London restaurant scene

An Epicurean Valentine

Epicure Digital Marketing Shows London How to 'Romance'

Happy Valentine’s Day! One of those happy days in the marketing calendar where content seems to write itself – or does it? Here at Epicure we’ve written before on the pitfalls of relying on clichés to make you restaurant attractive at peak holiday times, so this year, we’re going to share some examples of how our clients could help you celebrate this day of Love – or help you make any day of the year romantic.

1) Make the perfect French chocolate tarte, courtesy of Bel Canto Head Chef Gilles Martin.

Hazelnut Short-crust pastry to make 1 x 220mm tart

Ingredients

  • 95g flour
  • 70g melted butter
  • 35g icing sugar
  • 35g finely powdered hazelnuts
  • 1tsp salt
  • 30g egg yolks
  • 3g baking powder

Method

  • Mix the flour, icing sugar, hazelnut powder, salt, and baking powder (the dry ingredients) in a bowl.
  • Add the melted butter and the egg yolks and mix with a hand whisk or mixer.
  • Transfer the mixture to a 220mm cake tin and smooth the mixture with a spoon, making sure to get it evenly distributed. The layer should be about 3mm thick.
  • Pop in the oven and bake at 180◦c for 10 minutes.
  • Take out and leave in the fridge to cool and set.

Chocolate ganache

Ingredients

  • 70g whipping cream
  • 12g butter
  • 17g honey
  • 90g of 66% dark chocolate, broken into small pieces

Method

  • Warm the cream and the honey in a pan.
  • Pour this over the chocolate and the butter.
  • Mix it all together gently with a spatula until the chocolate and the butter melt.
  • Pour this mixture over the fully-cooled base and pop back in the fridge to set

Voila!

2) Treat your loved one to a romantic cooking class with InspiringChefs.

If you want to do something special and romantic, but don’t feel like leaving the house – InspiringChefs might be perfect for you! Plan a cooking date at your house and have the chef come to YOU to teach you and your loved one some of their favourite recipes.

3) Toast your Valentine with a glass of Sustainable fizz.

Preferably a glass of Limney Estate Brut from the Davenport vineyard in East Sussex. This premium sparkling wine is made from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and won silver in the 2016 Decanter Awards. And, for a day like today, surely only an award-winner will do?

4) Try a Valentine's Day dinner off the menu at Chriskitch.

Everyone likes a nice surprise, and nice surprises abound at Chriskitch thanks to their collaboration with client EatOfftheMenu. Chef and Owner Chris Honor’s secret dish of choice is slowly braised beef with fresh pasta, a dish connected to his childhood memories and early passion for food “My secret dish embodies this passion – a simple combination of ingredients. It needs a true craftsman to bring out the best flavour. It's a complicated combination of cookery techniques and methods and flavours, presented in a very easy fashion.” You can enjoy the dish on its own or as part of a lovely set menu. Find out more here.

5) Say “I Love You” with a bespoke pizza.

Pizza chain Basilico’s customise feature means you can create virtually any pizza you like for the one you love. Are they a meat lover? Cover their pizza with every salumi on the menu! Chilli fan? Choose from chilli flakes, spicy chilli sausage, and even fresh chillies! Vegetarian? Vegan? Gluten-Free? There is something for everyone. Head over to their blog for some combination inspiration.

6) Book a romantic staycation in a Suite full of Eastern promise.

The Mayflower Collection’s trio of hotels offer a number of beautifully-decorated Suites, each of which give you a taste of East-Meets-West. Try the teal-tinged opulence of the Ottoman Suite at Twenty Nevern Square, the clean white lines of the Mayflower’s Luxury four-poster suite, or the dramatic black-and-gold scheme of the New Linden’s Honeymoon Suite.

7) Say Cheers to healthy relationships with Zayane’s low-sugar cocktails.

The hardest part of being in a relationship can often be avoiding bad habits. We don’t know about you, but at Epicure, all of our perfect dates involve eating. Cosy nights in with takeaway, lavish eight-course tasting menus, a great brunch – not necessarily conducive to a trim waistline. Thankfully, our newest client, Zayane, have just introduced a fabulous range of low-sugar cocktails – and they taste so good, you won’t even realise.

Our favourites are:

The Zayane

Iced Green Tea scented with Jasmine & Mint, Orange Blossom and Sparkling White Wine

Ginger Elixir

Gin, Ginger, Lemon juice and Honey

No. 5

Vodka, Celery, Cucumber, Lettuce, Lemon, Ginger, Apple juice

Your Ultimate London Christmas Drinking Guide

Epicure Digital Marketing's Favourite Yuletide Drinking Spots

Any pub can heat some wine and put up a bit of tinsel, but transforming your gin joint into a winter wonderland or coming up with fresh, festive takes on a cocktail? That takes real skill. This week we have rounded up the most creative Christmas offerings from some of London’s best bars and cosiest pubs for the ultimate Yuletide drinking experience.

If you are on the search for some Christmas magic with your eggnog, you will be spoilt for choice this year. Bars across the city have been taking festive decorating to a new, immersive level, becoming ideal examples of what we covered in our last blog. It was hard to choose but we have managed to narrow it down to our top three.

1)      Scottish Winter Terrace at the Rib Room

This Knightsbridge restaurant has transformed its terrace bar into a Caledonian haven, complete with a forest of pine branches, tartan blankets and (what else) whisky flights curated by William Grant & Son. There will be live music on Fridays and Saturdays, Scottish-inspired bar snacks, and Christmassy whiskey cocktails such as the delightful Cinnamon Sour (12-year Glenfiddich, sloe gin, pomegranate liqueur, sage syrup, Angostura bitters). Open until January 25th, you be hard-pressed to find a better place to sing Auld Lang Syne to welcome in the New Year.

Scotch Whisky

2)      Hot Gin Terrace, Rosewood London

Holborn Hotel Rosewood London have paired up with Sipsmith gin this winter in a celebration of the beverage which has been warming Londoners for centuries. Inspired by the frost fairs of the 1700s, when the frozen Thames would become a winter playground – Rosewood have launched a menu of historical hot toddies. Including the delectable Hot Winter Julep (with peppermint tea and crème de cacao) and the Hot Mulled Sloe (sloe gin and warm apple juice) this is the perfect way to celebrate Christmas like a true Londoner.

3)      Cortina d’Ampezzo Winter Terrace, Sartoria

From London to the Italian Alps, this Savile Row favourite has created a festive experience inspired by Italy’s favourite ski resort in the Dolomites. Pairing up with Campari (who else), Sartoria’s Libare bar is offering a number of festive twists on Italian classics, including a range of seasonal Negronis.

Campari

Christmas Pubs

But a truly British Christmas would not be complete without a trip to a cosy pub and London is chock-full of them. For the ultimate festive experience, opt for one with an open fire and homey seating – need a little help knowing where to start? Give one of these a try.

1)      The Antelope – Tooting

A local favourite, The Antelope may attract a younger crowd, but it still has some of that old London feel. Featuring wood panelling, stained glass windows, mismatched comfy chairs and the requisite fireplace, this is the perfect pub in which to while away a wintery afternoon.

2)      The George Inn – London Bridge

This historic venue is the only pub to be owned by the National Trust. London’s oldest surviving coach house, it is tucked down an alley way by London Bridge, but is beautifully signposted with its name arching over the alley’s entrance in gold. This 17th-century watering hole still has its original beams and gallery and is worth a visit in its own right – after all, it is basically a historical location!

Can't beat a mulled cider... 

3)      Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese – Fleet Street

Another one of London’s historical pubs, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is also one of its oldest, dating back to the 16th century. A favourite with the likes of Dickens, Tennyson and Conan Doyle, it too boasts an open fire and is deceptively large.

And – just in case you are still thirsty – there’s more! We have barely mentioned mulled wine or hot chocolate, without which no Christmas is completely, so here is a final quick guide of where to head for the very best examples of each.

Mulled wine and Cider

Bavarian Brewhouse

  • Opt for proper German Glühwein or winter apple Schnapps, served by a ‘Santa Fräulein’…

Santa Baby!

  • With singalong Christmas songs and a 1950s American living room setting, you can get both red AND white mulled wine at this pop-up!

Southbank Christmas market

  • London’s answer to the Weinachtsmarkt, do your Christmas shopping and your Christmas drinking at the same time on London’s lovely South bank.
Mulled Wine

Christmas cocktails

Spaniards Inn – Festive Bliss

  • Chambord, spice syrup and Prosecco

The Lodge, Clapham – King’s Tipple

  • Hot apple juice, King’s Ginger Liqueur, dark rum and fresh mint

Dalloway Terrace – Bourbon Brittle

  • Old Spot-infused Makers Mark, praline vodka, and hot chocolate

 

Hot chocolate

Fortnum and Mason - Chocolossus

  • Go for dark or milk chocolate and add giant raspberry, vanilla, or salted caramel marshmallows
Hot Chocolate

Veneta

  • Head to St. James’s Market and ask for a shot of orange and grappa syrup in your Venezuelan bitter hot chocolate with cinnamon-infused milk

Rabot 1745

  • Borough Market’s “cacao-concept-restaurant” does hot chocolate to die for. Get yours infused with nutmeg, gingerbread, or even a shot of rum!

Cheers to Christmas drinking! Get in touch over Facebook or Twitter and let us know where and what you will be sipping this Yuletide, or tag us in your Christmas drinking pictures on Instagram @epicuredigitalmarketing. 

Final Push for Sober October - London's Dry Scene

Anyone been brave enough to do Sober October?

To those who are giving it a go – we salute you. In a culture where drinking is so closely interlinked with socialising, going booze-free can be tricky, so we will be talking about our three favourite places to go for a dry night to give you a boost for the final week and a half.

Redemption Bar – The vegan joint

In 2016 the trend is health. With a proliferation of health-food bloggers, fitness YouTubers, kale and avocado prophets, juice, chia seeds, and yoga, veganism has become the next “It” diet. But it isn’t all about looking good. Whatever claims may be brought against Generation Y, young people today are more interested than ever in sustainable living and animal welfare. Redemption Bar is the perfect symbol of this.

Created by Catherine Salway and Andrea Waters, this vegan restaurant has been winning awards left, right, and centre since its inception and serves up vegan, sugar-free, wheat-free food…with an alcohol-free bar. Bearing the motto “spoil yourself without spoiling yourself” – it’s all far less punishing that it sounds!

What to drink

  • Apple mock-jito – “Muddled apple pressé, fresh mint and lime, served over ice and topped with soda”
  • Lettuce Spray – “A Japanese-inspired refreshing cocktail of iceberg lettuce, lime, cucumber, wasabi and aloe vera”

  • Flu Fighters – “A fiery combination of ginger, chilli, aloe vera, coconut water, orange, lemon, and lime juice, with apple and elderflower cordial”

The Connaught Bar at The Connaught – The extravagant classic

And going alcohol-free doesn’t mean restricting yourself to gluten-free restaurants and trendy hole-in-the-wall bars, you can also enjoy a luxury booze-less tipple at one of London’s finest hotels. The Connaught in Mayfair is the sort of hotel which has its own fleet of chauffeur-driven Mercedes-Benz, so you can be sure to encounter luxury on every level. Its fabulous bar features an “Innocence” menu of intriguing mocktails, full of flavour and character.

What to drink

  • Queen’s Garden – “Cucumber and fennel seed water, organic apple juice, fresh lime juice, caster sugar”
  • The Silky Way – “Milk Oolong tea infusion, pear nectar, date syrup, fresh lime juice”

  • Citrus Vibe – “Fresh orange juice, spiced calamansi sherbet, almond syrup, ginger beer”
Dandelyan at the Mondrian Hotel in London

Dandelyan at the Mondrian Hotel – The botanical bar

This award-winning bar is presided over by an award-winning bartender. Bar impresario Ryan Chetiyawardana has created a cool and colourful space at the Mondrian hotel, with beautiful views of the Thames and a fascinating bar menu called “Hunter, Gatherer, Shaman and Explorer” which is inspired by human’s interaction with plants and the botanical wilds of the British countryside. In this vein, it makes sense that Dandelyan’s Boozeless menu features one of the coolest products around at the moment: Seedlip. This remarkable beverage is an alcohol-free drink distilled like gin (in a copper still), made with the botanicals used in gin… which tastes like gin – but isn’t! Dandelyan have been championing Seedlip since the beginning, so why not try substituting it for gin or order an exciting and exotic “Wild Thing”?

What to drink

  • Wild thing – “Seedlip, ylang ylang, Dandelyan herbal tonic”
  • Peaches and Split Cream – “Whey syrup, peach shrub, ginger and soda”
  • Apple Sourz-less – “Apple, Dandelyan capillaire, Rye and acid”
Sober October Luxury Cocktails

So head out and treat yourself to a little vegan goodness, sophisticated luxury, or botanical innovation and keep going! Only 12 days more.

What do you like to drink when you’re not drinking? Get in touch on Facebook or Twitter to let us know!

Anyone for Tea? A Stroke of British Marketing Genius.

Invigorate Your Restaurant's Marketing with Tea

It is pre-Christmas season and post-Summer – the time when marketing inspiration could grind to a halt. Are you feeling stuck? Looking for fun new ideas to reinvigorate your restaurant and give your marketing some fuel? Then we think it might be time for tea.

Afternoon Tea with Epicure Digital Marketing

These days you see Afternoon Tea everywhere - from cute cafés to the world’s finest hotels. Thanks to the global popularity of the Great British Bake Off, cake, tea, and all things British have never been more in vogue – except perhaps at Afternoon Tea’s inception in the 1840s. Legend has it that Anna Maria, 7th Duchess of Bedford, would get peckish in the late afternoon (she called it “that sinking feeling”) and call for tea and a snack to enjoy in her bedroom. She began inviting friends, high society got wind of it and voilà! A British tradition was born. 

Afternoon Tea with Epicure Digital Marketing
Afternoon Tea with Epicure Digital Marketing

Over the years it has been somewhat democratised, but Afternoon Tea has still retained that air of luxury – it is an indulgence, a treat, and herein lies some of its power. Who does not enjoy the opportunity to eat and drink well (and often fairly inexpensively) while feeling just a little fancy?

Afternoon Tea with Epicure Digital Marketing

The formula for afternoon tea is simple: finger sandwiches, scones, pastries, and a pot of tea (it must be a pot). This is where the genius comes in – working within such limiting parameters can push your culinary creativity to its limits. Over the last year, I have enjoyed a delectable, magic-forest-inspired tea at The Glade at sketch, a Jungle Book-themed tea at Taj 51 and a tea-based cocktail, bunny-eared tea at the Playboy Club in Mayfair. Each featured the core components of Afternoon Tea, and each took the strict framework of pastries and finger sandwiches and played with it to astounding success.

Afternoon Tea with Epicure Digital Marketing
Afternoon Tea with Epicure Digital Marketing

So, why bother with Afternoon Tea at your restaurant? Well it is relatively cheap to produce, it is hugely popular with guests, and it is a breeding ground for creativity and quirkiness. Got an Italian restaurant? Replace the finger sandwiches with pizzette and bruschetta, feature some regional Italian pastries, perhaps a mini Tiramisu, add a glass of Prosecco and there you go! A quirky, delicious, Italian Afternoon Tea. Run a Japanese restaurant in the UK? The Japanese already have a tea-based culture so let those cultures mingle – where High Tea meets Tea Ceremony, great things will happen.

Afternoon Tea with Epicure Digital Marketing

Want to do a little research? Here are our top Afternoon Teas to Try.

Claridge’s

The ultimate, traditional Afternoon Tea. This classic offering even won “Best Traditional Afternoon Tea” at this year’s Afternoon Tea Awards.

Momo

An Afternoon Tea – with a Moroccan Twist! Featuring the intriguing Zaalouk & Mechouia on toast, pistachio macarons and served with traditional mint tea.

One Aldwych

One that the kids will love as much as the adults, this Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tea includes decadent golden eggs, blueberry brioche and playful flavoured candy floss!

Ametsa with Arzak Instruction

Based in The Halkin hotel, this Michelin-starred restaurant is offering a Basque-inspired Afternoon Tea for something truly unusual.

Afternoon Tea with Epicure Digital Marketing

Are you an Afternoon Tea fan? Get in touch on Facebook or Twitter to let us know your thoughts – what kind of Afternoon Tea would you like to see? Also, tag us in your Afternoon Tea Instagram pictures @epicuredigitalmarketing and we will share them!

Gimmick or Genius? The Rise of the Food Fad

Epicures Liv and Francesca Explore London's Food Trends

With the advent of social media platforms like Instagram, food has been given a whole new lease of life. Food bloggers have become prolific and thousands of people are 'gramming their meals every day. Because this platform is essentially entirely visual, food photos are edited and staged to within an inch of their lives in order to make them as aesthetically-pleasing as possible. This preoccupation with pretty edibles has given rise to a multitude of “food fads”. Enter visual delights like galaxy donuts, cronuts, and - possibly most exciting - the freakshake. But are these fads mere gimmicks or is there something more to them? This weekend, Client Manager Fran and I took to the streets of London to find out.

London Food Trends

Heading to Brick Lane, we began the day with a breakfast of rainbow bagels. Originally the brainchild of New Yorker Scot Rossillo, this fad takes bread to a whole new colourful level. A normal bagel in flavour and texture, the only real difference is its vibrant rainbow nature. A cheap novelty? We didn't think so - in fact, although the taste remained the same, the sheer child-like joy of eating something so colourful made the whole experience wonderful.

Rainbow Bagel

Rainbow Bagels

Due to the massive popularity of the original, the rainbow bagel has made its way across the pond to Brick Lane's Beigel shop, where you can buy one for a mere 50p. This multi-coloured gimmick has spread over to several other, otherwise-normal food areas, from fairy bread to rainbow coffee. Photos of kaleidoscopic grilled cheeses are currently running amok across Instagram, as people attempt to make their everyday meals more visually stimulating.

Rainbow Bagel

Matcha

The next stop on our foodie adventure was Soft Serve Society to jump on the matcha train - another food-stuff that has taken the internet by storm. Matcha is a Chinese green tea powder, traditionally used in Chinese and Japanese tea ceremonies. These days it is also used for dyeing and flavouring foods. Given the plentiful health benefits of matcha- such as being high in antioxidants and helping to burn calories- many health enthusiasts have appropriated it for healthy treat foods.

Admittedly, we may not have had it in its most wholesome form... as an ice cream swirled together with vanilla, covered in strawberry crunch, and topped with the world's largest marshmallow, but it did give us a chance to see what the hype was about. It was certainly very visually impressive, with a cloud of mallow perched atop a beautifully-swirled green and white ice cream, but I must say we were somewhat underwhelmed with the taste of it. Perhaps matcha is the new marmite.

Matcha

Freakshakes

Two stops into our day of gluttony we thought it best to walk to our next, and undoubtedly most ambitious, stop. Cue Maxwell's Bar and Grill in Covent Garden for the aforementioned freakshake. This food marvel was originally a product of Australians Anna and Gina Petridis and has been rapidly spreading across the continent - and now to several areas of Britain - with Maxwell's being the first to jump on the bandwagon. Described by many as “Instagram-worthy”, the pair wanted to create a dessert that customers felt they just had to take a photo of before eating it. Mission accomplished. The one we had was salted caramel and was essentially a mountain of cream, caramel, and sugar, topped with a doughnut and yet more marshmallows - an apparent theme of the day.

Freakshake at Maxwell's Bar and Grill

The day finished with the onset of food comas, and a growing understanding of the appeal of food fads. The transmission, and thus popularity, of these fantastic culinary spectacles has been made possible by the rise of media platforms such as Instagram. Through it people can create identities for themselves and even, in the case of food bloggers and “’grammers”, forge a career. However, as these become more popular professions it is no longer enough to create really good-tasting, well-balanced dishes. People need to come up with ways to beat the crowds and catch the attention of their target audience. Thus flavour appears to be giving way to aesthetic as the most important factor when it comes to food marketing.

Softserve Society

Instagramable?

Does this then mean that there is no longer a need to focus on the taste of a dish? Is it such that, as long as it is striking to look at, all other elements of the experience are irrelevant? Well, no. For those who truly love food it is unlikely that they'll be fooled into liking something merely because it's pretty. Nonetheless there is evidence that our enjoyment of food is influenced by more than just taste. A multitude of studies have been carried out over the years, proving that altering the appearance of foods can completely change how people experience the flavour of them.

One such test was performed by taking white wine and adding a flavourless red food colouring to it. Subjects reported experiencing flavours associated with red wines, such as merlots and cabernets, despite the fact that the flavour of the original wine had been left unaltered. Eating is a whole body experience, combining all the senses, and so, while these aforementioned food fads are designed primarily to be visual spectacles this does not mean that taste has to go completely out of the window. 

Epicure Loves White and Red Wine

Food fads are, at the most basic level, a tool for driving popularity, in the form of gaining Instagram traffic. The more visually-striking a foodstuff is, the more likes and follows one can get. Through recreating, or even starting, these popular fads, restaurants can appeal to, and market themselves to, a wider demographic. However, on a subtler level, the extremity of the visual can enhance the whole eating experience, making foods not only look, but also taste, more new and exciting.

Basilico Delivers

Epicure Digital Marketing Reviews London's Gourmet Pizza Brand Basilico

British pizza lovers have become spoilt of late. Whether you are in the mood for a grease-fest or a gourmet feast, delivery options have become so sophisticated that you can get food – even Michelin-starred food - delivered right to your door. But this phenomenon is fairly new – back in the late nineties, takeaway pizza meant a pre-made margarita warmed up in the microwave.

Enter Basilico.

Basilico London's Gourmet Pizza Delivery

When it first opened in 1998, Basilico was the only wood-fired, high-quality pizza delivery around, and the only pizza delivery company at all to get a red star in the Time Out Eating Out guide. Since then restaurants and food delivery services have caught up with Basilico’s original innovation, which makes one wonder whether the unique selling point of delivering delicious, fresh, wood-fired pizza offers Londoners anything truly special? We decided to try for ourselves.

To get fully to grips with Basilico’s offering, we opted for two new additions (one of which looked very quirky indeed), one classic, and one which catered for the strictest of dietary requirements. Before beginning, we set out our criteria for what makes a great pizza – quality of ingredients, how well cooked everything was, flavour combinations, uniqueness, and – this being classic Roman pizza – how crispy the base was.

Basilico's Pizza Nera

The Vegetarian

First up, The Vegetarian, which we got vegan-style with lactose-free cheese and a gluten-free base. This comes with roasted aubergine, courgette, red peppers, red onions, fresh tomatoes and basil and earned an immediate thumbs-up from our resident intolerant eater. Despite being gluten-free, the base was crispy and every individual vegetable was perfectly cooked – no mean feat when you consider this was done in a wood-fired oven at 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Vegetarians normally get the short straw when it comes to toppings, so we were pleasantly surprised with the quality and thoughtfulness of Basilico’s veggie offering.

Crispiness – 8/10

Quality of Ingredients – 10/10

How well cooked – 10/10 (onions had bite, aubergine was perfectly soft and not stringy. Spot on)

Flavour Combinations – 10/10 (Use of herbs was particularly successful)

Uniqueness – 8/10 (As vegetarian pizzas go, fairly original)

The Vegetarian at Basilico

The Capricciosa

Next was our classic choice, The Capricciosa, which came with fresh asparagus, prosciutto crudo, free-range egg, shaved parmesan, and top-quality fior di latte mozzarella. It is said that you cannot go wrong with classic flavour combinations, but that is not always true. If handled inexpertly, what should be classic ends up dull and disappointing. Thankfully, this was not the case here. The asparagus was flavourful and al dente, the ham so thin it was almost melting, and the egg added an excellent richness to the whole thing.

Crispiness – 9/10

Quality of Ingredients – 8/10

How well cooked – 10/10

Flavour Combinations – 9/10 (This would have been a 10 with just a touch more sauce)

Uniqueness – 7/10

The Capricciosa at Basilico

Pizza Zucca

Having recently enjoyed a pretty fabulous dinner at restaurant “La Zucca” in Venice, I was intrigued by one of Basilico’s new additions - Pizza Zucca. Roasted butternut squash, crispy pancetta, crumbled roasted chorizo, smoked chicken, fior di latte mozzarella… it was like all my favourite things in one. It seemed like fate. And it was certainly the right choice, the butternut squash was sweet, the pancetta salty, the chorizo spicy, the whole thing warming and wonderful and indulgent without feeling even remotely greasy or guilt-inducing.

Crispiness – 9/10

Quality of Ingredients – 10/10 (the chorizo gets a particular A+)

How well cooked – 10/10

Flavour Combinations – 10/10 (If I could give this an 11, I would)

Uniqueness – 9/10

Zucca Pizza at Basilico

Pizza Nera

Our final choice was the most unusual, Basilico’s new Pizza Nera. The first thing that will strike you is that it is…black. Topped with fresh buffalo mozzarella, roasted yellow peppers, wild boar salami, punto di coltello, sundried tomatoes and rocket, this black dough pizza is certainly a shock to the eye. That said, the dark base made the colourful ingredients seem even more vibrant, and the first bite reassured me there was nothing untoward about the dramatic-looking base. It was one tasty artwork.

Crispiness – 9/10

Quality of Ingredients – 9/10

How well cooked – 9/10

Flavour Combinations – 8/10

Uniqueness – 10/10 (Black pizza? What will they think of next?)

Pizza Nera at Basilico

So, in a city of gourmet pizza and ever-fancier delivery options, does Basilico hold its own? Absolutely.

They are a London company, their branches stretching from Crouch End to Lavender Hill, meaning that wherever you live in the city you can enjoy their fabulous pizza. Not so with big international companies like Deliveroo. By picking the restaurants, rather than the customer areas, they leave people like poor old me out in the cold when it comes to gourmet pizza – especially with a vegan in the house! Basilico caters to Londoners, however out on the peripheries they are.

Basilico's Vegan Pizza

More importantly – the pizza is amazing. They promise to “make the best pizza, not the cheapest or fastest” and this commitment to quality is felt all the way through. Not the cheapest ingredients, the best ingredients, the best way of cooking them, the best way of combining them. This can be seen in the masterful flavour combinations of the Zucca, the artistic flair of the Nera, and the sensitive handling of the vegan Vegetarian. Even if you live surrounded by gourmet pizza joints, Basilico is without a doubt worth your time, because they have taken the time themselves to craft something excellent.

Sorry Deliveroo, I think you and I are through.

A Delicious American Myth

Epicure Founder Chris O'Leary Deconstructs Authentic American BBQ

A recent visit to the fabulous and delicious Shotgun – an American BBQ restaurant in London’s Carnaby area– taught me an important lesson about what it is to be American:

There is American and then there is mythically American.

BBQ Sauces at Shotgun London

I – Chris O’Leary – am American. To break this down linguistically, there is the concept, or identity of being American (the signified), then there is me (the signifier) who exists as a biological entity. When the American identity and I interact – which we do rather well given that I am American born, have an American accent, have lived in America for most of my life; etc. – the sign for Chris O’Leary as American is born.

What is crucial to the understanding of the sign Chris O’Leary as American is that it is full of meaning and that it is not a message to be communicated to and digested by a particular audience. When I say full of meaning, I am referring to the fact that my status as an American is not transient, thin or capricious, but the consequence of a wide and complicated history that has affected my own existence. As a result, my being is decorated with a range of codes and signs that implicitly signify my American-ness. And yet, these codes and signs do not seek out an audience to be recognised as an American since this national status, and all its rich meaning, persists with or without somebody naming it American.

Broccoli and Cheddar Soup at Shotgun

Broccoli and Cheddar Soup at Shotgun

This is what I expected upon arriving at Shotgun – two full, rich and complete signs of American-ness staring at each other, myself and Shotgun. This is not at all what happened. In the place of the effusive sign for American-ness I encountered a pleasantly dim mahogany interior, a menu that exuded super-quality meat dishes put together with an attentive, skillful and imaginative hand and a drinks list with plenty of nice wines – some American – and cocktails that jumped off the menu as a range of delectable elixirs.

Glass of beer at Shotgun London

At first glance Shotgun was the opposite of what I expected, and yet, myth is not the opposite of a meaningful sign – myth is a sign that has been emptied of its meaning and history and replaced with something else entirely, always a message intended for a specific audience. The relationship between a sign and a myth is far more complicated and interesting, as the latter is the shell of the former filled with an essence that forever changes its integrity and purpose.

As the ambiance, food and drink at Shotgun do not come together to present a meaningful sign of American-ness, for it to be considered American, it must rely on its customers naming it so. This is the way myth works – it is not a statement of fact; i.e. the indicative – it is a supplication; i.e. the imperative. It is not Shotgun serves American BBQ; it is Hey! Over Here! Label everything you see at Shotgun ‘authentic American BBQ’!

Shotgun London

As Shotgun’s status as American is so utterly reliant on its customers naming it so, it has created a sophisticated narrative that unequivocally proclaims the fact that it serves Authentic American BBQ. This story – that includes frequently naming its cuisine ‘Southern American BBQ’ or ‘Authentic American BBQ’, the fascinating and esoteric origin of its namesake, the Mississippi heritage of its executive chef and its ‘New Orleans-style’ bar – infiltrates and informs all aspects of its marketing and branding so that anyone who encounters Shotgun is requested to name it American despite it clearly not being a full, rich and complete sign of American-ness.

As the authentic American BBQ proposed by Shotgun is myth, its undoubted quality notwithstanding, it has been emptied of the rich history, determinations and contingencies that have organically produced the celebrated American BBQ culinary genre and its associated culture. At Shotgun, authentic BBQ has been reduced to a menu of exciting dishes and drinks that is, at best, inspired by American BBQ, whose definition morphs and evolves not according to the cannon of American BBQ but to the whims of Shotgun’s chefs.

 

Baby Back Ribs for 2 at Shotgun

Baby Back Ribs for 2 at Shotgun

The menu – which includes items like Point-End Brisket and Jacobs Ladder – exudes a niche expertise and superlative quality that massively transcends what the average American enjoys at a BBQ, which is generally burgers, hot dogs and ribs. Therefore at Shotgun we are not dealing with the everyday American BBQ.

So are we dealing with a precise manifestation of Memphis or Kansas City BBQ? If so, there is no mention anywhere to let us know – which would be essential given the particular way in which each style’s pork ribs, for instance, are prepared and served. And despite being happy to admit that there may just be a place in America where Americans enjoy the Shotgun menu as it is presented here in London, I cannot imagine that the more traditional BBQ options are enjoyed alongside duck or porcini rubbed ox cheek, that both make the occasional appearance, nor could I with a sweet potato fondant or baked potato purée.

Sweet Potato Fondant & BBQ Baked Beans

Sweet Potato Fondant & BBQ Baked Beans

The cocktails at Shotgun are worth a visit in their own right, and yet neither do they promote the ‘Authentic American BBQ’ experience. No Pabst Blue Ribbon… no bourbon offered by the glass (or bottle)… No Bud Lite; i.e. modern redneck. In their place we have truly excellent cocktails made from a range of spirits from cognac to mezcal, but there is little that evokes a dive bar in Texas. Incidentally, New Orleans does have a vibrant and sophisticated cocktail culture not dissimilar to Shotgun’s offering – but are New Orleans-style cocktails regarded as classic beverage to enjoy with ‘Authentic American BBQ? Not really.

Mezcal Extra Cocktail

Mezcal Extra Cocktail

The presence of myth is usually a hallmark of a woefully inadequate product – Shotgun is different because it uses myth to its advantage. Shotgun is operating against the cultural context of the British BBQ, which – despite its more-or-less rigid menu involving burgers and sausages – is a phenomenon that is less about a precise culinary genre and more about celebrating the fleeting moments of warm, beautiful summer in Britain. Ultimately the notion of the ‘British BBQ’ does not give the British a particular good opportunity to come to grips with authentic American (or Australian, for that matter) BBQ. This puts Shotgun in the ideal position to channel the full extent of its creativity and ingenuity to make the definition of ‘BBQ’ whatever it wants it to be, with its savvy London customers making only two requests – the food and drink be exceptional and that they be at least suggestive of the authentic American BBQ that has clearly served as one of the restaurant’s key inspirations.

Pecan Brownie

Pecan Brownie

Shotgun is not a sign of being American – it is an American myth, and a damn tasty one.

 

Here is what I enjoyed during my meal at Shotgun.

To drink – Mezcal Extra Cocktail x 3

Starter - Broccoli and Cheddar Soup

Main – Baby Back Ribs for 2

Sides – Sweet Potato Fondant & BBQ Baked Beans

Dessert – Pecan Brownie

Total Cost: £75.37 (including service)

 

 

Savour Simplicity - Making Your Restaurant Great.

Some of the Best, If Simplest, Restaurants in London

“Nothing is more simple than greatness; indeed, to be simple is to be great.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

In our last post we talked about what it takes to write great copy, and the same rules apply to having a great restaurant – define your brand, make it simple and appealing, and convey that brand identity without sacrificing substance in the interest of style. We have found that restaurants with a clear message and a simple brand can often be the most successful. Take Tortellini Cup, for example, consistently in Trip Advisor’s top 10, it serves only six dishes – two types of pasta, two types of bread, a salad, and a dessert – all of which are authentic to the brand’s home town of Modena. Another good example might be MeatLiquor in Soho – which went from street food van to a chain of restaurants people queue to get into – all because of its famously first-rate burgers.

  Le Relais de Venise, L’Entrecôte

 Le Relais de Venise, L’Entrecôte

People like choice, it’s true, but with over 16 thousand restaurants in London it can all be a little overwhelming - even TimeOut can’t limit its Best Restaurants list to fewer than 100! Keeping it simple will help you stand out and helps customers know exactly what to expect. Fewer items on your menu also means you have time to perfect those dishes and achieve that ideal balance of substance and style. This week I’ve chosen three of my favourite places to eat in London who hit this nail on the head.

Zeret Kitchen - £ - Casual dining

This little restaurant in a – frankly – slightly dodgy-looking part of Camberwell has become a firm favourite with London-dwellers, and not just those from south of the river. Serving delicious, authentic food, as well as having some of the friendliest customer service I have experienced, Zeret Kitchen’s offering is simple – traditional Ethiopian food and a warm welcome. The menu is a good length (enough choice but not overwhelming) and caters for both vegetarians and meat-eaters, there are some excellent beer choices, and you can enjoy the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony, complete with frankincense and popcorn, at the end of your meal.

Zeret Kitchen -  Vegetarian Selection

Zeret Kitchen - Vegetarian Selection

Le Relais de Venise, L’Entrecôte - ££ - Smart dining

A restaurant which only serves one dish is pretty much the definition of simplicity. And, I have to say, for me it pays off. One of the London branches of this French favourite, Le Relais de Venise serves only steak and chips and both are delicious. The steak is served with the restaurant’s secret sauce and you also get a starter salad with mustard vinaigrette. There is a good, short wine list and a nice selection of French desserts and that’s it! The décor is nothing to write home about but there is still a queue out of the door most nights – why? Because they focus on making the perfect steak frites. Simplicity at its best.

  Le Relais de Venise, L’Entrecôte -  Steak frites.

 Le Relais de Venise, L’Entrecôte - Steak frites.

Indigo at One Aldwych - £££ - Fine dining

On the surface, Indigo at One Aldwych looks like your standard, fine-dining joint. You know the sort, simple but elegant, shines a light on ‘seasonal British produce’, yadda yadda… but there’s a catch – everything is entirely gluten- and dairy-free. Not that you can tell – banish ideas of grainy sauces and cardboard cake, the main selling point for Indigo was that it went totally gluten- and dairy-free and – at least according to the Evening Standard – “no one noticed”. It also caters for both vegetarians and meat eaters. From a marketing perspective, this is excellent. Fancy a fancy meal but you’re coeliac or lactose-intolerant? One quick Google (say “dairy free fine dining restaurant London”) and Indigo pops up. It has a strong, simple USP and hasn’t sacrificed the quality for it.

Indigo at One Aldwych -  Pan-fried pigeon with celeriac pur é e, parsnip crisps, and a Madeira jus.

Indigo at One Aldwych - Pan-fried pigeon with celeriac purée, parsnip crisps, and a Madeira jus.

Indigo at One Aldwych -  Dairy-free chocolate mousse, with honeycomb crumb and c rème fraîche ice cream.

Indigo at One Aldwych - Dairy-free chocolate mousse, with honeycomb crumb and crème fraîche ice cream.

Keeping it simple doesn’t have to mean only serving one dish or one cuisine – it means finding something that makes your restaurant unique, investing in that wholeheartedly, and making sure that it’s the best it can be. Not sure where to start? We know some people who could help you out…

It's Complicated - Britain's Love Affair with Indian Food.

Epicure Digital Marketing Interviews Chef Cyrus Todiwala

The UK’s love affair with Indian food goes back several hundred years and, although the two countries have had a complicated history, Indian cuisine’s beneficial effect on British food is undeniable. The same cannot necessarily be said on our part. Britain has shamelessly borrowed, manhandled, and misunderstood Indian food almost for as long as it has loved it but, with the world of food shifting and changing all the time – are we starting to give Indian cuisine the respect it deserves? We sat down with Chef Cyrus Todiwala to find out.

Epicure Found Chris O'Leary and Chef Cyrus Todiwala of Café Spice Namasté

Epicure Found Chris O'Leary and Chef Cyrus Todiwala of Café Spice Namasté

In 1600, the East India Trading Company was founded to open trade routes with the Indian subcontinent, ushering in a whole new food era. Brits returning from their travels had acquired a taste for the flavourful dishes they had been eating abroad, and new recipes sprung up in their homeland to accommodate them. The first English curry recipes can be found in Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery, as early as 1747, and 1809 saw the first ever Indian restaurant open in the UK. Although Britain’s passion for Indian cuisine declined in the later years of the Raj, the influx of Indians and Bangladeshis into the UK in the 20th century saw it come back with a vengeance.

But we have always insisted on doing it our way. Early English curries were extremely mild and nowadays the food we consider “Indian” often bears little resemblance to what you can actually find in the country itself, as Todiwala points out. “If people come to Indian restaurants in the UK, everything is not all dark and smelly like it is in India. Everything is deep-fried and full of colour - in India we don’t use a lot of colour in our food, whereas here we use it rampantly”.  

Epicure Digital Marketing Dines at Café Spice Namasté

For Chef Todiwala, Indian cuisine in the UK has not followed the same trajectory as that of, say, French cuisine, attaining a high profile and a “fine dining” stamp of approval. On the contrary, the majority of Indian restaurants are treated as day-to-day British dining, a perception, Todiwala remarks, which has prevented the Indian food industry from growing and developing.

“To the bulk of the British public, Indian restaurants are still “curry”, because they haven’t identified what curry really means, and what Indian cuisine really stands for.” Rather than a complex and profound gastronomy, most of us still think of Indian food as a Friday night takeaway or post-pub sustenance. Now, don't get me wrong, I love a typical Indian takeaway as much as the next person (and I must admit, I'm a sucker for a sweet, mild korma) it is great, tasty food, and, as Todiwala himself points out, "you can't say it is poor quality, it isn't necessarily. It is simply that these restaurants are providing a service for people who demand that kind of quality, product, and service." It is simply that our view of this particular style of cooking is often applied to all Indian food, regardless of quality. 

Café Spice Namasté in London

And it is exactly this perception that restaurants like Todiwala’s own Café Spice Namaste are trying to root out. To begin with, says Todiwala, it was out with the dim lighting, flock wallpaper, and musty carpets, and in with the bold colours “India is a very very colourful country, unfortunately the restaurants within Britain did not represent that”.

Epicure Digital Marketing at Café Spice Namasté

Secondly, if you are looking for your standard Jalfrezi, think again. The Indian subcontinent is bursting with regional cuisines, each as exciting as the last, but in Britain there are very few opportunities to try anything but the well-worn options you can find at your local curry house.

But this is changing, with restaurants like Michelin-starred Trishna offering options such as a Kerala-inspired tasting menu. At Café Spice Namaste, Parsi food is the order of the day – a cuisine found in India’s Western Gujarat area which is closer to Persian food than it is to a Brick Lane Balti – alongside Goan-inspired seafood dishes and much more. “We always try to educate our public, so those who have not had our cuisine before will have the opportunity to dine on different forms of cooking.

Samosas at Café Spice Namasté

And it turns out that we Britons are increasingly willing to be educated. Our love of food TV is at an all-time high – I myself am a MasterChef obsessive – which means it has never been simpler for us to learn how to cook these dishes ourselves. Instead of relying on a curry recipe from a cookbook, you can watch Chef Todiwala make it himself on Saturday Kitchen. It is also easier than ever before to travel to India and try the food first-hand. And this, according to Todiwala, is what is making a real difference. Once people have tried real Indian food, our pale British imitation simply will not cut it.

There is this amazing growth in the palates and the refinement of the taste buds of British people today, who demand more in terms of quality, in terms of consistency, and in terms of variety”, remarks Todiwala. Not only are we beginning to create superlative, informed eaters (or foodie hipsters, whatever you want to call them), we are also producing superlative raw materials, which many UK Indian chefs are using in their cooking.

In fact, Todiwala only uses British produce in his kitchen, taking great pains to source the finest meat, fish, and vegetables from all over the country. When we visited, there was a trout on the specials which can only be found in the chalk streams of Hampshire, where some of the purest water in Britain can be found. “I buy British, and I’m proud to buy British, that’s what we do.” So here it is – with our long-delayed appreciation for more complex and “authentic” Indian cuisine comes an opportunity to contribute something worthwhile ourselves in the form of our world-class local produce.

Epicure Digital Marketing Feast at Café Spice Namasté

A new era of British-Indian food, authentic to us, celebrating the best of both countries is about to begin, and it’s going to be delicious. Want to get involved? Café Spice Namaste might be a good place to start.

Passionified Roses - Are You Full or Empty this Valentine’s Day?

What is the key to being fully booked this Valentine’s Day?

Better yet, how can a restaurant fully leverage this holiday all February? It’s all about the roses, but perhaps not in the way you are thinking.

I’m not suggesting that you put all other plans on hold and ring a super-quality florist to make sure that each couple is given only the most luscious of roses upon arrival –though that certainly would not hurt! What I am actually referring to is the example of ‘passionified roses’ given to us by 20th-Century French philosopher Roland Barthes.

Valentine's Day Roses

Independent of its associations with love and Valentine’s Day, roses have another, more basic meaning. They are just flowers – thorny, crimson, and generally considered to be beautiful. They have existed since the dinosaurs and therefore concepts passion and love have zero inherent associations with them.

In Western culture we choose to signify our passion (the signified) to our lover with roses (the signifier). When roses are combined with passion – that is the signifier and signified respectively, they produce what we know as Valentine’s Day roses, which are an undisputed sign of one’s passion and love for another.

What is demonstrated above is that the term rose can exist with two rather different meanings. Rose the signifier, or a rose that is a flower of a certain genus that has nothing inherent about it to do with Valentine’s Day. And rose the sign that so utterly means love, passion and Valentine’s Day that it is almost a cliché to give a dozen of them as a gift to one’s partner on special occasions.

Valentine's Day Roses

Restaurateur, if you are serious about filling up your restaurant with customers this Valentine’s Day consider how this is deeply relevant to you and your marketing.

Objects and words can be entirely empty of meaning (the signifier) or can be entirely full (the sign).  Your job – or your marketer’s – is to communicate why people should choose your restaurant over the other ten thousand plus ones that exist in London… To have any hope of doing so effectively, your Valentine’s Day marketing message must be full to the brim!

For a successful and lucrative Valentine’s Day, it will take more than a half-hearted email marketing template that makes use of the colour pink, hearts and – of course – roses. It will take more than a rushed Valentine’s Day menu that is treated as an afterthought that may or may not include a glass of cheap ‘bubbly’. By doing this you will be falling in the trap of proposing a random collage of empty signifiers to your customers.

Valentine's Day Roses

Empty signifiers – though technically meaningless – in the context of Valentine’s Day marketing are actually rather meaningful. They broadly flag to your customers that your restaurant is proposing an incoherent and therefore unappealing message and that your restaurant simply cannot be bothered to produce a worthwhile Valentine’s Day experience. Empty signifiers will mean that your marketing message will be passed up in favour of a restaurant’s whose Valentine’s Day marketing message is full.

Valentine’s Day customers are not looking for a deal or discount. They want the full force of the meaning of Valentine’s Day oozing out of your marketing – email and social media, content, website and menu. Beyond this, what they really want to see is how your restaurant’s version of Valentine’s Day is particularly worthwhile and unique.

So think about it… What does Valentine’s Day mean to you and/or your restaurant? Are you a fancy French restaurant and is Champagne your romantic beverage of choice? Make a Champagne tasting menu and allow your marketing to fully convey the reasons why for your restaurant Champagne and passion are inextricably linked…

Are you a simple but authentic Italian restaurant whose customers are not willing to spend upwards of £25 per person? No problem – full meaning does not have to be expensive! Why not dedicate your Valentine’s Day experience to the romantic city Roma with a menu centred on its famous pasta dishes (if you are spending more than £2 for the ingredients for a portion of cacio e pepe, you are making it incorrectly!)? The charms of Rome are an endless source inspiration for the most impactful and meaningful of marketing content, provided your message conveys why you love Rome without falling back on empty clichés.

Above everything else, it is crucial that you weigh the particular Valentine’s Day experience at your restaurant with your own passion to make each meal a veritable sign that your restaurant loves its customers and cares deeply about their satisfaction!