Hitchin hosts with the most, and farewell sloe Ginuary
I mopped up January with two stellar awards’ events, both hosted in Herts. On Monday I headed off to Hitchin, where Hermitage Road bar and restaurant was hosting the Top 50 Gastropubs awards. And on Tuesday, in Frithsden, the idyllic hidden pocket in the west of the county, it was the sloe gin competition at the Alford Arms where I was one of the judges. It’s hard work, believe me, tasting over 20 gins in one evening, but I bore it bravely.
Monday lunchtime, and at Hermitage Road, the place was jumping. Beer, mojitos, sherry cobblers and Dorset donkeys helped to steady the nerves of the chefs and pub owners who had travelled from all over the country to the increasingly hip Hitchin. Matt Tebbutt presented the awards. You may recognise him from Food Unwrapped and Saturday Morning Kitchen. I found him genning up on his speech.
The menu had been created by Adam O’Sullivan and Avrum Frankel. A top team. Adam is the chef at Water Lane in Bishop’s Stortford, and Avrum is the executive chef for Anglian Country Inns‘ Norfolk locations: The White Horse and The Jolly Sailors in Brancaster Staithe, and also The Kings Head in Letheringsett. And, as luck would have it, we have Muddy reviews of both The White Horse and Water Lane to read at your leisure. Adam told me that he was feeling a tad nervous cooking for all the shortlisted chefs, but things still looked pretty much under control in the kitchen.
No prizes for guessing who was sponsoring the event. The recommended tipple for the main course was beer. And the main course was: Curried guinea fowl and cauliflower ballotine of breast, tikka leg and samosa, ghee confit mango. Starter: Leeks, mushroom and onion celeriac veloute, and pudding: Caramelised white chocolate lemon meringue pies. Sadly I can’t tell you what these tasted like because I couldn’t stay for lunch, but I will be reviewing Hermitage Road later this month.
Tuesday night, and it was Farewell Sloe Ginuary. I was a judge myself, at the extremely prestigious annual Alford Arms Sloe Gin awards in Frithsden.
It was hard work. It was! Some were far more gin than sloe, others were a bit cheek puckering-ly sharp, and three were just right. We were looking for several things: clarity, nose, palate, and balance, among others. We suggested that next year there should also be an opportunity to award points for presentation. Some people had really made an effort. When it came down to it, there was no doubt about who should win. Everyone who had come along for the evening also got to taste the gins after the winners had been announced and everyone agreed with our decision. Phew! I’m already looking forward to the next one. And anyone can enter, so start swooshing out your most ornate bottles, and I’ll keep you posted for next year’s date.
The winners: Darren Turner, who won best traditional. Lynda Clark, who won best contemporary and best vintage.
It was great fun, and everyone was extremely friendly (hardly surprising given the number of nips). I even met the neighbours: Natalie and Simon Tooley from Frithsden Vineyard.