Archive for absinthe

Getting it on with the Green Fairy

Posted in City Centre, England, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, United Kingdom, West Street, Yorkshire with tags , , on March 20, 2015 by gannet39

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.

20140514_221143However 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).

20140514_221353Absinthe 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.

20140514_221227Absinthe 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.

20140514_221914The 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.

20140514_221640Absinthe 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.

20140514_221236With 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!

20140514_224334Thing 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.

20140514_210039_2 20140514_210019_1 20140514_210015_2 20140514_210353

Thanks to Dave, Chloe and all the staff at the Wick x

Los Austrias – Old Madrid

Posted in Madrid Comunidad, Spain with tags , , , on April 12, 2011 by gannet39

A great way to learn more about local food culture is to go on a guided tapas tour. There are several available in the city but one of the best is the Old Madrid Tour run by Andres Jarabo. Andres is a local (unlike many of the other guides) and is a member of the Spanish Wine Tasting Association.

The tour takes in four stops and includes six kinds of tapas and at least five different Spanish wines, and lasts three or four hours for a cost of €59. The tour goes around Madrid’s oldest barrio, Los Austrias (south of Calle Major between the Opera and Sol metro stations) the layout of which has a distinctly village feel to it, as indeed this is what it used to be before King Phillip II moved the court here in 1561.

Our group of foodies included three Texans, two Dutch, two Poles and two Australians which made for lots of interesting cross-cultural conversation around the table.

The first stop was the venerable Casa Paco tavern for a traditional aperitif of sweet red Vermouth and some excellent green olives.

Casa PacoCasa Paco bar
The name vermouth comes from the German ‘wermut’ , known as wormwood in English, a plant traditionally used for improving the flavour of cheap wines.  Vermouth and olives
Wormwood is also used in Absinthe, the supposedly hallucinogenic tipple beloved by French writers and bohemians, which was also available behind the bar. Wormwood contains small amounts of the chemical ‘thujone’ to which the supposedly psychedelic properties of absinthe has been attributed, leading to it being banned in many countries by 1915. In fact thujone in absinthe is not as harmful as once thought and since the 1990’s, the ‘green fairy’ has been making a comeback. The Spanish version however contains thujone to the upper limits allowed by EU law.


We were also taken into the back room of the Casa Paco to see the photos of famous past clients, including Penelope Cruz and King Juan Carlos, who truth be known, both seem to get around a lot of the local restaurants.

Next stop was Cantina La Traviesa for a glass of dry Manzanilla sherry, and a  preliminary plate of Iberico ham and strong mature Manchego cheese.

Iberico and Manchego

The Manzanilla was a Pasada (aged for seven years using the Solera system) from the town of Sanlucar de Barrameda where it is bottled without any chemical or mechanical processing, unlike the vast majority of sherries.

Manzanilla Pasada sherry

It also goes exceedingly well with grilled seafood which is the house speciality here, the owner having worked for twenty five years at Mercamadrid, the world’s second largest fish market, located out on the edges of the city.

Grilled seafood

La Traviesa is on Calle Cuchilleros, near El Sobrino de Botin, the world’s oldest (continuously used) restaurant since 1725 (see separate post).
Ana, the chef at the next restaurant we went to (D’Fabula at Plaza del Conde de Barajas-thanks Adam) specialises in modern Spanish cuisine. She works  in two-star Michelin restaurants and has won the ‘Best Chef in Madrid’ award for 2008. We were treated to her updated version of Migas, a traditional Iberian shepherd’s dish normally made of loose breadcrumbs mixed with peppers, garlic, chorizo and grapes, which can be quite hearty. This was a lighter smaller version consisting of balls of deepfried migas with a grape foam, which was completely delicious.

Michelin Migas
Our final stop was Bahiana Club a wine and tapas bar with bright modern decor hidden up a side street. Here Andres presented us with a series of excellent wines beginning with a white Rioja accompanied by a plate of huge mussels in a tomato and white wine sauce.


This was followed by a great red Rioja (Luberri Maceración Carbónica 2010) with amazing bubble gum flavours and a hefty ‘punch’ (the powerful final burst of flavour in the mouth that Rioja is famed for) which went very well with a brace of small and very juicy Empanadas, or more correctly Empanadillas given their size.


The star for most of us though was the Ribera de Duero (2000) red from Bodegas Alion  (2000) which was quite simply stunning, its notes changing in the glass and in your mouth every time you went to it.

Ribera de Duero

This was served with a plate of sizzling lightly seared Iberico pork, salty mashed potatoes and halved strawberries which when combined are an excellent combination with the wine.

Iberico with strawberries and mash

The next reds, Santa Rosa Reserva (1999) from Enrique Mendoza in Alicante and the Ribera del Duraton (1998) from Castilla y Leon, were also very interesting but the final Gran Barquero a Pedro Ximenez from Montilla, Cordoba, was so incredibly dense and sweet that it completely blew us all away.

Gran Barquero, Pedro Ximenez

It tastes like liquid raisins and goes incredibly well with Cabrales blue cheese from Asturias in the North. It also combines well with vanilla ice cream or Cuban cigars apparently.


Sadly a survey of wine merchants on the internet showed that most of these older wines are now long gone from the shelves as they have received their last 7 or 8 years of ageing in private cellars. However, Andres  recommended his favourite wine merchant Santa Cecilia in Moncloa as a good place to find collectable wines. His selections for the tour were impeccable and gave all of us many unique taste experiences.  Many thanks Andres!



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