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After recovering on Thursday from a day of 40th Birthday celebrations, we headed into London again on the Friday for another birthday lunch as my Dad wanted to take me and my wife out to celebrate. I also think he is getting a taste for fine dining. It was quite handy though as my suit would finally be ready and so I thought where near Saville Row could we go. The first place that came to mind was Hix at The Albemarle, partly because we had walked past it the other day and partly because I have been speaking to Simon Oakley, the head chef, on Twitter. We did have a sneaky look at the menu as we passed on the Wednesday so I was really looking forward to this, another menu where I knew I would struggle to make a final decision on what to have.

Kentish green bean and shallot salad with Tewkesbury mustard

We took our seat and ordered Gin and Tonics to start, asking for Sipsmith gin and I have to say, the measures are very generous. Whilst we enjoyed out G&T’s and perused the menu, we were presented with a sharing plate of smoked salmon with shaved fennel from Simon. It’s just so good, fairly think slices, not too heavily smoked and superb soda bread to go with it. We ordered and another plate was placed on the table with smoked duck this time which again was just delightful and our meal was quickly turning into 5 courses.

Yorkshire Dales wood pigeon on toast with elderberries

The starters arrived with my wife going for the green bean and shallot salad, my dad on the wood pigeon on toast and me with the snails, wild boar bacon and black pudding (yes more black pudding). Silence spreads across the table, good food does that. I had actually had my eye on the snails & black pudding dish since Wednesday and was really pleased I chose it even if my wife does give me a strange look for eating snails. I didn’t make any notes about wine this time so you’ll have to excuse me for not mentioning them. We did all go for a glass of something to match our dishes though and all were a perfect match.

Dorset snails with Peter Gott’s wild boar bacon and black pudding

On to the mains and as the other two both went for the rack of lamb with roasted squash, I had to be different and ordered redleg partridge with gamekeeper’s spelt. Oh how I love a game bird. I have to say, if I’d seen the lamb before I ordered I may have been swayed towards that as it did look so good. It has to be good when my wife, who normally doesn’t eat meat off the bone, orders it. The partridge was just perfect and I realised that I had never had gamekeeper’s spelt before, even though I thought I had.  So it was a bonus to try something new. I was getting a bit full by this point and made sure I ate all the meat, can’t waste partridge, especially when it tastes so good it’s almost begging you to eat it.

Swinton Estate redleg partridge with gamekeeper’s spelt

We ordered some sides of Sharpe’s express potatoes, which you just have to try, and the creamed spinach which I didn’t try but I noticed the other two tucking into it quite merrily. By this point we had had four courses and I was thinking an armchair and a glass of port would be nice but desserts were calling. We order our desserts and I order a wine to go with mine, while my wife had an Armagnac matched to hers as she doesn’t drink sweet wines.

Rack of Launceston lamb with roasted Maldon squash and green sauce

We spy 3 of the staff approach the table and all holding something behind their backs. I thought it would be our desserts with possibly a happy birthday on it but no, it’s not our desserts, it’s a pre-dessert. It was a light sponge topped with a raspberry jelly and gold glitter, yes it was sparkly which thoroughly delighted my wife. I loved this as we all received one of these except I got a candle on mine. I just about figured out at this point that they know how to spoil people here.

When our desserts do arrive I was wondering how I’m going to manage it and like all good restaurants, you manage to eat it all because it just tastes so damn good. I had the Amide chocolate mouse with cherries and hazlenuts. It’s made just the way I think mousse should be, light & airy. I was really pleased as I’ve found recently that a lot of places seem to be serving the more dense style of mousse which I know some people prefer.  My wife went for the ginger parkin which I never got a taste of (that’s means it’s very good) while my dad had eccles cakes with stilton and a glass of port.

Amedei chocolate mousse with Julian Temperley’s eau de vie cherries & hazelnuts

We finished of this delightful lunch with coffee, having had quite enough alcohol. We sat, relaxed and Simon came out for a chat. It was a great lunch, the venue is stunning and you almost feel like you’re going back in time and I almost felt like Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot to appear at any time. We did actually have a discussion as to whether the hotel had been used for any Agatha Christie films so if you know, please tell us.

The staff were very good, attentive and friendly and felt like we had been regulars for some time, even though it was only our first visit. It was on my list of must-go places and will now be on my must go again list. Thank you to Simon and all the staff at Hix, it was a truly memorable lunch and another great way to celebrate my 40th.

For more info, please visit www.thealbemarlerestaurant.com

Last Thursday we were lucky enough to be invited to Northbank’s 5th Birthday party. Ever since our first visit there we have felt welcome and like old friends and couldn’t turn down the offer to help celebrate with them. I would like to point out that being an Arsenal fan has no reason at all with me liking a restaurant called Northbank. We do love this place, so relaxed and the food is always good. The party was great fun, especially as we won the bottle of Champagne in the raffle and got a fuss from the Owner’s dog, Veronica.

A great night was had by all and some of the proceeds of the night went to Action Against Hunger’s Love Food Give Food appeal. After the party was over, we decided to stay for dinner, dining from the London Restaurant Festival menu which at £20 for 3 courses is a steal. Here are a few pictures from the night.

Meet Veronica

A Great Location

The Patio

GRILLED FILLETS OF MACKEREL WITH CELERY AND APPLE SALAD

SLOW BAKED ORANGE AND ROSEMARY FIGS WITH GLAZED GOATS CHEESE
AND SERRANO HAM

ROAST GUNEAFOWL WITH FONDANT POTATO AND SAUTEED WILD MUSHROOMS

BROAD BEAN AND PEA RISOTTO WITH SHAVED PARMESAN AND PEA SHOOTS

Vanilla cheesecake with poached berries

Happy Birthday!

And it’s goodbye from Ronni

Thank you to all at Northbank for a brilliant night and the hangover at work on Friday was totally worth it.

Northbank is near St Paul’s, right next to the Milennium Bridge. For more infor, visit www.northbankrestaurant.com or follow them on Twitter @NorthbankLondon

For more information about the Love Food Give Food apepal, please visit  www.lovefoodgivefood.org

September saw the big 40 arrive and as I had already had a mini mid-life crisis earlier in the year, I approached the milestone with excitement. There were several reasons for this, one being that a couple of months earlier my wife took me to Saville Row to be measured up for a tailor made suit. Nothing like a piece of fine British tailoring. Then there was the list of ideas I gave to my family as they wanted to make sure I got something I really wanted, so I knew I would get something really special.

Then there was the fact I was being taken for lunch on the big day by my wife. I could choose anywhere I wanted (within reason) and this takes a lot of time to decide. For months I thought about it, going through my list of must eat at restaurants, which seems to grow faster than I can dine out.  Eventually I settled on Koffmann’s. When I thought about it after, there really was no competition as I had never experienced Pierre Koffmann’s food before and had to take advantage.

So I find myself one Wednesday morning boarding the train to London for my second suit fitting at Saville Row before lunch at Koffmann’s. I really don’t care about being 40, I’m just a little kid filled with excitement and it just gets better when the tailor compares me to Sean Connery and Michael Caine due to the style of suit I have gone for. Then we wander a bit, my wife is shopping, I am just thinking food.  I want lunch to arrive quickly, constantly checking the time.

The time finally arrives, we are still about 20 minutes early because somebody was too excited to wander any more. We are shown to our table and the fun begins as Kir Royales are served. We peruse the menu which is just a waste of time as far as the mains were concerned. “Oh I don’t know what to order” I say to my wife as “it all just sounds so good”. Yeah right, I’m at Koffmann’s, I’ll be ordering pigs trotter, I mean what else do you order? The starter was the main problem though and as I reduced my choice between a foie gras dish and black pudding I actually uttered the words “Oh I’ve had foie gras so many times I should have the black pudding”. Yes Simon, it’s not like you haven’t had black pudding very often, you poor deprived man.

We order wine by the glass to match our chosen courses which is great and the sommelier is brilliant, explaining the wines and how they match the food, making sure we try them before we eat the course to taste the difference once drinking with the food. I had the Limoux ‘La Tante Claire Selection’ (Pierre’s Wine) 2001 with my Gascony-style black pudding with bethmale cheese, onions & beetroot. I have never had a white wine of such vintage and I will admit I was a little concerned when I brought the glass to my nose. The aroma is, well how do I put this, it was old and musty, not really that pleasant to be honest. The sommelier encourages me to taste the wine and suddenly I’m in heaven. It is fantastic, I do love a white wine with body. The mustiness just seems to fade from your mind as you taste it.

As I eat the black pudding I force myself not to shovel it down my throat as it taste so good, I want to savour it. This is helped as I keep looking at the generous plate of Serrano ham my wife is eating. My brain telling me that she can’t possibly eat all that ham on her home. I think she must have noticed the longing on my face and eventually offers me to try some. I take a smallish bit, making sure I have some of the radish butter. Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that really please the taste buds and very good Serrano ham is one of the things.

We head onto main, another explanation from the Sommellier as to which wines he has suggested and why and this causes somewhat of a problem. My wife chose the Iberico pork and the wine to go with it is a Cozes-Hermitage, Etienne Guigal 2006. All good so far, the wine is just to my wife’s liking. This is a good time to point out that my wife loves Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The sommelier turns to me and says with the pig’s trotter he suggests the, yes you guessed it, Chateaneuf-du-pape, Cuvée des Sommelier, J.Mestre 2005. My wife gasps, I grab the glass and hold firmly before she tries to dive across the table to taste it herself. It’s good, it’s very good and I delight in telling my wife this. The Somellier obviously noticing my wife’s reaction gives us a little extra in my glass so my wife can try some too.

The pig’s trotter arrives and it’s not quite what I had expected but then I’m not entirely sure what I expected having never had pigs trotter anywhere else. It comes stuffed with sweetbreads and morels and the creamiest mash. The first taste is just an explosion in my mouth, it’s so rich, full of flavour from the cooking liquor that made the skin so tender. I fully understand what the mash is doing there, something lightly flavoured to go with the intensity of the trotter. It is almost too rich a dish for me and I found myself struggling to finish, but I can’t stop eating. It tastes too good to waste any.

My wife meanwhile  makes here way through the Iberico pork dish which contains, loin, a chop and belly. I’m not getting any of that like I did the ham and it’s surprising as she doesn’t normally eat so much meat. I have to say I was a little upset. It is the sign again though of how good the food is, so good you can’t stop eating.

We pause a while and then have a fairly lengthy discussion over cheese before deciding on 4 cheese to share. My wife beams with joy as I offer her the last of my wine as I order a port to go with the cheese. I am happy, cheese, port, if I could have had a cigar I probably would have.

Then we start to look at the dessert menu. I’m stuffed but you have to have dessert, it’s the law when eating out. My choice was actually more exciting a few days later when a certain chef by the name of Pierre Koffmann made the very same dish on Saturday Kitchen. I had the pistachio soufflé with pistachio ice cream.  It’s my kind of dessert, light, tasty and has pistachio, I think possibly my favourite nut.  It’s just beautiful. My wife, who is a fan of all things rum and baba and the rum baba which she tells me was very nice, but they could have been a bit for generous on the rum. Although again we were too interested in eating the desserts to take photos.

The drinks to go with dessert were interesting. Two bottles of sherry were brought over to the table for my wife to decide which one she preferred. Some may think, sherry with dessert? (oh and they were sweet sherries either). Don’t knock it until you try it, the one she chose was superb, almost like caramel without the sweetness. Now I may have already been a little on the tipsy side by now, what with a drink before we even got to the restaurant and very little to eat (nothing) before lunch, so my mouth starts speaking before my brain has really registered what I’m about to say. I tell the Sommelier I saw they do a selection of dessert wines and before I know it, 3 glasses of wine appear before me. Each is explained to me and all I remember was one of them was a Sancerre. I think the bargain hunter part of me ordered this, 3 different wines for £15 and it’s 150ml rather than 125ml for just one glass – see bargain!

It was a great meal. I couldn’t fault the food or service and we thoroughly enjoyed what turned out to be a four hour lunch. Pierre Koffmann is one of the legends of cooking and this is a place everyone should have on their list of must eat at places.

From shop to table

Supermarket shopping is always a chore. Strangely though I never thought this when I was at University and knew nothing about food. As I’ve started to appreciate local and British produce, I get increasingly annoyed when I go to the big supermarkets. They do seem to be bowing to some pressure though and you can often find British and even regional produce on the shelves. It still annoys me though that as asparagus season was in full swing, for the first two weeks I couldn’t find any British asparagus on the shelves and it was the same with strawberries.

On the whole I buy my meat and veg from local suppliers, butchers and farm shops.  It is just more convenient to go to the supermarket, especially if, as was the recent weekend, I could only go on the Sunday. So I went with the steely determination to only buy British and do you know what, it was kind of fun. Mainly because it limited my choices and became the inspiration for dinner. As I shopped, dinner started to form in my mind with each ingredient I came across.

I had gone with the intention of getting some pork tenderloin so that was the basis for my meal and I picked up a nice looking piece of Herefordshire pork. I then went to the veg section and found the few British items I could after picking up veg that is in season over here to find they were from Spain, Malta and further afield. It is handy that a certain supermarket has started using Union Jack packaging for their veg. I picked up some fresh peas, still in their pods and the flash of inspiration hit me, it had to be a creamy sauce and at first I thought a white wine & tarragon sauce but then quickly replaced the wine with cider.

Remembering a recipe for a white wine & tarragon sauce I once used, I picked up some British shallots and tarragon. Then I thought this isn’t quite substantial enough so I perused the veg aisle again and finally found some British curly kale and shitake mushrooms. My mind was not fixed on dinner and I actually forgot about a few things I needed to pick up as all I could think of was getting to the alcohol section to choose the cider.

I took my time, picking up certain ciders then putting them back, thinking I wanted something that really tasted of apples and plumped for a still dry cider which just happened to be in a 3 for a fiver offer, dammit, I’d just have to buy another two bottles.

Once home I could hardly wait to start making dinner but after some lunch I was satisfied enough to wait until the evening. I just love the point of prepping, starting to smell the food, the shallots sweating in the pan, the freshly chopped tarragon giving that aniseed aroma through the air. Adding the cider to the pan to deglaze the pan. I even enjoyed shelling all of those peas which seems a thankless task considering how many pods you shell for so few peas, that is until you get to eat them.

Seeing the dish come together from the spark of an idea to a tasty dish that does actually celebrate all that is good about British produce. So I leave you with a picture of the finished dinner, pork tenderloin with fresh peas, curly kale & shitake mushrooms in a creamy cider & tarragon sauce.

This has been and will continue to be quite a year. 2012 means a lot to many British people, what with the Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympics coming to London. For us, 2012 has a very different meaning. We have seen the arrival of our first niece, my brother-in-law turned 40, I turn 40, my wife turns…. Erm 21 and my Mum turned 70. I may have lied about my wife’s age and you may think why I was so honest about my Mum’s age. Well that’s because this little piece is about her party.

This wasn’t a surprise party by any means and most of it was actually arranged by my mum. The choice of venue, the decorations and the menu was all down to her and her husband. Us children did have a few little surprises up our sleeves though, cue tears and laughter as we show a slide show of my mum through the decades.

On to the food though, after all this is a food blog. The venue was Bury Lodge near Stansted Airport. It is a converted 16th century barn and makes for a great party or function venue. It is almost one long room, a bar at one end, and the disco down the other. The room looked stunning but then I knew my mum would have it very tastefully decorated. As we were just finishing checking things the first surprise turned up in the form of the cake. The very talented Lucie of Wonderland Bakery made a cake for us with giant cupcake and some smaller single ones for everyone to enjoy. The theme was my mum’s icons so there were some Mary Quant designs and images of Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra and to add some of her history to it, there were a few images of London, her childhood home. The cakes went down a storm and I gather a few people had theirs for breakfast the next day.

We had a sit down meal which on events like this always worries me a little. There were about 80 guests and I am sure most of you have been to large events, weddings and such like where the food has promised much but delivered little. Usually you get overcooked mushy or almost raw veg , dry meat and a super sweet dessert that wasn’t brought out of the freezer in time. I have to say I don’t always look forward to the food at such events and I do feel for the chefs having to provide perfectly cooked food for that many people all in one go. Before I tell you how the food was, here’s the menu:

Starters

Prawn & Crayfish cocktail

Crispy chicken & bacon salad & a herb oil.

Mains

Pork belly stuffed with apple & sage in a white wine & cider sauce

Lamb cannon with a red currant jus

Desserts

Chocolate trufito

Sherry & summer fruits trifle

Cheese & biscuits

The prawn & crayfish cocktail is a fairly standard starter and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. The crayfish were very tasty as were the prawns and the sauce was moorish. Not the sickly overpowering cocktail sauce you usually get. I don’t know if the chef made the sauce himself or if it was a ready made one but either way it was delicious. Those on the chicken & bacon seemed to be tucking in and enjoying their starters too so we were off to a good, well, start.

The mains are always tricky and I was eager to see how they would turn out and to say I was surprised was an understatement. The lamb was maybe just slightly overdone for how I like it but it was still pink in the middle, moist and had a great flavour. The jus was light and the veg was cooked perfectly. I could have eaten it again it was that good. I think the trick here was the choice of cut for the lamb. Everyone had their own individual cannon of lamb which I would think helped them control the cooking a lot better.  As for the pork, it looked  great and had amazing crackling on top.

As for the desserts I can’t really comment much as I had the cheese & biscuits. I do have to say that the selection was very good and it came with some fresh crisp celery, grapes & crackers. I enjoyed it immensely and could tell that the cheese was of good quality. I’m unsure what the desserts were like but I did only see clear plates going back.

The chef, owner and staff should be commended on the quality of the food and service as everyone was given their meal quickly and there didn’t seem to be any confusion over who had what. Although it was a good idea that on the back of our place settings our choice of menu had been put on the back so the waiting staff could see it and didn’t have to ask what we had.

Bury Lodge certainly restored my faith in banquet dining and I would definitely recommend them to anyone looking for a venue. This is a place that doesn’t just churn out food on a large scale, you can tell they actually think about the quality and are more concerned with providing a great service rather than just taking your money. So well done to Teresa and the team and thank you for a great night.

For more information on Bury Lodge :

WWW.burylodge.com

Phone 01279 816737 or email enquiries@burylodge.com

For your cupcake needs speak to Lucie at Wonderland Bakery:

www.wonderland-bakery.co.uk and you can even have cupcake classes too.

Back to Braxted

A couple of years ago I spent a day at the Cookery School at Braxted Park. Back then it was basically a marquee that with a catering kitchen. It was great fun and I was lucky enough to have won a competition recently to get a free lesson at their new and improved Cookery School. The theme for the lesson was flavours of the Mediterranean and the Chef in charge was 2006 Masterchef winner, Peter Bayless. If I tried to write about the day it would probably make this post far too long. What I have done instead is to post a few pictures and some notes and can say that it was a great day which I thoroughly enjoyed. Peter is an inspirational chef and a great talent. I learnt a few new tips and techniques and have already put some of those to use at home.

Anchovies prepared for the Pissaladiere

The finished Pissaladiere

Freshly made gnocchi

The gnocchi goes into a tomato and spinach sauce, this was delightful.

Peter looks thoughtful as someone tries to gatecrash the Teacher’s side. I’m actually searing the lamb there ready for a tagine.

This is where the lamb ended up. An apricot cous cous was made to go with this.

Peter folding the filo pastry over for the Spanakotiropita or a Spinahc & Cheese filo pie.

Spanakotiropita out of the oven

And for pudding we had Ravani which is an orange scented and syruped semolina cake.

We almost made some bread so here follows the before and after pictures. I learnt a useful tip, if the dough looks like it has cellulite, it’s not ready and requires more kneading.

If you are interested in these lesson please contact The Cookery School at Braxted Park

www.braxtedparkcookery.co.uk or follow them on twitter @BraxtedCookery

Jubilee Buffet

It is a bit late but I thought I’d finally put the pictures of our Jubilee buffet. I haven’t put the recipes on as most were from books, magazines and the web. Hope you enjoy the pictures.

This is a tomato and red onion salad with home-grown rocket on top. This dish was inspired, by Maman Blanc. I was reading Raymond Blanc’s A Taste of my Life and he wrote about a salad his mother made with a Dijon mustard dressing. The dressing is amazing, mustard, red wine vinegar, bit of water and you have the base for it.

From left to right here we have a red & white onion dip with feta & creme fraiche, home-made coronation chicken and a salsa of tomatoes, cucumber, spring onion & chilli.

This is a selection of Cajun chicken breasts and barbecue chicken kebabs. They were fresh but came ready seasoned by my friend Tony at Farm 2 Table.

I have been making this potato salad this year as I needed something that didn’t contain mayo for a pregnant person. So simple, chopped mint, olive oil & seasoning as the dressing for the potatoes.

The full spread, nice use of flags we thought. Then on to the dessert…….

I spent two days making these jellies and yes that’s all there was. I am actually very proud of these as I made the jellies from scratch using gelatine leaves. On the left are Pimms jellies and on the right are my Jubilee Jellies, the bottom layer is prosecco jelly with blue food colouring, then creme fraiche jelly and raspberry jelly.