Monday, 16 July 2018

Mocktails: Bartenders are mocking you

While Brits have a reputation abroad for significant binge drinking activities (not without just cause, as I would be the first to admit*) the evidence suggests that there is an increasing number of teetotallers in the population. The Office of National Statistics reported a drop in the percentage of those surveyed who had drank alcohol in the previous week from 64.1% in 2005 to 57% in 2017. The same survey showed 27% of 16-24 year olds describe themselves as completely teetotal.

While the health benefits of drinking in moderation are undeniable, those of you who do enjoy an occasional tipple may be relieved to know that those who don't drink at all are more likely to take sick leave than those who drink sensibly. Although who funded that study I don't know. Probably B*@~*#g.

This means that bar owners are under increasing pressure to provide more interesting non-alcoholic drink options to entice consumers into their premises. Oxford University demonstrated some years ago that the social aspect of visiting the pub is a positive influence on wellbeing and we all know that it is not necessary to drink alcohol to have a good time.

Are mocktails good for the consumer?

Never knowingly missing out on an opportunity to maximise gross profit - understandably - this has led to increasing selections of mocktails on our drinks menus. However, these drinks are not necessarily as good for our pockets as they are for our livers!

Basic mocktails with a bit of garnish can add 40% to the profit a bar makes on a mocktail, compared to a simple soft drink serving. The only place I have found to buck this trend is Turtle Bay, although if I'm paying £3.60 for any soft drink, I'm going to pick a berry smoothie rather than lime juice and club soda, or 'genuine coconut water'. Where are my emojis? Ah, there we go. 😳

And the problem that I have is that I can accept the wild variation in price in cocktails. Some spirits cost more than others. The influence of how a spirit is distilled, stored, matured, macerated and more all have an influence on the flavour and push up the price that each element of an alcoholic cocktail cost to produce. However, when it comes to mocktails, I find it hard to see where the additional cost is justified.

Yes, they take fractionally longer to serve, so there is an additional cost to the business in terms of staff time. And, increasingly we are seeing more expensive premium soft drinks coming on to the market which push up the basic cost per pour. But can an additional 40% of gross profit be justified in terms of the satisfaction to the consumer?

Not at all in my book. It's not like they have been subjected to the sugar tax - mixed drinks in open containers are exempt. I've enjoyed plenty of mocktails around town, but they are pretty much always a simple mix of non-premium fruit juices, often 'watered down' with soda water to make them fizzy, but also cheaper. Very rarely do you see the same care which we all enjoy from the skilled cocktail making in our high quality bars in Leicester** - homemade syrups with innovative flavour profiles, careful use of egg white as a thickener, or even the now ubiquitous dry ice theatricals. I know that doesn't add anything to the flavour, but it does add to the experience!

My recommendation then, is seek out the bars that offer a premium quality soft option and shell out your hard earned pennies there. There's nothing more depressing than being charged £3 or £4 for a 250ml drink which consists mainly of ice and three flavours of Rubicon juice from the wholesaler. Good, carefully considered mocktails are undeniably out there, but at the moment rarely justify the price they command.

Suggested Alternatives to Mocktails

The explosion in the gin market has led to the gentrification of the tonic industry. However, this is good news for those who are choosing to abstain from alcohol too. Fevertree is obviously everywhere now, seen as a classier choice than Schweppes, but my tip is to search out Lamb & Watt's made in the UK premium range. The basil tonic is a surprising and interesting flavour, all on it's own. Or over ice on a day like today.

Ditch the J20 in favour of freshly squeezed juices. They are essentially pre-mixed mocktails and priced as such. I've just had a good browse of the website and I can't find any indication of where their fruit comes from. Search out bars sourcing local produce and making their own juice, preferably to order. Sure, both options have a high sugar content as fruit is naturally relatively high in sugar (something around 14% per serving) but the taste is going to be way higher with freshly squeezed!

Seek out Breckland Orchard's Posh Pop if you're craving a fizzy treat. Their Ginger Beer with Chilli won a Great Taste Award, and my personal favourite is the Sloe Lemonade. They are a family run business who still retain their sense of taste - and the whole business was inspired by Granny's secret lemonade recipe. Sadly their drinks are made from concentrate which is generally imported, but the flavour is there in the recipes. I guess with this market at the moment it's hard to have it all!

* Find impartial alcohol advice and information at DrinkAware
** It is out there, but you'll have to do your own research, I'm not name dropping in this article.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Garofoli Verdicchio Classico

It's always nice to have a little browse around the emporium that is David North's in Rothley. It is a long established deli, with the added bonus of the beautiful patisserie of David's son, Dominic. They also have an excellent, and interesting, wine selection. I popped in recently off the cuff and decided to treat myself to a little something as a treat for passing my WSET Level 2 with distinction.

Along with, naturally, a good range of Rothley Wines, which are grown just a couple of hundred metres up the road from North's, there are some interesting wines from various parts of the globe. Their French selection is strong, but do take your time to find the more exciting bottles.

I was enticed to buy by a bottle of Verdicchio. A traditional grape of the Marche region of Italy, the name reflects the Italian word for green, verde, because of the yellow-green hue that the grapes and the wines take.

What is Verdicchio?

It takes me back to our visit to Agugliano, almost exactly a year ago. There seemingly every meal was crowned with either a sparkling or still Verdicchio and after a few days of such unseemly treatment I was a confirmed fan of the crisp, citrusy flavours. Here was a new producer for me, Garofoli, with their Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico. Castelli di Jesi is one of the most well respected and best known DOCs for Verdicchio.

I was intrigued that the bottle I found was a 2014, and my terrible grasp of Italian took on the back label and suggested that it was aged in steel for some time. A little research suggests that it is relatively common for Verdicchio wines to be kept in steel vats until needed for bottling.

The slight hint of age really impacted well on this wine in my opinion. It has a beautiful medium gold colour with a light to medium aroma hinting delicately at citrus fruit - orange and grapefruit - and honey flavours. As expected, this wine has a high acidity, and so would make a great food pairing wine (as is true of pretty much every Italian wine.) It has a touch more body to it than the young Verdicchios I have tasted in the past, giving a rounded mouthfeel. This meant that the fruit flavours of orange, lemon and green apple were moderated by creamy touches which were almost almond-like in flavour and texture. I didn't get a honey note as much in flavour as in the aroma, but still a very good wine which opened up beautifully when the initial fridge chill had passed.

A steal at £11.50 at David North.

I paid in full for this wine.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

The Olive, Leicester

Finally, there's a new Greek in town! We've suffered a dearth of Greek food in Leicester city centre for many years now, sadly. It is one of the few cuisines that we lack and, typically, one of my very favourite.

They don't mess around when you order extra halloumi!

So it was with much anticipation that I paid my first visit to The Olive, newly opened on Belvoir Street in the city centre. It is a simply decorated, medium sized eatery boasting a simple, modestly sized but hugely tempting menu of Greek street food.

I would in fact say that the menu is 'carefully curated' rather than small as it took me an extremely long time to decide what to choose from the menu. It all sounds delicious and I will certainly be returning. However, in the end I decided to plump for the classic Souvlaki - start with the basics and then work from there.

The food is delivered with a smile and relatively quickly - it is clearly cooked to order. My pork souvlaki was served wrapped in a paper, but I think that eating it on the go would be nigh on impossible. This thing is fully loaded. The fluffy white flatbread is topped with a thick smear of creamy homemade tzatziki and sprinkled with a very generous layer of salad. On top of that comes the marinated meat skewer. In my case this was succulent pork, with the added interest of a flavourful marinade, sprinkle of lemon juice and light char on the edges. This in turn is topped with a small handful of fat chips. It's a beautiful combination of flavours and textures - crisp and smooth, creamy and sharp, crunchy and soft. 

Like all classics it is the simplicity that makes it so good. You can order the Souvlaki with a range of fillings - as well as pork try lamb, kofta, halloumi, chicken or mushrooms. Prices start at £3.95 for the vegetarian fillings and it is well worth it. This is a filling, satisfying dish.

The Boy opted for the Chicken Gyro - a similar combination to my dish, but with shavings of chicken meat instead. You can also have the shavings of chicken or pork meat in a gyro 'burger' form if you choose. Again, it was the flavourful marinade and the combination of textures that made this good.

Sadly we had no time to sample the baklava, which stared out at me, tempting behind the glass dessert counter. However there are so many reasons that I want to go back and take another shot at The Olive. What does their moussaka taste like? How good is their calamari, their halloumi fries? I'm also a sucker for Spanakopita, the spinach and feta filled filo pastry delight. And as readers of my previous posts will know, I love mezze. So I have about a hundred reasons to go back. There just aren't enough meals in the day, are there?


As promised I did go back to try some more of the menu. This time I went for the keftedes - in all honest they were a little on the dry side, but it was still one helluva meal. We also tried out the halloumi fries, which are £2.45 well spent!

The Olive did not know I was going to write up my visit(s) and we paid for our meals in full.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Gallows High at Western Park Festival

Check out my video of Gallows High performing The Clock is Ticking at this weekend's Western Park Festival. Scroll down a little to get the best view and click anywhere on the image to play!

You can find more of the Leicester five piece's tuneage on Spotify.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Welcome to the Two-Tailed Lion

It's been a good month for new pub openings in Leicester and Leicestershire. The Castle Inn on Castle Street, Mill Hill Cask & Coffee in Enderby and, the only one that I've managed to get out to so far (twice) - The Two-Tailed Lion on Leicester's Millstone Lane.

Many of you will remember Matt & Alice who ran the St Martin's Square pop-up The Tap in the Square in the run up to Christmas last year. They have now left Brewklopedia and have joined forces with Framework Brewery to bring us the Two-Tailed Lion.

Located in the former Case shop (rest it's soul - note, the Case Champagne Bar & Restaurant is still very much open), the historic building very much retains its light and airy charm. 

Set over a couple of floors, there are screens featuring current menus (and also showing the World Cup at present) with plenty of room for a quiet drink in private, tasting events and more, which will surely be a prominent feature at the Two-Tailed Lion, given Matt and Alice's certified expertise in beer.

Blimey, that one looks good!

The Great, the Good and Kieran from The Blue Boar came along to The Two-Tailed Lion for both its opening night, and early in the next week (as we'd kindly been invited along to enjoy our first tipple on the house- thanks guys). The new pub has a wide selection of beers on offer - two fridges bulging with various cans and bottles,  a good range of keg beers and three cask ales on at any one time. There is also a selection of natural and organic wines on offer as well as a select but high quality range of spirits - I've not had chance to work my way through that little lot yet!

I started off with the Tiny Rebel Milkshake IPA and you can see from the photo why it has that name! It settled into a lovely and refreshing pint in this beautiful hot weather. The combination of creamy and tropical perhaps doesn't sound that appealing (unless you like pina coladas and dancing in the rain) but actually it was fresh and refreshing. It wasn't just us who enjoyed this cheeky pint - this was the first cask to be finished in the new venue!

On my second visit, I opted for a 2/3 of the Mad Hatter Easy Imbiber East Coast Pale on keg. This was bursting with fruit and delicious hoppiness from the Cascade dry hopping. As you would expect, all the beers were served in immaculate condition.

There are always lots of Framework Brewery options to choose from too for those with local tastes, as the pub is part of their ever expanding empire. I'm looking forward to seeing how this beautiful building and delightful team grow and mature in their new venture. Cheers!

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Alino African Bar & Restaurant

One of the things that Leicester can pretty much not be beaten for is the variety of restaurants available within a very short distance. Forget your boring chain restaurants with their microwaved food and disinterested staff, join the independent revolution and try something a bit more interesting!

Turkish food, the work of students in training, steakhouses, fantastic British cooking - I've been enjoying all of these in recent months. But one thing that I do not often get to experience is African food. So it's safe to say that I'm no judge of authenticity, but I hope I can offer something in regard to flavour!

Curried Goat

We stopped by Alino African Bar & Restaurant at the top of Narborough Road recently. I've never visited them before, and I don't recall having eaten any African cuisine since visiting an Ethopian restaurant in Reading about 10 years ago. It's not the most salubrious environment, I'll be honest, but the staff were extremely welcoming - perhaps their enthusiasm is partly the only way to be heard over the deafening music that is pumped out none stop in the restaurant!

We kicked off with a selection of African beers from the menu, not realising that Star is the official Nigerian beer of Man City! You learn something new every day. Essentially the options were all large bottles of strong lager, served well chilled they were crisp and refreshing. But lager nonetheless.

After a short wait, our food was brought out. The Boy enjoyed a curried goat, which was slow cooked and strongly spiced. I tasted a little and it would have been a little too spicy for me had I had the whole thing, but he got stuck right in and enjoyed every mouthful of powerful sauce and melt-in-the-mouth meat. You can order from a range of sides to accompany your main, and he went for a simple rice, which I didn't bother to photograph. Because rice.

I had had some trouble ordering from the menu as there were so many new things that I hadn't heard of before which I wanted to try! Nigerian ogbono soup made with ogbono seeds, egussi (melon seed) dishes served with your choice of meat, jellof rice made with tomatoes, onions and spices - all of these are things I have never heard of before and have no idea what they will taste like! In the end I settled for ordering a chicken maffe - a peanut stew. This was absolutely to my taste, with a rich, creamy peanut sauced which was fragrant and more delicately spiced than the in your face flavour of the goat dish.

I had this with pounded yam, a traditional Nigerian side dish. This was bloomin' delicious. A dense 'sausage' of yam was simply presented on the plate. It's thick, relatively bland texture made a superb vehicle for mopping up the delicious maffe sauce and made for a hugely filling meal. It was kind of like a really, really dense mashed potato. But better.

Uncomplicated, home cooked food then, but certainly somewhere I will be happy to return to. What new food have you tried recently?

Alino did not know that I was visiting to review and we paid for our meal in full.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Texfest is coming!

There's a new festival in town this summer and it's being held at the Market Harborough Showground. Hot on the heels of Download, Leicestershire is continuing to keep it real this festival season with Texfest.

There's some big names playing including Example, Tinchy Stryder and The Fratellis. Yet weekend tickets are only £75.60 for adults, with reduced prices available for students, teens and free places for children under 12. This makes it one of the best value festivals around! Camping tickets must be purchased on top of this though, and of course VIP upgrades are available. VIP access also includes front row viewing area and a chillout garden space, which sounds pretty awesome to me!

There's a lot more than 3 days of live music and DJ sets on offer. Texfest has paired up with LCFC, the Leicester Riders and the Northampton Saints who will all be putting on activities and challenges to keep you occupied. There will of course be plenty of street food available in the arena too.

It's been a tough year for festivals, with a number of much loved events being cancelled in 2018. Smaller festivals like Grillstock have disappeared as the organisers 'ran out of time', whilst Portsmouth's Mutiny Festival was cancelled as a precautionary measure after the terrible news of the drug-related deaths of two people occuring on the first day. It's clearly a difficult time to run a sustainable festival so I wish the Texfest organisers all the very best with their inaugural event!!

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Chimpanzee Eden: Twycross Zoo

It was my privilege to be invited to Twycross Zoo today to celebrate the launch of their latest habitat - Chimpanzee Eden. This facility is part of the zoo's ambitious £55m masterplan which will transform it into a world class conservation facility as well as leading visitor attraction.

Chimpanzee Eden is a multi-storey £3.5m building which seeks to give the animals the same kind of stretch and challenge that they would experience in their lives in the wild. This includes carefully designed structures and environments to stimulate their natural social behaviour.

We were welcomed to Twycross with a fascinating set of introductions about the development of the space from the CEO of the zoo, along with a really interesting talk from long time supporter of the zoo, Professor Alice Roberts. In particular, a short film of the chimps being introduced to their new habitat and exploring the outside space really got me in the feels - you can't fail to be absolutely melted by their obvious joy at their new environment.

Of course, some of you reading this will be anti-zoo, but you may not realise the distinct focus on animal welfare, conservation and conservation research that is absolutely embedded in the culture there. And of course, as we were told, the major species of great apes are all currently predicted to become extinct in the wild in our lifetimes - a devastating fact which places the emphasis on world-class facilities like Twycross Zoo as a sort of 'ark', giving humanity more time to figure out how to undo the damage we have to done to our environments.

After the welcome we were treated to a fabulous afternoon tea. The venue is flanked by huge windows facing out on to the enclosure of a family of Snow Leopards, an absolutely breathtaking bunch of beautiful felines who held us all captivated as we ate. This is one reason that I think venue hire at Twycross Zoo is an amazing idea. The second is the quality of the food.

The afternoon tea was beautifully presented by a sleek, professional team of staff. A delicate selection of sandwiches, homemade sausage rolls and an enviable selection of cakes and scones was placed before us, along with piping hot pots of tea.

As if that weren't enough, additional plates of eclairs, lemon possets and vegetarian sandwiches soon followed! This was a lot of food, even for the hungry folk at our table. However, we managed and soon it was time to make our way through to see Chimpanzee Eden for ourselves.

We enjoyed the experience lubricated with a glass of fizz, which was an unexpected treat. The whole of Chimpanzee Eden is full of nooks and crannies, where getting up close and personal with the chimps is delightfully easy, but also feels like it gives the animals the maximum opportunity to escape the gazing hordes when they prefer. It was quite clear to me that the fascination of watching primate behaviour was very much a mutual activity.

There are also plenty of hidey-holes for the smaller members of your family to explore and to get a unique view of the chimps. It was genuinely a fascinating experience and great to see that classroom spaces and study facilities have been built into this space to allow for the continuing role of education and inspiration, as well as the building of our knowledge of these bewitching animals - our closest cousins in the animal world.

Sadly, there was not a huge amount of time remaining for us to explore the rest of the zoo, which was a real shame as I have never been able to visit before. The main barrier to me visiting has always been the absence of public transport and I think it's something that tourism bosses in both city and counties (Atherstone is on the border of Leicestershire and Warwickshire) should really have at the forefront of their minds. 

I'm sure that with 60,000 school visits per year a lot of Leicester's children get the chance to go to Twycross, but I fear that for families without their own transportation the amount of time it would take to get there would be prohibitive. Not to mention that a visit for a family of four would amount to something in the region of £60 (not an unreasonable charge for the quality of experience in the fleeting estimation I got from my visit) - but add on transport costs to this and I think that it would put people off. However, this is not the zoo's fault, but an infrastructure problem which I hope is considered more broadly as their Masterplan continues.

Many thanks to Twycross Zoo for inviting us to this fantastic celebration. I found it fascinating to learn about the zoo's conservation pedigree, relationship with the fantastic Ape Action Africa charity and of course to come face-to-face with some sublime, well cared for and happy animals.

** If you fancy visiting soon, the zoo is offering free entry for dad's this weekend to celebrate Father's Day! Don't miss this limited time offer **

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