GT’s Best Of 2014

Best Of 2014 is a retrospective look back at my favourite items and experiences of 2014, a year which firmly reignited my childhood passion for fishing and included perhaps the best beach holiday I have ever had.

Best Hotel Experience

Four Seasons, Koh Samui. More small mountain village than hotel we were surrounded by forest overlooking a white sand beach in the Gulf of Thailand.

Best Dining Experience

Korobuta, Chelsea. Had a really memorable meal here reunited with friends in great spirits aided by a really well selected sake menu and their excellent Tuna Sashimi Pizza dish.

Best Experiences

Leaving a cold British January behind to attend a beach wedding in Koh Samui Thailand. Catching my first Salmon on the fly from the River Oykel in the Scottish Highlands.

Favourite Clothing Brand

Norse Projects. This Copenhagen based company creates seasonal collections which blend streetwear and classical workwear with high-end fashion.

Favourite Destination Visited

Benmore, Lairg, Scottish Highlands.

Favourite Album

Wild Beasts ‘Present Tense’. The bands fourth album is a masterpiece and you must listen to it. I will say no more on the matter.

Favourite Single

Rae & Christian ‘Happy’. Great new material from my favourite music production duo and an upbeat song that always lifts the spirits featuring vocals by Mark Foster.

Favourite Photograph

Benmore Lodge catching the sun over Loch Ailsh.
Pictured Above.

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Dim Sum at Shikumen, Shepherd’s Bush

I would like to share a brand new addition to London’s ever improving restaurant scene. This addition is the rather good Shikumen.

A quick look at their website reveals that Shikumen translates to “stone gate” and is a colonial style of arched architecture unique to Shanghai which apparently was de rigueur for the city in the 40s.

Upon arrival you are greeted by a friendly reception desk which can make you feel as though you have arrived at the nearby Dorsett hotel. Fear not, you are soon put straight and whisked into the restaurant by their efficient staff.

When inside there is a bar area with an impressive solid table carved from a single tree and a 40’s style gramophone. The restaurant itself is very large and spacious with an overall modern feel whilst displaying provincial artworks and for such a large restaurant the main central restaurant floor itself can feel more intimate than expected due to a clever use of a lowered floor.

My guest and I ordered a wide selection of dim sum from the menu which we were pleased to hear are all handmade along with some congee soup and tea.

Our favourites were the Cheung Fun wrapped around fried dough with was a delicious combination of soft and crunchy with a salty soy dressing, the Tianjin Goubuli Bun that featured the obligatory 18 folds (noted attention to detail) and the Chicken Taro Croquettes that had an unusual look and texture due to the taro that explodes as it hits the oil. All brilliant, all fresh and the ingredients were really top notch. Whoever is sourcing is doing a good job.

The dessert was almost the highlight of the meal. We opted for the Ginger Tea with Dumpling that we were advised wasn’t to Western tastes and all the more reason to try it in my opinion! (having said that the last time I did that it was duck’s tongue in a Thai restaurant which was as bad as it sounds). The soup consists of quite a strong hot sweet ginger consommé like broth extracted from pulping and steeping fresh ginger which must be able to cure a cold all by itself. Floating in the soup were three small soft white dumplings filled with black sesame seeds. The combination of ginger, soft dough and crunchy seeds was an absolute joy to eat and a brilliant stomach-settler.

In my opinion you will not be able to find better quality Dim Sum or Chinese dishes in London for this price.

Shikumen Taro Croquettes

Shikumen’s Taro Croquettes Dish

Cost of two courses with tea and a cocktail:
£25 per person.

Food:
9 out of 10 – the ingredients shone and a peek into the kitchen showed an army of specialist Chefs.

Atmosphere:
7 out of 10 – early days yet but the restaurant will be full soon.

Service:
9 out of 10 – very efficient and courteous.

Overall:
9 out of 10 – will be returning frequently.

Summary in seven:
One of London’s best dim sum options.

Details:
The Shikumen Website
Shikumen Shepherd’s Bush, Dorsett Hotel, 58 Shepherd’s Bush Green, London, W12 8QE.
Open: Mon to Sat: 12:00 to 23:00 / Sunday 11:30 to 23:00.
Tel: 020 8749 9978
Email: shepherdsbush@shikumen.co.uk
Book Online: http://www.shikumen.co.uk/shepherds-bush/book-online/

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Dinner at The Punchbowl, Mayfair

Popular Mayfair based pub The Punchbowl has recently had a bit of a makeover after being purchased recently by The Epicurean an attractive collection of Inns who look like they know their stuff. Having heard about this along with their new chef, GT decided to investigate and find out what’s on offer.

You may well know this place as the pub formerly owned by Guy Ritchie and therefore a favourite haunt of celebrities. Not having ventured in myself before I don’t have anything to compare it with for the makeover but what I discovered on arrival was a bustling pub full of happy customers and a newly refurbished modern restaurant upstairs. Above this on the second and top floor is a large space “The Club” used for private parties which despite my curiosity I didn’t venture into as it sounded like there was a private party in full swing.

I appreciated the restaurant on first impressions, it is a well furnished affair of around 30 covers, most noticeably the roof was painted gold with the effect of dripping down the walls upon which are hung several striking oil on canvas portraits of fashion models. I’m not particularly knowledgeable about the modelling world but the waitress kindly told me who they were – aside from the ubiquitous Ms Moss I still have no idea!

The restaurant is quite open and looks into the kitchen area which also serves “The Club”, at first I really liked this and remarked that it feels like being in a very well decorated living room but at the end of the evening I would have perhaps preferred a degree more separation such as the use of a screen to give that bit of extra separation from the inner workings of a restaurant – that’s the atmosphere – the food on the other hand would be hard to critique.

The Punchbowl Interior

The restaurant Interior with gold ceiling

The menu is very well set out offering a good selection of honest traditional British dishes, in fact there is probably nothing I wouldn’t have been happy to order off it which is quite rare.

The food was very well cooked indeed, in fact it was near perfect, so I am sure that new chef Nathan Andrews who has experience from working in restaurants such as Petrus will be appreciated by customers new and old.

I had roasted scallops with slow cooked bacon to start with, the combination of flavours on the plate was very good and they were cooked perfectly. This was followed by beef shin and rump which came with truffle mash and a delicious bone marrow and red wine sauce, the beef really was fantastic quality and this was in my mind as faultless a beef main course as you can get. What is really clear is that the sourcing is excellent and Andrews real skill is allowing the ingredients to shine.

I will be sure to visit again.

Scallop Starter

Roasted hand-dived south coast scallops with slow cooked bacon, apple £13.50

Cost of two courses with a bottle of wine:
£50 per person

Food:
9 out of 10 – strong British menu cooked very well

Atmosphere:
6 out of 10 – can feel a bit like the overspill of the staff room when the restaurant is quiet

Service:
8 out of 10 – pleasant, chatty

Overall:
7 out of 10 – a good dining experience worth repeating

Summary in seven:
British dishes cooked as they should be!

Details:
The Punchbowl London
41 Farm Street, Mayfair, London, W1J 5RP.
Open: Mon to Sat: 12:00 to 23:00 / Sunday 12:00 to 22:30.
Tel: 0207 493 6841
Email: reservations@punchbowllondon.com

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The Pig On The Beach – Studland, Dorset

Well GT had a thoroughly delightful afternoon at The Pig On The Beach this week.

We arrived at The Pig via Poole and took the ferry across to The Isle of Purbeck. Purbeck is not strictly an island rather a peninsular but the four minute journey across the sea added to the magic of arriving at this turreted fairytale dwelling smuggled between a warren of country lanes, hills, beach and sea.

The building is a magnificent example of Victorian hideaway with turrets popping out of the gothic country house. The new owners have painted it yellow and sympathetically added extensions that are hardly noticeable from the original building. The fresh sea air blows gently around the property and there are magnificent views from both the restaurant and rooms that look out onto Studland Bay.

Inside the look is typical of the other three Pigs (New Forest, Southampton and Bath) from the Lime Wood group whose “focus is on authenticity and informality of design, food and service” and they have it nailed here with an almost film-set perfection of texture, colour and restrained opulence that never reaches trop. We want to move in immediately and live happily ever after.

The food is either grown in their Kitchen Garden (informal tours available) or sourced within around 25 miles of the kitchen. For lunch we sarted with the freshest oysters we’d ever tasted (really), some tasty ham hock Scotch eggs and a delicate ceviche of bass scattered with delicate flowers and herbs from the Kitchen Garden. For main we couldn’t resist lobster and chips x2.

The whole lobster was slightly blackened on one side from the chargrill and inside barely cooked giving an almost raw edge to the thick meat however thanks to the freshness it was unusual and delicious. The lobster was by far the most expensive main on the menu at £42 per portion. We wince now as it’s a little too much considering the current trade price, food miles, prep and cooking required but that’s what happens when you are at The Pig as you are whisked off into a fairytale where cost is an irrelevant factor in this tiny piece of priceless perfection.

Book for a few nights away. There are tonnes of local activities such as this, this, this, this and this, oh and this and this. Prices start around £120 per night.

Oyster Dish

Oyster dish at The Pig On The Beach

Typical cost of lunch at The Pig On The Beach:
£100 per person for us including SC. Ordering sensibly would halve this.

Food & Drink:
9 out of 10 – glorious menu but loses a point for the pricey lobster. They popped a cork on a fresh bottle of Bollinger at our request (£15/glass), perfectly matched a glass of Mâcon Villages (£11.50/large glass) to our meal and we WILL return for the Smoky Dirty Martini (damn you car).

Atmosphere:
The Pig makes people happy thanks to it’s magical charm. Just remember to book.

Service:
7 out of 10 – relaxed and quite attentive, some staff shone, others didn’t.
Tip: Don’t wear a pink shirt or you’ll be whistled over to clear plates and take orders.

Overall:
9 out of 10 – they lose a point for the similar lunch and dinner menus that could limit guest enjoyment.

Summary in seven:
Charming whimsical hideaway celebrating local food

Details
The Pig On The Beach
Manor House
Manor Road,
Studland,
Dorset.
BH19 3AU
Tel:+44 (0) 1929 450288

Can you recommend anywhere else? GT are always looking for new places to visit.

Image Credit on exterior photo: Joseph Williamson
with special thanks to ©Ski Club Great Britain http://skiclub.co.uk

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Afternoon Drinks At The Rib Room Bar

On two occasions recently I have found myself enjoying the surroundings of the Rib Room Bar on the ground floor of Jumeriah Carlton Tower hotel.

The bar may be somewhat under appreciated therefore I feel obliged to recommend it for afternoon drinks whatever the day. It is often tricky to find a good venue that fills THAT space for a few drinks during the day or similarly before you head on for the evening and The Rib Room fits the bill quite nicely.

Why should you go? What awaits you is a relaxed environment where you will more often than not be able to find a space for yourself or friends at the bar or at a table and if you are lucky somewhere on the small terrace.

Let’s start with the drinks. The 10 metre long bar itself dominates the room creating an attractive marble alter paying homage to fine gins and whiskies.

Gin fans are particularly in luck. On my last visit I took the time to chat to the barman Vicenco who proudly showed me their range of 19 gins and 10 bitters.

Initially I visited the bar on recommendation from a friend who raved about their cocktails and I do agree they are particularly good however if you don’t drink the virgin cocktails are also worth ordering. I tried an Orchard Breeze (apple juice, pear purée, soda water, ginger & cinnamon) (£8) purely because it sounded great, it was, and perhaps the best virgin cocktail I have tasted.

I shared a range of bar snacks including crispy boneless chicken wings with mango and black pepper caramel (£11), tiger prawns with soy, ginger and chilli (£14) and the extravagant and rather delicious crab and lobster burger (£22).

Rib Room Bar Burger

The Rib Room Bar’s Crab & Lobster Burger

Typical cost of three cocktails and snacks at the bar:
£65 per person

Food & Drink:
7 out of 10 – good bar food and excellent drinks

Atmosphere:
6 out of 10 – a bit too quiet for the room size (why GT is recommending)

Service:
9 out of 10 – polite and very helpful

Overall:
7 out of 10 – worth revisiting for excellent drinks and good bar food

Summary in seven:
Under appreciated destination perfect for afternoon drinks

Details
The Rib Room Bar
Jumeirah Carlton Tower
2 Cadogan Place, London, SW1X 9PY.
Dress Code: Smart casual
Telephone: +44 20 7858 7250
Email: reservations@theribroom.co.uk

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Lunch at The Wolseley, Piccadilly

I have wanted to visit The Wolseley ever since I heard that my great grandfather once bought a car from the building back when it was a prominent car dealership called Wolseley Motors.

One can only imagine just how different London must have been then for a car dealership to take up such a prime central London location. Luckily for me I didn’t have to try too hard as the walls are adorned with past images helping to illustrate the buildings automotive past.

The Wolseley first opened as a restaurant in November 2003 by J. Sheekey, Chris Corbin and Jeremy King and was described back then as an “all-day Grand European café”.

Having booked a week in advance we were looking forward to our lunch and on arrival at 1pm the restaurant was absolutely buzzing without a spare seat in sight. The main features of the restaurant are large marble columns, indoor balconies, polished brass fittings and a cavernous roof above. It is a very intriguing space indeed attracting a real mix of clientele.

As expected the menu consisted of a well constructed bistro style selection of classic French and European dishes. Our table shared some beautiful Jersey Rock Oysters. I chose the classic bistro starter of Escargots followed by their Classic Hamburger, both as refined as they can be, while my guest was very impressed with their Steak Tartare. We shared a bottle of Sancerre.

Interior

The Wolseley restaurant interior

Cost of lunch with a bottle of wine:
£45 per person

Food:
7 out of 10 – great quality bistro style food

Atmosphere:
9 out of 10 – a buzzing floor with eye catching surroundings

Service:
8 out of 10 – pleasant, helpful

Overall:
7 out of 10 – a really enjoyable experience

Summary in seven:
Perfect destination for a long lazy lunch

Hamburger

The Wolseley Hamburger

Details:
The Wolseley
160 Piccadilly, London, W1J 9EB
Open: Mon-Fri 7am til midnight / Saturday 8am til midnight / Sunday 8am til 11pm.
Tel: 020 7499 6996
Email: reservations@thewolseley.com

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5 Things To Eat In Grenada

1. Calaloo Soup

The first thing GT tried in Grenada is Calaloo soup, an appetising dark green soup that tastes of green leaves, peppers and spinach.

Calaloo varies as you travel around the Caribbean but the base ingredients include Calaloo leaves or spinach, chicken stock or coconut milk, crabmeat, onion, shallots, green chili and okra. We particularly enjoyed the version served up by Patrick’s in St. George’s – a hearty bowl full of flavour.

2. Lionfish

Lionfish is a reef fish with delicious white flesh that tastes somewhere between cod and snapper. We recommend eating Lionfish baked or fried and accompanied by the spice and fruit of a Creole sauce.

This is an invasive predatory reef fish which needs culling due to a surge in numbers so this means Grenadian dive instructors are happy to catch them for you. The only problem is that the fish have venomous spines which puts off many restauranteurs however we watched the preparation process and this can be overcome if care is taken while chopping the spines off at the base. GT’s Lionfish was caught by Aquanauts at the True Blue Bay restaurant located just next door to the dive centre.

Lionfish Grenada

Lionfish caught in Grenada

3. Grenadian Chocolate

Grenada produce delicious organic chocolate on the island at the Grenada Chocolate company factory from their plantation site which has been podding, fermenting, drying and emulsifying since the 1700s. Their chocolate is about as unadulterated as you can get and is a perfect gift for chocolate-loving friends and relatives.

GT was especially interested to see people making their own cocoa tea. The fruit is in such abundance on the island Grenadian people make their own delicious version of hot chocolate which contains cane sugar and local spices such as nutmeg. If the temperature drops this is something to seek out.

Cocoa Grenada

Cocoa Drying in Grenada

4. Nutmeg Ice Ceam

GT were privvy to heated debates about the new ‘Pure Grenada’ tourism campaign that has replaced their moniker of “The Spice Island”. Grenadians are very proud of their association with fine spices and nutmeg is the jewel in their crown. Grenada is the second largest producer of nutmeg and produce arguably the best example in the world. GT tried the nutmeg and don’t know where the little brown seed in the kitchen originated but it is a very pale comparison.

A common use of nutmeg in Grenada is for delicious freshly made ice-cream. GT tried this at the Belmont Estate on a hot day and it was an unusual and refreshing combination of silky cream and zippy spice.

Nutmeg Grenada

Nutmeg Fruit, Mace & Seed from Grenada

5. Oildown

Last but by no means least is Grenada’s national dish, Oildown. Ignore the name, Oildown is an unctuous meat stew created with salted pork along with the same base ingredients as a typical British stew (onion, carrot, celery). To this the Grenadians often add plantain, coconut milk, dasheen (taro), peppers and the breadfruit, a large starchy fruit that looks like a giant conker, often used as a substitute for flour in the Caribbean (see image below).

Take yourself off on a culinary trip to Grenada with return flights and seven nights accommodation from only £599 via BA.

Breadfruit Grenada

Breadfruit on the tree in Grenada

Anything else we should try on our next visit? Please do leave a comment below…

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The Doll’s House, Hoxton Square

For all the noise about pop-up restaurants, there are very few which actually represent genuinely unique experiences, and fewer still that are able to compete with well-established eateries for quality or service.

The Doll’s House is therefore something of an anomaly. Brought to you by Adam Towner and Katy Gray Rosewarne (Dead Doll’s Club), this new members club on Hoxton Square may look like just another reclaimed industrial warehouse from the outside but is in fact one of the most unique new spaces we have seen in some time.

Towner and Gray have form, as anyone who frequented their previous project in Haggerston will affirm. With what appears to be little more than a pack of permanent markers, three stories of office space have been transformed into a 2D blueprint for a lavish country house. A bit like a giant doll’s house… you get the idea.

On our first visit the kitchen were running out great small plates of food in the ‘Conservatory’, the few we tasted were very good, but ultimately it was one of those nights where we decided to really put the cocktail barman through their paces – the boys delivered with both their mint juleps and pisco sours.

Dishes

Selection of dishes from pop up chef duo ‘Check On’ currently running the kitchen

If you’ve fallen out of love with Hoxton lately, give this a try – it’s a classy, grown up joint for your more discerning Barbie and Ken.

Interior

Interior view of one of the dining rooms at Doll’s House

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6 Places To Eat In Madrid

Restaurant IO

What: The modern and bright gastro home of Spanish celeb Chef Iñaki Oyarbide. The menu is divided into large and small plates and four different groups; Lo de Siempre (the usuals), Lo Nuestro (traditional), Iñakis (invented by Iñaki himself) and From the World.
Dish: Carpaccio of Almeria Red Prawn
Reservations: Reservations can be made online via their request form or by telephone (00 34) 91 344 05 56
Website: here

Restaurant Bar

The bar at Restaurant IO

NO Restaurant

What: Just over a year old this restaurant features a striking monochrome interior and a brilliant terrace that is private yet breezy. The Chef, Xavier Márquez,  trained in London and it shows with a British touch, less ingredients and higher prices than expected in Madrid.
Dish: Boneless Pig’s Trotters, Prawns and Pedro Ximenez Glaze
Reservations: Reservations can be made online via their booking engine or by telephone (00 34) 91 431 64 56
Website: here

Terrace

The terrace at NO Restaurant

Lobby Market

What: Bustling all-day spot with a restaurant area with traditional seating and an informal “Gourmet Zone” with stools and high tables. The latter has a menu packed with pinchos and sharing plates, the former larger dishes with some options to share. The food is bright, fresh and traditional with a flash of the unexpected.
Dish: Crumbed Aubergines with Honey and Garlic Foam
Reservations: Reservations can be made online via their booking engine.
Website: here

Market

The Gourmet Zone at Lobby Market

El Club Allard

What: Widely appreciated as Madrid’s best restaurant bursting with awards including two Michelin stars. They serve three menus at different price points to be eaten by the entire table; Rendezvous, Seduction, Revolution. Each of which are an example of the magic of modern Spanish cooking where each dish is a tiny piece of art.
Dish: After ordering you are brought a dip.. with which to eat the very menu you selected from. Brilliant.
Reservations: Reservations can be made online via their booking engine, or by telephone for last minute availability (0034) 91 559 09 39.
Website: here

Restaurant Interior

El Club Allard Interior

Zalacain

What: Old school Madrileño establishment that has just celebrated it’s 40th birthday and naturally it frequently welcomes royalty, ministers and foreign dignitaries. The food is equally as grand with a modern flair and as much emphasis on their desserts as the rest of the menu.
Dish: Sirloin with Foie Gras and Minted Lentils
Reservations: Reservations can be made by emailing admon@zalacain.es or by telephone (00 34) 91 561 48 40
Website: here

Staff

Director, Chef and Sommelier at Zalacain Restaurant

Pandelujo

What: An old bread factory transformed by clever architecture that exploits “light, reflection and sensations” more effectively so after dark. Dishes are designed for sharing and are essentially Spanish with a Mediterranean flourish.
Dish: Try the dessert fruit platter that features at least 20 seasonal fruits and looks brilliant against the style of interior.
Reservations: Reservations can be made online via their booking engine.
Website: here

Restaurant

Pandelujo Restaurant Interior

Casino de Madrid

What: The whole experience is beautiful and surprising from start to finish: The building itself (dating from 1836) is a marvel of painting, sculpture and opulence, the roof-top dining room is a modern version of similar elegance and the avant-garde food comes from a kitchen advised by Ferran Adrià. Tasting menu at night, set-lunch otherwise.
Dish: Shrimp Omelette (yes you can guess it won’t be that simple)
Reservations: Reservations can be made by email terraza.casino@nh-hotels.com or by telephone (00 34) 91 532 12 75
Website: here

Restaurant

Casino de Madrid Restaurant Interior

Mercado de San Anton

What: An old food market totally renovated to a bright and clean 3-floor foodie destination. The first floor hosts “traditional” market stalls, the second is a range of independent stalls serving ready to eat snacks ranging from basic to gourmet, the third is occupied by a restaurant very popular for watching the sun set over Chueca with a cocktail in hand from their brilliant terrace.
Dish: Select your raw ingredients from the first floor and the third floor restaurant will cook it for you or try the modern and traditional ready-to-eat bites from the second floor. Finish with a cocktail on the terrace.
Reservations: No reservations required for the market, grab a table and start snacking. To reserve a table to eat in the restaurant or on the terrace book online here
Website: here

Market

Arial view of the Mercado de San Anton

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GT’s Sloe Gin

After a bumper harvest we have been producing some excellent sloe gin this year. Here are our seven steps which we believe will always produce good results with little effort and preparation time.

To recreate our recipe just follow these seven basic steps:

1. Get out in the countryside and pick some sloes (alternatively these can be sourced online). We picked some enormous specimens from the Norfolk countryside and it is a great excuse to get yourself outdoors. Make sure the sloes are ripe, they should be soft like a plum.

2. After a swift quality control for bits of leaves and the odd bug freeze the sloes overnight, this helps to break down the fruits structure and avoids the need for pricking the fruit to help the juices escape. If you have time to prick the sloes this is quite therapeutic and worth the extra effort but it is not essential.

3. Half fill a two litre Kilner jar with sloes.

4. Pour in one litre of gin, in this case we used the rather good Geranium Gin. It makes no sense to use an inferior or cheap gin, your ingredients should always be of the highest quality, to ensure the highest quality product.

5. Leave for 3 months in a dark room (if you can wait that long!) and turn occasionally.

6. To finish top up with sugar syrup to taste, to make this simply dissolve caster sugar in two parts sugar to one part hot water. Gin supremos Sipsmith explain that “by adding the syrup in stages and tasting the gin as you go you will be able to produce the perfect result. Many people add the sugar at the start but this is known to interfere with the extraction of the fruits own natural sugars and the sugar should always be added last”.

7. Pour a glass and enjoy the fruits of your labour in it’s purest form. Pour again and top with Champagne for a wintery Sloegasm.

UPDATE:
Rather than using caster sugar as is usually recommended we made one batch with unrefined light brown soft cane sugar brought back from our recent trip to Mauritius. This batch had by far the most pleasing results with the cane sugar producing a much more natural fruit sweetness.

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