Birthday Lunch

Went out for an early birthday lunch – a significant one at that, the big five-oh – so I didn’t stint myself.

Mushroom risotto, shorthorn ribeye and sticky toffee pudding.

Radio: Food Worth Traveling For

I am quite often found – on a Monday morning – down at the Puritans Radio studio talking with Peter Evan Jones about food on the ‘Jones on Food and Travel’ program. This Monday was no exception and this week the topic was food worth traveling for.  CNN Travel made some bizarre choices – including ketchup (not a food, in my opinion, much less a food worth traveling for), buttered popcorn (another head scratcher) and potato chips (honestly?) which is what prompted this segment.

What food is so good that you would tackle traffic, airport lines and baggage restrictions to reach it? And yes, my better half – I mentioned the tapas from Bar Pinotxo in La Boqueria in Barcelona. 🙂 When do we leave?

If you’re a fan of food and/or travel, the show is on every Monday from 10-12 (UK time) and I will be posting links to the whole program as well as my segments for those who prefer to catch it later on. This week’s whole show can be heard at

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Banbury’s Culinary Surroundings

Banbury sits at the center of a robust culinary landscape. Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Sure, it’s home to the largest coffee processing plant in Europe and yes, the traditional home of the famous Banbury cake. But ‘culinary landscape?’ What on earth is she on about?

Well, you know when I said, at the end of my last post – Grabbing a Bite in Banbury – stay tuned and stay hungry? I hope you listened. There’s a lot more foodie fun to cover in Banbury and the surrounding areas. Having covered some of the new and/or worth checking out shops and eateries in Banbury itself, it’s time to talk about the other gastronomic pleasures – cookery schools, food festivals, artisan shops and food tours – found in Banbury itself or within no more than an hour’s travel time.

Cookery Schools: Cookery schools are hot, hot, hot! There’s been a veritable explosion of cookery schools across Britain in the past four or five years. The country enthralled with Great British Bake Off and an unending supply of cookery TV has shown a huge appetite for courses about baking, regional cuisines, vegetarian food, butchery, cooking for kids, on and on and on.

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If you’re in the Banbury area and interested in joining the cooking throng, you are in luck. You’ve got award winning and exceedingly well established array of schools and courses to choose from.

  • I’ve mentioned our local Banbury Cookery School (formerly Pudding Pie Cookery school) in the last post. They do classes from all ages and abilities as well as cooking parties, demonstrations and other cooking events. They’ll even come to you and teach you in your own home. LOVE that!
  • The Cookery School at Daylesford – I’ve gone on a bit elsewhere about Daylesford’s mouth-wateringly beautiful Kingham farmshop. Don’t let the name ‘farmshop’ fool you it to thinking it’s just any farm shop. Yes, there is a farm and a shop but this is a whole complex. There’s a shop, farm, restaurant, garden, spa, holiday cottages, and – as is relevant here, the cookery school. They also host a series of organic farming courses, seasonal festivals and special events.
  • The WI Cookery School – yes, that WI. Whether you are a beginner or rather more experienced, this purpose built cookery school just outside of Abingdon (a mere 40 minute drive) welcomes members and non-members of all ages.
  • Dancing Trousers Cookery School – an awesome name, don’t you agree? Small yes but size isn’t the issue when it comes to food. Quality is what matters and as Dancing Trousers was a finalist in the Best Small Cookery School category of the British Cookery School Awards in 2014 (as was Daylesford), I think that settles that.
  • If you really want to push the boat out, you could check out The Raymond Blanc Cookery School at Le Manoir. It won’t come cheap, by any means but you won’t forget the experience or the food.
  • And in more specialist field – chocolate making.  Barry Callebau is a global manufacturer of chocolate and cocoa. We know this. But they also run a Chocolate Academy in Banbury! Now, to be fair, it’s not really aimed at what be best described as “curious consumers” – it’s not a tour. This is full on course work for people who are quite serious about chocolate, novices interested in getting into the field or more advanced chocolatier. There are consumer focused courses at some of the other locations, just not at Banbury. Still, you never know. Demand might create supply.

Still want more? Well, as the weather is warming, you are in luck because food festival season is fast approaching.

Food Fair LogoFood Fairs and Festivals: Naturally local foodies wouldn’t dream of missing the Banbury Food Fair (Sunday Aug 9) and as it’s getting bigger and better each year, foodies from further and further afield are also making this an annual stop on the foodie event circuit. Other festivals a mere hop, skip and jump from here:

Other Appetizing Links

Thirsty-quenching Tours and Tastings:  You can’t do a “food and drink highlights” round up for Banbury and not include S H Jones Wines, a real star in Banbury’s food and drink firmament.

What makes it so? Well, there’s the fact that it’s been here since 1848 (one of the oldest continually operating businesses in town and in one of the oldest buildings – which I’ve touched on elsewhere) and it’s been run by the same family since 1886. Talk about staying power and commitment 🙂  The other reason you can’t leave it out is the wine tastings. Speaking of which, I hear there might be a cheese and wine tasting there quite soon involving one of my recent fab foodie discoveries, Curds and Whey. That’s where I got the amazing black truffle cheese that led to the most amazing black truffle risotto. More on that another time.

???????????????????Moving further afield, there’s the Hook Norton Brewery tour. The folks at Hook Norton conduct two tours of their dramatic brewery building every day but Sunday and yes, there are samples at the end. If you’re still thirsty, you can check out the Wychwood Brewery Tours in Witney which is open for public tours every weekend. For true brew aficianados, there are another couple of brewery tours on the edge of my 1 hour range that offer the public a chance to have a supervised poke around – the Tring Brewery and the Chiltern Brewery near Wendover (this is the oldest independent brewery in the Chilterns).  Beer not your thing? More of a wine person? Oxford Chelt Wine School run wine tastings and wine courses in Oxford, a quick 20 minute train ride from Banbury.

The Sweet Spot:  Belflair Chocolates is a lovely little shop on Church Lane (next to Sugar Rush where I get my root beer when I am feeling homesick for the US) that produces some top notch treats for chocolate lovers. That would be reason enough to list them but here’s the bonus chocolate lovers! They have an atelier in Brackley and you can book one of the “courses in chocolate appreciation” – an opportunity to watch the resident chocolatier at work, learns about the process and sample some of the goodies.  If you’re looking to focus on the sampling – why not try the Chocolate Tour of Oxford – 2 hours of chocolate? Yes, PLEASE! And it’s a walking tour so you can convince yourself you are balancing it all out with some exercise.

Local Goods and Groovy Gadgets: Looking for a special or seasonal ingredient, something outside the normal reach of your grocers’ shelves? Goodness knows the area is awash in Farmers’ markets – and that’s worth a post on it’s own. But you don’t have to wait for market day. You can peruse the offerings at:

  • The Italian Larder  – chock full of regional specialties from across the continent, some well know and some you won’t find anywhere else.
  • Steve Betts Butchers – what they don’t know about meat isn’t worth knowing and they are happy to chat with you about what you’re cooking and suggest the best options.
  • Banbury Self Pick – which is pretty much what it says on the tin -seasonal self-picking so go grab yourself some strawberries, raspberries, black currants, red currants, apples etc. Or pick up some of the ready picked produce. Self pick is a great thing to do with the kids – so if you’re looking to enthuse the kids about fruit this summer, this is the place to go.
  • There’s nothing like cooking with fresh herbs and they’re so easy to grow! You could pick some up at the grocers or the local garden centre but if you really want choice and variety along with expert input and advice, check out the National Herb Centre. 10 kinds of basil, countless thymes, rosemaries and the like along with nature trails and kids play areas.
  • Planning on breaking bread? Literally? Well, we’ve gone on and on about Bakergirl (and quite likely will again) so definitely check it out if you want real bread, freshly made with local flours and seasonal ingredients.

abraxasShould you need to stock up on tins for day of baking or grab a few new implements for an weekend of culinary activities, you don’t want to miss checking out Abraxas Cookshop. Not only have they got every gadget or tool you could need but the staff really know what they are talking about and can offer first-hand info on much of the store’s stock. We bought a spice grinder there last year, after a very enjoyable helpful discussion with the obviously knowledgeable women at the counter. It’s one the hardest working gadget in our already hardworking kitchen.

Once again, this has gotten much longer than I intended and I haven’t even addressed the vast and varied farmer’s markets and shops in the area. That’ll be another day. But I hope this list and the other posts on Banbury (below) have given you some idea of why the foodies of TransAtlantic Towers feel we definitely landed in the right spot.


Related Links

  • Spring has Sprung in Banbury!  (April 12th, 2015):  According to Tennyson, ‘In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love’ – and that’s as may be but come Spring, this girl’s fancy turns to long walks, farmer’s markets, the garden and cheese.
  • Festive, Foodie Banbury (December 6th, 2014): It’s holiday time and a whole SLEW of new eateries have opened up in Banbury to keep everyone’s energy levels up for the last push to Christmas
  • Banbury’s Foodie Landscape (Nov 16 2014): One of the things we most love doing here in TransAtlantic Towers (as I always did back in NYC), is a bit of culinary exploring…
  • Grabbing a Bite in Banbury (April 14, 2015): In Banbury, a store front showing signs of activity is quite likely to be – well just about anything food related.
  • Bakergirl Bakehouse in Banbury:  Today’s culinary jaunt was to Bakergirl, an artisan bakehouse just outside Banbury.

Bakergirl Bakehouse in Banbury

Every now and then, you want to treat yourself. After a long week, a slow,relaxing weekend is just the treat I want. Nothing pressing to do, no appointments in the calendar. Just a lie in, coffee and maybe (weather permitting) a leisurely walk. Living as I do in Banbury that walk might be along the canal (which deserves a post in and of itself at a later time) or through town (which I believe I have already points out is full of excellent places to browse, eat, shop and people-watch).

Occasionally, a weekend jaunt slightly out of the way is on the agenda and this weekend was once such occasion. Lately, we’ve spent a lot of time exploring the newer spots on the local culinary landscape – a landscape that is rapidly expanding both in scope and size. Banbury is surrounded by quite a variety of easily reached delights – both culinary and otherwise. Today was a culinary jaunt – we went to Bakergirl, a relatively new artisan bakehouse open just outside Banbury.

It’s located in a superbly done up, converted barn next to Wykham Park Farm Shop. My first thought when we walked in was “OMG! I want to live here! It’s GORGEOUS!”

Bakergirl_lights

Then the smell of all those baked goods hit me and all I could think of was “OMG! I want to eat everything! It smells delicious!.”  The care and attention to detail that have done into creating the space – I mean just look at that light fixture? Amazing! –  is a sign of the kind of care and attention to detail that go into the bread and other amazing fare they produce.

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I had a morning bun the first time went there and it is one of the most amazing breakfast pastries I have ever had. I was slightly puzzled by the morning bun at first – as they really aren’t a thing in NYC. They looked like a cinnamon roll that had its middle poked up. But I soon discovered that though there IS cinnamon in involved, a morning bun is actually lighter than a cinnamon roll and ooooooh so buttery. These particularly morning buns have a hint of orange as well – which I must say went very well with my coffee of choice to accompany pastry – a mocha.

An aside about the coffee – it is excellent. If you have strong views on coffee (as dungeekin does) then you will enjoy and approve of the brew being brewed at Bakergirl.

I now have a confession to make. I couldn’t decide during our second trip what to order. I knew I wanted to write a review so I thought “I really OUGHT to have something new so I’ve tried a couple of things. But the morning bun was SO good …” It was a dilemma. For about 10 seconds. Then I decided, “Screw it. It’s the weekend. I’m having a morning bun AND chocolate croissant.” And so I did.Both were still slightly warm – and the croissant was one of the lightly, flakiest croissants I have ever seen. SO many layers with so much space between them and proper dark chocolate.

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Breakfast of Indecision – couldn’t decide between them so I had both.

My better half – dungeekin – had a chelsea bun and I really should have asked him what he thought of it so I could include his input but I was so transported to another party plane that I forgot to ask. Perhaps he will comment.

I am pleased to note that each time we’ve gone, a steady stream of people are making their way there – quite a range of different people as well. If you do something as right as these folks at Bakergirl most assuredly are, word gets around – word about the morning buns, the coffee, the fantastic space, the bread  (I haven’t even talked about the whole ‘real bread’ thing but I’ll get into that next time). It’s a good thing too because I want Bakergirl to be around for a long, long time.

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Virtual Visits to Favorite Food Spots

I mentioned over on Greater Gotham recently that I sometimes got homesick for New York – having moved out after so long.  In addition to missing places like the High Line and the New York Public Library, I miss the food. The all-night diners, the food trucks, the Oyster Bar, the pizza, the GIANT SANDWICHES at the delis. Luckily, some of of my favorite New York eateries are using social media so well that I can visit them any time I want – even with an ocean in between us. Virtual visits are better for my diet as well. Makes planning culinary plans of attack for visits home easier too. Check out some of my favorites in Gotham Grub Goes Virtual.

Sigh. Great. Hungry now. And all I can think about is @CrumbsBakeShop , @biggayicecream, Serendipity_3, @CarnegieDeli and @shakeshack

Downtown(ish) Saturday Night

Last night was a bit of a stroll down memory lane for me, food wise. I spent many years working in the Flatiron district – my first three jobs out of college and the internship I had my senior year all happened within the confines of that immediate neighborhood.

chat During that time, I had more lunches at Chat & Chew than I – or my waistline – care to recall. It may have been ages since I’d been there but happily Uncle Red’s Addiction (honey dipped fried chicken) has lost none of its sticky, messy appeal. My dining companion had the ‘Thanksgiving on a Roll’ and spoke highly of it in between mouthfuls. Reveling in the “bad for us but too delicious to be resisted” mode of the evening. We both had dessert. I wish I had the words to describe Vesuvius, the chocolate cheesecake concoction I had. But I can’t. Calling it multi-layered sin on a fork only scratches the surface.

olde_barThen we headed over to Old Town Bar for a chat and a drink – again as I used to do so often during my Flatiron days. There’s something really comforting to sit down a 55 feet of bar and have a drink at a place that has been in the same place, doing the same thing and not changed in any significant way in almost 120 years. You can get a decent drink, hear yourself think as well as hear the person next to you.

The crowd, quite bustling as you would expect on a Saturday night, isn’t the obstacle it might be in other bars because there is space to move. Space is something sorely lacking in more modern watering holes where they’ve crammed in as much – or more – than fire regulations will allow so they can pay the rent and keep the bartenders awash in hair product. I wonder if the luxury of space (and grownup bartenders) is something only bars that own their space can manage? It makes me want to do a “classic bar tour of NYC” post. Obviously a great deal of um – research will need to be done.

But before I do that, a quick link found up since I’ve got food and the city on the brain.

October is a month with an R in it so you know what that means! Oysters!

The 2009 Vendy Award Winners were named yesterday and NewYorkology has the whole story. If you’d rather cut straight to the eats:

  • Country Boys aka the Martinez Taco Truck won best food vendor
  • Wafels & Dinges was named the winner in the dessert category.
  • Biryani Cart won the Grey Poupon People’s Taste Award

Speaking of street food, NYC’s food cart mania in the media isn’t the only frenzy on the Gotham street food scene. The clashes between vendors, in light of the vendrification of the scene, are getting pretty heated as well. Vendrification. Great word. I shall adopt it right now. All credit to BlackBook Mag.

More on the topic of street food is coming. Oh yes. Much more.

Food Truck Find

I had this whole plan for writing an in-depth and amusing post yesterday. I was going to do it after a quick dash down to Macys. The dash down went fine. Got down there, found what I wanted and then I headed home. That’s where it all went horribly wrong. If you want to know what happened next and why I was no longer in the mood to write when I got back, head over to Greater Gotham and find out.

In the meantime, I thought I’d pass along a recent food related discovery I’ve made lately. Now, they may not be news to everyone – I’m often the last to know – but on the off chance you don’t know about The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, here’s the deal. Gourmet magazine did a piece on New York street food (it’s always the topic of choice this time of year – it’s a Vendy thing) and one of the vendors they mentioned was The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. A fabulous name, I am sure you will agree.

It would have ended there – with me noting that I need to visit them since they have dulce de leche flavored ice cream – only I saw that they had a Twitter feed. I went to check it out and lo! Best Tweet EVER.

“When lining a cone with nutella, swaddle the cone; cradle it gently. I imagine I am holding The Infant of Prague.”

And lordy, lordy – the description of the Monday Sundae ensures that I know what I am doing next Monday. Dulce de Leche and laughs. I love them and I’ve not even met them yet.

2009 Vendy Finalists, Here I Come!

Ladies and Gentlemen, the finalists for this year’s Vendy Awards have been announced and as a proud New Yorker, I feel the need to check them out personally.  What’s that? No, not Wendy’s. I said the Vendys.

vendy You must have heard of it – it’s been going on for years (well four – but that’s years).  It’s a cook-off to find the best sidewalks chefs in New York City. Yes, I said sidewalk.  That’s right – street food.  Those carts on the corner? Those. Though many are now actually trucks but never mind – they set up shop and serve customers right there on he street so they remain street food. No, these are not dirty water dogs (not that there’s anything wrong with dirty water dogs). The world of New York Street Food is a vast landscape, covering a world of cuisine – including everything from the South American grilled chicken to Sri-Lankan style vegan to dessert.

This year’s finalists include:

  • Traditional Indian offerings from Meru Sikder and his Biryani Cart
  • Middle Eastern fare from Falafel King, Fares “Freddy” Zeidaies
  • Dumplings courtesy of Kenny Lao at Rickshaw Dumpling
  • Jamaican food from Jamaican Dutchy’s O’Neill Reid
  • Mexican from Country Boys/Martinez Taco Truck run by Fernando & Jolanda Martinez*

My goal is to try something from each finalist before THE BIG DAY. I always say that of course and somehow always miss one. But this year – I’m gonna do it!  I must say that the Vendy Awards people have made it easier than ever to find and get to know the finalists. I love the maps and the interviews. – looking forward to it all.

That said, I have already experienced the joy of Rickshaw Dumpling.   All I have to say about that is — pardon my French – FAN. F*CKING. TASTIC!


* somehow I’ve never tried their stuff despite having been out to the Red Hook Ball Fields a number of times – the Red Hook Ball Fields are worth a post all on their own and will get one shortly. In the meantime, check out Serious Eat’s Red Hook Vendors: A Quick Guide for the Uninitiated. Mouth-wateringly informative.

Best(ish) Burger in NY

As is sometimes happily the case, I have come across something that fits nicely into both sides of my blogging world – food and NYC.

jgmelonGrub Street has gone national! Whooo-hooooo.

And yet, my joy is dimmed slightly by the fact that their recently published Burger Register (New York’s 82 Most Notable Burgers) fails to include a burger of such excellence and which is held in high regard across a wide swathe of the population that I can only assume it’s an very early (or very late – depending on how you look at it) April Fool’s Joke.

Seriously. JG Melon’s burger is the very defnition of sublime, the very essence of all that is burger. The other 82 burgers wish they were that good.

A Gripe About Tripe

Okay, not tripe itself, but rather what it seems to represent in British Cookery today. By which I mean an almost dementedly determined return to “old fashioned school dinners” and all that entails. I may not be able to follow the height or shape of this season’s hemlines, but I do try to keep an eye on food trends as they wash over these shores, and I have to say the news ain’t good.

Now I’ve never tried tripe itself, but would probably quite like it as I enjoy most offal. I have, however, tried Lancashire Hotpot, Chicken Pot Pie, Ham Terrine, Confit Duck, and just about every cheap cut of steak one could imagine. Whilst I have in various forms enjoyed all of the above, I have never enjoyed them when faced with a hefty price tag as a side order. And herein lies my gripe. Home – or school – cooked dinners of yore appear to have become the latest craze amongst the chefs and proprietors of the UK restaurant and TV cookery scene. Where once were featured “fresh” and “light” and “innovative” dishes, now we are faced with the old staples of either a penurious home, or an equally penurious school canteen. And it strikes me as a terrible sham.

Let me give you a couple of examples. Recently I was taken to dinner at one of Gordon Ramsay’s new restaurants — The Warrington in Maida Vale. I was very excited to find that we were not eating from the downstairs “pub” menu, but were in fact eating upstairs in the glam dining room. And what did I find on the menu? Well, for starters (and I do mean that literally) “potted duck” and a special of “ham hock terrine.” I was forced to opt for the English asparagus with home-made mayonnaise because it was the only option that didn’t arrive smothered in some form of aspic or in a novelty jar of some sort. (More on novelty jars later.) The asparagus – being in season here for its brief yearly fling – was gorgeous, as was the mayonnaise, but I had hoped for some fresh seafood other than the dreaded whitebait, or at least a dish that would deliver a crisp start to my meal and that didn’t require bread on which to be slathered.

The mains, from “hangar steak” to “chicken and wild mushroom pie” and “pork belly” all smacked horribly of a faux “credit crunch and back to tradition” aesthetic, by which I mean “famously cheap ingredients sold at outrageous prices in the name of nostalgia”. I opted for the pork belly and my companion the chicken pie. And how were they? Well, they were pork belly and chicken pot pie. Not awful (though the crackling on my pork belly was leathery and therefore rendered the meat a tad too salty for even my tastes), but not extraordinary either. Neither dish justified either its billing or its price, not only in execution but more importantly, in conception. They were quite simply simple food that could be easily reproduced at home, and probably with better results. They attempted to suggest home-cooked meals, but the point of home cooked meals is that you cook them at home, or they’re cooked for you at home by somebody who loves you. Which really is what makes them taste so good. Serve them in an environment with damask napkins and glam tableware and they become culinary fakes. A bit like the girl in the war years who could actually get silk stockings but drew a line on her legs so the other girls wouldn’t think she was a tramp.

My second example – and this is the one that really churns my gut – is this season of “The Great British Menu” on BBC2. This cookery (I should say Cheffery show, really) is an annual event that features chefs from various restaurants around the country competing in regional heats to have their dishes presented in a celebrative banquet. The first year it was the Queen’s Jubilee Luncheon, the next a luncheon banquet for the great and the good of France, and this year it’s the turn of returning service men (and women) from UK campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. And what has been the prevailing theme this year? “Home,” or if the starters are anything to go by, “Rationing, And How We Preserved For It Last Time.” No less than eight contestants have presented as their first course some sort of ham hock terrine or deep fried ham hock ball, confident that this dish will fill returning soldiers with a warm glow of recognition. Well of course they’ll bloody recognise it. The poor brave folk have probably been eating some sort of processed ham for months on end, and therefore deserve much better. Worse yet, these “ham hock terrines” or “duck shepherd’s pies” are presented in exactly the same sort of jars our real or imaginary grandmothers used to preserve jams and jellies and chutneys, and probably ham hocks too. It’s nothing more than an insincere form of nostalgia presented in a re-sealable jar. We viewers (though hopefully not the returning forces) then get “witty” versions of fish and chips, rabbit, and perhaps worst of all, a “Lancashire Hotpot” to share. What perhaps galls me most about this is not only that the chefs in question do not find these dishes in any way patronising, but that the judges (including Mathew Fort and Prue Leith) don’t either. Almost every time a dish with “high end” ingredients or a more esoteric approach goes before them, the judges ponder whether those who are “un-ranked” would appreciate said dish, as if just about anybody at a swanky banquet wouldn’t appreciate something a tad glam or out of the ordinary, what with it being a swanky banquet and all. They are in fact invited as guests to a feast, not a BBC Costume Drama. Which leaves the question of whether any of these soldiers don’t have homes to visit, and hotpots cooked by their actual families to savour. Of course, not all of them do, and certainly not all of them who do, have families who would cook said hotpot as a home welcome, but they’re not represented by these dishes either. Where then is a good curry, or a roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, or- cookery style heaven forfend – a good spag bol? Or, really, just egg and chips?

To finish, what galls me about the latest cheffie trend is just how dishonest it actually is. To be sure there have always been high-end restaurants that have prided themselves on serving the old standards (I’ll note the Shepherd’s Pie at the Ivy, for a start), but that’s because these eateries don’t slavishly follow trends to little end. But to pretend that because chefs have (in this more financially difficult age) glommed onto cheaper ingredients out of a sense of cultural and traditional home-coming is a bit like pretending that Messrs Galliano, Lagerfeld, Armani and the like have decided in the interest of cloth preservation that we should all be wearing corduroy and sensible shoes. At the same prices.

So go to a high-end eaterie for “trad” food if you must, but I pray you, go on a Sunday lunchtime, when most restaurants and gastropubs will serve you that all-time British classic, the Sunday roast. And best of these for me? The Pantechnicon Rooms, on Marbury Street in London’s Belgravia. A tad pricey, yes, but utterly delicious food, sides like you wouldn’t believe, and the most swoonsomely intoxicating choice of novelty martinis with which to wash down your meal.