Friday, 19 December 2014

Chotto Matte


Chotto Matte, a Peruvian-Japanese explosion of colours, flavours and spectacular smells has won me over in a heartbeat. From Chef Jordan Sclare and Michael Paul’s intensly mouth-watering Nikkei cuisine to Tom Blackford (Ink Fetish’s) graffiti covered walls, I was in creative heaven upon arrival. 

The ever-generous Zomato had invited a group of us food fanatic types along for a pisco cocktail master-class in the slick lava-stone bar on the ground floor of the restaurant and a chance to sample some Nikkei cuisine and get our taste-buds tingling. 

Tumbling in from the revoltingly wet weather, we were welcomed with a glass of champagne and the outside world couldn't have felt further away.  

Pisco, a grape based brandy has been produced in Chile and Peru for hundreds of years but has only recently hit London in a big way. Chotto Matte had the bar well stocked and shining with varieties of pisco bottles awaiting their fate. 

We watched as Pisco Sours were whisked up in front of us by this poncho donned fellow .. (pisco, lime, sugar, egg white and Peruvian bitters for those of you who (like me) are new recruits to the pisco revolution).

Chotto Matte's signature pisco bottles stood to attention atop the bar.

Tuna sashimi tostaditas were prepared in front of us against the backdrop of the colourfully explosive graffiti, a perfect match for the bold, modern tastes of this new fusion cooking.

Sweet potato and cassava chips were served in sake boxes and came accompanied by the most incredible guacamole I have ever tasted. Will need to make that a more permanent feature in my life. I think an entire tub of the stuff would just about do it!

Chef Michael Paul worked his magic mid-demo, explaining the components of each dish and leaving us drooling over his every word. 

The gorgeous Sato Maki consisted of sea bass, salmon, asparagus, marinated peppers, courgette and shiitake mushroom and we were all but ready to reach out and grab them until the blow torch was produced and flames got involved. Not just for show however, the caramelised smokey flavour created from the torching gave the sushi that extra edge which has catapulted Chotto Matte to the forefront of London's Nikkei restaurant scene.

Cuatro Uvas cocktails were made from pisco, sake, elderflower, lime and celery bitters and garnished with red grapes and some expressive hands of head barman Fabiano Latham.

My winner of the evening was the aubergine nigri, topped with den miso and flamed to create a mouthful of chargrilled sweetness. I'll be having me a whole plate of those please!

Teriyaki chicken skewers with spicy mayo were handed around between pisco hits and gave us a teaser as to what we can expect from the grill upstairs. Not to be missed that's for sure!

The sneaky among us slipped away from the pisco shaking, ice-saw wielding cocktail creators at the bar and were given a cheeky tour through the hustle and bustle of excited diners and teriyaki aromas in the main restaurant upstairs.

The place was full to the brim with mates on dates, dates on dates and everyone enjoying their sushi, ceviche and meat from the open grill. Even as I write, I'm wondering why I haven't booked a table already.. straight onto the to-do list I think.

The incredible exposed Robata grill had movable tiers to regulate how much heat reached the smokey Nikkei barbecued meat and I found the whole thing captivating. I was also a little distracted by this rather delightful chap ... just look at that smile! 

Ceviche and soft shell crab sushi were plated up on the long sushi bar and were instantly whisked off to their tables. The colours of the dishes were insanely tempting and it was a good thing my camera was clutched in my hands because those fingers might not have been able to help themselves!  Everything was a hive of activity and the buzz was completely infectious.

Watching chefs at work is a (not so) guilty pleasure of mine, so I was in my absolute element at Chotto Matte with such a variety of open bars to oggle at. The intensity and concentration of the sushi masters was captivating and their attention to detail was unwavering. We were also given a whistle stop trip through the main kitchen, which although fascinating, was probably incredibly irritating for all the chefs who were busy enough as it was without having extra bodies getting in the way! Thank you for being so patient Chotto Matte chefs!

All I can do now is to implore you to grab a date (after a meal here, a second one shouldn't be far off) or book a table for you and your mates because this is food to be experienced and shared. I certainly can't wait to hop back Soho way and relive the fun all over again!

Thanks must go to everyone at Zomato and Chotto Matte for this fabulous treat and to all the lovely writers and bloggers who made the experience that extra bit special.

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Square Meal

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Notes Coffee

Cheese and coffee tasting

So, thanks to Notes, I've had a mini revelation. While it is a universally acknowledged that the greatest pairing on the planet is between cheese and wine, a partnership that is almost unheard of, is coffee and cheese. Time for all you skeptics out there to put your doubts to one side and listen up!

Notes have a few branches dotted about town but unlike many other coffee shops out there, it has its own roastery where it can produce the coffee they serve. Fabio Ferreira, our coffee and cheese connoisseur has a family run coffee plantation in Brazil which provides Notes with each and every bean. 

Growing up surrounded by coffee, it wasn't until many years later when he was travelling in Italy that Fabio discovered his love for the Italian way of drinking coffee. Unlike Brazil, where it is drunk primarily in the home, in Italy coffee forms a core part of social activity, lounging in cafes, or a quick sip to catch up with friends.

First up, we tasted Finca Pantanal Coffee from La Paz in Honduras, paired with a Cotherstone Cheese from Durham. The slightly sour lemony flavour of this cheese complimented the sweeter apple undertones of the coffee. Here we had our initial taste of the art of matching. Your instant Nescafe and whatever cheese you have in the fridge probably won't hit the spot. It takes a little more attention to detail to make sure the pairings go together

Don Mayo coffee from Tarrazu in Costa Rica was next on our caffeinated journey with a generous slice of Cornish Yaaaaaaaaaarg. (Or Yarg, but who doesn't love a bit of word elongation)! This was a much milder cheese and I could have sat there nibbling away all evening. The coffee had an intense and deep flavour to it, the sort that makes you want to bury your head in the bag ..

The lovely Maria had the same feelings and her nose was quite rightly deep in the Don Mayo coffee bag, inhaling the vanilla and pineapple aromas just about noticeable among the beans.

So, as it turns out, coffee and cheese actually do go rather well together. Perfect for that after dinner chill out time. The bitterness of black coffee is offset by the creaminess of the cheese which combines in your mouth to give a taste not hugely dissimilar to a milky latte but with oodles more intensity. So there you have it, try the sour with the sweet, the fruity with the creamy and the bitter sweet with the strong. It’s all about finding the combination that brings out the best in each. 

Last but certainly not least came the espresso. This certainly packed a punch but when teamed with a hard Parmesan dipped in chestnut honey (flowery acacia just won’t do it), the taste sensation you’ll discover is quite unlike anything I’ve had before. Your eyes pop from the coffee hit, your tongue tingles from the sweet nutty honey and then the cheese swirls its way amongst it all. Yikes!   

After all the coffee, I was positively buzzing. Unsurprisingly, sleep was a total no-go but hey, at least I didn’t experience any cheese provoked nightmares. Instead, I lay in bed creating an imaginary cheese board and dreaming of winter evenings cuddled up next to my imaginary fire. My super strong cup of imaginary black coffee would be made from my not so imaginary bag of Don Mayo beans, but using my very imaginary coffee grinder.

If you fancy getting on board the choffee/ Coffeese train, pop over to Notes for a class. There is certainly an art to it, so a little nudge in the right direction won't go amiss! You can also purchase your very own bag of beans, and they'll happily grind them for you if a coffee grinder hasn't yet made it onto your list of essential items .. but hey, Christmas is just around the corner!

And one last thing .. Notes is open until 10pm where you can also find a great selection of food and wine if you've had enough of coffee for the day!

Monday, 8 December 2014


Gin + More Gin 

'8 Great bars, 8 Great Gins, One Great Day' - Tweatup's Ginstock was, as expected, a raving success. What follows is a picture laden photo diary of 6 gin-filled hours and a whole load of fun, games, new pals and a great big thank you to everybody who made the day pretty bloomin' brilliant. 

Listen out for whispers about next years event so you can put it in the diary immediately. 

Upon entry, we were all provided with our cocktail voting cards and plonked ourselves down at the table which was to be our base for the day. Seats claimed, we decided not to choose our cocktails in neat, numerical order, but instead go rogue and jelly bean about the room. Other than disrupting my sense of order, this method made absolutely no difference whatsoever. 

Some extraordinarily important calculations were completed and we concluded that we could comfortably get through everything if we spread our cocktails at a rate of one every 27 and a half minutes. No we didn't set a timer and yes we did totally ignore this calculation but what dya know, we made it to the end with plenty on time to spare!

I have come to the conclusion that from now on nothing will ever quite be complete without an enormous tuba. While this is a total over exaggeration, there is definitely something to be said for swinging jazz and blues. I accept that the tuba is negligible.  

Up there with my favourite cocktails of the night was the negroni from Soho Grind and Sipsmith, which had a resoundingly delicious bitter twang.

But the winner of the night was Loves Company and Butlers Gin with their East Side Fizz, expertly managing to transform this plastic cup into a thing of beauty.

Special mention must go to the most entertaining pair of barmen in the entire event whose style (hello bowtie and outrageously dapper viking hat) was a clear cut above the rest.

Cecil's, the hidden oriental speakeasy with a 1930s twist brought us a fruity bottled number, having teamed up with the peppery Half Hitch gin. 

Barbecoa made their match with Langley's gin and a subtle yet captivating nettle infusion and one of my favourite snaps of the day.

We had a couple of food related intermissions from all our sipping, which included the fluffy steamed Yum Buns, packed with hot 'cover-my-face-with-it' sticky sauce and tender pieces of meat.

Also on offer was a ridiculously gooey, creamy macaroni cheese from B.O.B's Lobster. Plenty of sighs of satisfaction where that was concerned! #Thevaniscoming

I took a minor break to finish my growing collection of cocktails I had been hoarding while I drunk at a snails pace. Being a pocket sized creature, this method proved excellent for maintaining my oh so charming character while having the desired skippy feeling inside.

The bars all went to an incredible effort to deck out their stands to draw in the crowds. Some chose beautiful bottles, others chose beautiful barmen .. we all have our vice!

The Kamm shack was showcasing Kamm & Sons, a uniquely bittersweet botanical spirit which has taken bar shelves all over the city by storm and certainly has my tastebuds tingling.

Graphic and Beefeater met in a citrusy combination, served in a slightly awkward paper cone cup but with a welcome bite of shortbread and jam, balanced on one of the classic paint pots associated with the Soho bar.

Continuing with the nibblets, The Lost Angel went all out and added miniature scones to the list. While my taste for the novelty of a cocktail in a jar was won over, the gin was somewhat masked by the thick, creaminess of the drink which was a shame, because the Dodds gin was one of my favourites of the event. 

There would never have been a situation where I'd miss receiving a huge pair of angel wings so this was a dream come true. Have you ever met an angel in a tweed bow tie? I think it's about time you did!

And speaking of fantastic photo opportunities, this fellow looked as pretty as a picture in his new attire!

As the day drew to a close and the DJ played the last beats of the night, congratulations rang out for Loves Company and Butlers Gin who were the winners of the day and took home with them the shiny silver gin goblet. Aside from the cocktail mastery, this cute little bar on Old Street also serves up an excellent array of cheese toasties.

Next year, I'd love to see Opihr, Pickerings and Sacred Gin take to the floor with bars such as The Shop NW10, Discount Suit Company and my new firm favourite Bermondsey Arts Club

I shall leave you with an insightful last thought and urge you to get on board the gin train and join me next year!