Sunday, 27 September 2015

5 Questions - Avenue Coffee Roasting Co.

A few weeks ago, myself and Nicola paid a visit to Let's Eat Glasow, a fantastic food and drink event that showcased some of the best restaurants in Glasgow, as well as playing host to a pop-up market where independent producers from across the central belt turned up to promote their brand and sell their wares. 
The pop-up market was well attended with producers that we had met previously as well as a few that were new to ourselves. One business that caught our eye was Avenue Coffee Roasting Co who were turning a roaring trade by serving up freshly ground coffee from their own local roastery. 
We decided to grab a cup of coffee and whilst Nicola waited on her coffee brewing, I had a brief chat with Todd Whitemore, the general managed of Avenue Coffee Roasting Co, who spoke so passionately about the work that the team at Avenue do at their West End roastery and two coffee shops, that it was only natural that I had to put my 5 Questions to Todd.

Here's Todd's story;

How did you get started?

It's not uncommon to hear of people in the coffee industry who just kind of 'fell into it' - which is what I did: I started as a barista while I was studying almost ten years ago, and found it quite a nice transferable skill - I went travelling round the world with my girlfriend (now my wife) and was able to pick up work quickly using that skill. I worked in coffee in New Zealand and learned more in three months there than I had in eighteen months in Scotland, and it really made me want to develop and grow and learn more in the industry when I returned.

What’s the best piece of business advice you could give?

Keep it simple. That's more from looking back on the last 5 years and realising that we've probably made things a bit more difficult for ourselves than they needed to be - but hindsight is a wonderful thing isn't it? My mate's mum said to me once 'If you're not making mistakes, you're not making anything' which makes me feel ever-so-slightly better about it - we've definitely learned a lot in the last five years, but if we were to start from scratch again I think we'd make things a lot simpler. So yeah - keep it simple. Decide what you want to do, and focus on doing it really well.  

Where would you like to see your business in 5 years time?

I'd love us to be mentioned in the same breath as some of our more well known contemporaries in the UK and beyond - we have a fantastic product, so the work now is in getting some awareness and a bit of an audience. We're really proud of what we do, and we want to bring that to people. A couple more coffee shops wouldn't hurt either - it'd be nice to have a wee presence in some other coffee communities: Glasgow has a ton of momentum behind it coffee-wise, and it'd be nice to have that same feeling in a different city or two.

If you could only have one of your own coffees, what would it be & why?

Rocko Mountain Reserve from Ethiopia. Nailed on - I don't even have to think about it. When people first get into speciality coffee, it's often from tasting a delicately roasted Ethiopian coffee - one like this - it can be a mind blowing sensory experience. When you open the bag it smells like a bag of sweets, so fruity and complex and just the best thing ever. So I'd happily drink that every day and nothing else. 

You can invite one person (living or dead) to your last meal – Who would it be and why? …and what’s on the menu?

If it's my last meal EVER then I wouldn't want any serious chats (or, honestly, to learn anything - because I wouldn't be able to do anything with that knowledge) - just laughs and mischief and the wife ticks that box pretty well so I'd sit with her and have some macaroni cheese to start with, then a big ol' steak with sweet potato mash, broccoli and a nice peppercorn sauce, then some ridiculous dessert with peanut butter and salted caramel. Probably have two of those because why not? And then a nice Rocko to finish with. Then a couple of single malt whiskies and a cheeseboard. Done.

It's no surprise that the crowds were queueing around the Avenue Coffee stall because the coffee was deliciously rich and full of flavour. In fact, I need to pencil in a date to get across to the West End and pop in for lunch and maybe even get to see the roastery in action.

If you're a huge fan of the coffee bean and you're always trying to recreate your favourite coffee at home, the team at Avenue Coffee run Home Brewing Classes where you can learn to brew like a professional barista, making sure that you can always impress your guests with your newly found skills.
I would like to thank Todd for taking the time to answer 5 Questions and wish him and the team every success in the future. You can keep up to date with Avenue Coffee Roasting Co on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Quick Review - Entrepuentes City, Marina Lanzarote, Av. Olof Palme, Arrecife

The weather in Lanzarote was hot, humid and hazy so instead of waiting on the sun making an appearance from behind the clouds, myself and Nicola took a drive through to Arricife for a little bit of retail therapy. After grabbing a relaxing drink in the Star Bar on the top floor of The Arrecife Gran hotel, we drove round to check out the recently redeveloped Marina Lanzarote hoping to find somewhere that we could stop for lunch.
Opened in 2014, the marina is a great mix of shops, restaurants, bars and tourists attractions, is already making Arrecife a key stopping point for some of the biggest cruise liners that sail the oceans. We wandered along the length of the marina and found that there were restaurants to suit all tastes and budgets but as we were only after a quick lunch we didn't want to break the bank. After a quick glance at the menu for Entrepuentes, we knew we had found what we were looking for.
The menu at Entrepuentes is filled with sandwiches, bocadillos, burgers, salads, pizzas, pastas, and small tapas plates so we were spoiled for choice. What caught our eye though was the menu deals which include a sandwich, French fries or salad, and a drink from as little as €5.90! Nicola opted for a bocadillo with chips and a glass of wine from Bodegas El Grifo in Lanzarote, the oldest winery in the Canaries. I ordered had a bocadizza with salad and an ice cold 1906 Reserva Especial, a beer from Estrella Galicia to celebrate the brewery's centenary.
Do what is a bocadizza, you might ask? Well, my lunch sandwich was a light focaccia that was filled with chorizo, red peppers, cubed ham, a tomato sauce and lots of cheese. This was then toasted and sprinkled with dried oregano just before serving. I love pizza and in essence, this was a pizza toastie. All of the flavours of a good pizza were here but trapped within the lightness of the focaccia bread. I had ordered a Caesar salad on the side which was crisp and fresh with plenty of cubed chicken breast pieces in a rich creamy ranch dressing.
Nicola loves a bocadillo and her toasted baguette filled with a whole breast of chicken, fried onions, cheese and mayonnaise, definitely hit the spot. The bucket of French fries on the side were a great accompaniment to the bocadillo although I couldn't resist stealing a chip every now and again.
It should be easy to serve up a quick and easy food at lunchtime but so many places get it wrong by over complicating what is essentially a simple sandwich. The range of choice on the menu at Entrepuentes is fantastic and I'm still struggling to get my head around the fact that we only paid €15 for two sandwiches, chips and a salad, plus two premium drinks. The food was full of flavour, the service was polite and unrushed and based on this visit we will definitely be heading back to Entrepuentes again before our stay in Lanzarote is over.
Keep up with the Entrepuentes team on Facebook and Twitter.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

5 Questions - Tony Rodd, Masterchef 2015 Runner-Up

The last series of Masterchef finished in April and whilst watching the show, there were two contestants that I picked out from the start as possible winners. As the show marched on to finals week, my two favourites Simon Wood and Tony Rodd were still there. John Torode and Gregg Wallace had a hard time splitting the two but in the end, Simon was crowned the 2015 champion just ahead of the gracious Tony.
The whirlwind that follows the Masterchef finalists is unrelenting as the contestants try to carve out new careers on the back of the show so I was delighted that Simon was able to find time to answer 5 Questions recently and thrilled that Tony could squeeze time into his busy schedule to return his own answers.
Here's Tony's story;

What do you hope to do with your career now that Masterchef has ended?

I'm still exploring the possibilities since finishing MasterChef and have been undertaking a range of events from private dining to supper clubs and from cooking demonstrations to Christmas parties. I think in the long run I will try to take the business in the direction of private dining as if allows me to be creative with every menu, work with some wonderful chefs and in great locations, and work closely with my diners. It will also afford me time to dedicate to writing a book or getting involved in exciting new projects.

What was your favourite challenge on the show?

My favourite challenge had to be cooking for the Red Arrows. I'm a big kid at heart so getting to cook for the team in Lincoln was a dream come true. We were under immense pressure and there was a lot at stake but at the end of the challenge, I was so proud of the food we produced, especially considering our kitchen was a tent on a runway. It's something I'll never forget. We worked so well as a team and I'm proud to have worked alongside Simon, Pete and Sarah in that challenge.

What is the biggest thing that you learnt about yourself over the process?

You learn a lot about yourself during MasterChef and amazingly it's not always just about your cooking skills. I think I really found I developed as a person, how I handle stress, challenges and disappointment. My cooking has come on leaps and bounds since, but I'm also more rounded and able to tackle anything that's thrown at me now.

If you could only cook one of the recipes that you cooked over the Masterchef process again, what would it be & why?

I cooked a Caramel Frappuccino dessert in an early round and since finishing the show it's what most people ask me about. It was my first real chance at creating a bespoke dessert and something I'd never really done before but it's also what's now forged my reputation for puddings. I was very pleased with my feedback and would be happy to keep producing plates of food of that quality.

You can invite one person (living or dead) to your last meal – Who would it be and why? …and what’s on the menu?

Such a tricky question as there are so many to choose from including my grandmother who really started my passion for food, but I think it would have to be Michel Roux Jr. It's his style of food that I most admire and aspire to and although I try to create my own style, I would be very interested to hear what he thinks of my food. As for the menu, I think it would have to be a Pigeon dish I have been developing over recent weeks and my Pimm's and Lemonade dessert which demonstrates technique, flavour and has a real sense of humour in it's presentation.

Since the end of filming, Tony has been on the go non-stop with private dining events and supper clubs, as well as cooking demonstrations at food festivals and is now looking forward to hosting the first of two private dinners at The Ivy in London's Soho followed by an event at L'Escargot. During the show, Tony was known more for his dapper bow ties and memorable moustache but I'm sure that the diners who are lucky enough to attend Tony's events will be telling their friends about his cooking skills rather than discussing his quirky styling.
I would like to thank Tony for taking the time out to answer 5 Questions and wish him every success in the future. Keep up to date with Tony on Facebook and Twitter or if you fancy booking Tony to cook for your own private dining event, why not drop him an email and he will be happy to discuss your requirements.


Saturday, 19 September 2015

Review - Opus at Cornwall Street, Birmingham

Back in May, myself and Nicola took a trip to Birmingham in order to attend the launch party of Nocking Point Wines. We had never been to Birmingham before but thanks to cheap rail tickets from Virgin Trains and low cost accommodation at Premier Inn, we decided to stay two nights with the hope of seeing how the city measured up as a tourist destination.
There's loads to do in Birmingham but we never managed to do much because we had over indulged on free wine at the launch party the night before so ended up shuffling about England's second city feeling a little sorry for ourselves. That said, we did manage to enjoy a very nice meal, at Opus on Cornwall Street, on our second night.
Opus At Cornwall Street
When we were looking for somewhere to eat on the Monday night, we wanted to try somewhere that wasn't a part of a chain, after all we can go to the chains anytime. A quick Google search made it evident that Birmingham has plenty of independent restaurants to choose from including a few Michelin restaurant that we did consider although a couple appeared to be closed on a Monday so that cut our options down. One restaurant that did catch our attention was Opus at Cornwall Street, which holds 2 AA Rosettes, mainly down to the well priced market menu which offered three courses for just £16 including homemade bread. A little more googling found some great reviews so booked and made our way along later that night to what can only be described as one of the fancies restaurant fronts that we've ever seen. Let's just say, you wouldn't miss Opus as you walk along Cornwall Street!
Sarotto Gavi
Opus has a pretty extensive wine list and having spent most of the previous night drinking red wine at the party, we decided to get white wine with dinner and opted for a well priced bottle of Gavi di Gavi from Roberto Soretto. We both love Gavi and this offering was crisp and fresh with lots of honeydew melon and peach flavours that worked well with each of our courses.
The menu had stated that the soup was cream of broccoli, which is one of Nicola's favourite, but they had run out so had replaced with cream of carrot and coriander. Nicola stuck with soup and was glad that she did because the soup was perfectly spiced to counter the sweetness of the carrots.
My own starter was a fantastic creation of slow cooked duck leg with a summer bean salad and pine nut dressing. This would be perfect banqueting food - the duck was cooked well and fell from the bone at the slightest touch. The earthiness of the beans and the toasted pine nuts were a great match to the rich duck.
Nicola chose the fish of the day with pea & mint orzo. The fish was a chunky piece of hake that was pan fried to perfection, served atop a delicious pasta 'risotto' packed with fresh peas and freshly chopped mint. This was a great dish and made much lighter by replacing the more traditional rice with orzo.
There was nothing light about my own main though as I had opted for the black pudding and brown sauce sausages with creamed potatoes and apple purée! This was a hearty plate of food with three juicy pork sausages nestling on creamy, buttery mash. Apple purée was a new one to me but worked really well with the meaty sausages. If I were to make one criticism it would be that I could barely taste the black pudding in the sausages. You could definitely see the crumbed black pudding but it just wasn't spicy enough to compete with the well flavoured pork and sharpness from the brown sauce. Not a huge worry though as I quickly devoured the lot!
Nicola's dessert of caramel and coffee buttercream mouse with vanilla ice cream was one for those with a sweet tooth and maybe the perfect dessert to deliver those much needed sugars after a night of over-indulging. The mousse was very light and balanced by the rich caramel sauce and buttery crumbed biscuit, the coffee flavour hit was just right and worked really with the the sweet creamy vanilla ice cream.
I had chosen the white chocolate mousse with raspberry sorbet but in either a late change to the menu or perhaps being misheard, I ended up with Opus's take on a chocolate orange. I'm a fan of chocolate orange so decided to keep quiet about the wrong dessert being served. The dessert consisted of a milky chocolate ice cream wrapped in dark chocolate - a home made choc-ice - served with super sharp orange jelly cubes and macerated orange segments. This was a very grown up dessert and was a great way to finish off a very nice meal.
We were both feeling pretty well fed and have to say that at £16 for three courses, I'm not sure that we have had any better dinner deals, especially when you consider the quality of the food that we had on the night. Rest assured, next time that we are back in Birmingham, we'll be doing what we can to get back to try out Opus at Cornwall Street again.
Keep up to date with the team at Opus on Facebook & Twitter.

 Written by Gerry Haughian Written by Gerry Haughian

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

A Bucket for a Bottle: Gordon Castle calls for local apples in exchange for cider

Gordon Castle in Fochabers has kicked off a campaign to source more apples and pears to make its cider. It is offering a free bottle of the tasty, locally made Apple & Pear cider in exchange for 7kg of fruit. 
Anybody with spare apples or pears from their gardens, or those with large orchards that have surplus fruit, are being encouraged to bring them to the Gordon Castle Shop over the next fortnight.

Angus Gordon Lennox of Gordon Castle said: "Our cider is one of our best sellers and we need more apples and pears to keep up with the demand, which is a fortunate position to be in.
"Everything we make here at Gordon Castle Scotland is created using ingredients either from our own Walled Garden or the local area, so using locally grown fruit from across the North East in our cider means we are staying true to that provenance. The North East of Scotland is not known for its cider, perhaps we can change that."

For those who don't have any fruit to spare, Gordon Castle still has lots of fruit to pick and welcomes anyone who wants to come help with this fun task in its Walled Garden, home to 249 espariled fruit trees, some of which have been at the Castle for hundreds of years.
Sticking with the apple theme, the Gordon Castle Walled Garden Restaurant will be serving Roast Pork and apple along with delicious crumbles, incase anyone is hungry after all that hard work. 
Gordon Castle is set on the banks of the River Spey in picturesque Moray, the Gordon Castle Estate is the spiritual home of the Gordon Clan and its Walled Garden, which, at over eight acres in size, is one of Scotland's oldest and largest.
The Walled Garden has provided inspiration for Gordon Castle Scotland's range of luxury products, all of which contain natural ingredients sourced from the impressive garden.