and a creamy mouthfeel, while the fine mousse and dry finish helped make this wine a lovely aperitif.

Party Wines

ws_schistWe both fell for  A Fistful Of Schist Reserve Chenin Blanc, Coastal 2014. This wine had far more flavour than would be expected for £5.95 a bottle. On the nose we got ‘a spice shop a long way up the breeze’ and on the palate ‘mellow peach stones’. There was a much better mouthfeel than would be expected from a typical Chenin Blanc. A very impressive wine for the price.

Christmas Day

ws_senejacIf you are looking for a lighter red to go with Turkey, the Seresin Pinot Noir covered in the detailed tasting notes is a pretty decent wine. But Ian chose the Château Sénéjac, Haut-Médoc 2005 to receive our top honours for this tasting. Angela relished in Tayberries on the nose, while Ian found old leather and cedar. On the palate we both agreed on a lovely deep fruitiness (blackberries and blackcurrants) balanced by mellow tannins. The satisfying dry finish completed a wonderful drinking experience. This wine provides everything you would expect from a good claret.

ws_rutherglenOur second pick of the Christmas Day selection was the Stanton And Killeen Rutherglen Muscat, 12 Years Old. On the nose Ian relished in ‘Rum and raisins and all things nice,’ while Angela had ‘Rum, raisins and fruits in brandy.’ Angela describes it on the palate as ‘warm and comforting – gives you a massive hug – delicious.’ And Ian’s take on the finish: ‘long, long, long…’

A great wine for Christmas pudding.

Boxing Day and Beyond

ws_ex_riojaThe stand out favourite in this category has been a big favourite of ours for some time. The Society’s Exhibition Rioja Reserva 2007. This wine is made for the society by La Rioja Alta (if you are not a member you should be able to find a similar wine from the original producer). On the nose we found old dusty leather. While on the palate we detected vanilla and blackberry perfectly balanced with smooth tannins. If you like Rioja in the traditional style, you will find no better example than this.

And relax…..

ws_tawnyAn appropriate category, because by this stage we were so relaxed that we only managed to taste one of the wines. So,  The Society’s Exhibition Tawny Port, 10 Years Old gets our award on account of it being a very nice example of tawny port. And if this seems rather light on detail, perhaps you could bear with us as a certain amount of ‘palate fatigue’ had set in by this time.

We ended the session with a very entertaining conversation with a lady that lectures on prehistoric cooking. As a result, we have a mutton recipe that looks interesting and we hope to feature this in a future blog post.

To finish the evening we gradually meandered up St. Helen’s Road towards the centre of Swansea, hoping to find nourishment. We were fortunate to come across Rose Indienne  an Indian ‘fine dining’ restaurant.

batak_rajaIan ordered the Batak Raja made with duck breast marinated in ground spices. The dish came with a creamy sauce that was not too spicy. Angela had the Chicken Pathia, which was good. There’s not the usual detail here we know. Palate fatigue can be a killer…

But we liked the restaurant and we would definitely like to return again.

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A Gower Surprise – 25th November 2014

As it was my birthday, Angela offered to treat me for lunch. We had just been into the local butcher in Neath Market to order our Christmas turkey – a 12Kg monster – and I asked her where we were headed; expecting a meal in one of the local Neath restaurants.  “Not here,” she said mysteriously and marched off towards the car.

“Where to now – Swansea?” I asked. But Angela simply reached out and selected the Navigation function on the big touch-screen, and I could see that a postcode had already been set.

The display informed us that our journey was over 20 miles and the estimated duration was over 40 minutes. As it was already one o’clock I thought we might be pushing it – most restaurants in the area tend to serve lunch from twelve until two. Conscious of the time, I joined the westbound M4 with some haste. Angela commented, “You don’t normally drive this fast,” in that tone of voice that intimated that it was an instruction, rather than an observation. Worried about potential starvation, I pressed on as best I could, while giving my best impression of driving more slowly than was actually the case.

The firm, matronly voice of the sat nav guided us off the M4 and down through the winding roads of the Gower peninsula. As we entered Llanrhidian, Angela said, “We’re a little early, we need to be there at two, let’s go for a drink in The Greyhound.” I was totally confused by this – what sort of place serves lunch starting at two?

Greyhound

The Greyhound

But life has its compensations, and as luck would have it The Greyhound is also the home of The Gower Brewery. So it was not a heavy imposition to spend a half hour sitting in a cosy lounge with a fire and a pint of “Brew One” – a seasonal, easy drinking ale with lovely light flavours.

Fortified, we got in the car and within a few hundred yards Angela directed me to turn left into Oldwalls. It was set in some large fields with three Llamas in a paddock, no cars in the car park, no sign of a busy restaurant, and very little sign of any life at all. We made our way to reception where a young blonde sat staring at a computer screen. “We are here to book in,” Angela said. The young blonde looked at me, “Is it your birthday?”

“Yes,” I said, thinking they may have some kind of special birthday lunch treat.

“Oh, I’ll just go and put the Prosecco in your room,” the blonde said, “ and you’ll be having breakfast in that building over there,” waving her arms towards a building on the other side of the courtyard. Angela looked crestfallen that her secret surprise had been blown so inartfully by the young blonde. And I was surprised to find that Angela had managed to pack a case and stow it in the car without me knowing (our Tesla, being electric, has a frunk – a luggage space where the engine would normally be – just the right size for a small suitcase).

Rose_lounge

The Rose Suite

Our room – The Rose Suite – had a spacious lounge and kitchen area, bathroom and bedroom, together with a ‘private’ garden area with a hot tub that was all set up and bubbling away. Angela had come ready-prepared with charcuterie, cheeses, olives and pork pies to accompany the prosecco which put us in the right mood to try the hot tub.

 

old_hot_tub

Our ‘private’ garden hot tub

Our ‘private’ garden had a wrought iron gate, and there were open fields all around, so we did not have the confidence to approach the tub au naturel. Which was just as well as no sooner than had we slipped into the tub, a workman sauntered into our garden, explaining that there was a problem with the plumbing. He entered our room armed with a wrench. A few moments later he reappeared, and promised that we wouldn’t be bothered again.

It was a cold grey day with spitting rain, and the tub was very hot. After a while we decided to go for a lie down and finish the cold prosecco. We were surprised and disconcerted to hear a knock on the door. This was not what we expected having booked the room for a romantic break. Angela threw on a robe, while I hid in the bedroom and listened as the plumber entered and got to work with his wrench. At last we were left in peace and, eventually, our thoughts turned to dinner.

In this part of the world, we are both fans of Fairyhill, but Angela wanted to surprise me with something different, so she followed the recommendation of the hotel manager, and booked The Britannia in Llanmadoc.

It is fair to say that The Britannia does not present itself as a fine dining experience comparable with Fairyhill, so we were a little surprised that it was recommended to us for a special occasion. But neither does it charge fine dining prices.

 

The Lunetta Prosecco that we ordered as an aperitif was pleasantly refreshing with a light fruitiness. No glasses were offered other than the large wine glasses already on the table (somewhat to Angela’s amusement).

Brit_ian_starterFor starters I had the mussels with chilli and a tomato broth. The mussels were small, and because the pan was narrow there was quite a depth of hot broth making the dish awkward to eat. The mussels were tasty and the broth was excellent, with a lovely rich tomato taste and a kick of chilli. We enquired how the broth was made and it was from roasted and sieved tomatoes mixed with white wine garlic and chilli.

Brit_Ang_StarterAngela started with the smoked confit duck pot with homemade fig and date chutney and toasted croûtes. The confit had good depth of flavour and was well balanced by the sweet chutney, but could have done with a few more croûtes.

Brit_ang_mainAngela continued with the slow roasted poussin served with a pomme purée, fricassee of savoy cabbage, wild mushrooms, leeks & peas, port jus. The poussin was very tender, and well matched with the rich port sauce. All in all, a very fine dish.

Brit_ian_mainI had the moroccan slow braised lamb, served with bread and jasmine rice. I found the combination of bread and rice weird and unnecessary. The tagine was served on top of the bread, which soaked up all the juice. This left the rice dry at the side. With either the bread or rice removed, and a little more lamb it would have been an ‘OK’ dish, but it would have needed a lot more spice to turn it into a winner.

We had a bottle of the Postales Malbec with the main course. It had a rich, blackcurrant flavour typical of the region – no knockout  factors – but a good pleasant wine at that.

Brit_PudFor dessert we both had the sticky toffee pudding. I found it competent but lacking spice. Angela found it dry (not enough sauce), leaving a bicarbonate taste, and was not able to finish it.

Despite issues here and there, our overall feeling was that we had had a good evening – the tomato broth, the poussin, the reasonably pleasant wine and fair prices provided enough highlights to pull the evening through. And although we would be in no hurry to rush back, if we were in the locality we would be quite happy to call in again.

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