Cocktail-Hopping at Bitters & Love

As I mentioned in the last Wineweek, we did some cocktail-hopping over Valentines day weekend. Because we were concerned there would be a lot of people out, and we wanted to visit as many places as possible, we set out on our journey already at 6pm. Great choice as we had no trouble getting a seat at Bitters & Love, a much talked about “speakeasy” here in Singapore. The bar is not really what you could call a real speakeasy. It’s located in the back room of a restaurant called Shoebox Canteen. There are no signs outside, but you can already see from the door that there is something going on in the back. The look of the place is lightly hipster, but I suspect that the real pioneers have already moved on to something new and cooler. I don’t mind at all, I am here for the cocktails, not to get on the good side of the in-crowd (I’m too old for that).

The concept is simple: you have a menu with a set of flavours (sweet, sour, spicy etc) and a list of spirits. You tell the bar tender the spirit and flavour of your choice (you do not need to limit yourself to the list provided either) and perhaps describe what kind of ingredients you like (I love stuff like ginger, cucumber and mint in my drinks), and the bartender will make you a drink based on that. Awesome if you are a person who likes surprises (not so awesome if you are not). I chose a nice Gin and asked for something spicy (not Asian spicy, but in the medium range) and M selected a dark Rum and asked for something fresh and full. After a short wait we were served a pair of beautiful drinks that did not disappoint neither in looks or taste. Both wishes had been taken into account and we got to taste something new.

We also ordered some bar snacks as a substitue for a ‘proper’ dinner: some truffle fries, chicken fritters and sliders. All were pretty decent. Not the best gourmet experience of my life, but took away the hunger. The only real disappointment for us was that we could not order from the Shoebox Canteen menu and eat at the bar. Perhaps they have this policy to make sure the cocktail bar stays as a cocktail bar, I would just really have liked to have a larger menu. All in all, Bitters & Love was an excellent experience. Not the cheapest cocktail bar in town with drinks ranging from 19-26 SGD, but at par with other places (it’s the weakening Swedish krona that is killing me). I definitely recommend popping by if you are in Singapore. If you can’t make it before 8pm, I recommend reserving a table up front.

Cocktail Bar Review: LongPlay, Singapore

LongPlay is a fairly newly opened (opened in dec 2014/jan 2015) cocktail bar on Haji Lane (and having an entrance also on Arab Street) in the Arab district of Singapore. As the name suggests it is celebrating the old vinyl LPs and while I may be a bit too young to fully have lived through that era I still must say I love both the LP as such and the concept. The bar is clearly aimed at young hip crowd and will most likely draw in a mix of hipsters, after workers and expats. When I was there it was however very relaxed and laid back and friendly service so hopefully that will continue as popularity increases.

The bar is a part of the growing empire of restaurateur/hotelier Loh Lik Peng. He already has restaurants/bars such as Esquina, Sorrel, the Library, Bincho and hotels the New Majestic Hotel, Wanderlust and 1929. They also run the Typing Room, Corner Room and Town Hall hotel in London as well as hotels and restaurants in Sydney and Shanghai. It is an ever growing empire but as long as they do things as well as this I am not complaining.

Design wise the premises is a bit tricky as it as a very long and narrow space but they have made remarkably good use of it. There is a bar when entering (if coming from Haji Lane), barely space to walk past before entering the slightly more spacious lounge that has sofas, chairs as well as tables along the wall. The decor is tying into the era of the 1970s but also connecting to the LP with menus in the shape of LPs, round LP-style tables. There are exquisite looking brass mirrors, dark wood furniture, comfortable leather sofas and wooden chairs paired with perfectly fitting lighting as well as light white curtains nicely dividing the space and creating at least an illusion of privacy at some of the tables. The, a little bit rugged style fits the place perfectly. There is of course also a DJ playing LPs and I loved hearing music like David Bowie, the Beatles and Elvis Presley when sitting there sipping my cocktail.

There is a short and well selected cocktail list and there were many ones that peeked my interest. I opted for the cleverly named Marlon Brando with cognac, Stella (of course since it is Brando) beer infusion, orange slices (think end of the Godfather…) and a nice straw with some Godfather branding so most of the ingredients had some connection with Brando or the roles he played. A bit clever and cute and the other cocktails had similar fun aspects to it (eg House of the Raisin Sun with raisin infused tequila and there was also a Fred Astaire cocktail). More importantly than these fun things were that the cocktails were very well-prepared and tasted great.

For those not in the mood for cocktails there was also a good selection of wines by the glass such as two cavas (Torello at 16 SGD and the Noches y Dia at 17 SGD) as well as a Verdejo (white) and a Crianza both priced at 16 SGD per glass. Also very impressed with the commitment to quality in them checking the wine served,  discarding the first bottle and opening a new one. Clear they know what they are doing. There are also a number of beers as well as different liquors and a good selection of non-alcoholic beverages and the bartenders will be happy to whip something up for you as well.

They also have a short but well considered food menu with a number of snack sized dishes as well some larger dishes. The standout dishes seemed to be the buttermilk chicken as well as the squid with Harissa dip. I was however also very interested in the mac n cheese well as the hummus with pita. So while it may not be the main reason to visit they do have good food as well. All in all a very welcome addition to the Singapore cocktail scene. What makes it even better was the really good service. The manager, David, made sure all guests were being tended to and he always had time to chat with all the guests so really made people feel welcome so if they keep up that level of service this place will be a huge success.

Wine Review: Daniele Piccinin Montemagro 2010

I like white wine, I really do. But I don’t have it very often. Perhaps because I don’t know that much about it. I have thought about starting to acquaint myself with reds and whites region by region. Its much more interesting to buy when the label says something to you.

Daniele Piccinins Montemagro is something I picked up in London at a place called 40 Maltby St. Its a wine bar and kitchen located in an old railway arch in Bermondsey. The restaurant is connected to the warehouse of Gergovie Wines, an importer specialized in ecologically produced wines. You can taste the merchandise by the glass or buy a bottle to have at the restaurant or take home. Upon a visit to the restaurant and after chatting to the staff about what I like in wine they suggested I try something they just had one bottle of. And after one small taster of the Montemagro,  I was convinced this is a white wine I want to get to know and have in my cellar. As it was at that point only a sample bottle, we had to return a few times until they got the shipment in. But since 40 Maltby Street is such a lovely place that was a great excuse to go back (as if I need an excuse).

The grape Durella, is a grape that has been long ignored not only in Italy but everywhere. The variety has been called rabioso (furious) due to its high acidity. The color of the Montemagro 2010 is very yellow and it is  low on residual sugar (0,3%). The nose is bready and has a hint of yeast and the taste with plum and raisins, but not sweet. It is like a non-sweet dessert wine. The wine is veary pleasant, not rabioso at all.

Price-wise this wine was very reasonable. I cant remember exactly, but something close to 15£. For white wines especially I am a bit more sensitive when it comes to price. I guess its because the selection is so large, that I expect to find a good white for around 10-20£. But what is to say that will not change with some more education. Five years ago I thought 15£ was a high price for a bubbly too.

All in all I give this wine a 4, both for quality and price. I think they are both aligned. I am also very intrigued to try more from both Danielle Piccinnin and wines made of Durella.

Wineweek 7: London Edition

Happy New Year! What a great topic to start of 2015 with, my former home city of London. We just arrived back from a mini “break” and wine marathon; touring through as many shops and restaurants as humanly possible in four days.

When I lived in London (2012-2013), I used to go out all the time with M. Prices in restaurants are (at least were before the £ started regaining some strength) relatively cheap compared to Finland and Sweden, and prices in grocery stores (the city ones) high-ish. So it almost made more sense going out to eat than making food at home. Additionally, it was almost impossible to find real ingredients in the stores in the center. Everything was pre-made or at least prepared half way. The quality was not too bad, but it did put some limits to what one could “make” for dinner. However, it made my weekdays easy, and we compensated for the thin store selection by going out a lot. These days London is like the Disneyland for foodies (long gone are the days when the food in the UK was something that one would joke about). Many good restaurants, reasonable prices and a lot of diversity. We didn’t care if it was a three star restaurant or a taco truck, as long as they did what they did well. In Sweden, the cost of labor is really high, so that makes eating out every week a bit heavy on the wallet. This said, the occasional trip back to London is kind of like putting money in a bank (yes, that’s what I tell myself until I see the credit card bill).

Shopping for wine is also a different experience in London than it is back at home. As there is a free market, there is also a larger selection of wines and more competition. Here in Stockholm there is only one company that have stores (with several locations of course) with the selection being given. London on the other hand is almost crowded with small wine-shops with different focuses and knowledgeable staff. We raced out to six shops on New Years eve and four more on the 2nd of January, and it was bliss in almost every one of them. New producers, grower champagnes and chatty shop keepers with tips from around the world. Also some new fun concepts in the private label (i.e. the stores own ‘brand’) section (check out the picture of the baby blanc de blancs from Fortnum & Mason, how cute is that). Many of the boutiques had some area of specialization, like a country, region or type of wine, and most of them offered the possibility to taste the merchandise to give some spark to the buying process. Some even served food like cheeses and charcuteries. Snacking and tasting: That’s my kind of shopping experience. We ended up buying 14 bottles (on the first day) and lugging them back to the hotel in backpacks.  And I feel we only scratched the surface. If we would have had the space, and more wine-sleeves we would have bought more.

We did so much in four days, so it is impossible to actually list everything in one post, but here are some highlights.

1. New Years eve at Kitchen Table. Head chef James Knappert (previously worked at the Ledbury) and his wonderful sommelier wife opened their own restaurant in 2012. The front restaurant, Bubbledogs, serves gourmet hot dogs and Champagne; and the back room is a fine dining experience where the guests sit on a bar surrounding the kitchen watching the chefs at work. The selection of bubbly in this restaurant is awesome, and the price for a champagne bottle will not knock you down. And they do have some wonderful food: Crispy chicken with mascarpone and bacon jam, doesn’t that sound delicious!

2. Shopping at the Sampler. This is my favorite wine shop in London. With two locations; one in South Kensington and one in Islington, the Sampler has a great selection of champagnes, classic French and US wines. They have sampling machines with around 50 different wines “on the tap”, so you can buy a tasting card and have as little as 20ml to feed your curiosity (and not get drunk). This concept is also great for tasting some more expensive wines that you could not really imagine buying without a try.

3. Coffee breaks at various hipster coffee shops. It is questionable which would be the first on M’s list if he would have to choose between coffee and wine. I would not hesitate to select wine, but M has a real keen interest in coffee. London is a great place to tour around in specialist coffee shops and buy some single origin beans.  Many of the new interesting places were closed due to the holidays, but we did visit some old hangouts like Notes and Music (close to Trafalgar Square), Tapped & Packed and Workshop. We stocked up on some beans and now we have around 1.5kg to pack with us to Asia. You never know what you can find around there, so better travel prepared.

Yes, we did a lot of wonderful things and I will be posting about them in the coming weeks. You will be fed up with my London posts before you know it.

A Night Out at the Apothecary

You might remember a few weeks back I mentioned we went for dinner at Pharmarium, a restaurant built in an old apothecary specializing in pairing cocktails with food. I have been somewhat fascinated with the concept. I like cocktails and I like food, why would they not fit together? Sadly there are not many restaurants that pass with flying colors in this area. Perhaps the best one I have been to is HKK in London that did a wonderful (non-alcoholic) juice flight with their tasting menu.

A cocktail bar serving food, that’s how Pharmarium markets its self. Emphasis clearly on the drinks, but also with an interesting menu. I have visited this restaurant several times and left happy. The space is decorated like an apothecary from the 18th century (the space used to be an apothecary) and there is a scent of herbs and spices in the air. As a Finn I immediately associate the lingering aroma of smoked birch tree to a Sauna. Oh my God I miss having a good Sauna. One would think that the Swedes would get it, but they don’t really have Saunas in apartment buildings in the city. If it were my choice we would have a Sauna or two just in our two bedroom flat. Back to Pharmarium: it is murky inside with light coming from candles and lanterns, perfect for creating a warm and cozy atmosphere. It feels great stepping inside from the crispy (read sh*t cold) weather outside.

The menu has a set of interesting cocktails and mid-sized dishes. This time the waiter suggested to order three to four dishes per person to fill our tummies, but we knew better from previous visits (and also from what the staff previously suggested) and settled with two to start with. The dishes are not all the same size, and some of them would easily go as a main course, at least for me. The chefs suggestions for food-cocktail pairings are in the back of the menu, but the staff are also very knowledgeable and will mix something special if you cant find anything to your liking on the list. There are also some nice beers and wines if you are not up for cocktails with the food, but I must say the drinks are the reason to come to this restaurant, the food comes second, so if you do not buy into the concept you may be better off going somewhere else.

We ordered some pulled pork tacos (Vietnamese style), charcuterie, sweetbread and snails with bone marrow. The food was mediocre, which was a surprise, as my previous visits have been much more positive. The hazelnut sauce in the tacos was way too overwhelming (could barely taste the pork), and the sweetbread was rare (WTF, we even asked if that was the intention of the chef and it was). I liked the snails and marrow and the charcutrie board, but they were nothing special.

But the drinks, they were wonderful. Original, tasty and well presented (as you can see from the pictures). Btw. check out the quality of the pictures (not edited). They were taken with my friends Samsung Galaxy S5, and boy am I jealous. I really had great expectations for my iPhone, but the Samsung was a clear winner in dim lighting. Thank’s Kaisa for letting me use these! Now back to the drinks. My favorite was the Dream Catcher. Some Gin, Lillet Blac, cucumber and rose cordial mixed together with Garam Masala house bitters. It came in a cute little bottle; and when opening the cork I finally understood why the whole restaurant smelled like a sauna. The aroma flowed like smoke out of the bottle making the whole experience quite exciting. Not to mention the drink was served warm. We also tried the Gin & House Tonic, Roses & Gold and the 5th Element. The GT and Roses and Gold were very good, but exactly what I always go for at a cocktail bar: fresh lemon and ginger notes mixed preferably with some bubbly. But the 5th Element, that was something different. Served in a copper cup, it was like a liquid dessert.

Yes, we had a fun evening out. I was a bit disappointed at the food, so I am not sure if I will have dinner there again. However, I am happy to pop by for some drinks (and a charcuterie board) any time. Another very positive note is that Pharmarium contributes nicely to the revival of the night life in Stockholm’s Old Town. Today (as opposed to a few years back) there are numerous really good places for wines, beers and cocktails. Gaston, 19 glas and Burgundy all offer interesting wines. Cocktails can be had at Pharmarium, TweedCorner Club and Pubologi. The Flying Elk as well as to some extent the new No 53 (more on that in a coming blog post) offer nice beverages as well. I am looking forward to seeing what else will pop up in 2015, as the charismatic Old Town has many great spaces, and plenty of visitors to fill up restaurants.

Wineweek 5

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! We even got a “tree” this week. M was very much against a full sized one as they make such a mess. So I bought a nice vase and picked up a few branches (for a few kronor) from a tree-salesman, and tadah – good enough for me! I am not this creative myself, but I saw the concept at a shop and thought it looked nice. What a busy week otherwise; finishing up with work before the holidays, buying presents, and doing all the food shopping for Christmas eve (that when we celebrate Christmas here in the Nordics). I felt that I didn’t have that much time for writing. I definitely wanted to, but as there is always more one can do at home and at work, I have learned to always reserve enough time for my loved ones.

It has been an interesting week with the Winecalendar. It is definitely clear to me now that this is a very bubbly calendar with only sparkling coming out of the boxes this week. I am always interested in small producers as they sometimes have more courage to be bold with their wine-making. The larger houses have their signature tastes and high quality can also be about consistency. Not saying that the big houses don’t have great vintages, but they are often out of my price range. With the smaller producers you win some, you lose some. I enjoy the surprise nevertheless. I can see I am getting deeper and deeper into grower champagnes and artisan cavas. I wonder whats next, perhaps ports. I have already started reading up on them. And the real question is, how can M top this years calendar next Christmas? I can’t really imagine it getting much better than this.

We had several guests popping by this weekend. First a friend I have met in London came over for a few nights. We did some wonderful wining and dining both at home and out. We spent Friday just cooking at Casa Winecurious and tried out two interesting bubblies: A Drappier Brut Nature Champagne, ordered through the Monopoly; and Santus Franciacorta sparkling wine brought from Ms trip to Northern-Italy. Franciacorta is the only region in Italy that produces sparkling wine with the Champagne Method, so we have been curious to buy them whenever we get recommendations. Both were pretty good and I can’t wait to review them. On Saturday we went out for dinner and drinks at Pharmarium, a restaurant that is built into an old apothecary.

On Sunday, today, another pair of friends stopped by for a champagne brunch. We finally tried out a combination Richard Julin, one of the big wine critics here in Sweden recommended in one of his TV appearances: Bacon and eggs with Champagne. It’s a surprising combination and something I would definitely not have thought about without Richards tip. Not sure if I am as excited about the pairing as Richard is, but it wasn’t too bad, not too bad at all.

Yes a hectic week. However, the holidays are around the corner, and not a moment too soon. Some rest and relaxation is exactly what the doctor ordered.

The Return to Matkonsulatet

I always thought it would be easy peasy to write about this restaurant. After all it’s my favorite, probably in the whole world. Ok, I have several favorites, but this one is special. I know the menu inside out, I have tried all their cavas, and I have been there enough times to high-five with the staff. But, it turns out it isn’t as easy to find the words as I thought, almost feels like writing about a family member. I have so much to say and I want every word to do justice to the object of the review. So I will try to go about this in a structured manner (like a proper structure junky) and see how it goes.

Matkonsulatet is a small cozy restaurant in Kungsholmen serving Catalan style tapas. The dishes at Matkonsulatet are nothing special (by special I mean complex), but they are wonderful in all their simplicity. The menu has some nice classical tapas: sliced meats, Pan con Tomate (bread rubbed with tomato, olive oil and salt) and my all time favorite the Bikini Toast (toast with cheese, ham and truffle-butter). And some more experimental dishes; for example: Fennel tempura with Romesco sauce and salmon sashimi with yogurt and truffle honey (omg. that’s good). The menu changes now and then, so there is always something new to try out. Not to take away any credit from the kitchen, but what makes many of these dishes wonderful are also the high quality ingredients. The olive oil at this restaurant is just amazing (P.S. you can buy a bottle to take home).

A Catalan meal would not be complete without some good wines, so a few words about the list (and after all, this is a wine-blog). There is a nice selection of Cavas; mostly by bottle, but more than one by glass. Anne-Marie by Castell D’age, the “house cava” is a nice fresh Reserva with notes of strawberry (sorbet) and green apple. Its very refreshing, but the taste is not that long. Definitely a good house cava though. There are also some other interesting cavas on the list, like an Agusti Torello Mata Brut Reserva and another cava from Castell D’age, Aurelia. Most of the bottles, and now I’m referring to all wines, are very reasonably priced (for being a Swedish restaurant), so its not really a problem to just order a bottle.  For other wines, I haven’t gone through the whole selection (for the cavas I have), but there are some interesting reds and whites and the trend seems to be ecological and bio-dynamical wines.

The desserts are not to be forgotten. My favorite is the passion fruit, white chocolate and cookie crumble pudding. I have had a bit of a sweet tooth lately. But what you really want to try (if you only settle for one) is the dark chocolate mousse with olive oil and sea salt. This is just such a wonderful and actually surprising combination. Or more in the lines of “Olive oil and chocolate – why didn’t I think of it” But the whole idea of tapas is sharing, so why settle for only one dessert? Have them all and share with friends.

The restaurant is great, you can tell that I adore it from my review! But this is also a place where we have made memories: nights out with friends and family, hugs with the staff, and hot summer Sundays at the terrace. Its more than a restaurant to me, its a part of the Stockholm that I call home.I hope you enjoy it as much as I do, but not that much that I will have a hard time getting a table in the future =).

Wineweek 3

What a wonderful week to look back on! There was wine, food and some more wine. The Wine calendar revealed a very bubbly start for December. Apart from one bottle of Pinot, most of the boxes contained sparkling wines and champagne. Bubbly has always been my thing, and these bottles were all something a bit special. I am always happy to have some of my old favorites, but I can see my taste evolving much more to trying new and exciting wines. Santa’s little helper has really gone out off his way to source these. The weeks inflow of wine was topped up by some bottles M brought from a business trip to northern Italy. He was able to find some interesting Marzeminos (red wine) and Franciacorta sparkling wines. Both of these very scarcely available in Sweden. These are both something we would like to have in our selection in the future, so we do try to pick up some samples whenever we run across them.

We also did some great dining. Wednesday we went to good old Matkonsulatet, my favorite restaurant here in Stockholm. And on Saturday, we tried something new; Luzette at the central station, followed by drinks at Tweed. Last but not least, Christmas came early when out LeNez du Vin arrived. A set of 54 small bottles of lovely scents that we can use to help us describe wines. So interesting reviews coming in the following week. Hope also to be able to post some good news regarding Christmas wine-sales.