Tag Archives: cocktails

Oleo Saccharum

After my experiments with brewing ginger beer, I’m going to keep the drinks theme going here.

In my many hours of browsing food websites (I live in London – I spend a lot of time sitting in buses checking out blogs on my phone!), I recently came across a recipe for something called oleo saccharum. If you’re wondering what that means, then you share the exact same thought that popped into my head when I heard about it. It roughly means “sugary oil”. Sounds unappealing, but bear with me.

The idea is a way to extract an intensely flavoured syrup from citrus peel, and so it is perfect for mixing up drinks and cocktails. You simply take a bunch of citrus peel, trim off any bitter pith, then pop in a bag with some sugar. Seal the bag, rub the sugar into the peel to get things going, and let everything sit until the sugar dissolves and turns into a richly flavoured and very aromatic syrup.

Well, that’s the theory. And while most people seem to make oleo saccharum from citrus peel, there is no reason you can’t get a little creative. If it’s aromatic and could go in a drink, you can mix it with sugar and wait. If you’ve ever left strawberries to macerate in a little sugar in a bowl, you get that sweet, pure syrup after a while – well, that’s basically it! The key thing here is that there is no cooking involved, so you don’t risk the volatile aromatic elements of your ingredients being lost. Just mix your ingredients and allow time to do the rest.

So I had a go at making three types – a lime version as a nod to the traditional, plus ginger and rose. Three very different ingredients, resulting in three aromatic syrups.

oleosaccharum

Of the three, ginger was definitely the easiest and gives the best yield. I had a large, juicy bulb of ginger, so it was pretty evident that this was going to provide a lot of flavour. Peel it, slice it and chop it – don’t be tempted to grate it, as you’ll lose some of that all-important ginger juice. As there is a lot of moisture in there, the sugar really does a good job in sucking out all the ginger flavour, so you get a decent amount of syrup. As a bonus, the remaining ginger is sweet and perfect to add to a fruit salad or sprinkle on top of desserts, cakes etc.

gingeroleosaccharum

The version with lime was pretty successful. What you do need to accept is that you will need to add a lot of lime peel to get a decent amount of oleo saccharum, but after that, things happen pretty easily. Of the three versions, I think this is the one that benefits most from being put into the bag with the sugar, and having an extended period of, ahm, “caressing” to allow the rough sugar crystals to work their magic on the zest, extracting those precious aromatic oils.

The result was an intensly-perfumed syrup with a strong, fresh lime aroma and a little bitter twist, ever so slightly reminiscent of marmalade. I think this is a good option for a cocktail where you want something more sophisticated than just plan sour and a basic lime flavour – give an extra twist to a caiperinha, or make an old-fashioned with just whisky and orange oleo saccharum. If you’re keen to get a food yield, I would opt for oranges or lemons (easier to peel, and less dry) or go for the more exotic flavour of grapefruit.

limeoleosaccharum

Last but not least was the version made with rose. This really was a spur of the moment decision, but I am lucky enough to have some beautiful pink and red roses in the garden with a heavy scent. A few were just past their best, so I took the chance and tried it out.

Of the three, this was definitely the trickiest. I had imagined that the rose petals would contain sufficient water to make this a doddle, but it seems that there was not actually that much moisture in them. Rubbing the sugar and petals in the bag did seem to break them drown and draw out the colour and flavour, but it seemed very dry, so I had to add a few drops of filtered water to make sure the sugar went from a thick, sticky mass to a syrup. This was really a case of drop-by-drop.

Sadly, the result did not look like the pretty colour of the pink roses from my garden, rather it was a dirty reddish-brown hue. Not what I was looking for! Then then I remembered that you need to add lemon juice, and just one drop transformed this oleo saccharum to a soft pink. Perfect!

roseoleosaccharum

While a little more demanding to make, I think the flavour of the rose oleo saccharum was really quite remarkable. Rose extract or rose water can often be very flat and synthetic, to the point of being overpowering, but made this way, the flavour really does seem to have a light freshness to it. This is not simple and floral, but subtle, complex and with the slightest hint of plant (in a good way). I think could be quite exceptional in a glass of sparkling wine or as the basis for a rose sherbet, where the bubbles will bring those complex rose aromas to the surface to tickle your nose.

I hope you’ve found this interesting. I’m keen to try this approach with other ingredients – an easy way to make simply, fresh syrups from soft fruits, but don’t limit yourself. Make the ultimate mint syrup…cucumber syrup…lots of possibilities!

To make oleo saccharum:

The following are a guide only. If you find the mixture is not liquid enough and the sugar has not dissolved, add a little filtered water and leave to rest for another 30 minutes.

Ginger oleo saccharum

• 100g peeled ginger, finely shredded
• 150g white caster sugar

1. Mix well. Leave in a covered bowl or bag for 24 hours. Strain.

Lime oleo saccharum

• 6 large limes (as fresh as possible)
• 100g white caster sugar

1. Cut the peel from the limes in strips. Trim off any white pith.

2. Mix well. Leave in a covered bowl or bag for 24 hours. If there is any sugar left, add a little lime juice until dissolved. Strain.

Rose oleo saccharum

• 4 red roses
• 50g caster sugar
• filtered water
• 1-2 drops lemon juice

1. Pick the petals from the roses. Check for bugs, rinse gentle and pat dry with a very clean cloth.

2. Place petals and sugar into a plastic bag. Squeeze out the air and rub the sugar into the petals. Leave the rest for 24 hours.

3. Check the oleo saccharum. If not sufficiently syrup-like, add a few drops of water.

4. Add a few drops of lemon juice and swirl until the syrup changes from murky to bright pink.

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Farewell to Summer

It’s the last day of August. Forget the technicalities, I always think of this day as the last day of summer. The British weather has that odd habit at this time of year of offering tantalising glimpses of warmth (typically in the middle of the working week), only to dash those hopes with a sharp, fresh breeze and the first falling leaves drifting past your window (usually at the weekend). You fancy that you can still sit outside in the evening for dinner, but it’s just a little bit too nippy to manage that in complete comfort (although at such times, wine and deep-fried Camembert provide a rather good form of rapid insulation). Change is in the air.

However, to mark the passing of what has been an amazing summer in London, I thought I would post about the drink that we’ve been using to cheer ourselves through the Jubilee, the Olympics and now into the Paralympics. It’s called the Aperol Spritz.

In terms of appearance, this drink is not subtle. It really is that luminous orange colour. It is made with Aperol, an Italian aperitif infused with bitters and citrus, topped up with Prosecco, then served on ice with a wedge of orange. It it light, fizzy, perfectly chilled and the orange-and-bitter combination has a nice sweet yet bitter flavour to stimulate the appetite. That, and the bright orange colour makes it look just so, so cool.

I’ve actually had a bottle of Aperol in my drinks cabinet for a while. I first came across Aperol Spritz when I was visiting Milan a couple of years ago. I saw it in a bar during aperitivo time, and it really seemed like the perfect summer drink. The only downside was that it was rather too easy to drink, and in that lay hidden dangers when endeavouring to catch an early train to Switzerland the next day…although I did manage to swing by a wine shop and pick up a bottle to bring home with me.

I was also reminded of this drink again on a visit to the Gilbert Scott bar near work. We were not taken with anything on the menu (it was all lovely, but we were in the mood for something more celebratory). The idea of the Aperol Spritz popped back into my head, and yes, the waiter told us that they had Aperol behind the bar. Two of these, and we were enthusiastically toasting Team GB’s success that day at the Games. Any excuse…

I’ve also noticed that as I’ve been drinking the Aperol Spritz all summer long, it has also been popping up in magazines and on the web rather a lot. I’ve seen some discussion about what you should add to the liqueur to add the fizzy spritz element. Prosecco is the classic, but some people seem enamoured with the idea of using champagne. Surely better, yes? Well, I tend to disagree. While I would normally say each to their own, first off, this is a waste of good champagne. Second, I find Prosecco is lighter and lends itself to this cocktail rather well, and I am not sure the brioché or fleur d’amandier notes of Champagne come out as delicately when you mix them with an orange liqueur, add a slice of citrus and serve on the rocks. Just a hunch!

So do as the Italians do, and stick with Prosecco. Designer shades optional. And if you see it on holiday, pick up a bottle. You’ll be glad you did. Basta!

To make Aperol spritz:

• 1 part (50ml) Aperol
• 2 parts(100ml) Prosecco
• dash of soda water (optional)
• orange slice
• ice

Mix the Aperol and Prosecco plus soda water (if using), pour over lots of ice and serve with a wedge of orange.

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On Location: Alvar Bar (Birmingham)

Oh my – rather a lot of posts by me from bars and restaurants recently! Well, here’s another. This is a quick post about a nice little place I popped into during a flying visit to Birmingham last week – the Alvar Bar in the Hotel La Tour.

It’s fair to say the city has changed a lot over recent years. One of the most striking new buildings is posh department store Selfridges, which is housed in a smooth, undulating building that looks part-mirror, part-sequins thanks to lots of metal panels.

I found myself in the Midlands for an all-day training event, and feeling surprisingly enthused, I was resolved to use the free hour I had before my train back south to have a cheeky drink somewhere nice. On my way up that morning, I’d put out some feelers via Twitter to see what was suggested, and the answer came back to check out the new bar at the new Hotel La Tour, a recent opening in Birmingham.

So I had a little peek online. The hotel’s Aalto restaurant is run by a chef that trained under Marcus Wareing, so it’s something of a sister (or cousin/long-lost-friend?) of the Gilbert Scott just next to where I work in London. Coincidence? I don’t think so! I took it as a sign that I should go there, and it’s fair to say that I spent quite a lot of the day thinking about perusing a fancy cocktail list. Priorities and all that…

The style is very sleek – as the building is new, it’s on the scale that I’m not really used to in central London. It’s light, bright and I loved the way you enter the bar – via a spiral staircase around a large light sculpture that takes you up from the hotel – it had the vague air of the sort of thing you might expect to see Fred and Ginger tap dancing down in Top Hat, as if reinterpreted by a Nordic designer in thick-rimmed fashionable glasses. Nice way to make a grand entrance!

I had in my mind that I would order a Negroni (still current favourite on the apero front) but the cocktail list had some rather innovative creations.

I toyed with the “Chamberlain” (made with rum, Somerset apple cider, brandy, lemon and mint) named in honour of the Birmingham political dynasty, but in the end I was swayed to go for the “Grand Junction” (Plymouth Gin, Dubonnet, grapefruit, lemon and champagne), named in honour of the first railway in the city. I was waiting for a train, so it seemed rather fitting. It’s also a rather nice cocktail for the Diamond Jubilee – the gin, the Dubonnet, the champagne…and on balance, very nice it was too. The Dubonnet gives a vibrant pink hue, sweetness and spiced/herbal notes, the gin adds substance, the champagne adds a little sparkle and the citrus fruits add a sour twist to keep the drink fresh. I’d probably have had a second if I had not only a rather tight ten minutes to get form the bar to the station…

So…would I go back? Well, clearly it’s not the sort of place I’ll be passing on a regular basis as I’m not in this part of the world too often, but if I’m back in Birmingham, I can definitely imagine popping back.

Alvar, Hotel La Tour, Albert Street, Birmingham. Tel: 0121 718 8000.

LondonEats locations map here.

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On Location: The Gilbert Scott Bar

I’ve been incredibly busy at work recently, and I’ve come to appreciate the pleasures of a drink at the end of the day. We’re not talking the usual way that Brits seem to unwind together “down the pub” over multiple rounds of beer. No, I lived in Brussels for too long to pick up that habit. But a chance to unwind with a colleague in a classy bar, now that is appealing.

I happen to work near to fairytale-like St Pancras station in London, and so it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to the Gilbert Scott bar.

I love it. I actually love it. It was a touch too busy when it first opened, but these days, it’s still buzzy but you can usually wander in and get a table.

A big part of the attraction is the decor – it’s all quite elegant as far as seating arrangements go, then it goes crazy – lots of carved stone, gilt and an elaborate painted ceiling in gold, rich reds, deep blues and luxurious greens. I always think that the ceiling has a rather glamorous “Arts and Crafts” feeling to it. It also has that sort of subtle lighting that makes you want to huddle round the table and share stories – whispered, and not shouted. All very Victorian and discreet.

The drinks menu is great – interesting cocktails, which change by the month (juleps in January, flips and fizzes in February, mojitos in March…get it? On tenderhooks to see what April will offer – advocaat or apero?) and the classics are pretty darn good (my drink of choice is a Negroni for the time being). For those that love a touch of fizz, the award-winning English sparkling wine is also worth checking out.

Now…let’s talk damage – it’s not cheap, but this is quite a classy place with a classy crowd. I love that it still has the feeling of a grand station café, where people next to you could be about to travel up to the wilds of Yorkshire, dash to the Eurostar to travel to Paris, or are waiting for the Caledonian Sleeper to take them up to the Scottish Highlands.

This is the sort of atmosphere that lends itself to ordering something sophisticated and then having a good old catch-up with friends. If you’re not quite taken with the cocktail list in any given month, they also seem to be willing to go off piste – the staff are friendly and know their stuff, and when I was there, my friend spent most of the evening raving about a rather interesting creation that included red wine and cocoa nibs.

In addition to a decent cocktail selection, there is a nice line in bar snacks, including fat chips with Sarson’s mayo, and my favourite – Countess Morphy’s potato croquettes.

Countess Morphy? You don’t know her? Well, neither did I, but it turns out she is the author of “Recipes of All Nations”, a tome from the 1930s that brought glimpses of exotic lands to the British kitchen. She sounds like a foodie aristo that could have some straight out of Downton Abbey or Upstairs, Downstairs, but it is rumoured that the Countess did not actually enjoy a title, and may in fact have been Marcelle Azra Hincks, a native of New Orleans. Whatever her story, I had an admiration for a lady who clearly understood the value of branding and turned that to her advantage. I want this book, and I will be keeping an eye out for it when I pass vintage bookshops. And she has a darned good recipe for croquettes too.

And if you’re hungry but not quite ready for the ware of Countess Morphy, I love these little silver containers with salt-and-pepper popcorn. An interesting touch instead of plain old nuts or crisps.

So…would I go back? Well, I tend to end up here at least once every couple of weeks, so I hardly count as an objective source. But I think this is once of the nicest bars in the area, and a really special place to enjoy a drink while you want for that someone special to arrive on the last train from Paris. They’re about to launch afternoon tea too, so I get the feeling I’ll be back just a little more often too.

The Gilbert Scott Bar, St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Euston Road, London NW1 2AR. Tel: 0207 278 3888. King’s Cross St Pancras Tube.

LondonEats locations map here.

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Atholl Brose for a Happy Hogmanay!

That’s it! 2011 is coming to a close, measured now not in weeks or days, but hours and minutes.

The excesses of Christmas are over, now replaced with plans for more excess on New Year’s Eve. This year I have the good fortune to have been invited to friends, so no need for me to do much other than pitch up on time and with a few drinks.

I’ve got champagne for sure, but I’ve also got a few fun things to take along. The sloe gin is ready, and I have discovered that it lends itself very well to what has been christened the Sloe Gin Fizz Royale – a dash of sloe gin in the bottom of the glass, and top up with quality sparkling wine (forgive me for being a snob…but I prefer champagne straight up!). It works perfectly as a apéritif.

The other trick up the sleeve is a nod to the very Scottish nature of New Year’s Eve. Try calling it that in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile of Glasgow’s George Square. You might just be met with icy stares, but chances are a local will put their arm around you and explain that “we dinnae call it that here – it’s Hogmanay, laddie!”.

Hogmanay is a big thing in Scotland. There are lots of fireworks, lots of drinking, lots of singing Auld Lang Syne. And the festivities go on to such an extent that the delicate Scottish people need not just one holiday – 2 January is also a public holiday north of the Border, and to this day, I still find the idea of going back to work on 2 January to be something of a liberty.

So, in honour of this very Scottish night, the mystery drink I am making is…Atholl Brose!

Just a wee word of warning – don’t dare call this a cocktail. It has an ancient pedigree (stories claim it originates back in the late 1400s) so those 1920s gin joint pretenders are but mere latecomers to the party.

It you like this, you’ll be in royal company – it is said to have been a favourite tipple of Queen Victoria when she encountered it on one her visits to Scotland. It’s a mixture of oat milk, whisky, cream and honey. Now really…could a drink actually use any more typically Scottish ingredients?

The process for making Atholl Brose is quite easy, and the great thing is that it can be made ahead of time – indeed, many sources recommend making it several days ahead of time and allowing it to sit. However, I’ve come up with a version that can be made a few hours before, and so still have enough time to whip up a batch before the magic hour.

You start with soaking oats in water, then mashing and straining them to make an oat “brose” or broth – something like an oat milk. You could just cheat and buy oat milk if you’re in a hurry, but many Scottish matrons would be aghast at this idea…

Now…the whisky. Note the spelling, and more specifically, lack of an “e” in there. Scots don’t use the “e” and everyone else does. Yes, there are battles about who came up with it, who produces the best whisky/whiskey and how it should be spelled, but let’s just call a truce and say different people produce different drinks, and everyone has their own preferences. But regardless of whether you are using whisky, whiskey or bourbon, I would recommend a decent-ish drink, but not the fine rare malt that someone else was given as a Christmas present. The delicate flavours and aromas can get lost in the cream, oats and honey – the fine drinks should be enjoyed just as they are.

The honey, in my view, should be heather honey. It is a rich, thick honey with lots of flavour rather than just providing sweetness. However, I leave the choice completely up to you as the mixologist, but just be careful not to use something that has an overly-strong flavour (such as chestnut or thyme). These types of honey are lovely, but can overpower everything else.

The traditional ratios when making Atholl Brose are 7-7-5-1 (oat milk, whisky, cream, honey), and then these should be stirred with a silver spoon (if such a things is available). However, I’ve found that using a cocktail shaker or large jar gets a good result, but it’s still nice to pour out and stir each with a small silver teaspoon, more for drama than necessity. But it’s Hogmanay, and it’s all about show!

Once you’d added all this, plus single cream, you get a drink that is a little like Bailey’s, but in my view with more interesting flavours, one which is stronger and also lighter. It’s unusual and rather more-ish.

So, that’s it! I hope you’ve enjoyed the posts of 2011 – the quince, the Ecclefechan Butter Tart, the Chelsea Buns, the Royal Wedding special, the Mallorcan Pomada drink, the rockin’ Rock Buns, the luscious Summer Pudding, the visit to the Royal Gardens at Clarence House, the trip to Helsinki, the Scottish Macaroon Bars, the sloe gin and the sheer madness of Twelve Days of Christmas Baking!

Wishing you a Happy Hogmanay and all the very best for 2012!

To make Atholl Brose (serves 8):

Step 1: the oat milk

• 1 cup oats (rolled, pinhead…your choice!)
• 2 cups lukewarm water

Mix the oats and the water. Leave to sit for at least 30 minutes (longer doesn’t hurt). Put into a blender, pulverise, then pass through a cheesecloth. Towards the end, squeeze to get a much liquid from the mixture as possible.

Step 2: making the Atholl Brose

• 7 parts oat milk
• 7 parts whisky
• 5 parts good single cream
• 1 part honey

Mix the honey with the oat milk. Put everything into a cocktail shaker or large jar. Shake until mixed. Taste the Brose, then adjust according to taste (more honey, more cream, more whisky…). Serve chilled or over ice.

Worth making? For sure! It’s a nice traditional Scottish drink and very well-suited as a post dinner drink on Hogmanay. It’s very easy, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that your guests have never had a drink made from raw oats before!

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On Location: Off Broadway (Hackney, London)

A couple of days ago I found myself at a loose end in Hackney’s Broadway Market. With 101 useful things I could have done with this time, the clear choice was to slip in to a cocktail bar for a couple of hours. OK, perhaps not the most useful thing to have done, but definitely great fun. Lo and behold, we ended up in Off Broadway, which is an interpretation of an East Village dive bar in East London.

I really, really loved this place and plan to go back quite a bit. It’s intimate and friendly. The staff are really cocktail enthusiasts, and it has a range of strong, well-made cocktails to keep you going all evening before sneaking off to enjoy the rest of the delights of an evening in Hackney.

I knocked back a Dark and Stormy from the cocktail menu, and after chatting with the bar staff, they started going freestyle and mixing up drinks based on what we felt like. I had one of the best Old Fashioned cocktails ever, with a twist of amaretto and bitters. My drinking companion enjoyed martinis made from coffee and pineapple (not together).

So if you also find yourself in this part of town, make sure you drop by!

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