“Good cooking is a result of a balance struck between frugality and liberality,” wrote Patience Gray in the introduction to her seminal 1986 work, Honey From a Weed, an account of her peripatetic roughing it around various primitive corners of the Med.
“It is borne out in communities where the supply of food is conditioned by the seasons. Once we lose touch with the spendthrift aspect of Nature’s provisions, epitomised in the raising of a crop, we’re in danger of losing touch with life itself.”
Her mid-century foraging across forest and shoreline is a far cry from our well-stocked global larders. She never purchased a plastic pack of ‘wild’ rocket in her life. It grew outside her rustic stone dwelling and like all the other edible ‘weeds’ tasted far more intense.
Not quite at this level, but a return to frugality may be closer than we think as post-Brexit the supermarket shelves are increasingly stocked with tumbleweed. The grande dame of making do, Patience’s ways may yet be a virtue.
As a dog owner myself I’m reticent about urban foraging; at the same time I’m averse to buying drab pre-packed veg, preferring to grow my own limited crops or to seek out growers (preferably organic) who cut out the middle man.
I invariably take two bags to a local market on a Sunday, where farm folk travel over from West Lancashire, guaranteeing 80 per cent of their seasonal, conventional produce to be from their own fields (lemons I don’t expect from outside Ormskirk). Two bags? To fit in the bunches of beetroot, carrots, celeriac and radishes all with their ample fronds still attached.
They are the tops, in more ways than one. We are talking young specimens with bright, spry leaves and stalks; if they are muddy and wilting just chuck them. And fear not they aren’t toxic; indeed they are rammed with goodness.
Juicy beet bits are reminiscent of rainbow chard – a member of the same family – but I also love the uber pepperiness of radish tops added to a South Indian dal. It takes moments to turn either into the simplest of fresh salads. With the iron-rich beetroot briefly blanch the stalks and reunite them with the leaves, dressed with a splash of sherry vinegar and olive oil.
Carrot tops contain around six times more vitamin C than the root, plus potassium, calcium and phytonutrients. The abundant lacy leaves soon lose their swish, so I’d recommend swiftly turning them into a pesto that does not lose by it slight bitterness. By all means blend the tops with native hazelnuts, rapeseed oil and cheddar or, better still, go the Ligurian way (minus the basil but using pine nuts, parmesan and extra virgin olive oil. If you’ve got me trofie pasta in the pantry all the better. I substituted linguine.
Radish tops are the most perishable of all. Separate them, store in a fridge and use within 24 hours. Perhaps substitute them for spinach in a herby filo pie with feta and nigella seeds or just wilt them in butter with grated nutmeg. Postscript: they are perhaps the most nutritious of the trio. They rank right up there with broccoli and kale in terms of antioxidants, while they’re also packed with vitamin C and calcium.
https://i0.wp.com/www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Beets-scaled.jpg?fit=2048%2C1536&ssl=115362048Neil Sowerbyhttps://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/NS-typemark-v1c.pngNeil Sowerby2021-08-30 18:50:032021-08-30 19:05:23Beet, carrot and radish tops – chuck these beauties at your peril
One trip down Manchester memory lane for me is to check my Bhangra Beatnikz beer cocktail recipe remains on the Dishoom website.
Still there. It won best cocktail at the last Too Many Critics charity dinner held in the city with seven food writers battling it out in the Manchester Hall kitchens of the newly arrived Indian restaurant group. It was all about raising money for Action Against Hunger. If you must know, my hake moilee was also awarded best dish – mainly thanks to copious amounts of coconut milk and head chef Naved’s team holding my hand.
The date? Monday March 18. The last time I crossed the threshold of Dishoom’s latest loving homage to the Irani cafes of old Bombay (now Mumbai). Opened early last century by Zoroastrian immigrants from Iran, there were almost 400 of these cafés at their peak in the 1960s. Now fewer than 30 remained before Covid. Who knows what the future holds for them?
“Their faded elegance welcomed all: courting couples, sweaty taxi-wallahs, students, artists and lawyers. The cafés broke down barriers by bringing people together over food and drink. Bombay was more open and welcoming for their existence.”
That warm hospitality applied equally to Dishoom Manchester – even if the ‘faded’ bit was a mite more studied – until the lockdown closures.
During those barren, frightening periods I kept my passion for Dishoom’s food alive by cooking from the pages of Dishoom ‘From Bombay With Love’ (Bloomsbury, £26). With its evocative photographs and a retro design, it’s arguably the most vivid and elegant cookbook of recent times. Not just about food, it was also an eccentric travelogue about a city that has captivated me on both my visits.
I cooked from it a lot, even essaying their signature black daal via a short cut recipe that didn’t require 24 hours in the pot and much sturdy stirring. To attempt their bacon naan (pictured above with Ghanesh) seemed sacrilege, though. The home kit for that groundbreaker did tempt me, but I never ordered. Now finally when all the Dishooms – in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh – are thankfully open again, I couldn’t resist a home delivery ‘taster’ before resuming direct Dishoom fan duties. No, not as a punkah wallah, just a punter.
OUR DISHOOM HOME FEAST
Feast is the right word, a well balanced selection of Dishoom classics: House Black Daal, Mattar Paneer, Lamb Sheekh Kababs, Murgh Malai, Bhel, Kachumber, and Tawa Rotis. To accompany it there’s a bottle of Mango Lassi, and for pud a sweet, creamy Gulkand Mess. A very attractive line-up.
The whole assemblage held its own against my favourite menu kits – from Northcote, Hakkasan and Clays Hyderabadi Kitchen. Few real kitchen skills were required. Accompanying printed instructions were clear (I didn’t bother with the videos). Preparation time was posited at 45 minutes, which was about right. They never warn you of the washing up time after!
Trying to balance grilling the lamb (Sheekh Kababs) and chicken Murgh Malai) with stove top cooking the Tawa Rotis was the only bit that got me hot under the collar (oh for a couple of chilled Bhangra Beatnikz at my elbow). Standout dish was the paneer with peas, but all the dishes felt restaurant standard and authentic, not the cobbled together, outsourced disappointments of certain home deliveries. Not naming names.
The whole package costs £60, to serve two to three people. We augmented it with our own saffron rice and a Sri Lankan coconut dal (Meera Sodha recipe) to ensure it fed four. It was more than ample. Leftovers? A stylish Dishoom tea towel and four metal skewers (for the lamb and chicken) we shall treasure.
Buy Home Feast here. You can also upgrade your kit to include a bottle of Int3gral3 Italian natural sparkling wine for an extra £20. For every kit Dishoom donate a meal to charity partner Akshaya Patra.
https://i0.wp.com/www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Finished-meal.jpg?fit=1280%2C856&ssl=18561280Neil Sowerbyhttps://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/NS-typemark-v1c.pngNeil Sowerby2021-08-25 17:23:382021-08-27 13:36:20Dishoom Home Feast delivers a gateway to India on a plate
This is an epic pioneering tale of brave new frontiers versus folk settled in their ways. Of an award-winning beer named after a 2,000 mile trek in search of a new life… or its champion’s own 200 mile switch from Crouch End to Levenshulme and a kind of ale apotheosis.
The day I met beer writer and South Manc ‘incomer’ Matthew Curtis to discuss his new book, Modern British Beer (note the absence of the word Craft), Elusive Brewing’s Oregon Trail West Coast IPA had just been judged country winner in its category at the World Beer Awards and would represent the UK in the world finals. Cue much whooping it up in wild Wokingham, where this modest but progressive brewery is based.
Oregon Trail West Coast IPA uses Chinook, Simcoe and Columbus hops for “a resinous profile with a citrus undertone, the bitterness helping to balance the light caramel flavours of the malts,” according to Elusive.
Curtis in his book is more hopstruck, and rightly so. “For me this style (West Coast) is all about using malted barley to construct a pillar of caramel sweetness, which is then adorned from plinth to pedestal with the most bitter, resinous and aromatic hops you can find.”
All at a quite reasonable 5.8% ABV, compared with the Elevator IPA at 6.5 I encountered at the Oregon City Brewery once upon a day. I still can’t work out why I was visiting the trailhead of the original 2,000 mile Oregon Trail that brought the settlers’ wagons west from Missouri. Yet the beers I tasted there, far from the hip urban centres, were a further confirmation that the land of Bud and Miller Lite offered a remarkable alternative – one that would be cloned elsewhere.
The Elevator washed down a helping of Reuben dogs that could easily be on the menu at many of our own brew taps. Let’s call it all the transatlantic symbiosis of hopheads. In Washington State’s Yakima Valley I visited both a hop farm that supplies our own BlackDog and the rather fusty American Hop Museum (exhibit next to Oregon Trail can, above).
New wave UK beer writers such as Mark Dredge have codified the global beer styles that have been clarified/reinvented across America and then taken up over here. Matthew Curtis goes a step further and charts the creative melting pot of our own mash tuns and barrel ageing projects. Modern British Beer proves we are not just brewing lackeys; our own cask ale traditions remain the envy of the world, our own innovations the equal of anywhere.
The seeds of his own own beer writing career were actually sown in the States, in 2010. “My Dad had just emigrated to Fort Collins in Colorado, which is home to an incredible bunch of breweries”, he recalls. “The Odell Brewing Co IPA just blew me away, after which I became obsessed with researching beer.” A blog followed in 2012 and he went full-time freelance in 2016.
Sign of changing times, Modern British Beer is published by CAMRA Books (£15.99pb). This new open door policy may rankle with the diehard stalwarts for whom cask beer is the only choice on the bar, but the brews they are ‘a changin’. The sheer quality of a new generation’s beers, cask, keykeg or keg, cannot be ignored.
So Curtis, region by region, picks an exemplary beer from brewers he deems ‘modern’ according to a manifesto in the front of the book. Some 90 breweries in all feature. Omitted are influential traditionalists such as Harveys and Timothy Taylor, only because they are not ‘modern’. In his opening chapter Curtis dubs the whole contemporary beer scene ‘The Broad Spectrum of Joy’, incidentally the name of his celebratory beer collab with Sussex’s Burning Sky, another brewery fave we share.
We met at Manchester’s own Small Chalet of Joy, Sadler’s Cat, formerly artisan-crafted The Pilcrow, perfect excuse for missing trains from nearby Victoria Station. Now under the aegis of Cloudwater Brewery, it is serving as a guest Track Sonoma on handpull, the stuff of long lockdown dreams. I can’t resist just the three as I quiz Curtis specifically on what makes the Manchester beer scene so enticing he had to relocate last November.
Cloudwater’s Double Hopfenweisse, for a start. How could you not live in a city, which can yoke a German wheat beer style with a modern double IPA? Groundbreaking in different way is Cloudwater providing a platform for black and LGBTQ+ owned beer brands such as Eko Brewing, Rock Leopard and Queer Brewing via collab IPAs getting a national profile on the shelves of Tesco. Woke, of course, but the beer scene has moved on, hence the need for MBB as well as The Good Beer Guide.
Curtis has been living up here for the past 10 months. “It was a fresh start in a new city, Levenshulme felt like Stoke Newington 10 years ago and the beer scene was a huge draw.” It wasn’t the best time to relocate, he admits, but he has no regrets. His partner Dianne had been the driving force and he eventually acquiesced. As a freelance (check out the online magazine he co-edits, Pellicle) he could work from anywhere – and when they arrived she found a job, appropriately enough, as Cloudwater’s Unit 9 tap room manager.
Manchester wasn’t new territory for Curtis. IndieManBeerCon, Friends & Family & Beer, CAMRA’s Manchester Beer and Cider Festival, Marble, Manchester Beer Week, had all been ‘magnets for Matt’.
“Every week in Manchester is Beer Week,” he told me. “IndyMan was the blueprint for all modern beer festivals and I’m fascinated by Beer Nouveau recreating old beer styles. The city has a bit of everything, too. Classic old family breweries such as Lees, Hydes and Holts; incredible traditional pubs such as the Peveril of The Peak, City Arms and the Marble Arch.”
His own local in Levenshulme is Station Hop, one of the bevy of craft beer bars that have sprung up in the past decade. Witness their shortlist dominance in the pub/beer bar category of this year’s Manchester Food and Drink Awards – the likes of Heaton Hops, Beatnikz Republic NQ bar, Reasons to Be Cheerful and Nordie (another Levy watering hole for Curtis).
If it had re-opened earlier, Sadler’s Cat would surely have been a candidate. The refurb has been a real refresher. It gets its name from the cat that accompanied pioneering 19th century balloonist James on his ascent and is curled away in Sadler’s Yard, off Corporation Street.
Of course, a major beneficiary of lockdown home drinking has been canning. Home delivery has allowed beer geeks licence (sic) to explore febrile, far-flung corners of the beer scene. With a huge turnover of one-off brews or seasonal specials it is exhausting, thirsty work. In my quest to locate specific beers spotlighted in Modern British Beer I checked out Curators of Craft, which mails out British and Belgian beer nationwide from its Calder Valley base. My order, as a local, came via electric bike.
Graeme Brown set up the business in November 2019 and has stock from over 60 breweries, including stellar names recommended in the the Curtis book. But of the individual examples representing each brewery only one could I find. Yes, you guessed it, Oregon Trail didn’t prove elusive. And it’s a beer I’d settle for any day.
https://i0.wp.com/www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Matt-Curtis-scaled.jpg?fit=2048%2C1414&ssl=114142048Neil Sowerbyhttps://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/NS-typemark-v1c.pngNeil Sowerby2021-08-25 12:12:002021-08-29 15:52:19Modern British Beer – through a glass brightly with Matthew Curtis
Ominous warning for the recipe I was about to challenge myself with. Spicy Mutton and Tomato Biang Biang noodles. What could possibly go wrong? Not the roasted tomato and mutton broth constituents of this adaptation by Pippa Middlehurst of a classic dish from Xi’an, eastern hub of the Silk Road.
No, it was the handling of the biang biang that was likely to shoot me in the foot. Basically you’ve got one chance to stretch the noodle dough to the right silky, elasticity. BIang Biang is the onomatopoeic sound the dough makes when you slap it on the worktop. Pippa says it takes practice to perfect; after much trepidation and the required minimal contact I landed lucky with my metre lengths of noodle. Comparatively. The final dish, laced with coriander, cumin and star anise, was gorgeous.
It’s from Bowls and Broths (Quadrille £16.99), sophomore cookbook by the cancer research scientist turned supper club maestro, aka @pippyeats, after the huge success of her debut, Dumplings and Noodles.
The new book will be published on September 2, ahead of the launch of her food school and fully-equipped community cookery space for hire, Noodlehaus in Ancoats later in the year. It might well fit the bill for any further educational initiation of mine into the noodlesphere. So far £43,775 has been pledged in a Kickstarter Campaign.
This base in an old mill is the obvious next step for Pippa, winner of the BBC’s Britain’s Best Home Cook in 2018. She quit the lab that year to run cookery workshops and supper clubs around Manchester under the Instagram soubriquet @pippyeats. Result of travels around Taiwan, China and Japan, including noodle school in Lanzhou, was Dumplings and Noodles.
Her latest local al fresco expedition was setting up stall last weekend at Platt Fields Market Garden, providing high class ballast for their Deya Brewing and Friends event. Yet another sign of a new wave city food culture that transcends traditional restaurants and bars.
As for her own project, she told my colleagues at Manchester Confidential ahead of her Kickstarter launch: “I am so excited to be able to create my dream cookery school in the heart of Manchester. The building is in an old mill and has the most incredible natural light, which will be amazing for the photography workshops I will be hosting. The space will be open to all and I am looking forward to working with the community to provide a space that people can come and learn about cooking as well as share my love of cooking.”
That love of cooking bubbles over (like my biang biang noodle pot) in the new tome, which lives up to its manifesto: ‘Build a bowl of flavour from scratch with dumplings, noodles and more’.
Broth is the key. So my next dip into Pippa’s bowl-centric universe is a ramen, a dish I love but – guess what? – have never quite got right. She proposes a Tonkotsu Tsukemen. Just need now to source the requisite amount of pork bones and chicken feet.
It’s a culinary keepsake from her time in Japan and bears the inevitable proviso: “The noodles were thick and bouncy with a perfect amount of resistance and chew.” For someone whose ‘al dente’ pasta has been dubbed by my nearest and dearest as ‘al dentist’ it’s yet another challenge.
Noodlehaus, 37-49 Devonshire Street North, Manchester, M12 6JR. pippyeats.com
https://i0.wp.com/www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/NOODLES-scaled.jpg?fit=2048%2C1536&ssl=115362048Neil Sowerbyhttps://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/NS-typemark-v1c.pngNeil Sowerby2021-08-24 13:40:412021-10-20 21:28:30Bowls and Broths – how I got strung out in my quest for Pippy perfection
When revolutionaries ambushed and assassinated the Baron of Pädaste, Imperial Hunting Master to Tsar Nicholas II, in 1919 it froze in time the manor house that was his summer home. History, often bloody history, now passed it by.
Axel von Buxhoeveden’s heartbroken widow, the Siemens heiress Charlotte, left to live in Germany, never to return, and as a turbulent century saw Estonia crushed by war and Soviet domination, medieval Pädaste Manor sank slowly into decay. Destined, it seemed, to be submerged in the marshes of Muhu island. Trees took root in its lofty halls.
But like the sleeping beauty in the fairytale it has been magically reawakened as a hotel, mirroring the Baltic state itself shaking off the years of repression, rediscovering its roots.
If the beautiful heart of capital Tallinn has turned into a kind of tourist toytown, seducing the cruise ship parties (the stag and hen hordes have thankfully moved on), then Muhu and the other islands out to the west seem the keepers of Estonia’s rebellious pagan flame against a backdrop of the brooding Baltic Sea.
We arrived to stay at Pädaste Manor, now a five-star luxury hideaway like no other, a couple of weeks before the great celebration of the White Nights, 19 hours of daylight demanding much tree-hugging and vodka swilling. It hits you that Christianity was late coming to these northerly parts.
Wild boar and moose roam the woods of Muhu, along with the huntsmen who track them. Rare butterflies flit among the juniper trees, even rarer orchids carpet the woodland clearings. Half of Estonia is forest, a valuable source of mushrooms and herbs. A wild larder just waiting to be foraged. A landscape with much to tell.
One man who has listened is Martin Breuer. A quarter of a century ago the erudite Dutchman had a vision for Pädaste. It has taken a lot of sweat and toil to realise it, along with a welcome cash injection from the European Union.
The result is captivating. We arrived late. A journey from capital Tallinn that had promised to take little over two hours on blissfully quiet roads had been extended by our foolishly not taking the pre-booked lane on the Virtsu quayside.
We missed the boat and looked like missing lunch, but Kuivastu where the next ferry dropped us is just 10 minutes from Pädaste and the Manor kitchen stayed open to accommodate us. Our first taste of the Manor’s take on ‘Nordic Islands’ cuisine.
Think good game and fish, wild greens, birch sap, all palate-tinglingly pure. The hotel’s ground floor Alexander Restaurant has regularly been voted Estonia’s best and goes from strength to strength under current Chef de Cuisine Diogo Caetano. This elegant room with high ceilings opens into a spectacular winter garden and offers sweeping views over the park with its ancient trees.
More casual but also impressive was the simpler fare at the Pädaste Yacht Club on the Sea House Terrace down by the marshes. A good start. So too, our suite, which sported a terrific bathroom, with a free-standing tub, and a balcony overlooking woodland.
No two rooms are the same at Pädaste, either in the art-filled Manor House itself or in the Carriage House in the grounds – a consequence of the quirky, organic feel to the place Martin has been determined to maintain. Even the sauna, in a separate cottage brings a smiling, homely feel to state of the art facilities.
The position helps, convenient yet remote feeling. We soon ventured beyond the gate and into a piece of unspoiled Muhu. Despite, or perhaps because of the unseasonal heat, mist cloaked the distant creek. After lunch and a beer we took our books out to the loungers on a little jetty and drifted off to the sound of birdsong and bee hum.
If shacking up in a lost domain is your thing, then there’s no need to venture out. We took the hire car for a morning’s spin around Muhu, which is really just a staging post en route for Estonia’s largest island, Saaremaa.
Our favourite spot was Koguva fishing village, a lovingly preserved gaggle of farmhouses. There’s a museum of island life with staff in traditional costume and an art gallery but really it’s just an idyllic maze of lanes to wander around. It helps that it’s mostly inhabited by locals whose families have been here for generations.
This feels like the true Estonia, rather than Tallinn Old Town. Strikingly beautiful, yes, but just a mite plastic. Pädaste’s park and shoreline form part of a nature protection zone which is well known for its biodiversity. The shoreline is a stopover location for migratory geese, cranes, ducks and swans. Three breeding couples of the rare and majestic sea eagle nest nearby, the nightingale takes centre stage in the evenings of early June.
The park is home to owls, woodpeckers, squirrels and bats. Deer, wild boar and moose inhabit the surrounding forest. They occasionally can be seen crossing into the park, specially during cold winters.
Alas, the hotel is closed during the winter months, shuttered against the ice. Ready to reawaken when the abundant spring flowers are again in bloom and the lucky visitors return. Nowhere I know is quite like it.
Pädaste Manor – a Small Luxury Resort & Spa, Pädaste Mõis, Muhu Island, 94716 Estonia. +372 45 48 800. A member of Relais & Chateaux. Doubles from 280 euros (Carriage House) and 387 euros (Manor House). Junior suite from 459 euros, including breakfast with the Grand Suite at 965 euros. The hotel can arrange a private limousine transfer for the two hour journey from Tallinn or you can book car hire via the hotel website to get a discounted rate and complimentary upgrade depending on availability. Finnair has regular flights from Manchester to Helsink with connections to Tallinn.
To celebrate the hotel’s 25th birthday this profile of Pädaste is extracted from a travel piece of mine on Estonia, first published in Manchester Confidential.
https://i0.wp.com/www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Main-pic-of-Padaste.jpg?fit=2048%2C1365&ssl=113652048Neil Sowerbyhttps://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/NS-typemark-v1c.pngNeil Sowerby2021-08-23 23:05:112021-08-24 09:37:09Pädaste Manor – our Estonian idyll among the misty marshes
Water-centric news stories (floods aside) usually flow swiftly through my attention span and only two 2021 H20 moments have registered in a glass half empty, glass half full kind of way…
Big money guardians of the pour
The first? In February global food Nestlé released a substantial amount of its ‘liquid assets’ in North America by selling off its bottled-water brands, including popular but controversial Poland Spring. Two years ago judges dismissed a lawsuit casting doubts on its bona fide spring water status. Two private equity firms paid $4.3 billion. Proof that there’s gold still in them thar bottles, whatever the cost to the planet through plastic pollution.
Of course, the tide is turning with bottled water growth slowly shrinking, even in the USA, while Worldwide National Refill Day encourages greater responsibility beyond the chill cabinet impulse buy and swiftly discarded plastic. Back in 2019 Manchester Food and Drink Festival In a bid to do their part to tackle plastic bottle pollution, The Manchester Food and Drink Festival teamed up with the national Refill Campaign to offer free water bottle refills across city venues, linked by an appropriate app.
Yet all this activity still seems a drop in the polluted ocean, so fixed are we in our convenience ways. How any of us can be bothered to locate a free water fill-up station after all the corporate goodwill?
Whatever happened to Cristiano Ronaldo?
The second? When Cristiano Ronaldo, at a European Championship press conference, cleared two Coca-Cola bottles from view while brandishing his own tipple of choice, ‘Agua’ it was linked with a sudden $4 billion drop in the fizz giant’s market value (it bounced back). A blow for product placement, yes, a positive health statement, yes, but also promoting water in single use plastic bottles. No, no, no!
Coca Cola’s many subsidiary brands include bottled waters, some from natural springs, others not. Check out US top-seller Dasani. According to the website, Dasani combines “the process of reverse osmosis filtration with a proprietary blend of minerals to deliver a fresh, clean taste.” Clear as water? Clear as mud.
So what’s wrong with tap water?
While admitting a personal preference for refreshing liquid sustenance centred on fermentation (and I don’t mean kombucha), I do also recognise that straight tap water doesn’t always deliver a “fresh clean taste”. Urban myths about the tap stuff passing through seven bodies before it reaches you haven’t helped. The truth is, according to one UK water company expert: ‘You can’t make new water. You can basically say the water we drink today is the same water that the dinosaurs drank. So forget seven people – it’s been through billions.”
Quality varies from region to region, according to chemical composition. Hence it is easy to get in the habit of avoiding tap. Figures have shown that in the UK 7.7 billion plastic water bottles are used each year, with the average person in the UK now using 150 plastic water bottles every year – more than three a week. Many are discarded, and end up polluting our rivers and seas.
I can’t resist a further set of statistics from refill campaigners. The weight of plastic saved by removing just one billion plastic bottles is equal to 12,700 metric tonnes, or just under 13 million kilograms. That’s the equivalent of around 50 Eurotunnel trains, or more than 2,100 African bush elephants.
ZeroWater – a pure solution for my home water requirements
Fact: my new water filter, empty weighs under 1.5kg (about the weight of a duckbilled platypus) and has years of shelf life ahead. It replaces an old Britax that had given us good service but had grown grubby. Plastic for plastic but a sense of sustainability. The new kit in my kitchen is called ZeroWater. I’ve been testing the ZeroWater 12 cup .which costs £39.99 and I immediately appreciated the freshness of water stripped of impurities and free of any chlorine taint. Hence the name. It’s all about the Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) level.
The US Food and Drug Administration the TDS level in purified bottled water to reach 000-010ppm. ZeroWater is the only filter in its class to achieve this level. ZeroWater’s first layer of filtration, activated carbon and oxidation reduction alloy removes the chlorine taste you are accustomed to with tap water. The Ion Exchange stage removes virtually all dissolved solids that may be left over from public water systems or even leached into your water from metal piping. Three additional stages remove other contaminants.
All this is clocked by a gadget I’ve never seen with a filter before – a reader that allows you to gauge water quality in the glass before and after filtration. Laboratory research show water quality in US cities is 200-300ppm and ZeroWater tranforms this to a 000 reading or thereabouts.
It was a gimmicky Youtube plug three Christmases ago, but filterer for hire Philip Schofield proved (briefly) that ZeroWater power can turn wine to water!
https://i0.wp.com/www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Lots_of_bottled_water.jpg?fit=2048%2C1536&ssl=115362048Neil Sowerbyhttps://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/NS-typemark-v1c.pngNeil Sowerby2021-08-22 18:10:002021-09-08 18:12:01ZeroWater filter is the purest solution to all those H2O pipe dreams
Much has been made of the North’s dominance in the National Restaurant Awards announced this week with four out of the five best establishments up here and 16 in the top 40. Manchester only contributed two, both in Ancoats – Mana at number 11 and Erst, just along Murray Street, at 47.
A truer reflection of the city’s strength in depth came hot on the heels of that national Top 100 when the shortlist for the Manchester Food and Drink Awards 2021 was announced. A record 113 nominees will contest the 15 categories, all the winners to be chosen entirely by the public for the first time in the MFDF’s 24 year history.
It is a matter of expediency, post-Pandemic logistics meaning the normal ‘mystery shopping’ by the judging panel is impracticable. The Manchester Food and Drink Festival , sponsored by Just Eat, kicks off on September 16 and the Awards will be presented at the Ticket Hall at Escape to Freight Island (pictured above) on Monday, September 27.
As a senior MFDF judge my personal wish is for normal service to be resumed in 2022, but this fresh formula of the public picking their favourites from shortlists drawn up by the judges is an interesting litmus test. Ideally it will reflect the increased foodie sophistication of the city and its satellites alongside pride in the hospitality culture that has survived a torrid 18 months. One new category likely to be hotly contested is ‘Best Foodie Neighbourhood’.
You can vote for each Award via the MFDF website or app. The app can be downloaded on theApp Store here and Google Play here. The closing date for votes is 11.59pm on Monday, September 20. Fancy a ticket for the Awards presentation dinner itself? Tickets are on sale here.
Here are the 2021 Manchester Food and Drink Awards Nominations:
Sometimes a wine comes along that makes you re-think a neglected old favourite. That’s the case with Cayetano del Pino Palo Cortado Solera. It has been the subject of rave reviews on The Wine Society website but was I going to fork out even £15.50 for the least definable of sherry styles? Yet I have been paying the like for those new season ‘fresh’ finos tagged as En Rama (‘from the branch’).
As it turned out the Cayetano del Pino is among the wine world’s great bargains. Its creators, Bodegas Sánchez Romate – one of the few family-owned operators left in Jerez – are virtually giving away a fortified wine of this quality. Around 15 years old, pale bronze in colour, nutty, dry with a finish as long as the journey south from Madrid.
Aficionados are always complaining/gloating that the fortified wines of Jerez are undervalued. Image problem, you know? And of all sherry image problems, Palo Cortado’s is the thorniest. So Is it a heavier Amontillado? Or a lighter Oloroso? Neither. Though some cheap end Palo Cortados may be blends of both.
“It is the most ambiguous of all the sherry styles and the reverence with which it is regarded is undoubtedly fuelled by its air of mystery and legend…” write the authors of Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla.
Without going into technicalities, Palo Cortado has been the black sheep of the sherry-making process since the 19th century. This process is based on the unique solera system of maturation across a large number of casks and fractional blending over many years.
A key to a young sherry’s development towards Amontillado status is the protective layer of ‘flor’ or yeasty bloom that settles on the surface of the base fino. Serendipitously it fails to persist in certain cask batches, the subsequent oxygen contact encouraging more intense flavour and alcohol. Each cask is then re-fortified to over 17 per cent and shifted to a Palo Cortado solera to age oxidatively.
Once a matter of chance but with modern techniques it’s down to manipulation. Cortado fans can spend far more than 15 quid on what is a rarity, representing only one per cent of all sherry made.
THE CUT STICK
The name means ‘cut stick,’ in reference to the mark made on the cask whenthis style of wine is recognised. Since the wine was originally destined to be a fino or amontillado, it will initially have had a single stroke marked on the cask. When the cellar master realises that the wine is becoming a palo cortado, he draws a cross (or cut) through the initial stroke (or stick), resulting in a crossed stroke or ‘cut stick’.
A fond memory from visiting Jerez was tasting in the cellars of Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla in the company of its avuncular owner, the Norwegian Jan Pettersen. I particularly love their Pedro Ximenez but the Antique Palo Cortado is equally distinctive. Boutinot Winesof Cheadle import the range and at each annual Manchester tasting I’d renew acquaintance of this honeyed, saline, finessed example.
For the moment, though, the Cayetano del Pino has stolen my heart. And not mine alone. One of my favourite wine writers, Rose Murray Brown reviewed it thus: “Lovely combo of vibrant freshness and rich texture. Our tasters loved the enticing toffee honeyed aromas and rich nutty complexity (and the pretty label). Bone dry, but not as searingly dry as some we tasted. Sleek elegant and attractive on the palate.”
What is the best food match for it, though? It would be easy, as with Amontillado or Oloroso, to sip it with a bowl of nuts, but it does enhance certain partnerships.
The obvious one is cheese, particularly hard cheese. My compadre and Spanish food guru Gerry Dawes, from New York, opined: ”I stopped using red table wines, really good ones, with cheese quite some time ago. Cheese completely changes the make-up of the red wine, and you lose the nuances. Sherry has enough elements that it stands out in relief.”
Triple cream cheeses might work, but i’m not sure; aged Alpine cheeses are definitely a perfect fit.
I’m lucky enough to have within 10 minutes’ walk, the Calder Cheesehouse, which has a delectable range of unpasteurised Beaufort, Comte, Gruyere and, more under the radar, Schlossberger and Princess Alisia-Victoria, both from Switzerland. In France’s Jura region, which we visited pre-Pandemic, the recognised accompaniment for Comte is the local, oxidised Vin Jaune, that has affinities with Palo Cortado.
In Southern Spain itself it matches well with Iberico lomo or salchichon; at home in Todmorden we tried it successfully with a mixed charcuterie platter (air dried ham, lomo, culatello and coppa) from local producers Porcus. The sherry and cured fat make good buddies. Grilled fish seems to work with Palo Cortado, sardines and anchovies, too, but I’m not convinced about smoked salmon.
Summer 2021 marks two milestones in the post-industrial bubble that is Kelham Island. Cutting edge restaurant Jörohas expanded beyond its upcycled shipping container base to open a four-room boutique hotel nearby, complete with chef’s table, while the homely pub at the heart of this buzzing urban community is celebrating 40 years of just being The Fat Cat.
A maverick umbilical cord links that almost bucolic cask beer mecca, whose in-house brewery spawned the iconic Pale Rider ale, to the sleek steel (well it is Sheffield) Krynkl complex where chef Luke French has transformed the city’s culinary expectations over the past four years. It reached No.34 in the Estrella Damm National Restaurant Awards (announced on August 16).
Post lockdown it seemed a good time to visit both pioneering venues. So a tram from the station (after a Thornbridge Jaipur refresher, naturally at the Sheffield Tap on Platform 1B), then across the busy Shalesmoor roundabout to a suddenly hushed warren of backstreets to establish the respective locations.
A detour might have been in order, too, to the Kelham Island Tavern, arguably the city’s best craft beer pub venue but – sign of the times – there was a Covid-closure note on the door. Still the pre-amble ramble did allow me to soak in the atmosphere of a district that defines industrial heritage and cool renewal…
Renewal, of course, means creatives clustering in shiny new build apartments or brick-heavy warehouse conversions with a casual bar/dining scene springing up to service the influx. And occasionally big hitters show up such as Mana in Ancoats, Brat in Shoreditch or Casamia on the Bristol waterfront. Sheffield has its own contender…
One slight tremor as I entered the penumbral interior, the normal 50 covers reduced as a Covd-safe measure. Would the widening horizons of Luke French and his wife and business director, Stacey Sherwood-French impact on the core operation? Not jut th hotel project but also street food spin-offs. Fear not this was an outstanding £65 eight course lunch that ate up three joyful hours. I’m not sure I’m a fan of the building, shaped from 29 shipping containers but I am of a serving staff that included one who had a sake qualification (thanks for the New Mountain Junmai recommendation) and another who knew his way round the new Spanish wine frontiers of Ribeira Sacra and Sierra de Gredos.
Chef Luke has previously expressed his desire to “find something similar to L’Enclume or The Black Swan at Oldstead, somewhere rural we can forage in and with a smallholding to grow our own ingredients.” For the moment he’s as urban as it gets, albeit with some amazing rural suppliers. Just a Michelin Bib for the moment but the food I encountered across my tasting menu surely deserve a star. Manchester’s own Mana deserves a second, but that’s a whole other matter.
Jöro Highlights? Virtually everything, from an early introduction to Chawanmushi, a savoury Japanese custard here flavoured with smoked eel, a tiny tranche of which also featured alongside salmon roe and pancetta. Wortley wagyu rump in a tartare with celeriac and mustard was less groundbreaking but equally wonderful. I should have asked about the Wortley provenance (it’s the fabled beef of Japan but reared in South Yorkshire’s grasslands); I didn’t make the same mistake with Doncaster peas. “You’ll taste them and know why,” was the enigmatic response. Their yoking with mint and lamb fat yielded more detailed exegesis. The key to the dish was ‘lamb garum’ where lamb mince and koji had been given 10 weeks in a water bath to create a fermented base for this incredible dish. For more on garum readmy recent article.
What I really loved about the whole experience was a straightforward punch of flavours, whether a pure tranche of Cornish cod on a bed of smoked haddock and creme fraiche sauce or among the desserts the stand-out strawberries with lemon verbena and organic yoghurt. You get the dedication to our own raw materials filtered through an appropriated Japanese and Norse (hence the name) sensibility.
Stays and JÖRO Packages can be booked online via thislink.
THE FAT CAT
Neither of my two destinations is on the island proper, man-made in the 13th by diverting water from the River Don to power medieval mills. So a distant seed sown for the Industrial Revolution proper, the catalyst for which in Sheffield was the opening of John Crowley’s Iron Foundry in 1829, tapping into river power abundant coal and iron ore.
If you want to get the full story visit the Kelham Island Museum, which was created 40 years ago. You can see it prize exhibition for free because the only Bessemer steel converter still in existence stands in front. This egg-shaped black hulk quickly revolutionised 19th century steel production.
Thirsty work, the industry in its heyday and pubs like The Alma just down the street of that name existed to slake those forge-driven thirsts. Then came the long slow decline of the Steel City. From the Seventies onwards recession and dereliction battered Kelham.
It took a brave man to acquire the Alma, change its name to the ironic Fat Cat and start brewing his own exceptional beer in the yard.
That was the grand plan of Dave Wickett, the new co-owner. The pub introduced Sheffield to a cavalcade of guest beers and by 1990 when Dave took sole control he created his own Kelha Island Brewery in the beer garden. The pub survived flooding in 2007; the level is charted on the exterior alongside that of the The Great Sheffield Flood of 1864. It survived Dave’s early death and is still brewing in premises across the street.
In 2004 their flagship beer Pale Rider was voted Supreme Champion Beer of Britain at The Great British Beer Festival. It has hardly been off the hand pull ever since, though a recent month’s hiatus perturbed devotees.
Matthew Curtis, in his highly recommended new survey, Modern British Beer (CAMRA Books, £15.99) descrIbes Pale Rider thus: “There was some malt character in the flavour, soft and candy-floss sweet, but only fleetingly. This allowed a crescendo of hop to build with notes of candied orange peel to the fore, but they were restrained throughout with a balanced bittersweet finish forming at the end of this orchestral flourish.
A touch flowery but a good summary of my ‘aperitif’ experience before lunch over at Jöro. Old meets new in one memorable Kelham Island afternoon.
https://i0.wp.com/www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Kelham-main-scaled.jpg?fit=2048%2C1536&ssl=115362048Neil Sowerbyhttps://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/NS-typemark-v1c.pngNeil Sowerby2021-08-17 10:05:112021-08-17 10:14:26Saluting Jöro and the Fat Cat on Sheffield’s paradise Island
Hard to credit now but back in December 2019 Saint Lucia was the last foreign country I visited – before Covid turned the world upside down. There I consolidated my passion for rum. It will be consummated once again on Saturday, August 28 when Manchester Rum Festival makes its belated return. Among the many treasures to taste will be Saint Lucia’s own Chairman’s Reserve, Four Square from Barbados, Montanya from Colorado and our own Diablesse, all of which have been staging posts on my rum journey, which began among the sugar cane plantations of the Caribbean.
The two hour west coast road trip north from Soufriere to Castries is a clifftop, hairpin bend rollercoaster ride, requiring strong nerves at the wheel (taxi recommended). En route, the views are fabulous, the fishing villages of Anse La Raye and Canaries worth a quirky stop-off, our only regret we hadn’t time to detour to picturesque Marigot Bay.
Inland consolation, a ‘Rhythm of Rum’ tour of St Lucia Distillers. The island no longer produces commercial quantities of sugar cane, importing molasses from Guyana or Barbados and this is the only producer left but the quality is high from the core brand Chairman’s Reserve upwards. At the end of the hourlong tour you get to sample their 20 or so products and access discounts on purchases at the Rhum Shoppe.
Dave Marsland, organiser of the Rum Festival, also happens to be UK brand ambassador for Chairman’s Reserve. His favourite of the range? “It would be Chairman’s Reserve Forgotten Cask. It’s smooth with plenty of the ex-American oak barrel flavours coming through, whether I drink it straight, with coconut water or as an Old Fashioned. Works fantastic with cigars too.”
My own? The real knockout is the Denros Strong Rum – 80% ABV, 160º proof. Well maybe not a tot on a school night.
Rum’s heartland is the northern parishes. Historic plantations still dot the landscape in various states of desuetude. Movable wooden worker’s dwellings called chattel houses add to the sense of transience. The clue to where all the sugar cane fields once were are the windmills.
In 1846 the island had more than 500 – only Holland had a greater density – and the remaining mills, in whatever state, are all now under a preservation order. The Barbados National Trust maintain the Morgan Lewis Working Mill. in the parish of St Andrew’s. From December to April visitors can see cane ground into juice there.
Under 10 minutes away and much more enjoyably hands on is St Nicholas Abbey, the island’s best historic day out. One of only three Jacobean mansions left in the whole Americas, the gabled old house set among mahogany trees summons up the ghosts of those early plantation owners with its museum addressing the slave issue, while current owners the Warren family lovingly preserve the old rum-making methods in a boutique distillery they set up a decade ago.
So you get a steam-powered cane crush and a traditional pot still, using cane for the syrup that’s unique to the 400 acre estate, half of which is under sugar cultivation. The quest for a premium quality spirit was consolidated by enlisting the advice – and starter rums – of Richard Seale, owner of the island’s multi award-winning Foursquare distillery.
So the older rums (10 years) we tasted with Larry Warren after our tour originated at Foursquare before being barrel-aged at the Abbey, most of whose own rums still need to serve their time in oak. There’s no church connection, by the way; Abbey’s just a landowner’s affectation from way back.
The little town of Crested Butte is not as glamorous as Rockies mecca Telluride. Indeed the folksy mountain charm is it selling point alongside – for me – its rum distillery. Whoa! We a long way from sugar plantations, so why did Karen Hoskin decided to set up Montanya Distillershere on Main Street? It’s the pure mountain water apparently that is the key, the stuff that makes spring so special.
So the flowers were in full spate in the high meadows above Crested Butte 150 miles north of Telluride. Like its rival destination, this former coal mining town is divided into a ski resort village and the original settlement below, rescued by hippies in the Seventies and still not insufferably gentrified.
I loved its bookshops and coffee hang-outs, kids selling homemade lemonade on the streets and, above all Montanya, for its sustainable ethos and the quality of its acclaimed small batch product. Rum sounds an odd drink to be making in the mountains but owner Karen Hoskin believes the 9,000ft altitude helps the progress.
“Our non-GMO sugar cane comes from family farmers in Louisiana, who grow and mill for us,” she says. “ Our water comes from one of the purest spring and snowmelt charged aquifers in the USA. Our rums are made by hand, from scratch, in a very traditional way using alembic copper pot stills from Portugal.”
One bonus of booking a Montanya tour is you get a complimentary cocktail in the garden bar. Karen discovered her taste for rum in Goa – try her signature, spicy Maharaja. You may never leave.
South Manchester is the least exotic rum address I know, but then Cleo Farman has always taken the Odd route. That was the name of her pioneering NQ bar on Thomas Street. That spawned Odder and Oddest and then they all all faded away leaving ebullient Cleo with the kind of midlife crisis we’d all want when she decamped back to the Caribbean where she had once worked for Richard Branson on Neckar Island. Retrenchment meant nine months researching rum blends, out of which arose in early 2019 her own bespoke blends.
They bear the name Diablesse – inspired by a Caribbean folklore spook, La Diablesse, born human but turned demonic after a pact with the Devil. Makes for a striking bottle label. They say you should use a long spoon to sup with the Devil.
Diablesse Caribbean Rum (40% abv) is Cleo’s benchmark blend of three distinctive rums, serious stuff, while Diablesse Clementine Spiced Rum (42.3%) is a crowd-pleasing demerara rum from the Diamond Distillery, flavoured with clementine and a spice mix of spice mix of vanilla pod, ginger, cinnamon, cinnamon and clove.
Lovely glugger the latter, but it is the Caribbean Rum that really makes you sit up and pay attention. Some canny blending has gone into its creation with a major contribution to its complexity and smoothness coming from ageing in American bourbon barrels. No added sugar or caramel either.
Manchester Rum Festival 2021 will be going ahead on Saturday August 28, 12pm-7pm at new venue Mercure Manchester Piccadilly Hotel. Check out the full list of rums via this link. I suspect it may be a sell-out even after a handful of extra tickets were squeezed out. Priced £30 + booking fee, please check here.
https://i0.wp.com/www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Sugar-cane.jpg?fit=1000%2C800&ssl=18001000Neil Sowerbyhttps://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/NS-typemark-v1c.pngNeil Sowerby2021-08-17 09:02:092021-08-20 11:51:49Some rum spots I’ve been in… now bring on its Manchester festival