Friday, 28 December 2012

On Nature

The role of science in the craftsmanship of our drinks is often one of the most talked about factors for those who visit 69 Colebrooke Row. The ethos behind our menu is that nothing is ever finished; be it a classic cocktail or an entirely new creation, drinks are always subject to engineering. Each recipe is regarded in the same manner that a mechanic might look at an engine - as something that can be taken and put back together again. For us, not only will the drink still work once all its components are back in place, but it will also function on an entirely new level. 

In this way, using the science available at the bar's lab is a way for us to evolve what bartenders can do with the ingredients available to them, as well as add a new chapter to a pre-existing recipe rather than simply rewriting the book. Because science is used on a daily basis to help execute the concepts behind many of our drinks, it is often overlooked how much nature is an inspiration for the crafting of a new cocktail.

Nature has always been an inspiration for the arts encompassing the diverse terrains of painting, architecture, perfumery, fashion, photography, literature and cuisine. Nature has an inherent duality, incorporating as it does both growth and destruction and it is truly inspirational in its evocative ability to reinvent itself. Although nature is full of aesthetic pleasures, its beauty also comes from its clever design. For centuries, Japanese culture has revered nature as an ideal of beauty. Indeed, a defining part of Japanese culture is a deep awareness of nature’s seasons in order to work in synthesis with them. Seasonal culture is inherited from generation to generation and incorporates diverse traditions: from changing dishes and tablecloths, to horticulture and cuisine; this has been a real inspiration for the way in which we approach ingredients and cocktail-making at Colebrooke row.

The word shun which means ‘now-in-season’ is a long-held principle for selecting local food produced in its season. Japanese cooking reflects the natural environment that surrounds it. Apart from being thought of as a tasty and healthy way of eating, it also has cultural value. When it comes to food, the experience of eating includes smell and taste, as well as the sight of the food which is considered an important kind of art. Decorations and colours of the dish are aligned with the season. White is for the winter, pink and green are for the spring, red and green (or purple) are for the summer and orange and yellow are for the autumn. 

In addition, utensils for eating are also 'seasonal.' Deep bowls, which give a  'warm feeling', are used in the winter to keep the heat, whilst in the summer, wide shallow bowls which allow more air exposure are used. These dishes are decorated seasonally too - a sakura pattern in the spring and a red-leaved pattern in the autumn. Glassware which signifies ice is used in the summer to promote a cool-feeling. 

At Colebrooke Row we are huge fans of Kigo, the Japanese shochu. In Japanese, the word Kigo denotes specific terms used to describe seasonal events. For example, haru is the name of the spring but the morning time in spring is called shungyoo. The spring thunder is called shunrai but thunder in the summer is termed kaminari. When it comes to using Kigo in cocktails we like to keep in mind the beautiful six-generation Kyo-ya distillery in Nichinian, Kysushu where the spirit is distilled. Its woodland surrounding and fresh water stream are often focal points for the way in which Kigo is incorporated in our drinks.  In this way, we try to draw what is best from that which nature offers us, remove what is unnecessary and accentuate what is most desirable..

Monday, 17 December 2012

FASHION: From Catwalk To Plate To Cocktail Bar

In its various incarnations, the love affair between food and fashion is booming. There aren’t many who wouldn’t agree that a beautiful dish is style on a plate. This is perhaps why collaborations between chefs and designers have become more and more commonplace in recent years.  The artistry and craftsmanship inherent to the culinary world lend themselves to the design and aesthetic values of fashion houses, both big and small. Helmut Newton, trailblazing as always, was perhaps the first to pioneer the modern transcendence between the two disciplines. With his signature sense of louche, Newton’s foray into luxuriant surfaces naturally led him to the world of food.  In a 1974 shoot for American Vogue, Hewton snapped Jerry Hall squeezing a fistful of raw meat against her face. The later series ‘Chicken and Jewellery’ depicts crude, sexualised food-play as a hand bedecked with a blinding diamond bracelet and ring rips apart a greasy cooked chicken. In these beautiful photographs, fashion, kink and food are all at play with one another.

A cure for a black eye, Helmut Newton

Chicken and Jewellery, Helmut Newton

In recent years international chefs have been commissioned by fashion houses to construct menus which reflect the values of a fashion brand’s aesthetic. The iconic Italian fashion house Trussardi took this idea one step further by opening its own restaurant: Trussardi alla Scala is the gastronomic extension of the Trussardi brand. The director and chef Andrea Burton, was employed to create a style that imitates the brand's fashion formula by partnering culinary tradition with an avant-garde, technical approach. 

The result has been internationally acclaimed, and has made the Milanese restaurant one of the most desirable addresses in Italy. In fact, the Trussardi alla Scala initiative has been so inspiring that Ralph Lauren and Marc Jacobs have both followed suit with projects to explore their creativity in the culinary field. In this way, Trussardi were the first to realise that fashion can transcend the runway and the pages of glossy magazines: the new style is style on a plate. Commenting on the collaboration, Trussardi sums up the fashion brand’s holistic aspirations nicely: 'Through excellence it is possible to produce culture in any field - from fashion to design, from art to food.'

Trussardi Alla Scala, Milan

In a recent Nowness Feature, friend of Colebrooke Row and chef extraordinaire, Nuno Mendes explains the raison d’etre behind his collaboration with designer Julia Muggenburg in their shoot for The Gourmand Journal. When asked how to take culinary approach to a style shoot Mendes responds:

'I wanted to both mimic and contrast with Julia's incredible wardrobe and jewellery. For me it is a delicate and beautiful thing - it is dainty, and I wanted to showcase food in the same way. Like food, it is a garnish that we apply to the body in the same way that we use ingredients to decorate dishes and so we wanted to continue with this same idea - we garnish to extend its value.' 

To read the full interview, visit

Mendes & Muggenburg shoot for The Gourmand

Newton, Trussardi and Mendes all seem to share the same understanding when it comes to cuisine and design, so if food and fashion are such comfortable bed-mates, why is it that the drinks world is taking so long to get in on the fun? Considering the aesthetic inherent in drinking culture and the diverse inspirations that cocktails are born of, it seems strange that fashion hasn't had more influence on the cocktail world. At Colebrooke Row, we've spent some time over the past couple of years trying to bridge the gap. With Tony's history of working in the fashion world, it seemed natural to collaborate with fashion houses, particularly for the launch parties of new ranges. A good example of this is Ralph Lauren's launch of their vintage denim range in Spring 2011. In keeping with the brand's style, ethos and personality, we created a bottled cocktail 'Tiger Milk', labelled with beautiful original artwork. Later commissions by Roland Mouret continued the burgeoning partnership between the drinks and fashion worlds, one which we hope to see blossom in 2013...

Bottled Tiger Milk Cocktail

Somerset Egg Nog

With Christmas looming, below is the recipe for Somerset Egg Nog as featured in Tony's book 'Drinks'. The perfect excuse for a festive tipple.


- eggs, separated 
- 300g sugar
- 300ml single cream
- 600ml whole milk
- 150ml Breton cider
- 150ml cider brandy 
- freshly grated apple and nutmeg, to garnish 

As with food, drink recipes (particularly punch) are passed down via families and friends, with each generation adding its own twists. I first sampled, and then inherited, this recipe from Dale Degroff, who in turn was taught it by his uncle Angelo. Dale's recipe uses bourbon and spiced rum and I exchanged these for cider brandy and cider.

Cider brandy gives this drink a wonderful kick whilst simultaneously adding spice and dryness. The carbonation of the cider makes the mix fluffy. On paper the ingredients suggest a heavy, stocky drink, but the order and method ensure that the end product is light and yielding.

1. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar to form a batter. Add the cream and milk and whisk  thoroughly. Continue whisking while slowly adding the cider and cider brandy.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold the whites into the batter mix.

3. Serve in a large bowl and ladle into small cups or glasses.

4. To garnish, grate fresh apple over the drink and top each cup with a sprinkling of grated nutmeg.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Essence of an Italian Christmas

Here at Colebrooke Row this week we've been well and truly bitten by the festive bug. The bar is looking suitably Christmasy and we have a new winter libation by the name of St. James' Gate due next week for its first appearance on the Colebrooke menu. Featuring a delicious Guinness and treacle reduction, we love this new winter warmer.

Inspired by Tony's inherited egg nog recipe, this week we've been looking into Italian traditions surrounding the Christmas holidays and salivating over food and drink recipes. In fact, the very essence of Christmas Day in Italy is family, food and talking, all of which occurs in abundance; whole families come together to celebrate with traditions that have been handed down for generations and to start new ones of their own.

Light and Decorations 

Celebrating Christmas with festive lights and decorations is something that the whole of Italy embraces. Often beginning around December 8th on the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, decorations tend to follow religious tradition and focus on the nativity scene. Almost every church will partake with their own nativity and they are often found outdoors in piazzas as well. Traditionally bonfires are usually held on Christmas Eve in a town's main square, especially in mountain areas. 

Torino, in north Italy, is one of the most impressive places for lights. Over twenty kilometres of streets and squares are illuminated from late November to early January. In Verona, an illuminated arch with a huge star points to the Christmas market.

Present Time

Most Italians open their presents on Christmas Day morning or after lunch, although some with stoic patience wait until the Epiphany on January 6th. Traditionally, children receive a long, colourful stocking (la calza) filled to the brim with sweets if they have been good; but if they have been bad then Christmas morning will reveal a stocking full of 'coal' (black sugar). According to tradition, it's not Santa Claus who delivers gifts to expectant children across the world but rather La Befana - a kind witch. It is thought that she followed the three wise men but got lost and has been wandering ever since, handing out presents to children on Ephinany eve.

Food and Drink 

Christmas Nougat

 Depending on the region and religious beliefs, the Christmas season commences at different times but December 24th and 25th are the most important days and they encompass a two-day feast. According to the Italian Catholic tradition, the Christmas Eve meal consists almost entirely of fish, with plentiful courses sometimes amassing to six or seven different fish dishes. Antipasto seafood salad, fettuccine with smoked salmon, dried and salted cod, fried eel with peas and polenta or a stuffed trout are often amongst the evening's offerings.

Christmas Day lunch is an orgiastic symphony of food and talking. A stuffed pasta such as tortellini or cappelletti or crostini with liver pate often begins the day's eating. The next course of a stuffed goose, pig's foot stuffed with spiced mince meat, or il cotechino - a sausage made from pig's intestines are particularly popular in northern Italy although in southern Italy the seafood bonanza continues. An abundance of side dishes, such as artichokes cooked in white wine, or a gratin of vegetables roasted in the oven are also served up.

The sweet side of things are equally important to the Christmas meal. Many of the traditional recipes originated in convents, where the nuns made special types of sweets to mark major religious  holidays and offered them to eminent and noble families from which their mother superiors came. Most Christmas sweets contain nuts and almonds as, according to peasant folklore, eating nuts aids the fertility of the land and those who dwell upon it. As such, post-Christmas lunch sweet-treats will include nougat, pandoro - a light, golden cake and panforte, a gingerbread with hazelnuts, honey and almonds.   

The most traditional Christmas cake is the Milanese panettone. Legend has it that the cake was first baked in the sixteenth century, when a baker named Antonio fell in love with a princess and baked a golden, buttery egg bread to win her heart. Over the years the name of the bread evolved into panettone and in the nineteenth century, with the unification of Italy, the bread was embellished with candied red cherries and green citron as a patriotic gesture. Delicious.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

The Fifties and the Rise of Italian Fashion

Behind the Scenes at a fifties fashion show
More than simply fashion, a piece of clothing emblazoned with the words 'Made in Italy' is emblematic of a certain kind of lifestyle; it is a label that has become synonymous with good taste, attention to detail and quality. Italy has always maintained a rich and multifarious affair with fashion. However, a distinctive Italian look had yet to emerge until the 1950s - a decade of pioneering experimentation and a time in which Italy's sense of fashion bloomed.

As is its want, fashion is determined by both political and social changes. From the twelfth century, right through until the early twentieth century, Italy thrived as an exporter of luxury fashion items, textiles and small leather goods. However, an insecure government structure resulted in the absence of a unified Italian fashion centre and so estranged the country's fashion artists from competing in the global market.

For the first part of the twentieth century, France monopolised the world of fashion, with Paris recognised as both the epicentre of chic and the global leader in couture culture. Italy, like much of the world, looked abroad for the latest fashions; wealthy women travelled to Paris to buy their clothes; wealthy men had their suits and shoes custom-made in London. The Italian middle classes employed dressmakers and tailors to produce copies of the latest Paris and London styles.

Christian Dior
As World War Two drew to a close, a lapse in overseas communications waylaid France's domineering fashion force. By 1950, America was gaining on France's heels, offering an alternate view of fashion as comfortable, durable and sporty as opposed to tailored and refined. From this dichotomy came the rise of ready-to-wear. French couturiers such as Christian Dior and Jacques Fath were simplifying their designs to sell to American department stores and New York boutiques alike. The post-war Italian government actively sought ways to help the nation recover from the war's economic damage. One early success was the revival of traditional craft-based products - shoes, leather goods and other accessories, for an export market aimed at the United States, which at this point was the only large country in the world with substantial post-war purchasing power. The middle-ground that lay between the French and American take on ready-to-wear was provided by Italian fashion designers, who saw the need for collections which combined accessibility and comfort with refined, elegant design.

A crucial step in bringing Italian Fashion to an international platform was the first multi-designer Italian fashion show held in Florence in 1951. Florentine business man Giovan Battista successfully organised a fashion show of Italy's most promising designers including the pioneering works of Sorelle Fontana, Contessa Visconti, Emilio Pucci, Baroness Gallotti and Bertoli. The fashion press were enthused, reporting the show using rapturous phrases such as seductive elegance and aristocratic ease. The American fashion press in particular took notice and observed too that Italian dresses were coming onto the market at prices far lower than those for French creations. High-end American department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdof Goodman, sent representatives to review the collection and consequently the designs of Capucci, Fabiani and Sorelle Fontana were transported back to the States.

Myrna Loy in That Dangerous Age
Rome's oldest and most prominent fashion house - Sorelle Fontana, is the success story of three sisters, Zoe, Micol and Giovanna who learnt dressmaking from their mother. Making the bold decision to move their dressmaking business to Rome at the beginning of the Second World War, the sister's glamorous designs were inspired by Christian Dior's New Look, which clung to the bust-line with full, swinging skirts. The three sisters had grand aspirations. Initially sought after by the Italian aristocracy, after the success of the Florence fashion show in 1951, the Fontana's developed their Italian informal but feminine style to appeal to the American market. This was a liberating moment for Italian fashion designers: for the first time they were commercially freed from foreign influence.

Sorelle Fontana design in La Dolce Vita
Hollywood began to take notice. The Fontana designs first caught the eye of Myrna Loy who bought all her costumes from the sisters for her film That Dangerous Age. The following year they made Linda Christian's wedding dress when she married Tyrone Power. The cassock dress, based on robes worn by Roman Catholic priests and worn by Ava Gardner, and the infamous dress worn by Anita Ekberg in the La Dolce Vita fountain scene, catapulted the Fontana designs into the most exclusive wardrobes of the era. Gardner and Ekberg were the perfect Fontana client and model - unashamedly and voluptuously sexy and already known for their alluring and elegant dressing.

Audrey Hepburn in Sorelle Fontana

Glamorous and sophisticated evening gowns and cocktail dresses designed by Pucci, Contessa Visconit and Sorelle Fontana were worn by both Italian and Hollywood movie stars both on and off-screen, most notably by Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly. First ladies soon took their cue and Jackie Kennedy and Mamie Eisenhower continued to display Italian design in the public eye. In addition to breathtaking cocktail dresses, throughout the 1950s, competing fashion shows in Florence and Rome solidified Italy's reputation for Capri pants, 'palazzo pyjamas,' and other youthful, elegant sportswear.

The continuing unity between life and film brought worldwide recognition to Italy and propelled Rome into the running for most glamorous international city. During the fifties, Italy created an empire of post-war fashion, and enjoyed an influential and unforgettable decade of style sovereignty.