Wednesday 31 July 2013

Black Tot Day Rum Punch

Today is Black Tot Day.

A dark day in Britain's seafaring history, today marks the anniversary of the day that the Royal Navy finally removed from each rating's ration their daily dose of rum.  What had started as a privilege for sailors serving their country in the 1600s ended on 31 July 1970.  Across the country, sailors buried their tots at sea, held mock funeral processions and wore black armbands. 

No, really.  They even issued a commemorative postage cover and everything.
To mark this sad day, I think that everyone should down a tot (or two) of rum, including The Grubsters.  There are countless ways that one can drink rum, whether that be through mojitos, daiquiris, dark & stormys, hurricanes, buttered rums, piƱa coladas, zombies, with a splash of coke.  Rum is both an incredibly versatile drink and one which has so many different and exciting permutations, qualities that have seen it blossom from gut-rot Barcardi silver to hundreds, nay thousands, of different varieties on so many cocktail bar shelves across the country.

One of my favourite, most basic, and satisfying sundowners for a hot day is has got to be gold rum and soda (mixed 1:3) with squeezed wedges of fresh lime.  Long, refreshing and dry.  It's also what Daniel Craig's Bond drinks in Casino Royale (the bit where he wins the Aston Martin), so it's got some street cred, right?

But for Black Tot day I think we all really ought to be drinking rum punches.  There's something quintessentially British about the punch, in a way, harking as it does from expats and colonialists drinking this strange, harsh spirit on stifling Caribbean beaches.

I had a little think as to what ought to go into a rum punch.  This is a highly controversial topic, trust me.  One school of thought is to simply use concentrated tins of 'tropical punch' fruit juice.  I don’t think I need to express my thoughts on that.  Others argue that you throw everything tropical into it: pineapples, mangoes, coconut, etc. and then just add rum.  This usually produces the kind sickly sweet combo that comes adorned with an umbrella and a jungle of fruit you expect to find an orangutan in (see Lock Stock…). 

This isn't the first time I've made rum punch: I tried it a few years back with a watermelon I sourced down in Tooting.  A 12 kilo watermelon, to be precise.  It tasted good, truth be told, but never again.  12kg of watermelon produces a lot of juice, which means a lot of juicing. 

I had a little think back to the closest I've ever got to the Caribbean – Belize, a country whose largest export is citrus.  Thinking further, throughout the 'Caribbean mainland', citrus fruits – oranges and limes especially – are big business.  Further arguing in favour of the use of citrus, as opposed to pineapples etc., is the fact that Royal Navy ratings would have drunk their rum watered down with lime juice, apparently to ward of scurvy. 

So here's my recipe for Black Tot Day Rum Punch:

x1 Orange
x1 Lime
x2 Lemons
x3 Passion Fruits
Caster Sugar
Gold Rum (I chose Barbancourt Rhum from Haiti, available from The Whiskey Exchange, but really any unspiced dark gold or gold rum will do.)

By the way: Oranges?  Yes, oranges.  Particularly good for preventing scurvy, it turns out - Scottish naval medic James Lind conducted the world's first ever clinical trial, using oranges and lemons, not (as more commonly thought) limes, to cure scurvy .
1. Squeeze the fruits into a nice big bowl.  All of them.  Even the passion fruits, which you might have to more scoop than squeeze. 

2. Give it a good mix, or even a whisk (with a hand whisker, dummy).  You're trying to get all the pulp off the passion fruit seeds. 

3. Strain that thing.  Strain it good.  Through a fine sieve.  I actually strained it twice, to make sure.  Rub the seeds around the sieve as well to try to part with as much of the passion fruit pulp as possible.

4. Add sugar and dissolve to taste: it should be still just a little tart still, as you're going to add a sweet liquor.  Also add a small glass of water, again adding to taste so that the juice retains its strong, punchy flavours without being overpowering.  You'll want to be able to taste the rum.
5. Chill.  Either stick the juice in the fridge overnight, or if you can't wait for that, add lots of ice to the bowl and stir.  If you're doing it this way, you may want to add the water from step 2 afterwards, to make sure the juice isn't over-dilluted.
6. Add plenty of ice to a glass – don't scrimp on this, as too little ice will just leave you with a weak, warm, diluted drink, as the ice will melt more quickly.  Mix the juice with the rum in a 2:1 ratio – you want this to be quite powerful.

7. Go sit on the veranda of your plantation / deck of your warship and imbibe slowly, looking out at the sunset and dreaming of better times (ie. pre 31 July 1970).

 - GrubsterBoy -

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Smoked Bacon Infused Bourbon

A little while ago I stumbled across this recipe for smokey bacon infused bourbon.  This is a medly of two of life's greatest things: bourbon and bacon.  As a friend of mine, a professional wine merchant no loss, so someone who knows his drinks (and his palate), put it: "Bacon good, bourbon good, bacon-bourbon? What's not to like surely?

Being an Old Fashioned fan (and a serious one) I had this beautiful vision of making a bacon old fashioned with maple syrup, burnt orange peel and chipotle infused ice.  It was going to be EPIC.  I was going to win a prize.

So I was slightly deflated when I came across this at the weekend:

It's a Porky's Revenge, produced by those wonderful folks at The Dime Bar & Diner.  It's basically exactly as I've described above, with the exception that it doesn't include the chipotle ice (that's my shout).  Damn. 

Still, I had to try it – if for no other reason that research.

Presentation: 10 out of 10.  Cut glass (effect) tumbler, great garnish (that's a slice of apple and a slice of smoked cheese.  No, seriously, that's smoked cheese.  What kind of genius garnishes a smoked bacon Old Fashioned with smoked cheese?).  Looks pretty.

Taste: This was, genuinely, one of life's bitterest disappointments.  Because it tasted absolutely fucking disgusting.  I couldn’t even finish it, seriously.  So, no.  Just no.  Sorry, Dime Bar, you're great in many other ways, but how can you possibly drink this?

- GrubsterBoy -

Postsrcipt, 12 August 2013: I found myself having Sunday lunch at The Avalon recently, and ordering the obligatory Sunday Lunch Bloody Mary, upon which I was asked to request spirits, the choice being: ordinary vodka, bacon infused vodka or bacon infused bourbon.  Still smarting from my Dime Bar experience I was cautious.  However, feigning ignorance and interest, I requested a sample of the bacon infused bourbon to test.  I can now safely say that it is still absolutely fucking disgusting.  I was also given a shot glass sample of the bacon infused bourbon with Bloody Mary mix.  This does not improve bacon infused bourbon.  Not one bit.

Sunday 14 July 2013


A little while ago, GrubsterGirl and I hit the streets of Barcelona for a weekend of culture, architecture and art.  No, seriously, I just went for the food.

One of the little things they had, which I had not previously come across in Spanish cuisine before, was pintxo (pronounced 'pincho'), a kind of tapas on big cocktail sticks.  They were good enough, but I can't honestly say I thought any more about them. 
Until, that is, I was invited to go to Pix.
Back here in London, Pix is a Spanish bar specialising in pintxo, essentially by laying out a range of different mini eats, each skewered awkwardly with a giant cocktail stick of differing proportions.  It's quite a clever little system, albeit incredibly basic: small sticks = £1.95; big sticks = £2.95. 
The range is good, and it's all nice food.  The casual grubster runs the gamut of stuffed peppers on sticks, seared tuna on sticks, iberico ham and manchego on sticks, Spanish tortillas on sticks… you get the general idea. 

I was pleasantly pleased with my meal.  I ate a healthy portion, all of it tasty and enjoyable, and the bill was far from expensive.  Generally very good, and I can imagine a fantastic place to go for a pre- (or even post-) theatre bite to eat.  We washed the whole lot down with Estrellas, but there's plenty else, including lots of Cava (in true Catalan style), a decent array of cocktails (albeit rather standard) and even a few sherries.
Just one thing: If you're meeting at the restaurant, make sure to agree with your companion which one you're meeting at – they have two branches quite close to one another… I ended up going to one restaurant, and told the chap at the bar I was meeting a female friend who would be on her own.  He proudly showed me to my table announcing to the lady that "her date" was here.  Looking up at a complete stranger, she looked suitably terrified. 
 - GrubsterBoy -

Sunday 7 July 2013

Oblix at The Shard

GrubsterGirl took me to The Shard. 

I still can’t get over this, it was a complete surprise – even if it was a wee while ago when we went.  Lunch in the bar at Oblix, overlooking the city from the 32nd floor of the tallest building in the EU.  The views were, frankly, epic.

Oblix itself has a weird vibe.  Extremely weird.  The entrance is what you might expect from a City nightclub / restaurant: lighting so low you trip over (this became a real hazard in the loo – no, really), ever-so-petite girls on the door in ever-so-even-more-petite black dresses that they must have been sewn into, loud intrusive music, etc…  Then you get inside, and it all changes.  Bright, airy, tall ceilings, big views and waitresses dressed in floral print shirts.  It's like falling out of Mahiki into Enid Blyton.  I would imagine.

First up was the starter buffet: a massive counter of meats, cheeses, salads, grilled things and pickled stuff.  All very good and all fresh.  It was all you can eat starters, and I have to admit that I was half tempted just to keep going back and forgo the main.

But mains were had.  We could have had minute steaks and fries – I mention this only so that no one thinks that the fixed rate menu was just the cheap stuff – but we opted for backed aubergines, as we knew we were heading on to a very big supper.  Again, all went well – presentation (which is not everything, granted, but is too often overlooked) was spot on.  I mean, look at it. 

Pudding was another epic buffet.  However, after a mountain of antipasti and basically an entire aubergine stuffed with all manner of goodness, I had to pass. Sadly.

Oh, and what is this, I hear you cry?  I'll tell you what it is: it's a blood orange Old Fashioned, basically.  It also happens to be one of the best drinks I have ever tasted, and I have tasted a lot of drinks – specifically, I have tasted a lot of Old Fashioneds, and I mean a lot.  Nevermind that it looks really flipping cool (which it does).  Nevermind that it’s got that whacking great big ice block in it, which is pretty trendy.  The ice itself was sawn from a gigantic block by a chap with an enormous tree saw.  No, really.  What's more, it tastes fantastic.  And that's really all you need.
We went when Oblix had just opened – and I mean that, I think it was their third day's service – but to be honest there wasn't anything that felt like they were just finding their way.  Price-wise, I thought it was very reasonable: prix fixe for £30 – only a bit more than going up the top, and you get your food thrown in.  Of course, irresponsible cocktails aren't cheap, but what can one expect?

 - GrubsterBoy -