Category Archives: Reviews

My opinion on things, usually restaurants or shops

Honey, wine and more wine: Auckland Food Show 2012

On Saturday I went to the Auckland edition of the NZ Food Show, held at the ASB Showgrounds.  Having never been, I wasn’t too sure what to expect so decided that I would assume it was along similar lines to the Edinburgh Foodies Festival, which is really my only other experience with a food show or festival.  And indeed it was along similar lines, although much bigger, indoors (excellent idea in winter!) and with significantly less gin, but a heck of a lot more wine – it seemed that about a third of the stands were wine stands.  There were also masterclasses (although they cost $50 to attend, so I passed) and free cooking demos organised.

There range of products on show and on sale was impressive to say the least – honey, wraps, wines and liqueurs, breads, meats, etc. etc. etc.  But there were also non-edible products such as Tupperware (since when is it all so pretty and colourful?!), knives, Skoda cars (no idea what they were doing there) and Kenwood had a huge show area that I didn’t venture into too much because everything was shiny and tempting (and expensive).  There were some very large and commercial companies there (Kenwood, Tupperware, etc.), some that I recognise from the supermarket (Hellers, Dilmah tea, Farrah Wraps, etc.) but also much smaller producers, which I was most eager to discover.  Uhm, I should probably mention at this point that I got a little distracted by all the samples and wine tastings so I have hardly any photos.  Woops.

There were plenty of chutney and jam stands, but they’ve all more or less merged into one in my memory, as have the wine stands (taking notes might have been a good idea since the number of wine stands there made things a little hazy…), and to a certain extent some of the honey stands.  The producers that really stood out for me were:

  • J Friend & Co Honey – I made a beeline (badum-tschhhh!) for all the honey stands, but this is the one that stood out for me.  All their honeys were fantastic, but I particularly enjoyed the pōhutakawa one.  They also had honeycomb available, which was wonderful.
  • Lighthouse Gin – a NZ-made gin and wonderfully smooth.  Also the only gin stand (sad times).
  • Shott fruit syrups – I love fruit-syrup based drinks, but outside of France it can be difficult to find good syrups.  These, however, were fantastic.  My favourites were the honey blackberry and the lemon, ginger and honey (have I mentioned that I love honey?)
  • Genevieve’s Cuisine pâtés – wonderfully smooth and delectable French-style chicken liver pâtés (or parfait as they call it) in a few different flavours (original, black pepper and truffle).  I hope they’ll expand their range from just chicken, because they certainly know what they’re doing.
  • Moreish butchers – a bit of an unusual butcher in that it’s entirely online, but all their meats are free range and organic.  I prefer to see what I’m buying, particularly when it comes to meat, but since I’m still looking for a good butcher here, I might give this a go, depending on their prices.  Their sausage samples were certainly excellent though.
  • Lewis Road Creamery butter – creamy and heavenly and quite possibly the best butter I’ve ever tasted.  Oh, and makes really good butter sculptures, too, in case you were wondering.  Amazing!

So there you go, that’s my little round-up of the NZ Food Show, Auckland.  If you get the chance, I’d highly recommend going along to get a taste for what’s available in terms of local products – the next edition is in Christchurch from 14-16 September, then in Wellington from 24-26 May 2013, and then back in Auckland in August I should expect (all details are on the website).  I think there might be a bit of variation in producers across the different food shows, depending on which producers are local and so on, although I’m not 100% sure about that.

Were you at the Food Show?  What were your highlights?

Wherever you are in the world, enjoy the rest of your day!

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Gin before lunch. AKA The Foodies Festival Edinburgh 2011

To put it mildly, August in Edinburgh is rather jam-packed.  Between the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the International Festival, the Art Festival, the Book Festival and the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, there is an astonishing amount going on in the town.  The number of people that descend on the town is also astounding, and I’m pretty sure that the population at least doubles.  To throw one more festival into the mix, the Foodies Festival Edinburgh was held in Holyrood Park last weekend, from Friday 12th to Sunday 14th August.

I went to the Foodies Festival two years ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  However, I hadn’t really seen anything about it since then, so I’d assumed that it had stopped or something.  And then, out of the blue, I saw it mentioned on Twitter last week.  Craig was just as eager as I to investigate, so we decided to go along on Saturday (I even managed to come across a voucher for 2-for-1 tickets.  Win!).  Who said Twitter and BBM were just for instigating riots?  (Bad taste?)  Anyway, thanks to a couple of days of monsoon-like rain, Holyrood Park had turned into a bit of a mud bath and they had to delay the opening of the Festival on Friday whilst they put hay down everywhere.  It was still thoroughly muddy on Saturday, but nothing that a good pair of wellies couldn’t handle.

There were rather more drinks exhibitors than I remember there being two years ago, and gin seemed to be particularly well represented.  Which is perfectly fine with me.  Within about ten seconds of our arrival we’d already managed to find ourselves at the Hendrick’s stand, which I think wins the prize for most elaborately decorated stand.  They had a bath-tub of rose petals, cucumber slices and “gin” (I assume it wasn’t actually gin – I feel that would be a bit of a waste), shelves of bottles and other curiosities and a 6 litre bottle of gin (which I’ve since been informed was empty – gutted).  However, whilst Hendrick’s is utterly delicious, it is a well-known brand, so we ambled off with our taster G&Ts to explore the rest of the Festival and in search of some new discoveries.

I was happy to see that Edinburgh Gin had a stand, although I suppose that’s hardly surprising considering that we were at a food festival in Edinburgh.  A relative newcomer to the ranks of gin (I believe it was launched a year ago), I first came across it in June, and have since noticed it in a lot of high-end bottleshops (the fact that I’m in Edinburgh probably also has something to do with that).  I love the gin itself – it’s full of botanical flavours – but I also love the packaging.

Another newcomer to the gin scene is Darnley’s View Gin, which I’d read a review of on The Gin Blog a few weeks previously but hadn’t yet had the opportunity to taste.  The first time we were at the stand they were doing straight gin tasters, which is not my usual way of consuming gin and, I’ll be quite honest was a bit too strong for me to actually taste anything except the fact that it was gin.  The second time we went to the stand, they’d added tonic to the tasters and I was able to ascertain that it had quite a floral taste and that I rather liked it.

I think that’s enough about gin (I should probably add that this post isn’t chronologically accurate – we did start off with Hendrick’s, but didn’t quite do back-to-back gin tastings before lunch.  We had wine in-between.).  There were quite a few wine sellers there as well, including The Vintner who were there in their Citroën van called Hugo.  We tried their prosecco, and two different whites, one from Southwest France and the other from Spain (if I remember correctly – this was towards the end of the afternoon) both of which were surprising in that they weren’t really what we were expecting.  They were both lovely and fresh, and very drinkable…

We also discovered that apparently we look like we can each afford to spend over £200 in one go on a case of wine.  (I can assure you that this most definitely is not the case.)  This became clear when we accidentally managed to end up having a full-on wine tasting from an importer whose name I forgot to write down (I need to be more organised!), tasting whites, reds, prosecco and champagne.  They were all very good, particularly a German red that we tasted (I’d love to give you the name, but I forgot to write it down, too.  Fail.), which was very interesting because although I’d never really tried German wine before I didn’t really have a great impression of it.  The wine that intrigued me the most was a sparkling German red, but unfortunately they didn’t have any with them at the festival.  So that still remains a mystery.

There was also a huge variety of food exhibitors – from cakes to flavoured oils to meats to chocolate, there was a bit of everything!  There were a lot of tasty samples available (and some not so tasty) which kept us going for most of the day, and the only non-taster-sized food we ended up having were crêpes as a semblance of lunch and an absolutely delicious venison burger towards the end of the afternoon.  I feel Simple Simon’s Pies deserve a special mention though, because they are absolutely delicious.  I first discovered them at the Foodies Festival two years ago and I was desperately hoping they’d be there again this year, which they were, hurrah!  I’m very picky about my pies, but these come in a huge range of flavours and are made from the freshest ingredients, always locally-sourced where possible.

There were, of course, a few exhibitors whose offerings weren’t really “my cup of tea.”  A fruit wine producer from Wales, whose wines weren’t exactly fantastic (actually, the one I tried was gross.  But he came all the way from Wales so I feel bad being overly critical).  He also had fruit liqueurs, some of which were palatable.  There was also a fudge producer offering passionfruit fudge – not a good combination, although their other flavours were yummy.  A few cake stands with unappetising cakes were also present, but then everybody has cakes they like and don’t like, so that’s just me being picky.  We only went to one of the “masterclass” events, which was a wine tasting done by the Edinburgh School of Food & Wine, but it was rather disappointing – I wasn’t really a fan of any of the wines chosen and I didn’t feel that it was all that informative either.

Overall however, I thoroughly enjoyed the Foodies Festival!  I love that it showcases local producers and food-related businesses of all sorts, and I think that can only really be a good thing.  If I’m ever in Edinburgh again whilst it’s on, I think I’ll definitely be going again…

Oh and in case you didn’t believe me about the mud, this was the state of our wellies by the end of the day (apparently I’m better at getting muddy than Craig):

Enjoy the rest of your day (mud optional, but gin recommended)!

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The Guid Cheese Shop, St Andrews

Before I launch into this, I feel I should add a disclaimer that I’m not a professional reviewer of any description, and these are just my rambling thoughts.

If you’re familiar with St Andrews, you are probably aware of the I.J. Mellis cheesemonger on South Street (they also have shops in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow).  The cheeses that they stock are all of very good quality, but I find that the choice isn’t nearly as extensive as it could be, and having been here for nearly four years, I’ve thoroughly exhausted their selection.  Many times over.  As well as the limited and rarely-changing selection, there are very few exciting or unusual cheeses on offer.  There is the exception of Mont d’Or, which Mellis HQ appears to think is a Christmas cheese (whilst it is seasonal, it is available from September to April), and the brief appearance of Morbier back in third year, also labelled as a Christmas cheese (which it most certainly is not, as it is produced year-round), which are both two of my favourite cheeses.  But aside from those, the selection is rather… dull?  Now, of course, small shops can’t stock every single cheese under the sun, but that doesn’t stop them from stocking new cheeses from time to time.  The staff are all friendly, and from talking to them, I feel that this is more of an issue that stems from Mellis HQ rather than the St Andrews branch itself, but it’s an issue all the same, and I’ve been feeling a bit dissatisfied for a while.  I must admit, I also miss the Manager/Assistant Manager combination of Finn and Zak, who were always up for a good chat (though it did mean that buying a slice of cheese took about half an hour) but have both left.

As a massive fan of cheese, I used to drop in at least once a week, usually for myself, but regularly on French Society business, too, and I was definitely a loyal customer, though customer loyalty was a bit of a default with only one cheesemonger in town…  You may have noticed the switch to past tense – Mellis is definitely still up and running, but I’m no longer a loyal customer.  So what happened?  Well, Mellis is no longer the only cheesemonger in St Andrews – a new cheese shop has opened!  I’m ashamed to admit that it took me about two months to venture into The Guid Cheese Shop, but when I (eventually) did, wow, what a wonderful surprise!

I think the first thing that I said (after “hello,” obviously) to Svetlana, the super-friendly proprietor, upon entering the shop was “oh my gosh, you sell Morbier!!”  In the moment that I saw that beautiful piece of cheese with its trademark black charcoal line running through it, a good part of my customer loyalty to Mellis evaporated.  Most of the rest of it was dispelled by the wide selection of French cheeses sourced from small producers, which I may have gotten slightly over-enthusiastic about.  I’m pretty sure Svetlana thought I was bordering crazy when I got so excited about all the different varieties.  Since then, almost every time I’ve dropped by (which is fairly often, as we’re using The Guid Cheese Shop to supply the cheese at the next French Society Wine & Cheese evening), Svetlana has a new cheese to try, or that she’s thinking of ordering in.  You can tell straight away that she is passionate about cheese (who isn’t?!), and has put a lot of work into sourcing interesting varieties, and different cheeses to the relatively well-known ones stocked by Mellis.  Of course, she also stocks very good Roquefort, Brie and Comté, but it’s the artisanal cheeses that have me completely sold.  I should say that I’m mostly basing my opinion on the French cheeses on offer, as I’m most familiar with them, and feel comfortable sharing my thoughts about them.

I’ve already mentioned that Svetlana is clearly passionate about cheese, and I think the best illustration of that is that she’s been putting on Cheese tastings and courses in the shop, as a way of introducing people to different varieties of cheese.  Now, as a cheese enthusiast, if there’s any event involving cheese, I’m so there.  An event involving cheese and wine, well, you’ll have difficulties keeping me away.  Although, not only am I a cheese fiend, but I’m also a snob, so it has to be good cheese and good wine.  Due to previous commitments and so on, I was unable to go to the first few cheese evenings, but Craig and I went along to the Cheese & Wine course on Saturday evening, which was also a launch for the range of wines that are now also sold (sadly Kat couldn’t make it).  We may have dropped the average age by about 20 years, but it was a great evening (and inspired me to write this post about the shop).  Svetlana’s knowledge and enthusiasm was evident, but I think what really shone through was her obvious wish to simply introduce people to the wide variety of cheeses that are available.  She was actually telling me earlier today that she has written a book in Russian to explain various cheese-making techniques and types and introduce some of the more artisanal and lesser-known cheeses to Russia, where during and after the Soviet Era, the only cheeses available were industrially-produced.  That is amazing dedication to the cause of good cheese!

Whilst the staff at Mellis are also clearly passionate about what they do, I feel they are somewhat limited by Mellis HQ, which deals with all the orders and stocking of the various shops – I get the impression that they are not a fan of change, or if they are, apparently this is not filtered down into the St Andrews shop.  Perhaps if Mellis were more innovative in their cheese varieties, they would be able to compete with the Guid Cheese Shop, but as it stands, I really don’t think that they can.  A cheesemonger should have the standard favourites, but also always have new varieties for customers to discover, so that they don’t get bored.  And that’s exactly where Mellis falls down – I’m thoroughly bored with their stock.  I can only hope that Svetlana at the Guid Cheese Shop continues to source out small producers and lesser-known cheeses.  If so, then combined with her passion and enthusiasm for educating people about cheese, I definitely think she’s onto a winner!

Since I will (in theory) be graduating and sadly leaving St Andrews this summer, I will only be able to follow the progression of the Guid Cheese Shop from afar, though I do hope that the discount that she has given French Society members (15% off cheeses – one of the many reasons to join French Society!  Shameless advertising over…) will contribute positively.  So if you are in St Andrews, do take the time to drop in!

The Guid Cheese Shop
Burghers Close
141 South Street
St Andrews KY16 9UN

That turned into a mini essay.  Woops.  I blame the dissertation (I currently can’t write anything in less than 1000 words and just end up repeating myself several times over).

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