Essential ingredients: asparagus

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Photograph: Jason Lowe

Photograph: Jason Lowe

In the first of a new monthly feature on seasonal produce, our Head Chef Stewart Turner dishes up a simple asparagus starter, while Richard Veal from our Private Wine Events team suggests wines to partner the season’s slender stems.

On the plate: Asparagus is one of the truly great seasonal treats in an age when we are used to eating everything all year. Full-flavoured, deliciously sweet and tender, British asparagus is regularly described as the ‘best in the world’ and it really has no comparison. While the British climate may not be great for getting a tan, but it provides optimum growing conditions for asparagus. The season is relatively short, from April to June, so we are right in the middleat the moment. With such a great ingredient I like to keep things simple to really show off the flavour of the asparagus. This lovely starter is just perfect for early summer lunch or dinner parties.

In the glass: Asparagus isn’t a challenging pairing with wine, well, not more so than broccoli, kohlrabi, cabbage or kale. It’s the fact that these other, worthy vegetables don’t take centre stage, so rightfully prominently, for such a short season that has given the asparagus wine-pairing conundrum such status. We understand asparagus, it’s pungent, light and earthy with a delicate texture. If you can accurately apply those descriptions to the wine you want to pair, you’ll be dining very well.

Thankfully there are a number that fit; Villa Diamante’s Fiano di Avellino for one, with its tight acidity and flinty fruit, is fragrantly expansive. A lighter more generous combination with asparagus is the Samos Muscat which aromatically complements the spring spears so fantastically; although we should wonder if it’s necessary to forego another opportunity for Champagne. Eric Rodez’s Blanc de Noirs has enough of the forest floor alongside perfect Pinot Noir density to make a wonderful partnership. For all the astringency, salt, spice and texture of Stewart’s asparagus mimosa I would suggest Le Soula Blanc; rich and tight, fruity and acidic, mineral and floral, this vinous contradiction does ever so well.

Asparagus mimosaServes 4
  • 2 free range eggs
  • 2 bunches of medium asparagus (500g in total, trimmed weight)
  • 3 tbsp best-quality olive oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp small capers, drained
  • Maldon sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 radishes
  • ½ bunch chives – chopped
  • Espelette pepper

Place the eggs in a small saucepan, cover with boiling water and cook for 10 minutes. Refresh in cold water and peel. Grate the egg on the fine side of the grater and set aside.

Combine the lemon juice and olive oil. Season well with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. Stir in the capers and chives. Finely slice the radish and place in some iced water.

Cook the asparagus in plenty of salted boiling water for about 3 minutes, until just cooked – be careful not to overcook it.

Transfer the asparagus to serving plates. Spoon over the dressing, and sprinkle over the grated egg and radish slices. Finish with a pinch of Espelette pepper.

Category: Food & Wine

On the table: Vinoteca King’s Cross

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vinoteca-kx-3

This month Victoria Stewart visits the flourishing King’s Cross area to check out the newest branch of Vinoteca, a stalwart on the London food and wine circuit.

Restaurants are springing up around the new King’s Cross station development faster than Gordon Ramsay can roar the F-word. Yet these are not the sorts of unassuming bolt-holes you find in Soho; in four years we have seen socking great canteens like Caravan, Bruno Loubet’s Grain Store and recently Dishoom go up inside the old grain store warehouse on Granary Square, itself transformed. Their menus and design may be wildly dissimilar but what they share is prominence, high ceilings and plenty of leg-room.

The new Vinoteca, the fifth and largest outpost from the Italian wine bar and restaurant group, fits into this galumphing crew. Bear right out of the station and you are directly confronted with an office block bearing down on enormous brown pillars, and Vinoteca emblazoned in curling yellow letters. Blink and you won’t miss it.

On a balmy Friday evening there’s a steady crowd assembling either on wicker beach chairs outside, or inside where the atmosphere is warm and effervescent, designed with corrugated green glass partitions, pendant frosted-glass chandeliers and an impressive, semi-circular bar. Beaming neon letters indicate the Wine Shop. Outside on the new Pancras Square, my pal and I are surrounded by groups of skittish skateboarders, an old gymnasium, the soon-to-launch Granger & Co. restaurant and the new station, its domed roof like a mini Eden Project.

Recreational wine lovers, or those in a rush, might stick to the one-page daily bar and food menu, since the full wine list, separated usefully by flavour profiles, is a laminated manual of nearly 30 pages. Thankfully we are not expected to share an array of frantic small plates so instead settle comfortably into the customary sequence of snacks, mains, desserts, separated by price tags: £2-4.50, £6-£9, £12-20.

‘Crispy lamb, anchovy and mint mayo’ are three balls of deep-fried unctuousness. ‘Grilled Bideford squid, aubergine and harissa salad’ is rather oil-heavy but its main feature is so tender that it must be the result of long cooking and charring. Though served with melba toast that immediately breaks, the potted Portland crab is a super dish, sweet and briny, with a brief zip of frisée and crunchy radish slice.

A plate of ‘oriecchiette’ is as nice and balanced a version as I’ve had anywhere, and the little earlobe pasta shapes make ideal bowls from which to scoop up buttery, garlic and parmesan sauce. Roast Scottish salmon is accompanied by Jersey Royals and freshened up with gangly Monk’s Beard and a lovely lemony Hollandaise sauce – but too steep at £18. Gently spiced black-pepper ice cream is an encouraging finish.

Vinoteca King’s Cross will not take you on a thrilling tour of new flavours and sophistication, but in a city of endless dining experiences it’s the sort of steady, satisfying place that is useful to have up your sleeve if you’re in the area.

What we drank:

From the ‘Rich, Opulent, Concentrated’ list of New Zealand whites, a bottle of 2011 Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay, Auckland, New Zealand

Vinoteca King’s Cross, One Pancras Square, N1C 4AG

Category: Food & Wine

A promenader’s picnic

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Image: Royal Albert Hall

Image: Royal Albert Hall

May heralds the booking process for the Proms and, with his tickets safely secured, Tom Cave – our Cellar Plan Manager – looks ahead to the season, making plans for essential pre-concert picnics.

I have a propensity for the works of Gustav Mahler and these always enjoy a good representation at the Proms.  To enjoy Mahler at its best, I feel, warrants a glass or two preparation; something of an ‘attitude adjuster’ to mark the switch from work-mode to a more relaxed state where you can let the music truly envelope you.

Visits to the Proms tend to involve music-loving colleagues more than non-work friends, perhaps since the No.9 bus offers ideal transport from St James’s to the Royal Albert Hall and, for me, onwards home in Hammersmith. It’s a delight to take those who have not been to a Prom before, but there is a core of good Berry Bros. & Rudd folk who love classical music and, of course, wine.

The mighty plane tree to gilded Albert’s left, opposite the Royal Albert Hall, offers a shaded location, or equally shelter from showers. Although the hard earth is not the most comfortable picnic site; this is neither the place nor time for chairs, rugs and other picnicking paraphernalia.  We’re only here for 30 minutes or so, having arrived by bus – and ideally a majestic 1950s-designed Routemaster which occasionally grace this route (though a Boris version will do) – bearing chilled wines and assorted edibles.

Champagne, of course, features and it is provident that the company’s Champagne Buyer is a regular member of the party as he invariably conjures up a superior cuvée.  Another associate has a knack for sourcing agreeable victuals, and in just the right quantity, whether from Messrs Fortnum & Mason or Marks & Spencer.

Someone will likely bring Riesling (much vaunted still as the wine merchant’s favourite white grape variety) and whether Hock, Mosel or Barossa this is always well-received and the perfect summer-picnic wine. For me, the food match of pork pie and good, cru Beaujolais is, well, matchless, so I’ll supply a Morgon or Moulin-à-Vent, still bearing the delicious slightly-chilled hue from the St James’s Street cellars. Rosé has its place, but it’s not really at home with Mahler.

Suitable drinking vessels can be difficult to employ, we’re a moving feast and don’t want to be carrying sticky wine glasses into the Hall nor bear them home. Shamefully, plastic water beakers serve the purpose quite well enough and these can be discarded pre-concert in the handy waste-bin thoughtfully provided nearby.

Thirst sated and hunger assuaged we join the audience to revel contentedly in that unique atmosphere that makes the Proms and the Albert Hall so very special.

Explore our definitive list of wines and spirits for summer drinking on bbr.com.

Category: Food & Wine,Miscellaneous

Midsummer feasts: Coronation chicken

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With the picnic season upon us, our Head Chef Stewart Turner continues his series of recipes for al fresco dining with a quintessentially British picnic dish – coronation chicken; previously considered passé, this street-party staple is experiencing a revival.

Coronation chicken has had its ups and downs since its original inception as a dish to celebrate the Queen’s coronation. It gave Britain a much-needed culinary lift in those thrifty post-war years. Cool enough now to hold retro cachet, it has made a bit of a comeback in recent years; but, whether in fashion or not, it is a dish that I love. Not only is it so versatile – as a canapé, snack, sandwich-filling or picnic must – but it can be adapted (at Berry Bros. & Rudd we do a crab version that makes a lovely dinner-party starter). Above all else it’s absolutely delicious. It is often made with leftovers, which I think does it a bit of a disservice; I like to make mine with a freshly-roasted chicken that has been dusted with spices.

Coronation chicken
    coronation-chicken

  • 1 chicken
  • 2 onions – 1 peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 chilli – deseeded and finely chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic – 2 peeled and finely chopped, 3 smashed
  • 1 lemon – halved
  • 2 tbsp mild curry powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • A good splash of white wine
  • 50g dried apricots – diced
  • 2 tbsp chopped chives
  • 2 tbsp chopped coriander
  • 100g mayonnaise
  • 50g mango chutney – chopped through

Peel and thickly slice one of the onions and place in a roasting tray. Stuff the chicken cavity with the lemon, thyme and three cloves of garlic. Season well and drizzle with olive oil. Massage in half the spices. Place the chicken on top of the onions and roast at 180˚C for about an hour, until the juices run clear and the chicken is cooked. Remove from the roasting tray and allow to cool. Retain the onions with the chicken and deglaze the tray with a good splash of white wine, scraping the tray to remove any sediment. Set to one side.

Heat a good splash of olive oil in a saucepan and sweat the remaining onion, chilli and garlic for about five minutes. Add the remaining spices and allow to cook for two to three minutes. Add the liquor from the roasting tray and, once reduced by half, remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Once cool enough to touch, strip the chicken from the bones, dicing down any large chunks. Chop the onions that were cooked with the chicken and place in a mixing bowl. Add the diced onion, spice mix, mayonnaise and mango chutney. Season to taste. Finish with the chopped herbs and dried apricots and chill well.

Serve sprinkled with poppadum crumbs and fresh mango salsa for a truly great picnic experience.

Discover our definitive list of wines and spirits for summer drinking on bbr.com.

Category: Food & Wine