Archive for the ‘food’ Category

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Who needs best intentions?

December 30, 2012

Feels like only 9 months ago I last wrote something here.

Suddenly I’m inspired to write another description of some food.
Luckily it’s good food.
The food of Simon Rogan, of l’enclume, in Cartmel, Cumbria.
It’s very good food, the portion of it that I ate, which was a 7-course xmas menu, with matched wines; so good that I bothered to take notes, and so good I wouldn’t dare take photos of it through the meal. I’m not actually a food-blogger, after all.

 
welcome to Cartmel!

First up was a delicate mouthful of cockle, with horseradish and radish on a seaweed cracker. Yum. Balanced, and tangy.
Paired with a Nyetimber English Fizzy, which was happily very drinkable (England doesn’t have the best climate for grapes…)

Then a broth, from English mushrooms (chanterelles, not sure what else), with caramelised onion, a nicely truffly bit of curd, and chickweed sprout. Matched with Planeta Carricante, a fresh minerally white from the foothills of Mt Aetna, with I thought a hint of goatiness which went well with the rich fungal broth.

After the soup course we were presented with (was going to say given, which doesn’t seem quite right, under the circs. It wasn’t a freebie, by a long shot) a wintry dish of pig brawn, with smoked yolk, pickled carrots, mustard and bitter cress. Very delicious, and served with a Victorian Marsanne, which I don’t remember at all. Maybe I’ve blocked it. Not a grape I’ve been known to drink by choice, but I’m guessing it sat well enough with the richness of the dish.

Next course was sea scallops, with tiny grilled beets, leaves of Brussel sprouts (to make it feel more xmassy for the Brits, I suppose, though they were delicious) with various small seaweeds and a smattering of horseradish (tying the winter veg and the seafood together nicely. A glass of Marlborough Grüner Veltliner (new to me) on the side with classic kiwi style.

To follow that, we had a glass of Kentish Chardonnay which I should have known not to touch. Lightly oaked, they say. I can’t see why anybody would drink the stuff with or without oak. I’d be happier just with the piece of oak. I tried, though, I really did, to make it work with the delicious turbot, perfect vegetable stems (yes vegetable stems; broccoli and cauli. It’s a thing, and they’re yummy) with roasted langoustine, and parsley.
Don’t try to convince me that a young Chardonnay is drinkable – I’ll just think you’re an idiot. It failed, however, to detract from the goodness of the rest of the course. Phew.

The next dish was a little confusing in terms of vegetable content – we were told that there were leeks and scurvy-grass, but I didn’t recognise either of those things on the plate (not that I knew at the time what scurvy-grass looked like) so I assumed that the grassy-looking thing was it; now I know what scurvy-grass looks like, I’m wondering if what I though was it was actually a baby leek. Was it a local common name for a different foraged plant? Perhaps I’ll never know. None of which detracted from the lovely duck’s breast with chanterelles and potato that made up the rest of the dish. Helped along by a tasty Chilean Pinot Noir. Perfect.

Dessert was a mildly architectural arrangement of sea buckthorn, with buttermilk and butternut (puréed) with what the waiter said was powdered liquorice (in which I could detect no flavour) and wonderful sweet cicely sprouts (a hit of liquorice strong enough to make up for the powder). Refreshing, just the not heavy thing I felt like after the preceding 6 courses. Maybe the butternut didn’t belong there, though – I felt it might have been shoe-horned in on a linguistic pretext. Back to Chile for the wine. An excellent sweet Semillon/Gewürtztraminer.

And then out for a walk in the cold. A fine xmas day.

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Tour o’ Scotland part the second

August 6, 2009

Friday: over the highlands after a black pudding fry-up breakfast, past Inverell to the west coast, over vast tracts of rainy mountains devoid of humanity bar the road and the odd abandoned decrepit crofter’s cottage, lunch in Poolewe (mussels and scampi – and chips) and a B&B in Mellon Charles, Aultbea. Dinner was prawn cocktail and fish pie with new spuds, at the Aultbea Hotel. Again, much better than we could have expected from anywhere similar we’ve been to in England. Watched the sun go down as we ate, the long summer evening drawing out to 21.30-ish, and almost an hour later still not dark. Fog on our breath as we headed for the car, though. Summer.
We were pleased to make the acquaintance of Sidney (the seagull,) who had a bad leg and was helped by the owners of the B&B when they first arrived – 14 years later he’s still in regular attendance at the kitchen window (he likes cat-food, they say,) having brought generations of his offspring by, and his leg is long since well-recovered. Since the dog died, he’s now the family pet, albeit a wild and standoffish one (sadly didn’t get a photo.)

Saturday: Another Scottish fry-up, all the usuals, again with black pudding, alongside two slightly hung-over Scots lads from Inverell who were in town for the local annual raft race (they came 4/6.) The very loud and jolly landlady, Pauline, served tea and teased them while they winced, while her husband Phil did a fine job in the kitchen (they make their own bread, their own jam, their own marmalade – which was nice.
Off, then, to the Inverewe Gardens which were impressive, if rhododendron heavy. After two hours of plant-gazing we set off via the scenic route to Skye, around the rugged and sheep-filled coastline past Sheldaig, through Applecross where we had another surprisingly good Scottish pub lunch. Halibut with a local prawn (which looked like scampi to me) sauce, and local wild salmon, new potatoes and asparagus. Then over the Bealach Na Ba mountain pass (impassable in winter), which we’re told is the highest road in the UK, and spectacular and hair-raising, especially with its one-lane road. The one lane road thing (very common in these parts) works well – every so often there’s a ‘passing place,’ a little bulge on the side of the road, and almost all the drivers are very aware and careful and courteous in the face of the difficulty that the system imposes, especially with the number of tourists and campervans and left-hand drive vehicles.
So, some time later, we found the bridge at the Kyle of Lochalsh and drove over the sea to Skye. Not quite in the manner of Bonnie Prince Charlie (we weren’t disguised in drag as servant girls, for a start.) Found a wi-fi hotspot, checked the email to confirm our accommodation, only to find the offer of same, happily confirmed from our end, had been retracted. So, we drove to north to Portree and saw a sign to the Cuillin Hills Hotel which seemed like a good, though potentially expensive, option for a place to sleep, and it was (good, that is. More expensive than we would have liked, but arriving so late in the day we got a good deal on the room.) No view from the room to speak of, but a lovely view over Loch Portree was to be had from the front of the hotel, on the lawn, restorative dram in hand (21 year-old Ben Riach.) Then Linda met the midgies, which we’d been warned of that morning, and we had to move indoors. And so to dinner, where we had oatmeal-crusted herring, and lobster with pea risotto. Very fine, and everyone was lovely and helpful and accommodating (especially the receptionist, who had given us a surprisingly good price, and warned us to take the word of travel agents as we would politicians’.)

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Tour o’ Scotland part the first

August 3, 2009

Tuesday, up at the proverbial crack of dawn for the 7AM train out of KX. Next stop, bonnie Edinburgh!

Nightmare finding the bus to the (very substandard) B&B, it turns out that Princes St (and most of the rest of Edinburgh) is being dug up for a tramway. Just the one. None of this mucking about with multiple routes – just simple, good old-fashioned A to B transportation. Perhaps needless to say, many Edinburghians are less than thrilled.

Leaving the accommodation (‘petite’ they told us, before sending us and our baggage down the hallway with a magnifying glass,) we head to Leith; some buses and some walking in drizzle, to see the sights, and eat some fine Scots fare – oysters, mussels and smoked haddock with fishcake at the Ship on Shore (which proclaimed sustainable seafood on the menu but sold dredged scallops. Not impressed with that little bit of greenwashing.) Not much really in the way of sights – tourists by the horde up the Royal Mile to the castle – but we start a walk in Holyrood Park, as it started to rain again. So, caught a bus back to the B&B (we had day passes, v. good value at £3) to dry out and check emails and suchlike things. Managed to get hold of a Flickr friend, and we arranged, despite a reprise of the Princes St shambles, to meet for a quick drink and chat and some (not so great) Chinese. So now I’ve met someone, in person, though the interwebs. Even my mother beat me to that.

Weds: haggis with trad fry-up for breakfast, pick up car drive to Elgin via Perth, Pitlochrie, Blair Athol (where I had “Sporran o’ Plenty” for lunch – a steak stuffed with haggis – with chips) &c.

the Sporran of Plenty

Indian nosh in Elgin, much better than expected, for dinner. So much for my ambition of three meals of haggis in a day.

Thurs: around Elgin to beachy place with very blue water called Findhorn – crab and the biggest fish and chips (haddock) known to humanity. Chips, always chips. No Mars bars yet, deep fried or otherwise. We watched the rain roll in from the west as we ate, and headed back to the car just in time to get wet. Post lunch – Speyside whisky tour – visited the Cardhu distillery at Knockando and toured, discovered there are many cute names for bits of whisky making. Also discovered that peaty whiskey isn’t the be all and end all of whisky. ‘Plain’ whisky stills are beautiful and look like giant gramophone horns, in copper. Rained on again. Stopped also at Aberlour, and passed by many other famous names. Drank water directly from the River Spey – yum!

whisky-water

Dinner – Thai restaurant in Elgin – best fishcakes we’ve ever tasted, the rest average but by no means bad – waitress delightful, we slipped her a very large tip because her bosses looked evil. Didn’t leave a general meal tip, which could have been a terrible mistake.

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Cats

June 21, 2009

Today we’ve had tea, poached eggs on toast (with chipotle Tabasco and Worcestershire sauces,) followed by a walk up to the markets, where we bought peas and broadbeans and smoked eel and smoked mackerel and heritage tomatoes and mozzarella di bufala (English-made) and asparagus and strawberries and early-season cherries (bloody great!)

Came home and had oysters, then a pea and bean risotto for lunch. Bloody amazing for about £10 for the two of us.

Just been listening to Cat Empire. It’s a sunny summer’s day (the longest one, it’s the solstice!) and they’re brilliant. I’ve been trying to work out how to define what they do – a bit ska, a bit gypsy, a bit mariachi, a bit wog, a bit of a bunch of other stuff, all fun, all great. Feeling good, sitting in the sun with a drink, couldn’t be better.

Then Cat Stevens comes on- Tea for the Tillerman. Great songs, it has to be admitted, but what a palooka. Sorry, but anyone who can happily commit to a fatwah is in my book necessarily an idiot. Come to think of it, anyone who can happily commit to a religion is in some way deeply defective, as far as I can tell. So the music is poisoned. Such a shame.

Yay for Cat Empire, oysters, peas, beans and rice!

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The Flavour of Mystery

August 28, 2008

It is a mysterious taste, as it turns out, because only about 700 people in all of Great Britain have actually tasted anything like it. Good, fresh food, that is (maybe a tiny exaggeration).

The mystery began, as you may remember, when we booked a meal at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage HQ. The secret handshake survived the emailing, and as per instructions we walked with a map carefully memorised (but not eaten, lest it spoil the feast to come), and proceeded on foot down the darkening unsignposted country lane to the designated rendezvous point.

From there, with a group of fellow secret-handshakees, we were conveyed to the final destination by (relatively) unmarked stealth-tractor.

Out of the tractor and into the welcoming yurt (!) (arrayed with chilled Somerset apple brandy apéritifs and marvellous crab canapés) we hors d’oeuvred around the small cheery wood-burning stove warming the cool Devon evening. Then, suitably refreshed, we were welcomed to River Cottage proper. Once on the premises, we discovered, it was pretty much open slather. ‘Don’t disturb the Head Gardener, that’s his place over there, and don’t go into the room that’s been booked for the private function’ were our only real proscriptions. ‘Wander around the kitchen garden, visit the pigs, the geese (and they were delightfully friendly!), the ducks, the generator room, the kitchen, annoy the chefs, that’s what they’re here for!’ The place was ours. ‘Even look at the menu, if you want, before the meal starts!’ The veil of mystery had been whipped away to reveal…

We ate and drank (look here for some of the delicious beverages we imbibed) and yapped copiously in a converted barn, on two long trestles, about 15 to a side, couples across the table from one another, so every couple had four strangers to talk to. Once seated, there was a complimentary glass of English sparkling wine, and the head chef (Noni, Australian, gorgeous) made an appearance to commend the food to us, and tell us the names of the animals (and vegetables) that had given their lives that we might be sated. The bubbly, accompanied by a wild sea-bass ceviche (a bit bland for our taste) was, surprisingly, very good, and the names of the beasts, ‘pig’ and ‘lamb’, weren’t too off-puttingly personal.

— from James Rose(?)

So to the food, should you be interested – I liked the pig’s liver pâté. It had a rustic granularity, and lightness, lent to it by breadcrumbs, but Linda thought it should have been smoother [it’s pâté! pâté! (ed)] The fish soup was a winner. Hearty and fabulously full of stocky richness, well matched to the chorizo chunks swimming lustily back and forth across the bowl. The lamb was pretty damn good, but could have been, in an ideal world, a little bit more succulent (the poor little thing was sacrificed for us and was cooking for about 24 hours and still managed to be a teensy bit dry). The cheeses were a fine mix of assorted goat and cow varieties, with plenty of flavour, but all hard cheeses basically, some more variety in texture would have improved the plate hugely. Also, who knows how many hedgerows had to die to make that jelly? And so to the strawberry fool, what can you say? Fruity, sweet and creamy – quintessential dessert! [Linda didn’t like it at all].

So yes the food was good – not the greatest we’ve had, but close to the best we’ve had in Britain; and the fine, fine staff made the evening top stuff (if ever you read this lovely people you were wonderful – human and informed and all the right things) but the secret to the whole affair was the throwing together of a bunch of strangers, adding lovely tucker and lots of yummy beverages et viola! A top time was had by nearly all. Linda even got to sing along to Big Yellow Taxi with a lovely Cornish lass. What more can you ask for from an evening?

River Cottage rocks!

And we must tell you about the Chicken Out campaign soon.

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Out for the weekend

August 14, 2008

Woohoo! I have days off!

Now that the horror fillum Book of Blood has finished (and that’s a genre, not just a description – I think the director was going for Dario Argento mixed with Great Julienning Disasters Through History, ep.14) I have some time to enjoy the lovely English August. Currently hovering at 18-20C, during the day. Nearly warm enough for short sleeves!

So this weekend we’re off to Devon, spiritual home of the scone, I would assume. Debun, as one of the locals calls it. Maybe they all do. That’s two more research topics for this intrepid reporter. Stand by. The weather report is for mild and fine, until about the hour we arrive on the train at Axminster (I’m very keen to check out the local carpets – I intend to do some barefoot studies), at which point the rain is predicted to set in and keep us moistened for the weekend.

Our spirits will remain strong, however, as we are booked to dine at the River Cottage HQ eating establishment, professional home of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, champion of chickens and all-round good food guy. But more on that next time. Don’t even try to find the location of the restaurant on the website – it’s a closely guarded mystery, I think, and they send you instructions for the secret handshake in an encrypted email only after you’ve actually committed to the booking. Two months in advance. I could be corrected on certain details, maybe, but not without losing some of the fun from the story.

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Okonomiyaki

May 22, 2008

Thanks to a dinner party hosted by our friends Chris and Miwako, we discovered this top ‘new’ (it’s been around for 400 years apparently) food in Sydney. It’s Japanese of course and means something like ‘whatever you like’. Whatever you like is mixed with eggs and cabbage and various other things and then cooked, sort of like a big thick pancake, on a hotplate and decorated in the cutest way with saucy spirals (somehow I doubt that mayonnaise is a 400 year old Japanese staple but what do I know?) and bonito flakes that wave at you and look like they’re still alive. And now we have found our new regular restaurant in London – Abeno.

It’s not primarily for the food that we loved Abeno, although it was very good – it’s the theatre of the whole thing. You are at a table with your very own hotplate, you order from a menu with many, many choices on it, then the (very cute) waiter/chef/cleaner-upperer brings all the ingredients to the table, mixes them, cooks them on the hotplate and serves them to you. It’s all very top fun to watch and induced us to leave an extra big tip because the cuties were working so hard..

Kiso mix – mushroom, lotus root and cheese (!), and spicy naniwa – kimchee mostly. One side cooked…

Flip, lid on…

decorated and ready to eat

Surprisingly, the kiso mix was the better of the two (we really only ordered it for novelty) – in some strange alchemical way the mushrooms, cheese and lotus turned into a tangy, crunchy yumminess.

And the best thing of all – we drank sake from a box! The box was filled way past overflowing -like a sake waterfall – to indicate the host’s generosity apparently. The funnest drink experience ever. It took me ages to screw up the courage to actually drink from said box in case there was some special Japanese way of doing it, but after consultation with Jamesy we decided that there was really only one thing to do…

Kampai!

We had so much fun Jamesy even came up with a haiku:

London sake spring

okonomiyaki here

but first we must drink