28 November 2012

Mull it over

I've mainly only had mulled wine at Christmas markets or as Vin chaud on the side of a mountain. But I'd never made it myself or revealed the mysterious mix of spice, fruit and wine.

So for Christmas last year, I threw a mulled wine and mince pie party with a twist. I made a selection of mulled wines and asked my guests to blind taste the various blends in order to crown the Queen of mulled wines.

All the ingredients for a drunken party!
 My main aim was to test the difference between the shop bought pre-mixed blends and spice sachets and the recipes from scratch, mixed with real spices and fresh fruit. So these were the blends my guests taste tested:

So, who was crowned the Queen?

The outright winner was the mulled wine sachet from Tesco, followed by the bottle of blended mulled wine from Waitrose. The least favourite option was the Delia recipe.

Personally, my favourite my guest's last choice! Probably because it contained some cherry brandy, so was a bit more potent. Plus, for my personal taste, it had a stronger and more natural flavour than the sachet or the blended bottle.

Overall, it was a brilliant party and my house smelt wonderfully of spices and alcohol for several days afterwards. Much better than a candle or a Christmas smelling air freshener.

Top tips for throwing a mulled wine party

1. If you're short on time, the bottled version was the simplest and quickest to prepare. Although I did chop in some slices of orange, so my testers couldn't tell the wines apart from appearance, this isn't essential. From a preparation perspective, the Jamie Oliver recipe was the most time consuming as you had to dissolve some sugar in a small amount of wine and vanilla pods before adding a whole ensemble of ingredients

2. If you're on a budget, then again, the preblended bottle works out the most economical at around £4.00 a bottle. Otherwise, if you're making the stew yourself you can get reasonably priced, strong red wine from Aldi and Lidl. And, since you're adding spices and fruit, I'm not sure the quality makes that much difference

3. If you have fussy tasters, lay off the star anise. I personally love the aniseed taste, but it's not to everyone's palette, so if you're making the Jamie recipe, leave it out

4. Don't over stew the lemons. If you're adding lemons to your liquor, put them in about five minutes before the end. If they cook for too long, they can make the wine bitter

5. Serve your wine in style. I got some pretty Russian tea glasses from Ebay, they really made a difference to the presentation and only cost around £15

6. Don't throw this party if you have a cream carpet

7. Drink sensibly. If you can.

10 November 2012

The Francais from the flames

When Charter 1227 restaurant in Salisbury went up in flames a few years ago I was so sad.

I'd love to say it was due to my disappointment for the owners and the loss of a historic building in Salisbury. Nope! I was mostly sad because Charter 1227 was supposed to be one of the best restaurants in Salisbury and I had never been. And partly sad as the fire also took the best fish and chip shop in Salisbury with it, Stoby's. Yes I know. The pain was all mine!

So you can imagine my self-centred delight when the restaurant reopened earlier this year, with the same owners and a new and improved menu!

As it was our anniversary, we thought we'd go and have a try. You know, to support the regeneration of Salisbury and local businesses....

The restaurant didn't look much from the outside. But up a fairly steep set of steps (yes I was worried about falling down them!) we found an open plan restaurant, with a modern, fresh feel, yet with a nod to the past.  Our table had a great view overlooking the market square and, as we were in the corner, the rest of the diners. I love to sit "eyes out" in a restaurant, although I occasionally get told to stop staring.


Our waiter was really friendly and took the time to chat and make us feel welcome. We ordered a bottle of Chianti and we were given a delicious slice of olive oil laden focaccia bread (which the squeeze could have eaten three more of, even though it was a generous size!).

To start, I had beetroot and goats cheese salad with walnut dust and raspberry essence. The squeeze had Wiltshire pork ballotine, black pudding and apple and vanilla purée. For main, I had Roast rump of lamb, mint potato croquettes, zucchini topped Provencal vegetables and pea purée. The squeeze destroyed char grilled duck breast with braised leeks, celeriac purée, port and blackberry infused sauce.

Yes, your dribbling mouth is correct. It was all absolutely delicious.

In my opinion, there are no other restaurants in Salisbury quite like Charter 1227. Yes, there are lots of great places to eat, but nothing truly refined like this one.

If you want a huge plate of food, served to you within moments, it's probably not for you. But if you want plates of food that look like works of art, with each morsel tasting delicious and surprising and where you get personal service, then you'll love this place. And, if like me you're into your chinaware, and always turn your side plate upside down to look at the brand, everything is served on Villeroy and Boch.
At the end, Danny the chef and owner popped over to say hello and ask about our dining experience. He seemed so passionate and genuine and it was a cordial touch.

And, I managed to get down the stairs without falling over. Another commendable achievement.