Archive | December, 2011

Stokey Smokie is Okey Dokie

24 Dec Hansen & Lydersen front door

Stoke Newington smoked salmon in the Norwegian style.

Buying fish on Twitter is a first for me. A week ago I took advantage of the generous offer that Hansen and Lydersen posted on Twitter; 20% off for Tweeted orders picked up from the smokery. Perfect. I get money off and a chance to visit a smokehouse producing famously great smoked salmon 10 minutes walk from my house! This is Tommy Rumbles territory. Big style.

So yesterday I set off to pick up my side of Norwegian-style smoked salmon. I got to Shelford Place N16 and wandered down past a ramshackle collection of artist studio spaces. At the end of the lane I started to get a whiff of fragrant smoke and a hand-written sign directed me round to the left. This place is well tucked away, it feels like you’re discovering a secret lair. Under a fire-escape staircase is an unassuming red door stencilled with a salmon. I’d arrived.

Inside the scene was a little chaotic. White tiled walls covered in red marker pen with numbers and calculations like the scrawlings of a mad professor, sides of salmon wrapped in paper being loaded into boxes and lists ticked off. It was Christmas order day in full swing. Clearly they are selling a lot of salmon and the logistics of getting them out on time are not controlled by Microsoft handheld stock check machines, but by humans. Imagine the elves in Santa’s grotto on 24th December, that scene recreated so many times in Disneyesque Christmas films, but instead of toys think beautiful blushing pink salmon. In the corner of the room a wood-burning stove was connected to a flue which led out to a dark and smoky room just beyond. And the smell was amazing.

Salmon smoking

Salmon smoking

At the centre of the activity was a tall, blond-haired chap in wellies and an apron. The smokemaster; Ole Hanson, conducting operations with a steely scandinavian calm. As the delivery driver left with his box of orders the atmosphere relaxed a bit and focus shifted to getting queueing customers supplied. All were welcome to step through the rough-hewn portal at the back of the room for a tour of the smoke-room. Everything has an artisan quality, functional but also beautiful, from the chopping block fashioned from a log, to the smoke-room and cold storage areas where the delicately coloured fish hang like Christmas baubles. This is a guerilla salmon smoking operation and all the better for it.

I can’t wait to try the salmon I bought (saving it for Christmas day), but I also couldn’t wait to blog about this place, because it’s such an experience. If the sights and smells of Hansen and Lydersen are anything to go by this salmon is going to be amazing!

Hansen and Lydersen, 3-5 Shelford Place, London N16 9HS
Smoked salmon chillin'

Smoked salmon chillin'

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Tommy is Pacified

16 Dec

Big flavours mean big bubbles don’t spoil this laid-back little coffee place.

Tommy loves nothing better than a great cup of coffee and something delicious to go with it. If you’re that way inclined too and find yourself in that no-man’s land between Clapton and Hackney Central then Pacific Social Club is the place to go.

No stressing allowed. This place has an atmosphere as chilled as a sleepy sloth lazing on a lilo. Something about the layout, the furnishings, the bookcase and the music combine to hit all the right relax buttons.

They’re using a La Marzocco coffee machine and Climpson and Sons’ coffee, so they

Bubbly flat white

Bubbly flat white

care a lot about what they’re doing when it comes to coffee. Despite that my flat white was not exactly perfect when it arrived. The milk texturing seemed to have gone wrong and it was delivered with a head on it more like a pint of craft ale, the bubbles were way too big. However the problems were largely aesthetic as the coffee itself tasted good.

What also tasted good was the chipotle and apricot jam, with cream cheese, on toast. That was a taste explosion. Sweet, spicy, smoky and warming it is an unusual and memorably delicious plate of food. I understand that the jam was made by the proprietor and it has an artisan feel to it. Some mouthfuls are spicier than others and it all adds to the charm of the dish and of the place.

I also got a freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice which had big flavour too, sharp as a tack and an incredible pink colour. When they say pink they mean pink.

This is a top spot for a relaxed thoughtful approach to coffee and full-flavoured delicious snacks. A bit more attention to detail when making a coffee would be good, but on second thoughts maybe this is part of Pacific Social Club’s charm. They care, but they’re not stressed.

Pacific Social Club, 8 Clarence Road, London E5 8HB
Pacific Social Club

Pacific Social Club

Spud-I-Like

14 Dec

The new grocer’s shop on Church Street is a welcome addition.

I used to pop in and get delicious homemade samosas from the newsagents on Church Street when the Stoke Newington Farmers’ Market was held in William Patten school. They were made by the wife of the man who ran the newsagent and they were great. So I was gutted to see the notice in the window announcing their retirement and the closing of the shop. No more samosas. Bad one.

I was fully expecting to see it re-open as a designer kids-clothes shop, or some kind of vintage homeware emporium. However, after a month or so of furious renovation and remodelling it has, in fact, opened as a greengrocer’s. Bold move considering it is directly opposite Whole Foods Market, that global behemoth of corporate retail which has managed to slip under the middle-class outrage radar of Stoke Newington.*

So can Stoke Newington Green compete, thrive and survive in the tough retail conditions that prevail? It’s too early to say, but they have got off to a great start.

This place has a really extraordinary range of produce and it all looks in tip-top form.

Thai rambutan

Thai rambutan

No tired looking fruit and veg on display here. Ten types of apple, including English grown and cooking apples, and my favourite russet apples, exotic fruit from all over the world, fresh, good quality veg including British grown baby and full-sized varieties. It’s a cracking-good fruit and veg shop. I hope more people who use Whole Foods will spot it and support a local shop instead, and I’m sure they will because this place is excellent.

*I remember when Stokey residents were up in arms about Nandos opening on Church Street, but no one seems to bat an eye at shopping in Whole Foods Market whose global sales for 2011 topped $10billion. Go figure.

Fresh turmeric

Fresh turmeric

Pig’s Ear of it

12 Dec
casks of ale
casks of real ale

My trip to the Pig’s Ear beer festival left me feeling a bit disappointed.

East London and City branch of CAMRA (The Campaign for Real Ale) held their annual beer festival for the 28th time this week. That’s a lot of beer. For nearly 30 years this event has resolutely upheld the traditions of British beer. Cask-conditioned real ale was unloved, anachronistic and in decline when CAMRA and it’s network of local branches started 40 years ago, but now thanks to their perseverance and foresight, interest in this unique, traditional craft product is once more on the rise. Nuff respec’.

As I’m a fairly recent convert to the delights of craft beer I haven’t attended many beer festivals. So I was excited about going. A chance to sample some rare and unusual brews, and to get to know more about the local beer scene. Hackney was without a local brewery until this year, now there are several and more are opening all the time. With the festival being held in Clapton, which is rapidly becoming the new Dalston, this event should be something special. A celebration of a burgeoning craft in a vibrant and exciting setting. Surely?….Not so much, no.

So what was wrong with the festival then? The venue is amazing, a beautiful grade II* listed building with plenty of space and a

view from balcony at festival

Drinkers at the Festival

very dramatic atmosphere of its own. You couldn’t find a better building to have a festival. Perhaps with some subtle lighting and decorative touches it could have been enhanced, but that is a minor gripe, because it is a stunning building. Paying £4 to get in (£2 to CAMRA members), is a bit steep, as this only buys you entry. You then have to hire a glass, which involves getting to the other side of the hall and another financial transaction. Why can’t the glass hire and entrance payment be done in one? Probably because a lot of casual visitors would baulk at the idea of handing over £7 just for the opportunity to buy a beer.

Once you have completed these formalities it is time to get a drink. Great, forget having just been fleeced for seven quid, we’re in now, lets relax and have a beer. But where do you start? How do you decide which of the impressive array of beers on offer to choose? You can look in the festival programme, but that doesn’t help much. The choice is dazzling and vast. I asked the barman for one of the brews from the new local breweries. He gave me a taster of one, brewed specially for the festival. It was warm and brown and dull. I asked if there was a different one, but there wasn’t. Only one cask of local ale on offer amongst all this beer seemed a strange situation.

So I thought I’d go completely the other way and try some of the Italian cask ales that the festival had specially imported. A very impressive array of Italian cask ale was lined up on the other side of the hall. This is something you don’t see everyday. I asked the barman here for  a recommendation. His ‘beer of the festival’ was a 9% Double IPA. I asked for a taster, but apparently they don’t do tasters (even though I’d had one on the other bar). So I took him up on his glowing recommendation and had a half. Big mistake. A beer of this strength and body should not be served warm, it was undrinkable. A schoolboy error on my part maybe, ordering such a strong beer, but the barman had done a fairly hard sell on it, saying it was great and there wasn’t much of it left.

I really wanted to like this festival. I love beer, and I love exciting food-related Hackney happenings, but this just didn’t do it for me. I could overlook the lack of ambience (would music distract too much from the drinking?), the lack of seating, the abscence of delicious tasty morsels. I could get over the fact that I was in a crowd of 96.7% males, I wasn’t on the pull. No, I was looking for extraordinary taste sensations, amazing beers delivered in peak condition, the ‘Ice Cold in Alex’ moment, where nothing else can slake the thirst but lovely beer. Unfortuantely this festival didn’t deliver. The main event; the beer, just wasn’t up to it. I don’t mean to imply that the beer should be served ice cold, but it should be served cool. Between 12 and 14 Celsius according to CAMRA’s website. The beers here were served warm in a warm room.

This is real ale at its most unreconstructed and rather than expand the audience for ale, I fear events like this will put the uninitiated off.

Hackney Wild Hops

3 Dec

Brewing beer with foraged hops!

My mate Graham happens to be the Cellarman at one of London’s beeriest beer bars: The Euston Tap. Last week he went up to Norwich to brew a beer with Northcote brewery. Why is this a Hungry Hackney ting? Simples; Graham lives in Stoke Newington and he harvested some of the hops used in the beer from his back garden where they were growing wild. Foraged hops being used for brewing actual beer! I wanted to know more.

“I used to be a self-employed Gardener” explained Graham “so I knew that these vigorous twining plants growing like the clappers in my garden and next door were Humulus lupulus” which is the Gardener’s way of saying hops. “So I let them grow, hoping that they would flower.”

And flower they did. It’s the flowers, or cones, of the hop plant that are used in brewing. They give beer it’s bitterness, herbal aromas and balance out the sweet flavour of the other main ingredient; malted barley.

Harvested hop cones
Harvested hop cones

“By the end of Summer the hop plants were covered in bright green flowers. The best time to harvest them is just as the cones are starting to turn brown at the edges. Then you know they’re ripe” Graham continued “so at the end of September I started my harvest. I got my daughter to help me and we collected loads.”

After collecting the cones Graham laid them out in his greenhouse on shelving to dry out any excess moisture. This took a couple of days. Then he put them into freezer bags, squeezed out all the air and tied them, before putting them into the freezer to store until brew day. Keeping them in the freezer is also a good way of killing off any nasties, bacteria or insects, that might be lurking in the cones.

For the brew day Graham took the hops to the Northcote Brewery in Norwich. Run by husband and wife team Adam and Jenni Nicholls the microbrewery has been producing hand crafted ales for only just over a year. The plan was to create a highly hopped pale ale with as many hop additions as they could. As well as the Hackney Wild Hops they added copious amounts of Citra, Summit and Pacific Jade at every stage of the brewing process. The beer is going to be called ‘One For The Road’ and will be on sale only at The Euston Tap, probably around Christmas and into the new year. There will be about 16 casks of it produced, but because it uses unique wild hops, once it’s gone, it’s gone. There won’t be a chance to recreate it until the wild hop harvest next year.

copper

Hops on the Copper