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On Sunday 8th September, I let the fat man inside me loose at the Speciality & Fine Food Fair 2013. The fat man inside me (we’ll call him Billy) was very happy about this.
The Speciality & Fine Food Fair happens once a year and is currently held at London Olympia. It features over 660 exhibitors, showcasing pretty much everything you can think of when it comes to food and drink. From artisan chocolates, curry pizzas, organic teas, to British ciders. They even promote POS systems (point of sales systems… tills). But not only does it showcase fine foods from across the globe and chocolate delights, SFFF also offers invaluable small business forums for the up and coming restaurateur or business owners, seminars to inspire and educate and the ever popular (Billy loved this one) live cookery demos.
This year’s chefs included Lawrence Keogh (The Wolseley), Lee Ward (The Delaunay), Rob Kennedy (Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst), Barry Johnson (Rococo Chocolates) and Andrew Gravett (Valrhona) to name but a few. Each chef demonstrated new trends and techniques in the constantly changing world of food and drink.
It would be easy for me to tell you about every single business that was there, but believe me; we’d be here for a long time. And as much as I’m sure you’d love hearing from me, after a while, it would be an over load. So, instead, I’ve picked out a few products that really stood out for me at the SFFF. Some you might know and some you will never have heard of before. All are definitely worth a mention as they each offer something delicious, and in some cases, a little bit naughty.
I arrived at SFFF at 10:00 and straight away I knew what I (and Billy) wanted, CHOCOLATE! Yes, chocolate. The healthy man’s breakfast of choice. There were over 60 chocolate stands this year, all as scrumptious (and in some cases bizarre) as the other. But there were 2 which I fell in love with. The first being Amelia Rope Chocolate (www.ameliarope.com).
Amelia has a fantastic range of chocolates, and each one is packaged beautifully. I had a little chat with Amelia and discovered that she used to be an aromatherapist, and using those skills, she blends her chocolates, which gives them a distinct characteristic. Some have an immediate hit of flavour and others have a more subtle and gentle quality. And quality is what Amelia Rope Chocolates are all about. I tried the Luxury Edition, a Pale Honey Roasted Pecan Nut & Sea Salt bar. Forget Billy, this is now all about me. WOW! The chocolate was silky smooth and the almonds were whole instead of chunks. You really felt spoilt eating chocolate of this standard. This is quite possibly the best chocolate bar in the world, and at nearly £10 a go, it has to be.
I then ran in to a very unusual brand called Brocks Chocs (www.brockschocs.com). I was immediately drawn to the stand because my eye caught a funny looking green thing in a bowl with a label saying “Lemon & Gin”. Straight away I was sold. I tried the chocolate piece and thought it was pretty nice. The lemon was subtle and not over bearing, but there wasn’t much gin to it. I then looked at the rest of the range and noticed that they had a pretty good selection of flavours ranging from strawberry to caramel to cola explosion.
I started to chat to a young man called Danesh Amin, and asked who owns this company, to which he replied “I do”. Danesh is a 16 year old teenager who started up Brocks Chocs in his family’s shed when he was 10 years old. 10 YEARS OLD!!! When I was that age, I was still learning how to tie my shoelaces up! The way he spoke about his chocolate was incredible. There was so much passion and drive and it was obvious that his heart and soul is completely in his product. To top it all off, he’s also a finalist in this year’s Quality Food and Drink awards in November for his Cola Explosion Chocolate. I predict great things for this young chocolatier.
After all that delicious chocolate, I needed something to wash it down with and decided to find the tea area. Tea has become something of a trend over the past couple of years, with the only thing separating them all is the out toffing (I created a new word!) of each other. Tea has become quite pretentious. Whatever happened to the good old PG Tip days?! I knew I needed a cuppa, but wasn’t holding out too much hope of finding something that sent my taste buds into over drive. But alas! There was something. Joe’s Tea Co (www.joesteacompany.com).
Ok, I’ll be honest. It was the guy who was serving the tea that got my attention to start off with. He was, well, tealicious (I’m sorry). We got chatting and he was telling me about the tea. The conversation went a bit like this.
“This tea seems interesting (hating myself for saying something so stupid like that). Can you tell me anything about it (yes, I want to hit me too)?”
“It’s organic and, well, it’s just tea.”
IT’S JUST TEA!!! Exactly people! Tea is just bloody tea!!! That was the most refreshing thing I’ve heard in a long time. And not only was he honest about it, but the tea was actually pretty great. I tried the Chocca-Roo-Brew and immediately loved it. No joke, I actually headed down to Harvey Nichols after the fair and bought myself a pack.
I still had a sweet tooth by this stage and felt like I needed another hit of something. I ended up walking past a load of glass kilner jars, brimming with popcorn. I’m not a lover of popcorn, but I thought I’d give it a try. I stuck my hand into the one labelled ‘mince pie’. Converted popcorn lover alert! Joe & Seph’s (www.joeandsephs.co.uk) popcorn is something I’ve never experienced before.
I’ve eaten a lot of strange things in my time, but nothing surprised me as much as this. You could really taste the candied fruits and those classic Christmas spices. The popcorn was light and fluffy and not at all chewy. For the first time in ages, I didn’t have to spend 10 minutes with my finger in my mouth trying to pick out a bit of popcorn that had got stuck in between my teeth! With over 30 flavours, a mix of sweet and savoury, you’re really spoilt for choice. If you like popcorn, you’ll love this. If you hate popcorn…you’ll love this too!
After all the excitement of popcorn, I needed something to calm my nerves. I headed over to the alcohol section. Whilst stumbling along, gasping for a drink to quench my thirst, I saw this fantastic looking medicine bottle, labelled Kamm & Sons (www.kammandsons.com).
Would this be the tonic to liven me up? You betcha! I first met Alex Kammerling (the creator) when I was the restaurant and events manager at The Hospital Club. I was attending a cocktail masterclass he was giving at a bar in Angel, North London. I remembered how much I liked the simplicity that is needed to turn this British aperitif in to a delicious long drink (that said, it is also delicious on the rocks). Kamm and Soms is an unusual drink. Distilled in the same way as gin, but with 45 natural botanicals including ginseng. It has a very light floral and anise tone to it with a bit of a honey note at the end. I personally prefer to drink this in a tall glass packed with ice and bitter lemon poured over. Simple, straight forward and refreshing.
I felt like I need some sustenance after that brief, yet effective, drinking session. I went for a stroll once more along the seemingly never ending walk ways, until I found myself at The Potted Game Company (www.pottedgame.com).
Potted game is pretty much the same as potted shrimp, but with game…instead of shrimp. I sampled the potted rabbit with cider and English mustard. The flavours married up together perfectly. The sweetness of the cider softened the richness of the rabbit, with a nice kick of mustard at the end which really rounded off the whole taste experience. That added with the clarified butter, which added a whole level of silkiness to the dish, created a wonderful product, which I would happily serve to my friends at one of my famously indulgent inner parties.
I now needed to bring it down a level from the potted game and wanted something that wasn’t so complex. May I present to you Bad Mama (www.badmamaclassic.com).
This is not for the faint hearted. This is some serious sauce! Bad Mama comes in 3 flavours. Classic, Hive (made with acacia honey) and Fresco (made with coriander). All three though, use the same chilli. The Scotch Bonnet Chilli. This type of chilli is friggin hot! Let me give you an idea of how hot this chilli is. A jalapeno measures between 2,500-8,000 on the Scoville scale (measures how hot chillies are). The Scotch Bonnet measure between 100,000-250,000 on the Scoville scale. My nostrils were streaming! No joke. There were tears in my eyes and snot galore. I was not a pretty sight. You first get a lovely taste of garlic and oil, and then, myself, I just tasted fire. I only tried the classic sauce, but the others did look fantastic, and I’m sure for those of you who love spicy food, you’d love this.
I decided that enough was enough and that I should head home. But before I left, I wanted one last drink to congratulate myself with. Not just for nearly blowing my head off with a chilli and surviving, but for getting through a whole day of eating and drinking. I went over to see the guys at the Chase Vodka bar (www.chasedistillery.co.uk). I’ve always enjoyed the Chase brand. Their vodkas and gins are fantastic and work well as a straight up martini or indeed in any cocktail (add a 10ml of Chase Marmalade Vodka to your next Mimosa. You’ll love it)! I got chatting to the bartender and he offered me something new, something that hadn’t yet reached the bars or any high street shop. I was one of the first to try their new cider.
Willy’s Cider. Made from their Herefordshire cider apples, this cider is a breath of fresh air from all the sweet rubbish coming in from all these obscure places. It has a delicious organic taste that isn’t too sweet and a nice, clean and crisp finish that makes for a perfect ending. A perfect ending for the drink, and also a perfect ending for me.