Feel the burn: The World of Zing meets The London BBQ School

London Barbecue School, SE15 3SN www.londonbarbecueschool.co.uk

There are a few things you expect to find when you go to Peckham. Crop-top wearing, top-knot sporting teenagers swigging tinnies in the queue for Bussey building, sure. That you’ve got slightly soggy shoes with the faint whiff of fish after sloshing through the post-market puddles around Rye Lane, natch. A BBQ school tucked away round the back of a car park dedicated to the art of the grill, not so much.

‘Walk past the blue shipping containers’ is never the most auspicious set of directions to receive when you’ve been offered a BBQ Masterclass, especially when it’s chucking it down and you decided that wearing a floor-length silk skirt was a good idea. But, even after playing hide-and-seek in a Peckham carpark – dragging half the downpour (as well as about acre of mud) along with me – I found out that this sequestered little corner of south east London is well worth a visit.

Beyond that blue shipping container, and a world away from Peckham Rye Station, is a little enclave of BBQ enthusiasts who are determined to teach eager students all about real flame-grilled food. Created and founded by the bright bods behind School of FoodThe London BBQ School offers private and group cookery classes in the great british outdoors on their own array of Kamado Joe and Big Green Egg ceramic barbecues.


And recently they’ve teamed up with another bright spark, Pritesh Mody, a spice aficionado and the man behind World of Zing, to turn up the heat on a few select occasions throughout summer, which is why I was there: to put my tastebuds to the test with a chilli-orientated cooking class.

I’ve never been shy of trying spice, my palate, however, often disagrees with my head’s determination to test my tolerance (one incident in Goa where I was reduced to washing my prawns in mineral water while a row of waiters pointed and laughed at me springs to mind), but I’ve always been a believer that spice should mean flavour, not all-out heat – a notion that Mody shares with me and aims to demonstrate with these intimate group classes and tasting sessions.


As well as an in-depth introduction to a host of rare breed chillis, each with distinctive flavours and intensities, you’ll get a chance to learn how to turn these dried little firecrackers into sauces, marinades and dips that the chaps at the BBQ school will smother on juicy chicken wings for you to feast on throughout the evening.

It all started mildly, with a smoky chipotle rubbed set of chicken wings and slowly escalated from there, until, drunk on the pulse of fire dancing around my tastebuds and the rather good glug of World of Zing’s Pink Pigeon Spiced Rum Punch that I was handed on the way in, I was goading Mody to release the big guns: the nagas. The result was a surprisingly delicious naga ketchup that was as tangy as it was blisteringly spicy, which neatly proved the whole point of the evening: if you think you don’t like spicy food, you should come here to really put that theory to the test, because you might be surprised at quite how delicious proper chillis can be.


The BBQ & Chilli workshops run monthly and tickets include barbecued nibbles; a glass of World of Zing’s Pink Pigeon Spiced Rum Punch and a free pack of World of Zing rare chillies to take home.

The next class is scheduled for Wednesday 23rd September 7.00pm – 8.30pm (£20 per person), but, if you want to put your own tastebuds to the test and turn up the heat on this gloomy British summer now, why not try one of The World of Zing’s exclusive chilli recipes below.

Chipotle Dry Rub – Rich and Smoky

2 Chipotle Meco Chilli
1⁄2 Pasilla Chilli
1 tbsp paprika
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp sea salt

Blitz to powder.

Rub over chicken, pork, beef or even potatoes and enjoy!

Aji Amarillo & Habanero Chilli Ketchup – Cheats recipe for an ultra-fruity Ketchup

250ml shop-bought ketchup
3 Aji Amarillo Chillies (rehydrated in hot water for around 20 minutes)
1 Habanero Chilli (rehydrated in hot water for around 20 minutes)
25ml Pineapple juice
Juice from 1⁄2 a lime
Pinch of salt
1 tsp of garlic puree/powder

Blitz in a blender until you’ve got a smooth sauce. Splash of hot water if it’s a little too thick


il Tavolo: a Taste of Zurich

In late June, a Frenchman, an Italian, a Swiss hotel manager and an English girl wandered into a bar. It might sound like the beginning of a terrible joke, but this was actually the start of what I had expected to be a sedate trip to Zurich.


Skipping forward and hour or so – after the cocktails and cigarettes downstairs (yes, if you can believe it, in Switzerland there are still places you can smoke inside); after the expats had taken to the neon-splashed dancefloor in a haze of Euro pop classics; and after an actual rocking horse had been deposited at our table, its fairground-bright paintjob gleaming demonically under the golden glow of the velvet lamps and a vast chandelier swaying gently from the wooden beams above – I realised that if I was expecting anything when the hotel’s dapper chauffeur swept me into the leather-scented confines of his sleek taxi and we pootled into the pristine streets of downtown Zurich, this wasn’t it.

But then again, Zurich, as I found, was full of surprises. Generally thought of as a financial hub and haute couture shopping haunt for bankers and fat-walleted tourists, it isn’t exactly where you’d expect to find a five-day food festival dedicated to showcasing the best of the best from the city’s finest chefs. However, that was exactly why I was there for the weekend: to visit the fourth annual il Tavolo food festival and to sample Zurich on a plate.


Sandwiched between Italy, Germany and France, it’s hardly surprising that Switzerland has borrowed from its neighbours, not only when it comes to languages (walk down any street in Zurich and you’ll catch snatches of all four of the country’s native tongues: German, French, Italian and Romansch) but also in gastronomy, which has flashes of international flair that extend far beyond its cheese-heavy reputation for fondue, vacherin and raclette.


And that’s exactly what il Tavolo is all about – establishing Zurich a premier foodie destination by showing off just how vibrant, varied and accomplished its food scene can be with six waist-expanding events stretched over five days that feature a collection of celebrity chefs, a 200-metre long banqueting table and an entire constellation of 5-star hotels. As I discovered after that ‘quiet drink’ on my first night, Zurich doesn’t do anything by halves.


The starter

Before that foray into Zurich’s nightlife, I got a taste of what was to come at my hotel for the weekend, the Storchen, a 650-year-old hotel with so much old-school charm and traditional gravitas that it has its own boat station. Aside from one of the best breakfasts I’ve had – made even sweeter by the fact that you don’t even have to get dressed for it, you can simply pre-order from the vast menu and have your selection delivered to your room at the hour you specify – the Storchen’s head chef, Fredi Nussbaum, serves up some pretty impressive fare too. Which I discovered when he sent over a plate of perfectly-cooked sturgeon followed by a light as air confection of cherries, absinthe mousse and mint as I drank in the dusk-laden view of the inky-black Limmat river alongside the Frenchman (a vineyard owner), the Italian (a journalist) and the Storchen’s Swiss hotel manager and il Tavolo president, Jörg Arnold.

The main event

The real eating began at the il Mercato lunch and dinner on the festival’s final saturday – a beguiling combination of fine food and relaxed attitude housed in a huge warehouse that usually plays host to the city’s wholesale fruit and vegetable market.


Under an air hanger canopy strung with paper lanterns in rainbow shades, the space had been transformed into a cavernous restaurant with one long table running through the centre, flanked on either side by a legion of cooking stations and stalls selling everything from fat dusty truffles and wheels of cheese to delicately-iced wedding cakes and tins overflowing with pearls of glistening, tar-black caviar.


All that was left to do was peruse the rogue’s gallery of top chefs that loomed large and in charge from giant posters stationed next to each cooking section, pick a 5-star hotel and load your plate with one of the two taster-sized courses they were cooking to order. It was a foodie free-for-all, with no limit to the amount of times you could come back to each station for a top up, which was lucky, considering that it didn’t take me too long to fall for the butter-covered ravioli and milky pillows of balsamic-drizzled buffalo mozzarella from Da Angela’s Mike Thomi, or the spicy little portions of Miang Kam (bitter leaves filled with roasted coconut shavings, chilli, shallots, ginger, shrimp and a squeeze of lime) served up by Nikom Thooppanom from Himmapan Lodge.


With a range of chefs and cooking styles on show, there’re bound to be some low points. Mine came in the form of a plate of bland couscous and chicken and a corn dish covered in soggy popcorn that had no place on a plate. Luckily though, the flipside to this is that it isn’t long before you stumble across another gem, like the exquisite little quenelle of vanilla mousse with a perfect sliver of tempered chocolate that Maurice Marro and Olivier Rais from Bar du Lac offered.


After the long lunch stint, there was just enough time to head back into the city for a half-hearted and full-bellied attempt at catching some of Zurich’s most arresting sights – Chagall’s stained glass windows in Fraumünster church; James Joyce’s old handout at Platzspitz; the birthplace of Dadaism at Cabaret Voltaire cafe – before I was back on the tram for il Mercato, round two.


In the evening, things got a little more, well, Swiss. And by that I mean flashy. It’s no secret that Zurich is known for a few things: financial institutions, banking giants and money, money, money. When night fell and the Pommery corks began to pop in earnest, I found myself sitting next to the fabulously glamorous editor of one of Switzerland’s biggest glossy magazines and across from the rather lovely former runner up to Miss France, Florence Jacquinot.


The food had a dash more panache as well, with the same chefs returning with jazzed-up menus for the evening crowd such as elaborate little plates of glazed quail with rocket risotto from Frank Widmer at the Park Hyatt, yoghurt marinated duck liver with cherry from The Dolder Grand’s Patrick Hetz and smoked salmon, shrimp and herb-spiked wild rice from the Storchen’s Fredi Nussbaum.

I’d like to pretend that I maintained my dignity here with some sort of nod to moderation, but alas, I didn’t. Gripped by buffet-fever I moved haphazardly between the stations, weaving between the wandering live musicians, shiny-faced tourists and lipsticked locals chattering in high-speed German as they tottered past in towering heels, balancing tiny plates up my arms in an attempt to sample everything on offer. It was flavour carnage towards the end, but what a happy ending it was as I sloped back to the Storchen, full of at least one week’s meal quota.


The last supper

One of the nicest things about il Tavolo is its final hurrah: a family-friendly brunch held on the Sunday morning, where there’s a distinct lack of glitz and a more laid-back approach to cooking. The head chefs take the morning off and instead of haute couture cuisine, the likes of steaming bowls of creamy porridge with ladlefuls of dark cherry compote, feathery little pancakes fried in butter and splashed with lemon juice and piquant little shots of carrot and ginger soup served with tiny pastries stuffed with salty fish paste take centre stage.


The banqueting table itself had even been transformed into a neverending buffet with a pantry’s worth of jars filled with quinoa salad, bircher muesli and marinated feta studded with apricots (that may just have been the most delicious thing I tried all weekend). And that was just the side dish to the plates of muffins, cheese, sliced meat and piles of burnished rolls and loaves of every persuasion, from brioche to breadsticks, that decorated the table like a sort of beautiful edifice to gluttony.


I’m not sure how I managed to heave myself back onto the tram and into the city, let alone how I managed to squeeze my body into the seat on the flight back after my three-day marathon of food, champagne and Swiss sunshine. The only thing I do know after my il Tavolo odyssey is that Zurich is setting itself up to be a real European foodie contender.

For more information on Switzerland visit www.MySwitzerland.com or call our Switzerland Travel Centre on the International freephone 00800 100 200 30 or e-mail, for information info.uk@myswitzerland.com; for packages, trains and air tickets sales@stc.co.uk.

SWISS offers up to 110 weekly flights from London Heathrow, London City, Birmingham and Manchester to Zurich. Fares start from £63 one-way* and 115 return*, including all airport taxes, one piece hold luggage and free ski carriage. (*Please note this is a leading fare and is subject to change, availability and may not be available on all flights. Terms and conditions apply.) For reservations call 0845 6010956 or visit: http://www.swiss.com

Originally penned for Foodepedia, and can be found here.

Review: Afternoon tea at The Arch London

50 Great Cumberland Pl, London W1H 7FD www.thearchlondon.com/afternoon-tea

Somewhere along the line, afternoon tea became less of an occasional treat of the ilk that was popularised by the 7th Duchess of Bedford back in the 19th century and more of a, well, for want of a better word, ‘thing’.

Nowadays, the uber trad treat has turned into a thematic foodie experience with an infinite number of variations on offer, from all chocolate affairs like the Charlie & the Chocolate Factory version at One Aldwych to low fat incarnations such as the Intercontinental London’s Guilt-Free tea. There’s even a tea you can take while driving around London aboard a vintage bus. I know this, because I’ve tried it.

The Arch, however, is trying a different tack. This lovely little Georgian-with-a-facelift hotel in a quiet residential street tucked away from the roar of Marble Arch’s notorious traffic jams has given it’s afternoon tea some edge with an international accent and a street food vibe.


I visited late one Friday afternoon, settled into the curve of one of their restaurant’s hard-to-leave chocolate leather couches (complete with oyster-grey velvet curtain…in case you fancy sipping your tea in private, I suppose) and worked my way around the world with their afternoon tea with a twist (£28).

The cocktail list here (which you can add to your tea to take the price up to a rather steep £38) is brief but well formed with a seductively delicate thing called Indian Clouds on it, which I discovered combined Jasmine tea infused Bombay Sapphire and butterscotch schnapps with pink grapefruit juice to create something that tasted like sweet, summer rain.

The teas were also excellent, with a Silver Needle white blend that lingered with hints of melon and cucumber and deserved a special mention. The tea itself arrived all at once on slender wooden blocks of sanded wood and, for a split second, I thought they’d delivered canapes instead of tea, so accustomed was I to seeing a tiered cake stand.

Instead of the usual sandwiches and scones, I was delivered smoked chicken, chilli, avocado and mango tortillas; mini handmade scotch eggs with Piccalilli; skewers of chicken satay; mini fish and chips with tartar sauce and that stalwart of the business away day buffet: mini cheese burgers with onion marmalade in brioche buns.


The baby portion of fish and chips was rather good, as was the just-sharp-enough tartar sauce and the ridiculously good scotch egg with its molten yolk middle. Any place that can serve a well-cooked, runny egg-centered scotch egg on a mass scale gets a tick from me. Another standout was the poshed-up chicken select – a nugget of sesame seed covered chicken with it’s jammy slick of surprisingly fruity satay sauce.


The burger was perfectly pleasant, even if the edges of the bun were so dry and chalky that the overall effect was of stale burger bread than soft, buttery brioche and the tortilla was fine, if lacking in enough punchy chilli or flashes of coriander for my taste. The trouble with creating a tea that’s designed to give guests a taste of foods from around the world is that chances are, some of your guests will have eaten something similar on their travels, and will be expecting as much authentic flavour as possible, instead of a watered down version.

The sweet tray was laden with sugar-rich treats from spearmint green chocolate macarons and crispy little coffee-rich eclairs to teeny-tiny raspberry and pistachio tartlets with golden pastry that snapped and crumbled into buttery perfection.


The little fried doughnuts that were perched on the edge of the platter delighted and frustrated me in equal measure. They were featherlight and dusted with just the right amount of sugar and cinnamon. At the first bite they exploded and oozed sharp-sweet globs of applesauce that dropped onto my plate and pooled into an unctuous, sticky mess. All lovely, but I couldn’t help but wonder how much more lovely they would have been if they were served hot. Perhaps they were warm when they arrived alongside the savoury platter…I’ll never know.

Street Food Afternoon Tea at The Arch London (7)

Another cold clanger for me was the rice pudding with toasted coconut. It came rich with coconut cream and layered between chunks of soft, sweet ripe mango in an elongated shot glass, which was all very nice. However, I’m of the mindset that rice pudding should never be served anything less than hot enough to slowly melt the sugar you sprinkle on it into caramel. No matter how well balanced the flavours are, all I’m going to taste when I ladle a sad, chilly spoonful into my mouth is Dickensian gruel.

I finished my tea with the final piece of the tea puzzle, The Arch’s only curiously conspicuous concession to tradition – a miniature victoria sponge. It was a little dry, a little dense and a little, well, sad among the splendor of its internationally-influenced companions. At this stage the cake here just feels a little like tradition for the sake of it and it would have been nice to see a little of the creative flair applied to the rest of the menu make it into the cake, perhaps a touch of lychee or a rose-infused fruit syrup, at any rate, something to give it a bit of welly would have been well received.

An intriguing, if not without its flaws addition to the thriving London tea scene.

Originally reviewed for Foodepedia, and can be read here.

Review: Aqua Nueva, London

Aqua Nueva 5th Floor, 240 Regent St, London W1B 3BR www.aquanueva.co.uk

The first challenge F and I had with Aqua Nueva was finding the place. Google maps stubbornly insisting that it lived above the apple store on Regent Street. It doesn’t. After fruitlessly wandering around for a while, a kindly waiter from Bella Italia took pity on us and pointed towards what looked more like the entrance to a swish gym/business centre hybrid than a restaurant, which was further compounded by the sleek black-lit lifts that you have to take to find Aqua’s two restaurants: Kyoto and Nueva.


Then there was the dimply-lit labyrinth of black marble and plush booths that you have to navigate to get to Nueva. You know you’ve arrived when you catch a glimpse of the huge blue bull that looms through the gloom, guarding the end of the maze like some sort of mythological minotaur. The final challenge I had with Aqua Nueva was just how unutterably delightful the staff were, to the point that they were smiling at me so much I had to check to make sure that they weren’t grinning at someone far more important behind me.


As a converted Londoner, I often treat overt displays of unbridled friendliness with suspicion, but there was something about the way the softly-spoken manager swept by to say hello while delivering glasses of fizzing cava and the way the waitress laughed her way through her favourite and most hated dishes on the menu that made this feel delightfully, enchantingly genuine. And what could make you want to love a restaurant more than a welcome like that?

I developed a reverence for traditional tapas after a lazy summer holiday with my mother, which we spent wandering around Granada, Seville, Ronda and Cordoba, ducking out of the fierce September sun and into the nearest dimly-lit bodega for little snatches of food at every opportunity. I remember eating fistfuls of salted almonds and fat green olives swimming in a slick of fruity olive oil and sipping mouth-strippingly fresh carafes of thin vino roja while we waited for fat croquettes studded with jamon and thick wedges of manchego to arrive.

Aqua Nueva’s tapas-style menu is a world away from classic fare scrawled on a chalkboard in rural España. This is a primped up, poshed up, refined version with a pin sharp aesthetic that’s served with a modernist edge and a nod to adventure. In short, exactly the things that would ordinarily send me running for the Andalusian hills, but, as much as my traditionalist self was rebelling, when the food is good, it’s hard not to fall hook line and sinker for it.


That being said, by far my favourite thing of the evening arrived first: teeny-tiny emerald green pimientos de Padrón, lightly fried and scattered with coarse sea salt. I’m always banging on about the beauty of simple things, and these were simply beautiful (which, at £6.50 a portion, they should be).


There was a lovely lightness of touch demonstrated again in a beetroot dish where thin slivers of purple-stained beetroot were paired with tiny morsels of fried Monte Enebro cheese and coated in a liquorice marinade that, thankfully, offered more of a fennel-scented tickle than an overly sweet liquorice allsort smack in the face. The small plate of coiled spirals of aubergine peppered with 34 different spices was perfectly pleasant, although would have been improved immeasurably if it was served warm and not limp and frigid.


There was one dish that left me completely cold, however, Aqua Nueva’s take on that tapas stalwart, patatas bravas. Real patatas bravas should come in a golden, sizzling mass, smothered in a fiery red sauce that promises oily goodness and indigestion. The ones on this menu come bone dry, separated from their sauce by slate and a dipping pot. It was a step away from tradition in the wrong direction that reduced the generous and rustic nature of this dish into a sort of chip-esque side plate.

Luckily, by this point, a gloriously good glass of Blanco Rioja had arrived and I was distracted from my potato-induced irritation by its lavishly butter-soft floral flavour.

There are many meat and fish mains on this menu to tempt even tapas purists, from confit crispy pork with langoustines to razor clams with white asparagus and almond vinaigrette, but I was particularly impressed with the grilled Iberian Secreto pork that came in tiny, juicy little strips nestled between crispy fried potatoes and feather-light dollops of whipped, creamy aioli.


Desserts arrived in a flight and ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. The white chocolate bavarois was delicately scented with just the right amount of rose to keep it on the right side of turkish delight instead of soap, although it could have done with just a touch less gelatin; while the decadent, almost spiced chocolate mousse was heaven on a spoon…the spongy olive oil bread that it rested on like a mutant loofah, not so much, although F was a fan of its cakey consistency and whisper of flavour.


Then there were the vanilla tomatoes and goats cheese ice cream with baby bites of moist, salty olive cake and a smattering of confused strawberries. A dessert like this will always be divisive. Unfortunately for me, I’m of the mindset that it doesn’t matter what you do to a tomato – dip it in sugar, serve it with syrup, cover it in edible gold – I don’t want it on my pudding plate.


The most frustrating thing was that the sharp-sweet goats cheese ice cream was perfectly balanced and would have turned something like a wedge of baklava dripping with honey into something exceptional. It was an intriguing and brave venture, but for me it was a misstep.

It all ended with a sip of fiery, dry-as-a-bone Goya sherry and another glass of that mouthwatering cava, which we drank on their expansive terrace. Standing there in my everyday jeans and shirt, I was painfully aware of the flash, lithe young things showing off fake tanned limbs in teeny-tiny playsuits, Michael Kors and Mulberry bags clanging against their jutting hipbones as they strutted around. It struck me that, in parts, Aqua‘s sprawling complex feels a little like a high class playground for twenty-something cocktail swilling city workers with money to burn, so it’s lucky that there are some excellent dishes and attentive staff there to pull it back from the edge of pretension.


As I stood there looking out over the bleak but strangely beautiful panorama of London’s skyline under the fuggy summer dusk, half-listening to a couple of Aussies trying to chat up a group of Spanish girls, I caught myself thinking that while it wasn’t quite Seville, it was certainly something.

Originally reviewed for Foodepedia, found here.

In pictures: Twenty little snapshots of Zurich

“Switzerland is simply a large, lumpy, solid rock with a thin skin of grass stretched over it” – Mark Twain

It’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for a country, is it.

But, when I visited Zurich on the Germany side of this split-cultured city, I was delighted to discover that there is beauty to be found, from the lazy aqua green river that scythes through the turreted and cobbled centre of old town to the hidden pockets of foodie paradise dotted around this terribly modern, yet terribly traditional financial hub.

Much more on that later, but for now, here’re just a few snapshots of my oh-so-brief encounter with Zurich.

Last of the summer wine: Bourne & Hollingsworth

28 Rathbone Place, London W1T 1JF www.bourneandhollingsworth.com/bournes/

Bourne & Hollingsworth isn’t the easiest bar to find. It’s tucked away down a side street off Oxford Street and, even then, you’ll only find the front door by stepping down from the Fitzrovia streets, leaving the balmy sunshine behind and walking into the gloom below. It’s worth it when you do, however.


The bijoux bar itself has been described as many things – “as twee as you can get” being one and “incredibly quirky” another – what sticks, though, is the bar’s incredible ability to make you feel as though you’re settling in for a knees up in your granny’s parlour.

This place is all retro vintage accents and booze-orientated quirks, from the alchemists bar that stretches to the ceiling and heaves with intriguing bottles, potions and unguents and the hidden bathroom door with its touch of Narnia-inspired charm to the flock wallpaper that’s replicated on practically every flat surface. But the draw card here is the cocktails, and the care with which the unhurried, laid-back staff make them.


Even the menu is charming, unfolding like origami and scrawled with bistro-chic sketches with neat little sections dedicated to the art of drinking. The cocktail list here is enticingly diverse, with plenty of gin-based options, which, as a gin fanatic, couldn’t have pleased me more.


Standouts included the gin-rich and cucumber-heavy Gardener’s cocktail, which came in a bone china teacup complete with a single cucumber sandwich balanced on the rim of the saucer…naturally.


Other temptations involved the new range of summer-themed drinks introduced to encapsulate the flavours of an English country garden – think a muddle of rhubarb syrup and ginger with tequila in the Rhuba Club or The Rathbone Spring Punch with raspberries, lemons and the childhood flavour of dandelion & burdock made grownup with a glug of vodka.

But, alas, I only managed to squeeze in a couple of drinks here before I bumbled off in a gin-soaked haze, so plumped for the following and wasn’t disappointed.


The Wibble

This blackberry-spiked blend was as sharp as a cool English morning spent scratching for blackberries along the hedgerows. It finished with a sour-sweet flash of mouth-clenchingly tangy grapefruit.

The Pink Jaguar

This fuchsia concoction was the brainchild of Bourne & Hollingsworth’s Kelley Hill and, despite being the kind of shade of drink that Del Boy might order, the taste was impressively complex. A fruity mashup of club tropicana Yaguara Cachaca with rosé vermouth, raspberries and a touch of toasted spice courtesy of a home-made cinnamon & white pepper syrup. Surprisingly refreshing and warm at the same time and a real winner.