London: food + drink in Berkshire Co.

Bracknell

The Yorkshire Rose — We weren’t terribly hungry after a substantial Sunday roast lunch, so we were drawn by the options of small plates. Not too busy on a Sunday night with just two other tables in the back room. I opted for the small mussels appetizer and the small carbonara – more than enough food! Thankfully Eric ordered the small risotto because he barely finished it. Our evening was capped off by an exciting birthday song in which a candle the celebrating party brought to the restaurant exploded into a cloud of confetti! Overall, the staff was very friendly, the food was good and I would return here if we found ourselves back in Bracknell.

Reading

The Botanist — We met Eric’s co-workers here for a quick drink before dinner. I had a large glass of pinot noir and Eric opted for the “Yule Fuel” ale on draught. The food coming out of the kitchen looked good as did their curated selection of specialty cocktails.
House of Flavors — The very first time I have ever seen Scottish salmon curry on a menu, so of course I had to try it. Not disappointing! Medium spice and the perfectly cooked salmon was delicious, pairing nicely with a glass of Indian rose. Eric opted for the sizzling chicken laziz, which was a nice medium spice as well.

Wokingham

Cote Brasserie — We opted for this French bistro on Tuesday night and the whole experience was very good. Eric loved his starter of warm goat cheese, apples and mixed greens, and followed that with a delicious pounded flat steak and fries. My French Onion soup was better with the addition of salt and after letting it cool down for about ten minutes (seriously, why do restaurants serve soup so hot?!?) My steak tartare was good, I liked that the egg was mixed in but there were WAY too many chopped onions and the flavor became overwhelming. The chocolate cheesecake-like dessert was also on par with Eric’s meal – delicious.

Cote Brasserie  Cote Brasserie

Winkfield

The White Hart —  a cozy local place a half mile from our hotel, I stopped in for a quick lunch of a brie and bacon sandwich that was completely worth the 6£ price tag. Paired with a half pint of red ale and my Kindle, it was a lovely way to spend an hour outside of the hotel room. Two women with one fluffy white dog were relaxing in front of the fire after splitting a bottle of white wine. Based on our drive by on Wednesday evening, trivia night also seemed popular!

The White Hart

Duke of Edinburgh — We were in the mood for pub food, perhaps a meat pie, so we opted for the Duke of Edinburgh. Located down a narrow lane, it had a cozy vibe from the start. Eric was not disappointed with his steak and ale pie (one of the best he’s had!) and my liver pate was also great (the onion relish was amazing). We each had a pint of one of the cask ales that was malty with a bit of a dunkelweizen banana character.

Duke of Edinburgh

enjoying a pint @Duke of Edinburgh  steak and ale pie @ Duke of Edinburgh

London: Sunday Roast with Aunt Kim + Jules

We purposely left Sunday morning free to meet up with Kim and Jules, who proposed lunch at a pub on the Thames. To get out there we took the Tube to the Kew Garden station and met up at Tap on the Line pub for a quick drink, then took an Uber to The Bell & Crown for Sunday roast.

The Bell & Crown in Chiswick  The Bell & Crown in Chiswick

We arrived promptly at noon and discovered Kim had booked us a lovely Thames River view table. Our waiter was charming and I was pleased to see the menu was a la carte. I went for the traditional beef roast while Eric chose the butternut squash soup and helped me out with my Yorkshire pudding. :)  We each enjoyed a (large) glass of wine and the relaxed company.

They needed the table back by 3pm, so we snapped a quick photo along the chilly Thames and then it was time to part ways. Until next time!

lunch date w/ Kim + Jules

 

London: Imperial War Museum, a Polish Kitchen + the death of my phone

Our flight landed early at Heathrow and because we have done this trip over a dozen times it took us no time at all to get to our hotel in Earl’s Court. As it was Saturday morning there were (unsurprisingly) no rooms available at 8am. So we dropped off our luggage and headed out in search of coffee (hot cocoa for Eric) and to waste an hour before the Imperial War Museum opened at 10am.

Chelsea stadium

Brompton Cemetery  Chelsea doorway

After grabbing two almond croissants at an Elephant & Castle Tesco, we walked over to the museum. The collection of war vehicles (tanks, SUVs, planes), bombs, and paraphernalia was impressive and the entire floor dedicated to the Holocaust with videos of survivors playing was incredibly moving. Given our post-flight haze we started to run out of energy before the WW2 display, so those artifacts warrant a future visit.

main hall @ Imperial War Museum  war planes @ Imperial War Museum

Imperial War Museum

All that mental energy was replenished by a trip to Mamuśka, a Polish restaurant near the metro station. We split an amber ale, a small order of potato, cheese and onion pierogies (sprinkled with sour cream and crispy bacon), smalec (creamy pate served with white bread), and pork gulasz with fried chips. Everything was delicious. The atmosphere in relaxed with mostly family style seating and a few 2- and 4-top tables.

Polish tastiness

Mamuska

Between returning to our now-available room for a quick nap and heading out for dinner, my phone died. It restarted suddenly and then proceeded to get caught in an endless bootloop, restarting but never getting past the main ‘Google’ screen. We tried every trick we could find online but nothing worked. After contacting GoogleFi support and discovering the manufacturer’s warranty was extended for the Nexux 5X phones because of this exact issue (!!!) we realized our only solution was to ship my phone back to LG for repairs. Unfortunately, I had JUST landed in the UK for the ten-day trip, so that meant no phone for this trip and up to two weeks after I got home.

To get our minds off of this annoyance, we headed out to dinner at Rocca, an Italian restaurant that Eric had visited on his last trip. We had called ahead but the hostess wouldn’t take a reservation for two and told us just to come in. So we did and we were luckily seated straight away in the very back of the restaurant. It was pretty noisy but the service was quick and efficient, if not a little abrupt. I ordered a glass of prosecco and Eric a sauvignon doc (white) and they came out quickly. My funghi pizza was pretty good with a nice crust, but a bit on the bland side. Eric enjoyed his rabbit ragu pappardelle. Reasonable prices on the food and wine, I would return but try another dish.

We decided to try and get into Terroirs for a nightcap and were surprised to find two seats along the bar. The place eventually emptied out and the post-theatre rush we were expecting never occurred on this particular Saturday night.  This meant we had a bit more attention from the wait staff and were able to get tastings of wines before choosing. Eric choose a Slovenian white from Burja Estate and I had a Vini Viti Vinci pinot noir from Burgundy (France). Eric’s second choice was an Les Vins Pirouettes Alsatian white and mine was an unusual prosecco from Casa Belfi. All the pours are 125ml, unlike many other places where the small is 175ml and the large is 250ml! Definitely a good place to expand our wine experiences and try unusual varietals.

liquers @ Terrior

Scotland 2017: layover in London

What to do with a half day in London? How about enjoying art, beer, and a show?

We started at one of our favorite museums, the National Gallery. Leandra hadn’t seen Cagnacci’s Repentant Magdalene (a special exhibit) so I insisted we start there. After that we explored several of our favorite rooms for the Monet, Van Gogh, and many other masterpieces, then made our way to the Reubens and Rembrandt exhibition.

mural @ National Gallery

admiring art at National Gallery

As we left a brief rain cleared out the sidewalk in front of the museum.

rainy London afternoon

The Whiskey exchange is only a few blocks away, so we headed there to pick up a bottle of Kilchoman Sanaig which we hadn’t purchased in Scotland.

Since it was May Day, restaurant hours were a bit off – Gordon’s Wine Bar cellar was packed inside when we arrived, and our second choice, Terroirs, was closed. Instead, we walked up to Craft, where we managed to get a table from a departing group. I went with the Partizan lemongrass saison, a beer I’ve had in London before – a nice mild tartness, quite refreshing, good with food – and then a Calypso Siren. Leandra went for the Pig&Porter dance first stout – quite lite but serviceable. With a 7:30p show we also needed to eat early, so we ordered the oak smoked brisket and the applewood smoked pork. Both were really nice, a great snack!

Around 7p we got the theater to pick up our tickets and find our seats for a show we’ve wanted to see for a while, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. As usual, we found a good deal on some last minute tickets just a few days earlier. We both enjoyed the staging and production, and we’re quite glad we experienced it before they closed their London run in June.

All in all, another great day in London.

Scotland 2017: Spirit of Speyside day 2

For our last day in Scotland we mixed several Spirit of Speyside events along with some drives and hikes through the beautiful countryside. I started off the morning with a photo session of the Craigellachie bridge.

Craigellachie Bridge  Craigellachie Bridge

Craigellachie Bridge

After a big breakfast at the hotel we drove south toward our first stop of the day, Glenlivet’s open house. But first we had one small detour to the old bridge of Livet, which looks like something from Lord of the Rings.

double packhorse bridge

Parking at Glenlivet was a bit confused, but after a few minutes someone left and we found a space. On our way to the party we stopped at their tiny still to try the raw spirit – lightly smoked and strong!

Glenlivet still

Inside there were several booths with cheese, spices, etc. Leandra really enjoyed the spice table with Ghilli Basan and came away with her own flavored nut mix. A food demo in the corner was quite interesting, with combinations of local foraged items paired with Glenlivet whisky. Of note: the gorse petal cocktail was really good, as was the cake and aloroso-barrel whisky pairing. In between their cooking demos the live music was also entertaining and surprisingly good. We each received a dram with our entrance, so we choose the Glenlivet 18 (very light, floral, not for me) and the Nadurra (oak and cedar, richer, but still lighter side. Fairly nice.).

making my own spice mix w/ Ghillie Basan @ Glenlivet  whisky and food pairings @ Glenlivet

Glenlivet

Our next stop was the Whisky Castle in Tomintoul, our favorite whisky shop! We spent a happy 1.5 hours here chatting with Sam, the owner, and other patrons. Sam helped Leandra find a Glenrinnes while I tried a lovely 7 year red wine barrel Caol Illa – the tannin was noticeable so I switched to a Bruichladdich instead. The Gordon & MacPhail tasting rep also convinced us on the Benriach cask – lighter than ours, more vanilla and fruit. Definitely tastes better after sitting for 20 mins, and with water.

The Whisky Castle (our favorite shop in Scotland)

The drive from Tomintoul back north to Dufftown was beautiful and filled with farms with sheep and pheasants abound!

lambs at play

wild pheasant

Compared to the Whisky Castle, our stop at the Whisky Shop Dufftown was more crowded and less helpful. However, Leandra did find several more Benrinnes bottlings, so we did make a purchase before leaving.

Dufftown

We hadn’t yet seen Linn Falls in Aberlour, so we decided to try this pleasant stroll next.

Linn Falls

Done with driving, we parked at our hotel and went for happy hour cocktails at Quaich, then headed across the street to the Highlander Inn for dinner. Though bustling, they had a cozy corner table available without a reservation (yeah!). I ordered the beef pie while Leandra thoroughly enjoyed her smoked fish trio platter (which was a lot more filling than it looks).

dinner @ Highlander Inn

The Highlander also has a noted whisky list, so after dinner we tried a Bruichladdich cask no 3093 + 3095 – 23 year, and a Benrinnes Flora and Fauna – 15 year.

After a quick walk around town, we went back to Quaich bar for the end of the Lomond Campbell session, where we scored a free dram of the Craigallechie 23. Afterwards I also enjoyed an Octomore 6.1 (beautful smokiness) and we enjoyed conversing with several of the folks hanging around, not leaving till near midnight when a Swede started some card tricks… yet another lovely day in Scotland.

Quaich Bar  music @ Quaich Bar

Scotland 2017: Spirit of Speyside day 1

The Spirit of Speyside event registration opened right after our return from Malaysia. A few days before that we went through the events available for Saturday and Sunday and made a prioritized list; some events are quite exclusive and sell out within minutes, so we knew we needed a plan. When the registration opened at 7a EST were able to reserve each item we wanted (several were sold out within the hour!).

Given that background, we were quite excited to start the festival at Cardhu Distillery for the Stillman’s Tour with Willie ‘Buzz’ Hutcheson. This distillery, owned by Johnnie Walker, is quite an operation.

Cardhu Distillery

Buzz was a hoot, providing lots of interesting anecdotes along our tour. We were amazed at how automated the plant is – they can run the whole production with a single Stillman!

Cardhu Distillery

Cardhu Distillery  Eric posing with a 31 year old cask whisky
Beautiful stills!; enjoying a 31 year old whisky

Our tour took us into the storage room where we got to try samples of a very dark 31 year malt (1986) straight out of the barrel. The second dram from a reused barrel (1987) was much lighter, so the 31 was my fave.

Buzz showing off the old casks

We ended the tour with a small tasting in the Johnnie Walker house, which features a beautiful wood-covered sitting room. Even better, they had tubes so that Leandra could take her samples to try later!

Cardhu Distillery

This tour was definitely a worthwhile experience and a great way to start the festival.

Knockando Woolmill is just around the corner so we stopped in to explore. This old wool mill has been renovated to once again run on water power! It wasn’t in operation on this Saturday, but it was fascinating to see how they process raw wool into yarn.

weaving some yard @ Knockando Woolmill

Mind Yer Heid

Knockando Woolmill  Knockando Woolmill

shop @ Knockando Woolmill

Our next stop was Dowans Hotel on the outskirts of Aberlour for lunch. Unique in our experience, we sat in the lounge area to peruse the menu and order our drinks, then seated in the restaurant when our food was ready. The decor and our sandwiches were both memorably good.

Dowans Hotel

lunch @ Dowans Hotel

We made a quick stop in downtown Aberlour to check out a gallery, then the The Spey Larder for their whisky flavored foods event before driving on to Craigellachie. We had just enough time for a quick check-in before our second event, a blind whisky taste-off between the towns of Rothes and Dufftown. This event was amazing, filled with laughter as each town one-upped the other with stories and good-natured ribbing.

Rothes vs Dufftown blind tasting

speeches in between tasting flights  interested bystanders

Over the course of two hours we tasted 10 whiskies.

Round 1: Glenrothes Vintage Reserve vs. Glenfiddich Project XX
Round 2: Glendullan ‘The Singleton’ 12 year vs. Speyburn 10 year
Round 3: Glen Grant 18 year ‘Rare Edition’ vs. Mortlach 18 year
Round 4: Glen Spey 21 year vs. Balvenie Portwood 21 year
Round 5: Cadenhead’s Cask Ends Caperdonich 1992 vs. Wm Grant and Sons Kininvie 1990

In the end Dufftown prevailed 4-1 and we both choose the winners in 4/5 rounds!

Following the blind tasting, the Craigellachie distillery hosted a free tasting under the bridge in town. Each person was allowed one dram, so Leandra choose the 31 year old and I went for the 21. Unsurprisingly, quite a few people turned out for this event! The crowd was quite fun too, as we bumped into several people that we’d met at the earlier events.

having a dram under the Craigellachie Bridge

Craigellachie Distillery options

Leandra had made a 7pm reservation for dinner at the Copper Dog several weeks earlier, which was a really good idea given how busy they were on this festival evening. I went for the fish and chips which were perfectly done and tasty. Leandra couldn’t resist the oysters and, wow, were they intimidatingly large! For her main she went with the venison.

"Whisky is liquid sunshine."  venison loin @ Copper Dog

And of course, we ended the evening in the Quaich bar. It was busy, but we snagged chairs in the far corner so were tucked away a bit. These were the whiskies we sampled:

  • Dalmore 15 – not as good as 12, brown sugar nose but more of a burn.
  • Benriach 20 – light coconut, tropical notes,  cocoa, sharp alcohol. Very nice.
  • Edradour 12 Caledonia – bit of a burn, brown sugar and citrus on nose, vanilla and honey. Good dram.
  • Ancnoc Rascan – nice smokiness, intense. Burnt marshmallows, very nice
  • Inchgower 14 – sea salt smell, pear and lime, bit of a burn, but Leandra’s fave of the night.
  • Kilchoman Sanaig – ashy! Dry, med finish with some iodine on finish. Really strong.

Another long day, but one that was quite memorable.

Scotland 2017: Exploring the Highlands

Our second day in Scotland involved lots of driving, several waterfalls, one particularly rainy hike, and a few drams of whisky (naturally).

We headed north out of Inverness along the A835 to Rogie Falls. It was a short hike to the powerful cascades with a child-friendly interpretive sign about the life cycle of salmon.

hike to Rogie Falls  Rogie Falls

Rogie Falls

While driving along, we saw a parking area near another falls that wasn’t on our list, but Blackwater Falls and the pretty roadside falls around the corner were a nice photo stop.

Black Water Falls  falls off A835

The Falls Of Mesach are located in Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve. The large parking lot was nearly empty when we arrived (yeah!) and there was a food truck selling burgers and other snacks near the first entry gate. The gorge itself was surprisingly steep and the view from the limited-person bridge was breath-taking (or terrifying depending how you feel about heights or swaying bridges).

swinging bridge capacity

Corrieshalloch Gorge  Corrieshalloch Gorge

selfie w/ Falls Of Mesach

A little further up the road is this spectacular view of the Scottish highlands…

peekaboo view of Loch Broom

Our next stop was the Lael Forest and although we weren’t entirely sure we had the correct parking lot, we decided to go exploring. Thankfully the cows didn’t seem to mind.

hello cows!

After about a mile, we found a small waterfall next to a water-driven hydro station.

Lael Forest Falls

Feeling hungry, we stopped at the Arch Hotel in Ullapool for lunch. I had the blue cheese tart while Leandra opted for the (traditionally Scottish) Cullen Skink (cream-based soup with smoked haddock, potatoes and onions). Everything was tasty.

downtown Ullapool

On our way out of town, we took a quick detour to the Rhue Lighthouse and then continued on to Knockan Crag. The views from the top were spectacular but the drizzle that changed into rain halfway through the hike was not so great.

Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve

panoramic views

Given the weather we decided to begin our return back to Inverness along A837. In Invercassley we stopped at a small turnout for Achness Falls, which we had all to ourselves.

Achness Falls

Further down the road are the Falls of Shin, which appear to be recently developed with a parking lot and a new ramp and viewing platform. Unfortunately, the view is of top of falls, so it is not a great photo spot – hopefully they will complete a second viewing platform a little further downstream that will provide a much better vantage soon.

Falls of Shin

Given the time we decided to have dinner at the Dornoch Castle Hotel, which is known to have a nice whisky selection. Leandra had the mussels and I had the (very light and fluffy) goat cheese fritter salad (which was larger than expected, and quite tasty). Leandra had a few mistakes happen during dinner, including the wrong wine delivered to the table and leaving off the toasted bread on the mussels, but thankfully, everything was fixed quickly.

Dornoch Castle  mussels @ Dornoch Castle

After dinner we were lucky to snag a couch in the Whisky Bar while we perused the whisky list. Leandra tried a Clynelish 15 year cask in her long-standing challenge to identify a whisky like her beloved Benrinnes. Eric started with a local, Glenmorangie 12 year port finish, then went for a Laphroaig Scotch Malt Whisky Society‎ 29.175 16yr. This was lovely, with chocolate, burnt marshmallows, light fruit, nice smokiness.

scotch by candlelight @ Dornoch Castle

All in all, a long but satisfying day exploring Scotland.