World of Zing Flavoured Salts Tasting @ Agaveria El Nivel

World of Zing is the UK’s first ‘Contemporary Food & Drink Emporium’ – bringing together some of the UK’s most exciting flavour experts – from chefs to street foodies and mixologists – to create an inspiring range of produce and ingredients to add a touch of ‘Zing’ to our everyday culinary lives – and their latest indulgence is flavoured sea salts for Margarita rims!

How else to celebrate #NationalMargaritaDay, eh?

And where better than Covent Garden’s Agaveria, El Nivel (Click HERE for Review!), for the venue? Zing owner, Pritesh Mody, hosts with El Nivel’s legendary Jesse Estes behind the bar to serve up OCHO Tequila Margaritas to accompany the La Beleine sea salt from the Augues-Mortes saltworks in Camargue, France.

 

A selection of six sea salts were presented: Hibiscus, Red Rose, Seaweed, Applewood Smoked, Mexican Chilli Cactus, and Citrus.

And that’s listed in order of least to most favourite, so let’s have a quick run through!

 

The floral Hibiscus, and Red Rose salts were the least interesting as Margarita rims – and raised an entire discussion regarding the importance of ‘subtlety’ in situations like a Margarita. What was notable was that the Hibiscus was rather more… perfumed in comparison to the Red Rose, but otherwise came off as, well – salt. There is unfortunately not much to say about these two.

Tequila Margarita Salt

The Seaweed salt, however, stood out a bit more – if you managed to get some seaweed onto the rim – perhaps being more evenly distributed would help, but as a flavour was actually rather enjoyable. I can see the flavours of the seaweed salt going particularly well with the OCHO or with a Herradura Platas Margarita. Perhaps freeze-dried and powdered seaweed might distribute better than the larger chunks we get here, but still a fun salt to experiment with.

The Applewood Smoked salt is certainly a major step up, this is where the distinctions between the salts begin to stand out. Characteristically smoky, dark and luxurious – I would love to have tried this out with an Anejo tequila. I can imagine a Margarita using Grillos or Ambar for this salt. Wonderful.

Tequila Margarita Salt

Now the toss-up between the top two. The Mexican Chilli Cactus brings a bite, a spicy kick, and has something fennel about it. Perfect for a Margarita, its spiciness is coupled well with a flavour reminiscent of agave.

And finally, the one that none of us were sure of until we tried it: Either it would be uninteresting with all the lime in the Margarita, or might complement it wonderfully: along with the Mexican Chilli Cactus, the Citrus turned out to be a winning flavour.

Intensely citrus, yet smooth and only the slightest of bite, the Margarita is complemented wonderfully by it, though I suspect it will go best with blanco tequila based Margaritas.

Tequila Margarita Salt
The only concern would be that the salt could be finer than it was, but it certainly didn’t diminish the flavours!

Though the Hoodooist himself prefers his Margaritas salt-less, he certainly enjoyed this experience, and thinks it would be a fantastic addition to a house party to have guests customise their Margaritas. He certainly looks forward to trying the rest of the salt collection available on World of Zing’s website!

http://www.worldofzing.com/product-category/inspired-ingredients/salts-inspired-seasonings/flavoured-salts/

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The Whisky Lounge @ Hilton London Metropole, Edgware Road

Type of Bar: Hotel, Whisky, Lounge
Damage££ – ££££ (per dram)
Ideal for: Education, Date, Small Groups, After Work

Who can turn down a good ol’ whisky tasting?

The Hilton London Metropole’s Whisky Lounge hosts a stunning 80 whiskies visitors can order by the dram, or can come as a group to try out their whisky tasting sessions (hosting 3 to 5 whiskies at a time).

A calm blue-grey colour scheme with the most gorgeous lighting constructed out of laser-cut whisky decanters make the Hilton’s Whisky Lounge the perfect venue for the event, and though opens directly to the hotel main EDG Lounge and Bar, is not as loud as one might expect. Surrounded with an excellent selection of malts watching over the guests, many an hour can be whittled away here.

Seated at a table (brought in for the tasting events) the group is presented with four of the day’s choice whiskies: A Singleton of Dufftown 12yr, a Lagavulin 16yr, Suntory Yamazaki 12 yr, and finally a Kavalan (one the Hoodooist was keen to become acquainted with).

Whisky Tasting London

Guided by our whisky sommelier, the gang is first introduced to a healthy dram of the 12yr Singleton of Dufftown. A classic Speyside, the nose is nutty, with sweet fruits (dates?), wintery; with large tears.

Flavour is malty, intensely hazelnut, a rich Arabica coffee – with the Arabica’s hints of currant and toffee. Followed by a dry medium length of oak and the trademark Singleton fruit.

Milk chocolate was selected to pair with the whisky, intensifying the hazelnut even further, adding a liqueur quality to the whisky and greatly shortening the finish – a fantastic way to end a meal.

Whisky Tasting London

The Tasting Selection

The second whisky brought to the table, the Lagavulin 16yr – an Islay classic. The small, slow moving tears indicate a thick, rich whisky, and is renowned for having the smokiest nose of the Islay whiskies – reminiscent of smoky teas and sherries.

And there is that loud sherry flavour on the palate, dry and spicy, and unashamedly peaty. A large mouth on this one, confident, with its own sweetness, too. A long peppery finish with hints of vanilla.

Going fantastically well with smoky and spiced nuts, the Lagavulin 16yr is recommended for salty dinners or as a digestif for red meats.

Whisky Tasting London

Dram and pairings

We venture away from the isles to Japan, and the ludicrously popular Suntory Yamazaki 12yr. Utterly miniscule and slow tears hint at a thick and intricate experience ahead, and on the nose an almost candied orange scent, tropical fruit, but also cloves. An incredible nose on this one.

The entry is slow, but the flavours develop and become increasingly complex, first a winter spice and floral sweetness, followed by more of the tropical fruit and almost buttery. A long woody and spicy finish. A favourite across the table for its complexity.

Whisky Tasting London

Finally, the most eagerly awaited whisky of the evening, the Taiwanese Kavalan, is young, but said to mature quickly with the sub-tropical climes of the island – focusing on tropical fruit flavours.

Small but quick tears, the nose is woody, and very fragrant and floral. The opening is harsh, coarse. Once that trial is over, though, a wonderful mango and spicy oak develops, with a long refreshing finish.

Nonetheless, the table didn’t think that the delightful finish was worth the harsh opening. The Kavalan quickly fell to the bottom of most’s lists, leaving the Suntory Yamazaki 12yr, the most popular – and with all the awards it has collected over the years, it’s hardly a surprise!

Whisky Tasting London

The Kavalan

Service was excellent and our wonderful sommelier did a fantastic job leading the group through the whiskies, providing wonderful conversation along with an educational 2 hours. A highly recommended evening out for whisky novices looking to learn! Especially with this great collection.
This was a custom tasting and would have been priced at £42.00. The Hilton London Metropole have two types of tastings: Scottish and International. Guests can choose to have a tasting of 3-5 whiskies. An outline of prices are outlined below:

Scottish 3 : £26.00
Scottish 4 : £34.50
Scottish 5 : £42.00

International 3 : £38.00
International 4 : £50.00
International 5 : £61.00

All Inc VAT, but Excl Service Charge 10% (optional).

Drinks: ****
Atmosphere: ***
Service: *****

The Whisky Lounge @ Hilton London Metropole

225 Edgware Road,
London W2 1JU

http://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/united-kingdom/hilton-london-metropole-LONMETW/dining/whisky-lounge.html

Baijiu Cocktail Week 2015

Welcome to Baijiu Cocktail Week 2015!
Every Chinese New Year, for one week, the ‘white spirit’ takes over London to test London’s bartenders with a spirit the city isn’t that familiar with – and this beginning of the Year of the Goat isn’t different.

From the 13th to 22nd of Feb 2015: 9 venues across London, 9 different cocktails, 6 of which will be reviewed in this post. The Hoodooist and friends hit the road to tour the town for Baijiu deliciousness.

Chinese New Year

Firstly, Baijiu is an intriguing spirit, never quite becoming a permanent fixture in the London bar scene – something drinks giant Diageo is trying to change – with their signature Sichuan province ‘strong aroma’ Shui Jing Fang Baijiu. Made with sorghum, rice, glutinous rice, wheat and corn, it ain’t called ‘strong aroma’ for nothing. Neat, the scent can be detected from a mile away, a flowery aromatic with hints of rice, it tastes surprisingly different, but surprisingly similar.

Been called everything from ‘flowery’, ‘apricot’ to ‘burnt rice’ and ‘with a Maris otter barley length’, it is definitely an acquired taste. But the length and aftertaste’s similarities to scotch is undeniable. This is a smoky spirit for the harder-livered amongst us. A burnt, spicy start, with a long finish, Chinese proverbs state that it takes 300 shots to really appreciate Baijiu. The Hoodooist must admit, it’s acquired, but one he can see himself acquiring.

The perk of Baijiu Cocktail Week is seeing how various bars attempt to work with this strong, fickle spirit. Most of the cocktails this week do their best to mask the bitter-burnt flavours of the baijiu to focus on the flowery sweetness of the spirit.

Opium Chinatown

Opium’s “Born on the Baijiu”

Beginning with Opium Chinatown (Click HERE for Review), who presented us with the Born on the Baijiu (geddit), which was a spicier take on their London Cocktail Week 2014 offer, the Down to the Baijiu (geddit2). Baijiu, vodka infused Oolong tea, Xilli tequila liqueur, pomegranate and lemon juices with almond syrup.

To quote my review of the drink from London Cocktail Week 2014: “The Baijiu was unmistakable and the opener to the drink, followed by a citrus and almond sweetness. The oolong followed immediately behind, ending on the tequila. This incredibly sweet, but not sickly so, was pleasant and nagged me with a sense of nostalgia until somebody finally yelled “STRAWBERRY LACES!”, which is essentially what it tastes like – scarily similar. I would love this as a dessert drink, with its light mouthfeel and short serving.”

This time there the chilli tequila liqueur was more present, the spiciness hitting the back of the throat harder, the opinion around the table was split regarding the chilli. Personally, I enjoyed the chilli, but the drink came off a bit sweet for me. I still suggest it as a must try drink, at least once, rather enjoyable.

Gong Shangri La Shard

Gong’s “Lucky Goat”

Gong, of the Shangri La Hotel at the Shard, presented the Lucky Goat: Baijiu, Tanqueray gin, lychee juice, Prucia Umeshu plum wine liqueur (the Francisation of Japanese umeshu), sugar syrup and lemon juice.

Our experience here was… mixed. Though service inside the bar was excellent, getting in was bizarre. First, we are asked if we had spoken with the bouncer’s “colleague downstairs” – now we spoke to many employees downstairs – who seemed utterly confused regarding the opening times of the bar (“But they’re not open till 5.” Hoodooist: “I assure you, they are open.” And Lo, they were open) – but none that wanted our names and titles and reservation times and inseam length and national insurance number.

She still seemed rather unsure of letting us in to this utterly empty bar populated by only two drinkers till the article was mentioned, so I would hardly suggest service was at all in favour of the patron, but entirely in favour of the bar’s ego. And long-time readers are fully aware of the Hoodooist’s opinion when bars favour themselves over the customer.

So far, everything was very….Shard.

For the next hour, the bar was still empty (read that as you will), so the eerie silence provided a quiet moment to try the Lucky Goat.

The Hoodooist’s friend looks up incredulously and states “Is it just me or does this smell like a Vento d’Estate?” Which is does. Eerily. Mimicking the Treviso hay-cheese, the herbaceous nose is surprisingly contrasted to the flavour of the cocktail. As with most Baijiu cocktails, the Shui Jing Fang stands out the most, followed by flowery sweetness of the Tanqueray botanicals and powerful Prucia Umeshu. An honest and decent drink, but bit lacking in character.

Ping Pong London

Ping Pong’s “Longan Baijiu Firecracker”

It’s mid-afternoon, and the Ping Pong dim sum chain presents us with its Longan Baijiu Firecracker! A dramatic name for sure, and it keeps in with Ping Pong’s cocktail tradition of easy drinking to go with a meal. Very easy drinking. This is a sneaky one. And very sweet, but keeping in the flowery theme we’ve seen so far. Baijiu, Grey Goose vodka, St. Germain elderflower, Hana Lychee sake, rose petal syrup, Longan juice, lemon and egg white, garnished with string of caramel.

With 35mls of vodka against 10 of Baijiu, the Chinese spirit is toned down here a bit, but still a demanding flavour. Alongside the powerful rose syrup, it is followed by the lychee and a soft elderflower finish. Very soft, velvety in texture. Relaxed and refreshing, this drink.

Spice Market W Hotel

Spice Market’s “Baijiu Martini”

Sure enough, we wanted something a bit stronger to perk us back up, the Hoodooist finds himself at W Hotel’s Spice Market for their nameless drink her shall call the Baijiu Martini since the recipe for the Baijiu ‘Yuzu Martini’ was altered at the last minute. Mixed in with Pernod absinthe, D.O.M. Benedictine, gin and lemon, you’d be surprised by this drink. Powerfully citrus, but not overwhelmingly so, the herbal nature of the Benedictine is a great balance for the Baijiu. After the initial burnt-baijiu, the liquorice kick of the absinthe is a fun surprise, with the botanical length from the gin.

One’s first suspicion was that the drink would be overly citrusy, but turned out well-balanced, and very enjoyable, balancing out the burnt-bitter flavours of baijiu.

Bo Drake Soho

Bo Drake’s “Dragon’s Claw”

Bo Drake (only opened this week!) offered probably the best service of the day, commendable. Conversational, fun, explanatory, wonderful. Their Dragon’s Claw was one of the more unique: Baijiu, agave nectar, elderflower, lemon and lime, hopped grapefruit bitters and lime zest – garnished with candied hibiscus and grapefruit slice.

The drink could best be described as mellowing the baijiu enough to drink it, while appreciating the entire range of flavours it presents when drunk neat – which is what made it unique through the day where other bars attempted to mask aspects of the drinks to suit the cocktail. The nectar and hopped grapefruit bitters contributed to a silkier mouthfeel. Surprisingly, one tasted the bitters more strongly than the elderflower (Thankfully, I think).

A great way to really get into Baijiu without throwing back a shot of it.

Salvatore's Bar Playboy Club

Salvatore’s Bar’s “Baijiu Affair”

Our final stop for the night: Salvatore’s Bar at the Playboy Club. The Baijiu Affair: Baijiu, gin, Green Chartreuse, Maraschino liqueur, raspberry puree and lime juice. Well. Felt it was the weakest drink of the night. Across the table, rating this went from as low as 1.5 to 3.5 out of 5, so opinions rather vary. Very much a Last Word gone awry, one must keep in mind that drinks like the Last Word, though challenging, work for a reason, and sometimes messing with them has consequences. This was one of those consequences. Maybe lemon instead of lime would have helped, but not by much.

Overly citrus with clashing flavours, pulling a sour face and only drinking half of it is all the Hoodooist could manage, really. But again, opinions varied across the table. At 15 pounds, one would expect a more deserving drink for the price.

But another round of Salvatore’s other drinks from their menu helped sort that out, so the night ended on a positive note anyway!

6 bars in, get thyself an Uber.

Baijiu Cocktail Week is certainly one of the more enticing events of the London drinks scene, and it’s always good to see a spirit break through in London. Though an acquired taste neat, it probably is best drunk that way between courses of a tradition Chinese meal, since it’s use in cocktails is incredibly challenging (as highlighted by the Spice Market bar manager with the number of recipes they waded through).

However, the various bars did show how different aspects of the complex spirit can be highlighted with the right ingredients. Bo Drake showed us a palatable way for newbies to enjoy the entire spectrum of the spirit’s complexity. Ping Pong presented a soft, silky cocktail emphasising Baijiu’s sweeter flavours; whereas the Spice Market had the burnt-bitter flavour balanced and softened with its citrus and herbal cousins.

Certainly a complex drink that demands further study in the London drink scene, I wish you all a fantastic Baijiu Cocktail Week and Happy Chinese New Year!

Baijiu Cocktail Week 2015, London
13th – 22nd February

http://www.baijiucocktailweek.co.uk/

Nutella Negroni special @ Duck and Waffle, Bishopsgate

At first, the Hoodooist met the ‘World Nutella Day‘ with the same cynicism he meets most marketing holidays from that to Valentine’s – I mean, even in the same month!

But he changed his mind quickly enough at the Duck and Waffle in Bishopsgate.

For one month only, the sky-high bar and restaurant will be hosting their limited edition delicacy, the Nutella Negroni!

Masterminded by resident Head of Cocktail and Spirit Development, Richard Woods, self-professed love of ‘obscure’ flavours, decided to go with the all too familiar and well-loved flavour of Nutella for this February 2015’s limited edition drink, the Nutella Negroni.

The Nutella Negroni

The Nutella Negroni

40 floors high, enjoy Bombay gin double distilled with Nutella, Martini Rosso red vermouth, and Campari to make a sweet drink for those of us who generally avoid sweet drinks – and a surprisingly still rather effective apertivo.

On the nose, the enveloping signature aroma of Nutella, but also something heady, like orange zest and spice.

The texture is cool. Smooth. Thick and layered. Even the texture is seductive.

Flavourwise, this is a drink that is distinctly a Negroni, as well as distinctly, well, Un-Negroni. Perhaps it is the melding of Negroni flavours presented in a sweet drink instead of the quinine-bitterness that causes that uncanniness.

The most notable flavour is undeniably the Nutella, with its chocolate hazelnut. But the spirits add great complexity to this drink. After the initial sweetness, you will notice winter spices like cloves or cinnamon (maybe nutmeg?) on the sides of one’s tongue, the sudden tangy overture of orange – flavours strongly present in the Rosso and Campari, yet without the dryness or bitterness that accompanies either.

The aftertaste is strongly nutty, with the more complex notes of the Martini Rosso.

After a few sips, the gin is slightly more notable, but never takes centre stage here. No, this drink belongs almost entirely to the Nutella. A powerful flavour, but a lovable one.

10509530_10153150588039559_2698342758405280087_n

In short? It’s a brilliant drink. I was almost surprised by how much I enjoyed this – not the overly-sweet cocktail I was expecting, and neither a bitter Negroni, the Nutella Negroni still makes an excellent apertivo while being a well-balanced, complex phenomenon that I highly suggest should be enjoyed before the month is over.

Get thee to Duck and Waffle and grab yourself one of these!

Damage: 14 GBP

40th Floor of Heron Tower,
110 Bishopsgate,
London EC2N 4AY

http://duckandwaffle.com/

The Cocktail Trading Company, Soho

Type of Bar: Tiny, Basement, Quirky
Damage££
Ideal for: Date

 

The Cocktail Trading Company Development Bar & Table (can we just call it CTC? Cool, okay) has been one of the most long-awaited openings in the cocktail world of 2015 after generating buzz for months now. And probably what the brasserie upstairs, Central & Co, needed to up its cocktail game.

The basement is tiny, if you’re lucky you might bag a couch (book in advance!) – and I recommend you find a good seat, because time can fly here! Dim-lit and cosy, the 80s playlist really makes the venue. Well, that and the incredible drinks and service provided by the Olly/Andy/Elliot trinity.

CTC

It’s probably worth mentioning that with 7 cocktail awards between them, it is difficult to go wrong with a good old classic here. About half the menu is classics, but the team will happily go off menu if you ask, as they did for a spectacularly constructed Campari-heavy Negroni Sbagliato (Vermouth, Campari, Prosecco).

But let’s move on to the house cocktails!

 

For Whom The Bell Bols

For Whom The Bell Bols

Star of the night would easily be the For Whom the Bell Bols (oh yes, puns, go with it. And yes, it *is indeed* served in a bell): Lavender and Chamomile infused Bols Genever, Golden Syrup 1:1, lemon juice and egg white, topped with a shortbread. Firstly, shortbread with the egg white and Golden Syrup is amazing. Secondly, so wonderful to see more of Bols Genever, sadly not used in the London scene as much as it could be. The malty texture of the Bols suits the combo of flavours so wonderfully, with the lavender and chamomile sweeping up the drinker initially, followed by the brighter pine flavour of the Bols and hints of its signature smoky spiciness – though that spiciness is rendered more subtle with the addition of the Golden Syrup. An incredible drink, a sweeter flavour for those who don’t do sweet.

 

Urn-Aged Corpse Reviver No.2

Urn-Aged Corpse Reviver No.2

The Urn-Aged Corpse Reviver No.2, is an intriguing one. ‘Egyptian Embalming Gin’, fortified honey wine, mandarin liqueur, lemon juice and absinthe. The Egyptian Embalming gin was certainly intriguing, keeping with the ‘corpse’ theme, the team wanted to bring out the gin botanicals commonly found in Egyptian embalming fluid. And honey wine similarly in theme. The most powerful flavour yet is the mandarin, with the gins spicier and more herbal botanicals following, the sweetness of the honey wine throughout. Managing to remain citrusy without becoming too sweet, and avoiding the overdose of absinthe that many Corpse Reviver No.2s suffer, this is a wonderful take on a classic. Not to mention the wonderful presentation!

 

Welcome to Kentucky, Have a Nice Day!

Welcome to Kentucky, Have a Nice Day!

However, the Welcome to Kentucky, Have a Nice Day: Jim Beam, ginger and plum infusion, Yuzu juice, matcha tea, was a confusing one. Between us, it felt like a bit too much happening at the same time. The Jim Beam comes through quite clearly. After a couple of sips you begin to notice the underlying thick sweetness of the matcha, the ginger and a very light citrus of the yuzu, and maybe it is a matter of personal taste, but it felt like too much at once. (Although, do call the number on the menu under this drink.)

#FESTIVALCHIC

#FESTIVALCHIC

Finally, the #FESTIVALCHIC is presented the most strangely – in a welly. This is a great example of the wonderful service expected at CTC. The concoction: Wray & Nephew rum, Cinzano Bianco, lychee liqueur, cranberry, lemon juice, is certainly not the Hoodooist’s style, turning out to be far sweeter than he would normally drink. The lychee and cranberry stand out the most, the rum and vermouth downplayed slightly. But while chatting over it, the team offered to add in lemon juice, Campari and salt to actually make a fantastic, well balanced apertivo that I’d recommend.

So though the #FESTIVALCHIC is a naturally sugary drink for the sweet tooth, I highly appreciate the team for going out of their way to balance it further.

 

Really, aside from the wonderful music and quirky drinks, the service (as I’ve stressed before, being the most important aspect of a bar) is what makes the Cocktail Trading Co a definite visit when in the area. Highly recommended, a drink like For Whom the Bell Bols is not to be missed.

 

Drinks: ****
Atmosphere: ****
Service: *****

 

The Cocktail Trading Company

Basement @ Central and Co., 22 Great Marlborough St.,
London, W1F 7HU.

http://www.thecocktailtradingco.co.uk/

Smokes and Tipples @ Hotel Xenia, South Kensington

The Hotel Xenia is back with their Smokes and Tipples tasting sessions! Sessions that bring together cigars paired with whiskies from their excellent humidor collection to their heated outdoor Living Wall Bar and Herb Garden.

Hosted by Hunters and Frankau, the UK’s official Cuban cigar importers, visitors will be presented with the cigar of choice along with a selection of whiskies to pair.

 

Escorted down the stairway with a glass of Prosecco, the living wall is a comfy, if small and cosy space. With music soft in the distance (thankfully, cigars and whiskey are for conversations), each visitor receives their own non-sulphur wooden matches and guillotine. If necessary, do ask staff to turn up the heating, it can get unseasonably cold in London this winter!

Cigars B&W

For a preview of what is to come at the Smokes and Tipples sessions at the Xenia, the Hoodooist was presented with a Petit Edmundo from the Casa de Montecristo. A short Robusto, the Edmundo is a 52 ring gauge (*whistle*) that would normally be recommended to more seasoned smokers, due to thickness and complexity.

Initially spicy, and rather vague in flavour (primarily tobacco, occasionally a red fruit), midway, flavours of bitter chocolate (which initially seemed like espresso) and something peppery. Excellent burn and self-correction, a great cigar to introduce.

Paired was the Glenfiddich 12yr, a typically Speyside whisky with its spicy-floral flavour to complement the Petit Edmundo. The sweet-ish finish goes fantastically with the after-taste of the Edmundo.

 

All in all, a pleasant experience to bring a friend or two along and relax with, with excellent service and masterclass by speakers and representatives of Hunters and Frankau to walk you through the entire session.

Smokes and Tipples

The next Smokes and Tipples event will run on the 12th of March 2015, with tickets going at £30.00.
To book, contact stephanie.pender@hotelxenia.co.uk or call 0207 442 42 42.
Hotel Xenia

160 Cromwell Road, South Kensington,
London SW5 0TL 

http://www.hotelxenia.co.uk/