Clubbing in the Daytime with Tonino Lamborghini

Lamborghini. One distinctive, Italian surname, loaded with imagery of style and speed and fast, rich playboys and girls. When I think Lamborghini I see a sunshine-yellow sports car sweeping up to park outside Monte Carlo’s Hermitage Hotel, the driver dripping in Brioni threads. It’s the sort of car with a dynasty behind it, founded in 1963 by Ferruccio Lamborghini, whose son, Tonino Lamborghini has more recently created a name for himself away from the automotive arena: Tonino has moved into luxury accessories, including hyper-luxe smartphones, humidors, leather goods and (wait for it) VODKA.

And so it was that a few weeks ago I was invited to the Westbury Hotel, here in London, to try the exclusive vodka by Tonino Lamborghini, heir to the automotive dynasty. I say I was invited to the Westbury, as I was expecting a cocktail demo somewhere like the Polo Bar, but quite unexpectedly we ended up underground, at the club for IT people called Number 41.

Apart from our two hosts and an award-winning barman, there were just two of us scribes on the plush red seats at a private table that usually commands quite a sum in whole-bottle orders to reserve. It was mid-week, mid-afternoon and there we were, sipping on cocktails in an empty nightclub, talking about Signor Lamborghini Junior’s foray into distillery. Random, yes, but how fun.


A few facts about Tonino Lamborghini vodka for you:

  • it has a high-quality base of Eastern European cereals, sourced primarily in the Balkans and Slovakia
  • the harvest is subject to rigorous quality control to eliminate impurities
  • the distilling process raises the quality of the starch content, creating an extremely clear alcohol
  • Franciacorta spring water, known for its low mineral content, is added to lower the alcohol content to the commercial degree of 40% (Franciacorta is in the Italian region of Brescia)

Angular, tall and slightly tapered, I found the Tonino Lamborghini vodka bottle before us to be very masculine in form, almost like a glass representation of a male torso. Add the Raging Bull insignia and it’s hardly a bottle you’d offer your usual dame, but as a gift for a man-about-town it makes perfect sense. Not that many people have this in their liquor cabinet, simply because you won’t find it at just any old offy. Primarily marketed to exclusive nightspots, (the likes of No. 41, Beauchamp Bar, Dstrkt and Funky Buddha in London), there are currently only a couple of places to purchase Tonino Lamborghini as a regular consumer – and they’re online.


Back to the tasting and a shot of the stuff straight-up preceded cocktails. Tonino Lamborghini has a pleasantly full palate for a vodka – but at close to £60.00 a bottle retail, it’d be odd if it didn’t taste superior. What I found special about Tonino Lamborghini was the smooth, crystal finish, as voddy aficionados would call it. It’s utterly refreshing, like letting your mouth take a dip in that pure, Franciacorta spring water after a sweaty hike around Mount Orfano.


One can’t possibly go clubbing in the day-time without a cocktail or two. Cue the resident mixologist, who shook us all up with Tonino-based cocktails.

The Passion Fruit Martini smacked of the Garden of Eden on a Pacific island, a glassful of the tropics, although the overriding taste of fruit made it hard to sense the quality of the product being promoted to us. A Dirty Martini allowed the vodka to take centre-stage. Beneath the spotlight it performed very well, indeed. Yes, it must be said that in spite of its recent appearance on the luxury drinks circuit, Tonino Lamborghini vodka has a self-assuredness to it that belies its youth.

After a couple of martinis and a shot, I now felt quite the Jane Bond, ready to take on the Piccadilly Line in rush hour and any villain it might throw at me. If that’s what clubbing in the daytime does to a girl, then I must try to do it more often.


For further information on Tonino Lamborghini vodka, please contact Jessica or Leah at JPR Media Group:

Twitter and Instagram: @JPRMediaGroup

Room Service for Sanity at the Hotel Santa Catalina


‘Twas the night before holiday

and in our mad house

the Crev was a-slumbering,

no sign of our mouse.

The packing was finished,

a taxi arranged,

all was quite organised,

but that would soon change.

The quiet was shattered

by panic above:

‘The Crev’s being sick!’

cried Papa, ‘the poor love.’

So that’s how our Easter break started

this year –

with projectile vomit

glued to our hair.

True enough, that’s exactly how our Easter holiday began: with our toddling daughter being sick through the night. After many pyjama changes, dunks in the bath and emergency loads of washing being done in the wee hours, we managed a few hours sleep. On waking, the Crev was promptly sick, yet again. We cancelled the cab. We spoke with NHS Direct (waste of time). We sat on the phone trying to enquire about cancelling or postponing our flight. After a good twenty minutes we still hadn’t reached a human operator and the Crev seemed to rally, so we gritted our teeth and set off for the airport.

It’s a four-hour flight to Gran Canaria from London. For much of the first two hours, our brave little girl was either sitting with uncharacteristic calm or retching up the few sips of water that she managed from time to time. Eventually, and much to our relief, she slept, taking us to our destination with little trouble. Once there, she seemed fine, interested in her new surroundings, if still a bit too quiet to be true. The following morning, when she started vomiting water again, we took her to an emergency clinic near our hotel in Las Palmas.

This is where the EHIC card gets all my praise. Because we travel so much in Europe, I registered the Crev for her very own EHIC card as soon as she was born. (It’s the card that provides reciprocal state health care for member states of the EU.) At the emergency clinic we were processed quickly and seen within about twenty minutes. Not bad. The doctor did a thorough check, taking at least another twenty minutes – much longer than your usual GP visit in the UK – pronouncing a stomach virus. He prescribed medicine before placing us under hotel arrest for the next six hours. ‘If she still can’t keep anything down after that, take her to the children’s ward at the hospital and we’ll care for her for 24 hours to prevent dehydration.’ Like the embarrassingly emotional mother that I can sometimes be, I cried, but not because the bill was eye-watering; there wasn’t one. The EHIC card covered everything.

Back at the hotel we spent a worrying afternoon monitoring liquid intake and counting doses of meds. Fortunately, the Hotel Santa Catalina was one of those historical establishments with big, old-fashioned rooms, so we had plenty of space for our period of incarceration. We parents, having developed quite an appetite through the stress of the morning, salvaged our sanity with ROOM SERVICE.

For a late lunch we splurged on a triple-deck club sandwich each, with fries. Not bad for €9.00 a head. Room service elsewhere can do a lot more damage than that for a simple club. At first glance I thought I’d never finish mine, but I underestimated my hunger. Every last bit disappeared. It was also very, very tasty.


That kept us going until well into the evening, when, after a siesta and more unappetising feeding attempts, subsequent purges and clean-ups we decided to dial for dinner. Wow. What a treat.

Corn-fed Iberian ham,


with Pan tomaca,


a generous Caesar salad for Monsieur, and an excellent mixed salad for me, deconstructed enough so I could mix it myself,


and for The French Carnivore, grilled veal tenderloin.


A half-bottle of decent vino rosado and some water completed our feast. Here’s what our mini-banquet looked like:


Meanwhile, the medication had started to work on our wee one, although it would be a good few days yet before she was back to her normal, active, babbling self. Through the decent hotel room service we were able to not just get nourishment, but do so knowing that we could jump up from the table as many times as were necessary to tend to her. For the record: we were up and down A LOT.

My thanks must go to the Hotel Santa Catalina staff, who, unasked, but noticing that the babe was unwell, fetched camomile tea and honey to soothe the Crev’s aggravated throat, and who were nothing but attentive and kind in helping us to cope with our ailing toddler.

Useful links:

EHIC – European Health Insurance Card

Hotel Santa Catalina, Las Palmas, Gran Canaria

DFDS Seaways Best Travel Food & Drink Blogger 2014


The DFDS Seaways folk have made my week. They’ve nominated me in the Best Food and Travel Blogger category of their awards for the best bloggers of 2014. Woo hoo! The voting page is a work of art, worth visiting for the colourful, wanderlust-inspiring images alone. There I am, in the little green circle above. I’m up against some serious competition and am currently coming last in the votes tally, yet I’m still absolutely chuffed to bits.

When I started this blog in 2008 it was to create a place where I could celebrate the wonders of the world, its people and food. At the time I was newly engaged, yet with quite a lot of stress in other areas of my life. Epicurienne became a tonic for the less enjoyable times, where I could write about all the things I love – mainly food and travel, but also funny experiences and life-changers like getting married, losing my father and becoming a mum.

One of the best things about blogging must be the people I’ve met along the way. Some are fellow bloggers and writers, others work in PR, marketing and social media; I’ve encountered both renowned chefs and humble street hawkers, explored different ways of eating, visited the lesser-known parts of well-known places and found commonality wherever the blog has taken me.

For these reasons, and more, being recognised for doing something I thoroughly enjoy is truly uplifting.

Here’s to you DFDS Seaways! Thank you for the nomination.

If you’d like to check out all the categories and/ or vote, please click here.

Chinese New Year at Hakkasan


Rose Petal Martini

The Year of the Sheep is already blooming for me. Not only have I devoured a ten-course New Year’s menu at Hakkasan Group’s HKK in the City, I have also been spoiled with another multi-course extravaganza at Hakkasan’s flagship restaurant in Hanway Place. Even better, we were there for Chinese New Year’s Eve. Oh, count me a million bouncing lambs, the evening was incredible.

My review of HKK went on almost as long as the Great Wall, so I’m going to make this one a bit easier to dribble over.


The Hanway Place Hakkasan boasts a bar that could almost be a liquid encyclopedia of the best alcohol on Planet Earth. There are distinct sections for whiskys, vodkas, fortified wines, spirits of international provenance, gins, rums and many more. Choosing what to drink from their extensive menu takes time. What did I dive into first? A Hakkasan signature cocktail called the Smoky Negroni. Sipping this was like sniffing a humidor of the very best cigars one can find, stirring the scent around with some twelve year-old Suntory whisky, a touch of plum sake, a dash of Campari and some Italian vermouth. Ooooch, I liked it. This was a good way to start the evening. It reminded me of my dear, late great uncle’s pipes. Delicious.

Next (yes, I was naughty enough to indulge in a second cocktail) was the Rose Petal Martini. Adorned with a single dark pink petal, this one was a step into a rose garden, heady with scent. The martini tasted as a rose might smell, yet with kicks of Hendrick’s gin, lychee liqueur, parfait amour and peach bitters attached. The rose syrup content was obvious, but the petal floating atop was a decorative reminder of the key flavour to be enjoyed here. An absolute winner cocktail.


As we settled into our table tucked away in a quiet corner, the sommelier appeared to guide us through the wine list. After much deliberation we ordered a bottle of Portuguese Vinho Verde from Cazas Novas (the Avesso grape variety). This proved an excellent match to the nine courses about to land before us, with a suitably festive, almost bubbly sensation to each refreshing mouthful.


To celebrate Chinese New Year’s Eve Hakkasan put on a signature menu, costing a lucky £88.88 per person. The nine course event started with three dishes:

First, a steamer basket appeared with Hakkasan’s famous soft-wrap dim sum. Hakkasan’s chefs excel in this department. I’ve eaten dim sum all over the globe, but none quite so perfectly executed as Hakkasan’s. The nearest rivals in my little black book of edibles would be thousands of kilometres away in Sydney’s Chinatown in Australia. The fillings tonight? Prawn, scallop, Chinese chive. Some whole, some in softer, paste form, all cheek-swelling orbs of goodness. I could easily visit Hakkasan for their dim sum dumplings alone.


Hakkasan dim sum

Next, the Spicy Lamb Lupin Wrap, borne of the Year of the Sheep. The wrap sliced into many small rounds, each mouthful warm to the tongue, the meat dissolving easily into a warming haze of Chinese spice.


Spicy Lamb Lupin Wrap

Just when we though the lamb was a star upon the night sky of Hakkasan starters, along came the Golden Fried Soft Shell Crab. I have to say that soft shell crab has long featured on my death row menu.  So delicate, yet softly crunchy, with that ozone of Neptune’s lair. I love love love it. Somehow I encouraged my husband to eat more lamb, whilst I tucked into the crab. How strategic can I be, when faced with a favourite foodstuff?  Like Sun Tzu on the battlefield, I’d say. My wiles worked; I got more juicy crustacean. Hot. Spicy. Crunchy. WONderful.


Golden Fried Soft Shell Crab


Our mains arrived as a cluster of five. The Spicy Prawn with Lily Bulb and Almond was very good, but the vegetarian dish of Lily Bulb with Garlic Shoot was so unexpectedly tasty that it surpassed the little pink curvy things for once. They’re like the bulbs of large spring onions, only more delicate, with less of an attack on the tongue. What’s more, they’re good for high blood pressure, insomnia and heart disease; something that more of us would eat on a regular basis if they weren’t so niche a veg. Note to self: visit Chinatown and source lily bulbs. If not available, offer to clean the woks at Hakkasan for a week to earn some.

The stir-fry black pepper rib eye beef was braised into the next century. It fell apart into soft, delectable morsels that somehow disappeared once in the mouth, amid a deep, merlot flavour. No unnecessary fat. No wibbly bits. Just mouthfuls of divine. Enough said.


Stir Fry Black Pepper Rib Eye Beef, Stir Fry Lily Bulb and Garlic Shoot

Then we tucked into the Grilled Chilean Sea Bass in Honey. Aaaah. It was like a slightly sweeter version of black miso cod. Flaking away from the fork with ease, it blended well with the last plate on our mains menu: Abalone and Dry Scallop Fried Rice.


Abalone and Dry Scallop Fried Rice with Spicy Prawn and Chilean Seabass

I grew up in New Zealand, where there is an abundance of big, fat abalone, which we call Paua. On the international market it sells for a fortune. Start thinking of offloading a small organ for cash and you get the picture. Around the world, abalone can differ. It might be big, dark and fat, as you get downunder, or a smaller, paler variety, as the Italians harvest. The Hakkasan fried rice with abalone was something I will always remember. The slightly chewy flesh and vaguely salty nature of the dice of abalone sprinkled throughout the rice brought me back to the Southern Hemisphere. In my opinion, this was the highlight of the entire menu. A Kiwi in London, familiar with many things Chinese, celebrating Chinese New Year, and EATING ABALONE. Woo hoo! Life is good.


If the above hadn’t been good enough to wow my discerning buds of taste, the next and final dish would. A plastic tree arrived at our table, with kumquats hanging from its branches. Or were they? At first glance they looked like kumquats (small, orange, round) but the fruit had been squirrelled away inside spheres of chocolate, then coated with orange to resemble the fruit. As the tree sat between us on the table, another tree had been painted on our plates and dressed with chocolate, caramelised macadamia nuts and rocks of cocoa. Creative, sweet, light and fun. Then, in case we weren’t getting quite enough kumquat, our waitress encouraged us to try the Kumquatcha, a Chinese New Year cocktail, containing Germana cachaça (a Brazilian white rum), Campari for colour, kumquats and lime. It tasted like very grown up fruit cordial with a touch of the tropical and plenty of sweet citrus taste.


Kumquat Wishing Tree

As we downed our Kumquatchas and stripped the standing tree of its small, orange fruit, we wrote wishes for the New Year on red and gold cards, hanging them alongside quite a collection of our fellow diners’ desires. This was a unique way to end a magical evening at Hakkasan and welcome in the Year of the Sheep. Long will it remain in my memory.


New Year’s Wishes

**I dined as a guest of Hakkasan Group. The views expressed here are my own.


8 Hanway Place, London, W1T 1HD




Gong Xi Fa Cai! Celebrating the Year of the Sheep at HKK, PART II

hkk hakkasan dishes

Jasmine tea smoked poussin

Moving on from the previous five courses in our ten course culinary tour of China at HKK, we would now try jasmine tea smoked poussin. The Anhui area, located inland from Shanghai, is known for its tea and wild herbs, both of which were incorporated into this recipe, along with more black truffle, creating a dish that was of the land in both content and taste. Even better than the supple bird meat was its liquid partner: the Dewazakura brewery’s Izumi Judan or Tenth Degree sake from Japan’s Yamagata region. This was a cold, dry sake, with such a smooth, refreshing effect on my mouth that it felt like silk slinking down my throat.

hkk hakkasan dishes

Braised King soy Wagyu beef with Merlot

Sorry to see the last of the sake disappear from my glass, we started the seventh course: braised soy Wagyu beef with Merlot. This was served as a single small cube drenched in a rich red wine reduction. The beef fell apart on first exploratory nibble, a sign of successful braising, and the sauce made me want to lick every last smidgen off my fork as a five year-old might with chocolate cake. We had just demolished our example of Zhe cuisine from the Zheziang province bordering the East China Sea to the south of Shanghai.

The wine paired with this and the final savoury course was a Château Simone red blend from Provence.  It was a little light for the beef, which was dense with flavour and required something full-bodied to counteract this, however, where the meat somewhat eclipsed it, the Château Simone did great work with the Szechuan char-grilled New Zealand scampi.

hkk hakkasan dishes

Szechuan char-grilled New Zealand scampi

Here was the dish I’d been looking forward to all evening: New Zealand seafood; a taste of home. Faithful to my imagination the scampi was luscious on a plate. Served with Ma La sauce, which is based on Szechuan pepper but also contains dry chilli, ginger and sesame paste, this is a taste that I will be attempting to replicate at home. Szechuan pepper is commonly used in the region of the same name in south-western China and can produce a numbing effect on the mouth when eaten, but in my case there was no tongue-tingling to speak of; just a thoroughly pleasant warmth as prepared to journey on to the land of Chinese things sweet.

hkk hakkasan dishes

Trio of dark chocolate dumplings with yuzu and ginger infusion

The penultimate dish on our culinary tour arrived in a covered bowl: three little white balls whose benign appearance bore no resemblance to what hid within. Before we could resume and consume our waiter poured a yuzu and ginger infusion over the Lilliputian dumplings. Then, ready for a sugar hit I bit into the first sphere, which oozed with chocolate lava. Wu Lei Wong Ka has been to China. This, the first of two desserts, incorporated two classic matches with the chocolate: citrus and ginger, contributing tastes at once tart and hot. It was Chef Tong’s first nod to the Chinese New Year, as the tradition of dim sum forms a key component of any celebratory meal. The second nod would come with the final stop on our trip, where that woolly wonder, the sheep, would finally take her bow.

hkk hakkasan dishes

Here was the sheep’s milk mousse, pandan curd and caramelized puff rice. This was an unusual mix of tart softness, with the welcome crunch of Rice Bubbles. Go, sheep! This blend of textures had a cleansing effect to the end of the tour, whilst giving the sheep its overdue reverence within the menu: saving the best for last. The pairing for the sugary end to our tour was a Moscato d’Asti – as pleasantly bubbly as the puff rice, with a subtle sweetness. What a pleasant end to a whirl about China and its regions.

My husband and I were now by no means stuffed to the gunnels; merely happily satisfied. The entire evening had given us a gustatory experience, whilst educating us in the various culinary regions of China. What a combo! We talked about our courses all the way home.

And so, to you all, HAPPY (CHINESE) NEW YEAR! GONG XI FA CAI! I wish you all the best for a happy and prosperous Year of the Sheep.

Huge thanks to Chef Tong Chee Hwee and all the staff of HKK, both during our meal, when they fielded my numerous queries with patient knowledge, and also after the fact, when I needed to double-check some kitchen ingredients and methods. People: you are the BEST at your game. Keep going.


88 Worship Street, Broadgate Quarter, London EC2A 2BE


I was a guest of Hakkasan Group and the views expressed in this post are my own.

See the first post here:  

Gong Xi Fa Cai! Celebrating the Year of the Sheep at HKK, PART I

Raise the red lantern, for it’s nearly time to welcome in the Chinese New Year. February 19 will see the dawn of the Year of the Sheep, an animal known in China for being calm and kind, qualities attributed to people born under this sign. At London restaurant HKK, part of the Hakkasan stable, Head Chef Tong Chee Hwee has masterminded a tasting menu to welcome in the New Year; ten courses that transport the diner across eight regions of the land of the Great Wall, creating a culinary tour of a variety of Chinese cuisines, no passport required.

Recently I received an e-mail that cracked open like a fortune cookie filled with promise: might I be interested in reviewing Chef Tong’s New Year menu? As the Chinese might say, yao, xie xie, YES, thank you, I very much would. And so, with my wine advisor (read: husband) on one arm, I set off to Broadgate in the City of London to eat my way through China without leaving the country.

For anyone familiar with Hakkasan’s Hanway Street flagship restaurant or Bruton Street sister, the décor at HKK couldn’t be further from the chic Shanghai Bund feel of its siblings. At first glance this interior is devoid of anything that might indicate an Asiatic influence. Diaphanous curtains shroud the main dining room in silver, the tables following the perimeter, with a large serving island at the nucleus of the space. Until the menus arrived we could have been dining under just about any flag, such is the simplicity of the interior.

hkk hakkasan dishes

The Yáng Walker

The menus for this jaunt about China came in a red wrapper, emblazoned with a golden sheep worthy of Jason and accompanied by a colourful hand-painted version to keep, the work of artist, Louise Morgan.

The first treat to manifest was a cocktail named the Yáng Walker, a delightful few fruity gulps of Johnny Walker combined with plum wine, grapefruit and lemon juices and a good splash of Dah Chu Chiew, a type of Chinese grain-based spirit, Baijiu, which has existed now for over five millennia. Thankfully, it arrived in a small measure because this was a cocktail that in quantity could be most dangerous indeed. Exotic, strong, tropical, delicious.

hkk hakkasan dishes

Marinated Duke of Berkshire pork with Osmanthus wine jelly

The appetiser appeared with a glass of Stepp Pinot Noir from Pfalz in Germany, our first pairing wine. Our taste buds would be whet by small cubes of diced pork set in a Chinese wine jelly, arranged with fragrant leaves, tiny mounds of grated ginger and slivers of radish. I confess I’m not a huge fan of aspics and savoury jellies, but I will say that the pork was well-flavoured and the garnish so fresh and hot and cool in small but equal parts that, for me, it was the garnish that became the star of this dish. The tour had begun; we’d just passed through the Jiangsu Province and experienced Su cuisine, where meat is often infused with wine, creating a sweet result.

hkk hakkasan dishes

Cherry wood roasted Peking duck

No Chinese banquet would be complete without the presence of Peking duck. Out came the chef in his whites, carrying a duck that looked like a well-oiled, long-term resident of Florida, such was the perfect bronzage. We were invited to watch the chef carve the bird at the serving island. There, we learned that the duck had been marinated in five spice and vinegar before a lazy hanging and roasting over cherry wood. Our plates were smeared with hoi sin sauce and a wedge of breast set upon it, followed by a triangle of crispy skin and a small pancake, prepared for us in the traditional manner with cucumber and spring onion, duck and a touch more hoisin. Back at the table, this duck was a smoky-sweet taste bomb of tender meat, which, although a case of gilding the lily, we were then encouraged to dip into a little bit of sugar and the plum sauce on the plate. Concerning the crispy skin – my goodness, it was so scoffable that HKK should sell little bags of this as a snack for gourmands on the go. Cellar-side, the German Pinot Noir married well with the duck, smacking of New World style whilst bursting with an Old World cherry flavour, the perfect twin for the cherry wood tang in the duck.

Ooh, là. Time for another mini-cocktail. This time called the Bitter Fortune. Bitter would relate to the Aperol within it, a spirit popular in the famous Spritz of Venice, which can often taste like cough medicine. On this occasion it was mixed with Tanqueray 10 gin and grape and grapefruit juices, with a sliver of star fruit floating on the surface. The Bitter Fortune made Aperol work for me. Like the Yáng Walker, it smacked of far-flung places and Somerset Maugham short stories, and yet, unlike its name, this tipple was far from bitter.

hkk hakkasan dishes

Dim sum trilogy

The Bitter Fortune was matched with two more dishes on our tour: the dim sum trilogy and a soup poetically named Monk Jumps Over the Wall.

The dim sum appeared in a trio of colour, accompanied by a small dish of soy sauce and a paintbrush with which to daub the morsels. The crab pouffe was my favourite – light and warm and softly salty. My resident wine guru preferred the prawn dim sum – blushed pink with goji berry; a tasty variation on the ever-popular har gau, but less insipid than most in appearance, courtesy of the goji. The green dim sum contained chicken and black truffle – an unexpectedly European taste in the midst of a Chinese meal, yet properly fungal, as anything containing that culinary black gold should be. The dim sum had whisked us off to its place of conception: the region of Guangdong, with its Yue cuisine, all hailing from the proximity of the South China Sea, where seafood is a staple for local folk. I think I could live there.

Where to next?

It was time for soup, this time from the south-eastern Fujian province, where Min cuisine reigns supreme.

hkk hakkasan dishes

Monk Jumps Over the Wall

As my partner in taste crime put it, the true delight of HKK’s food is its presentation. The chefs here aren’t simply cooks; they are artistes. Our stoneware bowls arrived with lids, on top of which sat traditional Chinese soup spoons laden with glass noodles and goji berries. We stirred the noodles and berries into the soup – a mild broth swimming with abalone, porcini and sea cucumber. The legend goes that a nomadic, vegetarian monk once jumped a wall to eat this soup, such was its enticing aroma, thereby taking an unexpected sabbatical from his vegetarianism.

hkk hakkasan dishes

Pan-grilled Chilean sea bass in Sha Cha sauce

Having somewhat Neptunian taste buds I was looking forward to the sea bass in Sha Cha sauce, a North Chinese condiment containing garlic, chilli, brill fish and dried shrimp. This was soft and subtle, like the wallflower at the dance. Good, certainly, but mild when sat alongside its more robust neighbours. However, the wine match for this dish, a Ramey Chardonnay from California’s Russian River region, exuded fruit and spice, with a Lazarus effect on this otherwise quiet plate of food. The sea bass came to life with this tipple tickling our tongues.  I could happily have taken a case of this Chardonnay home for culinary resurrection purposes, not to mention the guilty pleasures stash.

We’re now halfway through the tour, with five destinations under our tightening belts and five yet to reach. We will travel through yet more Chinese regions and their flavours in the second part of this post.


88 Worship Street, Broadgate Quarter, London EC2A 2BE


The 2015 Culinary Journey through China menu is £98.00. The Wine pairing menu is an additional £58.00.

Images courtesy of Hakkasan Group.

I was a guest of HKK for the purposes of reviewing their Chinese New Year culinary tour menu. The views expressed here are my own.



Nice Pecks!


Our kitchen calendar is usually filled with scenes of far-off places, inspiring our future travels or triggering memories of those we’ve visited in the past. This year, it’s a bit different. The Happy Egg Co crew kindly sent me a Nice Pecks cockerel calendar, so we have cocks in the kitchen for once.

This is the third in the cockerel calendar series, created (as they say) to offer visual stimuli to their egg-laying girls, who live out their lives without the company of cockerels because the eggs they lay, destined for shop and supermarket shelves all over the country, are unfertilised.  The idea is that a bit of eye candy can’t possibly do their chooks any harm and may even stimulate a bit of extra output.

The 2015 calendar is a bit of a hoot, with its theme being touted as the EGG-streme edition. Each of the twelve featured cockerels is pictured practising one egg-streme sport or another. Pictured above we see Mister January, aka Eddie ‘the Rooster’ Edwards, a Light Brahma variety. Being a Kiwi I’m rather fond of Sir Egg-mund Hillary, pictured (natch) atop Everest as the appropriate pin-up for February – the month of New Zealand’s national holiday, Waitangi Day. There’s an Ayam Cemani breed known as David Peck-ham, pictured in his footie boots, and flick through to June to find none other than Sir Bradley Chick-ins proudly perching on the handlebars of a rather slick racing bike.

There’s a lot of humour in this calendar and along with handy egg-based recipes at the bottom of each month it’s already a hit in our household. Quite egg-cellent, to be sure.

If you’re a chicken-lover and would like to see some egg-stremely fine cockerels strutting their stuff on your kitchen wall, visit the Happy Egg Co Facebook page here or tweet the team @thehappyeggco

For further information on the Happy Egg Co, visit their site

Coppinger Row, Dublin

Guinness. Potatoes. Oysters. If asked to name three things that come immediately to mind on thinking of Irish food, those would be the ones popping up in my head. It’s embarrassingly simplistic, when I consider the broader picture – of the various other healthy and delicious edibles produced by The Emerald Isle. Take Dublin’s Coppinger Row, for instance. Self-styled as a Mediterranean restaurant, it serves local produce wherever possible. Last November I was lucky enough to visit this stalwart of the Irish food scene with Emma Kenneally, Editor of Lovin’ Dublin, and fellow bloggers and writers from the UK.

Located on a short cut-through between busy shopping streets in Dublin 2, Coppinger Row was pretty well-occupied for a Monday lunchtime, yet Emma assured us it would be positively heaving come weekend brunch. I was ravenous by the time we were seated, in spite of a spot of kedgeree before my flight from Heathrow, so I was more than ready to be fed. The selection of starters offered to our group by the chefs had definite Mediterranean influences, but the core ingredients were very much local fare.


Barbequed Carlingford oysters with Merguez sausage and spring onion were first to appear. Served warm in their shells, on a bed of Neptune’s necklace, each one exuded a magical mix of ozone and spice. The next platter was my absolute delight of the entire day’s eating: Jack McCarthy’s black pudding, from Kanturk, County Cork, garnished with baby leeks and gooey gorgonzola. Suddenly, I was back in my grandmother’s kitchen, the fire sparking away, Toby jugs on the mantle, with plates of a proper, Kiwi fry-up before us on the dining table. My grandmother often served black pudding with her cooked breakfasts. It was store-bought but very tasty, not too fatty and decidedly too delicious to reject once I’d learned that the key ingredient of these dense, black sausages was BLOOD. As an adult, I’ve never found a black pudding as beguiling or balanced as those wolfed down during childhood winter holidays. Never, that is, until now. Mister McCarthy’s black pudding is smooth, almost completely devoid of lumps and fatty bumps, which I don’t exactly relish. Take a tin of black boot polish and you might start to visualise the look of the pudding, but there’s no way on this planet that you’d comprehend the taste and texture unless you’ve visited either Mr Jack McCarthy or Coppinger Row. Here, the black pudding was served on rounds of bread, resembling a tranche of solidified tapenade. The gorgonzola was melted atop these dark mouthfuls, with a green sprinkle of baby leeks lending a touch of spring to the presentation. I could write an entire post about this black pudding, but I won’t. Not today, anyway. The point is that if you like black pudding, this is one worthy of lengthy analysis and description and perhaps a quick trip to Dublin Town.


Next on the menu were Liscannor Bay crab claws, bearing all the characteristics of those you might find at a Floridian clam bake: big, fat, succulent, with almost tropical colouring. They sat upon a cushion of bread slices, drenched in garlic butter. Dare I say that the sopping, warm bread was just about as good as the claws? In this eating game I find myself avoiding bread much of the time, to save both capacity and calories, but this is not the place to exercise such wisdom. Eat. The. Bread. You won’t regret it.


Another platter from the sea was now before us: Kilmore Quay Mackerel with Moroccan spices, fennel, olive and orange. I’m a huge fan of this versatile, inexpensive fish. Then again, I don’t know many pescavores who don’t rate it well. Once more, the touch of exotic heat and fruits of the sun took my taste buds on a quick flit about the Med. Supple and silky was this Irish fish.


We were now able to diverge from the tasting menu that had been created for us, in order to try something of our choice from the menu. One of our group ordered the pulled pork, another the open meatball sandwich, which is apparently legendary here. Grilled steak on flatbread, dressed crab and crayfish with basil and lemon, spinach and ricotta gnocchi with gorgonzola cream… all received pretty solid praise from around the table. We were off to eat again in a few, short hours, so in an attempt to reduce my intake I went for the vegetarian mezze plate and antipasto board. It was essentially a salad served on a breadboard with ramekins of houmous and tzatziki on the side. I do admit to being more accustomed to the antipasto components being distinct, instead of tossed together. That’s not to say that the mezze plate wasn’t good. Every chunk of artichoke, bite of mozzarella and salad leaf was, at the risk of being cliché, farm-fresh and flavourful and once more, the Med was right there, hovering bright in the background of this grey Dublin day.


Before leaving, we were treated to just one more taste of Ireland, this time its cheese. Cavanbert (rhymes with Camembert) hails from County Cavan. Cavanbert is one of Irish cheesemaker, Silke Cropp’s creations, with a raw cow’s milk base and more of a bite than its French cousin, Camembert. Irish mixed seed crackers from Sheridan’s cheesemongers were the accompaniment, and fine crackers they were, too, providing a crunchy alternative to the  slices of rye bread.

In summary: Coppinger Row is a bit of a Dublin institution, especially for weekend brunch. Make sure you book ahead. If you like black pudding, you must try theirs; it has a creamy texture to rival any other I’ve eaten to date. The restaurant’s interior is tiled deep green and with the neo-industrial lamps, shelves of well-thumbed cookbooks and a subtly-lit décor, Coppinger feels just the right amount of modern with an Irish retro twist. There’s a sheltered terrace in the front and the staff are warm and enthusiastic about their local suppliers. Ask them any question about the menu, sit back and listen up as they wax lyrical about all foods Irish.

Coppinger Row – Off South William Street, Dublin 2,







Comfort with the Caldicotts



It’s the Northern Hemisphere winter and we’re fast approaching the year’s shortest day. It’s more often gloomy than bright, the sun sets early and leaves fill the gutters. Setting foot outside a warm home or office becomes a chore, coats and scarves weigh heavy on tired bodies, so when we finally do have some respite at home, simple, soothing food is definitely on the menu.

Carolyn Caldicott and photographer husband, Chris, have produced a timely antidote to chills and sniffles, in the form of a little book of winter-warming recipes called Comfort. Starting with Breakfasts to Get Up For, Carolyn teaches us how to perfect the classics like a boiled egg and soldiers, porridge and eggy bread and sensibly suggests a trio of eggs, potato rösti with a stiff Bloody Mary to blitz that Silly Season hangover. Hearty Meals for Friends and Family includes favourites such as pie and mash, shepherd’s pie and spicy warmer-uppers like spaghetti puttanesca or chicken and mango coconut curry. Every page of this cookbook oozes relief from inclement climes. Chris Caldicott’s photography takes us into farmhouses where fires crackle as they fuel ancient black stoves, enamelware trumps fancy serving dishes, and there, in the midst of all the recipes, a rainbow arcs across a steel-grey sky – a double-paged message of beauty and potential that exists in spite of all the rain and sleet and snow; a reminder that things won’t stay grey forever.

Carolyn offers up edible tonics for seasonal maladies, along with easy snacks, hot toddies and classic English puddings – each and every page designed to coddle the reader into rosy-cheeked contentedness.

I’ve always been seduced by any sort of baked cheese, so as my recipe test I chose Whole Camembert Baked with Garlic and Rosemary. So quick, so wicked, so ideal for sharing with some chunks of oven-warmed sourdough bread and a bowlful of crudités. Here’s the recipe for all you fromage fans out there:

Serves 2

1 whole room temperature Camembert (250g/ 9oz size in a wooden box)

1 plump clove of garlic, sliced,

1 sprig of rosemary

To serve

Warm baguette or ciabatta

Mixed crudités – carrot, celery, raw mushrooms, fennel, apple…


Green salad

Slices of your favourite saucisson and ham

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas mark 5

Tip the Camembert out of its wooden box, remove the wrapping and carefully squeeze the cheese back into the box. Using a small knife make a few slits in the top of the cheese and insert the garlic slices and rosemary leaves.

Place the Camembert on a baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes or so, until the garlic is golden, the cheese has a slightly swollen appearance and feels soft and molten to the touch.


When I reached into the fridge today I saw immediately that a hungry mouse had nibbled at my perfectly-ripe Camembert de Normandie au lait cru from the dairy at St-Hilaire de Briouze (in London you can buy this at the Hamish Johnston fromagerie on Northcote Road, SW11), but there was still plenty left for me to play with. In the store cupboard I had a couple of bulbs of black garlic from The Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight, so I substituted that for regular garlic. Black garlic has the consistency of treacle once the clove is exposed, so if you use this, poke holes into the Camembert with the end of a chopstick or similar, and use it again to push the gooey garlic into the cheese.

I absolutely hate cleaning the oven, so I try to protect its innards as much as possible and therefore set the wooden Camembert box on a small enamel dish before placing it in the oven. Thank goodness I did – the cheese was flowing out of the box like lava after 15 minutes in the heat.

This recipe couldn’t be easier to follow. I served the molten cheese with sourdough bread, heirloom radishes and batons of cucumber, whilst watching Kind Hearts and Coronets – a film to warm the cockles, as we say in London Town.


One final suggestion in the lead-up to Christmas: if you know someone who’d benefit from a bit of TLC, why not package this up with a copy of a heart-warming DVD or book and a pair of super-long socks with padded soles?


To order Comfort at the discounted price of £7.99 including p&p if within the UK (or +£2.50 for orders from outside of the UK) please call +44 1903 828 503 or email and quote the offer code APG258.

Comfort – Recipes to warm the heart and feed the soul, by Carolyn Caldicott, photographs by Chris Caldicott

Published by Frances Lincoln

RRP £9.99

I received a copy of this book for review and all the opinions expressed in this post are my own.




Lovin’ Dublin Live 2014


Niall Harbison struts his stuff

Niall Harbison is an Irish entrepreneur with the sort of history that someone will probably find to be good film fodder. In spite of being self-admittedly difficult to teach he worked as a chef for a Michelin-starred restaurant before touring the world as private chef to the super-rich, the likes of whom chopper in to Cannes to spend a few days chilling out on their ginormous gin palaces. Harbison went on to develop a media consultancy, Simply Zesty, which he later sold for several million Euros before setting up a simple blog called Lovin’ Dublin to promote all that’s good about the Dublin food scene. It’s now massive, boasts permanent staff and is able to sponsor awards for some of the best eateries in town. They’ve even set up an annual award for a food start-up. As if Harbo, as he’s known online, isn’t busy enough with all of the above, he’s also found the time to pen a bestseller about his success called Get Sh*t Done, not to mention creating an online image store for journalists, called Picstash. If you Google him, you’ll start to realise that what I’ve described of his life and achievements here is merely the abridged version.

Last week Harbison took Lovin’ Dublin to the people, 1200 of them or thereabouts, at the swish new Bord Gáis Energy Theatre by Dublin’s Grand Canal – a regenerated area of the city now populated by tech companies like You Tube and Google.

And so, at Lovin’ Dublin’s kind invitation, I found myself jetting across the Irish Sea to join a group of bloggers and writers from the UK at the event. Not only would we enjoy an evening of inspirational speaking at the Bord Gáis, but we’d also be introduced to some of the site’s favourite food spots.

I’ll post about the travel and food aspects of our trip later, but first to the event.

When we arrived at the theatre, the lobby was heaving with ticket-holders buying drinks and queuing up for tasty tidbits offered by the Lovin’ Dublin sponsors, alongside competitors hoping to walk away with one of the eatery awards. Heinz Ireland was a sponsor – and made sure we knew they were there by installing a huge tomato sauce bottle smack-bang next to the entrance. Apparently it took quite a lot of man-power to squeeze it through the door, which is ironic ‘cos it was a model of one of those upside-down squeezy bottles, just a heck of a lot bigger. Ah, the unexpected things that make me smile.

Upstairs a few of us made our way into the VIP bar area – blessedly under-populated, compared with the thronging ground floor we’d just left behind. There we sipped on ice-cold Jameson’s cocktails, made with ginger ale, before taking our seats in the Circle.

An Irish comedian called Al Porter compered much of the evening in his signature camp style, with a good amount of blue humour thrown in to hold our attention. Once he’d warmed us up we got underway with the inspirational speakers. They were:

  • Paddy Cosgrave, mastermind behind the Dublin Web Summit and now Web Summit – Europe’s largest technology conference;
  • Mark Little, Founder and CEO of Storyful, telling the tale of his move from broadcaster and news anchor to founder of the Storyful site, a social media news agency, where news can be contributed by anyone;
  • Caroline Keeling, CEO of Keeling’s Fruit, who recounted her family’s success story and how they’re now selling tech they developed for their fruit business to Chinese firms;
  • Jamie Heaslip, Irish rugby player, Entrepreneur and Angel Investor, giving a delightful account on where he goes in Dublin on his days off the field;
  • Niall Breslin, known affectionately as ‘Bressie’, Musician and Campaigner, who spoke movingly about his battle with depression – an incredibly brave individual;
  • Marco Pierre White, the chef and restaurateur, who gave a disarmingly frank synopsis of his life in food, starting with a knock at a Harrogate restaurant’s back door at the age of fifteen, asking to see the chef about a job. He hasn’t looked back and claims that out of all the cities he’s visited world-over, Dublin has shown him the most kindness;
  • Niall Harbison, naturally, both explaining the story of Lovin’ Dublin and helping to interview the guests;
  • but above all, I take my hat off to Mark Pollock, the blind paraplegic who is working on a cure for paralysis. This man is the embodiment of courage. Once upon a time Pollock had both sight and the use of his legs, but a double dose of misfortune has taken both from him. Does he complain? No. He’s determined that we will soon see a cure for paralysis, developed by medics and chemists and tech experts and creatives working together. As he puts it, recently he was able to walk every day for a month, with the aid of a technological brace and certain drugs. But because this so-called experiment hasn’t been observed by the right people, the breakthrough is not yet acknowledged. With Pollock’s brand of will-power and a team coming together at Trinity College to work with him on this project, I am absolutely certain he will succeed. His story has recently been released in documentary form in Ireland, aptly entitled Unbreakable. The film is next off to tour festivals like Sundance and hopefully it’ll be on general release before too long.


Marco Pierre White sharing with Harbo


MPW Mark Pollock now and back when he was a medal-winning rower

At the end of the evening, the winners of the various Dublin eatery categories were announced and the best start-up prize, totalling €25,000.00, was awarded to Nobo, a non-dairy ice cream with avocado base. (The Mystic Meg in me sees Hollywood celebs in Nobo’s future.)

So there ended the inaugural Lovin’ Dublin Live event. It’s set to be an annual fixture. I just wonder who’ll pop up on the 2015 programme?

As for our group, the day in Dublin was not yet over. We were piled into a green double-decker party bus and driven to the after-party at trendy Sam’s Bar, for yet more Jameson’s and ginger ale.

I was invited to Dublin by Lovin’ Dublin, with help from

and the Lovin’ Dublin Live  sponsors:, Heinz Ireland and SuperValu supermarkets.


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