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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

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Monday saw the first day of the Galvin Festival of Food and Drink and we were lucky enough to be at Cafe a Vin to have both Chris & Jeff Galvin cooking dishes and telling stories from their Cookbook de Luxe. I am sure my friends think I am obsessed about the Galvin Brothers. I have been in the kitchen at La Chapelle where I toasted some brioche and helped plate up, oh and I prepped some leeks and artichokes. It doesn’t sound much and I am don’t blame them for not letting me do any cooking (especially as they had only recently gained their Michelin star). Cafe a Vin is one of the main three restaurants also that we suggest to friends when looking for somewhere to dine in London. Given that Chris and Jeff, like me, are Essex boys may have something to do with my obsession. It really is great to see too Essex boys building an empire of excellent restaurants. To argue against having an obsession, it is worth noting that we still yet need to dine at Bistro de Luxe, Demoiselle in London and the two Edinburgh restaurants, Brasserie de Luxe and The Pompadour and if that’s not an excuse to go to Edinburgh I don’t know what is.

Back to the Festival. It is a one week event “showcasing the finest in French Food, Drink and Hospitality”. You can read about all of the events being held  here.

We arrived at Cafe a Vin at 6.30pm thinking we were early as we are normally the first to arrive and found the Cafe was already quite busy. Everyone was clearly very keen to attend this event. Chris and Jeff were walking round the room chatting with the guests and also was our good friend, Alex (Alessandro Piombino) who we hadn’t seen for some time so it was very good to see him again. We also managed to have a brief chat with Sara Galvin and I think I made a promise to get over to Demoiselle soon so I will have to do that now. I even managed to have a quick chat with Jack Boast, Head chef of Cafe a Vin, who I am sure had the most stressful night with both brothers in the kitchen.

The atmosphere was very relaxed and friendly and we enjoyed great conversation with the table next to us, getting a sneak preview of a new book about private dining called the Nth Degree. The food as you may expect was superb. The set menu started with Tarte Flambée, a dish that you just have to eat if you go to Cafe a Vin. It was matched with a 2011 Gaillac Sec, Chateau Clément-Ternes and, as we have found out on previous occasions, also goes well with champagne.

The next course was Chilled English asparagus with truffle vinaigrette which is a dish I will have to try to replicate. The vinaigrette is sublime, the perfect partner to the asparagus which had a gentle bite to it. A great starter on any menu as it is so light. I do think that the vinaigrette could be bottled and sold or even sold by the bucket load, it’s that good. The wine to match was a 2011 Pouilly-Fuissé “Les Scéles”, Damian Christophe Thibert.

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There followed an amusing story told by Chris about a visit to the Denham Estate. As I already have a copy of the book I was already smiling when Chris began to speak. The stories alone make it a worthwhile read, you get more than just recipes. We moved on to the main course of Crisp Confit duck leg, black pudding & salad Lyonnaise which was served with a 201 Bergerac ‘Le Sens du Fruit’ Chateau Le Jonc Blanc. The dish is quite rich and the black pudding is a perfect partner to duck. I will admit to being surprised with the salad as I don’t usually like salad with hot food. It added a freshness to the dish and of course I should never doubt any combination that Chris and Jeff put together. It is one of those dishes though where you can feel quite full and just want to take another bite, then another and just as you feel fit to burst you take one more mouthful.

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Before dessert it was time for Jeff to take to the floor with an anecdote of working for Nico Ladenis and a very expensive bottle of Chateau d’Yquem 1929. To get to dessert I have a confession. I didn’t take a picture which seems to be a habit of mine. By this point I am always so engrossed in the food that I forget to pick the camera up again. I did realise after and contemplated taking a picture of the empty plate. Dessert was a lemon tart. The lemon tart is one of those dishes that looks like it should be very simple. I have never attempted to make one and we were told that Marco Pierre White would take on new chefs from their ability to make a good lemon tart. I did have this dessert last year at Cafe a Vin and it never fails to disappoint. The balance or sweetness and tartness is perfect, the consistency of it gives a slight wobble and the pastry is so crisp that I can only dream of being able to make pastry that good. There was a big surprise with the dessert wine, not in it’s choice but the fact that my wife loved it. This is someone who doesn’t like dessert wine and often gets a sherry or brandy to match dessert. The wine in question was a 2009 Chateau Delmond Sauternes.

It was a wonderful night and a great opening to the week which I hope everyone enjoys as much as we did. One of the events taking place is the Apple Tarte Tatin competition where you are invited to make a Tarte Tatin and tweet a photo, the finalists being invited to Bistro De Luxe with their prepared Tartes for tasting. My entry is in and I nervously await to find out on Thursday morning to find out if I am a finalist. I say nervously waiting, I have no doubt there were many entries that looked a lot better than mine and in true British manner I will say “It’s the taking part that counts”. Whatever happens, it got me in the kitchen enjoying myself.

Thank you to Chris, Jeff, Sara, Alex, Jack and all the staff at Cafe a Vin for a great night and many more to come.

For more information on Galvin Restaurants, please visit http://www.galvinrestaurants.com

The book, A Cookbook De Luxe is published by Absolute Press and I am sure you can still get a signed copy from one of the restaurants. It would be best to directly with the restaurants. Believe me, the book is a must in any cookbook collection (I now have two copies, see obsessed comment at the start).

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For the last couple of months I have been receiving a weekly veg box. This is something I have tried a few times and until now I have not been too impressed. The previous suppliers I found were a bit pricey for what you got and the quality wasn’t brilliant. One supplier even gave me a free trial and sent me a box of veg which was half rotten. Not a great sales pitch there. Seeing a tweet from a friend who sells cheese & local made pies I popped over to see him at a local food & craft fair. I was pointed in the direction of a veg stall and had a chat with one of the owners of Rocket & Rhubarb. I was impressed by the quality of the veg they had on show, especially the kale which was a vibrant green, unlike the ready packed stuff you get in the supermarkets. I also liked the prices, the veg boxes start as low as £8 a week and there’s no sign up, no committment, no contract. You can let them know when you do and don’t want veg, add items, change items, the most flexible scheme I’ve seen locally.

So I picked up some veg and put my name down and havent looked back since. In fact I get quite excited about receiving the latest box and I never look to see what I’m getting, I like the surprise. This all suits how I like to cook, walk into the kitchen, look at what I have and make something. So a box of unknown veg each week is perfect for me, I see whats delivered and let my mind become inspired. I especially enjoy using up the remaining veg before the week is over and the next box is delivered. It’s also handy that there is a veg stall local to me that I can call upon should I need any extra ingredients.

These are a few things that I’ve made since receiving the boxes.

Tuna steak with grilled courgettes and a courgette and carrot salad in a lime, chilli and honey dressing.

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Pork chop with potato, swede & turnip.

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Pork belly, savoy and local free range egg

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Pork belly, parsnip crisps, braised white cabbage.

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Carrot, potato & onion rosti, kale, duck breast and rhubarb sauce

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Pork Loin, savoy, leeks & a spicy beetroot & apple sauce

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For details on the veg boxes please visit Rocket and Rhubarb at www.rocketandrhubarb.co.uk or follow them on Twitter @Rocketrhubarb

Special thanks to Richard, The Cheese and Pie Man for pointing me in the right direction @CheeseAndPieMan

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It’s funny sometimes where a simple discussion can lead. Over a year ago as my Wife and I were looking at where to hold our 40th birthday meal. We put our Twitter friends to work and a chef replied suggesting the restaurant where he is Head Chef. Whilst we liked the idea and the venue, it was a bit far to get everyone to. However, the restaurant in question stayed in my mind and I have been finding an excuse to make the trip to Sussex. The Chef that tweeted me all that time ago was Matt Gillan and the restaurant is The Pass. Finally this year, we made the trip and even booked up to stay at the South Lodge Hotel where The Pass is situated.

What a good decision this was and why did we wait so long. When we arrived at the hotel is was like a different world. Just a few minutes from the Motorway but surrounded by the beautiful British countryside. We felt relaxed even as we parked up. Entering the building takes you into instant luxury and class. The staff greet you in a professional and friendly manner and they had the pleasure of telling us we had been upgraded to a Master Suite. This was a better start than we could imagine, the suite is massive. I don’t think I have stayed in a full suite like this before. We were taken into the lounge area, shown into the bedroom and then shown the bathroom. Someone, me, got very excited to find a TV in the bathroom.

We were also greeted by Minty the Lamb who was sitting on our bed. Minty’s job is to either sit and watch TV with you or to sit outside your door telling staff not to disturb you. There’s also a DVD library which I think is an excellent touch, although our choice of film to watch during the afternoon was a bit dodgy. I say our choice, okay it was my choice. It is little touches like this that make a difference I think between a good hotel and an excellent hotel. We settled down to watch our DVD after a light lunch in the bar where I had a superb fish finger sandwich and a great local beer. All in all it was a very relaxing afternoon.

Minty The Lamb

Minty The Lamb

Early evening we had a refreshing G&T in the room as we got ready and then headed to The Pass. We were shown to our table, I of course sat so I was facing the kitchen directly and my Wife had a TV screen to watch. You actually get to see the action for the Pass Kitchen and that of Camellia, the hotels second restaurant. We decided on the six course tasting menu and the wine flight to go with it. There was a lovely couple sat on the table next to me and it almost became a table of four as we chatted which shows how relaxed the atmosphere is.

Below are the courses, minus one which I forgot to take a photo of as I got a bit over excited about the food. Thank you to the couple beside us who kept reminding me to take a photo before we started each course (but why didn’t you make sure course 5 was included?)

Roasted celeriac, cheese beigne, muscatel vinegar, served with Nyetimber classic cuvee 2008

Roasted celeriac, cheese beignet, muscatel vinegar, served with Nyetimber classic cuvee 2008

Shin of beef, horseradish, sprouts, almonds, served with Crozes Hermitage La Matinere 2010

Shin of beef, horseradish, sprouts, almonds, served with Crozes Hermitage La Matinere 2010

Pollock, hazelnut crust, clam chowder, baked salsify, served with Chardonnay Veramonte Reserva 2010

Pollock, hazelnut crust, clam chowder, baked salsify, served with Chardonnay Veramonte Reserva 2010

Breast & leg of chicken, onion textures, mushroom cream, served with Valpollicella Classico, Bolla 2011

Breast & leg of chicken, onion textures, mushroom cream, served with Valpollicella Classico, Bolla 2011

There should be a picture of a rum pannacotta with banana and marzipan here but it was so good I ate it before taking a picture.

Lemon tart, passion fruit, green tea meringue, served with Pineau de Charentes Vielle Reserve Or Cognac

Lemon tart, passion fruit, green tea meringue, served with Pineau de Charentes Vielle Reserve Or, Cognac

The food at The Pass is exquisite. Every dish was cooked to perfection and there wasn’t one ingredient out of place. My favourite course was the shin of beef, I could eat that all day long. It was interesting with dessert to have a cognac to go with it. I am not a cognac drinker but have to say this was an excellent pairing. I did volunteer to help with their next food and wine matching or their search for new wines as I am just a nice chap and would do that for them. I await the call.

We had a great chat with Matt Gillan after the meal which ranged from how to keep a clean kitchen to Great British Menu and that there are too many chain restaurants in Chelmsford. I had to praise the kitchen and front of house staff, very friendly and everything ran smoothly, we really couldn’t fault anything about the meal, well apart from that it had to end.

Now we had the frills which is the five star hotel and our amazing suite. We’ve had the food from The Pass and I bet some of you are sitting there thinking “what about the Ferraris”. Well, there just happened to be a Rally taking place in nearby Horsham and many of the participants were staying at South Lodge. We had seen a couple the day before but were not prepared for the Friday morning as we walked back to our car. We walked up the path with our bags to our little 308 and were met with a sea of red. We had a wander around and chatted to one of the owners and stood there thinking just how much money was in that car park. It was a great way to finish of a lovely overnight stay.

Want one

Want one

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For more information on South Lodge Hotel and The Pass, please visit www.southlodgehotel.co.uk

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The Curlew

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Down in Bodiam there is a restaurant called The Curlew. From our first ever visit we were made to feel like regulars and matched with great food, The Curlew became a firm favourite of ours instantly. I have been looking through my blog and realised I have never written a post about The Curlew and I’m not quite sure why. I have told so many people about our visits there, making an annual pilgrimage across the Thames and the dreaded Dartford crossing. We stay in a lovely B&B within walking distance so we can fully relax and enjoy ourselves.

Now due to recent events in my personal life, we have had to put our yearly visit to the Curlew on hold (hopefully just on hold). So instead this year I made a call to Mark Colley, the owner to ask if I could gain some kitchen experience with the team there. It’s funny how I know Mark and of The Curlew. You see, my wife and I were at an Obsession event in Selfridges, where we did not meet Mark and Sara Colley. Mark read my post about the event after and realised we had both been there at the same time. Hearing Marks enthusiasm about the restaurant I had to get down there and so the annual trips started.???????????????????????????????

Last year the whole kitchen brigade changed, headed up by Chef Andrew Scott. I only remembered that I had never met the current kitchen team as I drove down through the snowy lanes early on a Wednesday morning. I’m a fairly shy person on first meeting people so this was quite a big thing for me, I was about to go into a kitchen where I didn’t know anyone apart from via Twitter. I left early enough to avoid the Dartford crossing traffic and was in the kitchen for lunch and dinner service to avoid the traffic back. One of the highlights of the day was getting back to the Dartford Tunnel and not having to pay the toll as it was so late.

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Anyway, back to the kitchen. I was welcomed in by Nick Bennett, sous chef, and introduced to the team. I was shown where to change, put on my whites and headed back into the kitchen. I was put on the larder section with Nick and set to work prepping. Now I could list of the things I done all day but I would be here a while and probably send you all to sleep. What I will do is leave you with some pictures and simply say, get yourselves down to Bodiam and enjoy the food of The Curlew. Great food, great venue, great team. It is clear that everyone from front of house to the kitchen to the owners, Mark and Sara, all have a passion for good food and service.

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For further information on The Curlew, please visit their website http://www.thecurlewrestaurant.co.uk or on Twitter @thecurlewbodiam

You can also follow Andrew and Nick:
@Andrew_J_Scott
@_nick_bennett

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I have been trying to find the right subject for my first post of 2013. There have been various successes and failures in the kitchen, the successes being fairly unremarkable dishes until recently. Two things happened the other week, the first was I went to a local farmer’s market as my favourite pie man was there. I popped along to the very small event, probably only about a dozen stalls but it was good as it wasn’t table after table of home made jam. Each stall was different and after getting my hands on the pies I was pointed in the direction of the veg stall. I eyed up the veg and have to say by looks it was all good. I decided to buy some kale and potatoes to try out but did sign up for a very reasonably priced veg box to be delivered.

This was just the start of my latest inspirational journey. I was then working at our head office in London for the week and for my pleasure, but my wallet’s detriment, this is right next door to Borough market. Then to add into the mix an invite to my mum’s for the weekend who has a lovely big kitchen where I usually end up cooking (against my will honestly).  Come Friday, I knew my veg was being delivered and I scoured the market whilst trying to avoid the annoying tourists who seem to think it’s a place to just stand in the way and take photos.

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I headed for the mushrooms first as we’d already decided to have steak. I had no idea what I was doing, I just love the veg stall in Borough, especially the mushroom part, a food I never liked as a child and now love. I picked up what seem to be my usual now, girolles and chanterelle, shoving some in a bag and then spied some Japanese Enoki and another variety I didn’t even ask the name of but like the look of. Then I spied pink oysters which to me look like the kind that people make into cakes and tea (so I’m told). That was it, I had to buy and go before I bought the whole lot.

Then onto meat and I perused the meat counters to find some tasty looking ribeye steak for three of us. Organic steak, my wallet almost had a heart attack. Oh well, it’s been a while since we had dinner at my mum’s and mums are worth it. I needed pork for my non steak eating wife and being me I chose loin chops even though she doesn’t eat meat off the bone, but by jove it will be cooked on it. So off to Ginger Pig it was and the pork looked so good as well as feeling silly for only ordering one chop I asked for a few more and a slab of pork belly. This trip to just pick up a few things for one dinner was getting out of hand so I grabbed some lunch and headed back to the office, somehow stuffing my purchases into the small office fridge.

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After a couple of after work drinks in the Market Porter where I probably talked food mainly, I gathered my bags and headed home to Essex, sitting with a proud look as my Borough Market bag sat next to me on a not too busy train. Yes fellow commuters, you look and wonder what’s in there, feeling envious of my fresh produce. I get home and walk to the local curry house, order dinner and grab a lift home where my wife is waiting with cold Cobra in the fridge for me. Well, really I’m not going to start cooking late on a Friday night.

The next day I am able to have a proper look in the veg box that had arrived but actually then realised I had no need of it for Saturday night but all was not lost as this just gave me ideas for Sunday and beyond. I pack my bags, knives, a few herbs, seasoning, the steak, one huge pork chop and the mushrooms and head with my wife to my Mum’s. After a freshly ground coffee I get to work, slicing red onions for slow cooking, in goes rum, a little sugar and butter to cook in a tray under foil for a good two hours on a low heat. I love cooking onions this way.

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We decide on chips to go with them, oven chips my way. Maris pipers are peeled and chipped and coated with garlic and rosemary olive oil, pinch of salt and pepper and they basically roast in the oven I guess. The pork was seared in a pan with seasoning, nothing fancy and then transferred to the oven with a dash of honey. The steak again, nothing fancy, salt & pepper and pan fried to just under medium as I like ribeye cooked a little longer. The mushroom are washed and fried up in thyme and butter with the exception of the Enoki which I put in a Dijon mustard, olive oil, honey and cider vinegar dressing as an alternative to mustard with the steak. Bit of a mushroom overload but no one seemed to mind.

Dinner was served up with the addition of tomatoes that had roasted in the pork juices. It’s a meal that never fails to please and always produces empty plates. I love steak and was my second in the space of three days. Mine was better. Look out for part two coming up with the contents of the veg box and what I’ve cooked up with it in the kitchen.

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The Jury Went Out

A little play on my name here and the phrase “The Jury is Out” as I popped back to The Chancery last week. I had visited a company just down the road in the afternoon who were transporting me to Parliament for the launch of “See Psoriasis: Look Deeper”, a new campaign to ensure the correct treatment of patients with psoriasis, recognising the psychological impact on the patient. If you’d like to read more about it, you can read my other blog, My Skin and I http://wp.me/p2f785-32

As I was dropped off back at Chancery Lane, I dropped Zak a line and asked if they had a spare table. Now I’m not one for dining alone normally so I was planning a quick in and out and it actually turned out that Zak joined me for dinner which was great. Hearing a few stories about the perils of owning a restaurant and how good it would be if I owned the restaurant, in the middle of the legal centre of London, and renamed it The Jury. I checked my bank balance on the way home, I’m a bit short to buy my own restaurant. But a man can dream.

Anyway to the food. I have gone on about the food at The Chancery recently so I won’t go on too much and just share the pictures. Oh and you might notice that I once again had the Venison dish. Yes it’s that good I had it twice. Now if I’d been that Remington chap, I’d have bought the company.

Lobster Cannelloni

Sweetbreads

Flame Grilled Mackerel

Venison – again

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The Chancery

It’s saturday the 13th October. I’ve made quite a nice meal, cumin spiced lamb kebabs with a spicy tomato sauce and rice with onions, green chilli and courgettes. Followed by a plum tarte tatin. It’s nice, really nice but I can’t help wish I was somewhere else. You see this time last week I was getting to the end of a dinner at The Chancery.

On a Saturday evening, The Chancery is like a little place, hidden away, one of those places you think only you know about. It’s in the middle of the legal centre of London which may explain why the area is so quiet. I had been into London with my Dad, another trip back to the tailors as my Dad had spied a jacket while we were there last time and was having it adjusted. This made it an early dinner, half 6 sitting so it was fairly quiet when we entered, one other table taken.

I done my usual, looked at the menu before I went and had been thinking all day of one dish, the main course I knew I would pick. Still, I look through the menu, the starters do have me a little stumped. We order wine, a 2008 Malbec, one of my favourite wines. We actually got a glass of champagne on the house which I’m told was a perfect match for the starter my dad had chosen, cured salmon, verbena, pickled beetroot and horseradish. I went for the Wild Rabbit Ballotine with smoked onion puree, girolles and bacon vinaigrette. I’m sure there is no connection with me having recently bought girolles for the first time and a recent habit of ordering courses that have girolles in, well I’m almost certain. This is a great starter for me, light and subtle flavours. Everything works, and the vinaigrette brings it all together. My dad’s reaction tot he salmon says it all, he smiles, gives me a nod of satisfaction and takes another bite. The salmon was on my shortlist, sort of wish I’d had two starters, maybe next time.

We both went for the same main, the venison with glazed beets, celeriac, apple and blackberries. Thinking of this dish now is the reason I want to be back there. Venison is my favourite meat. This dish is one of the best venison dishes I have ever had. In fact I have been raving about this dish all week, telling anyone who will listen. The meat was so tender and it comes with beets, it’s like they knew my favourite foods. The addition of blackberries I was wary of at first. Why was I wary? It just works and it makes the dish interesting, sweet tender meat mixed with a tangy blackberry. My mouth waters every time I think about it.

We move on to dessert, probably still a glass of wine each left in the bottle so no dessert wine ordered and then two glasses of dessert wine appear, again on the house. Okay, so no after dinner drink, we’ll be hammered. My dad went for the Millefeuille of raspberry and pistachio. Have to say I’m not even sure I remember what it looked for as I was concentrating too much on my dessert, Amedei Mousse, ginger, kumquats, and marmalade ice cream. Now I thought I was lucky having such a great mousse the other week, now I am in mousse heaven. Another brilliant mousse, the perfect dessert for me, light and easy to eat.

We’re at the point we sit back, enjoying a coffee and preparing ourselves for the train home. I should tell you about the service, it’s friendly and relaxed. As we were having coffee I had noticed that the restaurant was almost full. I think this speaks volumes considering how quiet that area of London is at the weekend. I really enjoyed watching a new waiter being trained, I’m sure he will do well learning the trade there. Being an evening meal, the lighting is lower so I didn’t take any photos as they wouldn’t have come out but I have stolen one from head chef, Simon Christey-French as he was kind enough to tweet a picture of the venison dish tonight, hopefully he won’t mind me posting it here.

For more information on The Chancery, visit http://www.thechancery.co.uk

You can follow Zak Jones on  Twitter @chancerylondon and Simon Christey-French @christeyfrench

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