What's Your Flava?
"Is it Spanish? Oh, really? I couldn’t tell because of some of the words. Not heard of Estrella. Is it Champagne?” – Sabor, 'Mayfair Joe', February 2018
I wrote this review months ago….well, I could have done. Nieves Barragán is the dynamo chef who drove the brilliance of Fino in the basement of Charlotte Street from the day they opened in 2003, then continued with the first Barrafina in 2007, the game changing Spanish restaurant that had people queueing out the door in Soho when ‘no reservations’ wasn’t really a ‘thing’ in London. These two shining lights in London’s Spanish restaurant pantheon – owned by Sam and Eddie Hart – blitzed much of what had gone before. The roll call went something like this: best croquetas in London; best pan con tamate; best tortilla, oozing its eggy innards; best suckling pig at Fino, its crisp skinned, burnished portions to be snapped up before they ran out; best huge carbineros prawns, a shock of red slapped on the plancha, the heads to be sucked clean…and so it went on.Read on...
3 Ball Zinfandel is a blend of grapes from three Californian counties, made by a chap known out there as ‘Zinbitch’. True story. Christian Tietje has acquired this memorable moniker for his winemaking at Cypher Winery, crafting high end Zinfandels. This latest project is a blend of Sonoma County, Paso Robles and the foothills of Amador County, with a splash of Petite Sirah and Carignan lobbed in.
A right ole' mouthful this one, charging out with dark cherry and blackberry, then slapping you about a bit with a healthy 15% ABV, but it's all in seamless balance – plush, lush, silky, satisfying.
A discovery while visiting The Fordwich Arms pub in Kent, where some cracking cooking is going on, where the open fires make you want to stay all day, and where co-owner Guy Palmer-Brown has assembled an interesting little list.
And Christian? Oh, he's noted as the "surfer, punk rocker, metal artist winemaker" who fell in love with wine and oysters in a small fishing town in Maine, and ended up cooking in seafood and Italian restaurants across New England. Obsessed with seafood and the ocean, he also makes a wine he considers the "ultimate" seafood wine, blending Viiognier, Riesling, Grenache Blanc and Chardonnay – it's called Octopussy.
When he's not being a Zinbitch he's surfing on California's Central Coast, popping oyster shells, or welding a metal sculpture: of course he is. Rock 'n' Roll winemaker....
This part of north east London, hugging the border with Essex — where suburbia quite dramatically transforms into the vast expanse and bucolic leafiness of Epping Forest — has historically offered meagre scraps for decent dining-out options.
But what’s this? In the past two years there has been a flurry of activity quite unlike anything I’ve seen around here before. The Woodford swaggered into town with a Pierre Koffmann protégé, Ben Murphy, at the helm, and with a palpable, Michelin star-chasing ambition. Yes, it has since closed, but it was an early salvo, an indicator of the shift in mood.
Campanian gem in Margate
“Down to Margate, you can keep the Costa Brava, I'm telling ya mate I'd rather have a day down Margate with all me family.” – Chas and Dave, Margate (1982)
Margate was never on my radar. Family seaside jaunts focused instead on Southend and its addictive strip of amusement arcades, when the thought of sitting in an Out Run machine (SEGA), the model car complete with real (gasp) steering wheel, gear stick, and foot pedals, was enough to send an eleven-year-old into raptures: collective 1986 minds were blown.
The Fordwich Arms
Where The Light Gets In
The Mash Inn
Grand Trunk Road
The Laughing Heart
German Doner Kebab
Black Axe Mangal
House of Ho
It was the 'Mission Chinese' spices on the fried chicken that hooked me in: have only seen Danny Bowien's firecracker Sichuan peppercorn charged spice mix appear in London once, at the peerless Black Axe Mangal in their 'wing spice'. Then a sausage and egg 'McMuffin' with slow cooked egg yolks and kimchi ketchup, appears on the brunch menu. Disciples of Bowien? Sod this, it's around the corner from me on the Wanstead/Forest Gate borders....cover me, I'm going in.
A short walk from Forest Gate and Wanstead Park stations, Arch Rivals occupy one of the arches on Winchelsea Road, and unlikely looking strip already perked up by wine shop and bar Burgess and Hall, and The Wanstead Tap. A couple of visits and I'm a believer: tiny menu of asian accented dishes to smack across the chops, alongside a sharply chosen list of beers, wine and cocktails. Pinot Gris from Mount Difficulty in Otago, New Zealand, is a winner with the food.
Jitterbugging across Asia over six dishes, these are bites falling squarely into the 'booze food' category, full of punch and spice to sustain and revive after a skinful. Sichuan aubergine here, smacked cucumber over there, a rib steak with miso butter and kimchi, XO sauce and Mapo Tofu darting in and out of the evening and brunch menus.
We just miss out on Dan Dan fried rice one evening (pork runs out) but with a swift substitution of kimchi for pork, it reminds me of a raucous evening in the Lower East Side in NYC, and a fried rice dish of salt cod at Bowien's Mission Chinese: oh look, there's a kedgeree fried rice dish with smoked haddock on at brunch. Riffs on Bowien, flashes of David 'Momofuku' Chang – we spot books from both on the shelf, alongside Pok Pok's Andy Ricker – reveal the influences the kitchen enjoy playing with most.
That 'McMuffin' is a gem: free-range pork patty with American cheese, the ooze of slow cooked egg yolk, kick of kimchi ketchup between a particularly good toasted muffin. Mushroom Mapo Tofu with jalapeño cornbread and eggs, hopping with Sichuan peppercorns and black beans – while feeling slightly dusty from the night before – is a most welcome Saturday breakfast.
I'm liking Arch Rivals – a bar with attitude and hutzpah.
361 Winchelsea Road
À Tout Le Monde
As well as founding one of the greatest thrash metal bands of all time – celebrating 35 years this year – Dave Mustaine has recently released a Megadeth beer, a Belgian style saison brewed by Unibroue, one of the most highly rated breweries in North America, who have won a hatful of medals along the way.
Crisp, beautifully balanced, subtle hop character, touch of coriander and lemony citrus, with a great little spicy lick at the end. Would work beautifully with spicier Thai curries, or taming the chilli heat of a Malaysian laksa noodle soup.
À Tout Le Monde is the name of one of the tracks from the Megadeth album Youthanasia (1994). Dave's interest in the drinks industry also includes Mustaine Vineyards, a winemaking project which includes La Reve, the family's private estate vineyard in California. He's often seen enjoying good food and drinks on his Instagram feed: it's not all thrash, thrash, thrash.
Winning its first Gold Medal last year for 'Best Saison, scoring the highest points in its category in the World Beer Championships, the beer has only recently become available in the UK.
Right, I'm off to listen to Holy Wars...The Punishment Due (Rust In Peace, 1990)
Distributor (Europe): kanata.fr
The rise of the English sparkling wine industry has seen its bottles move from “plucky outsider” status to champagne-beating cellar essentials, claiming a record number of international trophies along the way. England is fizzing, and the world is taking notice.
"What on earth is wrong with you?” The question comes out of nowhere, a sly uppercut into the soft underbelly of my fragile (often) sense of worth. “I mean, seriously. What is your problem? What?”
On the ropes by this point, I come out swinging: a wounded tiger, an annoyed, wounded tiger. "Look, if I want to drink Grosset’s ‘Polish Hill’ Riesling with special chow mein, then I will. Alright?”
"See how its strength bursts to the top of the glass...the difference is almost frightening." – These are the mellifluous tones of suave British actor William Franklyn, on a voiceover for a 1970s Schweppes commercial, as a wrecking ball keeps smashing into the house he's walking through. You can hear the tonic in his glass fizzing amongst the crashing.
— It started with venison medallions and a Barossa Valley Shiraz: the dish that sent me down the path of food and wine while living in Sydney. A career change from advertising began by joining Oddbins in 2003, then to independent merchant The Winery (specialising in German Riesling, Burgundy, Piemonte, California), moving to selling wine to London restaurants, and a stint as sommelier at Zucca in Bermondsey — the writing kicked in after all of this. I’ve written for various publications including The Evening Standard, The Guardian, Christie’s Magazine, The London Magazine, Noble Rot, Completely London, Caterer, and Ocado magazine. I consult on wine lists for restaurants, recent projects including Smoking Goat, Kiln, Coombeshead Farm, Bibo, Arabica Bar and Kitchen, Frontline Club, Cây Tre and Martello Hall.