Blackwater No. 5 Gin – a review

A few weeks ago I made a wonderful life choice that my bank account doesn’t quite agree with. I signed up to Craft Gin Club, getting a premium, craft gin delivered to my door monthly (well, I get it every 3 months because I can’t quite afford the £40 fee every month). I was very excited when they tweeted a photo of a van packed full of boxes, and even more so when I received my edition of Ginned! which said more about the gin I was about to get to taste.

As some background, Blackwater Distillery is based in Ireland, on the banks of the Blackwater River (unsurprisingly). Their gin (Blackwater No. 5) is new, the first commercial batch came off the still on February 9th, and is the first craft gin to come out of Ireland.

Let’s start with the bottle. What a beautiful bottle it is. The picture you see through the bottle depicts the 90 degree turn that the river makes. The design is simple yet so effective. I currently up cycle my nicer (empty) alcohol bottles by filling them with fairy lights, but that’s not going to happen to this one. Once this is finished and I’ve finished sobbing about my loss, this will sit as it is, the stunning label standing as decoration on its own.

Now I’ve finished nerding over the label, let’s move on to the gin. And oh what a gin it is.

So I returned to my pretentious tasting method as first demonstrated in my review of Brighton Gin. I added equal amounts of gin and water to a cup to release the aromas. The first thing I can smell is the juniper and citrus notes. It smells very clean – and most importantly for my untrained nose, no nasty sharp alcohol smells (something I haven’t missed since my student days of Asda value vodka. Even the thought of that brings back bad memories). The first sip is very smooth. Just the simple taste of juniper and citrus. They claim that they have liquorice botanicals in it, which I can’t taste but I’m fine with that as I’m not a liquorice fan, but there is a satisfying tang at the back of the mouth.

After a few sips I felt I should make a G&T to really test it/not just drink straight gin all evening. I had run out of Fevertree tonic so plumped for the solid Schweppes and a lime wedge for good measure. It made one of the best gin and tonics I’ve ever had. The coriander tastes come through more clearly when mixed with the tonic. It’s clean, smooth and simple. Exactly what a G&T needs to be. I love the citrus taste (I usually make gin and bitter lemon at home because I’m an old lady). Very drinkable. Worryingly drinkable as I can see an evening disappearing into that bottle with no problem at all.

The gin is currently listed on the Blackwater Distillery website but it isn’t available to order so I can’t encourage you to buy it quite yet, but when this comes out, get one. I think this gin will suit all palettes – except possibly those people who enjoy the strong alcohol flavour of a drink. But for those that want a lovely, uncomplicated drink to sip on in an evening, this is it.

If this is the standard that I will be getting with every delivery, then I would love for someone to fund the monthly subscription for me (and buy me a drinks trolley as our kitchen is overflowing…)

Remember, you can follow me on Twitter and see more of my terrible photos on Instagram.

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The Salt Room

I’m going to start by apologising. I actually went to The Salt Room a week ago. Then I was lazy and it was my housemates birthday and I was lazy again. But here we go.

So because said housemate (thanks Jenny Bernarde!) does some of The Salt Room’s marketing, we got invited to the soft launch on Wednesday (ahead of the main opening on the Friday. I felt well fancy) where we got 50% off food which was even more exciting. I’ve been following The Salt Room on Twitter since they announced it, then they released the menu the day before we went so I was very much looking forward to going.

From the outside the building looks slick and upmarket – a long terrace across the front of the Hilton which opens in the summer and is heated in the winter gives views over the main road the seafront with the Palace Pier to the left, the West pier to the right. We walk in to find the standard exposed brick that now features in every pub and restaurant combined with fresh white walls and great lighting (until it gets a bit later when the light drops and we have a few issues reading the menu).

We were seated at our table next to the window (lovely views in the summer I’m sure, night time in February – slightly less so) and started pouring over the drinks menu. A long list of wine, cocktails and a special gin and Tonica menu with no Bombay Sapphire in sight (hurrah!). I settled for the Garden Fizz – beefeater gin, sage, dried citrus, lemon and bitters. These are my favourite things (admittedly sage isn’t usually in my cocktails but gin and lemon are made for each other) so I was very happy. The gin and tonic of the birthday girl came in a balloon glass which, according to our waitress, holds a pint of liquid. I’m currently finding some for my flat.

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Now the food:

Starters – one lobster and shellfish cocktail, one salt baked and smoked beetroot with goat curd, cocoa nibs and blood orange. I can only vouch for the beetroot, but it’s safe to say my saying “everything is better smoked” remains true for beetroot. The only thing I would have changed would be to have a slightly smaller piece of beetroot – mine was quite large and after a while you realise you are just eating a whole beetroot. Lovely as it was, perhaps just slightly smaller in the future.

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Mains – one steak (ordered well done but arrived beautifully pink in the middle), one shrimp and crab burger and one spiced monkfish (mine).

The monkfish was meaty and soft – my complaint here was that it appeared to be a big medallion of flesh, only to dive in and find the big tailbone running through the middle (and sadly I felt it was too nice a place to pick the bone up and suck the flesh off). That aside, it was lovely. Pickled cauliflower and ginger were wonderful and went well with the subtly spiced monkfish.

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Having stolen a piece of crab burger, I want to go back purely to eat more of that. Small shrimps combined with crab meat made for an interesting burger – a mix of textures from the meaty shrimp and the flaky crab work well with the bun and flavoured mayo. The fries that accompanied the burger and the steak were salty and crispy and perfect – and it’s nice to not see sweet potato fries on a menu for once!

As our dishes were whisked away we started lusting over the pudding that had been delivered to the table next to us. Made to share, the Taste of the Pier platter features candy floss, mini 99’s, donuts, marshmallows, chocolate pebbles and honeycomb. Unfortunately our full bellies didn’t allow us to order one but next time I’ll forgo the starter to give it a good go!

Whilst the food was wonderful, there were a few little problems. Whilst they were super quick taking our order, we waited over 15 minutes for our drinks, 25 minutes for our after dinner drinks which never arrived so we asked for the bill, which took another 10 minutes to arrive. The lobster and shellfish cocktail had bits of shell throughout which was tricky to see through the sauce leaving my companion to pick bits out of his mouth (super attractive). I presume these are all teething issues that will be worked out when they’ve been open a bit longer. The 50% off food helped to make me not mind about the waiting, and I would certainly go back again.

I want to go back to try all of the gins. And all of the cocktails. And should probably give the wine list a good go. Then it’s on to the steak, the crab and prawn burger, the fire roasted crab claws, the raw beef, the cured salmon, the turbot, the taste of the pier…

Basically all of the food and drink. In my belly. Preferably with someone else picking up the bill.

You can perv on The Salt Room’s menus on their website www.saltroom-restaurant.co.uk and they’re on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

If you enjoy my rambling I’m on Twitter and my blurry pictures are on Instagram.

H.en – a review

Thanks to working with Laura Evans, I find out about new restaurants because she gets invited to openings and to review them (check out Places I Eat). When she mentioned H.en – a nicer Nandos – I gave it a google. Never, I repeat NEVER, google ‘hen Brighton’. All that comes up are photos and articles showcasing the worst of Brighton (take note potential hen parties: you are not welcome here. We [I] hate you). But I persevered and found their menu online and forced the boy to join me for dinner there on Friday evening. We arrived about 8.30pm and we rounded customer numbers up to 10. I was expecting it to be busier, but this always happens when we go out before pay day. The restaurant is decorated as most new restaurants in Brighton are – unfinished walls and tables, a less is more kinda thing.

So we took a table in the corner and one of the staff bought over their menus. The options are a quarter or half a chicken with two sides, or (as we went for) a chicken burger (plus a veggie burger option). We both went for sweet potato fries with our burgers (the other options: corn on the cob, salad or halloumi) because we, like the majority of Brighton, are pretty obsessed with sweet potato fries.

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The burgers arrived and we were very excited. Sauces were delivered in three little bottles – the Herbie, the Miles and the Duke. Sadly, the teeny tiny nozzles get a bit blocked, and my childish impatience led to one of the most embarrassing things I’ve ever done. As I squeezed the bottle to try to get some sauce out, the lid popped off and sauce hit my plate with such force that it rebounded over the table, my fries, my face, my hair and my clothes. Obviously as this point I yelled quite loudly and Dan laughed at me. A lot. Luckily we had sat at the table nearest the toilet so I ran out and hid in the toilet to wipe my face and hair clean and slunk back in to eat my dinner.

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The photo of my plate is after I had cleaned up the table. Face not shown.

Sauce was literally everywhere. But anyway. The food. The burger was huge. It was basically half a fried chicken in a bun. A big pot of fries to go with it. I really enjoyed my meal (post sauce explosion) but I had two issues (other than the sauce bath). Firstly, bits of the chicken burger were quite dry which I can only assume is because parts of it were so thick (but I had lots of sauce in my plate so I managed with that easily enough) and secondly the fries were more like stumps. The fries themselves were probably some of the best sweet potato fries I’ve eaten in Brighton, but the average length of each chip was about 1cm.

But moving on to the good bits. The fried chicken was nice and crispy and not soggy and greasy. The sauces were delicious (what was left of them anyway). The Herbie was light and citrusy, the Miles had a nice tomato warmth to it and the Duke had a nice chili kick that I LOVE in a sauce. All worked brilliantly with the burger, and I imagine a grilled chicken portion would be delicious dunked in all three of these. The bottles were an issue, and as we left we heard another table suggesting they put them in pots instead so you can actually get them onto your plate. H.en say on their website that they are the first “local and happy (high welfare) chicken shop”. I wasn’t able to work out from the taste whether my chicken was free-range but there was certainly a lot of meat. And it made me happy so I’d like to think the chicken was happy as well.

I am definitely planning on going back to H.en. But next time, I’m going to unscrew the lids from the sauce bottles.

To save yourself the horrors of drunk women stumbling around Brighton, you can check out H.en’s website here: www.henrestaurant.com/ and they are on Twitter here.

If you like my ramblings then I too am on Twitter and for more food and gin photos, check out my Instagram

Makara, Hove – review

I don’t want to start this post with a lie so I’m going to be open and say it: I’ve had a few glasses of wine. I also forgot that I am now a ‘blogger’ so I have one photo of my food, and it’s not the food-porn Instgrammed photo you’re all hoping for. But more of that later.

So today was our work dinner. After trying and failing to get into Curry Leaf Cafe, we settled on Makara on Church Road, Hove. I walk past this place twice a day to get to and from work and every day I think “oh, that looks nice”. And that is about as far as it went.

When it got suggested in the office I did as we all do, instantly googled it and read the menu every ten minutes throughout the day trying to decide what sounded best. After a cheeky glass of wine at Blind Busker, we trekked the 10 feet across the road and entered the restaurant. The first thing that hits you is a wall of heat. Then the smell. Oh my that smell. The smell of meat and spice and everything nice. We got seated at our table at the back and ordered some wine (white) and water for the table. The water arrived in the fashionable Kilner bottles that are super trendy and everywhere yet I still want desperately for my flat. Along with the water came some hummus and hot, greasy flatbread that was beautiful on an empty stomach and a glass of wine (I realise greasy sounds like a negative review but I actually mean this in the best way, it was delicious!)

We decided that the best idea for seven people would be to get two of the cold mezze to share plus hot starters. We (I) specifically requested the vine leaves to be included in the cold mezze (6 of the cold starters) but apart from that we left it to them. We got a selection of artichoke (which sadly got nommed before it got passed down to my end of the table), vine leaves, hummus, cacik (yogurt and cucumber), kisir (bulgur with onion and tomato) and more. The vine leaves were minty and fresh as hoped, and the bread went beautifully with the various forms of hummus/yogurt dip. Looking back now as I write this, I should have asked exactly what we were eating. Alas, it is too late. For hot starters we had falafel balls (crispy on the outside and yummy in the middle and served with more hummus), grilled halloumi (which is basically the food of the gods and so can never be wrong or bad with its squeaky goodness) and prawns with garlic and chili (which had a very good spicy kick to them, which when paired with one of the yogurt dressings was a delight).

Our waitress was really nice and attentive despite it being rammed with Christmas parties and couples and groups of friends, our water was always topped up and she was quick at delivering and clearing all of our plates.

About a minute after our starters were cleared, the mains arrived. Never in my life has a main appeared so quickly. As one plate was removed another was placed in front of me. And another basket of bread arrived. This is me at my happiest. After a lot of discussion I settled on Iskander (grilled minced lamb with yogurt and tomato sauce on pita bread cubes with rice and salad) only to be told that they no longer serve that. Instead of throwing a strop I went for my second choice of Ali Nazik (sautéed lamb with smoky aubergine purée with yogurt and garlic, with rice and salad on the side).

The salad was cold and fresh and was a welcome change after the richer sauces, the rice was nice and dry and worked brilliantly at soaking up my auberginey-yogurty sauce (which was also lovely and smokey and was a good combination of spicy and creamy). My one disappointment was my lamb. Whilst it was flavoured beautifully with various spices, I seemed to get the fattiest bits of lamb. It was helpfully already cut up into small pieces, but the lamb itself was quite tough and chewy. Which was a shame as it tasted great, but gnawing on bits of fat isn’t my thing.

No one else seemed disappointed with their meal. Indeed someone else had the same dish as me and had no complaints so I am hoping that I just sadly got the short straw with the bits I was served. I was surrounded by lamb kofte, tavuk sis (chicken breast with pepper and garlic – one complaint here. Again beautifully flavoured but was a bit dry. A spoonful of my sauce helped) and lamb chop-esque meals.

Complaints aside, I managed to scoff my whole meal so I can’t have hated it that much. And here comes the one photo that I took.

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Whilst I wasn’t 100% happy with my main meal, I enjoyed every other second of my meal and would happily go back again to try out the rest of their menu. The only reason I made a fairly quick decision about my main meal was because I had stared at the menu for most of the day. Particularly with the starters, I believe my remark was “I will happily eat every item on this menu. In fact, if you can bring me one of everything that will be great”. This is my first experience of eating Turkish food in a restaurant and it certainly won’t be my last.

I realise this is a fairly shoddy review, but I’m learning. Next time I will hold off filling my mouth just long enough to take a photo. And I will pay attention to what I am eating.

You can read Makara’s menu here and you can follow them on Twitter here.

For more of my daily witterings you can follow me on Twitter and for some slightly better photos of food and gin, I am also on Instagram.

Brighton Gin – a review

I’ve been following Brighton Gin for a while now and have been eagerly awaiting my first bottle. After glimpses and a few delays, Brighton Gin finally launched in shops. As I went to Stockholm. Cue four days of me whimpering over Twitter as the reviews trickled in, waiting to fly home to get my hands on a bottle. Yesterday, after work, I trekked for twenty minutes in the wrong direction to get my hands on a bottle. At £39.99 this is the most I’ve ever spent on gin. I was anxious. I’d heard it tasted of orange. I hate orange. The long walk home filled my head with images of me spitting gin across my kitchen, crying over the first gin I’ve ever hated.

My fears were unfounded.

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We decided that, for the launch of my blog, we should do the tasting thing properly. We went to Ginmonger for their ‘How to Taste Gin’ notes. We felt slightly like pretentious twats stood in our not-very-fancy kitchen, using my novelty reindeer shot glass from Stockholm as a measure and swirling gin around our cheap wine glasses and sniffing deeply to “carry the fragrances to the nerve ends at the top of your nose”. It smelt like gin (in a good way). Then we took a mouthful.

Tangy on the front of the tongue. Subtle and smooth from start to finish. Previous experiences of drinking straight gin haven’t gone well for me, they usually end with a coughing fit and me claiming that it tastes like a bad idea and nail varnish remover. None of this happened. It was rather delicious. To make sure we weren’t going insane we kept repeating the process. Sip, swill, let it sit on the tongue then swallow. Lovely stuff.

Once that was finished and we were a little giddy from excitement, we added tonic (Fevertree, light Indian tonic). We were worried that it would lose the citrusy tanginess that it had when straight. Our fears were once again unfounded. Mixed with tonic made it a beautiful drink that I could happily have all day long (except I wouldn’t, because apparently it’s not socially acceptable to drink gin all day). It had a very subtle flavour that made it very easy to drink, but kept enough of a tang to make it interesting.

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Overall, it is a wonderful gin that is smooth enough to drink every day. I, personally, will be saving this for slightly more special occasions but this is purely a price tag issue. If I were able to afford a £40 bottle of gin as my every day gin I would. But alas, it is back to the Gordon’s for me… until tonight when I have invited another gin lover round to try some.

And if anyone wants to buy me some, Christmas is coming up and I have a large empty stocking hanging over my radiator…

Thanks to Jenny Bernarde for tasting the gin with me and for her second opinions and yummy noises.

You can find out about Brighton Gin here:
Www.brightongin.com
@brightongin

You can also hear my daily witterings about food, drink and general life over on Twitter @jennifermclaren