Hello Cape Town, I’m back! I’ve spent a glorious 2+ weeks in my homeland of the United Kingdom and have had the best time showing the husband my culture/heritage.
Besides the castles, old houses, beautiful gardens and attractions, we did spend time feeding our stomachs and making our livers work hard.
Here are my notes on wine, food and beer which may, or may not help/inspire you if by chance you are visiting/living there.
As my husband is a keen brewer and beer chugger, we had to make allowances for a lot of beer tasting. Keenly he sipped his way through over 30 beers and has found firm favorites as well as those that left a lot to be desired.
The prevailing rule of thumb from our research is that the cheapest looking label offered the worst tasting beer – it just goes to show that judging a book by its cover is the safest bet in the U.K
The general presence of hops (Mr H is a hops fanatic) was lacking in a lot of the local craft-type beers and low alcohol is the norm; German Weiss consistently showed good body and strength and overall, many of the English (supermarket) beers seemed mass-produced, lacking in the finer details.
Some of our favorite brews were:
St Stefannus blonde ale – think cloves, orange zest and caramel notes.
Hobgoblin Gold – 6 hop varieties and unsurprisingly, a HUGE hop blast.
Staropramen – a great commercial Czech beer.
As for places to drink Craft, London offered us two great spots – Brew Dog in Camden and Euston Tap right outside Euston Train Station; I planned us a seriously heavy route through England’s capital with only a day to spare and I couldn’t have picked better locations for good beer.
Brew Dog already have an impressive following in Cape Town and Mr H has always been a fan so finding their English home was a treat, a very busy treat (the place was packed). We only had time for one proper beer, and lots of mini sour beer tasters (not worth it), and chose their Hardcore IPA (9% alc) which had captivating smokey bacon flavours and a heavy but piquant mouthfeel – this topped all the beers that I had tried on the trip.
Euston Tap is the London craft beer scene’s Tardis. It resides within a white gate house outside of the station and looks like a regular English monument that I managed to walk past 3 times. If it hadn’t been for the mass of people milling about at 8pm, I’d have dragged Brett past it. The offerings change regularly which is impressive. Prices vary and you do have to stand your ground to get served, but if you live in the city, it’s worth going to in order to sample a large variety of craft beers.
South African wine has become more prominent in local supermarkets since my last trip a year and a half ago – back then, First Cape and other giraffe/zebra covered bottles (read cheap) were the only demonstration of SA wine and they tasted beyond awful.
Chenins are quite noticeable, mainly all from Paarl, and I always push my English friends and family to try them because you really cannot go wrong – Chenin is such a doll that she couldn’t be truly bad if she tried. She can’t help but open her legs and be accommodating. She’s like the Tallulah (Bugsy Malone) of the wine world. I did take with me a bottle of Vineyard Selection Kleine Zalze Chenin 2014 and my family adored it, it was and is a truly stunning wine.
In specialist wine shops around Wales, Hartenberg Riesling was a steady mover. Constantia dominates the Southern shops though I did manage to find a lot of Thelema in Beaconsfield.
From Europe, Pinot Grigio is a super easy pickup and though it doesn’t pack a punch, each one I tried was a good lazy-day drinker.
I really missed big, creamy Chardonnays and my poor little Rands couldn’t stretch to a rich Burgundian Chard so I stayed with the unoaked and fruitier versions. In London I was given Sancerre and Chablis to drink…and I’m not too keen on their steely personalities.
We forget how lucky we are in The Cape to have a wealth of amazing places that, compared to England, are a steal to eat at. Eating out in the UK is just madness and buying a semi-decent bottle of wine will be a minimum of R450.
Buying produce from the supermarkets was a delight with vegetables and fruit being so fresh and half the price of SA’s often limp offerings. Cheese is exceptional and I made sure I ate lots of clotted cream; if anyone serves you a scone with jam and cream and they give you the whipped variety, throw it in their face and walk out. You have been cheated.
Obviously, I had to buy Ben n’ Jerry’s ice cream, lots of it, to share with the husband. And Minstrels. And there might have been a quick stop made to the M&M world. But we never really ate out, preferring to have large family meals at home.
After 8 hours of walking around London, we stopped to grab a bite at Covent Garden’s 21 which had the worst staff and service that I have experienced – snooty, abrupt and all reflective of the mantra, if you have the sought-after location, you don’t need to try.
I do feel as though it’s far easier to eat healthy in the UK than over in SA so I am currently waiting for someone to tell me where a decent, good-value veg/fruit market is in the Northern Suburbs…
All-in-all, it was an amazing adventure and all I need now is someone to sponsor me to go again for Christmas. *hint, hint*