Florence

Ciao everyone, just got back from Florence and have lots to share including the best sandwich ever, bargain eatery and some great places for gelato - I had a great time! I'll also be popping up a Google map of goodies. Until then I'll leave you with some snaps.









The Italians love food so much they even name the streets and piazzas after it!


My shots in Olive / BBC GF / Delicious Mags this month

I'm in Olive, Delicious AND BBC Good Food this month! Well not me exactly but some of my food styling I art directed (and prepared too) as part of my design job.



I'm never sure whether to cross the boundary of my professional and blog life too much but as I am doing more and more foodie based design (still a small proportion of what I actually do though) it is really tempting to show the little bits here and there on the blog.

These are just some advertorials which I didn't design, but I have some full page advertising with my shots, branding work and packaging heading for the magazines very soon.

Now you see why my food shots are so terrible on the blog. Last thing I want to do after spending 9 hours setting up just 3 shots is to fiddle with lighting and camera settings whilst preparing my dinner!

And yes, I do get to eat LOTS on the food shoots.

Women and beer. A Dea Latis evening at Due South, Brighton

UPDATE: Due South has now closed its doors. Review for historical purposes. Visit their fantastic sister restaurant, Riddle & Finns instead.



Women and beer. To me these words used to conjure up the image of the "ladette", the shouty, aggressive bird with tattoos featuring names of long gone lovers that you would avoid eye contact with in the local boozer. But the beer industry is taking an active approach to entice women of a more say, sophisticated tastes (cough) with a wine or spirit mixer preference to try beer. Founded by a group of women in the brewing industry, Dea Latis (named after the Celtic goddess of beer and water no less) is an organisation focused on changing women's perceptions of this national drink. Historically not a beer drinker myself, I was amazed by my love of porter at a recent beer festival. And have now really started getting into real ales. I'm still not at the multiple pints level but yeah, you could say I've gotten a taste for it.

So it was really interested to be invited by Dea Latis to a night down one of Brighton's best restaurants, Due South, which is sat nicely overlooking the beach, to sample some interesting (and some local) beers to match a scrumptious 7 course feast. Apart from Indian food, and I like to wash down my meals at the Chilli Pickle with a Meantime, I would never order beer with a meal so this was a real eye opener and something I would definitely do in future as the right beer with the right food is actually quite stunning.



This beautifully light, clean Sea Bass cerviche with pickled Sea Purslane was served with a Hepworth (local Sussex beer heros) Blond. This worked as well as any wine could and I was actually pleasantly surprised. The freshness of the beer and the citrus of the Sea Bass dish was spot on. Good start!



Next was a really interesting Mushroom Scotch Egg and Shititake Ketchup which had oodles of dark, densely flavoured local mushrooms packed behind the crisp breaded shell. This was matched with another Hepworth, this time a smooth, liquorice tinged stout called Conqueror. A far more masculine approach and a sharp contrast to the fresh and light sea bass which displayed just how diverse, yet appropriate, the beers could be.



A little palette break arrived as a pretty salad of edible flowers with the only wine we were to taste this evening in the form of the Forum Chardonnay Vinegar dressing (which is made by blending the must with the wine from the preceding year before maturing). The beer match to this was Hammerpot's Madgwick Gold which I liked but felt it had too much personality for the delicate salad.



A home-cured, smokey duck ham and breast with red currents and watercress was almost festive and great with the spice, fruit and darkness of the matched Adnams Broadside.



My favourite dish of the night was a huge lobster ravioli filled with big, fleshy pieces of sweet meat. It was served with slices of carrot, broad beans and a carrot foam as well as an additional spherified broad bean. The sweet hints in the Honey Dew beer from Fullers I thought worked perfectly with the subtle sweetness of the lobster and vegetables but was a little contentious on the table, some thinking the Hepworth Blond a better match.



Least favourite (although I still liked the pudding and drink individually) was the sweet. A perfectly lovely Chocolate Fondant with Liquorice Ice Cream and a very drinkable, luxurious Beau Porter from Royal Tumbridge Wells Brewing Co had almost exactly the same tasting notes to me. I think there needed to be more light and shade taste-wise.



Finishing on a high note, Golden Cross Goat's Cheese was served on top of a toasted brioche with salty beetroot crisps and sweet orange beetroot. Matched with a beer originally brewed to flavour barrels meant for whisky production, the beer itself was actually thrown away before they realised how good it was! The toffee, vanilla and oak of the Innis & Gunn Original was excellent with the cheese and the perfect full stop of the evening.

Thanks to Dea Latis for opening my eyes further to beer and to Due South for the excellent food. Together it was a really informative and fun night.

So ladies (or chaps!), do you indulge in the national drink? If any recommendations for me?

REVIEW: Hotel Du Vin, Afternoon Tea, Brighton

I've never really taken afternoon tea in Brighton, preferring a jaunt up to London for it, but this month I have been twice - first at a slightly disappointing visit to The Grand hotel and here, at Hotel Du Vin. I think Brighton is blessed with a rather good branch of this chain and the restaurant is a safe bet for an faultless evening meal as well as being one of my choice places for a drink or two in the bar.



Sandwiches (why do crusts off teeny sandwiches taste SO much better?) were really nice, freshly made and had all the classics represented; ham and mustard, smoked salmon, egg and mayonnaise and cucumber.

We did opt for a glass of bubbly to start which was lovely and well worth the extra for before moving on to a pot of the Hotel Du Vin house blend and one of Earl Grey. I found the house blend a bit heavy on the floral notes, which some people love, but to me tastes a little soapy. Each to their own.



The next tier heaved with homemade beauties. The jammy Swiss Roll and Walnut and Date Loaf were excellent. Profiteroles were a little heavy on the chocolate but nice otherwise and the scones, what they lacked in height, made up for in taste. The Madeleines, it has to be said, were quite dumpy which was a shame.

Sadder was the fact that there wasn't a fancy pants pastry top layer. I did miss this as afternoon tea is all about the over-the-top crafted pastries and the wow factor they produce. Their gleaming prettiness give you focus whilst chomping your way through the savoury and tea cake layers. I also think the pretty pastries allow you to linger, and afternoon tea is about lingering, as you can't possibly waste them, waiting for some stomach space to open up to appreciate them. We were, amazingly, in and out in just over an hour on our visit - and we're the type of people that are last out of a restaurant as staff mop around us.

Service, as ever with HDV, was smart and polite yet really friendly.

Afternoon tea is a rather new offering here and I was really looking forward to my visit. Their relatively new little snug was where tea was served, although lovely, was a little irk for me. I don't make a habit of eating on the sofa at home (that's why dining tables were invented - call me old school) so found the whole coffee table and sofa slumming a bit cumbersome. Had this been served in their main restaurant, on a table, I think the whole experience would have been very different. The poor staff had to stoop down and pour the tea, fiddling with the strainer and clunking around with the crockery. Not ideal.

But this is a far more casual affair than in the capital, summed up by the price and, maybe more so, the lady opposite me who chose to dine in a hoodie (albeit a very expensive, designer one).

I wasn't sure where the afternoon tea at HDV was pitching itself in Brighton. If you want a fun, cheap and very cheerful tea, you'd go to the Mock Turtle. If you want an alternative afternoon tea, Terre a Terre would be on your list. If you wanted decadent (in a dusty, chintzy way) then The Grand is probably your default option based on the fact I think it is the only truly classic afternoon tea served with a neatly groomed chap tickling away on the ivories. The tea at HDV was neither of these, yet could easily be the best place for tea with a few tweaks.



As it was, this is an excellent value afternoon tea and probably the best in the city overall. There is no competition when comparing this tea with my visit to The Grand (about £35 per person inc Prosecco) in terms of quality and value - Hotel Du Vin win hands down. For me, my ideal would be to charge me an extra £15, sit me at a table and snazz it up a bit. Oh and stick a couple of fancy pants pastries on the top too.

The standard tea costs just £14.50 and with a glass of house Champagne £21.50 per person. Other contemporary options like Cocktail Afternoon or Cream Tea and the "G & Tea" are also available.

I dined as a guest of Hotel Du Vin.