500 days of Summer


Well, perhaps not quite 500.

This weekend promises something quite rare for myself – I will not only be able to spend the whole weekend waking up in my own bed, but I don’t have anything planned for the first time in ages. Yes, I’ve deliberately turned down some things to make it so, but it was from looking at my diary that I came to the realisation that since Mid-June, I’ve only had 3 weekends where I didn’t have something planned or more specifically, meant I had to go away. Yes, I know this is very much a First World Problem, but I was thinking that being so busy should also mean that there *must* be something I could post about, right?

In the space of 3 months, a lot has happened – I had a bit of a scare regarding a lump discovered in one breast which turned out to have been lumps (plural) and affecting both breasts (!!). After a tense few weeks of being prodded and poked for investigation and seeing sights which no woman should ever see, I am relieved to say that I’m OK and have been discharged from the hospital. Being discharged meant that I could commit to a change in job roles and start on a 2 year project which will hopefully result in even bigger and better things for me. Obviously during those weeks, I couldn’t really consider if I had a future, let alone what I should/want to be doing in it, but once I knew it was OK to do so, I started planning my future with a new invigorated sense of trying to achieve more.


There have been trips to Copenhagen – Two in fact, but the second one was very much a last-minute thing and I’ll write about that in another post. The first trip included a meal at the always-brilliant Relæ, loving Mirabelle so much that we went back the following day for (what turned out to be) the same dishes – Which we didn’t mind one bit, a great experience at Ante (RIP) and most of all, a trip to The Amazing Pig Out at Amass (oh, and going there for Amass Fried Chicken in the garden of Amass the day before). Again, more about this another time…

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A fair amount of beer was consumed – Not only from a trip to the magnificent Birmingham Beer Bash which has established itself as a firm annual favourite in my calendar, but with the opening and discovery of some new tap rooms and bars, especially the (IMO) very brilliant Clink Beer in the Custard Factory. What impresses me the most about Clink Beer is that it was borne out of the desire to have somewhere reasonably central (especially in the Digbeth area) where you can get some really decent and interesting craft beers without having to pay inflated prices as you may for something in the City Centre or travel across the other side of the City (If like me, you don’t live that side of Brum). I’m very biased in that the location of Clink Beer is on my bus route home, therefore making it VERY easy for me to go for a few drinks and still be able to stagger to the bus home, but I genuinely love this place and hope they do really well (I know I will do my bit).

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Founders released their KBS 2016 and expectations were almost impossibly high given how KBS 2015 was one of my favourite beers EVER. Yet Founders managed to pull it out of the bag again – KBS 2016 was somehow even better than 2015 with deeper coffee and vanilla notes. The bar was already set sky-high, but it could well be stratospheric for KBS 2017. Other highlights included being able to finally try Founders’ Mango Magnifico (at the Birmingham Beer Bash), and it was delicious – Even with the poke at the end! Another beer highlight was the latest BQE offering from the always reliably brilliant Brooklyn Brewery which could well be my favourite EVER. Named The Discreet Charm of the Framboise, it’s based on their very delicious Bel-Air Sour beer (which I got to gorge on during the London Beer Mansion earlier in the year), aged in Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrels with a whole load of raspberries chucked in – All elements which individually I love so it was bound to be a winner in my books when you combined them all (and it’s every bit as delicious as I thought/hoped it would be).

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Food-wise, there were some highly enjoyable visits to Aulis at at Claridges and The Sportsman and I also got the chance to sample the talents and deliciousness from Alex Nietosvuori during his stint at Carousel before he moved on to Santiago, Chile on his next food adventures. Whatever Alex does next, I’m sure he’ll be a great success and I greatly look forward to tasting his food again. There was also a whirlwind visit to Silo in Brighton, but that visit is very much worthy of its own post.

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From my own part, there was a rediscovery of my own love of cooking when I got to cook for a load of friends (and family) in M & B’s new kitchen (photos) which also meant I not only got to play with, but covet various bits of kitchen equipment and design in their lovely home. There was (as you would expect in cooking meal for 14 people) a fair bit of work to be done, but M&B were such fantastic hosts and so generous in letting me wreck and mess up their sumptuous kitchen (I mean, they actually made us breakfast pastries and personalised fortune cookies). But there was a moment at the beginning of the meal when the entire table were drinking their soup (pork fillet, mustard greens and salted duck eggs) and other than the odd guttural murmur, the only sound you could hear was of everyone happily slurping their soup. I was busy preparing the duck at the time to take a picture or video at the time, but I paused to take in that moment and a massive smile appeared on my face. So whilst I got a lot of thank you’s for cooking the small feast, I have to say a massive THANK YOU to M & B for not only letting me play in their kitchen, but also to everyone else that came along that day for helping me to rediscover the joy I get from not only cooking, but seeing people enjoying the food I’ve cooked.

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There has been a lot of reflection over the summer – My health scare at the beginning of the summer made me a lot more contemplative than usual, but the Olympics also made me think of the last Olympics in London – And how I can finally look back at that time more objectively. I mean, I remember posting about the Olympics on here and how I kept bursting into tears – During the National Anthem, whenever some athlete was crying.. I can look back on it all now and realise that at that time 4 years ago, I was deep in the throes of grief, but it hasn’t diminished my appetite for watching the Olympics. I mean, after being able to gorge myself in sport around the clock, I felt a bit bereft when the Olympics ended. (Although, as a side note, YAY for the Paralympics coverage!).

However, the main event was for me, the wedding of M & G. It may have been towards the end of the summer and in the middle of a *really* hectic few weeks, but more than anything, it reinforced how close my family all are – And how fortunate I am to have such a loving and utterly brilliant family. Whilst there were no tears from watching the Olympics, there was much laughter, some tears and some moments of tension between and from each of us at some point over the weekend. Naturally, all of us at some point turned our thoughts to our late parents and how they would have both *loved* to have been there. However, I know that I’m not alone in thinking that seeing the beaming smiles and howls of laughter across everyone’s faces – Along with the very evident joy and happiness on M and G’s faces as they got married – made us all feel fortunate to be able to share and join in these new happy memories for all. And whilst it’s a very old cliché, we all know that our parents were with us in spirit.

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So what now? I’ve already mentioned how I should (need) post about a few places, but after such a hectic summer, I think it’s time to step back a little and take things slightly easier – Not only will my body thank me for it, my bank balance will too! After all, I need to save up for bigger adventures😉

The 40 Project part 5 – Fin

Well, this is it. It’s taken a few posts (and even longer for me to write up about it!), but what started off as something to keep me amused and occupied in the year I turned 40, I ended up doing much more than the requisite 40 and I’ve only written about those I have fairly decent pictures of. I’ve managed to travel a fair bit in my 40th year – 3 trips to Copenhagen, 1 trip to Whitstable and Seasalter, a trip to Lyon, numerous trips to London, an Alaskan Cruise, a trip to Washington State, a trip to San Francisco and also San Jose, a few trips to Manchester.. The list went on. However, there was a notable omission – I hadn’t done anything in my home town of Birmingham.

I’d spent quite some time wandering what I could do for my 40 list for Birmingham; There was one occasion I went to have a few drinks (and food) at the Two Towers Brewery which much to my amusement, really was a piss up in a brewery. However, I completely forgot to take any pictures so given I don’t have any pictorial evidence of said piss up in a brewery, I couldn’t really post about it. Then I wondered what other food specialties I could try from Birmingham – I had already come close with proper Black Country Butcher’s home made faggots, but the likes of HP Sauce, Bird’s Custard and even Typhoo Tea even though they all originated from Birmingham and you can still see remnants of the old Bird’s Custard Factory and HP Factory today, they are no longer produced in Birmingham which deemed them ineligible. I liked the idea of a pint of Mild with some pork scratchings and I know I have done both, but it didn’t feel right for my 40 list – Even though it’s probably the one closest to my heart.

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It was all coming down to one, inevitable choice really – The Balti. There’s a lot of snobbery when it comes to Baltis and let’s face it, it’s not exactly the most glamorous thing on the list, is it? I mean, this is my hometown – And the best I could come up with is a Balti? Never mind the fact that it’s not exactly a new thing for me to try. That said (and in the face of no real alternative), I slowly came round to the idea and eventually decided that I would go for a Balti in one of the original Balti restaurants in the Balti Triangle [40] (That’s a lot of “Balti”‘s there) on New Year’s Eve – What better way to see out the year in which I turned 40 than doing the final item on the list?

The choice of restaurant was quite important too – Looking at the Balti Birmingham site, it gives you a shortlist of “Authentic Balti” restaurants and a bit of research here and there led me to choose Al-Frash as my restaurant of choice. I’m not sure exactly how and why I chose that restaurant, but I was happy to be going there anyway.

Looking at the menu, I noticed they offered what they termed “world’s first sweet potato pakora” Well, I *had* to go for one of those. Similarly, I avoided ordering my usual curry and went for one of the House Specials when this caught my eye:

“Butterfly Special – Our signature dish, fusing all the delicious flavours of King Prawn, Chicken Tikka, Mushroom & Special Kashmiri Spices, cooked to perfection. Served with rice or nan”

Yep, SOLD! I’ll have that with rice and sadly, they didn’t offer a Family nan – One where it’s pretty much the size of the table – so I got a large nan to share with my fellow diners P and M whom joined me in this celebration.

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To be perfectly honest, the food itself was fine – It wasn’t anything standout, but I had a great time with 2 great friends to mark the end of the year I turned 40 and with that, the end of my 40 Project. I was really happy to end it on such a high note, eating nice food and with great company.

And that’s been the recurring theme throughout the whole year; Not only did I have great fun thinking of and doing this project, I got to do it accompanied with/surrounded by people I know and love. As previously mentioned in another post, I’ve been really fortunate in that I got to travel even more than usual but the whole spirit of which the project was taken – To mark the year when I turned 40 – Was done so in a celebratory fashion and I loved every single part of it. In contrast, this year (where I turned 41) seems dull in comparison and who knows – Perhaps I’ll think of something similar for my next significant Birthday. But for now, I know that I hit my 40s eating and drinking some fantastic food, surrounded by my brilliant family and fabulous friends – For which I am very grateful for.


The 40 Project part 4 – CPH (AKA: I *heart* CPH)

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Given how often I go to Copenhagen, I couldn’t really have a 40 list without including something from CPH really. The thing with CPH was that because I had been so many times before, there were a lot of things which could qualify for the list which I had already done (if at all possible, I tried to do new things for the 40 list). That said, some things are too good to miss out so that’s where I started to change (bend) the rules somewhat in my approach to the whole 40 Project.

First up will be the Danish hot dogs (and Frikkadeller) [33]. I mean, even if you ignore the stand in the hall on your way to baggage reclaim at Kastrup Airport, there’s another kiosk right by the baggage carousels. What’s more, they’re both packed most of the time with Danes wanting a quick hot dog fix or presumably, a taste of home after some time abroad. In my case, it’s partly a reminder of my childhood when one of my cousins used travel to Denmark quite often as the guy she was dating lived in Denmark and she would subsequently bring over boxes of “Danish Sausages” (as we called them in my house), much to all my family’s delight. But it’s also a reminder of how much nicer hot dogs are than what we’d get over here. There is the important “snap” of the casing and the contents of the sausage may well be meat of indeterminate origin, but they’re damn tasty – Especially if like me, you got for the whole gamut of finely diced raw and deep fried onions, ketchup, remoulade and pickles all delicately encased within a hot dog roll lightly toasted and not big enough to encase the whole sausage resulting in both ends protruding out. I completely understand why the returning Danes make it one of their first stops upon landing back in CPH – I often make sure it’s one of the first things I eat upon landing at Kastrup and I look forward to it every time. I love the fact that your choice of drinks range from bottled water to soda fountains, or why not have a beer, Gammel Dansk or (my fave) a Jägermeister. So, whilst it’s not something new I did for the 40 Project, I couldn’t really have a CPH post and *not* include hotdogs in some way.

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Smørrebrød, or (Danish) Open Faced Sandwiches were the first thing I remember making in Home Economics class in school (many aeons ago). Being a Brit, I just thought it was curious why you wouldn’t have the 2nd slice of bread on top – That’s the whole point of a sandwich, isn’t it?!. That said, my trips to CPH have since taught me that the singular, solitary slice of bread on the base of a smørrebrød isn’t just any bread, it’s a slice of deliciously rugged and wholesome Danish rye bread – The sort where you believe that it’s actually doing you good by the act of eating it alone and well, you don’t need a 2nd slice to top the sandwich. Furthermore, the toppings are not of the ham and cheese (or coleslaw) variety my classmates and I had to eat in Home Economics all those years back. Rather, it’s some of the most delicately smoked eel either with scrambled eggs or some other accoutrements, it could be topped with another Scandinavian favourite – Pickled Herring, or you could top it with some organic local Danish roast pork… The variations are both broad and all very tasty. So it came to be that on one occasion in my 40th year, I didn’t just manage to eat Smørrebrød at Slotskælderen hos Gitte Kik in CPH, but I also managed to drink some Danish snaps and a local CPH beer [34] whilst there. This wasn’t the first time I had smørrebrød in CPH and I thought the first occasion was OK, but this visit to Slotskælderen hos Gitte Kik was brilliant – From the friendly service, to the guy with the red face at the front finishing most of the plates in front of you and I suspect that the snaps and beer may have added to the whole experience, but whilst the roast pork may not have looked like much, it was some of the best roast pork (and crackling) I’ve ever eaten and was worth the food coma it sent us into afterwards.

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An unexpected treat was a trip to the oldest bakery in Central CPH, Conditori La Glace. I loved how the window display of all the cakes drew you in and it’s very old Copenhagen inside, but the cakes are fantastic – They even had a sugar-free cake which I loved. However, I did manage to eat a Sportskage [35] which is the cake that La Glace is best known for and added another tick to the 40 list.

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With my growing interest in (Craft) Beer, it would be remiss of me to travel to CPH and NOT at least drink something local and well, the Daddy of CPH brewers is Mikkeller with their collaborations and experimental beers. So it was on the way to Relæ for another brilliant dinner that I got to drink a (Mikkeller) beer at Mikkeller and Friends [36]. It has quickly established itself as one of my favourite places to drink in CPH – With its minimalist look of walls painted in a soft, light blue (Turks and Caicos blue, I believe it is) combined with fixtures, fittings and furniture in a bare wood (lightly coloured) – The kind of Scandinavian minimalist design that you (well I) covet over for your own home until you realise that you’re too much of a hoarder to even begin to contemplate the ideal of minimalism. It’s the kind of bar design that is quite common in CPH and much as places in the UK imitate or offer something similar in design and setup, there is a certain (minimalist) swagger and well, vibe that makes it work so well in CPH which is missing in other places. Actually, whilst I’m here, I should really mention how CPH (despite the high price for alcohol) is a great place for craft beer – There are some really great tap rooms throughout the city with really varied and interesting selections. I mean, even the local corner shop near a hotel I was staying at had an entire aisle of bottled craft beers (which meant I could cheekily have one of my favourites, Brooklyn Brown Ale, with a snackette back in the hotel room). It was also in CPH that I discovered Christmas Ale (Beer) or Julebryg – And truly, my life has never been the same since..

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Relæ has an extra special place in my heart because it was my first experience of New Nordic Cuisine 4 years ago and I was completely blown away by it all – The cooking, the room, the soundtrack, how you got your cutlery from a drawer in the table. Added to this how Christian Puglisi and Kim Rosen are 2 of the nicest (and coolest) guys around, it pleases me to see how their little empire has expanded and transformed Nørrebro. So it was with complete surprise when YKL phoned me letting me know of an email that she had received from Christian saying that he knew it was short notice (4 weeks) and well, YKL and I had only literally just returned from a weekend in CPH, but that it was the 5th anniversary of Relæ opening and to celebrate it, they were having a bit of a party in the local park. Sounds good, right? Then we read this:

“The plan is that our amazing friends Rosio Sanchez and Renè Redzepi will be dishing out tacos, Magnus Nilsson cooks up hotdogs, Matt Orlando fries chicken, Mehmet Guhrs braises lamb, Kobe Desmeraults makes us Croquettes-de-crevettes and Chad Robertson will spread butter on delicious bread – all for you, friends and family to taste.”

Literally, my jaw dropped. Had we really been invited to this? Even though we had just got back from CPH, we were scrambling our diaries looking at plane tickets and accommodation. To cut a *very* long story short: It was every bit as brilliant as I hoped. There was a laid back feeling of joy in the air and it very much felt like a coming together of like-minded people in celebration of how Relæ has evolved in 5 years and with it, helped to make Nørrebro a go to destination within CPH. In fact, the whole weekend was centred on the (aforementioned) empire of restaurants and bars that Christian and Kim have built up: Bæst, Manfreds, Mirabelle and of course, Relæ. But what could I add from this for the 40 list? I could have added eating the beef tartare at Manfreds (Truly, if you’re ever in CPH and go to Manfreds, have the beef tartare – It’s one of the best you’ll ever eat). However, I wanted to convey how it felt extra special that in the year I turned 40, it was also the year that Relæ turned 5 and they put on such a massive spectacle which YKL and I were so very lucky to experience. So whilst I have eaten at Relæ many times and will continue going back as much as I can. For me, being able to eat a reinterpretation of the original menu at Relæ [37] made it onto the list. However, I do need to mention the generosity of Kim and Christian because when the bill arrived for that meal which was one of the best we’d ever had there, it appeared to be wrong (and any subsequent demands to speak to Kim and Christian were laughed at by the staff..

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montage Teddy... nice touch mistake?

Similarly, I have another special place in my heart for Bror; quite often our meal at Bror will contain the best tasting dishes of the whole CPH trip which is saying something how we generally go for the Big Hitters. Sam Nutter was still at Noma the first time I ate there and he was the one whom gave us our kitchen tour afterwards. When he and Victor Wagman left Noma to open Bror, I remember Rene Redzèpi saying how they both may not have any investors backing, but they had “huge talent and balls”. That only added to the amusement of how a signature dish at Bror became the Bull’s balls – They even have T-shirts saying “Poached, Sliced, Breaded, Fried” (how it’s cooked). So whilst I could say that eating Bulls balls at Bror[38] is on the list, I should also mention how during one of my trips to CPH in my 40th year, I also got to eat at Café LilleBror (RIP) where not content with feeding me balls at Bror, I also got to eat crispy dicks at Café LilleBror. [added to 38] As a side note, I can’t believe I’ve just made that public and now worry how this post is going to come up for certain internet searches…

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I started this post by saying how I couldn’t really leave out writing about Copenhagen given how often I have been there. Therefore I can’t leave out one of (if not) the main reasons for going to Copenhagen in first place – To eat at Noma. Yes, I am very biased when it comes to Noma – But that’s because I’ve never had a bad experience when at Noma. Sure, there have been some dishes where they didn’t *quite* hit the mark, but when you talk about an overall dining experience to encompass the setting, service, wine pairing and food – The whole shebang – you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere better in the world than Noma. Every time I’ve been to Noma, it’s been special and for different reasons every time.  I always spend hours recollecting various parts of the meal with YKL with a permagrin on my face – be it certain dishes, interaction with the staff, recounting conversations… The fact that I got to eat at Noma not just once, but twice to mark my 40th year with friends [39] added to the how special my 40th year was.

Such a gorgeous building Entrance

I know this won’t be my last post about CPH, but it very much was part of my 40 Project and whilst some things weren’t within the original remit of eating something local to that region or a speciality of a restaurant/bar for the first time, it felt right that I tweaked some of the qualifying criteria just so I could share some of the happy memories I have from my trips to CPH.

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There ain’t no (Beer) party like a Beer Mansion

Music Cellar...

In recent years, I’ve gotten more and more into Craft beers – As part of my 40 Project, I tried to drink local beers from places whilst on my travels (I actually went to a local Birmingham brewery but didn’t manage to take any photos so am not counting it). I was briefly into Real Ales whilst at University, but I was never really someone whom liked lagers when out drinking with friends. My memories of it was mainly of my Dad treating himself to a pint of lager or bitter from the pub opposite the Takeaway and when trying a mouthful myself, complaining about how bitter it was. By no means would I consider myself to be an expert, but yunno, I think I have a fairly decent palette, I know what kind of tastes and flavours I do and don’t like and it’s been (and continues to be) a real voyage of discovery as I continue to not only learn about, but discover new, tasty beers from the ever growing list of breweries out there. I do have some favourite breweries, ones that have consistently good beers across their portfolio – Anchor Brewery, Founders, Magic Rock and Brooklyn Brewery.

Summer Ale

Admittedly, I have a bit of a soft spot for Brooklyn as they’re probably THE brewery that really got me interested into craft beer. Whilst I was busy avoiding Brooklyn Lager through fear of bringing back unpleasant childhood memories of drinking lager (by virtue of containing the word “lager”), it was at the brilliant Grillstock that I got to drink the very delicious Brooklyn Summer Ale for the very first time – It was light, crisp with a slight fruity note – words I would normally use to describe wine, not beer and yunno, it was absolutely perfect for drinking on a long, warm summer night. It was also from that weekend at Grillstock that I got to try other beers like the East India Pale Ale which was delicious, but a whopping 6.9% – Which I didn’t realise at the time when I bought a case for some friends who were competing in the King of the Grill contest, oops!. From there, I tried other beers in the Brooklyn range and very quickly, Brooklyn Brown Ale established itself as a firm favourite of mines (along with Summer Ale both of which are 2 of my favourite beers and regular go-to beers). It was from here that I learned about the BQE range of beers and fortunately for me, the (also very brilliant) Stirchley Wines tend to stock beers from the BQE range and again, I’m generally impressed with what Brooklyn produce. I should also point out that I have since tried Brooklyn lager and (as expected from a brewery that takes taste and flavour seriously, rather than mass-producing something bland), it’s actually really nice and nothing like anything my Dad used to drink.

American Ale

Through the joys of social media, I learned that Brooklyn Brewery were bringing their Mash to London – A series of different types of events over a few days – And whilst I don’t live in London, I was keen to see if there was anything I could make it to (without taking any leave from work as I may need to save them for other fun things this year…) and my eyes are drawn to the Beer Mansion. I really wanted to go to the feast – A collaboration with Smoking Goat but given it was midweek, it would have meant a bit of a dash to and after (not that I could buy tickets anyway, it was more of a raffle).  Quick message to my craft beer brother, Moon, and I’m booking tickets for the Beer Mansion along with accommodation.


The Beer Mansion was described as “an immersive beer experience” and if I’m completely honest, my first thoughts after reading that were that it was a load of pretentious marketing twaddle so upon arriving to the entrance to MC Motors in the back streets of Stoke Newington, I didn’t really know what to expect – But I went in with an open mind…


So we arrived at the back of what seemed like a former car mechanic’s yard and there were ship containers a-plenty, all stack on top of each other. Quick scan to make sure we had actually bought tickets and literally before we could step into the entrance/shipping container, the bouncer (shades, black suit and all) sternly instructed us to “grab a beer” and pointed at 2 large black plastic bins filled with iced water and cans of various Brooklyn beers. Naturally, we weren’t going to argue with the scary bouncer and I headed straight for a can of my beloved Summer Ale whilst Moon went for the American Ale. Right by the entrance, we’re approached by someone whom obviously works there (walkie-talkie, dressed in Brooklyn Brewery clothing…) and asked if we’d just arrived (yes) and whether we’d been told about the Beer Mansion. Claiming (quite rightly) ignorance,He proceeded to tell us that “This is a beer festival – with 50+ beers in different settings for you to appreciate” and his best advice to us was “to not stay in one space for too long.” Well, that would be our interest piqued. Moving to one end of the courtyard, there were plenty of people lining up for food (provided by Voodoo Ray Pizza), playing Cornhole or like us, just chatting and drinking the (free) beer and making the most of the sun coming out to play. We’d only just got there and were already loving it..

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As the night went on, we took the advice of the aforementioned guy and started to explore the complex – There were indeed lots of different areas with different themed bars at each spot, all with beers for you to try. In the courtyard by the entrance, they were offering Brooklyn Bel Air Sour – Which I *loved*. I’m really into my sours atm, and this one was an absolute cracker! Going downstairs to what was ostensibly a basement, there was a DJ on one side and an (empty) stage at the other with another bar nearby – This time with another 4 different varieties to try. Everywhere you went, there was a bar with yet more beer to try, soon it became clear what the advice meant – You really wanted to continue exploring the complex and trying different beers in different settings. Hell, there was even a photo booth – Who doesn’t love a photo booth (especially after a few drinks?). There was so much to see and do, including a slight element of danger added to the proceedings in the form of concrete stairs steeper than those found at the Colosseum in Rome with a bit of loose rope pretending to be a banister.  I mean, even the security bod had to keep saying to people (in his stern voice) to take care which presumably, he had to after too many ppl were staggering up (and down) them.  I was a bit overwhelmed by it all, but the main feeling was one of disbelief that everything (including danger and comedy elements) were included in the £10 for the ticket?!


One of my favourite bars within the Beer Mansion was where Head of Culinary Programme Chef for Brooklyn Brewery Andrew Gerson essentially plated a dish in our palms and paired it with one of the beers. The dish was some lightly cured salmon with micro herbs, roasted seeds and nuts, some sauce and it was very nice indeed. More to the point, it did pair exceptionally well with the beer and was for me, a perfect example of drinking beer differently. I stood a little in awe, watching wave after wave of people crowd round and follow instructions given diligently and seeing the reactions on all their faces after eating the dish. If I wasn’t already having a brilliant time, this last experience completely cemented it for me.

Food and beer pairing (with Andrew Gerson) Food and beer pairing (with Andrew Gerson) Talking through the food... topping.. Hands at the ready..

I left the Beer Mansion completely in awe at what I experienced – So much thought and planning had gone into it and it was a very slick operation, but it didn’t lose its core ideal in that it was something to not only allow you try different (Brooklyn) Beers, but also try them in different settings which may (or may not) enhance the experience. Truly, I had never experienced anything like it but that’s not to say that it was a bad thing. I admit, I do like Brooklyn Brewery beers – They’re very drinkable! – And by the end of it, I admit that I was taken in by the marketing spiel, but the Beer Mansion was just something else and very special. They have set the bar  impossibly high for others when it comes to Beer Festivals and I tell you what, if Brooklyn Brewery bring the circus that is the Brooklyn Brewery Mash round to the UK again, I will be clearing my diary to make as many events as possible, wherever it may be.

Signage Bounty from the night

More photos can be found at my Flickr album

The 40 Project part 3 – US of A!

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When compiling this list, it was always helped by the fact that I knew that I would be doing a fair bit of travelling – Much more so than usual. Generally, I take a lot of long weekend breaks, but this year, I knew that in addition to my trips to CPH and further away, I would be spending the bulk of my holiday allowance in the USA – Firstly for an Alaskan Cruise, but then using the opportunity to visit both my sisters H and YML just outside Seattle and San Jose respectively – Which meant another chance to add a few items onto my 40 list. Given the trip was essentially in 3 parts, it’s probably best I write about it in 3 parts:

Washington State

I actually had a fair bit on my original list when it came to Washington State, but in the end I only ended up adding a couple of items onto my 40 list, but it meant that I got to do lots of fun things which weren’t necessarily food or drink related. Also, I *did* drink a fair few beers from local breweries – But there wasn’t necessarily any photographic evidence of it, so less helpful in terms of writing up on it for this blog. HOWEVER, the 2 items I managed to add to the 40 list from my time in WA. were pretty good;

Firstly, I got to eat a burger from the marvellous Burger Express in Federal Way [22]. It’s been serving burgers to the good folks of Federal Way since 1983 (there is a sign inside stating that Burger Express is Federal Way’s only independent hamburger restaurant) and all the burgers are 1/4 lb beef patties with all the trimmings and come with a massive portion of skin-on fries. The inside is done up very much with a 50’s diner in mind with a jukebox at every booth. I remembered this place vaguely from my visit 10 years previously, but I was very happy to come here again and add it to my 40 list. (Photos)

Similarly, given I was so close to Seattle, I had to get a coffee. As it turns out, whilst en route to the Cruise Terminal in Seattle later that day, we drove past the Starbuck headquarters. And well, it was by chance that we not only got to go to a Drive-thru Starbucks (I first encountered a drive-thru coffee place 10 years previously and they were unheard of in the UK at that point), but I got to have a spiced Pumpkin Latte because it was near Halloween. So, drinking a spiced Pumpkin latte from a drive thru Starbucks [23] is proudly on my list.



One of the main purposes of the trip was to go on an Alaskan cruise; It’s something that’s been on my bucket list given how much I enjoy the whole cruise ship experience from my Cayamo days and combined with the fact that I could see H and a few of my sisters also went along, it was going to be something special.  I must say that Alaska is truly beautiful – Some of the scenery was stunning and amongst the most beautiful I’ve ever seen in my life. The fact that you’re so close to wildlife in their natural habitat was truly breathtaking at times, perhaps I was getting soaked up by the whole experience of being in the USA, but the fact that I saw not just one, but several Bald Headed Eagles in their natural habitat was something very special.  I did miss things like the chance to see a wild bear because I was busy being too cool (i.e. an idiot), but seeing things like glaciers up close made up for it.


In regards to the 40 list, most of the things I managed to add to the list (with photographic evidence) were all done in Juneau, AK. There, I managed to eat Alaskan King Crab [24], washed down with a pint of Alaskan Amber Ale [25] (brewed by the Alaskan Brewing Company who are based in Juneau, no less). And whilst I enjoyed the Amber Ale, it was a perfect accompaniment to the King Crab. Sure, it took the best part of 35mins for me to extract every last fibre of juicy meat from the shell, but I was struck not only by how thick the fibres were, but the sweetness and juiciness of the meat astounded me. I mean, I’ve had some sweet crab meat before, but nothing like this. It was quite pricey, but an absolute treat. Also whilst in Juneau, we took an excursion to a Salmon Hatchery and whilst it was great fun seeing all the salmon leaping out of the water to simulate being in the wild, I have to admit it was fascinating seeing a wiley seal swim into the waters to presumably try to gorge on as much salmon as it could manage. After that, we headed to an old-fashioned Salmon Bake (taken there on a kitted out old School Bus, no less) and whilst YKL was busy endearing herself to the local wildlife and we were warned of the threat of bears coming up and trying to eat your food (let them, don’t try to fight them!), it was here that I got to sample some wild (not farmed) Alaskan salmon [26] (Photos)

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I should also mention how I went to other places in Alaska on this trip and as mentioned before, some of the scenery was breathtaking – I *loved* seeing the glaciers and well, experiencing the vastness as well as some of the beauty of the USA. I joke at how it was surprisingly colder than I thought it would be near a glacier or up a Mountain summit, but the serene beauty and tranquility of it all is something I will treasure being able to experience.

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Ah, the Golden State, the most populous of all the States in the USA.  I’ve already mentioned how this trip was a chance for me to see some of my sisters, so it was a chance to see YML and her family in San Jose.  Before that though, the opportunity arose to spend a few cheeky days in San Francisco.  Bearing in mind that we’d just got off an Alaskan cruise where we pretty much needed to wear all the clothes in our suitcases to keep warm, the weather in California was the absolute opposite – Temperatures nearing 30c with high humidity percentages, we certainly had no need for any thermals or fleeces!  Our time in San Francisco was short, so not only did we have to make difficult decisions on where to eat and see (some of which was led by availability, tbh).  I wanted to do things like make a pilgrimage to AT&T Park, home of my beloved San Francisco Giants or even try to catch a ballgame (sadly, I didn’t have time for either, so my wait to eat garlic fries there again goes on).  However, I did manage to tick off a few things from the 40 list:

Our first stop in San Francisco was a trip to the institution that is Swan Oyster Depot. This place is just beyond brilliant and is pretty much universally loved by everyone that goes there. I mean, it’s been there since 1912 so it must be doing some right. Sure, there are higher-end places with their white linen table cloths and silver cutlery. There are bigger establishments where you can fit more people in (and with that, the £££ or $$$ rather), but none of them have the charm, establishment, feel, history or welcome of Swan Oyster Depot. If you were to look up the definition of an ideal raw bar – Swan Oyster Depot was pretty much be it. I loved EVERYTHING I had to eat there – the oysters, the chowder (and I don’t like chowder, normally) but most of all – The crab back fat. OH. MY. GOD!! That stuff was divine (and nicely washed down with a pint of Anchor Steam Beer). So yeah, I got to eat at Swan Oyster Depot [27] – And it was every bit as glorious as I hoped it would be. (Photos)

I also got to go on a Brewery Tour of one of my favourite breweries – Anchor Brewing. We could only get tickets for the late morning session but for about $15, you get to not only tour the brewery and learn about its history, see it in action and learn about the beer making process, but you also get to taste a wide range of their beers. Folks, I didn’t really have time for breakfast beforehand (I thought we could grab something on the way – I was wrong). So when you consider how all the pours were generous (I’d say about a half pint for each beer) and we tried at least 7 different beers that day. You could say I was a bit sozzled by the end of the tour and in desperate need for some sustenance. However, I got to not only drink Anchor Steam Beer, but a whole range of Anchor Brewing Beers not only in San Francisco, but at the Anchor Brewery itself [28]. (Photos)

Sustenance came in the form of heading over to the Mission District and another pilgrimage – this time to Taqueria la Cumbre – Birthplace of the Mission Burrito. Say what you like about how authentic it is, the fact is Mission Burritos are known all over the world. And when you get to eat it as establishments like Taqueria la Cumbre, they are very tasty too. You could say that I was so drunk that any food was welcome, especially starchy carbs, but I really enjoyed my carne asada – freshly grilled strips of grass-fed beef topping some rice, beans, pico de gallo, sour cream, cheese and guacamole (there may have been more), and I’m looking at the MOUND of food on the single tortilla and thinking to myself “there’s no WAY you are going to wrap that neatly!”. But in a series of deft moves seemingly defying the laws of physics, not only was the whole thing neatly wrapped, but smoothly done so in foil. Yeah, this guy had obviously rolled a few burritos in his time, but the finished item – served with some freshly fried tortilla chips – packed some weight when you lifted it up! By now, the smells wafting from the place and after watching them assemble (construct) this monster burrito, I couldn’t *wait* to sink my chops into it!. And it was worth the (marginal) wait and pilgrimage – Juicy carne asada, nice balance of rice, peas with a bit of kick from the pico de gallo. Yeah, I was a bit drunk, but this more than filled the hole and well, eating a burrito at Taqueria La Cumbre [29] meant another tick off the list. (Photos)

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For my 2nd lunch that afternoon (!!), we ended up meeting YKL in Tartine Bakery. For those in the know, Chad is probably the best baker in all of the USA – Easily within the West Coast. YKL and I were very fortunate to meet the man himself and his head baker, Richard earlier in the year as part of Relæ’s 5th Birthday Party (more of that in another post) and he very graciously mentioned that he would be happy to show us around the bakery (if he was around whilst we were there). Sadly, I didn’t get to make it as the day’s drinking took its toll on me (!!). However, I did manage to eat a Croque Monsieur and a Banana and Cream tart from Tartine Bakery [30]. And lemme tell you, that banana and cream tart was one of the best I’ve *ever* eaten.. I’m salivating just remembering how good it was. (Photos)


For our last morning in San Francisco, we were taken on an impromptu tour of Clement St – the other Chinatown within San Francisco. It’s actually much more diverse but the amount of places with fresh dim sum (3 dumplings for $1), it honestly felt like being in Hong Kong and I loved it. (Photos) However, we were also very lucky to have been taken to B Patisserie that morning. I had heard of this place for their Kouign Amann and literally, the air is thick with the smell of butter when you are nearby. The patisserie on sale there certainly looked the part and the Kouign Amann tasted every bit as good as they looked – Light, flaky, buttery, crisp… Being able to eat a Kouign Amann (of different varieties) at B Patisserie [31] was an unexpected, but very welcome addition to the list. (Photos)

Our only foray into the Fine Dining arena was a trip to Manresa. Much had been heralded about Manresa, especially since a fire in July 2014 which devastated most of the restaurant. However, the word was that since it re-opened, the cooking from David Kinch was better than ever and indeed, the announcement that the restaurant was awarded 3*’s came a few weeks after our visit. I have to say, some of the food we ate there was stunning – Especially the signature “Into the Garden” [32]. That said, there were some misses for me (personally), but the highs were impressively good. (Photos)

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Of course, the whole USA trip wasn’t just about the #40 list, but a chance to see family too which is much more important and dear to my heart. I had great fun ticking off items on the 40 list in the USA, but the memories, happiness and joy from the whole trip are what I take away and cherish the most.



Fare thee well…


It’s my last day of being 40 today. I must admit that it feels slightly odd because so much time, money, dedication and effort was put into 2015 – The Year I turned 40 – and my 40 Project that so far in 2016 – The last 4 months I spent being 40, I haven’t really done anything. That’s not to say I’ve done nothing, but I am quite conscious of how I haven’t actually finished writing up about the 40 Project (if I ever had a list of things to do, it’s permanently on the top of that fictional list).

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That said, I’ve had an absolute blast and have loved it all – in some ways I feel a bit lost this year because I don’t have a project to keep me occupied throughout the year. Well, other than normality where I have to live life as a grown-up, that is.


So, a very brief post – But a chance to share some pics with you all of a selection of highlights from 2015 before I say goodbye to being 40.


The 40 Project part 2 – UK edition


Given I got to travel to so many places over my 40th Birthday year, it meant that I didn’t get to do quite as much as I hoped or wanted to within these shores.  That said, it’s given me a list of places I hope to visit when I’m more mobile.  But for this year, I also got to pick and choose from things I’ve done to add to the 40 list.  I’ve already previously posted about eating proper faggots made by a Black Country butcher [14] so that was a nice start to the year.  Similarly, I’ve also posted about eating native oysters in Whitstable [15] and that trip to Whitstable also involved getting to eat the Lobster Lasagne at Wheelers [16].

That said, the Whitstable trip (rather amazingly), was a bit of a pre-cursor to our Lyon trip so in a bit of a whirlwind, we literally spent a few days in Whitstable, came home to unpack and clean some clothes, then headed off to Lyon for a few days.  I say amazingly because just a few years ago, it was an effort to do one of these trips, let along two in quick succession. However, the Whitstable trip was an excuse to fit in another trip to The Sportsman. I mean, it would be rude to not go given we were that part of the world..

I have a real soft spot for The Sportsman – Beautiful scenery, friendly, attentive staff and service, Fantastic food – Amongst the best in the Country (IMO). The food is not only very simple (in a good way), it’s also bloody delicious too. There are so many delicious things to recall, but I guess the signature dish for The Sportsman would be the Grilled Slip Sole (in seaweed butter) [17]. A prepared Slip Sole (skinned and head, outer bones removed) is grilled to perfection with some seaweed butter – And when I say it’s grilled to perfection, I mean it’s literally *just* cooked. Silence descends on the entire table as everyone tucks in enthusiastically and are too busy eating to talk – The only noise heard (other than the sound of cutlery scraping on the plates) are the occasional guttural approving noises and I swear, you can actually hear the sound of people smiling and grinning as they turn feral and end up sucking the fish bones to ensure no bit of flesh is missed out. Back to that fantasy list of dishes to eat before you die? This would be on there, no doubt. My gripe with this dish? One slip sole is never enough and you end up wanting more.. (Yes, I know that this is a First World Problem).

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For my actual Birthday itself, I spent a great weekend eating at some of my favourite places and with some of my favourite people. I managed to get afternoon tea at Claridges [18] which was an eye opener in terms of seeing Old Money versus New Money. Still, some lovely sandwiches and tea (which is surprisingly filling). I also want to shoehorn in how later in the year, I would find myself returning to Claridges for some drinks in the bar where I got to drink their signature cocktail, The Flapper. Anyway, back to my Birthday weekend – Come midnight, I found myself in MEATLiquor eating their fantastic burgers and fries and drinking their quite awesome grog, but given I’ve done that many, many times before, I didn’t add it to the list. However, we did all get drunk enough to pack into the photobooth and well, there really wasn’t a finer bunch of girls I would have rather seen in my 40th Birthday with.

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The following morning, there was only one place I really wanted to go for breakfast – E Pellicci on the Bethnal Green Road. I had previously tried to go there but unfortunately, it was during August when they’re closed for their annual family holiday. So, given I was in London on a weekday, it seemed rude to not go. After all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. When we got there, we were not disappointed at all – There’s a slight art deco feel to the interior with the tiles and insignia on the floor, but this is an old fashioned caff that I grew up going to – The kind where the staff may be loud, but they’re ultra friendly. YKL wanted to get a tea and an espresso (separately) because she needed the caffeine hit from the espresso, but prefers a tea to drink and the response was “What? together?! Nah… I can’t let you do that I’m afraid..” Or, when someone asked if they used skimmed milk, the response was “No love, we don’t serve that filth in here.. Only the fullest pure stuff here!.” Upon hearing it was my Birthday, Pots and pans were banged on and the whole place was made to sing Happy Birthday to me – led, quite boisterously, by the staff. However, it wasn’t tacky like you may get from a chain restaurant (you all know what I mean). We may have gotten a few odd looks and comments when ordering things like the vegetarian special with sausage or black pudding (as in B’s case), but we wanted the famed bubble and squeak for breakfast and truly, it was magnificent. Actually, when the staff discovered that it was my 40th Birthday, the whole place was made to sing Happy Birthday to me again (this time, with more feeling). It was made more special because it was my Birthday, but the fact that I got to have a breakfast at E Pellicci[19] anyway is another one on the 40 list.

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Other items which got onto the list were things like eating a salt beef beigel from the legendary Beigel Bake on Brick Lane [19]. There are plenty of opinions as to which one is better or more authentic but in my eye, it’s all about Beigel Bake and the fact it’s part of my 40 list makes me very happy. Similarly, the fact that I could add both the Roast Marrow Bone and Parsley salad and also devilled kidneys on toast from St John [20] is something I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time. Yes, roast bone marrow is very popular these days but St John has been serving this dish for years – Long before it was fashionable – And it’s the old adage of a simple dish executed very well is truly a thing to behold.

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Also, there was a trip up to Bolster Moor Farm shop in some of the most beautiful countryside I have ever layed my eyes on where I got to eat a few of their award-winning Pork Pies [21].

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There is one item left on the list, but I’m going to save that one for a separate post by itself…

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