Sunday, 30 November 2014


On Thursday night we had an early christmas/team building dinner with my work team.  After much deliberation and then much negotiation, we opted for a private hosted wine tasting session at Vinopolis, followed by a self guided tour, followed by a 3 course meal.

I am not much of a wine buff and so it didn't really interest me, but I could see how others might find it interesting.  We learnt about different alcohol strengths and how you can tell by swirling it round in the glass and looking at the 'legs' dripping down.  The more legs you have, the higher the alcohol content.  Other things I learned included:

  • Corked wine is only corked if the cork is bad, a wine isn't necessarily 'corked' if you find bits of cork floating in it - smell it first to see if it smells bad.

  • Wine is usually only produced in a narrow band of latitude around the world, usually between latitudes 30 and 50, however other countries (maybe due to global warming, but mostly due to technology advancement) these latitudes are expansing, to include countries such as Thailand. 

  • Darker wines are made in warmer climates, and lighter coloured wines (both red and white) are made in cooler climates.

  • As red wines get older, they become lighter, whereas white wines get darker with age. 

  • Contrary to popular belief (well, my belief!), white wine can be made with both red and white grapes.  The main difference between red and white is that white wines are fermented with out the grape skin, whilst red wine the skins remain the grape. 

One we had an introduction to wine, we were taught how to taste 6 different wines, 3 white and 3 red.  The principles of wine tasting are made up of the 5 S's:

See - hold the wineglass by the base/stem so as not to warm the wine (if you're a wine buff this is very important - the lady kept telling us to hurry up with our session as the white wines were getting warmer by the minute, I explained we weren't connoisseurs and wouldn't be able to tell the difference in flavours between warm and cold white wine).  Look at the colour and you can work out if it's a young or old wine, and check to see if it's hazy or not.

Swirl - swirl the wine by the base of the glass and you'll be able to spot the legs to work out the rough alcohol content.  Swirling also releases the aromas.

Smell - take a good deep sniff.  You should be able to pick up hints of fruits or minerals.  I don't think my nose works very well because to me, all white wine smells of cat's piss and red wine smells of cork.  Apart from the last wine we tasted which stank of cheese!  That was a bit weird.

Sip - this bit made me laugh.  Apparently to truly appreciate the flavour of the wine, you sip a small bit in your mouth, then gargle/suck it through your lips.  My boss took great pleasure in gurgling the wine in my ear and acting like an embarrassing dad, which I happily told him.  You gargle to make the air go through the wine which intensifies the flavours. Different parts of your tongue will also pick up different tastes (salt, sweet, sour). 

Spit or swallow - this is your choice and don't let anyone tell you otherwise! This goes for wine tasting too...

After the hosted session, we were let loose with little credit cards preloaded with 8 tokens.  Vinopolis has had a technological facelift since the last time I was in there, and the credit card replaces the actual tokens you were given in previous years.  All of the wine is now in refrigerated vending machines, which when operated with your card, dribble out a tiny bit of wine into your glass.  There's quite a selection to choose from, but I headed straight for the 'Spirit Lounge' where they had 4 different Absinthes, 3 different Vodkas and a beautifully smooth gin.

A member of staff was on hand to show me what to do with the Absinthe - I went for the original Parisien absinthe, which is bright green.  A sugar cube was dunked in absinthe, then balanced over the absinthe on a spoon, and set alight.  It is allowed to burn for a few minutes, then dropped into the green pool below.  Cold water is added and the sugar mixed in, and then you're allowed to drink it.  It tasted like liquid Atomic Fireballs.

After spending the rest of my tokens on a variety of wine and spirits, we had a final G&T before sitting down for our meal.

If you have lots of wine buffs (or alcoholics) in your company, I would recommend it as an easy place for a corporate event - everything's in one area so it's easy to control herd everyone, and it was quite good value for money, plus the alcohol loosens everyone up.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Ooh la la, bonjour Paris!

Back in August, I got a mail from Eurostar saying they were celebrating their 20th anniversay (wow doesn't time fly), and to celebrate, they had released 10,000 seats at £59 return.  Bargain I thought, and quickly enlisted Gemma and Samia to come with me for a day trip.

Fast forward a few months and Gem has a broken foot (drunk dancing on tables is never a good idea) and can no longer come, so it was just me and Samia on a romantic date to Paris.  I got up ridiculously early due to my inability to plan appropriately and got to St Pancras a full 40 minutes before I needed to.  Samia on the other hand, was early too, except she was early at the wrong station.  Numpty! She'd turned up at Euston and had a panicked fast walk down the road to St Pancras.

As we were only there for the day, we decided to hit the most popular tourist spots, starting with a walk down the Champs-Élysées.  We got an all day travel pass (€6.90) and hopped on line 4 to Châtelet, then line 1 to the Champs-Élysées.

Arc de Triomphe from the Champs-Élysées

Citroen dealership that had a slide from the top floor to the bottom - amazing!

Beautiful autumnal tree lined streets

I prefer these green man crossings to ours

We grabbed some brunch (steak and frites), then, powered up on meat, headed on up the Arc de Triomphe.  It's only €9.50 to get in, and here you can wander around the arch, and if you're feeling energetic, climb the 284 steps (yes I counted them all!) to the top to get a 360deg view of Paris.  We were lucky - the sun decided to grace us with its presence as we reached the top, so we were bathed in sunlight whilst the rest of Paris was decidedly grey.  It's quite impressive as the Arc is built on a massive roundabout with roads radiating off it, so you get a good birds eye view of the city.

Tomb of the unknown soldier, surrounded by flowers left from Remembrance Day

I like the above photo - we look like little kids on a school trip.  Samia got asked if she was under 16 at one point!

Looking south down the Champs-Élysées

North West

Looking north toward La Défense

West towards the Eiffel Tower

My face when I had to pay €5.20 for a can of coke

That done, we spotted our next target, the Eiffel Tower, descended the stairs and headed in the general direction of the tower.  It's actually not as tall as I thought it would be and looks quite squat, but up close it is very impressive architecture.  I may have squealed a little bit when we turned a corner and suddenly there it was, just over the river.

We took plenty of photos, wandered underneath it, saw the queue and decided to bail on going up it.

Next stop - the Louvre. We had a pleasant walk along the Seine to get to it, stopping off at some of the beautiful bridges to take photos.

Locks of love

The Louvre also had queues and to be honest I am not ridiculously fussed about paintings, so we sat in the beautiful "Jardins des Tuileres".  Here they have free metal reclining chairs by one of the ponds and we sat and people watched for a bit, then wandered around the grounds of the Louvre.  It's all very grand!

After the Louvre we headed on down the Seine with the idea of seeing Notre Dame Cathedral.  However we got distracted by a pet shop with real live puppies in (can you believe that I have never seen a proper real life puppy before!), and then it started to rain, I needed to pee and we were getting quite hungry, so we stopped in a cafe instead.  We wanted a croissant and a coffee but, despite our half hearted efforts, we could only find restaurants, none of which did croissants.  Samia settled for another plate of  'frites' while I had a bowl of disappointing veg soup with cheesy bread.   By the time we had finished it was time to head home, so back on the tube we got, but not before I took a few pics of Paris in the dark.

On the bus back home in London, an oddly dressed man got on the bus and was talking to what I assumed was his child as he was climbing the bus stairs.  Turns out that the perosn he was talking to, 'Herbert', wasn't a child at all and was instead his pet dog.  Some of the passengers started to talk to him to tell him what a lovely dog it was, and he then proceeded to feed his dog some 'ganja cakes' he'd bought in a shop down the road.  It made me want to stay on the bus to see what happened to the dog, but alas I had to get off as I had a bed to get in to.  A bizarre end to a lovely day.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Posh food and boris bikes

As the blog post title suggests, last weekend was mainly about eating. And cycling.  But mainly eating.

It started with Vietnamese on Friday night when I met up with Bex and Jen.  I had Pho Bo, which was very disappointing and tasted nothing like the Pho we had in Vietnam.  4 points out of 10.  We ended up in a very spangly posh cafe near Piccadilly Circus that did the most beautiful cakes - I was good and didn't have one but Bec and Jen indulged and they looked delicioso and I had to wipe the drool from my chin. 

On Saturday morning I dragged myself out of bed, shoved eggs and toast down my gob and trotted on over to Peckham Rye Park Run with Liz.  I stayed at my own bumbling jog pace just in front of an injured lady, a 10 year old boy and an old man.  Half way round the first lap and they were no where near to be seen - not because I'd left them in my wake, but rather they'd overtaken me and I was all alone.  Sigh.  It would have been easy to give up and that first lap was hard, but I struggled on through and stopped to walk when I couldn't carry on.  (It sounds like I am describing a marathon....I am embarrassed to say it was a 5k!)

At the last 100m or so I overtook a lady I had had in my sights for a while (then felt very guilty about it as she looked just as wrecked as I did - I don't think competitive running is for me) and happily for me I didn't even finish 2nd to last, I was 79th out of 86.  So not great but at least I wasn't the poor soul at the end.  My time was 30m 13 seconds so I would like to get this down to a respectable time of 24 minutes, however I don't know if I have the motivation or if I am really that bothered by it.  

We rewarded our run with a lunch at Foxlow, recommended to me ages ago by Barbra.  It's the sister restaurant to Hawksmoor and they were running a 50% off food deal to celebrate their new brunch menu.  Liz and I were joined by Dan and Tom, who, running on Tom-time graced us with his presence 20 mins late.  

Liz is the best person to go to a restaurant with ever, she likes all the same food as me and was happy to share. We went a bit overboard and ordered:

Fried Chicken, Fried Egg, Croissant Waffle.  Not very interesting to eat or look at, served with a rich sausage gravy that wasn't to my taste:

Montecristo Cronut. I was most excited about this so it was a bit of a disappointment.  A weird cross between sweet and savoury, it was a deep fried croissant filled with ham and cheese, sprinkled with icing sugar.  Poorly presented, each bite was a heart attack waiting to happen and was quire underwhelming.  

Avocado, lime and chili on toast.  Not deserving of a photo - exactly what it said on the tin.

Tom had a steak which seemed nice, and Dan had the chicken egg waffle thing with a side of chips coated in 'chicken' salt, which was nothing to write home about.

The puddings however were pretty darned good.  We were very full but couldn't resist the discount so we all ordered pud.

Tom had Lemon Posset with polenta biscuits.

I had a chocolate and popcorn sundae - absolutely yummy:

Dan had the chocolate and hazelnut pot - also very delicious but very rich:

and Liz had the showstopper - the Elvis Presley Sandwich.  Toasted brioche, ice cream, banana, peanut butter and caramel with candied bacon.  It was HUGE and apparently very tasty.

I wouldn't go back, I didn't think the food was worthy of the full prices and wasn't presented that well and the 'different' combos didn't really work for me. The service was good though. 6 out of 10 points.

To work off the dinner, Dan and I decided to Boris bike back to Elephant and Castle as the roads were strangely empty.  

The food fest continued into Sunday.  I cycled to Dulwich Park to meet with Samia, Andy and Sepha where we strolled round, then headed to the Horniman Museum to look at the stuffed animals.  We finished in The Bishop with sunday roasts - really good and so much food!   

On Monday, Samia and I had a reservation at Bob Bob Ricard. I read about their signature pudding dish a while back and had always wanted to go there.  No time like the present, I thought to myself, and luckily Samia agreed.

The decor is absolutely beautiful - art deco inspired, it's dark and sexy.  You are seated in a booth with dark green leather sofas with curtains behind each sofa to give you some privacy.  At the end of the booth is a wooden panel separating you from the adjacent booth, which has a lamp, a plug socket and - the best bit - a 'press for champagne' button.  Looking at the prices of the champagne, we refrained...

The waiters are very smartly dressed and very polite, the service couldn't be faulted.  The food, however, didn't live up to its surroundings.  To be fair, we ordered the cheapest items on the menu, but when I pay £4.75 for a side order of fries to go with my burger I expect them to be worth every penny, rather than being expensive for the sake of it.

I started with the venison burger and Samia opted for the fish pie.  Both nicely presented and both tasted good, but in the end a fish pie is a fish pie, and a burger is a burger - I wouldn't say either were worth their respective £17.55 and  £16.75 price tag.

fish pie - i like the crust detail

venison burger - very nice but not worthy of the price

For pudding we had the chocolate fondant - tasty but a very small portion, and the signature chocolate glory - a gold chocolate dome filled with chocolate mousse, brownie, meringue and passion fruit orange jelly.  Top marks for presentation - too pretty to eat.  The waiter came along with warm dark chocolate sauce which he proceeded to pour over the gold dome in a pretty pattern, causing the gold ball to melt and cave in on itself.  Pretty as it was, it actually didn't taste all that good - there was too much going on in that little ball.  The jelly didn't go, there was one tiny piece of meringue, one tiny piece of brownie, and the mousse was too sickly.  The chocolate gold ball wasn't very nice chocolate and the chocolate sauce tasted cheap and again, too sickly.  For £10.50, you're definitely paying for the experience and novelty rather than the pudding itself.

I would go back, but only if I wasn't paying - I would like to try some of the other more adventurous things on the menu which may change my mind on the food. 7 out of 10!