• Cocktail recipe: Gin Espresso Martini

    We’ve been experimenting with combinations of booze and chocolate that work well together for another feature on this site and, as part of our thorough endeavours, wanted to suggest the perfect choc-friendly cocktail. Something that had chocolate liqueur as one of the ingredients would be the obvious choice, but with a few chunks of choc on the side that might be confection overkill, so we went with one of our favourite cocoa-compatible flavours instead: coffee.

    There are numerous complicated coffee cocktails that have been conjured by folk eager for a swift hit of booze and caffeine in one mouthful, but we like to keep things simple and wanted a fuss-free recipe, so decided on a basic Espresso Martini.

    This drink tends to be made with vodka as the main spirit, but as it’s such a simple mix of flavours it can also cope with the extra botanicals provided by a good London Dry Gin, so gin is what we used. Another common feature we jettisoned was the use of coffee beans as a garnish – for our Espresso Martini we topped the froth with grated chocolate, giving us a delicious last mouthful of boozy choc to enjoy.

    Trained bartenders may scoff at our diversions from the norm, and they might also frown at our lazy division of the ingredients, but trust us, this cocktail works a treat. Especially if you have a chuck of chocolate on the side.

    How to make a Gin Espresso Martini

    1 part* gin
    1 part coffee liqueur (for example Kahlua or Conker Coffee Liqueur)
    1 part freshly brewed and chilled espresso
    Grated dark chocolate

    You’ll need to brew your espresso in advance of making this cocktail so it has time to cool down (stick it in the fridge and it won’t take long). When ready, tip it into a cocktail shaker** with the gin, coffee liqueur and a handful of ice. Shake as hard as you can for around 10 minutes – this will thoroughly mix the ingredients, allow the ice to rapidly cool the drink, and create that all important frothy topping. Strain*** into a chilled glass**** and top with grated dark chocolate.

    chocolate coffee gin espresso martini

    *40ml is a good starting point

    **I couldn’t find mine so used a large jam jar instead

    ***Or pick out the ice with a teaspoon

    ****I never remember this bit, hence the lack of frostiness on the glass in the photos

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  • Booze and chocolate: five drinks you can enjoy with a chunk of choc

    It is a common grumble of regular chocolate munchers that their favourite confection doesn’t go well with booze. And while we would never suggest scoffing bag of chocolate buttons while swigging a pint of cider or glass of chardonnay, there are still plenty of boozes that can compliment the cocoa bean.

    Ace chocolate makers MIA have challenged us to chomp our way through a few of their bars of chocolatey delights and come up with five combinations that work. Thankfully MIA’s chocs are of the finest quality (important if you’ve got a boozy drink on the side) and are made by an ethically sound company – the goods are produced in collaboration with African communities and the whole MIA project has been devised help protect local endangered species, create a healthier environment and improve livelihoods. It’s reassuring to know that some good is being done somewhere as a result of indulging in sweet treats and alcohol…

    Five booze and chocolate combinations

    shares stout label


    Instinctively, when set a booze challenge, our first thought is “what beer can we use?” With chocolate the instant response is “stout.” The dark grains used in making stout are known as ‘chocolate malts’ due to their chocolatey colour and taste, and many brewers even put a load of cocoa into the mix to accentuate the flavour. We supped on an Irish Stout with our MIA chocolate, a traditional beer with lovely rich roasted flavours and a lingering dry finish that can handle a full cocoa-powered bite.

    Booze Choice: O’Hara’s Irish Stout, 4.3%
    Choc Choice: MIA 75% Dark Chocolate

    boon kriek bottle label

    Cherry Beer

    With the obvious beer out of the way we wanted to move onto something a bit different. Kriek Boon is a Belgian Lambic ale brewed with cherries and has delicious sweet, sour and fruity flavours. It has also recently been added to Waitrose’s beer list, providing a real boon for Belgian beer fans like us. Cherry and chocolate a classic flavour combination that is occasionally used by brewers and fruit lambics are one of the few styles you could use as a dessert beer, so it has no concerns about taking a ride along the taste buds with a square or two of quality chocs.

    Booze Choice: Kriek Boon, 4%
    Choc Choice: MIA 75% Dark Chocolate

    Appleton estate rum bottle label


    Before chocolatiers got all funky with their ingredients the most exotic flavour around was rum and raisin. It’s an old-school flavour that still holds up today and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t deconstruct the recipe by pairing a bar of chocolate with rum. We reckon a dark, sipping rum works best with a dark, sweet chocolate – we didn’t have any containing raisins so chose to increase the tropical effect by gobbling a bar topped with coconut instead.

    Booze choice: Appleton Estate 12 Year Dark Rum, 43%
    Choc choice: MIA Coconut Chocolate

    valle mayor rioja label


    Wine and chocolate is one of the toughest challenges to pull off. Red wine is the obvious starting point but most types put up a fight with chocolate, ruining the drink, the confection and your taste buds in one swift attack. We think the trick is to look for a wine with a full flavour, good fruitiness and soft tannins and would point you in the direction of a rioja as the style that suits best, with many tasting notes often describing it as having ‘hints of chocolate’.

    Booze Choice: Coleccion Vallemayor Rioja, 13.5%
    Choc Choice: MIA 75% Dark Chocolate

    carnation gin bottle label

    Gin Espresso Martini

    If you’re really stuck for a booze and chocolate combination then a cocktail allows you to tinker with your flavour matching preferences. We like chocolate and coffee, so for our fifth choice have suggested an espresso martini. This cocktail is more commonly made with vodka but we’ve been trying out some Carnation gin from Spain and it has worked wonders for our recipe. Coffee beans are a common garnish but, in this instance, we think a grating of chocolate is much more preferable.

    Booze choice: Gin Espresso Martini – see our recipe here
    Choc choice: MIA Hemp & Almond Chocolate (for an extra bit of roasty, toasty nuttiness)

    For more information on MIA Chocolate visit http://www.miafoodie.com

    MIA chocolate flavours

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  • Why is beer and football such a great pairing?

    Keener readers of this website will have noticed that we do some occasional work with German brewery Krombacher. The most recent deal we struck with the brewing aces was to write a piece on how beer and football can mutually benefit each other, using a World Cup football match as a case study with Krombacher Pils as the accompanying beer.

    But there were a few hitches in this plan.

    In order to conduct the experiment, Krombacher sent me a few big bottles of beer. But just before the tournament kicked off my family came for dinner and, looking for a load of beer to serve with the meal, I absentmindedly plonked the pils on the table.* Fortunately I found some Krombacher Dark luring in the shadows of my beer shelf, so hopefully our bosses will forgive this last minute substitution.

    My next problem came in scheduling.

    I’d planned to watch Germany in a knock-out game for my beer and football pleasures – to see if drinking a German beer had any additional impact on the occasion – but Joachim Low’s charges failed to make it out of their group so I opted for the high-stakes semi-final that didn’t involve England** instead: France vs Belgium.

    The game was enthralling. The beer was good. And here are my notes on how the two may have benefited each other.

    Sense of occasion

    Before any big game the build up is important in order to get you properly in the mood for action. When watching live football this inevitably means a trip to the pub before kick-off, getting excited about the game over a few beers with friends. Alone on the sofa the beer becomes part of a different pre-match ritual: ‘warming up’ the telly and getting the sofa comfortable before opening the beer bottle to signify the official start of the event (no matter how long before kick-off you do this). With beer, the football anticipation levels become heightened.

    Memory trigger

    It’s a known thing that aroma is one of the best memory triggers, so beer often smells of good times. Krombacher Dark has a definite German beer whiff to it which immediately transports me back to time spent in Munich and, as it’s a football night, the buzz of atmosphere surrounding Bayern Munich in Champions League mode. I am definitely ready for action.

    Conduit for emotions

    Unusually for me I noticed I held my glass throughout the majority of the game (rather than rest it on the table). I don’t think I usually do this, even during football matches, but the glass became something to cradle and grip during the tense moments (not that there were many) and acted as a cheering device during the high quality moments (not that there were many). All of these instances of drama and excitement were followed with a hearty swig.

    Something else I noticed about my drinking habits during football: I’m generally a steady swigger rather than a regular sipper*** but during the football I went for long periods of time without a swig, engrossed in the action, then when I did drink, deep slugs of booze were taken on board.

    This was all helped by using a weighty tankard with a handle and, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from World Cup drinking, it’s that drinking from such glasses during football is preferable to lighter tulip-shaped receptacles.

    The alcohol effect

    Finally, the most obvious enhancement that beer can have on watching football is down to the alcohol. A few bottles stretched out over a couple of hours is never going to have a profound effect, but alcohol is known to heighten senses and give any adrenalin an extra impetus. So as the drama unfolded the beer and football worked more in tandem with each other, making Mbappé’s flourishes of skill seem more exciting and, in turn, making the roar of the crowd sound like a call to drink more beer.

    I’ve watched lots of ordinary football matches with dodgy beers in the past: the beer has always compensated for the lack of footballing quality while the sense of occasion has made the beer more tolerable. When the beer and football are both good the become the perfect team.


    *Good quality German pilsners are a safe choice for visitors: they’re liked by most people and go with almost anything, working rather well with my roast chicken and potato salad

    **I had to stick with lucky Scottish beers for England games

    ***When I used to drink Guinness it was easy to see how many swigs I had of each pint by the rings around the glass. Rarely more than ten.

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  • Restaurant review: Comptoir Libanais

    Back in May, I made my yearly pilgrimage to the Chelsea Flower Show. This was my third year of attendance and so I have become battle hardened in its posh quirks and peculiarities – and in particular the eye watering prices that the Chelsea catering suppliers foist upon its captive guests. With this in mind, I decided to purchase a cob/pop/crisps meal-deal en-route, then attempt to smuggle it past security on the gate. My quest to find an obliging Boots on the streets near Sloane Square led me down a passage way and into a hubbub of clanking glasses, guffaws and wafts of fragrant nosh. Leba-nosh™ to be precise – I had stumbled into the courtyard of Comptoir Libanais, peddlers of Lebanese foodstuffs to the masses (since 2008).

    As fate would have it, the following week saw an email shimmy into my inbox, inviting me to come try foodstuffs at the very same restaurant chain, albeit one rather more conveniently situated in my home town of Bath.

    The invite was for a ‘plus one’, so after a fruitless search for a decent dining companion, I called upon Nick who – as it turns out – is a bit of an expert when it comes to the wily ways of middle eastern cheffery. He claims to have a tagine in his kitchen cupboard, has been to Morocco on holiday, and is believed to have once chuffed on a hookah on the banks of the Bosphorus many summers ago.


    Bath’s Comptoir Libanais is tucked down one of the side streets of the Southgate shopping centre – a faux Georgian complex, marginally more pleasing on the eye than the 1960s arcade it replaced. It’s not the easiest place to find but, once safely through the doors, you’ll find yourself in a lively recreation of a Lebanese souk, with irregular tiled floors, canteen chairs and walls festooned with Lebanese goods that dangle from every available hook. 


    Nick (designated driver) inexplicably ordered a Virgin Sirine moments after declaring his hatred of tomato juice. This harissa & sumac spiced tomato juice proved to be quite a spicy number and received a double thumbs-up. “I may have to re-evaluate my tomato juice aversion” he croaked, bottom lip a-quivering, face masked in sweat. I went for the Lebanese Almaza beer, a brand owned by Heineken. No surprises here – a couple of sips revealed it to be a pretty standard-tasting Euro-style lager (Nick’s verdict. “I can’t taste ‘owt – my taste buds are still on fire”)


    I went for a Baba Ghanouj, a dish chosen purely for the entertainment value of saying the name out loud.* It proved to be a tasty, hummus-y number, peppered with pomegranate seeds and flanked with soft pitta. Nick chose the magenta-hued Beetroot Labné, which he described as both ‘tangy and fresh’.

    Main Course

    Fending off howls of derision from Nick for being a traitor to my vegetarian aspirations** I went for the mixed grill of lamb and chicken. Nick’s hungry eyes locked on my plate (hoping for something to spill off the sides and for him to claim scavenging rights), whilst I tucked into the juicy skewered meats that were peppered with spices and tempered with fresh salad and a zingy lemon dressing. Nick went for the lamb and prunes tagine with a side order of pickles. “Decent” he said. “If I was being critical though, I’d say the tagine I had in Morocco was a tad more more flavoursome. This quite nice though.”


    With eyebrows still raised thanks to Nick’s previous boastful comment and stomach groaning from the weight of the meaty platter, I chose a take-home box of Lebanese pastries. For Nick, an enormous plateful of Orange Blossom Muhalabia was ordered and polished off in the manner in which a starving dog would go at a plate of tripe. This comparison is in no reflection on the dish, of course. Nick described it as both ‘blancmange-y’, and ‘nice’.***


    To cap off our evening of Leba-nosh™ we ordered a nice pot of Lebanese mint tea which was poured in the traditionally manner – from pot to cup from arm height – as you would an Asturian sidre. Our table host warned of the dangers of performing this trick outdoors on a windy day. Thankfully, our laps remained safely unsullied by the boiling brew and the tea partaken proved to be a suitably aromatic full stop to our meal.


    Comptoir Libanais offers a vibrant, decent priced dining experience with plenty of interesting dishes to get stuck into. As our attentive, friendly table host pointed out, Lebanese cuisine is relatively overlooked on the high street, but offers something for everyone, ranging from subtly fragrant, fresh-tasting tagines to sweat-inducing, spicy mezes. It certainly made a change from the ubiquitous Indian/Chinese eating establishments we often frequent after a night ‘researching’ beer.

    Comptoir Libanais is a restaurant well worth the search. Pop in, pull up a chair and souk up the atmosphere.


    Comptoir Libanais, 38 Little Southgate, Bath BA1 1TR
    Phone01225 800894



    *Jay Rayner could learn a lot from this approach to restaurant food selection.

    ** I’ve been trying to go veggie for a few months but keep coming unstuck at the ‘not eating meat’ bit.

    *** Jay Rayner could learn a lot from this approach to food criticism.



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  • Meet the residents: Californian beers find a home in Bristol

    We don’t normally blog about an evening down the pub, but a social get together in Bristol last night was interesting enough that we’ve decided to break that habit. We were at The Mall in Clifton, a large pub that has been neatly spruced up, features a great range of cask and keg beers, an ample beer garden and some of the comfiest leather pub seats our gardening-weary bodies have reclined in.

    The Mall is one of several pubs throughout the land to host a Craft Beer Residency featuring a rotating range of 20 beers from three outstanding Californian breweries: Sierra Nevada, Stone and Anchor. We met two of our Bristol chums – Dav and fellow booze author Andy Hamilton – along with Nikki from nearby Portishead who helped put the Residency together.

    Four of the beers were available to us last night – two each from Sierra Nevada and Anchor – and we think they were worthy enough for us to blog about them. Nikki was driving and didn’t join us on the booze, and Dav is a recently diagnosed coeliac so settled for Caple Road cider instead. Which left three of us to come up with the following tasting notes…

    Sierra Nevada, California IPA, 4.3%

    Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale is one of the American beers that was responsible for switching the world’s brewers on to the amazing flavours of US hops and kick-starting the global craft ale movement. They hardly put a foot wrong with their pale ales and this sessionable IPA was American perfection, with a full flavoured golden grain body highlighting the hoppy marriage of citrus and pine. “Spot on” announced Nick “can I drink this all night?” (“No” was the answer).

    Sierra Nevada, Otra Vez, 4.9%

    This was the most unusual of the beers available – a gose with lime and agave. The gose sourness was suitably light with the lime instantly prominent and the agave more subtle (“I can almost taste it” Rich declared and, despite this being nonsense, we know what he meant). Andy wasn’t sure of it at first but it steadily worked his magic on him and, on completion, announced “it’s alright”. (Trust us, that’s praise).

    Anchor, Mango Wheat, 4.5%

    This wheat beer was nice and dry and loaded with refreshing tropical flavours of sweet mango and some citrussy offerings. If we were drinking this outside we might’ve asked for it to be served in large jugs – it had the refreshing sweet-and-dry qualities that go down a treat under a hot sun (and hot sun was very much in evidence yesterday).

    Anchor, California Lager, 4.9%

    This lager was ‘reborn’ in 2012 and we think it already deserves the status ‘American classic’. We’ve already featured it on this site, describing it as a “perfect fridge standby”, and it performed equally well in the pub with its crisp, cold bready lager body pepped up with touches of spice and pine from the hops. The last of the four beers we drank and, on aggregate, the one that came out top and caused the most envious grumbling from Dav about his cider.

    For more information on Craft Beer Residencies, check out the website www.craftbeerresidency.com

    tap takeover at the mall pub Bristol

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