I’m occasionally asked by chef and restaurateur friends to come and eat at their places and give my opinions about their menus. I tend to avoid blogging these experiences as it’s a good way to lose friends, and besides my readers would think that my opinions were biased, and they’d probably be right.
However I did want to share my experience at my friend Dave’s place (the Wick-at-Both-Ends on West Street, in my hometown, Sheffield) for two reasons. Firstly to big them up for being a quality establishment (great cocktails, good food) in a sea of city centre mediocrity, and secondly to show you the pictures of their beautiful antique absinthe fountain (please click on them for a better view).
Absinthe was originally invented in Switzerland, originally as a medicinal drink, but it became most popular in 19th century Belle Époque France, especially with artists and writers who attributed drug like effects to drinking it, which ultimately led to it being banned. Science has since proved that absinthe is no different from any other alcohol in this respect but the reputation has remained.
Absinthe is known as ‘the Green Fairy’ because of its psychedelic reputation and the colour of the spirit (due to the inclusion of green anise). Absinthiana, the equipment needed for the preparation ritual, has become very collectible for its aesthetic beauty.
The traditional ‘French method’ of preparing is to put a sugar lump on a slotted absinthe spoon on a glass containing the absinthe and slowly drip iced water onto the cube and then into the drink turning it cloudy (absinthe was the forerunner of French pastis). This ‘louche effect’ creates a microemulsion of tiny oil droplets in the water, bringing out subtle flavours that wouldn’t be so apparent in the neat drink.
Absinthe fountains allow the water to be dripped evenly and slowly out of two, four or sometimes six spigots. This meant the fountain could be shared with groups of friends.
With the more modern (since the 90s) ‘Bohemian method’, also known as ‘The Flaming Green Fairy’, you douse the sugar cube in alcohol, set fire to it and drop it into the glass to ignite the spirit. The flames are then put out with a shot of water. Although more spectacular, purists say this spoils the taste of the alcohol.
I think we tried both methods but I wouldn’t like to say which was better!
Thing is, although I love the ritual I’m not actually that keen on the drink, which is unusual for me! I used to DJ at a night called Absinthesis that received sponsorship from a drinks producer in the form of free absinthe, so I remember the terrible hangovers only too well! It’s nice to pretend you’re a French artist for a couple of drinks though.
I love the art of the period. Check out these absinthe postcards.
The food was good too, but I’ll let the pictures do the talking for that.
Thanks to Dave, Chloe and all the staff at the Wick x