Note: I met the team from Opera gin at Junipalooza and they kindly gave me a sample to try, as always I’ll let you know what I really think.
What is Opera gin?
To anyone looking for their next holiday destination, I would recommend Budapest. It’s a lovely city and we had a very fun week there despite falling down the stairs in a ruin pub and spraining my ankle, and falling in the Danube (sprained ankle first). You might wonder why I’m telling you this, but today’s gin comes from that fine city. Fellow WSET student, Balint Damosy (also a lawyer) realised during his training that gin was his passion and spent two years researching and learning about gin, before deciding that launching their own gin was not as insane as they thought. And so Opera gin was born. In April 2018, they received their distilling license to become the first micro-distillery in Hungary, and set up shop in a former cotton factory within the Budapest city walls. They chose to create a traditional London Dry gin as they wanted to create something that was not just high quality, but also true to the spirit. They start with a Hungarian corn spirit before adding standard botanicals: hand picked juniper from the Kiskunság National Park; Bulgarian coriander seeds; angelica; orris root; and liquorice. They then make their gin unique by using citronella grass (which I’ve never come across as a botanical before but feel free to correct me!), lavender, a touch of aniseed and cubeb pepper, and their signature botanical poppy seed. They say this all blends together for a citrus and juniper forward gin that works well with tonic, but also pairs with a dry vermouth to make a crisp martini. So, how does it taste?
Note: The lovely team at Gwyr gin sent me a bottle to try, but as always I will let you know what I really think.
What is Gwyr Rhosili gin?
If you want to know about Gwyr gin, then I will point you to my posts on their original gin and their Pinwydd edition. Today, however, we are drinking their newest edition to the family, the Rhosili gin. This has been designed with the Dylan Thomas Estate to commemorate the poet’s links with Gower and Rhosili (his body is interred around the coastline in Laugharne). Thomas is most famous for poems such as Do not go gentle into that good night, a poem that has been quoted in numerous shows and films like Doctor Who and Independence Day. So how is this gin different to their others? Where their original gin focuses on pink grapefruit and fennel, the Rhosili edition features foraged gorse flowers, fresh lime zest, sea buckthorn (a botanical that seems to be appearing more and more) and linden flowers. Linden flowers have been used by herbalists for all sorts of things – coughs, colds, high blood pressure and migraines and research has shown that the flowers may have properties that help prevent damage to your liver. Which surely can only be a good thing when added to something that is proven to damage your liver? Please note I am not saying that drinking this is good for you in any way, as always, please drink responsibly. So, moving on, how does it taste?
I’ve been following Fatto a Mano on Twitter since they opened and I’ve seen other bloggers going so I decided it was time to go get me some pizza. Situated at the top of London Road next to Hare and Hounds, it’s the latest addition to the ‘let’s make London Road nice’ effort.
We arrived at 7.30pm on a Wednesday and it was really busy but we just got a table. As soon as you open the door an incredible smell hits you. As we were seated we looked around and saw the queue going out the door. We gots lucky. We were tucked away in what is normally our favourite place, the corner, which was great until we tried to order and were hindered by the surrounding tables which took a few attempts to get someone’s attention. We order a Hugo (prosecco, elderflower liquer and soda) and an Aperol spritz with a garlic foccacia to share and a pizza each – the Salsiccia e Friarielli for me (sausage and broccoli and chilli) and the Pizza Panna without cream for Catriona. Both are ‘white’ pizzas so neither feature tomato sauce on them.
The drinks take a little long time to arrive but the Aperol spritz, according to Catriona, was “fantastic! Not too much soda which is usually a big problem.” My opinion is that I still don’t like orange. The Hugo however is lovely with not too much mint. A good balance of elderflower and soda so it wasn’t too sweet or too bitter. Worth the wait.
The focaccia is not focaccia as I know it, it’s quite flat and looks more like pizza dough. Still bloody tasty. My one critique is that it could do with – and I realise how this sounds but – a more even distribution of garlic (half was covered in garlic and half had none).
At this point Catriona grabs my phone and writes: I enjoy the fact that the couple next to us seem to be eating chips as a starter. I think I want to be part of that relationship. (Sorry to the couple next to us, we did stare at you a lot. But you definitely had the chips to start. They did look great though.)
An hour after we arrive we have drinks and a starter but no pizza, but obviously then as soon as I typed that into my phone our pizzas appeared.
Catriona: Most of the ingredients were clearly very fresh including the dough and the ham, but I would say there is too much cheese. As I asked for it without cream maybe they added more cheese to compensate. There were a lack of mushrooms and the mushrooms that were on it did not taste fresh. They felt cooked before hand and then added to the pizza, rather than a topping that was then cooked with the pizza which meant they were slimy and flavourless.
I enjoyed my pizza. The broccoli was so soft and tender that it felt more like spinach. The chilli gave it a really great kick that was cooled down by the cheese along with some good quality sausage meat with no gristly bits. The dough was really good, whilst it was thin it wasnt so crispy you couldn’t cut it. Nice and chewy and was great to eat at the end with some Mayo that we had asked for. I thought that I would miss the tomato sauce but the toppings of mine were so good that I didn’t miss it at all.
It was certainly good value for money. Neither of us finished our pizzas and for a starter at £3.50, cocktails at £5 and pizzas at £7.50 and £8 it’s a great place to get a quality (and unpretentious) pizza without spending a small fortune. The atmosphere in the restaurant is great, it was busy with couples and groups chatting away and really friendly staff. It helps that as the evenings draw in, we were warm and cosy as we hid from the cold weather. I had a better experience than Catriona did, so I would recommend going back. It’s simple food done really well. Plus you can have lemoncello at the end. Because that is obviously what we needed after wine and cocktails…
(Plus, added bonus, if you go up the sneaky steps to the old railway bridge before/after your meal you can see a train with the magic lighting. Thanks to Catriona for finally showing me how to get up there!)
I’ve been to Seven Stars in the south lanes once before. Four years ago on a busy Saturday night, the place was filled with football on the TV and loud drunk men everywhere. Not super pleasant. More recently, the pub has been taken over and had a swanky revamp, now prominently featuring craft beer and all the meat by Little Blue Smokehouse (a favourite at Street Diner).
We head there after work on a Wednesday. I’m first to arrive (standard) and have a wander along the bar looking at the beers. One of the lovely girls behind the bar asks if I need help (big mistake) and I launch into a monologue about how I’m just starting to drink beer and I like lager and I want to try something new and what can she recommend. She gives me some tasters (Curious IPA and another IPA that I really wish I had written the name down because it was lovely – for those interested, it is the first tap you get to when entering the pub). I pick the latter and find a corner to hide in (meeting me for dinner is a challenge). When my companions arrive we start drooling over the food menu.
All the meat. So much meat.
After much umming and ahhing we chose our food: One pulled pork roll, one chopped brisket on sourdough (with fries) and one Trash Can fries.
All of the portions are generous. The pulled pork is heaped into a bap and the brisket comes layered inside two large pieces of crusty sourdough. Both come with a bowl of ‘slaw – a crispy fresh accompaniment with enough may to bind it, but not enough to make it a soggy mess. My trash can fries arrive – a bowl loaded with fries and topped with pulled pork, cheese, fried pickles and hot sauce (to which I add more hot sauce).
We dig in and don’t speak for a few minutes with the exception of “ohhhhhhhhhh myyyyy god this is good”. The pulled pork is soft and flakey and smoky – ever so slightly dry but that is what hot sauce is for. Personally, I would put more cheese on the trash can fries in the future as it didn’t melt particularly well, but the fried pickles are great. Basically a normal pickle but with a crispy crunch outside. Wonderful stuff.
Reviews of the two buns come from my companions:
The menu is short but sweet, offering a handful of options (not many options for vegetarians….) but the beer selection at the bar (along with spirits and cocktails) certainly means you won’t get bored here. From our short meal, I’m fairly confident when I say that the menu is going for quality over quantity. This is something that is repeated on their website
We smoke, we pickle, we spice, we brine and we smoke. We smoke a lot. We smoke meat, we smoke fish and we smoke vegetables.
We care about how we smoke and we care about what we smoke.
We use the best produce we can, the best wood we can and the best charcoal we can.
We love food and want to enjoy it, food should be fun, food should be interesting and food should be respected.
We love what we do and we hope you do too.
And we did. We loved it a lot. This pub has jumped up the list of places to go in my mind. The bad memories of the past are wiped out in a haze of beer and hot sauce.
All in all, a solid evening out. With food coming in under £10 and half a pint of tap beer for £2.50 it is both good quality and you definitely get your money’s worth. We were all stuffed by the end of our meals. The downsides of this place are that the music is rather loud (but nice and varied) and some of the seats and stools aren’t the most comfortable so get there early to grab a booth. It does however win major points for nice large clean toilets. A very important factor when you have a tiny bladder and are permanently thirsty.
Alternatively, if blurry photos of food and Brighton is your thing I am also on Instagram and for bite-sized reflections into my mind, check me out on Twitter.
(Also, my dining companion Lisa recently had heart surgery to counteract her congenital heart disease and she has been writing a blog whilst she recovers so you should check it out – http://lisathepirate.blogspot.co.uk/)
Day three. The final day. My broken sleep-deprived body is screaming for me to stop but I force myself out of bed and head down to Green Door Store for the Canadian BBQ (this is the second year I’ve found myself here, always go check it out as there’s good music and free food). First up was 36? who “create ‘part pop, part art-rock, part psych-jazz'”. They were certainly different. I actually enjoyed the music, but was slightly put off by two things. Firstly, just before the set started the drummer took his jeans off so played the set in t-shirt and boxer shorts. Secondly, the singer makes for a wonderful front man with some epic dance moves. Sadly the dance moves turned into strange thrusting motions against his keyboard and guitar, and were accompanied by a wide eyed, verging on psychotic, stare into and around the crowd. I moved slightly to hide behind the people in front of me. After 36? I nearly left, but stuck it out for Young Benjamins. Best decision I’ve ever made. They were excellent. A four piece band from Saskatoon who combine pop, rock and folk influences to make brilliant music. Plus, they all smiled and laughed their way through the set which I love. The Great Escape tends to attract a very hipster crowd/bands who think enjoying themselves isn’t cool so stand, stony faced doing a subtle head nod, so it makes me happy to see people breaking this tradition. Sadly there are no photos of either of these bands due to my fear in the first act, and sheer enjoyment of the second.
I had 15 minutes to get from Green Door Store to Komedia to see Lawson. ‘That’s easy’ you say? Not on a Saturday in Brighton when the sun is out, it’s mid Festival, Fringe Festival and Great Escape and you’re navigating the North Laines full of tourists and antique stalls. But I made it. As I stepped in, the lights dimmed and screaming girls surrounded me. What I didn’t realise at this point is that they had sold extra tickets for this gig, so I spent the whole set wondering how a load of under age girls with no wristbands had been able to get in. They also have a bigger following than I realised. I knew one or two songs, but the audience were singing along to every word, screaming out their love for members of the band and having a proper party. They were good fun, lots of catchy pop tunes and being surrounded by a crowd that were so enthusiastic for every single word and note got me really caught up in the atmosphere. I turned a bit fan-girlish. It’s catching.
As we enter the final stretch and rock up to the Paganini Ballroom for Sonar Soul, we are excited for the evening ahead of us. Sadly, one song in, we decide we don’t like Sonar Soul so head to Patterns to be super early for Lonely the Brave. As we sit waiting on their unfinished terrace (the place is like a building site) watching the sun set on our final day of festivalling, we get a text from The Great Escape saying the downstairs room is at capacity. No problem, we go in the main room, tell the bouncer we’re going to the toilet, go downstairs and in the back door. Sneaky sneaky. Lonely the Brave were a good shout for the last night. Loud, danceable, fun. Although we spend the whole set wondering why the singer hides at the back of the stage with no light on him. Apart from singing, he doesn’t say anything. Talking is left to the guitarist who stands front and centre, in the spotlight. We leave pumped up and ready for the epic queue for the Maccabees.
We get distracted en route by the photo booth in the Spiegeltent. Anyone in Brighton should go. £2 a go. It’s a hoot.
Then we get to Corn Exchange. Even a few riotous games of Heads Up in the queue can’t distract us from the fact we stood in the cold for an hour and a half and only got let in half way through the set. But the Maccabees were worth it. We had spent the whole queue talking about Latchmere and its wave machine. Two minutes after walking in, they chat about playing new stuff, but also rediscovering old songs and they burst into LATCHMERE’S GOT A WAAAAAAAVE MACHINEEEE. It’s like they waited for us. What with it being the final night, the audience are excited and drunk, making the most of the last night. The atmosphere is electric, everyone is dancing and singing along. As they hit the last note, glitter explodes over the crowd. We leave happy, all bad memories of queuing pushed out of our minds as we walk home. Tiredness kicks in and I slept for nearly 9 hours.
Happy 10th Birthday Great Escape. We still love you. Thank you for the weekend.
I survived day one. Hurrah. Day two started with the builders outside my window singing and clattering around at 8am, so I started my planning early.
Heading out at 1pm I return to my favourite place in May, the Spiegeltent, for the Northern Irish showcase – specifically Ciaran Lavery. Lovely ginger man in a brand new suit. My kinda man. He was the second act of the festival to rock the harmonica/guitar combo. Different vibe to Fraser A Gorman though. The audience is calm – this is probably due to a mix of hangovers, early afternoon gig and the beautiful calming tone of Mr Lavery’s voice. My sleep deprived body instinctively wants to curl up in a ball and fall asleep listening to his voice. Halfway through the second song, he interrupts himself to dedicate his set to anyone that walks in half way through thinking they were coming to an epic afternoon rave, but now had to stay out of politeness, before continuing with his set. Great voice and cracking sense of humour. Top marks.
Now for a real adventure: finding the Paganini Ballroom. Tucked in round the side of the Old Ship Hotel on the sea front and real different to everywhere else I’ve been. Balconies, chandeliers (classy, not Shoosh-esque monstrosities) and Regency carpets and wallpapers. Then Groenland burst onto stage. There is a lot of them on a tiny stage, so I was worried that the dancing might tip one off but they partied on like it wasn’t 3pm. They were brilliant. I enjoy anyone with a ukelele, violin, cello and melodica. Particularly the melodica. They quickly warmed the crowd up for a boogie and catchy clapping – sadly the girl behind me had no idea how to clap in time…
It’s evening. I’m outside Patterns again in what can only be described as a mahoosive queue. It turns out that it is because the venue isn’t open yet, so we move pretty quickly. Heading inside, the first thing I notice is the signs pointing towards the toilets – a relief after getting lost yesterday. A group of boys with wonderfully hipster hair appear on stage, everyone cheers, they start performing and people start looking confused. After the first song they thank everyone for coming out and introduce themselves as Osca. Now everyone looks very confused and starts pulling out their programmes. This is NOT Andy Shauf. As people start drifting out, the rest of us are rewarded with an uplifting and rousing set. When I get outside in the daylight, I see they were meant to be on after Mr Shauf. What happened to him?
I ponder this as I cross over to coalition (one of the only seafront clubs with the same name as my uni days) just in time for Beach Baby. A “London based four piece whose crisp, U.S-inspired take on apathetic alternative pop”. Coalition is rammed (I’ve never witnessed it empty) so I’m stood behind a post so no photos. Very uptempo and danceable. Not sure I would call them apathetic.
Aurora. Her show is definitely not suitable for epileptics. I know she’s only 18 but looks avoid 12. Big wide eyes, gesticulating hand motions. Her band create wonderful noise encompassing everyone in the venue. Rapturous applause from the crowd. “You make me blush and sweat”. Sadly this is another act ruined by drunk bar chattering. Running With The Wolves bought on huge applause, apart from the man next to me who seemed to refuse to clap the ENTIRE show. Judging from the crowd and twitter, she entralled every member of the crowd and made us all fall a bit in love with her.
I head to the Corn Exchange for my second queue of the night (again because the venue hasn’t opened) and basically run inside to see Rag n Bone Man. He does not disappoint. Three songs in he sings Lay My Body Down and I nearly started crying and then had to hold it together for the rest of the show. Deep, soulful voice. Lovely beard. To anyone wondering if they should go see him, yes. Yes is the answer.
He was followed by Sunflower Bean and DMA’s. I have to admit, I didn’t pay the closest attention here because I a) had found some friends and b) I had consumed 6 pints by this point. Apparently Sunflower Bean mixes Black Sabbath’s dark rock with psychedelia. DMA’s sound a lot like Oasis. A lot.
Then came Django Django. The reason I waited in Corn Exchange for two hours. The venue was at capacity. The crowd was pumped. They put on a great show as always. We had a boogie. We started to sweat. It was now nearly 1am and my sleep deprived body needed a rest.
Day at two has basically destroyed me. One day left!
Its that time of year again. Time to put a wristband on, grab a programme and spend three days queuing running around Brighton trying to catch as many of the 450+ gigs as possible. This year is The Great Escape‘s 10th birthday, and my seventh consecutive year. Year one was a failure, I had a day ticket and didn’t understand the queuing so saw a total of two bands. Year two we only did evenings due to uni deadlines. Year three I worked at the wristband exchange, told Fyfe Dangerfield’s wife I loved him more than she did and fan girdled obsessively over the Guillemots. Years 4, 5 and 6 we successfully partied and so I’m excited for what this year will bring.
The wristband exchanged has stayed at its new Spiegeltent home and this year features an inside exchange area (perfect for today’s weather!) leading into the Spiegeltent area. Felt like a proper festival and was worried I hadn’t bought my sleeping bag. Grabbing a programme I ran back through the rain to the downstairs of Komedia for the end of the Australian Showcase. I arrived in time for Fraser A Gorman, a lad with a mighty head of hair (not that dissimilar to my fathers hair in the 70s) hailing from Melbourne. Considering it was 3pm on the first day, the room was packed and from the cheers arising from the crowd as song names were mentioned, he clearly has a following here in the UK. He kickstarted the set with “Better take your washing off the line because it’s raining” – very apt for the rain sodden city outside. Featuring catchy riffs, harmonicas and brand new tambourines, his set was good fun and got me in the mood for the weekend. Uplifting and highly bop-able.
Deciding against going back out into the rain I stayed inside for Holy Holy, which the programme describes as “huge, full band builds and crescendos, mixing distorted duelling guitars with warm, close harmonies and wild percussive rhythms.” Certainly a mouthful. As the room filled up around me and the buzz started to build, I started to think I had picked a winner. Hearing them for the first time reminded me of when I first saw Prides. Slightly blown away by the noise, and intrigued as to how much sound could come from so few people. They did indeed have full band builds and crescendos. They also had a bassist so tall I thought he would hit his head, and a guitarist that looked like Jesse Bradford in Bring It On but with Jon Snow’s hair (GoT Jon Snow, not channel 4 news Jon Snow).
So it’s now 11:30pm and I have survived my first day. After a trip home for food and Strongbow (don’t judge me) I journeyed across to Kemptown to Patterns. Which used to be Audio and now features glitterballs as its 80s name would suggest. But the bouncer fist bumped me on the way in so I’m a fan. Between that and paying £4.20 for a cider I got lost en route to the toilets and made many friends all equally as lost. Basically Patterns, sort your signage out. Patterns doesn’t help its 80s disco name with its decor. Neon blue and green on the walls, with pink fluorescent lights and mic cables. Here I saw Jagaara, a three piece sister act with some strong eyebrow game. Half an hour of dreamy electronic pop later, I headed upstairs and caught the end of Cold Fronts who were singing Sinatra’s ‘ I love you baby’ which was both brilliant as the singer wound his way through the crowd and on to the bar, and horrible because I had Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You flashbacks (RIP Patrick Verona). Plus I wanted to wash all of their hair.
After the ‘rock’ fest I was treated to the acoustic delights of Tenterhook. Sadly, he was ruined by the chatter going on by the bar which drowned out his singing, but he was wonderful. And wearing double denim, because, when in Brighton. He channelled his inner Ed Sheeran as he hit the high notes, and was the only act I saw tonight that didn’t make a joke about the horrible weather.
After my trip to Patterns, I went to Shoosh, That is a sentence I never thought I would say. It is as hideous as I expected. White chandeliers. Seriously. They then charged £4.50 for a bottle of Rekorderlig and she threw half of it away because it wouldn’t fit in the plastic glass. Luckily Astronomyy kicked off their set with “Nothin on my mind“. 30 minutes of catchy electro pop later, they (along with Jagaara) proved you don’t need a bassist to be great. Plus they sampled some Destiny’s Child “Say my name” which I NEVER object to.
10pm. Heading to Brighton Spiegletent. One of my favourite things about the Festival. I grabbed myself a £6 cocktail from the van (gin, elderflower, cucumber, soda and lemon – very sugary, very alcoholic) and headed into the tent for Fismoll. Two guitars and a cello. Half the crowd gathered on the floor. It’s a touch time slot. The majority of people at this time are tanked up and ready to party so for a band to hold their own at this time is an achievement. Quiet. Calming. Soothing.
Got me perfectly ready to come home and sleep (by sleep, I mean write this). So I didn’t make it to Jack Garratt, but he is playing tomorrow so all is not lost.
Don’t forget I’m on Twitter for random updates of who I’ve seen.
I spent most of March unemployed. This meant I was pretty bored and feeling a bit down. So my Dad decided he would try to cheer me up and sent me a present. A box bearing the marks of Southwestern Distillery arrived. Underneath a mountain of packing chips was a bottle of Tarquin’s Gin and a card.
I had mentioned this gin to my Dad before as he lives down in Falmouth and I knew it was made nearby. Only after receiving the gin did I look it up – it is made 36 miles from his house. Good local gin. For those that don’t know, Tarquin’s Gin is made by Southwestern Distillery in Wadebridge on the north(ish) coast of Cornwall. They make their gin in batches of no more than 300 bottles at the time, each bottle corked, sealed, labelled and waxed by hand. Each bottle comes with a unique batch number and information about that batch’s individual tasting notes. The key botanicals in play here are hand-picked Devon violets and orange zest. These aren’t my favourite things in the world so I’m a bit cautious about what I’m about to drink.
Now the best part – drinking it. Peeling off a wax seal is one of the most satisfying feelings. The first smell that hits you is a strong citrus note – good start in my books. I pour out a measure with an equal amount of water. It smells like flowers, the citrus notes dropping off for the violet to come through. It smells quite sweet, which I’m not used to experiencing with a gin. I take my first sip. It’s very easy on the tongue for want of a better phrase. It doesn’t taste harsh or too strong (bottled at 42%). The zest comes through at the front of the mouth, giving way to the aromatics. It’s one of the most flavoursome gins I’ve ever had, there’s lots of tastes going on in my mouth. To quote my brilliant notes that I wrote: “Good hit to it. Definitely drinking gin. Not so powerful it’s overwhelming.” I clearly have a career in drink tasting ahead of me.
Deciding that I shouldn’t just drink straight gin, I mix a new drink with some tonic – because the real test of a gin is how it works as a G&T. To quote my rather brilliant notes again, “lovely stuff”. A hint of palma violets (can be added to the list of drinks that taste like sweets alongside Southern Comfort and Lemonade). My batch (104) has the tasting notes of candied oranges, and there is certainly a hint of it at the back of the throat. Not so much it is overpowering – which is good because (as we all know) I’m not an orange fan. But this tastes nice, the bitterness cuts through the sweet violets and balances quite nicely. It produces a very distinct flavour which, on first tasting I wasn’t super keen on. But I always believe in giving things a second chance, and once I had got used to the taste I found myself rather enjoying it.
Aside from the taste, the other thing that makes Tarquin’s Gin unique is that they have launched Taste with Tarquin.
To celebrate the unique tasting notes of each batch, they played with Apple’s FaceTime code so we can have a chat with Tarquin (sort of). I tried calling when I first tasted the gin but couldn’t get through. On my third attempt the call connected. Then the connection dropped. Twice. But once it finally worked it was good fun. It starts with Tarquin talking about Southwestern Distillery and what makes them different. Then you battle with voice recognition software to tell them your batch number. Tarquin (who, by the way, is rather beautiful) finds your bottle, pours a glass and tells you – well, pretty much what it says on the bottle. He told me my bottle tasted of orange. He wasn’t wrong. Then you have a chance to leave a video message. I think I accidentally left one going “your gin tastes like sweeeeeeeeeeetiiieeeeesssss thanks!” You’re welcome Tarquin.
Slightly disappointing FaceTime adventure aside, it’s a bloody good gin. If you’re into floral, aromatic gins then this is for you. According to their website, Tarquin’s isn’t available in Brighton yet, but is widely available around Devon and Cornwall and some places in London – you can find stockists here.