Friday Photo: Antipasti Platter at Il Vesuvio, Tunbridge Wells

DSCF0484Look at this platter. What a pile of Italian delights. At Il Vesuvio in Tunbridge Wells they claim to be ‘a corner of Southern Italy in the Garden of England’. I’d have to agree. The atmosphere is as warm as you’d hope for a place named after a smoking Neapolitan volcano. Nothing is too much trouble for the staff. They’re bambina-friendly. The food is authentic and they even serve Lacryma Christi, the renowned Vesuvian wine. A couple of solid Sardinian numbers have also made it onto their list.

If you find yourself in Tunbridge Wells with an empty tum, do try Il Vesuvio. They’re at 112 Camden Road, TN1 2QX, telephone 01892 534 420.

Baking with Whitworths and Holly Bell

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A tin filled with Fruity Tiffin and Tropical Breakfast Bars

Whitworths is a British baking institution, their products having lined the pantries of many a baker or home cook since the company’s creation in 1886. The name belongs to the three Whitworth brothers, who were flour millers. In 1953, some decades after founding their mill and starting to supply flour to local bakeries, the company moved with the times and started to use the milling equipment to spin, wash and dry dried fruit – literally a revolutionary concept for the time. Think about how popular fruit cake was back then and how many dried fruit ingredients used to go into each. Whitworths were bound for new success as suppliers of specialty sugars and fruits.

Skip forward to the seventies, when Whitworths won Royal Warrants from both Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and her daughter, the Queen herself. Whitworths had now invaded the palaces of our green and pleasant  land.

Mergers and management buy-outs followed and the warrants seem to have disappeared, but nothing has shaken this firm. In 2012 it was voted the UK’s number one brand for dried fruits and is still leading the way with the extensive range of Whitworths healthy snacks, baking and cooking products.

Cue July 2015 when I was fortunate enough to join a group of food bloggers and the Whitworths crew to do a bit of baking with their products. Our tutor? Holly Bell, finalist in 2011’s Great British Bake Off and blogger at Recipes from a Normal Mum. She’s gone from strength to strength since her time spent baking under the BBC’s bright lights and now makes regular appearances on This Morning and QVC – the shopping channel.

First up – the kitchen. We were at a teaching kitchen in Wandsworth with a gigantic island and industrial-sized appliances. I lusted after the wall (yes, wall) of chrome-fronted fridges. There’s never enough room in our fridge at home and, although I love my kitchen, I have Big Fridge Envy.

We donned our bright red Whitworths aprons and took to our stations to try out a couple of Holly’s recipes. We started with Tropical Breakfast Bars, a healthy, on-the-go snack, but the one I found to be dangerously moreish was Fruity Tiffin. Here’s Holly’s take on it, with the occasional note from me:

Ingredients:

  • 50g toasted mixed nuts
  • 50g chopped apricots
  • 50g berries and cherries
  • 80g juicy raisins (go for the plumpest you can find)
  • 225g ginger nut biscuits, finely crushed
  • 150g salted butter
  • 30g caster sugar
  • 50ml golden syrup (wipe the spoon with oil first so the syrup just falls off)
  • 25g cocoa
  • 100g milk chocolate
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil

Note: we used Whitworths products for the first four ingredients, but they may not be available where you are, so do use your local equivalent.

Double note: you can substitute different fruits and I really like digestive biscuits in my own tiffin, so if you’re not a ginger NUT, like me, use a different biscuit.

  1. Grease and line a 20cm square tin
  2. Place the butter, sugar, syrup and cocoa into a large pan then melt over a low heat, stirring occasionally
  3. Once melted and mixed together, remove from the heat then add the biscuits and dried fruits
  4. Stir well then press into the tin, place a piece of parchment paper over the top then press and level out using your hand
  5. Melt the chocolate together either in your microwave or a bain-marie method. Stir in the oil then pour over the top of the mix
  6. Leave to set at room temperature, then cut into pieces using a sharp knife.

I made a bit of a mess of my icing, so hid the evidence beneath a sprinkling of chopped nuts. It looked SO much better afterwards, thank Heavens. A dusting of desiccated coconut would work well, too. Even better ‘cos I love coconut.

Then we popped our tiffin tins into those gorgeous, big fridges to help the setting process, as it was a muggy day. I kept mine in the fridge at home – and cool tiffin is even better than room-temperature tiffin, especially in this warm weather.

Last note from me: to make it a really GROWN UP tiffin, add a dash of sweet sherry. It works so well with the chocolate and raisins. If the mix gets too sticky as a result, just add a few more crushed bikkies before pressing it all into the tin.

**I’ll be trying out more of Holly’s baking recipes with Whitworths products as part of the #whitworthsbakingchallenge, coming soon. I’ll post my favourite recipes here, as soon as I’ve tried them out.

Useful links:

The Whitworths baking goods website

Holly Bell’s blog, Recipes from a Normal Mum

Our lovely teaching kitchen, the Milan, was one of two at Venturis Table, just around the corner from the villagey Tonsleys area of Wandsworth.

Friday Photo: Supermercado, Madrid

DSCF5401One of my favourite activities when travelling is checking out local supermarkets. When the Crev and I arrived in Madrid last autumn, it was one of the first things we did. No matter that we actually NEEDED to go to the supermarket. For a start, I’d left my hair brush at home. Again. Not to mention the need for toddler snacks or cold coffees to get me going in the morning. As I pushed the Crev about the aisles, staring in wonder at familiar and unfamiliar products, it was in an air-conditioned stupour. The different foods intrigue and inspire me. I almost look forward to returning home to my own kitchen to undertake some culinary experimentation. Almost. Just not quite yet, por favor.

I took this photo without a problem, and managed to take about a dozen more before the paëlla man in the food-to-go area shouted at me and shook his fist. Did he think I was an industrial spy? With a toddler and buggy as my disguise? Had my spoken Spanish been better, I might have smiled at him whilst explaining that I was merely showing admiration for his displays. Instead, I spluttered and shook a little as I hurriedly shoved my camera out of sight, racing for a suitable aisle within which to hide. Ridiculous. What I should really have done is take a more Latin attitude and shaken my fist right back.

How to Do a Housewarming Barbecue

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Your arms feel a few inches longer and there are still some random boxes to unpack but you’ve done it: you’ve moved, the keys to your new home jangling in your pocket. All that hard work and nail-biting surely deserves a celebration. It’s summer, so why not host a housewarming BBQ?

Friends of mine recently moved, using a company that just loves food and talked housewarming all the way. They asked my advice, and this is what I told them. Voilà! My tips for how to create a great housewarming barbecue-fest.

If you already know the area, chances are you know where to go for good barbecue fodder. If not, this is a great opportunity to find out. Get on the internet and search for good butchers in your postcode. Perhaps invite your new neighbours so you can get to know each other. At the same time, you could ask about where they shop locally, and perhaps find your barbecue meat through their recommendation.

One piece of advice: you don’t want to do loads of dishes at the end of the night, so purchase plastic. It doesn’t need to be all white and boring; there are some very smart disposable designs out there. Foil platters are a good idea for laying out the sausages, burgers, kebabs and/or steaks before you stoke up the flames. Buy a couple of extras for the meat, once it’s cooked. Remember, a housewarming should be fun! Forget the breakables and lose the washing up.

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Kebabs of chicken chunks with chorizo

Next up: the meal plan. Make a list of your guests and how much you think they’ll eat. Is Jack a six-sausage man with a burger chaser? Jill is vegetarian, so you’ll need a few non-meat options for her. Will everyone bring their kids? Yes? Then make sure you get extra chipolatas. They’re always popular with small people. (Counting sausages is why they make us take maths at school.) Or will this be a grown-ups-only evening, in which case it might be time to dig out that cocktail shaker and delegate a couple of guests to help make the drinks.

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My vege skewers with halloumi

The most important thing on your shopping list should be fuel. Don’t get to the day of the housewarming, only to find out that the gas canister is empty and the local supply has run out. Yes, I speak from experience. It wasn’t our housewarming, but we did have a houseful of guests at the time. Embarrassing, to say the least. Once the final flames had spluttered out we had to finish everything in the oven. Please do learn from our mistake.

Next, shop for meats. On top of the usual sausages and steaks, many butchers also sell pre-prepared skewers in marinade, so buying a stash of those will save some time on the day. If you buy ahead of time and freeze your meats, do allow for enough time to defrost them safely. Put them in the fridge the night before and on the day leave them to sit a good few hours (depending on the density of the meat. For meat skewers or small sausages, this will take far less time than a thick steak), covered, in the shade, at room temperature before everyone starts to arrive.

Bread is another one for the list. If you’re doing burgers, don’t forget the buns. If it’s bratwurst and you’re making hot dogs, don’t forget the rolls. Or the sauces! It’s too easy to forget the obvious things. Kitchen towel and paper napkins are also good to have on hand, preferably in abundance. No stain removal or washing required.

For the meat averse, and to keep the carnivores’ diets balanced, you might want to add the following:

A giant green salad. Keep some extra in the fridge for when it runs low. Leave the dressing on the side. Some love it; others will calorie count it.

Potato salad – everyone has a favourite recipe for this. Mine has lots of crème fraîche and whole grain mustard tossed through the spuds.

A cold pasta dish always goes down well. Lemon juice and zest with cream, parmesan and parsley work well to make a lovely, summery combination.

Vege kebabs with halloumi – alternate chunks of capsicum with quarters of large-ish mushrooms, wedges of onion and squares of cheese. Everyone I know enjoys this, even the most red-blooded of the meat-eating gang. If you try this one, don’t forget to stock up on skewers. Wood works well, but the metal ones are better over heat and can be used repeatedly.

Time for something sweet? Let’s keep the end of the evening simple, as well.  Fill a large bowl with berries – strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, whatever you can get your hands on. A generous splash of rum and a couple of teaspoons of sugar give this an edge; just don’t leave it anywhere near the under-eighteens. Make sure they have their own berry bowl, without the rum. Serve with vanilla ice cream. It’s not the most original end to an evening, but you can’t beat a summer classic, unless one of your guests is allergic to strawberries. Give them extra ice cream to ease that pain.

Drinks-wise, beer, wine and soft drinks are usually the thing. Perhaps a couple of jugs of Pimm’s to get the party started? Or my Courvoisier punch. See below for the recipe.

250ml Courvoisier cognac

750ml lemonade

20 dashes of Angostura bitters

slices of fruit (oranges or lemons work best)

combine all in punch bowl.

And repeat!

Your fridge and freezer may well be overflowing by this point so buy in bags of ice at the last minute, and do the old trick of filling a bin with ice and transferring bottles into it to free up space in the fridge to chill more. It’s far easier to buy the bags than it is to make a freezer’s-worth of ice cube trays when the space could be better used, for instance, for fast chilling of luke-warm white wine or fizz.

If you do decide to use the freezer to chill drinks, just make sure you set a timer to make sure you don’t overdo it and find yourself with exploding bottles and a mess to clean up.

So, that’s it! If you’d like me to post any of the above-mentioned recipes or recommendations for butchers in London SW4 and SW11, just leave a comment and I’ll get the info on the site asap.

Now, go forth, make the invites and get ready to toast your new home. Bon appétit!

Please do click here to visit a great blog about moving, in all its hardships and joys. It’s not all about removal services, although they do impart a lot of very sound advice, just in case you’re about to find yourself elbow-deep in packing crates.

Tales of A Travelling Mum

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‘I’ll take the water; they’ll have the wine.’

My husband and I travel a lot. This is one fact of our lives together that, unlike so many others, hasn’t changed since the arrival of our daughter two years ago. Much of the time it’s rewarding – the Crevette has an innate interest in new places, people and foods, just like her parents. Sometimes, however, I admit I find myself scratching my head and wondering if we’re mad to travel with our tot.

We took her to France for the first time when she was not quite two months old. I thought I was prepared, had been ticking items off the baby packing list for days. We’d rented a car and would drive to Dover, then take the ferry to Calais and continue from there. The model of car we’d booked was swapped at the last minute for a so-called equivalent, meaning the boot wasn’t nearly as large as I’d hoped. The buggy, with its various parts, wouldn’t fit in it’s entirety, so I had to choose one of the bulky components to leave behind.

As we motored closer to the coast I had one of those horrid sinking feelings. I’d left the main frame for the buggy cot at home, attached to the upright seat that the baby was still too small for. Oh, sleepless nights and stinking nappies! This was not good. My stomach somersaulted again when I realised that the canopy was also attached to the seat. Many miles behind us. In the kitchen. Where we would not be for another two weeks. So what we were left with was the buggy wheels, a cot component with nothing to attach it to the base and no shade for the babe at the height of French summer.

At least the car seat was built to fit our buggy, so that, with a parasol, would have to do.

Early on in the trip I found that fellow parents who’d advised me to take plenty of kitchen roll and plastic bags in the car, for those unforeseen baby emergencies, had indeed shared great wisdom. Following a day in Honfleur, where we’d enjoyed a first-ever restaurant lunch with our child, we decided to drive north up the Norman coast. It was on the Pont de Normandie that those plastic bags came in handy – for me, not the kid in the rear-facing car seat. The delicious skate I’d wolfed at lunch decided to make a reappearance. ‘Pull over! Pull over!’ I yelped between gulps of bile. Well, if you pull over on the Pont de Normandie, you’re going for a dip. I’d have to wait. And gulp some more.

We soon made it to a service station, but not before I’d filled a plastic bag with regurgitated ray. I remained green-gilled for the rest of the day. It wasn’t pretty. Yet, as any parent of small children knows, there is no such thing as time off when you’re ill. Puke, mop brow, soldier on, repeat. And so it goes.

On our first flight with the Crev, when she was a bonny year old, I made the mistake of wearing beige trousers. She remained dry throughout the two-hour trip, until we’d begun our descent with the fasten seat belt sign glowing bright above us. With daughter firmly fixed to my seat belt via her own infant version, I started to feel a little damp in the nether regions. The Crev turned and grinned at me. Clever girl. Yes, the nappy was full and overflowing, blessedly with nothing more than pee, but the quantity was sufficient to cause discomfort. Stuffing muslins and tissues into my groin area didn’t help much. In my desperate mind I begged the pilot to hurry up and land, fast. Then, on the ground it looked as if it were my accident, not my child’s, so extensive was the wet patch. That’s right, fellow passengers, I forgot to wear my Tena. You can stop staring now.  My advice? Wear dark-coloured trousers when travelling with small nappy-wearers. They won’t stop the accidents from happening, but at least any damp patches won’t be quite so obvious.

I can tell you various reasons why new mums should automatically grow an extra pair of arms after birth, how carry-on contents change (out goes the novel. You’ll never read it. In go the extra wipes, snacks and toys), how to amuse a small child with tourism leaflets and business cards, and why you should never buy children’s paracetamol (acetaminophen) in Austria, especially if they’re used to the fruitiness present in so many other junior medicines. The Crev’s EHIC has become the most precious card in my wallet, the States boasts the best changing cubicles I’ve come across for space, ah, the SPACE! although I’d seriously think twice before crossing the Atlantic again on a ten-hour, overbooked flight without a second adult to help with a walking toddler. What was I thinking? Never again.

Yes, travelling with a toddler changes the game, but it also gives you a new way of looking at the world – through small eyes, seeing it all for the first time. The wonder and curiosity flashing across that little face is worth all the hard work. We’ve been helped by strangers who should be canonised for kindness, seen elephants in real, full-sized, trunk-waving life (far better than the Playmobil ones at home), and every experience only makes the travel bug dig deeper into my gut. My favourite moment so far? Three, yes three, security violations in one museum, all made by my sweet-faced girl. Well done, sweetheart. You do me proud. Let’s make it four next time.

Friday Photo – A Boat from Bari

DSCF0021I love just about everywhere in Italy, but the southern parts are where it gets real and raucous and honest and in-your-face. If I could choose anywhere in the world to live at this point in time, current economics aside, it would probably be Puglia.

The Friday photo this week was taken in a courtyard in the midst of Bari’s old quarter. It’s a rambling tangle of cobbled lanes, lined with ancient buildings, the thoroughfares so narrow that even the thinnest Ape might find driving here a bit of a squeeze. Flowers, fresh and plastic both, are set before saints occupying niches in the crumbling walls. Old men hold court on plastic chairs in the shade of Bari’s archways, chatting about football and family and who in the ‘hood cheats at dominos. Meanwhile, aproned signoras press out fresh orecchiette with the ease of decades spent fine-tuning their technique.

This boat represents Bari in more ways than one: it speaks of the fishermen whose livelihoods were borne out of Bari’s coastal location, and is named for San Nicolà, or St Nicholas, whom we remember at Christmas, and whose relics are interred here, in this very city. In fact, they lie in a basilica bearing his name, just around the corner.

A Jazzy Cab-Shiraz by Lisa McGuigan

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On Lisa McGuigan’s wine website she calls wine ‘the perfect fashion accessory’. The bottle of Cab Shiraz from her Wilde Thing range, sat before me on the kitchen table, bears this out. It’s modish. The label is black, with what can only be called a graffiti splash for the name, the vintner’s own name incorporating crosses and backward letters. Sedate, this look is not. Then again, nor is that of its maker, with her spiky ebony hair, vermilion lips and voguish biker leathers, so what did we expect?

Lisa McGuigan is a fourth generation winemaker from South Australia, but she didn’t always want to follow in her family’s footsteps. Instead, she went into hotel management, getting a close look at the other side of the wine business. Eventually, McGuigan returned to the family fold, developing her own wine, Tempus Two, to great acclaim. In 2011 she launched her own wine label, with four core wines. She has since won coveted contracts with Jetstar and Qantas and is now introducing her wines to the UK market.

So how might I drink the Wilde Thing Cabernet Shiraz? At this time of year, it’d have to be outside, lounging on a gingham throw with hunks of sourdough and mild, soft cheese, like a plain chèvre or a wedge of Wigmore or Waterloo. This wine is full of dark fruit yet isn’t at all heavy. It can happily take a bit of chill – making it perfect for warm weather consumption. I liked it enough to want to try McGuigan’s other wines. Next up? I’m going to try the Wilde Thing Chardonnay Pinot Grigio.

Wilde Thing wines by Lisa McGuigan are now available in the UK. For more information, please see Copestick Murray’s website here.

Friday Photo – A Misty Dordogne

Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time organising my photo stock. It’s one task I find addictive, taking me back in time to great meals, interesting trips, quality time spent with my favourite folk, watching my daughter’s development, trying to capture those moments when the simple beauty in nature leaves me (and my lens) glassy-eyed. So I thought it might be time to share some of these images – one a week, on Friday: the Friday Photo.

Here’s the first one.

IMG_0182This is the view from our room in the turret at the Château de la Treyne, a hotel overlooking the Dordogne. We’ve stayed there twice now, the first time when we became engaged. The castle is a family-run affair, fashioned from creamy stone and giving directly onto the Dordogne. Imagine throwing open the window each morning to this misty view. Magic. No wonder I said yes.

Brazilians in Brixton: an evening at Carioca

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It’s sweltering. I’m dripping, not in a good way. And thanks to the well-meaning directions of a Brixtonian or two, I end up at the wrong end of Coldharbour Lane. This is not good. Anyone who knows the length of Coldharbour Lane will attest to that. It’s so long that I’ve almost ended up in another suburb. Then my Oyster Card runs out and I have to get off the bus going back in the right direction (bus drivers won’t take change anymore), find a newsagent in this foreign land and top it up. There’s another wait for a bus. My third bus tonight. I should have walked.

20150630_203040Cheese bread

I’m an hour late in arriving at the hole-in-the-wall Brazilian eatery back in Brixton proper. There’s a big carafe of water on the table – I pretty much down it in one between breathy greetings to my review partners for the evening. We’re here courtesy of Yelp to see what we think of Brazilian food. Forget Brazilian waxes – that’s so five minutes ago. Brazilian FOOD is the flavour of right now in London. Admittedly, I’m not too familiar with the cuisine of this South American country, but I did once briefly date a guy who’d fallen so hard for coastal Bahia that he jacked it all in here and moved there. Permanently.

A modest tumbler of Caipirinha packs more punch than expected, especially in this heat. I’m playing catch-up now as most of the others are already a course down, so I dig in to the Pão de queijo – a dense, cheesy bread ball, which I’m assured by the menu is Brazil’s favourite savoury appetiser. It’s good, moreish, and potentially devastating to my diet. I reluctantly limit my intake to one.

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Bahian fish cakes

Then Bahian fish cakes arrive in a threesome, with a smear of sweet chilli sauce beneath. These are a complete surprise, with a taste so strong that my palate goes into temporary shock. Then I realise that there’s possibly an entire dill plant in there with the fish. I like dill, but am not accustomed to quite so much of it in one mouthful. Still, now that I’ve worked out the origins of such intense flavour it’s easier to enjoy the olfactory dance taking place with my taste buds.

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Cured Portuguese chorizo on the grill

There’s still a lot to get through. The cured Portuguese chorizo arrives as dark as a black sausage. Biting into it, the texture’s similar, too, but the smokiness of flavour takes the front seat here. This is the best chorizo I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat. It’s so rich that a little goes a long way. It’s meant to be savoured, shared and fought over. The black honey syrup in attendance adds a touch of sticky and sweet, whilst the maize bread is a great vehicle for mopping the plate. Once again, the bread adds an element of surprise. It’s like fat flat bread, if that makes sense, but where the inside is soft and warm, the skin of the bread is fine and crispy, with welcome crunch and crackle.

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1/2 chargrilled spicy chicken served with Brazilian churrasco sauce

My neighbours tucked into grilled beef and smoked bacon skewers, called ‘espetinhos’, before moving on to the chargrilled Jacob’s Ladder ribs. Both arrived with healthy helpings of churrasco sauce and sides of cassava chips. I tried a cassava chip – it looked a bit like a roast parsnip, but had a milder taste and starchier texture. Then my spicy chicken arrived. You could taste the grill in the flesh of this bird – more smoke and fire coming through. The marinade had been allowed to properly flavour the chook – with orange, fresh peppercorn and spice, adding heat and citrus to the mix. The result was a tender, flavoursome poultry dish, with a gluten-free onion ring salad toppled across the meat in a marvellous mess.

Time for a top up as the Caipirinha was now long gone. A nearby Yelper literally yelped ‘Rio, Rio,’ at me. ‘Rio?’ ‘Yes, have the Rio Vermelho – it’s diVINE.’ So I followed her advice in the interest of research, not to mention variety. The Rio Vermelho is a cool blend of red wine, fresh orange and lemon juice, sugar syrup and cahaça, that wicked spirit made from sugar cane that is so popular in Brazil. It was, again, quite strong, given its medium-ish sized glass. Where drinks are concerned it’d seem that less means more here. They don’t overload you with the quantity of cocktail at Carioca, but they certainly don’t skimp on quality or strength of content.

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Having clocked the cakes under glass domes on the counter, we were all intrigued to finally try them. A wedge of chocolate cake, with slivers of mango; another of berry-filled sponge. Both were excellent, but after a couple of bites I was done. A sweet end to a warm evening with even warmer food.

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So you don’t get lost, like I did, when visiting Carioca, stay at the Ritzy end of Coldharbour Lane and enter the covered market at Market Row. Turn right and Carioca is at numbers 25-27.

Carioca, Market Row, 25-27 Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, London SW9 8LB

Tel 020 7095 9052

See what they’re up to on Twitter- @Cariocabrixton

*I dined courtesy of Yelp and Carioca. The opinions given here are my own.*

Celebrating Sakura at Sake no Hana

The cherry blossom or sakura is much revered in Japan. Each spring, as the pretty pink flowers engulf cherry trees throughout the Japanese islands, the evening news includes a blossom report, tagging the towns and cities where the blossoms have appeared, until the entire map of Japan, from Okinawa in the south to Hokkaido in the far north, is blushed entirely in pink. It’s traditional to hold blossom parties beneath flowering cherry trees, snacking on sushi and swilling sake in celebration of nature’s beauty. This year, the sakura party reached London.

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Sake no Hana, Hakkasan Group’s Japanese restaurant in St James’, threw a sakura bash this year in its downstairs bar. Walking up St James’ Street there was a waft of cherry blossom, leading us by the nose to the venue which was filled with branches of soft, pink blooms, courtesy of florist, Veevers Carter. The scent was that of Floris‘s Cherry Blossom fragrance, developed for the Japanese market but readily available here, an eau de parfum with a heart note of cherry blossom.

Inside, a pair of kimono-wrapped musicians twanged their instruments in one corner, creating an authentic, Japanese atmosphere. In rhythm with the music, the bartenders barely had time to stop shaking between pours, such was the demand of thirsty guests.

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Sake no Hana has developed various limited edition offerings for sakura, including the Violet Risshun, their signature cocktail for the season. It’s made by blending two parts: the first, presented in a carafe, contains Jinzu gin, chartreuse, grapefruit and lemon juices, shiso syrup and Burlesque bitters; the second component arrives in a jug, containing maraschino cherry liqueur (but, of course), Belsazar rose vermouth, cranberry and lemon juices. The carafe’s contents are green, representing the onset of spring, whilst the pink of the jug’s contents signifies the season’s peak. One starts by drinking from the carafe, then one might sip a little of the jug’s liquid, later stirring both together to create an altogether new, third drink.

Other sakura specials at Sake no Hana include: the Sakura Gozen, a Bento Box accompanied by white miso soup and sesame spinach, containing sashimi, nigiri and maki, together with the Sakura cocktail; the sweet Cotton Cheesecake, served with cherries, cream cheese and cherry sorbet; Sakura tea, made with the leaves of cherry trees, and the Sakura Macaron, with cherry blossom tea ganache, pictured below.

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In the crush of cherry blossom-chasers I didn’t have much room to photograph the nibbles circulating about the bar, but I can say that the sushi was so good that it spawned the idea of popping upstairs to the restaurant for dinner.

Before succumbing to that temptation, my husband and I spent time with three gentlemen who’d earlier performed a sake barrel-opening ceremony. They were a delight to meet, offering to photograph us, hammer in hand, pretending to open the barrel ourselves. Here is a picture of Mr Hiroyuki Ito, the General Manager for the Takara Shuzo Co., behind the barrel, from where he and his colleagues served small tumblers of a cool, smooth Junmai sake called Sho Chiku Bai Gokai Chokara. It was so refreshing that we went back for more. Twice over. Meanwhile, Mr Ito, along with his colleague, Mr Motoki Nagaoka, and the Sales Manager for Tazaki Foods, Mr Masa Ando, explained the significance of sake barrel-openings. They’re reserved for special occasions such as weddings, naming ceremonies and company openings, not to mention sakura celebrations, such as this.

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Hunger beckoned, so off we set, stopping to thank Alix Pickard, the ever-smiling PR Manager for Hakkasan Group, for her kind invitation. We’d enjoyed our little taster of Japan and so set off up the escalator for more.

*Note 1: Sakura at Sake no Hana is being celebrated from 20 April to 20 June, Monday to Saturday. During this time, the limited edition menu offerings are available in the bar and at the sushi counter.

**Note 2: to be in to win some sakura goodies, upload your photos of springtime blossoms and flowers to Instagram, using the hashtag #sakura2015 Photos will be displayed on the Sake no Hana website. Some of mine are already there!

Sake no Hana

23 St James’ Street, London, SW1 1HA         reservations@sakenohana.com          Tel +44 207 925 8988

instagram.com/sakenohanalondon               facebook.com/sakenohana                  @sakenohana

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