All seems calm. St John Street, Clerkenwell. But there’s something bubbling away behind the scenes. Car chases, mystery, action… and ‘Gotham city police station’. All directed by Christopher Nolan (of the massively successful Inception). So bat fans, it’s time to check out Gotham’s finest. You might not catch a glimpse of the Dark Knight himself, but as I sink a spoon into one of the temptingly gorgeous cheese soufflés with a glass of Merlot at hand, I wistfully smile to myself. Forget Batman, I prefer our local food heroes. Sitting right amongst the buzz of the action, behind our trademark green canopy and wine barrels, keeping an eye out for Mr Bale et al on one of their breaks, I look forward to the movie release and will always remember, in the wise words of his super onscreen lady friend Rachel Dawes, “It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you”.
What are you going to do tonight? (eccentric billionaires welcome)
Big city neon lights. Big clothing. Bigger hair. Even bigger mobile phones. With The Apprentice hitting our screens again and a menagerie of ever hungry young guns treading over each other to be the next big thing, I find myself hooked once more. The catchphrases, the tasks and the cunning strategies of the select few individuals that shine through, got me to thinking.
It may come in various guises and face an assortment of good and bad challenges over the years depending on the world’s economic conditions, affecting perceptions, trends and decisions from top to bottom. For example, the time to be seen to be flash, big and ballsy is one of the past. Old school business ways are perceived as too showy, not productive, a waste of spare pennies – why have a top meeting over lunch in a local restaurant or bistro, when you can grab a severely pale coffee from the machine and stay within the beige four walls of your 6m x 6m office? Companies are still looking for ways of doing business that show value for money whilst at the same time seen to be ‘looking after’ their clients and colleagues and show that they are important to them. A meeting of minds over an unpretentious brunch and a Bloody Mary, or a late Friday afternoon lunch arrangement that turns into a nip or two of malt to see in the weekend, gives the impression that you care to take the time and show the importance of your clients or colleagues. An important trait to gain loyalty and trust.
Technology is advancing at the speed of light so much so that we don’t even need to be in the same room to have a meeting or hold a conference. I feel a little sad that this may cut out some of the personality, the face-to-face that helps build trust and longevity in business.
The world may have changed, but I believe business on a whole has not. The hunger, the drive, the ambition and the dealing, all still make up the bones of business. Whether a small business of one, or an organisation of hundreds, perception and creating an impression is still a major factor. Ok, so we can’t be seen to be splashing the cash on fancy locations, travel, and popping the Champagne on a regular basis – this doesn’t make good business sense especially in this current climate.
But there’s a balance. To build good relationships and discuss important deals and decisions, there needs to be some sort of respect given to this process. Is it not all part of the perception to take a leaf out of the old school style and add those little touches that made the difference? That impressed or made clients or colleagues feel relaxed and confident in each other? A local beer in the bar was always where the best nuggets of an idea formed, a quick and efficiently served lunch on comfortable stools round the open island kitchen is a great way to kill two birds and eat while you meet. A glass of bubbly to celebrate a success is always well deserved and keeps up spirits and moral.
So, it looks like the big hair’s making a come-back so I say let’s invest in a glass of exceedingly good Claret or chew over a decision on a succulent, melt in the mouth steak once in a while – the devil is in the detail, and if you’re going to do business with him, we should all embrace him.
One poignant moment comes and goes and we’re all asked – ‘Where were you?’, then shortly after comes another one. Life is a stream of decisions, moments and memories, so although you might not think it at the time, your choice of where to watch the Royal wedding, who to spend your 21st with, and what to wear on your graduation day for fear of tripping up on stage, are all decisions, that lead to moments, that lead to great memories that last a lifetime.
I’d like to say I cracked open the Champagne and celebrated my graduation with my friends and family, digging in to a good steak and swapping comments of thankfulness and hilarity that I was the one who tripped on the gown, but I sort of let the occasion go by without a sense of importance and without much appreciation to my family who had seen me through the long, long hours and mounds of drawing pads. Talks of drinks and meals with fellow graduates fell by the wayside and no-one really seemed too excited about yet another night at the Dog and Parrot.
In hindsight, if I were to do it again, I’d absolutely make more of an occasion of it all. I’d gather up all my loved ones and celebrate with them in style. Dressed in our finest I’d splash out and have the Champagne on ice, the chocolate strawberries in circulation and weather permitting, we’d be dining alfresco. I’d have definitely opted for the Champagne Afternoon Tea all round, which to me would have suited the occasion and the moment down to a ‘tea’, with delicate, delicious finger sandwiches, creamy scones (my father’s favourite) and sponge cake (my favourite).
Many, like me, may let the day drift by, or spend it in the ‘Dog’ without putting any great significance on the achievement. But having spent years of studying, striving and of test cramming, to set a platform for the future, I think a celebration with substance is the least the graduate and equally their nearest and dearest deserve.
And so, I’m gathering my family for that Champagne Afternoon Tea, even if I am a decade late, to toast to them, and to all those who support and nurture with love, humour and wise words. Thank you. To all those decisions, moments and memories. This time, no trip ups.
We’ve been given an extra day off. Another blissfully long, four day weekend. Thanks to the Royal Wedding, whether you’re big on bunting or burying your head under the duvet, for this extra day off, I am truly thankful. I for one, think it’s a day to celebrate. To be proud of being British and of all things British. We sometimes forget to rally our sense of spirit and be a part of something, especially after the recent tough times and impending ‘double-dip’.
This is a happy event, that will go down in history and that as a country we kind of need to lift that spirit again. You may be sick as a chip of seeing it on the news, but I say let’s dig out those smart get ups and have something to talk about when we inevitably get asked when back at work ‘Where were you on Friday?’ And let’s face it, there’s not many occasions I can get away with my blue, spotted, heart shaped fascinator – but I’m sure this is one of them.
So, I’ll have my fingers crossed and shades at the ready for the sun to stick around. I’ll be gathering my nearest and dearest together in their most glorious finery, and instead of my usual glass of Pinot, I’ll be trying out some of the English wine and fizz everyone’s talking about. They sound like they’re going to be as big as the wedding itself this year. British wines and bubbly they tell me, are becoming a big hit for 2011 and beyond. as trends change and our summers are a few days longer. I think it would be rude not to give them a whirl. And they are of course being served at the Royal Wedding itself, so if it’s good enough for the happy couple… The Sommelier at Hotel du Vin & Bistro suggested I try a Balfour Brut Rosé or a Nannette’s English Rosé both from Hush Heath Estate in Kent, so I’ll be ordering a couple of those.
Once we’ve watched the celebration on TV or big screen and the vows have been made, being a Friday off and all, I know I won’t want the moment to end there. I’m never the first one to leave anything, so I’m thinking how quintessential a way to continue the afternoon than with an afternoon tea – a Champagne one of course. I can’t not have cake at a wedding…..any excuse. My favourite cake at that, light, fluffy, jam and cream filled, a nod to the British baking tradition, the Victoria Sponge. My mouth waters just thinking about it. Before the sweet I also can’t resist my favourite crust free sandwiches. I’m hoping for salmon, cucumber and cream cheese.
I’m not having my own street party as I live city centre and the main road might prove tricky to block off – so I’m heading for my local Hotel du Vin. That way I have the option of indoors or al fresco and they’ll definitely have all the treats I’m hankering for to save me attempting them at home – minus the cake mix plastered walls! – so I’d like to be treated like Royalty this weekend and be served wine and cakes for no other reason than I’m British.
You may choose to join me and be waited on, or you may fancy trying some of these specially created recipes below from Keith Shearer, Executive Chef at Hotel du Vin, for your own street party or soiré at home. Here’s to a happy Friday wherever you are. Whatever you choose to do, I choose to celebrate with loved ones. It’s not often we get a free Friday together.
Where will you be?
Victoria Sandwich cake
200gm caster sugar
200gm self raising flour
1tsp baking powder
Cream butter and sugar together,
Add eggs one at a time and mix till well creamed,
Add sieved flour and baking powder,
Mix till a smooth batter is achieved,
Pour into a greased lined cake tin bake at 180c,
Bake for 20mins till well risen and firm to the touch,
Leave to cool split through the middle spread with strawberry jam (fresh whipped cream or butter cream optional),
Replace the top and dust with icing sugar
250gm strong white flour
500gm plain flour
45gm baking powder
500ml butter milk
Rub butter through dry ingredients until fine crumbs are achieved,
Add buttermilk and mix to combine, do not over mix,
Roll out to one inch thickness and cut out circular shapes,
Egg wash the top (careful not to get any egg wash on sides of scone or it will stop them rising),
Bake at 210c until well risen and golden brown,
Serve with clotted cream and strawberry jam
1lb ripe bananas
1lb caster sugar
4 whole eggs
8oz melted butter
1lb plain flour
1 1/2 oz baking powder
In a machine bowl whisk bananas and sugar together,
Add eggs oil and melted butter,
Sieve flour and baking powder together,
Fold into banana mixture,
Pour into greased and lined 1lb loaf tins scale at 400gm,
Bake at 180c for 30-40 mins
1125gm strong white flour
Lightly cream butter and sugar together,
Add eggs slowly until well incorporated,
Add flour until just combined,
Reserve till needed,
Roll out 3-4 mm thick line small tart cases bake blind till fully baked leave to cool,
Brush melted chocolate into the tart case
1 vanilla pod split and scraped
6 egg yolks
125gm caster sugar
30gm plain flour
15gm corn flour
Heat milk with vanilla pod,
Whisk caster sugar and egg yolks together,
With the flour and corn flour,
Add hot milk to egg mix return to stove cook out,
Chill reserve till needed, fold in semi-whipped cream to soften
Fill tart shells with pastry cream, decorate with seasonal fruit – nice combination of colours,
Finish off with a clear pastry glaze on top, set removes drips,
Run toasted desiccated coconut round the edge to finish.
Recipes by Keith Shearer, Executive Chef at Hotel du Vin & Bistro
I can’t function without a strong brew the minute I open my eyes – but I must have it in a tea cup with a saucer. Unbelievably I’m a novice and have only once ventured into the world of afternoon teas, and that occasion was for a particular charity event at which we had to dress in a 20’s to 40′s theme and have our pictures taken in sepia. Thankfully my wardrobe’s full of items from every era and always a pair of red Mary Janes, so I was pretty well suited and this was the ideal way to spend the afternoon for me. I enjoyed it thoroughly, leaving me with the one thought that ‘I must do this more often’.
Other than this, my eclectic collection of retro cups and saucers continues to take over my kitchen, coupled with my mission to bake the perfect jam sponge. But until recently, I had nowhere that fully accommodated my desire for cake and tea served in exactly the right way. Attention to detail is the most important ingredient of a well created afternoon tea.
A new edition to One Devonshire Gardens our Glasgow property. We’ve always prided ourselves on being a touch cutting edge and we’ve had docking stations before, but since trialing these speakers we decided a full upgrade was in order. You’ll see these in every room at One Devonshire Gardens. The contents of your ipod are a guarded secret, but at least you know at ODG the sound quality, much like the hotel will be absolutely top notch. (Thanks to Grant Shepherd at ODG for the pic)
Following hot on the heels of the official opening of our Bistro in Clerkenwell, we’re delighted to announce our second Bistro du Vin, this time on Dean Street in Soho. The former Los Iguanos restaurant will be dusted with the du Vin magic brush. It will feature the same surefire success elements, like the Josper Grill, the “By-the-Glass” machine, and the same undying passion for simple bistro classics combined with a genuine love for great wine.