Best liquid gift: Winter-warming gin tours and tipples
The London spirit has been fully rehabilitated since Hogarth’s Gin Alley days. To warm the cockles this winter, we at Bespoke Menu Design recommend a rarefied trip through London’s new gin lanes. Liquor enthusiasts Shake Rattle and Stir offer a Christmas-themed chauffeur-driven tour through London’s working distilleries, taking in small fish such as Sipsmith as well as big boys like Beefeater.
If home drinking appeals, London’s independent distillers Sipsmith and Sacred Spirits produce a variety of winter-warming botanical and sloe gins from their artisanal workshops. A festive treat, Sacred Spirits’s Christmas Pudding Gin follows co-founder Sam Galsworth’s great aunt Nellie’s recipe. A glass served straight from the freezer following Christmas Day goose or turkey is sure to stoke the fires inside.
Our tip for a gourmand’s best liquid Christmas gift: Sacred Spirit’s Christmas Pudding Gin
Xmas Gin Journey tickets are £100 ticket and include cocktails, sampling and nibbles.
Best edible gift: Tincan
For most, winter dining is synonymous with fresh game and red meat, but pop-up restaurant and shop Tincan serves and sells only the finest tinned seafood from around the world. A gallery of eye-popping tins grace its Soho premises – almost too beautiful to break open. But you’ll soon forget the sacrifice upon trying a dish or two from the restaurant’s exceptionally healthy menu of 30 tin-based delicacies. To top off a gourmand Christmas try Tincan’s festive specials: chocolate Sardines, prepared by London’s master chocolatier Niko B, or the Carleian Caviar, harvested from fresh water Siberian Sturgeon.
Best entertaining essential: La Fromagerie’s whole truffled brie
The glorious cheese room at La Fromagerie, the perfect place to shop for a gourmand’s Christmas (photo credit: La Fromagerie)
Full-bodied Christmas decadence is in store at neighbourhood cheese emporium La Fromagerie. Made in-house every weekend by master cheesemongers, La Fromagerie’s super indulgent Brie de Meaux has been flavour-boosted with crème fraîche, mascarpone, and chopped black truffles. It’s an ideal post-dinner centrepiece that pairs perfectly with champagne.
Best food-lovers’ neighbourhood: London Fields
London Fields boasts a clutch of gastronomic destinations, from the E5 Bakehouse to butchers Hill & Szrok and fishmongers Fin and Flounder (who abide strictly by the Marine Conservation Society’s guidelines). Food-lovers from London-over travel each Saturday to browse the hundred-plus independent food stores spread across Broadway and nearby Netil Market, while locals have a variety of quality neighbourhood restaurants at their disposal, from the hip (Lardo and Climpson’s Arch) to the old school (East End stalwart F Cooke Pie Shop).
Best winter pop-up: Alpine themed winter pop-ups
Pop-up eating may have climbed down from its zenith, but we’re still pleased to see a seasonal treat. On-trend alpine pop-ups are promising all the best of off-piste runny cheese and red meat. For a dose of tartiflette, raclette, and, of course, fondue, our tip for a Christmas gourmand’s meal-out is The Chalet at Selfridges. Operated by Des McDonald, the department store’s winter retreat serves alpine-inspired barbeque dishes and hot chocolate cocktails. In the City, Smithfields favourite Coq d’Argent has opened a winter complement, Lodge d’Argent, atop its roof. Lodge D’Argent transports diners to the slopes of old, with vintage ski props and bracing open-air dining replete with furry blankets.
Best food reading: Culinary journals
Today’s array of belletrist journals and periodicals are essential supplements to any food-lover’s reading cache. The independent food press has mushroomed to meet a growing readership hungry to savour all aspects of the food experience, from cultural journeys to culinary aesthetics.
London’s leading contemporary food, arts and culture journal, The Gourmand produces stories ranging from the erudite (a food journey through Jerusalem) to the down and dirty (how to make the perfect beans on toast): www.thegourmand.co.uk
Diner Journal is an independent magazine with original art, literature and recipes, published from Brooklyn, New York www.dinerjournal.com
A journal of critical food studies, Gastronomica explores historical trends and transformations in food and eating: www.gastronomica.org
Best kitchen companion: Japanese knives
A good knife is the chef’s (or home cook’s!) essential cooking companion. Knife-makers from the Japanese town of Takefu (which ranks amongst the 4th most important knife-making centres in the world) have been making multi-layered blades for 700 years. London’s Japanese Knife Company imports blades of all sizes and offers a specialist sharpening service. While prices range from £49 to £2,000, Santoku knives from the Aogami and Tamahagne ranges are our recommendation for a kitchen all-rounder, offering exquisite sharpness at a keen price (from £144 to £169).
Best seasonal foods: Atlantic seafood and exotic winter fruits
North-Sea oysters, cockles and mussels are amongst the salty seasonal delicacies available at fourth-generation fishmongers Steve Hatt’s. Probably the finest destination for fresh fish in London, you’re likely to bump into Nigel Slater who shops regularly at the Essex Road store in Islington.
Exotic winter fruits are a light antidote to Christmas’s heavier indulgences like bread pudding, port and cheese. Get your fix of cranberries, quince, lychees and pomegranates from your neighbourhood greengrocers, or take a trip to Leila’s Shop on Calvert Avenue in Shoreditch for certified organic options.
Best sweet treat: William Curley chocolates, truffles and classes
Winner of Britain’s Best Chocolatier five times, William Curley and his wife Suzue are highly respected pastry chefs renowned for combining classic and oriental flavours in their patisseries, truffles, desserts and chocolates. Gourmands with a sweet tooth can book in a truffle, cake and seasonal sea-salt caramel class at the Belgravia boutique.
Best gourmand’s experience: Dram & Smoke pop-up and Nyetimber’s wine tasting rooms
Serving a taste of Scotland in a London Bridge warehouse, the Dram & Smoke pop-up offers “scran, bevvy and general flumgummerie”. Translation: haggis bonbons, smoked coley, smoked bacon and blue cheese porridge, venison wellington and chocolate-raspberry mousse with salted whisky butterscotch. We recommend climbing into the Dram’s winter “whisky den” and getting ahead of a hot 2015 trend, as artisanal whiskies are tipped to take over from gin.
Meanwhile, West Sussex wine estate Nyetimber is setting up a “tasting room” on Jermyn Street for tutored tastings (from £10) and a “takeover” of English wine store Wine Pantry in Borough Market featuring tastings and masterclasses. The Jermyn Street programme includes an evening with perfumier Floris, at which a new scent based on a Nyetimber vintage will be created.