Thursday, 13 October 2016

Book Review: Shaun Hill, Salt is Essential and Pierre Koffmann, Classic Koffmann

These two books arrived today, representing a combined 100 years of cheffing.

I commend to anyone interested in food the new book by Shaun Hill: Salt is Essential and other things I have learned from 50 years at the stove.

I intended to quickly skim through them both, but I couldn't put down Salt is Essential and ended up reading it from cover to cover.  It is pleasantly discursive and full of bons mots and opinions, which, like the book's title, had me saying "Oh yes" and nodding like the Churchill dog.  Struggling to find negatives, I think there were about three or four things throughout the book, with which I disagreed, and he has an annoying habit of saying "myself" when he means "me."

I could quote many and large passages from the book, but would probably end up being sued for copyright breach, so I will content myself with this comment on a recipe for fish pie: "This used to be a pub lunch standard before they discovered goat's cheese and rocket salad. It is now poorly made, if ever, with mean fillings of cheap fish.  Lobster will also do nicely if you are short of prawns."

The recipes are a mix of the familiar and comforting to the less familiar, the latter seemingly being primarily from the Baltic and Central Europe.

By contrast, I found the Koffmann book a bit of a disappointment.  It's a lovely cookbook, with a particularly snazzy bookmark, and all your Koffmann favourites are there.  But there's not much more than recipes and numerous quotes about how lovely "Pierre the Bear" is from his protégés.  It almost seems a bit of a Festschrift with recipes.  It also has a very annoying tic of incorporating both the British and American editions into the one book, with the result that throughout American translations are given in parentheses.  For example, the recipe for the famous trotter is probably about half as long again as it needs to be, as every time trotter is mentioned, "pig feet" is appended in parentheses.

Interestingly they both have recipes for salmon confit in goose fat (claimed by Koffmann as his creation, but that's not acknowledged by Hill).  Once you cut out the flannel of making petits pois à la française and a pea purée from the Koffmann recipe, the two recipes are - of course - very similar, although strangely Koffmann specifies the goose fat should be heated to 50°C (which is naturally glossed as 122°F), while Hill specifies 40°C. 

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Soul Tree: some Indian wines

India is known for many things. Wine is not one of them.

I suspect that many of us of a certain age fell for an Indian fizz called Omar Khayyam when trying to impress or be impressed at an Indian restaurant in the 1990s. But slowly Indian wines have been appearing on British shelves since then.  Previously I've had wines from Nashik (Sula Vineyards) and Bangalore (Grover Vineyards).  And then there were the rather Indian sounding Viceroy White, Raja Rosé and Rani Gold from Wine for Spice, but they were actually Spanish.  The Indian wines were fine, unexceptional but fine, and lacked any sense of place and felt in a very international style: at the time I tried them, Grover Vineyards were part owned by Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy and enfant terrible of the international modern French-American style, Michel Rolland, was involved in the winemaking.  If you tasted them all blind, I think the ones you'd probably pick as most likely to be Indian would be the Wines for Spice ones, thanks to them being specifically designed to go with spicy food.
Fast forward to 2016, and it was interesting to meet Gorvinder Butter and try his Soul Tree wines.  Apart from a couple of reds that I couldn't get on with, I thought the increase in quality over the last Indian wines I'd had was very noticeable, plus a bit more a sense of place.  Soul Tree is based in Birmingham, but the wines and the vineyards are located in India's largest wine-grape growing district, the Nasik Valley, around a hundred miles north east of Mumbai. Fortunately the vineyards are at sufficient altitude to be able to take advantage of cooler nights.

  • NV Soul Tree Aikya
    Apparently a blend of Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Symphony, and Shiraz.
    A zesty lemon nose that immediately made me think of chenin. Straightforward palate. A good clean fizz, with a blend that strikes me would work well with spicy food. Perfectly serviceable and pleasant drinking. 85/100
  • 2015 Soul Tree Sauvignon Blanc
    A massive asparagus-dominated nose. On the palate, this is a good, fresh sauvignon blanc. Maybe there is some tropical fruit creeping in and taking over from the green fruit. A nice wine. 87/100
  • 2015 Soul Tree Chenin Blanc
    Very fresh nose with zesty lemon and white flowers. On the palate, this is a good, clean, steely chenin. Very drinkable. 87/100
  • 2016 Soul Tree Rosé
    A rather slight nose. It's a good white zinfandel. Much less offensive than some Californian examples. Much drier than most white zin. 85/100
  • 2014 Soul Tree Reserve Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon
    The nose has good balanced fruit and oak. Good palate. Absolutely fine. But a bit dull and international. 85/100
  • 2015 Soul Tree Cabernet Sauvignon
    A good cabernet sauvignon nose. Very pleasant palate. Lush, ripe fruit, but nicely balanced. A hint of wood. 87/100
  • 2014 Soul Tree Shiraz
    A bit mealy-nosed - wood, meat and a strong perfume. Odd palate. Strangely perfumed with air freshener notes. Not entirely pleasant. 77/100
  •  2015 Soul Tree Royal Blend Cabernet Sauvignon-Zinfandel
    Good clean nose. The Zinfandel appears dominant. A bit odd on the palate, and quite green. Can't say I like this. I wonder if it would come into its own with spicy food.  81/100