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Highlights of 2016 for Binny’s Kitchen & Travel Diaries

2016 has been a whirlwind year where plenty of Mojitos were consumed, lots of new friendships were made, several destinations were visited, both in the UK and abroad, and lots of dining out occurred at various new and classic restaurants!

Best Mojito of 2016

First things first! My favourite Mojito was at the Langham hotel. Trust me I have had a lot of Mojitos in the name of research to come to this conclusion 😉

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Now we can carry on to the rest of the year. Here is my round up of my year with lots of photos.

January

The year started quietly as we had just returned from a trip back home in Kenya which had been pretty hectic with a wedding to attend and some family time split between Mombasa and Nairobi. The highlight of January however, was getting to meet Jason Atherton and getting a signed cook book. I somehow managed to win an Instagram competition on Jason’s feed and had won a meal for 2 at his restaurant Social Wine and Tapas, which was brilliant. I didn’t take my camera though and didn’t blog about it. A lesson I learned from and didn’t repeat for the rest of the year. That camera is permanently in my handbag!

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February

The shortest month of the year and we had our first staycation of the year in Nottingham. It was fun exploring the city and visiting the castle. The highlight of the staycation was visiting the Kitty Café because if you know me you know I am a super crazy cat lady!

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In London we also visited the Magic lantern festival and that was quite spectacular! I hope that there is something similar to see next year!

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March

March was the only month where I seem to have stayed in and cooked more than I went out for some bizarre reason. I did however go to Hoppers London for some Egg Hoppers, which has definitely been a very fabulous experience.

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I also had Bao, and fell in love with the Horlicks Bao. It is heavenly!

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April

April was a month of celebrations with my Blog having its first year anniversary as well as it being our sixth wedding anniversary! We celebrated both and went for meals to Bob Bob Ricard, famous for its “Press for Champagne” button/switch as well as one of my favourites, and evidently a favourite of Michel Roux Jr too, Michelin starred Gymkhana.

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With spring settling in we also visited the Cotswolds for a weekend trip and stayed at The Falcon, in the very cute and quaint town of Painswick.

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We also celebrated our anniversary with a long haul trip to Mauritius where we stayed at the St Regis, which was out of this world.

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May

May was the UK Blog Awards 2016 ceremony for which I was a finalist in both the Food & Drink and Travel categories. My work bff Anne came to stay the night with me to attend the ceremony, along with Mandy, and we went to the ceremony in a chauffeur driven BMW 7 series which had massage seats! Thank you to BMW for that little treat!

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The next day we went on a road trip to Liverpool, and Amit and I explored the city and had a memorable meal at Mowgli Street Food. If you go to Liverpool it is a must try!

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I went on my first ever press trip abroad too and to a destination I had visited when I was 15! It was to St. Malo in Brittany and it was such a lovely trip and I ate all the Salted Caramel I could, as well as some delicious pancakes. I got to go with my blogger friends Sandra, Omo and Eulanda and we had such a fabulous time.

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June

June was the start of good weather and I enjoyed the Taste of London festival, a food festival where you can try dishes from most of the restaurants in London.

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Got to catch up with one of my faves – Chef Vivek Singh too and got a copy of his book.

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I also got to meet one of my food heroes in June and had the opportunity to have a short interview with him – the legendary Antonio Carluccio. He is such a cutie! He did answer a very important question I had for him too. Click on the link on his name above to find out what!

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I also went for a fix of Asma Khan’s delicious food at Druid Street Market, where proceeds of her food went towards charity. Excited to have more of her amazing dishes in 2017.

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June was also the month I worked on my first big campaign with Nescafe! It was such fun to shoot and it is my favourite brand of coffee too so worked out perfectly.

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July

In July we made the most of the gorgeous weather and visited Rye, were we stayed at the marvellous Gallivant hotel. If you are thinking of visiting Rye, it is such a gorgeous hotel!

I also took a day out to volunteer at the charity I wholeheartedly support, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Amit and I make it a point to do this yearly. To find out how you too can help have a read about it here.

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I had my fix of summer ice cream in Suffolk too with a dose of some much needed beach time and some fantastic Indian food at Sea Spice restaurant in Aldeburgh.

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The highlight of the month, however, (and I probably am showing my craziness here), was meeting Grumpy Cat! I stood by myself in a queue for an hour and a half and no I am not ashamed to admit it lol.

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August

August started with a super fun tea-athon with Starwood hotels and I later returned to review my favourite afternoon tea venue at the Sheraton Grand London.

The launch party of the much anticipated Symmetry Breakfast cook book was also in August and could not be happier for Michael Zee. It was an extra special evening as Michael proposed to Mark in the book and at the launch party and a few tears of joy were shared.

Amit’s birthday is in August and this year I treated him to a 3 Michelin star meal at the Waterside inn. We loved our meal and even had the opportunity to meet Chef Alain Roux as well as get a sneak peek into the kitchen.

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September

September was a month of travel for me and we started off with a Mediterranean Cruise with P&O where we sailed to Cadiz, Barcelona, Monaco, Rome and Naples. I also got to meet the lovely Karen from Lavender and Lovage as well as Amanda from Glamourous Glutton on the trip and we all had such a fantastic time!

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As part of the cruise, we had a dinner date with THE James Martin and I am sure everyone is sick of me gushing about him now but I can’t help it. I love the man and especially love his monkey bread and snickers ice cream too.

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I bravely went to Mexico City by myself too to attend the Latin America 50 Best Restaurant awards and this was such a wonderful experience and such a superbly organized press trip. I got to experience the food, culture, arts and main sights in Mexico City.

October

I went to the glitzy Sheraton Grand London relaunch party with my blogger friends Em and Aftab and had a fun filled evening of champagne, good chat and fantastic food.

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I also went to a pasta making masterclass hosted by Theo Randall which was great fun. Most of the month was spent planning our upcoming trip to Dubai and India.

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November

November is always my favourite month as it is my Birthday month! This year I decided to have my birthday meals at Michelin starred Kai in Mayfair, a birthday brunch with my favourite bloggers Angie from Silverspoon London and Aftab from Fresh and Fearless in the Mirror room at Rosewood London and a very special meal with Amit at Vineet Bhatia London.

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We then flew to Dubai, where we stayed at the Sheraton Dubai Creek, and spent a few days on a family holiday.

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We then went onwards to India where we visited Bhuj and my husband’s ancestral home, followed by a luxurious break in Mumbai at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, which had been high on my list of hotels to visit.

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December

December kicked off with one of my favourite meals of the year at Jamavar. If you haven’t been yet it is a must! I have already been twice and already looking for excuses to go back. If anyone wants to go with me let me know!

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I was also lucky to meet another food hero, Eric Lanlard at his Patisserie ,Cake boy thanks to Meantime Brewing Company. To kick off the festive period we made some Mince Pies with a special ingredient – Cake Boy’s Hazelnut Ale. Utterly scrumptious!

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For the rest of the month I have spent some much needed time relaxing, catching up with family and friends and spending some time getting to know my brand new godson.

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2016 has been a wonderful year and I am so grateful for all the experiences I have been fortunate to have, especially in terms of travel, and for the fantastic friends I have made along the way. I am really looking forward to 2017, which is set to be a year of change for me in terms of career.

As for New Years Resolutions, I want to continually improve on my blog, spend some time improving my photography and getting to use my Canon 760D better and learn Spanish (Geri if you are reading this I am learning Spanish for my return to Mexico one day).

The travel priority is going home to Kenya as I didn’t manage to make it home this year. We have also booked a weekend in Paris so am looking forward to that too.

What have been the highlights of 2016 for you? I would love to know in the comments section below.

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The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Mumbai

Ever since I watched a documentary on BBC about the five star ultra luxe Taj Majal Palace Mumbai, it has been high on my list of hotels to stay at. Whilst planning my trip to Mumbai, I asked my blogger friend Ayushi from The Foodie Diaries, who is from India, where she would recommend staying. She suggested Taj Mahal Palace and my mind was made up!

I booked it and anxiously waited for the time to arrive to check into the iconic, grand and luxurious hotel, built in 1903 by Jamshetji Tata. It is the Tata group’s flagship hotel and has made history several times since its establishment.

The motivation to build the hotel was invoked when Jamshetji read a sign outside the Watson hotel that stipulated “Dogs and Indians not allowed.” This infuriated him so much he decided to build a grander hotel welcome to all and thus the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel was born.

Situated opposite the iconic Gateway of India, it was the first hotel in India to have electricity, the first licensed bar, the first all day dining restaurant and the first discotheque. In addition, it was Mumbai’s first harbour landmark.

Popular with socialites, celebrities and even presidents, it has had a long list of well known people staying there and after staying there I have come to understand why. The service, the grandeur, the luxurious interiors is like no other that I have experienced before. I think I have caught the Taj bug myself!

Famous guests include the Obamas, Kate Middleton and Prince William, Sir David Attenborough, the Queen, Hilary Clinton, just to name a few. It has also been a popular choice for weddings and I can imagine just how spectacular a wedding ceremony at this hotel would be.

It all started with our arrival, which was far from the stand in front of the reception desk filling out forms, standing awkwardly while your passport gets photocopied and your card is swiped ahead of any room expenses you may incur.

Instead, we were given the biggest warm welcome and smiles and ushered to a comfortable lounge area and offered a welcome drink. Meanwhile, a lady dressed in a beautiful saree arrived with an Aarti plate and did a little welcome ceremony with a candle. She then gave us necklaces, called Tulsi Malas. They are thought to ward off evil, bring good fortune, and clear your aura. I loved the gesture and the meaning behind it and thought it was such a lovely touch.

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The decor in the reception area was just phenomenal and it caught every single person’s attention. Just look at the flower arrangement! It got photographed so much by people and is really eye catching.

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In the reception area, also lies a tribute to the hotel staff and guests who tragically lost their lives in the Mumbai Terror Attacks. Their names are all inscribed into the wall and every evening candles are lit. There is also the name of Lucy, a brave dog who was shot dead by the terrorists. The tree that can be seen is one of the remnants of the attack and is now called the Tree of life. I thought this was such a lovely way to remember the victims of the attack and also commend the bravery of the hotel staff who put their lives at risk to protect the guests.

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While we were in the lounge area, our room keys were brought to us and we were explained a little about where everything we needed was, and then were taken up to our room, which was in the restored Palace wing side of the hotel. The other side is the Tower wing.

Our room had a view of the pool and was just such a stunning room! It had a large comfortable bed, the bathroom was just dreamy and I loved all the little touches. We even had a butler service.

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The in room amenities included a mini bar which was stocked really well. Water was complimentary.

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Once we had freshened up, we went exploring around the hotel and the grounds are just so beautiful!

We loved sitting by the pool and having coffee and just relaxing! It was so peaceful and an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of Mumbai. I temporarily forgot where I was.

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This swing was also a favourite spot and it turned out it has so many memories for so many people of their childhood visits to the hotel.

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In the evening we also went for the Heritage tour, which is daily and tells you more about the history of the hotel as well as shows you the key venues and artwork, of which there is a rather impressive collection in the art gallery which can be purchased. It is really worth doing and so interesting.

We learned that the teak panelling on the wall in the picture below was once the Air India counter!

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For me one of the many highlights of the Taj was the spectacular breakfast spread. There was seriously something for everyone! Do not miss breakfast whatever you do!

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We had our breakfast outside and enjoyed the warm weather in the beautiful seating area, which was so bright and colourful. The top was covered so there was no invasion of our food by any creepy crawlies or birds and it was weather proof too.

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In terms of food, the hotel has so many amazing choices including Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Street Food and cafe style food, as well as a Patisserie. We tried the street food and the Chinese restaurant, called Golden Dragon, which were both amazing. The Pani Puri was a must order!

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I wish I had a longer stay and as it got closer to the time to leave I got sadder and sadder and already mentally planned a return visit!

The Taj Mahal Palace is located in the southernwest point of the City in Colaba, and is opposite the Gateway of India.

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Close by are many famous markets such as Crawford and Chor Bazaar, shops, restaurants, as well as the famous Leopold Cafe.

If you are planning a trip to Mumbai and want somewhere amazing to stay I can’t recommend the Taj Mahal Mumbai Palace enough. It has a serious wow factor, is stunning and the service is just exceptional. I am now looking forward to trying out some of the other Taj hotels.

I received a media rate for this stay. All views and photos are my own.

 

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City Spice on Brick Lane

One of the things to tick off your London adventure list is to have a curry on Brick Lane. It was the Bangladeshi community who first brought the curry houses to Brick Lane and today there are so many choices to choose from on Brick lane, Hanbury Street and Whitechapel road.

One, called City Spice, situated on Brick Lane itself, near the Vintage Market, has been hailed the King of Brick Lane. I went for lunch one Sunday to check it out for myself.

The cuisine is classic Bangladeshi curry house dishes and they feature some of their award winning dishes on the menu too. Whilst we pondered about what to order, we nibbled on some Papad and an assortment of chutneys. The restaurant itself is lovely, spacious, recently refurbished and the staff are really attentive and friendly.

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I have a particular love for food cooked in a Tandoor and so we decided to try the Paneer Tikka. The paneer was marinated really well in a spiced yoghurt sauce and was served with onions and a fresh salad. It was delicious, smokey and melt in your mouth.

Amit loves Kebabs and so we decided to try the Kebab Cocktail, which had an assortment of chicken and lamb tikka with kebabs. It was really good and I loved the variety.

For mains, upon recommendation from the owner, Amit opted for the Sylheti Lamb Shank, which was hotter than the other choices on the menu. This dish is tender lamb shanks cooked Bengali style whereby they are slow roasted with aromatic herbs, spices and saffron. Amit loved this and he said the pieces fell of the bone wonderfully.

I went for Butter Chicken and I am pretty predictable with my orders! It was sweeter than the Indian version of the dish, cooked in a mild sauce, and I loved the buttery flavours and the chicken was cooked perfectly.

Both of us are more bread than rice fans so we went for naan breads, which were lovely, fluffy and warm.

A side of mixed raita was a welcome match for the dishes with its cooling nature and a must have for every meal.

We really enjoyed our meal and were so full we couldn’t even manage dessert! The menu is extensive and there are really good choices for both  vegetarians and non-vegetarians. They are also very flexible when it comes to dietary requirements and allergies.

If you haven’t had a curry on Brick Lane yet, City Spice is a lovely restaurant to have your first experience. For more information go to http://city-spice.london

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The Captain’s Mince Pie Freakshake

This Christmas why not up your Mince Pie game and leave Santa a Captain’s Mince Pie Freakshake to indulge in whilst he is delivering presents? I am sure he would really appreciate it as rumours suggest that he is  a rum fan and has a weakness for Freakshakes 😉

Alternatively you could impress your guests and make it on Christmas Day for a fun twist whilst enjoying a fabulous feast. This would really up your mince pie and hosting game!

It is so easy to make and fun to assemble.

Makes 4 (2 units per serve)

Ingredients:

200ml Captain Morgan Original Spiced

200ml mince pie syrup

500ml milk

6 scoops vanilla ice cream

Mince pies (to serve)

Method:

1. In a pan mix 600g mincemeat, 200g sugar and 200ml water. Bring to the boil and chill for 30 minutes.

2. In a blender, whizz the milk, ice cream, mince pie syrup and Captain Morgan Original Spiced rum. Pour into a mason jar or tall glass.

3. Decorate glass with syrup and sprinkles. Place mince pies on top of the glass and stab a straw through to drink.

PS: You can make it more fun by adding marshmallows and other naughty treats as calories don’t count during Christmas!

Disclaimer: This post is in collaboration with Captain Morgan Original Spiced Gold.

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My 10 Favourite restaurants of 2016

In 2016 I sure loved eating out…a lot! To choose ten favourites has been incredibly tough but after much contemplation here they are with a little bit of categorisation and reasoning why. Hopefully it will inspire you to try some of them out 🙂

  1. Best newcomer – Jamavar London

It has only been open since the beginning of December and I have already dined there twice which is very unusual for me! With a fantastic menu, ambience and service, this is a restaurant at the tip of my tongue for recommendations at the moment. Bravo to Chef Rohit Ghai for such a fantastic and authentic dining experience.

Jamavar London

2. Best Tasting menu – Vineet Bhatia London

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When I heard that Vineet Bhatia had reopened in London with a new name and concept it was promptly booked for my birthday dinner and it was simply marvellous! A must do for a special occasion and definitely the best sensory experience I have ever had.

Vineet Bhatia London

3. Best Michelin Star experience – The Waterside Inn

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Dining at the Waterside Inn had been top of my list and I treated the other half to it on his birthday. Fair to say it was spectacular and I still dream about the Lobster Medallions. The added bonus was meeting Chef Alain Roux and getting a kitchen tour.

The Waterside Inn

4. Best creative menu – Foleys

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This restaurant was chosen on a spontaneous evening and the menu beat our expectations. Not surprising with an ex Palomar chef at the helm!

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5. Best counter seating  – The Barbary

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2016 has seen the rise of counter dining and that naan at the Barbary is every bit worth it! The food is heavenly.

The Barbary

6. Best Comfort food – Padella Pasta

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Also a counter dining experience, I loved this more for the homely, comfort food factor. Truly incredible pasta. Get there early to beat the queues!

Padella Pasta

7. Favourite Italian – Margot London

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Everyone loves a good Italian restaurant. Margot is special! The restaurant is beautifully decorated and the food is epic! Save space for dessert.

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8. Consistent Favourite dining experience – Roux at the Landau

Got to love Michel Roux and the Roux at the Landau, located in the Langham is just fabulous! I have eaten there for both Sunday brunch and dinner and each time it has been exceptional service, scrumptious food and a memorable time.

Roux at the Landau

9. Favourite “no reservation” restaurant – Bao & Hoppers 

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Also popular this year was the rise of “no reservation” restaurants with queues that never seemed to quieten down. This was a tough choice and both are cuisines I had never tried before. It is a draw between Bao and Hoppers!

Bao was every bit worth it though especially the Horlicks Bao. The good news is that they now have a second site open!

Bao

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The most fun dining experience I have had this year is Hoppers! I had never tried a Sri Lankan Hopper before and it was one of those which hit the spot. If you haven’t been yet it is a must try and the good news is that they have a better waiting system so you can spend time wisely whilst waiting for a table.

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10. Best Small Plates and cocktails – Talli Joe

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Restaurants are known for their food and rarely do the cocktails match up but in the case of Talli Joe I loved both so much – they definitely excel at both! The black gajar halwa for dessert was gorgeous too. Highly recommend!

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There we have it! I would love to know your favourites of the year. Let me know in the comments section below.

 

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Impress your guests this Christmas with a Martell Cognac 4th Course Food Pairing

Christmas time is my favourite part of the year where you get to spend time with friends and family over good food and drinks and I am always looking for different ways to raise the bar and impress them with new dishes and fusions.

Sometimes after a great meal you still want to feast on delicious but light food while you may be drinking, and this year Martell, one of the oldest Cognac houses, has collaborated with Cordon Bleu trained chef Luiz Hara for a different take on Petits fours known as the 4th course.

I wanted to try out one of the recipes created by Luiz Hara pre-Christmas so I could recreate it on the day and had a go at making the Pears, Roquefort and Almonds with Martell Soaked Raisins, which sounded like a dreamy combination.

It was so simple to prepare and there was no cooking involved – all I had to do in advance was soak the raisins in the Cognac. It was a great excuse to crack open the bottle and have a few sips too!

This 4th course food pairing was so easy to assemble, and a dish you can definitely prepare in advance and impress your guests with and relax at the same time.


It was absolutely delicious and the Martell Cognac soaked raisins were a huge hit with my other half.

If you would like to have a go making this pairing, the recipe, courtesy of Martell and Luiz Hara is as follows:

Pears, Roquefort and Almonds with Martell Soaked Raisins

Serves 3-4 people

Ingredients:

  • 4 pears
  • 200 grams Roquefort cheese, crumbled
  • 50 grams whole or flaked almonds, lightly toasted and crumbled
  • 100 grams dark raisins soaked in 75ml Martell Cognac

Method:

  1. Soak the dried raisins in the Martell Cognac for a few hours (preferably overnight) until they are plump and juicy.
  2. Peel the pears with a vegetable peeler and cut them into quarters, making sure you remove the core.
  3. Top each slice of pear with the crumbled Roquefort cheese, toasted almonds and a few Martell soaked raisins on top.

The other pairings include Iberico Charcuterie and Cognac soaked prunes, as well as Christmas Pudding Ice cream.  Keep an eye out on my Instagram over the festive period for sneak peeks of more 4th course pairings with the hashtag #Martell4thCourse.

If you have a go recreating this dish over the festive period would love to know in the comments section below!

Martell VS is available from all major retailers in 35cl, 70cl and 100cl bottles.

For more information on Martell and The 4th course head over to http://www.martell.com/en-uk/ or search for #Martell4thCourse.

Disclaimer: I was sent a complimentary bottle of Martell VS. I am a Cognac lover and all views are my own. Recipe is courtesy of Martell and Luiz Hara.