A long time ago, in happy-go-lucky, freewheeling times, I lived in Venice. It wasn’t a long-term thing; just a summer internship over the course of a few months, but it was long enough for me to fall head over my Supergas in love with the place. When I returned to London, there remained some Venetian experiences on my Bucket List that would have to wait for subsequent visits. Quite unbelievably, if you think about my passion for food and drink, one such missed undertaking was to drink a Bellini at the erstwhile Hemingway haunt of Harry’s Bar.
As a student intern, my salary just about covered rent and food, but didn’t quite stretch to evenings, let alone just one drink at this eponymous venue, with the enduring reputation of being horrifically expensive. In the interest of keeping some Lira (yes, these were pre-Euro days) in the bank, I avoided it like the plague.
Some years later, I returned to Venice to introduce Monsieur to this grand city of canals. It was winter. For different reasons, I didn’t have a lot of dosh at the time, so, yet again, for reasons of economy, Harry’s Bar didn’t happen. Then, on my birthday this year, my dear French husband surprised me with tickets to Venice and boy, did he ever score brownie points. This time I was determined not to leave without sipping on a Harry’s Bar Bellini, all sixteen extortionate Euros of it.
Before we could even begin to factor Harry’s Bar into our trip, Monsieur and I found ourselves thirsty in Dorsoduro. We’d just about reached the white-domed magnificence of Santa Maria della Salute when we peeped through a gate to find a new hotel: the lush Centurion Palace.
Walking through the courtyard, we were surprised to find its elegant tables and seating areas empty at what was most certainly cocktail hour. Across the airy lobby we spotted a small terrace giving directly onto the Grand Canal. There were only a few tables, but all were free, so we sat and ordered a pair of Bellinis to celebrate our arrival in La Serenissima. It might not have been Harry’s Bar, but the view was hard to beat. Resting our feet we lazily watched the Venetian world pass us by on boats. Even the occasional scream of Vigili del Fuoco or Polizia sirens (also on boats) couldn’t bother us; this was bliss.
The Bellinis arrived after a suitable amount of time, which I must say I found comforting as it showed that our drinks hadn’t been poured out of a ready-mix cocktail bottle. One sip alone verified this. There was at least one whole fresh white peach involved per glass, blitzed with a healthy dose of gently bubbling prosecco. Ah, yes, we had lucked out in our impromptu cocktail stop and were now relaxing, the finest of godly nectars (I swear this is not hyperbole) slipping with ease down thirsty throats. What’s more, the generosity of measure and syrupy nature of the drink meant we could take time to smell the roses (or canals) before heading off across town to our dinner destination.
A while later, as we churned up the Grand Canal on a vaporetto, I snapped the terrace where we’d so enjoyed our first Bellinis of the trip. Sadly, this pic doesn’t do it justice.
The atmosphere was fit for bottling. Gondolas swaying in one direction:
Salute and San Marco beckoning from the other:
A crane in the background kept us firmly grounded in the current century, but it’s hard not to daydream when confronted by fairy tale palaces rising from the water:
In summary, the Centurion Palace would be hard to beat for a Bellini on the go. The drinks are fabulous, the vistas magnificent and the nibbles original and moreish (curry cracker, anyone?). If you’re a keen boatspotter, this is the terrace at which to imbibe.
A Bellini costs €15.00 here. Expensive, yes, but not quite as hefty as that establishment across the way where its forefather was conceived by a certain Signor Cipriani. All I can say is that if you feel like dropping €15.00 for one drink and a nibble or two, go no further; it’s money well-invested in a memory that will last a lifetime. As for Harry’s Bar? That’s a whole post of it’s own, but it had a lot to live up to after Bellinis at the Centurion. Suffice to say that I’ll never forget our evening there, for all the right reasons.
The easiest way to find the Centurion Palace: Take a vaporetto to the Salute stop. Get off and turn right immediately, heading away from the church. You’ll pass through an arch. A zigzag later will find the Centurion’s gate on your right hand side (Grand Canal side). Alternatively, if you’re made of moola, just whistle for a water taxi and they’ll drop you right next to the terrace I’ve been lauding above.
When I wrote about the St Patrick’s Day cocktail-fest for London Bloggers at Diageo, Australia-based Razzbuffnik liked the sound of the Bushmills apricot mule, so I asked Haran at Splendid Communications to send me the recipe. Here you go, Razz! A little taste of summer for you as the leaves start to turn in the land Downunder…
Bushmills Apricot Mule (Classic adapted by Duncan McRae)
This twist on a classic Moscow mule uses Bushmills ® as its base, and combines the subtle flavours of apricot and the spicy ginger to play upon some of the more exciting sherry cask induced notes found in Bushmills® Black Bush.
50ml Bushmills Black Bush
12.5ml Apricot Liquor
12.5ml Sugar Syrup
25ml Freshly squeezed Lime juice
Dash Orange Bitters
Topped up with Ginger Beer.
Served in a highball glass over ice.
Top o’ the morning to ya, and I know I’m a bit late in posting about a St Patrick’s Day celebration, but as a wise, New Zealand-born food-lover once said, ‘better late than never’.
London Bloggers’ Meetup Organiser, Facilitator and All-Round Guru, Andy Bargery and the team at Splendid Communications (Haran, Emma and Chris) recently arranged a heady evening of Guinness and Bushmills whisky-based cocktails at Diageo’s London Headquarters. Here’s the cocktail list for you to dribble over -
I confess I had not one, but two Bushmills apricot mules thanks to Splendid Chris accidentally (on purpose?) over-ordering for me. There’s something about the ginger ale that gives a particularly refreshing zing to this drink, so I didn’t exactly refuse the two highballs of deliciousness. I also braved a Bushmills Black Bush Vanilla Sour, which was wonderfully nostalgic in flavour, the vanilla present but not overpowering. In fact, with cocktails like the Old-Fashioned and a version of the Mint Julep featuring on the menu, everything I tasted made me think of times of yore.
At some point, someone suggested I try the Irish Coffee, but I needed some convincing. Then I saw one, served in a Martini glass, and sneaked a sip. Two dangerously more-ish Irish Coffees later and it was time to learn how to pour a Guinness.
Duncan makes sure I don’t spill a drop… ‘Allo love. What kin i getcha?
The mixologist for the evening was one Duncan Macrae and a patient man he must be for he spent some time teaching a small crowd of us to pour Guinness. We were told to hold the glass at a 45 degree angle, start to pour against the side of the glass and as the glass fills to around the two-thirds mark, ease it into an upright position, stop pouring and leave to settle. Once the liquid has turned completely dark, it’s time to top up the pint. Duncan showed me how to do a shamrock shape on the head, and this I managed to achieve… just, although it looked like the sort of shamrock that had been trodden on by a herd of marauding sheep, i.e. not the smoothest shape you’ve ever seen.
Those are the chins of serious concentration and the bud of a shaky shamrock.
Splendid Chris enjoys a pint o’ the black stuff.
Flanked by Melanie Seasons of Fake Plastic Noodles (left) and Splendid Chris (right).
Duncan Macrae tells Timinator that under no circumstances will he be served again tonight. No siree. Enough is enough.
Katie and Andy Bargery with their Bushmills Irish Coffees.
Apart from testing the Bushmills cocktails and learning to pull a pint, we also discovered that Maltese Guinness is alcohol free (it tastes quite nice, really, but nowhere near as dark or heavy as the real McCoy), that there is such a thing as Red Guinness only it isn’t red, it’s just branded that way, (in fact, when I tried it, the main difference was in the taste. It’s just like regular Guinness only maltier), and Drew from Chameleon Net spoke to us about the (then) forthcoming talk at the next Meetup, featuring the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
That Meetup happened last week. Once again it was good to catch up with all the regulars and meet some newbies to the blogosphere. The Equality and Human Rights Commission were represented by some passionate and entertaining speakers, raising our awareness of what they’re all about. One of their key areas of debate was whether to use traditional journalists or bloggers to write about their causes. Personally, when I hear of more hard-copy periodicals closing their doors and more on-line periodicals opening up, I think we’ll be left with no choice but to find a way for the two to co-exist. Yet, it’s also easy to understand that a fully-qualified journalist will be better equipped with certain skills than your average blogger, but sometimes bloggers explore viewpoints which journalists have failed to represent.
Technology is also changing opinion on who would be better suited to covering certain stories, especially as with a single click on our phone/PDA/ laptop we can upload content to the internet, be it to our blog, or in 140 characters or less on Twitter, using any one of an increasing number of social networking sites and applications. In summary, technology is making it possible fofr just about anyone to break a story or contribute to it.
So, where to tonight? I’m off to a foodies’ Easter egg tasting, courtesy of Word of Mouth, the Guardian’s online food blog. Thank heavens I didn’t give up chocolate for Easter. Missing out on this event would have been an Epicurean travesty.
Splendid Becca did the unexpected: this afternoon she sent me a bottle of José Cuervo’s Margaritas with a stunning glass from which to consume this Christmas cocktail. Now, that’s what I call the incentive to drag me out of my pre-Christmas illness wallow-hollow and back into the festive spirit (no pun intended). Then, with superb timing, The Epic Brother called to say he’d be popping by tonight, so I’ll have a Margarita Partner-in-Crime for the tasting session.
The back of the bottle informs me that:
The Margarita Cocktail was created in 1938 in honour of a beautiful Mexican showgirl named Rita de la Rosa. A bartender, inspired by her electrifying performance, improvised a cocktail to capture her heart with Cuervo and the flavour of Mexican limones. Ever since then the Cuervo Margarita continues to capture the hearts of so many around the world.
Well, then. I know what they say about the effects of tequila, and I admit to having had some interesting experiences with it myself, but the question in my head now is whether said bartender succeeded in capturing Rita de la Rosa’s heart with a little help from Señor Cuervo? Intrigued by the tale and being a true Google-r, I visited Wikipedia to find that there are various theories on how the Margarita came about. No news on Rita de la Rosa’s cocktail shaking suitor, but in the end it doesn’t really matter who was first to create this tequila-lover’s staple; thanks to Becca, I have a bottle of Margaritas that’s begging to be opened and poured over ice in a Splendid-ly salt-rimmed glass. That’s far more important.
While I’m waiting for the Epic Brother to arrive, here’s another sort of Margarita to keep you entertained – Margarita Pracatan. In case you weren’t a fan of Clive James’ TV show in nineties’ Britain, Ms Pracatan is a Cuban singer with a boa wardrobe to beat that of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and a delivery that can only be called unique.
PS José Cuervo Margaritas contains José Cuervo Gold Tequila, natural triple sec and lime-flavoured spirit. Heaven help me!
PPS Epic Brother and I have thoroughly enjoyed the Margaritas. Thank you José Cuervo and Merry Christmas!
This week I’ve been the lucky recipient of two meme requests for the same meme, so I’m going to kill two bloggers (not literally) with one stone and post my meme answer for both here.
The meme asks for three answers to each of three questions. Here goes.
1. Name your top three non-work websites.
Hmmm. Only three? That’s tough. In the interests of being fair to all the amazing blogs I read, I decided to restrict this to non-work and non-individual blog websites.
For TRAVEL I log on to Travelblog. This is where travel enthusiasts post about their trips as they happen. It’s great for travel planning because you can read about the real experiences of real people in real places, not just hyped-up travel journalism fuelled by freebie junkets.
For FOOD I’m currently reading the Britain’s Best Dish page at ITV.com. This is a great source of real recipes cooked by real people. I think you can probably tell that I’m quite into REAL.
For a GIGGLE I check out The Darwin Awards site. It never ceases to amaze me how people can meet the grim reaper in such incredibly stupid ways. I remember one tale about a parcel bomber who had to put a return address on his parcel bomb in order for the post office to accept it. The parcel was unable to be delivered, so it was returned to him. He didn’t recognise his own handiwork, opened the box and BOOM! I think you can guess the rest. What a doof.
2. Name your top three karaoke songs.
Well, karaoke + Epicurienne = not so pretty. I do recall singing California Dreaming at karaoke once. I think that was when Take That were still together. Then I had a flatmate with a karaoke machine, so I was forced into singing a bit more often at that time. If I have to sing something, then I quite like ABC’s The Look of Love and Don McLean’s American Pie (NOT the Madonna version. That was a mistake. Mind you, I’m sure mine is far, far worse.)
3. Name your top three weekend cocktails.
Why WEEKEND cocktails? I don’t drink cocktails that often, but if it happens to be a Tuesday evening and you pour me a great cocktail, I’m hardly going to say no. That would be rude. And silly.
The Epicurienne would have to be number one. How many people can say they have their own, bespoke cocktail? Thanks to Smirnoff, quite a few of the London Bloggers’ Meetup Group can… and I’m one of them. It’s basically a Smirnoff mule (Smirnoff red + gingerale) shaken with pineapple juice, chambord and strawberries. Deeeelish.
I absolutely cannot refuse a Mississippi Mudslide – tastes like an alcoholic chocolate shake, comprising a naughty blend of kahlua, baileys and (if you really want a kick) vodka, all blended with ice. I also love lemon martinis made with limoncello.
So that’s my three for three.
Now I have to name three more unsuspecting folk to carry on the three for three. I’m asking:
Recently, the London Bloggers Meetup Group got together at the London Headquarters of drinks magnate, Diageo, for an evening of Blogology. The evening was the brainchild of Rax Lakhani and team at Splendid Communications and, as far as sponsors go, they really outdid themselves!
We were greeted with Moscow Mule cocktails, made with Smirnoff red vodka and ginger ale, before joining the queue to watch our own cocktails being made, the recipes of which had been cleverly designed to match our blogs. Yes, the Splendid team had sat down, trawled through each and every blog belonging to the bloggers on the guest list, to create bespoke cocktails, one per person, to reflect what we blog about. Clever, or what? It was most impressive, especially considering how much time all that cocktail recipe writing must have taken.
We even had a pair of dedicated mixologists, who quickly got to work and didn’t pause for breath as they shook their stuff behind the bar. Ridiculous laughed about his Ridiculous cocktail, which seemed to have a bit of everything in it, while Mex, blogging about the London Underground, sipped on a cocktail made by matching potential ingredients to tube line colours. Inspired.
Here’s a clip of how to make a few different types of Moscow Mule:
And here are our clever mixologists who worked hard all night shaking our drinks…
a lot of concentration went on behind that bar to ensure our cocktails were mixed to perfection and not a drop wasted…
yep, he got every last bit of fruit out of that shaker… Or so he thinks.
“Is that a fly in there?”
“No, love, it’s just a bit of blackberry.”
Here I am with The Epicurienne, a fizzy special featuring inspiration from England (strawberries), France (chambord) and New Zealand (pineapple. They said they didn’t have kiwis and I didn’t have the heart to tell them that pineapples don’t grow in New Zealand, but they do grow in many places around the Pacific, so it was good enough for me). Splash in some Smirnoff, naturellement, top up with ginger ale and voila! The Epicurienne! Mmm, tasty.
(Thanks to Katie Bargery for this snap.)
In case you’d like to try The Epicurienne, here’s the recipe:
Meanwhile, in another part of the hip Diageo bar, a cocktail bartender competition was taking place, only we didn’t realise until an announcement was made towards the end of the evening. Unbeknownst to us bloggers, the entrants had been busy making drinks to impress the judges. Ah! The penny dropped for Katie B and me, as we’d spent ages watching some Michael Schumacher lookalike in a chic waistcoat fashion a chunk of ice into a perfect tennis ball shape for a whisky on the rock (singular), only to have the guy he was making if for walk off and leave it. How rude! we thought. That was before we realised that the rude person was a judge. I guess it’s best not to get drunk on the job if that’s your vocation. Such restraint! Anyway, we rescued the drink and gave it to Andy. Waste not, want not.
As if the evening wasn’t exciting enough, we were all sent home with goodie bags of Smirnoff Red and ginger ale so we can try to Make The Mule At Home! I think Monsieur has a cocktail utensil set somewhere so I might just have to give it a whirl, only I’m pretty sure it won’t taste as good as when shaken by the Smirnoff mixologists. I guess I can but try.