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Saturday, 31 January 2015

Shoreditch

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SHOREDITCH
Shoreditch, home of Yalla Yalla and The Hoxton, is just a 5 minute walk away from the busy train terminus that is Liverpool Street station and the City, work place of bankerman. 

We nipped over to Shoreditch or as it was known in a previous life as 'Sewer-Ditch' when the area was not much more than a boggy landscape. 

Well, you'll be pleased to know things have moved on since then even though the weather may still be the same, wet and very, very cold. Us Southern folk are such wimps when it comes to the cold. Fail!

The thrust of urban development is creeping little by little with new flats rising from what seems like the very cracks in the pavement and interestingly we came across the March for Homes, a demonstration against "social cleansing". Hundreds of people walked the streets protesting against the lack of affordable housing. Like most modern cities London is a place of extremes with people sleeping rough alongside 3 bedroom flats on sale for £2.4M. The March for Homes is said to be the first of its kind, bringing campaigners, retailers and trade unionists together to highlight the lack of affordable housing and spiralling rents.


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March for Homes
Stopping off for an impromptu haircut at a Turkish barbers I managed to get warm again, whilst my old man had the haircut to end all haircuts.  Not having witnessed the intricate skills of a Turkish barber I nearly jumped off my seat when said barber set fire to my husbands hair and then proceeded to slap him with hot wet towels, followed by intense massaging of the upper body. With only a slight whiff of burning protein in the air my husband escaped with his hair intact, well what was left. In fact it was the best haircut he'd ever had, certainly the most entertaining.

Street art is everywhere....

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Smokers take shelter
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Foxy....
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Damien Hirst at The Tramshed 

By chance we came across The Tramshed, Mark Hix's celebrated Chicken and Steak eatery and headed inside mainly to escape from the weather. Fortunately, for my purse, the Weekend Brunch menu was available and we sat and enjoyed a 'Cock 'n' bull hash with a double yolker' and a Salt beef sandwich. Its not everyday that you can sit under a piece of Damien Hirst artwork. A word of warning don't have the fries they're more expensive than the main course....cunning naughty sides! Well worth a visit and not just for the food. At the moment kids under 10 eat free!

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Cock 'n' bull hash with a double yolker

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Salt beef sandwich
Staff are friendly and food was delivered quickly and efficiently, they even had time for a chat. If you have time, pop into the Cock n Bull gallery for some arty inspiration.  Shoreditch....we'll be back when the sun comes out again.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Marou - Ben Tre 78% Dark Chocolate

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At Christmas I am your ideal person to buy a gift for. Why? Well, just gift me a few chocolate bars, truffles or such like and I'll be as happy as Larry for several days, possibly months! 

Of course, this year all my presents were wonderful even those pairs of socks! But one of them particularly appealed to me. A bar of Ben Tre 78%, single origin dark chocolate, that had been on my list of chocolates to try for 2015.

Vietnam is not a country that springs immediately to mind as a cocoa producing country. My memories of Vietnam were shaped by the many Hollywood blockbusters including Apocalypse Now, Hamburger Hill, Full Metal Jacket and of course images of Napalm Girl. Oh, and not forgetting MASH! The Americans infamously dumped millions of gallons of Agent Orange onto the country in order to destroy Vietnam's jungles and ultimately the cover it provided the Viet Cong. Interestingly, Ben Tre was mentioned in the Viet Cong's failed Tet offensive of 1968 where the town was pretty much destroyed by the Americans who were actually trying to save it.


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Well things have certainly moved on in terms of agriculture since the 60's. Overseas investment has meant that small businesses such as cocoa farmers have flourished, making Vietnam one of the newest and most exciting cocoa producers in the world. 

In 2010, I reviewed two limited edition bars of chocolate from the UK's very own Marc Demarquette, a fine chocolate specialist. You can read the review here. The quality of Vietnam's cocoa is born out by the fact that Marc is still using their cocoa today, to find out more click here.


Ok, back to Samuel and Vincent, two Frenchman who followed their gut instincts and set up Marou. Essentially these guys have escaped the daily grind in spectacular fashion. Landing in Saigon where they literally hunt down the best and most interesting cocoa beans, design their own chocolate making equipment and then produce some amazing bean to bar chocolates. Voila! Now their chocolate is sold and enjoyed around the world.

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Firstly, this is a big bar of chocolate not your measly 70g that seems to be standard and secondly it has been beautifully packaged and presented especially with a sumptuously thick golden outer. If James Bond purchased chocolate then this is what he'd buy.

I'm not usually a great fan of chocolate with a cocoa content over 65%. However, the fluidity of this bar is excellent with only a slight chalky mouthfeel.
A deep 'forest floor' aroma emanates from the bar as you open up the packaging. The chocolate is really well made and melts quickly with a relatively high fruit acidity with hints of liquorice. Overall a very enjoyable bar of chocolate, irresistible and super sexy....I've obviously eaten too much chocolate!

Buy online from Chocolatiers, priced at £5.35.

Marou is certainly doing good!

Monday, 29 December 2014

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh by Rococo

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Officially it is still Christmas and there are a few more days to go! 

So, with that in mind and before we stagger into the New Year there is still an opportunity for a swift review of a 'blinging' dark chocolate Christmas bar from Rococo Chocolates, Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. 

Obviously, there are religious connotations going on here but, I'm sure a bar of chocolate wasn't on the Three Wise Men's gift list when they visited the young baby Jesus. But, who knows....

Gold! Yes, no expense has been spared and they really have served up some 22 carat gold leaf bringing a little bling into our world. Ok, so its a trace but its awesome.

Frankincense is an aromatic resin obtained from trees of the genus Boswellia and is well known for its use by religious orders as incense. Approximately 1,000 tonnes of resin are tapped from trees each year and its becoming harder and harder to locate. The tree can be found in the most inhospitable places and can literally grow out of solid rock. Somalia is the biggest exporter of the resin. 

Myrrh is another aromatic resin taken from the thorny tree, Commiphora Myrrh. Also found in Somalia. In traditional Chinese medicine Myrrh is classified as 'bitter' and 'spicy' having the ability to assist with the body's circulatory problems.
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The bar was originally created by Rococo in 1996. Presentation is excellent and the dark chocolate is shiny and snappy with a subtle orange aroma. The gold adds nothing to the flavour but provides a little luxury. A 65% cocoa content means that the dark chocolate melts quickly with a hint of bitter sweetness combining deliciously with the orange. I'm not sure I'm picking up the woodiness from the Frankincense but overall this a great bar of chocolate. Priced at £4.95/70g. To buy click here. You still have time....

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Wild Gorse Flower by Chocolarder


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If you are a visitor to Southwold, Suffolk, especially during the magical month of May, you will be familiar with a striking and prickly yellow shrub that is known as Gorse which bursts like a ray of sunshine from the scrub. 

A bright colour is not its only attractive quality but it also has a heady, thick coconut scent that envelops everything within a few metres. 

Certainly not something I would consider combining with chocolate, but the guys at Chocolarder have been working their magic to produce an aptly named Wild Gorse Flower bar of chocolate. According to the words on the packaging, "Gorse flowers are handpicked from around Cornwall's coast and steeped in cocoa butter for several weeks to impart their heady scent. Added to 40% milk Javan milk chocolate".

Chocolarder is an artisan bean to bar chocolate maker based in Cornwall and I've taken a paragraph directly from their website, "The Chocolarder is one of the only small batch bean-to-bar chocolate makers in the country. We produce fine quality, stone ground chocolate using organic beans imported from single estate, family run plantations in Venezuela, Java, Madagascar, Peru and the Dominican Republic. The select beans used at The Chocolarder are roasted, winnowed and ground over 4 days before being left to mature for 30 days. The chocolate is then hand tempered and made into bars. This obsessive attention to detail yields some of the finest chocolate in production today".

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Chocolarder packaging is all recyclable
The chocolate is a single origin milk chocolate made from Trinitario beans from Java with a 40% cocoa content, infused with Wild Gorse flowers. The beans themselves have been through a grind length of 68 hrs. 

As I said on my previous tasting, their packaging is very good and also completely recyclable or sourced from recycled materials. On opening the greaseproof outer there is a very, very strong aroma of coconut, which brings back memories of sunbathing using coconut oil and gently frying in the Mediterranean sun. The coconut flavour is so strong that I almost expected there to be a white centre not unlike a Bounty. The 40% milk chocolate is lost in the strong coconutty flavour but melts easily with a fudge like texture. To be honest the chocolate does not come through until long afterwards.

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Ingredients:

Cocoa Beans
Raw Sugar Cane
Whole Milk Powder
Cocoa Butter
Gorse Flowers

My only question is why did you have to use such a good quality chocolate that ends up being masked by such a strong flavour. Don't get me wrong I enjoyed it and so did everybody else who was lucky enough to try a piece.

Reasonably priced at £3.95 per 70g. To buy click here. 

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Silly Old Egg Tart!

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More like the surface of the moon!
In theory, an egg tart, should be one of the simplest things to make from my limited culinary perspective. 

However, attempting a new recipe from the BBC Good Food website on Christmas Eve with two additional and enthusiastic kitchen assistants was a recipe for disaster. The writing was already on the pastry! 

My calamitous kitchen episode can be avoided by closely following this recipe. 


Ingredients:

140g butter, chilled and diced
250g plain flour
zest 1 lemon
100g caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp whole milk

For the custard

250ml double cream
250ml milk
1 vanilla pod, split
1 strip lemon zest
whole nutmeg
8 egg yolks
100g caster sugar

Method

To make the pastry, rub the butter into the flour with the lemon zest and a pinch of salt until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, egg and milk and bring together to form a dough. This can be made 2 days in advance.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry out and use it to line a 20cm tart tin, leave 2cm of pastry hanging over the edge. Chill for 30 mins.


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Heat oven to 180C/160C fan. Line the case with baking beans, bake blind for 20 minutes, then remove the beans and continue to cook for a further 20 minutes until the base is biscuity. Remove from oven and reduce the temperature to 140C/120C fan.
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Bring the cream, milk, vanilla pod, lemon zest and a small grating of nutmeg to the boil. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until pale, then pour the hot milk and cream over, beating as you go. 


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Strain custard into a jug, allow to settle for a few minutes, then skim off any froth. Don't forget to do this part of the recipe! Otherwise your egg tart will have a surface skin not unlike the surface of the moon!

Carefully pour the custard into the tart case, grate some more nutmeg over the top and bake for 40 minutes or until just set with the very slightest wobble in the middle. Remove from the oven, trim the pastry edges off, then leave to cool completely before serving in slices with a grating more of nutmeg.

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Got it cracked!
Well, the good news is that it certainly tasted better than it looked and I would probably reduce the sugar by 20g next time.