Monday, 2 July 2012

An Innis & Gunn food matching experience

I feel like I've been the unsuspecting victim of a brilliant guerilla marketing plan recently.  It started with my parents waxing on about some great beer that was brewed in Edinburgh.  You know the Scots, we love a bit of self promotion.  Then we went to a supper club in Leeds (@dineleeds) where they matched Yotam Ottolenghi with a range of these beers flavoured by different aging casks.  THEN my wedding planner upped sticks to join the company as well!  Well, what else could we do but jump on the I&G band wagon?

Innis & Gunn is a range of beers aged in oak barrels.  Starting as an accidental by-product of an attempt to flavour whisky with beer, the range has expanded to I&G blonde (American oak with a real vanilla flavour), I&G rum cask, rum finish, Irish cask and many more. 
(from left) Innis & Gunn original, rum finish, blonde, and more rum (it's my favourite)
After the @dineleeds experience, I was quite intruiged to try some food and beer matching of my own.  Picking a wine to go with food is usually not too tricky (given I'm not too fussy if I like the wine) but beer presented more of a challenge.  The flavour is stronger and it's more of an acquired taste to match it to food.

Having done a bit of research, my best bet appeared to be trying to compliment the sweet and smoky flavour of the beer with some smoky food with enough punch to stand up to the complex taste of the beer.  To give us the best chance of success we went for a range - original, blonde, and rum finish.  One of them had to be a good accompaniment.

Bearing all this in mind, I took inspiration from one of my favourite spices - smoked paprika - and made crevettes with chorizo, white wine and parsley, courgette ribbons and crusty bread.  Sweet, succulent prawns with rich, spicy chorizo is one of my favourite combinations, and it was a great match to the I&G original.  It had the feel of a real continental treat.  Next time I'll probably have the blonde as a well chilled aperitif, while the rum cask was a great dessert (and went very well with some dark chocolate).  The rum cask is definitely my favourite, although at 7.4% is bloody lethal!

It was a great experiment and one I'll be repeating.  I'm also particularly excited as Innis & Gunn have a pop up restaurant and bar at 32 Potterrow in Edinburgh until the end of August.  I will be going for a bit of respite after the crazy wedding planning.  Anyone going up for the festival should definitely try and stop by.
Crevettes with chorizo and white wine (next time I might try cooking it with the Innis & Gunn for an extra flavour punch)
Joe, playing with his food. Nice prawny friends.
And a gratuitous shot of Joe looking like a giant next to a baby army car - just because.

Friday at Chino Latino

I'm in week two of a three week birthday super celebration.  Starting last week with the Red Door, I'm punctuating work with fun meals out at the weekend.  Next weekend we're heading to Pinche Pinche in Chapel Allerton for a Mexican fiesta. Not so shabby and definitely a good way to make me feel better for being yet another year older!

Friday's treat was an evening at Chino Latino, the "modern Pan-Asian cuisine" restaurant and Latin bar in the Park Plaza.  The last time we went was the launch of the Christmas menu, and the food was sufficiently impressive that we've been waiting for a good excuse to go back.

Joe and I traditionally indulge in a few cocktails for my birthday so the Latin bar seemed a good place to start.  A little quiet for a Friday night, it did give us a chance to chat to the bar manager Rich.  An excellent raspberry and mint margarita and chino lips (tequila with lime, chilli and sugar) were followed by a negroni and a slightly off-piste home creation which will never be recreated but was excellent.  There was multiple vodkas, apple juice, lime and grenadine and sent me straight to a rooftop bar in the sunshine.  

Hmmm...a Yorkshire bar with only Cornish beer on tap. 
Chino lips - tequila with a chilli kick
Raspberry and mint margarita
Joe's negroni
Cocktails sampled, it was time for dinner.  The Chino Latino menu spans Chinese, Japanese and South East Asian cuisine.  While I'm not usually one for fusion food, the chefs here produce excellent dishes beautifully presented.  You can choose from tempura, dim sum, sushi, sashimi, or go for the larger plates.  While the large plates do look very interesting (duck breast with sweet miso and kumquat chutney, or seabass, black bean, shaoxing wine and choi sum, for example), they're a little on the pricey side so it seemed more fun to go for the smaller options.  
Joe enjoying his wine
Apparently he said something funny...!
 Choosing the smaller dishes meant we got to try a real cross section of the menu, kicking off with crispy duck, which we'd spotted on someone else's table and looked delicious.  Everything was really well done - paper thin pancakes, crispy, deeply flavoured duck, sweet sauce and crunchy vegetables.  Its a classic for a reason.

This was accompanied by tempura soft shelled crab and stuffed chillies which were beautiful.  I have been a bit nervous of soft shelled crab (how can it be soft and survive in the sea?!) but I loved this.  Tempura's always pretty good but tempura soft shelled crab was a revelation. 

Trying to compete with these dishes was pork, crab and glass noodle samosas with a green pepper yogurt dipping sauce. I loved the samosas - classic Chinese sui mai flavours in flaky pastry.  The yogurt dip didn't marry with the clean flavours of the rest of the dishes, but that was a small grumble in a round of impressive food.
Crispy duck
Tempura soft shelled crab
Pork, crab and glass noodle samosas
 After a petit break, the next three dishes arrived (I was already pretty stuffed by this point!).  Joe had picked the marinated blow torch salmon, which was sushi but seemed to have been warmed up a little (the blow torch I'm guessing!).  I couldn't quite work out what the blow torching added to the dish but the salmon was sweet and firm and same with a piquant coriander drizzle.

The seabass and crayfish dumplings were the perfect balance of yeilding pastry and a delicate fish filling. Perhaps my only disappointment was the beef fillet salad, which Joe loved.  Seared beef and crunchy salad in a coriander, mint and yogurt dressing, again I thought it didn't work with the other delicate flavours, but I think that was just me!
Blow torch salmon
Seared beef salad
Crayfish and seabass dumplings
It's difficult to get across how much I enjoyed the food (even that beef salad!) and the cocktails.  It was a shame that the atmosphere in the bar was fairly downbeat due to the depressing electronic music and the lack of other guests.  We also felt like the standard of what was coming out of the kitchen was let down by the service - slow at times, they failed to ask how the food was until we mentioned it, and there was a fairly bad incident with one of the waiters who didn't want to serve us as we weren't in his section.  (Not sure that was our concern really!)  This is a pricey restaurant, with small dishes at around £7-12 mains at £16-29 and wine starting at £19 a bottle, so these things shouldn't happen (we had a 50% off voucher). However, Thanos, the general manager was attentive and seemed genuinely interested in making sure we had a good time.  They also gave me a complimentary dessert which was beautiful (and nothing to do with the service - they were just being nice).

Thanos also told us that they are remodelling the hotel from top to bottom, and there is a relaunch day on 19th July.  He is looking to improve the downstairs bar and iron out the glitches which are holding it back from being as popular as it used to be.  If they can sort out those bits, then I'm sure we'll go back when we've got some spare cash to splash.