Sunday, 10 May 2015

Gardeners Cottage - Edinburgh

I learnt a valuable lesson about being prepared on the way out for dinner, I had a major breakdown somewhere between relying on my own intelligence (always dangerous) and being over-reliant on Google maps leading to difficulty actually finding the restaurant for the first time in ages. I did the usual type the address in, get a rough idea of how far away we were and wander in the vague direction then went up and down the steep steps in the park trying to figure out whether it was along Royal Terrace at the top of the park or London Road along the bottom. In my defence, spending the day walking round one of the hilliest cities in the UK had scrambled by brain
After a quick stop and chat and a conversation along the lines of “What’s it called again?”, Gardeners cottage” ……… At which point I finally had my lightbulb moment of “Oh god, it’s the cottage that’s actually in the garden” and thus there it was. Cretin.

Gardeners Cottage then, a very literal name with the restaurant sat in the middle of a park and is surrounded by a garden space at the front and rear in which they’re growing fresh ingredients to use in the restaurant. Walking up past the hand written set menu and through beds marked with tags showing exactly what is growing (I did start to wonder how they fend off drunken revellers wandering in and soiling things after a night out but rapidly thrust that thought from my mind). Then being greeted by shelves lined with jars showcasing Kvass starter, beer vinegar and sauerkraut (which all went on to be ingredients in the actual meal this evening).

My heart melted when I noticed an actual REAL LIFE record player at one side of the dining room, spinning classic records that were being switched by the staff as they hit the end of each side. I won’t go full music nerd but that hiss in the background of the music throughout a candle lit dinner really did raise the atmosphere up a notch.

The food on the Sunday evening was a 7 course set menu based on the seasonal produce that they've purchased that day, accompanied by elements prepared from their own gardens. The only menu I saw was a hand-written chalk board placed in the door way of the restaurant, as someone that generally hates surprises it was quite an enjoyable one-off to have the courses arrive with a hint of surprise.

“Raw Mackeral, beer vinegar, sauerkraut”
The opening starter was a a slightly underwhelming start to proceedings. 5 matchsticks of fresh crisp apple with a teaspoons worth of raw mackerel, a sprinkling of sauerkraut and a couple of pieces of poached rhubarb. Overall the combination didn't work for me - the sauerkraut and the beer vinegar contrasted too harshly with the sweetness of the apple and the further mackerel flavour on top just made for a very odd mix.

“Cider braised leek, ricotta, celeriac, pork”
Several layers of perfectly tender leek, with the most gentle ricotta, all sprinkled with a handful of groats and topped with red veined sorrel. This time the textures really worked well, the leek and the fresh cool ricotta with the crispy groats made for a really satisfying mouthful of food.

We received a side of sourdough with potted pork at this point. I know that by it’s nature potted meat is often quite dry but when spread on the sourdough it managed to soak up any hint of moisture from the inside of my mouth, making it a bit of an effort to chew through it. Plenty of flavour, but it felt a bit like that challenge where you try and crunch down a handful of crackers but have to give up half way through.

“Halibut, lobster cream, potato salad”
As soon as this arrived I knew I was in for a treat. Wonderfully thick cream sauce, absolutely packed with lobster flavour (i'd pay big money for a bottle of this in the fridge to spray over every meal in sight). The halibut had a buttery charged outer but the fish itself was so light and delicate. The spoonful of potato salad when dipped into the lobster cream was verging on comfort food heaven.

“Roe deer, Barbecue purple sprouting broccoli, Jerusalem artichoke, cauliflower”
Two slices of roe deer shoulder, on a bed of cauliflower puree, artichoke puree, charred broccoli all on a bed of braised roe belly. The roe belly was certainly new to me and it was just so offally, I missed the description when the plate was presented and had to clarify with the kitchen as I would have sworn it was kidney or liver (can this be braised?), with that unmistakeably pissy waft. They did ask before dinner if there were any dietary requirements or things we wouldn’t eat but no specific warning about offal is an odd one not to have mentioned. Fortunately, I got to enjoy a double portion as a result of my partner not being into offal.

“Hazelnut biscuit, pear sorbet, apple crisp”
The ice cream here stole the show; it was thick with so much pear juice and pulp to pack it with the fruit flavour. The hazelnut biscuit and ice cream were both exceptionally sweet but mixed with the pear worked perfectly. A beautifully refreshing little dessert.

“Appleby’s Chesire, pear chutney, nettle and kamut crackers, beremeal crackers”
A slice of Appleby’s Cheshire cheese, served with pear chutney that was unhumanly tangy – I can’t think of anything I’ve tasted that quite had the same effect, it seemed to make my gums and the backs of my teeth tingle (in a really oddly enjoyable way). Served with kamut and beremeal crackers.

“Chocolate, caramel and rye slice, sherry ice cream”
Quick cover story for the state of the photo, I was a bit over-eager and did tuck in slightly before taking the photo so the dish was presented a lot more attractively than this initially. The main event here was the chocolate, caramel and rye slice, served up like a mini eclair made entirely of chocolate with dense sweet filling sandwiched between two fine layers of further chocolate. The biscuit slice and sherry ice cream were both very sweet but as a combination made for a very enjoyable (did I mention sweet) end to proceedings.

The set menu was £35 per person and they had a short drinks menu which was similarly imaginative as the food selection, including a selection of home-made fizzy fruit syrup / cordial that I stuck to and between the two of us the bill with tip came in under £100 which was genuinely excellent value.

Sure there were a couple of misses but undoubtedly every course offered something imaginative flavour wise and I can’t get enough of their whole ethos. One word of warning would be around the table lay-out, we were seated face to face at the end of a long table which would have comfortably sat 10 but which had 12 seats squeezed in meaning we were practically shoulder to shoulder with the couple next to us once they arrived.

Fortunately for 90% of the meal we had a spare seat next to us but the nearest couple to us were still noticeably close enough to listen to our chat throughout, sticking their noses into our meal without invitation (they were on the vegetarian option) and were just generally the type of people with no awareness of personal space. I’m sort of used to this after a few awkward meals in London (shout out to Pitt Cue and Franco Manca for making people share booths) but if you’re in the least bit shy or concerned about others overhearing your conversation this is absolutely not the place for you.

Gardener's Cottage on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Pizza Pilgrims - London

Here’s a short story that makes little sense – despite the pixelated mess at the top of the blog I don’t eat a huge amount of pizza. My problem is that the combination of bread with melted cheese is my kryptonite. I'm confident that if someone were to sit me down and keep sliding pizzas in front of me I would end up as the pizza filled human equivalent of a foie gras duck. Enjoy that mental image.
I felt it was pretty unacceptable to have only reviewed two pizzas in my time on here so I decided to set things right by paying a visit to Pizza Pilgrims in London to what is fondly regarded as one of the best pizzerias in the UK. Sure, everyone has a favourite local or backstreet place tucked away but the consensus about the Pilgrims seems to be overwhelmingly positive. I thoroughly enjoyed a slice of one of their pizzas many moons ago at a Street Feast down south, and despite some vague whispers on the internet that the quality had dropped over time; I'm pleased to report this is absolutely not the case.

I took a seat in the window at street level (they also have a fantastic downstairs which is laid out like an Italian cafe with a table football taking pride of place) to bask in the almost overwhelming heat from the wonderful oven, providing a great view of a Pizza Express positioned directly across the street. Watching people walk down the street to try to decide between the two was pretty comical at times, with the heaving Pizza Pilgrims on one side and the half empty alternative clearly causing a couple of dates some serious issues.
I ordered the aubergine pizza (toppings were aubergine, mozzarella, parmesan, cherry tomatoes and basil) and it arrived in front of me piping hot straight from the oven less than a couple of minutes later, exactly as you’d expect. I have no complaints – the aubergine was spongy and mixed well with the melted cheeses and there was enough basil hidden away to give it the flavour but not overpower things. The blistered sourdough bread made for an ideal base and honestly, the pizza was up there with the best I've enjoyed in various trips to Italy. A bottle of punchy ReAle IPA was an ideal partner for lunch.

Dessert was one of the most simple yet excellent desserts i've had in some time, a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt. The bitterness in the oil was 90% offset by the sweetness of the ice cream, giving it just that little extra something flavour wise to keep it totally interesting. This is definitely a dessert i'll surely be stealing wholesale to eat if the sun ever comes out up North.
Bill came to £18.50, with no service charge - the £6 beer was a ‘premium’ imported one which I suppose did bump things up considerably and honestly the quality and freshness of the pizza alone was more than worth it. I came so close to immediately ordering another but did the right thing for my waist line and wobbled off into the London sun (not just to the pub…..honest guv).
Pizza Pilgrims on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Grub 2 at the Runaway Brewery, Manchester

The couple behind one of the more popular Northern foodie twitter accounts and semi-dormant blogs (Good Gobble) and better Manchester street-food offerings (Arepa!Arepa!Arepa!) clearly felt they weren't busy enough handling those on top of their day jobs and have taken the next step towards world domination with GRUB. After a successful stint overseeing the food offering at the recent Cup North coffee festival, they teamed up with Blackjack Brewery and Shebeen Events for Grub vol. 2 which was due to be held at a brand new top secret venue but due to last minute issues was held at the Runaway brewery, under the arches on Dantzic street.

Street food in Manchester feels a bit like it's stalled to me, Friday Food Fight has lost it's way - moving away from genuine street food into overpriced drinks and restaurants dishing the food up; it's clearly a format that works well for them, it just isn't to my taste. I've been to a few Guerilla Eats events and always felt like their heart is in the right place but there’s never any atmosphere. The GRUB folk seemed like they were attempting to fill a genuine gap in the market in Manchester – realistically what could be better than hanging out in a brewery, eating some fantastic sounding street food and quaffing a ton of beers? 

I bought tickets early on for the two Saturday sessions and it was no great surprise to see that the weekend sold out in advance - a real testament to their hard work on the line up and well-deserved support they've built up over the years.Seeing as the event was a "Winter Beer Festival”I did the right thing and headed immediately for the bar. There’d been a beer list doing the rounds and I had a short list of priorities (OCD, what?) of beers that I was keen to try – most of which unfortunately didn't appear over the two sessions on the Saturday. I was still spoiled for choice but it was a little frustrating that there were very few changes between the sessions - I fully appreciate that they’re bound by how much beer had been sold during the day so I shoulder my share of the blame. Still a slight disappointment for a "Beer Festival".

The token system (the bane of many a beer festival) initially seemed a little overcomplicated but actually worked well resulting in quick service - £10 bought you a sheet of 20 tokens and then beers were priced depending upon third / half or pint serving and scribbled off the sheet accordingly as payment. As you got to the end of a sheet it did become slightly problematic to figure out if there was enough left for a round as you couldn't actually see the prices until you saw them scribbled on the pumps – adding a thirds / halves / pints prices to the board would’ve been a great help. I did enjoy the extra challenge of achieving a FULL HOUSE by getting my sheet crossed off right down to the last token.

Entertainment wise - the background music and bands were ideal for the event, I wasn't sat too far from them but they were just pitched at the right level (volume and intensity wise) whereby I could easily drift in and out of paying attention and they didn't ruin conversation. It all felt very well planned, major kudos for getting this so right - must've taking some serious planning given we were all essentially sat in a giant echo-y room it could have all gone wrong pretty easily.

Food - All of the food traders across the weekend were different enough to sound interesting and make the food alone a major temptation for visitors. Saturday showcased sweet treats from Ginger Tart, Andy's Low and Slow BBQ, Fu-Schinkens with their steamed buns and Comida serving up a range of Spanish themed goodies. I decided to follow my nose and I was lured over to the Comida stand and once there it all sounded pretty enticing so I just asked them to sort me out with a taster set from the menu. They sorted me right out. I ended up with a pair of Deep-fried Croquetas, a 'Blue cheese and squash' and a 'Black truffle and cheese'. Honestly, i'm glad I didn't have to sit and watch me eat these, I was a like a dog with a bone as soon as I got a sniff of them - they hit the spot like only deep fried cheese dipped in some wonderfully thick alioli can.

I also dug into their Montados', which after a little research i'm told are essentially toppings on bread. The flavour combinations on offer (I had one of each) were smoked salmon, tinned squid with Spanish ketchup and aubergine with a padron pepper speared on top. The squid was my favourite but I thoroughly enjoyed all three, I'll definitely have my eyes peeled for any future supper clubs they arrange. Whilst not the first food I'd think of as ideal for snacking on at a beer festival it certainly filled me up and kept me going through the evening. 

Overall, I had a hugely enjoyable day out and was impressed with what was accomplished; especially considering the last minute issues with the original venue. I jinxed myself by mentioning early on that the poster looked too wintery for the end of January - my god it was cold in there at times which is absolutely out of their control, just wish i'd stuck a thicker jumper on. I’m certainly looking forward to a summer winter beer festival where I’ll be able to feel my fingers for the 24 hours afterwards.

Regarding the new venue, there is currently a Kickstarter under way to 'supplement existing investment'. It appears that they've wrapped Grub, Shebeen and Blackjack under the banner of Keystone and are running a campaign offering rewards including tickets to a Shebeen festival in May. There's a link to the Kickstarter here – clearly they have some big ideas and I thoroughly recommend you take a read for yourself and do what you can to support them, I've already chipped in. Manchester is certainly short of the type of venue they are hoping to set up and I'm excited to see how things progress.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Le Gavroche - London

Le Gavroche is an institution, originally opening back in 1967 (hope they've got something special planned for the big 50!) and currently holding 2 Michelin Stars. Despite his TV commitments, Michael Roux Jr currently oversees the kitchen and is often seen roaming the dining room greeting his customers, I'm devastated to say that unfortunately I didn't get to shake his hand or get a snap with him on this occasion but despite that minor blow I am pleased to confirm the entire dining experience was one of the finest I've enjoyed in this country. 
The restaurant itself is hidden away on a backstreet in Mayfair, surrounded by residents' parking spaces filled with sports cars that i'm sure would have car nerds drooling into their pre-dinner glass of wine. The doorway to Le Gavroche is framed by a miniature hedgerow packed with flowers and it appears like an oasis to welcome you in and save you hustle and bustle tourist mayhem taking place around Hyde Park and general stench of money on the streets.

After a pleasant greeting at the door, I was lead into the waiting room which had the lights turned down and immediately felt very reassuringly classy and traditional with lots of beautiful old furniture and paintings around the room. It was like  enough for 20 people or so, not a traditional bar by any means. Entertainment was provided by a table complete with pompous arseholes spouting off at the top of their voices about how their partner should've had a boob job, numerous lap dancing clubs they'd visited recently and how much money their children had made that year, not a group of men but several couples. All very tasteless and not exactly the sort of entertainment and human beings i'd hoped to be surrounded by to be honest. 
We moved into a quiet corner and a couple of quick canapés appeared alongside drinks at the bar area and which appeared appealingly retro. I enjoyed a bottle of Roux Brew, the beer that Michael Roux Jr had recently commissioned for the restaurant. After a series of tastings from various breweries, he settled on this light grapefruit ale from FourPure which was light, citrusy and perfectly complemented the food to come so I stayed with it throughout the rest of the meal.
We were lead downstairs by one of the infamous maître d twins (I can back the blurb on the website now which states you can only tell them apart from the lapel pin), only for one of them to switch places half way and be lead off by the other. I'm not sure if this happens for everyone but it was a lovely slightly baffling piece of showmanship all the same. 

The dining room itself is very extravagant – much larger than I imagined and utterly old school. Lots of gaudily framed paintings of the Roux family and with metal animal sculptures on each table (we had a frog and a giant cock on the shelf behind us). The cutlery had miniature chubby chefs as the handles and Michael Roux was painted onto the plates - utterly mental. The dining room is underneath the building and was very dark and cool (as in temperature) as a result which enhanced the atmosphere, wandering downstairs on a lovely bright summers day and the contrast of entering an entirely darkened dining room added a lot mood-wise to the whole feel of the occasion. The severe lack of light wasn't the best environment for photos and there was no way I was letting loose with the flash i'm afraid (that's my attempt at an apology for the darkened shots to follow). 
It was an easy choice to order "The 'Menu Exceptionnel'" their grandly titled taster menu at £124 per person (inc cheese course and coffee), but I did notice that some of the a la carte prices were pretty intense. Think £50 plus per course in some instances, which could easily lead to a bill getting out of hand pretty quickly - I suppose if you're eating at Le Gavroche in the first place you're pretty prepared for that eventuality.

The bread selection was made up of a rye loaf, a crisp white mini-baguette and a country roll. None of this new-fangled modern sourdough nonsense. The bread was offered often, usually with a careful line along the theme of "more bread to dip in your sauce sir?" and always accompanied with brand new butter to keep it fresh and at optimum temperature. They must get through so much butter, we had at least 5 partially eaten portions of the stuff.

"Souffle Suissesse" 
The opening course set the scene pretty perfectly for the indulgence to follow. In fact, i'm pushed to remember ever eating a richer first course than this on a taster menu - a giant cheese souffle that was perfectly risen, ready for the air to be released like from a balloon (but without the farty noise). Digging in was similar to pulling melted cheese from the top of a perfectly cooked pizza - strands of it going everywhere. Complete and utter luxurious comfort food - the double cream sauce was perfect for mopping up with fresh bread. 

"Terrine Marbree de Foie Gras aux Epices Gelee au Madere et Croque aux Champignons" 
Easily the most generous single portion of foie gras I've been served in one go, just look at the size of it! The richness was slightly broken up by the spiced crust but as you'd expect, this absolutely continued the luxuriousness that started with the souffle. The portion of crispy mushroom toast, which was served as a mini sandwich on the side added some great crunch to the whole dish. 

"Langoustines Poelees, Petits Pois, Cebette et Jambon de Bayonne" 
I breathed a sigh of relief at the first delicate course to be served. This dish was made up of two fat juicy and langoustines presented on a bed of chopped air dried bayonne ham and fresh peas. The preparation of the sauce had eeked every last drop of pea flavour out of the vegetables and was combined with a dash of spring onion for a tiny hint of tartness.

"Filet de Maigre Parfume as Ras-el-Hanout Fenouil et Riz Rouge de Camargue" 
The pastilla was stuffed with red rice and flavoured with 'Arabian spices' accompanied by the stone bass fish served within a thin, crispy pasty roll. The meat jus and denseness of the pastilla made for quite a dense and unusally meaty fish course. 

"Joue de Porc Braisee et Fumee, Cromesquis de Couennes" 
The crispy belly ravioli was for me one of the highlights of the entire meal - think a deep fried wonton from the Chinese turned up to 11. The portion of braised and smoked pork cheek was succulent and delicious. The course came topped with the thinnest and crispiest sliver of pigs ear , which was accompanied with a thick red cabbage sauce - tangy and great with the deep fried elements.

"Supreme de Pigeon, Gaufres au Mais et Sauce aux Cassis" 
By this stage I was starting to feeling uncomfortably full and the generous portion of squab pigeon here wasn't helping at all. The soft juice soaked corn waffle with sweet blackcurrant sauce was not a combination that I particularly enjoyed but made perfect sense with the rich meat.

"Le Plateau de Fraomages Affines" - Selection of French and British Farmhouse Cheese
The cheese trolley had to be seen to be believed, I could smell it coming from around the corner before I could hear it and was drooling with excitement. I was like a kid in a sweetshop presented with a choice of upwards of 50 cheeses with crisp bread thins and a selection of chutneys. The choice was overwhelming with no apparent end to how many we could order -  a hugely memorable showpiece and it was excellent to have it included and not be 'upsold' to midway through dinner. 

"Truffle Chocolat et Sorbet, Cerises Pochees et a l'Eau de Vie" 
It came as no surprise given the luxury of the food that had preceeded but this was one of the most extraordinary chocolate desserts i've ever tasted. A scoop of rich dark chocolate ice cream served on alcohol soaked cherries and then a piece of fine rolled chocolate stuffed with mousse and a harder truffle within mixing the flavours and consistencies of the chocolate with every spoonful. It was glorious.

"Cafe et Petit Fours"
A double espresso (which was taking no prisoners strength wise) came accompanied by a tray of petit fours, then followed by chocolates and nougat but honestly by this stage I was genuinely worried about needing to be carried out of the restaurant so only really picked at them. There was a mini chocolate mousse tart, berry with icing sugar, biscuit at the front and a variation on a brandy snap. 

There were certainly some fantastic individual courses here - the pigeon, foie gras, cheese souffle, pig cheek, in fact as an a la carte menu I'd happily choose anything I ate again. My only possible complaint was that as someone with what i'd consider a pretty unstoppable appetite at the best of times, i'm still surprised that a taster menu so utterly overwhelmed me like this and honestly leads me to wonder whether many people could overcome this mountain of richness. I was in at The Ledbury the next evening and had to tone down plans for their taster menu as I was still utterly stuffed almost 24 hours later, I've never known anything like it.

I will say that eating at Le Gavroche was definitely an experience I'm glad to have enjoyed, the service was out of this world with no end to the attention to detail, the surroundings, the welcome and the overall atmosphere were truly memorable. The authenticity of the old-school feel I've already referred to just isn't something that could be duplicated without this depth of history and can only be created by year after year of outstanding food. The full taster menu was £124 per person and whilst I completely appreciate this is a huge amount of money for a meal, as a special occasion only (my waistline breathes a sigh of relief) I do believe it to represent genuine value, especially with the cheese course, coffee and petit fours included. A very special meal indeed.

Le Gavroche on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Craft Nerd vs Supermarket Beer - Part 2

Here's the second part (find the first here) of Ian's supermarket craft beer reviews. If you'd like to chat about any of this he can be found on twitter or untappd and i'm he sure would welcome a chinwag.

It's all Ian from this point onwards:

Day 5 – Wednesday

The Lawn Mower - Backyard Brewery/Carlsberg - £1.50 as part of a 4 for £6 deal – 330ml
By this stage I was feeling a bit fed up, I realised that I had front-loaded what I thought were likely to be the better beers and had three days worth of filler to get through. This is an attempt at an amber lager and much like the other Carslberg effort it is seems like a tweaked version of their standard product. Drinkable but not sure why you would bother….Rating 5/10

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference London Porter – Shepherd Neame - £1.66 as part of a 3 for £5 deal – 500ml
I had relatively high hopes for this, decent enough brewery and a change from lots of pales/lagers. Initial impressions were reasonable, the aroma was faint but it seemed to have the right texture for a porter. But then I tasted it. Whatever merits this beer had were completely wrecked by a horrific metallic aftertaste. Another clear bottle and another that would ordinarily have gone down the drain. In date, but I can’t help but think this wasn’t in great condition. Rating 3/10

Day 6 - Thursday

Metropolitan Brewing Company Under Currant Pale Ale – Greene King - £1.25 - 330ml
I was now really craving a decent beer, in fact just something that wasn’t dull or flawed. Unfortunately I wasn’t massively encouraged by the remaining stash of 4 beers. I thought I would suck it up and get stuck into the least promising. It was actually better than the IPA in the same range, with some of the blueberry character you expect from Mosaic (this being a single hop pale). However it lacks any real bitter snap to balance it out and it ends up a bit cloying. Rating 5/10

Marks and Spencer Organic Scottish Beer – Black Isle - £2 as part of a 3 for £6 deal – 500ml
Reasons for optimism – M&S were clearly winning this taste test and Black Isle are a decent brewery. Reasons for pessimism – I wasn't that attracted to a beer with added honey. Difficult to criticise this beer as it is exactly as described, a pale beer with added honey, but that aside it is pretty one dimensional and dull. Aside from the delicate honey flavour I can hardly remember it, but if you like honey its worth a go. Rating 5.5/10

Day 7 - Friday

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference American Pale Ale – Genesee - £1.75 – 330ml
American Pale Ales need a serious amount of hops for aroma and bitterness. This was clearly lacking in both, plus with a bottling date in June 2014 it was hardly fresh, which is also vital in these beers. There was faint mango aroma but the malt dominated the flavour, so it just wasn’t right. One to avoid. Rating 4.5/10

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Tap Room IPA – Genesee - £1.75 – 330ml
For obvious reasons I wasn’t filled with optimism as I approached my final beer. This shared a similarly dull character with its sibling, there was some bitterness present but it was pretty crude. Not enjoyable overall and another to avoid. Rating 4/10

So, overall a pretty uninspiring seven days of drinking. Only two beers that I would actually buy again and a couple of others that have some merit. Not a great return, even when taking into account the potential bargain prices. It was clear from this sample that M&S are way ahead of the competitors. The worst of their beers were at the same level as the best from Sainsbury and Tesco. Even though they are more expensive they offer better value generally. The Tesco ranges had little merit, with only the rye pale being something I would even consider buying again. Very cheap but little actual value. I think that overall Sainsbury were bottom of the pile as their beers were no better and often worse than the Tesco equivalent and more expensive. Frankly most of them tasted pretty stale. The Carlsberg beers were fault free, but pretty dull. If I needed to buy beer in Tesco or Sainsbury I would pick up cheap Brewdog, Sierra Nevada, Goose Island etc and ignore their own labels.

I wasn’t massively surprised by the quality of the beer on offer here, but it is disappointing that the introduction to craft beer for many people could be via such a disappointing range of beers that offer little of the quality that you can quite easily find from good microbreweries.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Craft Nerd vs Supermarket Beer - Part 1

My friend Ian kindly volunteered to write up this experiment and I for one salute his commitment to taking one for the team and sorting the wheat from the chaff for all hardened supermarket beer buyers amongst us. If you'd like to compliment his hard work (or send him abuse of any kind), he can be found on twitter or untappd and i'm he sure would welcome a chat with you. It's all Ian from this point onwards:

Craft Nerd vs Supermarket beer

There’s no doubt that the last few years have seen unprecedented growth in the UK craft beer scene, going against the general trend of a declining beer market, so of course the beer shelves of our supermarkets now look very different to even 3 or 4 years ago. Aside from the availability of beers from the better known craft breweries such as Brewdog and Thornbridge, the supermarkets are also trying to sell craft beer under their own labels. In a recent discussion with fellow “enthusiasts” we picked this as an area of the market that is likely to grow further in 2015. So this seemed like a good time to sample a selection of what is currently out there…..

I set myself the challenge (I realise not that much of a challenge….) of only drinking supermarket label craft beers for a week, with a minimum of 2 beers per evening. My beers were a pretty even split between Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury and Tesco. Would they be a decent set of accessible craft beers at a competitive price or just a cynical attempt to latch on to a growing trend?

Day 1 – Friday

Marks and Spencer Sovereign Golden Ale – Elgood and Sons – £2 as part of a 3 for £6 deal – 500ml
I have to admit I was more optimistic about the M&S selection as they use a number of different breweries to produce (mainly?) bespoke beers for them. This was a surprisingly distinctive beer, with a very dominant bubblegum flavour on top of a biscuit base. Sounds slightly odd, but it worked well. I would definitely buy this again at this price. Rating 7/10

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference IPA – Marstons - £1.66 as part of a 3 for £5 deal – 500ml
After a good start I have to say this was back to earth with a bump. If I hadn't been writing this up it would have gone down the sink. Virtually no aroma, a bland beer with a dreadful metallic taste. This was a clear bottle and I wonder whether it was past its best. Why do breweries still put beer in clear bottles? Rating 3/10

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Celebration Ale – Black Sheep - £1.66 as part of a 3 for £5 deal – 500ml
After the previous disaster I wasn’t overly optimistic opening this. This stout seems to be well regarded and it was certainly an improvement, although pretty light in flavour, more like a porter for me. Drinkable but not one to seek out. Rating 6/10

Day 2 - Saturday

Marks and Spencer Greenwich Red Ale – Meantime - £5 – 750ml
This was easily the most expensive beer, so became my Saturday night “treat”. It’s a well made beer, but at 4.0% I think it is too weak and lacks a bit of body. It needs to be better than this to justify the high price tag, so on that basis I wouldn't buy it again, something like Moor RAW is a much better beer in a similar style at a lower price. Rating 6.5/10

Metropolitan Brewing Company Big Bad Wolf – Greene King - £1.25 - 330ml
The second shocker and a truly depressing beer all round. This is the most obviously “craft” of the Tesco own brand beers in terms of labelling and description. Described as having “huge hoppy character”, this actually tastes like a standard UK bitter that has gone a bit stale, no aroma, no hit of hops, no real flavour. Bordering on deceitful, this could put you off craft beer if you were trying it for the first time. Rating 2/10

Day 3 - Monday

The Bee 17 – Backyard Brewery/Carlsberg - £1.50 as part of a 4 for £6 deal – 330ml
The first can, which seems to be another growth market for 2015. Not strictly supermarket own brand but Carslberg’s attempt to cash in on the craft market. It’s not bad, a hoppier version of something similar to their standard lager, but I don’t really understand why anyone would buy this when Brooklyn Lager is so widely available at decent prices. Rating 5/10

Revisionist Rye Pale Ale – Marstons - £1.50 as part of a 4 for £6 deal – 500ml
This is Tesco’s other craft range and after the Greene King effort I was ready for the worst case scenario. It was actually a pleasant surprise, with all the flavours you would expect from a rye pale ale. It was just a bit watery which makes it difficult to recommend wholeheartedly, but at this price it is a decent introduction to something a bit different. Rating 6/10

Day 4 – Tuesday

Revisionist Hefeweizen Wheat Beer - Marstons - £1.50 as part of a 4 for £6 deal – 500ml
By this stage I have to say I was beginning to crave the serious flavour hit that I get from the sort of beers I usually drink. This beer didn’t give me that, it was similar to the previous beer in that the profile was right, but it was watery. There are lots of top hefe weizens available for £2 or so, such as the classic Weihenstephaner or Franziskaner, so no need to buy this even with a 50 pence saving. Rating 5/10

Marks and Spencer Southwold Winter IPA – Adnams - £2 as part of a 3 for £6 deal
Another beer with a bit of pedigree from a good brewery. This had the most flavour of any beer I sampled, a pretty serious bitter hop hit, not the most subtle drink in the world, but a damn site better than much of what I drank this week. I’d buy this again for £2. Rating 7/10

Final three days to follow