world according to sam

Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first. Mark Twain

Category: FOOD

Cocktail Masterclass Harvey Nichols 5th Floor


So my #FortyTen celebrations entered their fifth month (spoilt, moi?)  and what with holidays etc this celebration had been scheduled as a post-holiday-blues-pick-me-up.

When I was 18, my first legal drink was a sweet, creamy Pina Colada at Peppermint Park in Covent Garden. I feverishly knocked back the delicious and intoxicating nectar without one care for sophistication nor that this had cost someone other than me a small fortune …. And so began a love of cocktails. There is something decadent about cocktails, studying the menu, choosing which creation it will be, watching the artful performance of the mixologist as they add the spirits and mixers, with the brave twirling bottles and slamming them back onto neatly lined shelves. The rattle of ice cubes as your barman flamboyantly shakes the cobbler* (not a tawdry euphemism – but the professional name for a shaker) and the final flourish as your concoction is poured into the appropriate glass, whether the retro styling of a martini glass, a tall hi-ball or a champagne flute …
Cocktails fell out of fashion for a while, seeing a brief resurgence when Carrie Bradshaw and the SATC girls drank Cosmopolitans at the Carlyle in NY but now they are back, with not only the traditional but new flavours and infusions. Mixology has become an art form and to learn about it is fascinating.  We are not talking the syrupy happy hour version of cocktails here. This is an altogether more refined drinking practice.

The choice of victual you drink from is almost as important as what goes into the mix. Teapots, teacups, copper beaker, crystal stubby, jam jars, schooners. The Harvey Nichols Cocktail Masterclass is the perfect girls day out, though boys will love it too (as did Mr H and his brother) and would be a great Hen celebration for those looking for something entertaining, educating and a little intoxicating. Be warned, I think phallic deely-boppers would not be welcomed at the über cool and sophisticated 5th Floor champagne bar at HN.

The day starts at 9.30 with a breakfast buffet of pastries, yoghurt and granola and fresh fruit with plenty of tea or coffee. 9.30 on a Saturday or Sunday morning seems an ungodly hour to even think about  imbibing alcohol but it doesn’t take long to  get into the swing of things.
There are several choices of class themes, Italy, Cuba, US, French and British each with three cocktails to be instructed on.

The class opens with a run through of all the equipment required to create the perfect cocktail. A muddler, strainer, cobbler, jigger … Each element has a crucial part to play in the making of your cocktail.
First spirits are added into the shaker (never ice first for fear of diluting your precious alcohol too soon, nevertheless essential to ‘soften’ the alcohol) and finally your mixers, bitters or essences. An elaborate shake, with the length of time and ferocity dictated by the type of cocktail and your own personal choice in ostentation, you can keep it ‘tight’ and snake hipped or go all out Carmen Miranda. For example a Martini Espresso requires a LOT of quite enthusiastic shaking to also emulsify the ingredients and create a slight froth at the top – pour into a glass shaker to check all is well and the correct texture has been achieved before pouring into a chilled Martini glass and finishing with a couple of coffee beans.
We chose the Italian influence for our masterclass so not only were we tutored in making the delicious Espresso Martini we learned to make a Breakfast Negroni; ( a traditional Negroni with a HN twist of the addition of a little marmalade to add texture and bitter-sweet finish to this Florentine classic and La Dolce Vita; an Aperol and Tequila cocktail again served in a chilled Martini glass.
Following the instruction and tastings from our Italian selection we were given the opportunity to make our own cocktail from a list of favourites … Mr H made a delicious Mojito with lashings of fresh mint, his brother made a Ginny Hendricks – gin based deliciousness, the lovely Sue made a Cosmopolitan and I made a Sky Cruiser known in less salubrious surroundings as a Pornstar Martini … Vanilla Vodka, passion fruit and champagne – heavenly!

Two and a half hours after starting the masterclass you are taken back to the restaurant with the effects of your imbibery making the path perhaps not quite as straight as your entrance,  to enjoy a two-course lunch served with red or white wine.
The masterclasses run on Saturday and Sunday throughout the year and can be booked here.

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Belmond British Pullman

I know I was utterly spoilt last year year for my FortyTen celebrations and in late October,  5 months in, those celebrations finally came to a close.
I was very generously gifted a voucher for the Orient Express group … Googling ‘book Orient Express tickets’ I was filled with images of a romantic trip  with Mr H and I channeling Agatha Christie and the diminutive Poirot, heading from Paris to Venice. Back to earth with a bump …. £500 will buy you a 2 hour journey with afternoon tea from London’s Victoria through the Kent countryside for two people.
Further exploration of itineraries and we decided to add some of our own coffers to opt for Belmond British Pullman‘s The Golden Age of Travel lunch.

Departing from Victoria Station, there is a waiting room exclusively for Belmond travellers with tea and coffee, a welcome warming drink before the off.

The excitement is tangible, the audience a mixed bunch, most celebrating the passing of milestone birthdays, engagements, marriages The average age is somewhat more than my own half century I suspect. Some have embraced the bygone era, tea dresses, the odd gentleman in black tie and one group who seemed to be wearing Lilliputian sized trilbys a in a nod to ….. Bugsy Malone?

A short wait and boarding commences, the cheery crew welcome you aboard with due reverence … A very different experience to the 7.26 Haslemere to Waterloo. Space and comfort are what greet you, high backed wingchairs set at beautifully laid tables with an overly ornate table lamp, with a shade something akin to a Victorian courtesans flouncy knickers. Beautiful crystal, fine china and flatware are far removed from the contemporary stemless glasses and heavy earthenware crockery of so many restaurants now.

Champagne is poured almost as soon as you are seated and the experience begins. It doesn’t take long to immerse yourself, talking in hushed tones and waving regally like a pageant queen to the passengers disembarking the normal service trains.

Amuse bouche followed by a soup starter served professionally by the steady footed crew, wine ordered – the journey begins out through a much graffiti’d South London and down to the Kent coast. It’s not the most interesting of vistas but Mr H and I enjoyed the food and each other’s company and shared juvenile humour at our efforts at sotto voce conversation in a bid to not disturb the library hush.

There is an opportunity to purchase souvenirs but I refrained from the branded sweater-wearing teddy and the other costlier Belmond ephemera. Our adjacent neighbours bought a rather overpriced Station Clock as their souvenir of the day … Mr H and I settled for a few photos on our iPhones and the memories!

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Two bottles of wine and an extra glass of champagne for the delay in leaving Victoria at the start of the journey coupled with the gentle tinkling of silver against chinaware leaves even the most seasoned of travellers in a soporific state. As we reached Broadstairs we were asked to disembark where we were greeted with another glass of wine and fresh local Oysters. Some of our fellow passengers were less than keen to partake of the crustaceans on offer (fools)  – all the more for us. A blazer-clad brass band was playing to add to the yesteryear ambience but it felt slightly awkward and contrived standing side by side on the platform –  needless to say there was one fellow traveller who threw inhibition to the wind and managed a sort of Charleston. We all dutifully congratulated her as we returned to our seats, homeward bound.

In essence it was a charming day out but given the cost I think we probably could have had an Air BnB weekend city break for the same price as lunch on the Belmond.  This trip is best suited to a more vintage traveller, a special older birthday or celebratory anniversary. My in-laws would have loved this trip as would any ferroequinologist* but perhaps Mr H and I should have saved this for our twilight years!

*trainspotter/anorak

Lombok ….. A taste of Indonesia

A thoroughly exhausting journey (30 hours door to door) deposits you into a melting pot of heat, scent and noise. The island of Lombok, like so many tropical destinations is one of contrasts – luxury hotels sit amidst villages of shacks with chickens and children running free! The island sits a 20 minute journey by air  to bustling Bali and from Western Lombok you can see the sun setting over Mount Agung. Though we didn’t get to visit Bali, a trip to Gilli Trawangan gave us an insight into how busy Bali is in comparison to Lombok. Geographically close but culturally very different, Lombok is largely a Muslim country and this is what protects it from the day long happy hours and hedonistic excesses of its neighbours.

Lombok, which means chilli in Indonesian, is defined by its people and its people are wonderful, and rather like their fiery namesakes – warm natured, with a little spice!  There is such pride for their island and Sasak traditions, (the indigenous culture of the island). Many of the beach traders and local guides who, through poverty, lack of education and opportunities often don’t even know their true age,  have still taught themselves English, Dutch, Korean and numerous other international languages, explicitly to earn themselves a wage… they are tenacious in their selling techniques but not obtrusive.   I would however really like to know WHO it is that is travelling the Far East propagating the myth that we Brits go round saying ‘Lovely Jubbly’ in our daily lives? …. Whilst they are the most fabulous marketeers of their beautiful island, their souvenir and t-shirt selling repartee can sometimes leave a little to be desired …. ‘We have your exact size Sir, 3XL‘ …. perhaps a little sales training in subtlety would help (and besides there was room for Pavarotti and me inside that t-shirt!)  Everyone greets you with ‘Where you from?’ they are quick to tell you to visit the highlights of the island and engage in their culture and traditions. Many are reliant on the tourist trade but equally can live off the land with their own crops of rice, mango, sweet potato and corn.  It is not uncommon to hear the traders talking of hailing from the largely farmland East sharing the home of a friend or brother during the week to sell their wares and then returning home to their families.

We stayed in a tranquil hotel just outside of  Senggigi, the Benidorm of Lombok ….. but Benidorm on Tramadol, laid back, friendly, good parts and some that are a little …. seamier …. Senggigi is the hub of tourism for Lombok and a great place to position yourself  to discover other parts of the island.  Every other shop is a travel agent or Tourist Information as they like to call themselves.  Hire a driver to visit the glorious beaches in the South or the waterfalls of Mount Rinjani towards the North.  Soft trekking to the falls is perfect for those, like me who love to channel Jungle Jane and don a khaki short but have NO intention of performing any outdoor lavatorial ablutions! – A 2.5 hour round trip was sufficient for me to feel at one with nature without sharing toilet facilities with actual wildlife!! Wading through the water channels that run right through the heart of the mountain in complete darkness before returning to the hill station for a late lunch overlooking the terraced rice fields is the perfect end to an extraordinary excursion.

 

 One of our greatest joys was being taken to a village adjacent to our hotel by one of the hotel’s groundsmen on his afternoon off (?) to see 20 or more children playing in a freshly ploughed field, flying kites … simple pleasures, this is not a culture that relies on technology for its kicks. We were greeted along the way by families sitting outside their homes, pushing their little ones into our path to say ‘Hello, how are you?’ and the local mosquito population were utterly thrilled at the advent of our juicy white Western flesh!!

We discovered quite early on our trip, a local bar (Happy Cafe) with live music not too far from our hotel, a 60p taxi ride away!!!. The house band are open to requests and have an immense catalogue of rock hits taken straight from Jeremy Clarksons Seriously Hot Driving Tunes …. each night the band ask for requests and if its not some rock anthem, the request is cast aside …. every night we were there I requested Happy by Pharell, (a woman of simple tastes), adding more and more elaborate designs to my request slip but to no avail, each request faced the same demise of being crumpled up and thrown to the side of the stage by the cigarette wielding lead singer …. It was on our first night here that we met one of the young bartenders (Hero – great name, huh?) who had developed a complicated but very cool ‘street’ fist pump/hug/handshake that he greeted Mr H with every time we entered the bar, securing us seats at the front of house.  As tourists in Lombok we were unusual in that the tourism here is transient, largely backpackers spending only 2 or 3 days in one place – we spent 3 1/2 weeks on the island and so had an element of ‘celebrity’ about us in Senggigi, the nearest town to our hotel. One gravelly voiced trader sought us out for a chat most evenings that we were in town, even though we never purchased anything from him.

We visited a traditional Sasak village, but this was somewhat disappointing as an experience, our guide seemed world weary and could not have sped through the village any more quickly extolling the virtues of their family life, they only marry within their village (cousins), the chief lives at the entrance to the village, their houses have cow sheeeeeeet as flooring and there is a surfeit of houses set up to sell bought-in tourist tat and of course your guide passes swiftly past all these other retail opportunities to …. surprise, surprise …. his own humble abode that has its own wares for sale.  It must be intrusive to have a constant flow of tourists trailing through the streets of your village, peering through windows but everything is geared to bringing in those tourists and without those visitors I am not sure where they would earn their living.

Our hotel staff could not be nicer, virtually applauding us into breakfast each day as we were the longest ever staying residents affording us a certain celebrity, they had a particular fondness for Mr Calvin …..

The locals all want you to visit their home and we had tea at the home of our driver, watched the National sport of Muay Thai championships, had an unexpected supper on the beach with the finals of a Miss Indonesia contest taking place around us, went to a traditional stick-fighting (Presean) event to encourage much-needed rainfall, had our annual battle with the spa paper knickers, trekked to waterfalls, learned to cook traditional Indonesian dishes, had massages and were tutored in the art of massage, seen monkeys at close hand, thug like primates cynically lining the mountain road awaiting the next car load of tourists to feed them bananas (terrifying!), eaten authentic street food, watched beautiful sunsets and watched the sun spread its light at dawn after the 5 am call to prayer

Unfortunately Mr H experienced a second bout of the Lombok Trots….Revenge of The Nasi Goreng….,  so as our holiday drew to a close we toasted 26 years of marriage with a Dioralyte Martini and Immodium chaser …. Lombok has been memorable for (mostly) all the right reasons and we hope to return …. Though there are so many more new places to discover …….

Spaghetti Vongole

 

  • 1 kg clams (I like frozen Big & Juicy ones from Ocado or Waitrose – that’s the brand not the descriptive, though they are! Defrost before use)

  • 1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley

  • 4 cloves garlic – crushed

  • 16 cherry tomatoes

  • Glass white wine

  • 400 g dried spaghetti 

  • sea salt

  • freshly ground black pepper

  • extra virgin olive oil

  • A little fresh red chilli to taste

Put a pan of salted water on to boil.  When it reaches boiling point add your dried spaghetti and cook according to the instructions to an al dente texture.  When almost ready, place a large saute pan with a lid on a high heat and let it heat up. Roughly chop the parsley leaves and set aside. Peel and chop the garlic, halve the cherry tomatoes and have your wine ready. Coat the saute pan generously with extra virgin olive oil and add the garlic, some parsley (reserving some for garnishing the dish later)  and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Add the finely sliced fresh chilli and the quartered cherry tomatoes. Stir everything around constantly and just as the garlic starts to colour, tip in the clams and pour in the wine. It will splutter and steam, so give everything a good shake and put the lid on the pan. After about 3 or 4 minutes the clams will start to open, so keep shuffling the pan around until all of them have opened. Take the pan off the heat. Get rid of any clams that haven’t opened, though I find with these frozen clams I have very few wasted clams!

Drain your pasta and then add to the tomato and clam mix, stir well to cover the pasta in sauce and spread the clams evenly and serve immediately, finishing with the remaining chopped flat leaf parsley

 

A delicious and speedy supper!

 

 

 

 

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