The wittily named Ridiculous No 55 Lobster And Crab Butter recently won a coveted three stars at the annual Great Taste Awards.
What made us all do a double take, however, was not the mouthwatering mix of flavours, but the eye-watering price of £95. Could a little fancy butter really be that much better than its humble alternative?
As it happens, yes, it could. Despite knowing it’s outrageously priced, when I tasted this pink, beautifully textured butter from Sublime, I had to honor it with a minute’s silence. It looks like pate, but tastes like nothing else on earth.
There is an undertone of lobster, the freshness of lemon and a slight wave of fennel, along with the richness of crab meat. It’s creamy, but not too rich. Exceptional. unbelievable. And each serving comes with a beautiful wood and glass bowl.
Alice Smellie has put some of the world’s most expensive spices to the test – including Belazu 25-Year-Old ‘Extra Vecchio’ Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Modena, 100ml, £109.95 (photo)
“Sublime Butter was born out of my love of steak,” says Chris Mair, who co-owns the company with his wife Tillie. ‘There wasn’t much going on in terms of condiment. The steak was always topped with rich, thick, creamy sauces.’
So Chris teamed up with chef Tony Ho to come up with their own accompaniments.
Is the butter worth €95? If you won the lottery, yes! If not, of course not. But tasting this whetted my appetite. What other hugely expensive accompaniments are there?
From £100 honey to extra expensive olive oil, I’m reviewing some of the world’s most expensive spices and kitchen essentials to see if they can be worth their exorbitant price tags.
CHIPS ARE DOWN
Alice said that Filippo Berio Balsamic Vinegar from Modena (pictured) won at expense
Duration: Belazu 25 Year Old ‘Extra Vecchio’ Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Modena, 100ml, £109.95, belazu.com
Cheap: Filippo Berio Balsamic Vinegar from Modena, 250ml, £3
Presented in a beautiful gold box, the Belazu bottle is beautiful but quite small. Belazu tells me that there is a saying in Modena: “Whoever takes the vinegar will not taste the vinegar, but his children and children’s children will.” Here’s how long it can take to make traditional balsamic vinegar – 25 years seems like an awfully long time to wait.
I try it with a mozzarella and tomato salad. It’s incredibly rich and fruity and a little goes a long way – it reminds me of old and expensive wine.
My usual Filippo Berio vinegar, which I love, tastes much thinner and sharper in comparison, but it wins on cost.
CREATE A BUZZ
Alice said M&S Pure Honey (pictured right) felt too sweet compared to The True Honey Co. 850+ MGO Manuka Honey (photo left)
Duration: The True Honey Co. 850+ MGO Manuka Honey, 250g, £97.99, truehoneyco.uk
Cheap: M&S Pure Honey, 340g, £1.55
Do you think almost $100 is a lot? There is a True Honey Co. Rare Harvest 1900+ honey that costs £2,595. Obviously, that’s not a by-product that you’ll be slathering liberally on your toast.
Even £100 seems like a monstrous amount for what I believe to be tasty liquid sugar. However, this honey is carefully made in remote locations in New Zealand, where the skies are clear, the Manuka bushes bloom and the bees are lovingly nurtured. Manuka honey has antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral properties, which you won’t get from a supermarket squeeze bottle, but like the basics, it can be added to tea, drizzled over porridge, or, as they suggest, spread on toast.
I duly put a teaspoon (estimated cost, £5) on a slab of sourdough. It’s darker than my usual honey and with a slightly grainy texture, but the taste is divine; both sweet and slightly bitter.
My usual M&S feels too sweet by comparison. Since the kids have been riddled with bugs since their return to school, I would have to share it with them. But I don’t.
Alice said that Filippo Berio Olive Oil Virgin (pictured right) managed to maintain a strong flavor, while Picalia Monica Galetti Gold Harvest Extra Virgin Olive Oil (pictured) was silky smooth
Duration: Picualia Monica Galetti Gold Harvest Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 500ml, £95, fortnumandmason.com
Cheap: Filippo Berio Olive Oil Virgin, 1 litre, £5.50
The packaging of the Picalia bottle is beautiful, but it’s hard not to shy away from the cost – same as my weekly shop.
This golden liquid is taken from the first day of harvest and made by sustainable and award-winning Spanish producers.
It is a limited edition and says it has notes of tomato, almond and freshly mowed lawn. I can smell all this – it’s delicious – but it’s olive oil, not Chanel perfume.
Although my usual oil seems a bit bitter by comparison, it manages to maintain a delicious, strong flavor, while the lighter, more expensive version is silky smooth.
CUTTING THE MUSTARD
Alice said she prefers Colman’s Original English Mustard (pictured right), despite Pommery Royale Mustard With Cognac (pictured left) being seriously tasty
Duration: Pommery Royale Mustard With Cognac, 500g, £10.99, souschef.co.uk
Cheap: Colman’s Original English Mustard, 170g, £1
Pommery Royale’s elegant black glass jar is a few cuts above Colman’s brash yellow look. The mustard is made according to an old recipe and laced with cognac.
On a ham salad, the expensive stuff is seriously tasty, but while the mustard seeds give it texture, I can’t taste the brandy. I still prefer the strong and fiery Colman’s.
Alice said Square Himalayan Salt Block (pictured left) is delicious and a brilliant centerpiece, compared to her beloved Maldon Sea Salt Flakes (pictured right)
Duration: Square Himalayan Salt Block, £40, salthouseandpeppermongers.com
Cheap: Maldon Sea Salt Flakes, 125g, £1.30
I thought I was being extravagant with my beloved Maldon – but apparently it’s no longer enough to sprinkle your salt. Instead, this large, beautiful, handmade Himalayan salt block should be heated and used for searing, serving, or (after a while in the freezer) as a chilled plate—all while flavoring your food.
The makers suggest placing the block on a gas hob over low heat and increasing the heat slowly. I throw blanched vegetables on it.
To clean it, remove any residue with a soft brush and damp cloth, then dry it with a tea towel.
This is delicious and a wonderful centerpiece for dinner. Flavor-wise, my flakes of sea salt seem saltier, but for sheer excitement, I prefer the block.
Alice said that Black Truffle Ketchup (pictured left) is not as good as Heinz Tomato Ketchup (pictured right)
Duration: Black Truffle Ketchup, 200g, £10.95, trufflehunter.co.uk
Cheap: Heinz Tomato Ketchup, 250g, £1.20
This is made from sun-ripened tomatoes, herbs and spices with black truffles added, but tossing truffles into ketchup is messing with perfection. Although I do like the sharpness that brings out the earthiness of the small pieces of truffle.
It’s not as good as Heinz, although the cheap stuff tastes very sweet by comparison.
PICK UP YOUR MEALS
Alice said Terre Exotique Red Kampot Pepper (pictured left) is delicious, while her usual pepper is less subtle in flavor
Duration: Terre Exotique Red Kampot Pepper, 250g, £57.50, souschef.co.uk
Cheap: Cooking with M&S Black Peppercorns, 100g, £2.40
Kampot pepper is also called the king of pepper. It looks like small, shriveled raisins. They are picked very ripe and have a thin, fermented layer on the skin, just like grapes before being made into wine. It smells sweeter than normal strains and the scent translates into a smooth peppery taste, with a delicate sweet crunch and a sharp, hot aftertaste. It is delicious on tomatoes with olive oil.
My usual pepper is less subtle in taste. I am enamored with Kampot’s and the bag will last a few years at least.
Alice said Hunter & Gather 100 percent Avocado Oil Mayonnaise (pictured left) is delicious and tastes a bit like salad cream, but she will still buy Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise (pictured right) for her kids
Duration: Hunter & Gather 100 Percent Avocado Oil Mayonnaise, £14.29 for 630g, hunterandgatherfoods.com
Cheap: Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise, 600g, £2.50
It’s hard to imagine anything better than our regular, creamy Hellmann’s mayo, which I buy in bulk because we eat so much of it. This chic mayo contains just four ingredients: avocado oil, egg yolk, apple cider vinegar, and pink salt.
When I make a cheese and mayonnaise sandwich, I realize that it also tastes a bit like salad cream, and I love it.
I’m surprised to report that I prefer it over the classic Hellmann’s, although I’ll still buy it for the kids.
Ridiculous No. 55, sublimbutter.com; other sublime butters on farmison.com