Saturday, 31 July 2010
40 years ago today, 'at precisely 6 bells in the forenoon watch' (11am, landlubbers*) the Royal Navy issued its last rum rations, or tots. 31st July 1970 has since been known as Black Tot day in naval circles.
So what happened to the verboten grog?
After withdrawing the daily rum ration (which ran from 1655-1970), the Royal Navy poured the last of the booze into stone flagons, and moved them to warehouses for storage. Prior to Wednesday, the only time a flagon has been cast open in the last 40 years was for Prince Andrew's wedding to Her Fergieness. Must've been quite a knees up.
But posh tipples company Speciality Drinks has now bought the last ever consignment of Royal Naval rum. And from today, you can buy a bottle of Black Tot at http://www.blacktot.com/ - if you've got £600 burning a hole in your pocket.
Speciality Drinks invited some food and drink reporters along to HMS Belfast for a recreation of the daily tot ritual. It was a fascinating experience - after a Mess Breakfast of strong coffee and bacon sarnies, we were given a private tour of the ship by a hilarious ex-navy officer, Ron, who told lots of salty stories not suitable for retelling here....
Then at 11am on the dot, with a cry of 'Up Spirits', we were summoned to the quarter deck to toast "the Queen and ourselves" and savour our precious tots of this rare spirit...
Black Tot is a mongrel-blend of British Colonial pot-still rums from all over the Caribbean - Guyana, Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad, and possibly Cuba and Martinique. But it's got a pedigree taste, matured over the last 40 years - treacly and slightly smokey, with sweeter notes of dark chocolate, or as one eloquent chap put it: 'Black Tot tastes of a fine gentleman's shoe shop.'
PS for those who have asked, the reason the Royal Navy gave for stopping the rum ration, was that evermore complex and technical modern equipment was being installed on ships.
Thursday, 29 July 2010
If you haven't checked out the really rather excellent Ministry of Food exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, here's another good reason to hightail it to SE1: the Wartime Farm.
On 12-15 and 19-22 August, the Imperial War Museum is hosting a typical 1940s farm in Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park, next door to the museum. Smallholdings were incredibly important to the war effort. By 1943 more than 6 million, or 3 in every 5, British families were digging for victory and producing some of their own fruit and veg. The number of hens pecking around British back gardens rose from 5m in 1939 to 11 million by the end of the war in 1945, and 100,000 Brits were rearing porkers for meat as members of registered Pig Clubs.
Visitors can learn how to milk a cow, meet pigs, goats, rabbits and other animals from Surrey Docks City Farm, and even hear first-hand accounts from people who lived through the war.
Wartime Farm at the Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road SE1 6HZ
12-15 and 18-22 August
11am-4pm, free admission
Wednesday, 21 July 2010
Forgive me. I'm sorry for neglecting you. Life kind of got in the way for a while, but I'm back now and I think we should renew our vows, Ozzy and Sharon-style. I vow to write more often: more restaurant recommendations, more competitions, more reports of random London fun, and more recipes - when the heat fades and I cease subsisting on rosé and hummus.
So let's start with Koya. This little noodle bar is causing a big stir. It's been at the top of the Urbanspoon.com chart for a Bryan Adamsian age. While I've been Not Blogging, it seems like everyone else in London has raved about Koya. So what's the point in offering my tuppence-worth?
Well, as much as I love the keeness of the London food blogging brigade, I also want Pinch of Salt to be useful for my non-food-obsessed friends and for people far cooler than me, who like eating out in our fair city but neither want or need to know about things like the Urbanspoon.com chart. So, just in case you didn't know, there's this place called Koya in Soho. They serve the most delicious udon noodles you've ever eaten. It's really cheap. You should go.
The udon noodles. They're fat, they're firm, they're (allegedly) made by foot, using wheat imported from Japan. Served hot or cold - it's hard to describe how satisfying, how addictive and perfectly al dente they are - you'll have to try them for yourself.
Vegetable tempura are somehow both crisp and fluffy on the outside with a proper bite to the veggies.
A special of octopus and spring onion with vinegar miso was revelatory - crunchy, slightly sweet onions, meaty slivers of the tentacled-one, coated in a tangy, peanuty miso that somehow managed not to drown the other flavours...
The broths: aka Miso Soup for the Soul. The rich, soothing bowls of Hiya-Atsu (cold udon, hot broths) are the perfect foil for the fat udon. Try the duck or umami-rich pork and miso paste. Or on hot, sticky days like today the Hiyashi Udon (cold udon, with cold pouring sauce) are just the ticket - the Hiyashi Kizami below (slips of fried tofu and spring onion) was savoury and filling, without feeling too heavy...
The decor: A Muji-loving minimalist's dream. Think communal tables and stools, wooden boards displaying the menus, bare walls.
The queues: You can't book so come early in the week, or come prepared for a wait.
The review: Critic Marina O'Loughlin said it better than I ever could. Read her article on Koya here:
Koya, 49 Frith Street, London W1D 4SG.
Tuesday, 13 July 2010
It seems I'm not the only one with a soft spot for Kernow. When I asked what your favourite thing was about Cornwall, you lot really stepped up to the plate. There were so many affectionate and lyrical answers, it was really tough to pick two winners. But the new owners of the Cornishware mugs are:
Kavey and Elly.
Kavey won for this answer, which brought back childhood memories of grinding to a halt on the single-file Cornish roads, eating far too many Cadbury's Eclairs and listening to my mum's Blues Brothers tape:
"The wonder of pootling along twisting country lanes, some so narrow the wing mirrors touch the hedges on both sides, but with the ubiquitous passing spaces because you just know you're going to meet someone coming the other way..."
And Elly swung it with her lovely ode to her grandparent's village, Fowey. Here's a snippet:
"They'd lived there for decades and my grandma ran a shop in the centre of the town. Everybody seemed to know them, and when we arrived after a seemingly endless car journey from London, we were greeted by a town where everybody seemed to know us too. Being 'Eve and Bob's granddaughter' seemed to unlock the foodie delights of the town. A never ending supply of ice cream and fudge and lemonade at the Sailing Club."
Monday, 5 July 2010
Reader, I moved east. After a London lifetime of bouncing around various pockets SW and SE, I've crossed the great river to the land of jellied eels, West Ham and harem pants. Moving to a new part of London is like moving to a different city altogether - new roads to walk down, new tube stops to pass through, and - best of all - new restaurants and cafes to discover. Which is where you lot come in...
I've already made a mental hitlist of places to try in the coming weeks and months (some of which I'll be writing about here) - including Little Georgia, the cafe at Hackney City Farm, Buen Ayre, Viajante, The Hackney Pearl, Towpath cafe- but I'm a stranger around these parts and I'd love your tips and suggestions for places to eat and drink in my adopted neighbourhood. Please leave any ideas in the comments section me old chinas...
(Pics from top to bottom: Goldsmith's Row; F.Cooke's Pie and Mash Shop; Columbia Road flower market. All yesterday)