Faroes and Away: Just Go

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Why the tiny (if staggeringly scenic) nation of the Faroe Islands wasn’t overrun with tourists during my visit in early August is beyond me – especially considering that my flight from Stansted was hardly more than two hours long and that I had never seen anywhere on earth quite as extraordinary or been anywhere quite as distinctive. That this archipelago of 18 islands jutting from the juncture of the North Atlantic and the Norwegian Sea is such an accessible yet sparsely populated and utterly gorgeous destination should be reason enough for you to stop whatever it is you’re doing right this instant and start making plans to see the Faroes for yourself.

I’m going to take the next few days to recount the amazing time I had discovering the Faroe Islands. But really everything I’m gonna say boils down to this: if you can go there you should … and when you do spend as much time as possible in boats. Ancient culture, jaw dropper sights, exquisite food (mostly of the fresh seafood variety), and tranquility like I’ve found nowhere else on earth all added up to a wonderful sense of calm and a solid dose of adventure.

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I flew to the Faroes with Atlantic Airways, the national airline of the Faroe Islands “operating domestic helicopter services and international passenger services as well as search and rescue responsibilities” from its base at Vágar Airport. At the moment, Atlantic services Stansted only the summer months, but there are year round flights to/from Copenhagen. Other airports where the airline currently operates include Billund, Aalborg, Reykjavik, and Bergan. Find out more at atlantic.fo.

My flight from Stansted was just over two hours long, and within minutes of my arrival, I was being blown away by the place. About 15 minutes’ drive from Vágar Airport is the ancient village of Bøur. With views of an unimaginably dramatic seascape, it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Thanks to local guide Sigurd Nordendal for showing me around Bøur by car and traditional Faroese wooden boat (!!!) and for sharing his love of his home with me.

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About an hour’s drive from the airport is the captial city Torshavn (yep, that means “Thor’s Haven”) where 20,000 or of the nation’s 49,000 folks live. There I stayed at the four star and ultra chilled out Hotel Foroyar, and I’d happily do so again … particularly if it meant another meal at the hotel’s fine dining Koks restaurant! Visit the hotel online at hotelforoyar.com.

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Hired car is the best way of getting around while visiting the Faroes. Mine was booked through 62ºN tour company. I can’t recommend them enough – especially after the speedy and friendly service I experienced when I got a flat tire! Find out more at 62n.fo/en.

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As breathtaking as so many views were around the islands I was glad have had a pair of Swarovski Optik CL Pocket binoculars in my bag (although for much of the trip they were glued to my face). The lightweight and foldable compact binoculars with individually adjustable twist-in eyecups offered my eager eyes a large field of view (357ft/119m) of exceptional optical quality – which proved just the thing for birdwatching (puffins galore!). Read more about these fine binoculars at uk.swarovskioptik.com/travel.

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I spent a good bit of my Faroese trip touring the islands with local chef Gutti Winther. He was a brilliant guide who seemed to know the islands’ many nooks, crannies, sea caves, cliffs, fjords et al like the back of his hand and to have a warm friendship with just about everybody from there. The man can cook too! My tour with him was arranged through Visit Faroe Islands. I would love to pass some more details about him your way, but when I asked for his contact details he said, “I don’t have an email address; it’s not my style.” However, if you Google his name you’ll get a few results (mostly in Faroese) which might lead you his way.

For loads more info to help plan your own Faroese adventure, go to visitfaroeislands.com.

Keep an eye out for more posts in my Faroes and Away miniseries.

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London Daily Photo: Face in the Crowd

LDP 2014.08.17 - Face in the Crowd

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How Many Airports Does London Actually Have? (OneTravel)

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So you’ve set aside the time to go and you already have a good idea of the sights to see and activities to do. You’re big London vacation is eminent! But which airport is the best option for you to fly in and out of and how should you go about making such a decision?

… here’s a list of London’s six airports along with brief descriptions including proximity to Trafalgar Square (considered by many to be the center of London) to help you determine where to catch your flight.

Read my complete post at the OneTravel blog.

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London Daily Photo: KIngs X

LDP 2014.08.16 - Kings X

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Win a Luxury Holiday to the British Virgin Islands: #BVIParty

BVI Masters – Ninja from Black Tomato on Vimeo.

Today’s the last day to play for a chance to win a luxury holiday to the British Virgin Islands. All you’ve got to do is tweet your own BVI inspired cocktail recipe using the #BVIParty tag.

Yep! That’s all ya gotta do. Here are some deets about the comp and the prizes:

The ten best cocktails will be selected by our first-class team of cocktail tasters, and will win a BVI goody bag! Our grand prize winner will be jetting off for a week in the BVI, staying at Biras Creek Resort and Oil Nut Bay, with return flights from the UK for two. You and your cocktails will also feature here on the website later in the summer. Aspiring mixologists can submit their recipes by using the #BVIParty hashtag on Twitter any time before midnight on the 15th of August.  You must be over 21 years of age to be eligible to win a prize.

To be sure, I entered my own creation in hopes of winning a Caribbean holiday. Here’s that tweet:

Best of luck. Find out more at bvitourism.co.uk/bviparty.

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London Daily Photo: Dalston Down

LDP 2014.08.15 - Dalston Down

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Aberlour and the World’s First Outdoor Whisky Art Gallery (OneTravel)

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Back in May, single malt whisky makers Aberlour launched the world’s first outdoor whisky art gallery. A few weeks ago, I got the chance to check the exhibition when I paid a visit to the distillery. Set on an idyllic stretch of babbling brook winding its way to Aberlour’s historic distillery, the exhibition aims to capture “the individual elements that together result in one of Scotland’s most famous exports.” And I reckon it certainly succeeds in doing so.

This free to view and permanent exhibition blew me away with its series of super-macro images magnifying the beautiful and minute details specific to the journey of Aberlour whisky – from the pink granite that creates the softness of the water used in the distillation process to the special oak cask in which the spirit is transformed.

Read my complete post at the OneTravel blog.

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London Daily Photo: Study in Contrast

LDP 2014.08.14 - Study in Contrast

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Good Stuff – Speyside Delights!

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Good Stuff and lots of it! Here’s the low down on some fine things to see, sip or savour – in this case all yummy findings from my recent trip to Scotland’s Speyside that I thought were worth sharing with you. Enjoy.

Royan of Elgin, Traditional Butcher

This traditional butcher shop was founded in 1850 by the grandfather of present owner, Jim Royan. I didn’t actually make it to the shop (or to Elgin for that matter), but had a taste of Royan’s amazing sausages while at dining at the Copper Dog Restaurant at the Craigellachie Hotel. The top quality sausages were mostly pork shoulder with small chunks of black pudding blended in. I loved it and wish I had some stashed away in the freezer.

Strafton Blue Cheese

My unsuspecting palate was wowed by this super creamy and very blue sheep’s milk cheese. Good luck finding much more mention than this of it online … but if you do please let me know.

Wildcat Ale

Although I was visiting the Speyside for its famous whisky, I was impressed by a couple of beers I had while there. One of them was Wildcat Ale. I had this malty amber ale at the riverside Mash Tun pub in Aberlour. Brewed by Cairngorm Brewery in Aviemore, proceeds from each bottle sold go to support the Highland Tiger Project and the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan.

Windswept Weizen

The other beer that had me jotting down a note from the bar was a cloudy and banana-y hefeweizen from Windswept Brewing Co. It’s a “special seasonal brew to celebrate Oktoberfest in Moray,” but I thought it was a perfect quencher for a sunny summer’s day.

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London Daily Photo: Oxford Circus

LDP 2014.08.13 - Oxford Circus

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Aberlour at the Source: Fine Finish

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Clean air, clean water, clean tasting whisky – why’d I ever leave? I’d relish a repeat visit to Aberlour Distillery and the Speyside swath of heaven that’s its home. Folks looking for their own ‘clean’ break would be wise to go on their own similarly relaxing retreat.

To help you better browse the posts I’ve published about the fine time I had discovering the source of Aberlour whisky, here’s a list with links to all of them:

Aberlour at the Source

Special thanks to Aberlour International Brand Ambassador Ian Logan for sharing his time, knowledge, expertise, and kind hospitality and to International PR Manager for Aberlour and Chivas Brothers Amy Grantham for organising such a fantastic trip.

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Founded in 1879, Aberlour distillery is located outside of the village Craigellachie about an hour’s drive either way from Aberdeen or Inverness. The whisky made here is indeed fine to drink particular during a scenic Speyside expedition. Find out more at aberlour.com.

 

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London Daily Photo: This Guy’s Famous, Right?

LDP 2014.08.12 - This Guy's Famous, Right?

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Aberlour at the Source: More than Whisky

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Even when setting aside the distillery tour, cooperage visit, and the delectable chance to taste the Aberlour range of single malts in the very environment where they’re made, my Speyside time was still such a blast. The area is absolutely gorgeous, all the food I had was delish, and the hours spent outside communing with nature were as invigorating as they were relaxing. I would have loved to have been able to extend my trip at least a few more days as there was just so much great stuff to see and do. Indeed, I would be so very keen to head back that way again to get to continue discovering this lovely part of Scotland.

Think you’d like to check out the Spey for yourself? Here are some of my ‘more than whisky’ highlights from the few days I enjoyed up that way.

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Do

More than anything, it was just really nice for me to explore the great outdoors. The weather was super summery and actually quite hot while I was there, and I got a kick just walking around the villages and along the river, crossing the famed Penny Brig and Craigellachie Bridge, and just breathing in the fresh air and taking loads of photos.

Being Speyside was nice of course, but even better was getting on the river for a short and scenic paddle with British Canoe Union Coach Keith Dickinson of Sporting Scotland – an outdoors activity that’s easy to recommend.

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Stay

I stayed at the Craigellachie Hotel, in Craigellachie village a couple of miles from Aberlour Distillery. I’m happy to recommend it … with a couple of provisos though. First the bad news: there was no WiFi during pretty much my entire time at the hotel (and as I understood it this had been the case there for a couple of weeks prior to my booking). If you’re looking for somewhere you can “get away from it all” this might be just the spot. However, if you’re going to need to keep in touch with contacts and do a bit of work while there (as I wished I could have done), you’d best call ahead to find out about the situation with the internet. When you do, see about the availability of rooms not facing the road at the front of the building. I was awakened each morning around 6.15 by all the traffic driving by. Other folks I chatted with who were staying in rooms on the other side of the hotel didn’t have such problems with morning noise.

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Caveats aside, I otherwise liked the Craigellachie. My bed, in particular, was commendably comfy. The hotel has been beautifully restored and recently renovated and is ideally located near Dufftown and the historic Malt Whisky Trail. It’s a smart accommodation option to keep in mind for any Speyside activities that might be of interest to you.

Eat and Drink

As much as I’ve grumbled about the traffic and the lack of WIFi at the Craigellachie, I absolutely loved the hotel’s Quaich bar and Copper Dog restaurant. The bar features an amazing assortment of more than 700 whiskies and a fine line up of quality craft beers too, including a couple of extra tasty local brews. Dinner at the Copper Dog was yummy. A main course of Elgin’s Copper Dog sausage and rumble thumps with onion gravy was an especially savoury delight. Banana muffins with toffee sauce and clotted cream ice was a treat as well. Breakfast at the hotel was also really good; I got haggis with my fry up one morning while the other I had a more subdued bowl of porridge with fresh fruit. The bar and restaurant are cosy and there’s plenty of outdoor seating for taking in the stunning mountain views.

Two other great dines during my visit including a very satisfying lunch at the Mash Tun pub on the banks of the Spey beside the Penny Brig (loved the locally sourced hot smoked salmon and black pudding) and a fine feast with a small assemblage of other journos and some brand reps at the Aberlour Distillery’s private Fleming Rooms. This meal featured fresh Scottish produce paired with the Aberlour whisky portfolio made by resident chef, Eric Obry. Obry’s creations impressed. His pavé of baked sea trout with a velouté of wild garlic (paired with 16 Year Old Aberlour) was a delight as was his loin of Auchindoun venison (which incidentally was stalked, shot, hung, butchered and cooked by the chef) with juniper berry reduction, chantrelles, parsnip puree, carrots and potato rosti. If an opportunity should ever rise for you to eat this man’s food – go for it!

I’ll wrap things up soon with one more post in this short series of posts about discovering Aberlour at the Source.

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Founded in 1879, Aberlour distillery is located outside of the village Craigellachie about an hour’s drive either way from Aberdeen or Inverness. The whisky made here is indeed fine to drink particular during a scenic Speyside expedition. Find out more at aberlour.com.

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London Daily Photo: Richmond Road

LDP 2014.08.11 - Richmond Road

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Aberlour at the Source: Tasting Notes

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To be honest, I’d never had a sip of Aberlour before my visit to its distillery. Always reckoning myself more an islands whisky kinda guy, I’m slightly embarrassed to say that I simply had not even given Speyside whisky a fair shake. I now realise the error of my ways and that I have been missing out all these years as a whisky drinker.

I mean not to disparage the peaty pleasures of Islay, Skye, and Jura, but a Speyside single malt can yield as luscious a tasting experience as any dram can – and that certainly holds true for the Aberlour malts I’m now able to comment on. As much as I relished my time spent ambling beside Ablerour’s source of water and getting to see some local coopers in action, I loved even more the opportunity for an onsite sample of what the Aberlour folk had done to combine all the right elements together for a bottle full of Speyside pride.

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Sitting in the comfort of the Fleming Rooms at the Aberlour Distillery with its plush leather sofas, backlit wall of bottles and regional ephemera and whisky related memorabilia, I very much enjoyed every whisky that I sipped during an arranged tasted and just about flipped for two particular malts: the 18 Year Old and the A’bunadh. As wonderfully apropos as it was to drink them where I was, I suspect each one of them would go down well wherever had. Below are some tasting notes (mine alongside Aberlour’s own) of malts in the Aberlour range.

Aberlour 12 Year Old

The “rich and sweet” doubled casked 12 Year Old has a citrus character “perfectly complemented and enriched by superlative use of ex-Sherry casks.” I tasted hints of coconut in this easy drinker with a slightly bitter caramel finish (something like the aftertaste from a well pulled espresso).

Aberlour 16 Year Old

The “deep, soft, fruity” doubled casked 16 Year Old has a more concentrated flavour that’s syrupy sweet. I found it to be an apple/applewood-y tipple.

Aberlour 18 Year Old

A doubled casked spicy spirit with a discernible and raisiny sherry edge and a “liquorice tang,” the 18 Year Old is buttery, nutty little number aged to an impressive flavour profile. I loved the stuff and am keen to hold on to my own bottle of it for special occasions.

Aberlour A’bunadh

Handmade from start to finish, with each batch being created from scratch, the non-chill filtered and cask strength A’bunadh is a “weapon’s grade” “cult whisky” which those behind the brand reckon it’s “challenging to make and challenging to savour,” but personally speaking, I had no trouble savouring this walloping Scotch with complex flavours suggesting all sorts of delectable treats from raisins and cinnamon to butterscotch and dulce de leche. A good one to pair up with an after dinner stogie, A’bunadh rocked my socks off!

More to come in my short series of posts about discovering Aberlour at the Source.

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Founded in 1879, Aberlour distillery is located outside of the village Craigellachie about an hour’s drive either way from Aberdeen or Inverness. The whisky made here is indeed fine to drink particular during a scenic Speyside expedition. Find out more at aberlour.com.

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London Daily Photo: Kentish Town

LDP 2014.08.10 - Kentish Town

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Aberlour at the Source: Speyside Cooperage

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As important as the few raw ingredients that go into whisky is the cask in which the spirit is aged. Indeed it’s the interplay between the spirit and the cask wood that gives any whisky its flavour. And coming by the right cask is no mean feat as I found out when I got a look see inside the Speyside Cooperage near Aberlour Distillery.

In the case of Aberlour, most of its single malts are double-cask matured in first fill ex-Bourbon casks and ex-Oloroso Sherry butts which have been personally selected for the right aromatic qualities by Aberlour’s own Blender from traditional bourbon distilleries in the USA and Sherry makers in the Jerez area of Spain.

The wood used for Aberlour’s casks may come primarily from Spain and the US and be approved by the Blender, but much of it is sourced via the local Speyside Cooperage in Craigellachie, just a short drive up from the distillery. As in my last piece where I argued that distilleries are worth a visit no matter your inclination or aversion to whisky, any admirer of traditional craft would find value sneaking a peak in a cooperage. And that’s just what’s on offer at this one: the chance to watch skilled artisans hard at work adhering time honoured tradition and practical know-how to each cask repaired or assembled.

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Speyside Cooperage is the only working cooperage in the UK. Family owned and more than a half century old, the cooperage produces the hight quality casks finest casks using traditional methods and tools. Its casks are shipped across the world, with many of them staying in Scotland.

There’s a visitor centre, gift shop and cafe on site, as well as an “Acorn to Cask” exhibition for learning about how casks are made and used. What I loved most when I dropped by was the raised viewing platform stretching across the coopers’ workspace where I got to observe and marvel at their efficiency and ability. Making casks may not sound too terribly complex or difficult – but it requires loads of skill. The cooperage has an activity area next to the viewing platform where guests can have a go assembling a cask, as I did. It was tough, like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle while jugging all its pieces at the same time.

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On top of a deeper appreciation for the thought and elbow grease that goes into a cask, I learned a few things as well. Before my visit, I just assumed all casks were barrels – that the two terms were interchangeable. Not! A barrel is a relatively small type of cask, and the term cask generally refers to by cylindrical container of liquid (usually made of wood). There are also drums, puncheons, hogsheads, butts, tuns and more. Keep these distinctions in mind. They could prove to be all that stands between you being a barrel of laughs at your next whisky tasting or the butt of the joke.

For details about visiting Speyside Cooperage, go to speysidecooperage.co.uk.

More to come in my short series of posts about discovering Aberlour at the Source …

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Founded in 1879, Aberlour distillery is located outside of the village Craigellachie about an hour’s drive either way from Aberdeen or Inverness. The whisky made here is indeed fine to drink particular during a scenic Speyside expedition. Find out more at aberlour.com.

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London Daily Photo: Minnie’s March

LDP 2014.08.09 - Minnie's March

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Aberlour at the Source: A Whisky While beside the Lour Burn

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Regardless of whether you actually like the taste of whisky, distilleries are fine places to visit if only for the scenery surrounding them. And to this point, age old Aberlour Distillery is no exception.

Set along a lovely stretch of the lilting River Spey where the distillery catches water from springs cascading their way to it, Aberlour has been making single malt Scotch in the same idyllic spot for 135 years. Of course for those of us who very much like to indulge in a wee dram now and again, any opportunity to savour something so special at its very source of origin is a shear delight. To be sure, I relished my late July tour of Aberlour’s facilities as well as my time spent taking in the beauty of the land this Speyside whisky maker calls home.
At its simple best, whisky is comprised of three basic ingredients: malted barley, yeast and water. So those minimal elements need be top quality stuff to create a drink that can hold its own against all the booze out there today. Obviously, the bulk of what is whisky is nothing more than good ole H₂O. If ya ain’t got good water, ya won’t get good whisky.

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I can tell you from setting foot there and having a look and a taste for myself that the water from the Lour Burn (the “chattering burn” running alongside the distillery) is delicious and pure. It and the local water in general are especially clean and soft. Just brushing my teeth at the nearby hotel where I stayed was a tastier experience than usual; taking a bath felt more refreshing. It wasn’t only the taste and feel of the water that did it for me though.

A well kept path tracing the Lour from the top of a hill above Aberlour to the distillery below and onwards to the Spey is open to the public and free to visit. A new outdoor whisky art gallery (apparently a world first) has been set up along the path recently. The gallery features a series of super-macro images by Dr David Maitland (winner of the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2008 and one of the world’s foremost specialist super-macro photographers) which magnify the minute details specific to the journey of Aberlour whisky – from the pink granite that creates the softness of the water used in the distillation process to the special oak cask in which the spirit is transformed.

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Of course it’s not just Maitland’s works on display here. Mother Nature’s art, including the gorgeous Linn Falls waterfall, is full view. And in my opinion the gallery (thankfully) never upstages or obstructs the natural scenery. Indeed, if you only wanted to take the leisurely mile or so walk only to take in the surroundings, it would be easy enough to do with the large photographs serving as little more than trail makers on the way to the distillery.

Viewing the exhibition as I strolled proved an interesting in situ way to learn about whisky. But for me, more enlightening was my singular encounter with the spring itself. Going back over my notes from the walk, all I’d managed to scribble was “It feels so good right now.” Birds chirping, water babbling, a flowery scent to the air wafting on a gentle breeze … time stood still for a little a sweet Scottish while and all seemed incredibly well.

More to come in my short series of posts about discovering Aberlour at the Source …

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Founded in 1879, Aberlour distillery is located outside of the village Craigellachie about an hour’s drive either way from Aberdeen or Inverness. The whisky made here is indeed fine to drink particular during a scenic Speyside expedition. Find out more at aberlour.com.

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London Daily Photo: Flowers of the Forest

LDP 2014.08.08 - Flowers of the Forest

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Win an Assortment of Yoghurt Treats from The Collective

Win an Assortment of Yoghurt Treats from The Collective

COMPETITION IS NOW OVER AND THE WINNER HAS BEEN CONTACTED. THANKS SO MUCH FOR READING TIKICHRIS. PLEASE STAY TUNED FOR LOTS MORE FUN AND FREEBIES TO COME!

Known for its innovative approach and “daring dairy” spirit, gourmet brand The Collective makes some of the yummiest yoghurt on the market today. Fancy a taste? Keep reading for a chance to have a chiller bag full of luscious Collective products hand delivered to your door for free.

Recently, The Collective launched a range of four yoghurt drinks produced with British milk, and containing no refined sugars, artificial colours, flavours or preservatives. I got a taste of the new drinks and was glad to have done so. I especially liked the Coconut, Vanilla & Honey drink, a “moreish, indulgent and perfectly balanced blend” of live yoghurt, Madagascan vanilla, coconut cream, coconut milk and honey; and the Bloody Mango, a mix of live yoghurt, crushed Alphonso mangoes and blood oranges.

Sounds delicious, right? Check it out:

To be in with a chance to win an assortment of items from The Collective including the full range of newly launched yoghurt drinks simply tweet the following:

RT to win a chiller bag full of #daringdairy gourmet yoghurt from the @collectivedairy compliments of @tikichris: http://bit.ly/1lGH2Hq

Good luck. Please take a moment to read the terms and conditions before tweeting!

T&C

I’ll pick one winner at random on Friday 22 August at 11.30am BST. The winner will receive an assortment of items from The Collective including the full range of newly launched yoghurt drinks, delivered to your door by courier (if a courier is not possible, The Collective will send you coupons to redeem your prize). To be eligible to win, you need to have an address in the UK.

Find out more about The Collective at thecollectivedairy.com.

COMPETITION IS NOW OVER AND THE WINNER HAS BEEN CONTACTED. THANKS SO MUCH FOR READING TIKICHRIS. PLEASE STAY TUNED FOR LOTS MORE FUN AND FREEBIES TO COME! 

Check out more tikichris competitions.

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London Daily Photo: Lever Street

LDP 2014.08.07 - Lever Street

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High Spirits Afternoon Tea at Paramount, Centrepoint

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A boozy and panoramic double entendre, Paramount’s High Spirits afternoon tea yields a civilised chance to catch a lofty buzz while taking in some of the best views of London.

Created by Head Chef Kryzsztof Zachwieja, this new tea offered at the top of the Centrepoint building (the tower situated over Tottenham Court Road Station) features alcohol in every element, from spiked sandwiches along the lines of gin and orange-cured salmon with lemon butter on lemon bread to pie-eyed pastries and cakes like Amaretto tiramisu with lime mascarpone. Scones are served with a Cointreau jam.

Kemey and I very much liked everything presented during our recent Saturday visit. I was especially partial to the whisky-smoked ham and wholegrain mustard sandwiches, and we both thought the Brandy & Cherry Cola (cherry and brandy compote with cola jelly, cola granita and sherbet) was delightful.

There is actual tea to go with all this juiced up food. I had an enlivening “High Tea Cocktail” (which despite the name and the theme contained no alcohol) herbal blend of orange, ginger, gingko, milk thistle, ginseng and schizandra. Kemey went with a more classic “English Rose” Earl Grey.

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And of course there are the actual the cocktails. I was deeply impressed with exquisite The Green Hour (Grey Goose La Poire, apple liqueur, fresh lemon and apple juice, pistachio syrup, La Fontaine Absinth and egg white) as was Kemey with her Italian Gentleman (Gentleman Jack whiskey, Mozart Dark chocolate liqueur, crème de fraise, Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur, Angostura bitters, and Aztec chocolate bitters). It was a bit of a toughie deciding on those two sippers. The drinks menu is an inspired read and I would be most keen for a repeat visit for further sampling!

Afterwards (if your knees aren’t too wobbly), guests can head up stairs to Paramount’s viewing gallery with its near-floor-to-ceiling windows and 360-degree views over London.
As much as I loved the tea, taking in all the scenery was the real highlight. I’d been to Paramount a few times before; the views from there are among my favourite of London. You’re right there in the heart of town with Oxford Street extending from just below and the rest of the city seeming to unfold from there.

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Th High Spirits afternoon tea costs £28 per person tea (or £42 including a cocktail of your choice) which I reckon extremely good value given the price of comparable teas. During our visit we were seated by the window (which I would think is pretty much guaranteed with a booking but it wouldn’t hurt to ask). Service was friendly and efficient.

Paramount is located at the 32nd floor of Centre Point, 101-103 New Oxford Street, WC1A 1DD. A variety of afternoon teas are available daily between 2.30pm and 4.30pm. Find out more at paramount.uk.net.

Tipsy sandwiches include gin and orange-cured salmon with lemon butter on lemon bread; whisky-smoked ham with wholegrain mustard on tomato bread and even a Bloody Mary on wholegrain bread! Scones will be served with Cointreau and orange jam.

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London Daily Photo: Independent Jaguar

LDP 2014.08.06 - Independent Jaguar

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I Survived the Suicide Wings Challenge at The Back Room Bar, Hyde Park Corner

Suicide Wings Challenge at The Back Room Bar

I laughed. I cried. I lost my voice a few times. But in the end I succeeded and met The Back Room Bar’s Suicide Wings Challenge. In all honesty I was about 30 seconds behind the 15 minute time limit but that was really more because I was chatting and just having fun than not being up to the task. I did let a girl beat me though and that kinda burned – but not nearly as much as my mouth did after eating ten majorly hot wings!

The Suicide Wings Challenge presents “those brave enough to have a go” with 15 minutes to eat “clean to the bone” a portion of ten jumbo wings coated in half a tablespoon of Psycho Juice, half a tablespoon of Jekyll or Hyde You Decide, two drops of Jekyll’s potion and four ounces of classic wing sauce. This combo is so super hot that the bar requires you to sign a waiver before committing to the challenge, during which time you can only drink a single beer (I had a Meantime London Pale Ale). If anything other than the one beer is used to assist with completing the challenge, such as water, milk, napkins, sour cream or anything else you’re disqualified.

It was tough to complete, more because of the quantity to consume than the actual heat. But it was egregiously fiery. I really did loose my voice for a moment or two. The subsequent endorphin rush was amazing though and lasted quite awhile. Eaten at a more reasonable pace (and with napkins) the wings would be a treat.

The challenge is available on request everyday at £8.95. However, if you can successfully clear your plate you get the wings and beer for free. You also get your name and photo displayed on the Suicide Wing Wall of Fame plus a voucher for a free regular portion and beer the next time you visit.

Stupidly hot wings or no, The Back Room is worth keeping in mind. Owned by (and just round the corner from) Hard Rock Cafe, the bar offers a high standard of service minus the crowds you’d expect at Hard Rock with drinks, pizza and bar food at pretty nice prices especially considering the bar’s location: 148b Old Park Lane, W1K 1QZ.

Find out more at hardrock.com/thebackroom.


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London Daily Photo: Barb

LDP 2014.08.05 - Barb

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Celebrate National Afternoon Tea Week across Britain: August 11-17 (OneTravel)

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It’s one of Britain’s best loved foodie traditions and a delightful opportunity for visitors from abroad to get a taste of the local culture … and now a whole week’s been set aside to celebrate the ever so British institution of the afternoon tea.

From Monday the 11th of August to Sunday the 17th, venues across the British Isles will present a variety of opportunities for tea aficionados to give a raised pinky in salute to stylish snacking between lunch and dinner with delectable mix of themed menus, special hotel offers, discounts and more …

Read my complete post at the OneTravel blog.

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London Daily Photo: London Honey

LDP 2014.08.04 - London Honey

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Innocent Drinks and the Art of Good Taste

I’m a fan of Innocent Drinks. The London based brand makes some of the tastiest juices available on the supermarket shelf. I reckon its orange juice is the best on the market, and I really like those veg pot meals too. Flavour’s the main reason I’m all for Innocent, but I’m even more enthusiastic than usual about how Innocent does its thing because there’s no added crap to any other the products. More and more, it’s getting harder to buy food and drink that’s not loaded with additives and preservatives for longer shelf life or a shinier look. I applaud Innocent Drinks for keeping its products and its message simply – and for being able to do it on a grand scale.

So the invitation to attend an “evening of good taste” at the company’s Fruit Towers HQ in West London was met with a near immediate ‘yes please!’ RSVP. This would be my second time to vist Fruit Towers. And to be sure, I was keen to return.

During the event, guests learned about Innocent’s ethos and how the brand goes about creating products. We also got to sample a range of treats and of course drinks and even have a go at mixing up our own smoothie. My team’s attempt (mixed in a bicycle powered blender) was … well … unique.

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In addition to the Innocent crew and a friendly gaggle of local foodie entrepreneurs with backgrounds working with or for Innocent (I loved the canapés offered by Anna Jones), Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg – authors of The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs were on hand to speak. Wow. That was a real treat (as was taking home a copy of their Bible).

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For me there weren’t any OMG revelations but more solid confirmation of how important using quality ingredients is and how keeping food fresh and simple is usually the best way to ensure yumminess.

Find out more about Innocent Drinks at innocentdrinks.co.uk.

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London Daily Photo: Lea Bridge Road

LDP 2014.08.03 - Lea Bridge Road

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Stress Free Dinner Parties Achieved with Food at 52 Cookery School

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Planning to host a dinner party or would you like to build up your confidence before the next time you do? Consider attending Stress Free Dinner Parties course Food at 52 Cookery School near Old Street. It’s one of the school’s many courses designed to help ordinary people with ordinary kitchens cook and eat better. I sat in on the full day course and found it to be fun, enlightening and delicious.

During the course I attended, we (a small group of four which was explained to be only slightly smaller than usual) were taught by Food at 52′s empressario (and ace cook) John Benbow how to make a variety of dishes designed to take the pressure off cooking for guests while still wowing them with your creations. We made and took home the recipes for six dishes: duck two ways with cape gooseberry jam; smoked trout and asparagus tarlets; shallots with Parma ham; cauliflower cake; butternut squash and lentils salad; and stuffed peaches. There were plenty of tips provided as well, like how to perfectly poach an egg and how to make a basic short crust pastry.

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Food at 52′s kitchen is a dream setting too. There are all sorts of awesome utensils and gadgets, and most notably a large centrepiece table that’s as communal as it is functional and serves as a comfortable workspace. But nothing about the space and all its accoutrements is so beyond what’s typical in most ‘real life’ kitchens as to leave you thinking that you wouldn’t be able to replicate what you did during a course.

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The five-hour Stress Free Dinner Parties course costs £150 per person. I very much enjoyed the session I attended and am happy to recommend it to anyone looking to “tackle meals that can be prepared early enough to allow you to spend more time with your guests, and less with the oven.” For me it was a great way to meet nice people, learn a few things, cook and eat very good food (plenty of drink was on offer as well) and leave with me a cache of recipes to share with others in my own home (not to mention a few tasty leftovers from what we made during the course).

Food at 52 Cookery School is located at 96 Central Street, EC1V 8AJ. Find out more at foodat52.co.uk.


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London Daily Photo: Reflections

LDP 2014.08.02 - Reflections

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New Cocktail Menu at Grand Union Bars

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A couple of weeks back I was invited along to sample the new cocktail menu at Grand Union. I Unfamiliar with the London based group of eight bars (and possibly growing) but intrigued when I took a quick look at the drinks I would be offered to try. I’m happy to report I was not disappointed and found GU’s Farringdon bar to be a smart and cosy spot to keep in mind the next time I’m out and about and hankering a drink.

Highlights from the tasting included the Key Lime Pie Martini (Licor 43 and Amarula blended with milk, £8). It’s apparently now the most ordered drink at all Grand Union bars. I could understand why. It was creamy and quenching. Besides, who doesn’t like key lime pie?

I also enjoyed the Fire-ita (£8), a “spiced up” margarita with “a hint of pickle juice and Cajun rim”. And I very much approved of the Bottled Fennel Sazerac (£8) and would happily ask for this “home bottled twist on the classic Sazerac:

Rather than rinsing the glass with absinthe, we bottle and marinade our Jim Beam in the aniseed-rooted goodness of fennel.

Other treats tasted were the Peanut Butter Punch and the Cinnamon Sour (both £8 each). And the drink that really impressed was The Bleating Heart (serves about four people, £25):

Stoli Karamel is added to our house blend of lemongrass, sweet chilli pepper and lime. A dash of grenadine finishes off this “Thai-piroska” style sharer served on a bed of drift wood
accompanied by a ram’s skull.

Yeah, you read that last bit correctly. It’s served on a bed of drift wood and accompanied by a rams skull. More style over substance (the actual drink was just okay) but what style! And it certainly turned heads as it was brought out from the bar.

By the way, there’s a new food menu at Grand Union too which includes some right tasty Aberdeen Angus burgers (from £5), tasting platters and more.

Grand Union Farringdon is located at 55 Charterhouse Street, EC1M 6HA with outlets in Brixton, Camberwell, Camden, Chancery Lane, Kennington, Paddington and Wandsworth as well. A great time to visit any of them might be during happy hour which stretches from 4pm to 8pm everyday (all day Sunday) with a range of cocktail available for £5.

Find out more at grandunionbars.com.

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London Daily Photo: Clerkenwell Road

LDP 2014.08.01 - Clerkenwell Road

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The English National Opera does Puccini’s La bohème: 29 October to 14 December

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One of the opera world’s favourite love stories and probably Puccini’s most celebrated work, La bohème returns this autumn to the London Coliseum with a “stylish and acclaimed production” inspired by photographs of the 1930s Paris Left Bank.

A four-act opera based on Henri Murger’s 1851 book, La Vie de Bohème, La bohème was an instant hit when it premiered in Turin in 1896 and was soon an international success with productions wowing audiences in opera houses in across Europe, the UK and America. The popularity of this tale of an ill-fated relationship between an impoverished poet and a seamstress has never waned.

Set in the vibrant and indeed Bohemian 1930s Paris, ENO’s third revival of this ravishing tear jerker with a stirring and dynamic score is a co-production with Cincinnati Opera. It sees Jonathan Miller directing a cast starring Angel Blue as seamstress Mimì and David Butt Philip as impoverished poet Rodolfo. George von Bergen is Marcello while Andrew Shore plays the cameo roles of Benoit and Alcindoro.

Sung and surtitled in English with a running time of just over two hours, the ENO production of La bohème runs from 29 October to 14 December at the London Coliseum, St. Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4ES.

Pre-performance talks are scheduled for 3 November at 17.15, and there’s to be signed performance on 20 November.

To find out more and to book tickets go to eno.org/boheme.


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