Category Archives: Food & Drink

Partnerships – beer & cheese

I wrote a while ago about the satisfying culinary union of a ripe avocado and a few slices of salty bacon, shoved between a couple of slices of soft wholemeal bread and smeared with spicy brown sauce.

Hungry?

Like cheese? Its usual bedfellows are crackers, grapes and a decent glass of plonk, right?

Well, thanks to good friends Barry & Alex we tried out the slightly off-beat marriage between beer and cheese last Friday, in a cracking collaboration between The Hungry Guest in Petworth and the Arundel Brewery.

(image courtesy of The Hungry Guest website)

Arundel Brewery

(image courtesy of the Arundel Brewery website)

We were served 5 separate combinations of beer and cheese, with some very informative tasting notes on each pairing, and these general characteristics.

  • cut – the bitterness of hops and the carbonation in some beers will “cut through” the richer flavours and textures of cheese
  • complement – two similarly toned pairings merge together, for example poached chicken with a delicate beer, or chargrilled meat with a similarly robust ale
  • contrast – food paired with beer, whose taste notes have an opposing nature – a tart fruit beer with a rich chocolate pudding, for example

So which liaisons worked best?

My own favourite was the Smokehouse Porter (6% ABV) guzzled alongside a complementary Gruyere de Jura. Strong flavours all round – “a wonderfully rich smooth beer with subtle smokey overtones. Our friends at Besmoke (based opposite the brewery) smoked our malt over Sussex Apple Wood using their PureSmoke technology”. The smokiness of the ale definitely worked with the nuttiness of the gruyere. YUM!

Image result for arundel brewery smokehouse porter

Sounds a bit poncey? It could have been, but the whole evening was informative in a quietly understated way. No quaffing and chortling here, just some hard-working people who are clearly passionate about good, local ingredients.

Another successful combo was Big Love and Stichelton Blue Cheese. In this contrasting affair (well, they do say opposites attract) the 5.0% ABV beer, with 40 kg of fresh raspberries in the 1,800 litre brew), conjured up “a slightly tart aftertaste to the fruity ale”, and which offset the creamy full-on flavour of the exceptional blue cheese.

Image result for stichelton blue cheese from the hungry guest

Cheese & wine parties are so 1970s, darling. I’m off to Arundel to shove a load of the brewery’s interesting beers into the boot, and swinging by the temperature-controlled cheese room at The Hungry Guest in Petworth on the way back, to provide a very contemporary and artisanal beer & cheese party.

Now, shall I invite some contrasting friends…or some cutting ones?

 

Christmas Wine Taste Test Results

We sniffed, we looked, we held to the light, we checked for tears and legs, we sipped….and then we guzzled.

Image result for wine tasting clip art

Christmas Day in the Morris household (thanks, Paul & Carol) got off to a flying start, with a rather special wine tasting challenge.

I wrote before Christmas about how I was about to break open my first prized bottle of Sassicaia, from the renowned Tenuta San Guido estate, near the Tuscan coast. And how I didn’t think my oenophile brother would be able to tell the difference between a £120 bottle of wine, and a more modest £10 one.

I moved the goalposts a little, I must admit. The contenders were a decent Barolo (£20) and a more modest Cabernet-Merlot from the Barossa Valley in Oz (£10). Neither of which were direct Cabernet Sauvignon competitors for the mighty Sassicaia.

Image result for sassicaia

So the test was all about price v taste.

How did we do?

It’s all a bit of a blur, to be honest. The only thing I can report with any confidence is that nephew Steve was the only guzzler to get all 3 wines in the right order. Take a bow, Steve. Move over, Bruv…the baton has been passed to the next generation.

What conclusions can we draw?

Absolutely none.

I probably didn’t let the wines breathe for long enough. They were all transported close to a lot of cheese. And some cranberry jelly. And we’d already drunk a glass or two of Sauvignon Blanc, with some smoked salmon and other nibbly stuff. And we swallowed, rather than spat. And perhaps we just know a lot less about wine than we thought….

But it was fun.

I think the next bottle of Sassicaia will be opened in splendid isolation. No fraternising with cheese during transportation. No confusion with other wines, however extravagant or humble. And decanted, aerating for much longer. And perhaps eaten alongside some rather buonissimo Italian food.

But in the end, I guess all that matters is enjoyment. Whatever the price. A metaphor for life.

 

Christmas Cabernet Taste Test

It’s just over 2 years since I hung up my abacus, and entered the Retirement Zone. As a leaving present, my thoughtful and generous ex-colleagues at Runpath and lovemoney gave me 6 bottles of wine.

But not just any old wine.

2011 Sassicaia, Bolgheri Sassicaia, Tenuta San Guido, Tuscany

This was 6 bottles of Sassicaia, from the renowned Tenuta San Guido estate, on the Tuscan coast just south of Livorno and not far west of the enchanting towers of San Gimignano, in our beloved Italy.

Image result for san gimignano

Sassicaia is now recognised as one of the world’s best Cabernet Sauvignons. But it wasn’t always so. Read here about the interesting history of the estate, and about how the wine was only drunk privately from 1948 to 1967.

And this is what posh vintners Berry Brothers & Rudd say about it now:

Sassicaia is today one of the most sought-after fine wines in the world. This is largely because of the vision, energy and drive of proprietor Mario Incisa della Rocchetta.

The Sassicaia estate at Bolgheri came from Mario Incisa della Rocchetta’s wife’s family who had owned land there since 1800 – the name Sassicaia means,place of many stones, and the gravelly soil has been compared to those found in the Médoc. He planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and engaged the services of Piero Antinori`s winemaker, Giacomo Tachis.

Sassicaia’s first vintage was released to universal acclaim in 1968. Sassicaia is now widely accepted as one of the world`s greatest Cabernet Sauvignon wines and made history recently, being the first single wine to be granted its own DOC. The wines of Sassicaia combine intense notes of cassis and cedary elegance, with extraordinary power and length.

My own humble 6 bottles of the 2011 vintage have been laid down in bonded storage at BBR since 2014. But no longer. They have finally been released into my sweaty hands, awaiting suitable occasions to enjoy. And with my 60th year fast approaching, I’m not expecting any will survive until this time next year.

My brother Paul fancies himself as a bit of a oenophile.

Image result for oenophile cartoons

(image courtesy of Jantoo Cartoons)

Well, let’s find out, shall we?

I shall be uncorking my first prized bottle on Christmas Day, at the festive gathering of the Morris Mob. But to make it interesting, I’m going to give a blind tasting of 3 separate red wines.

Will Paul – or any other Morris – be able to tell the difference between an everyday drinking £8 Cab Sav from the Sunday Times Wine Club, a very decent £20ish option from the posh section at a supermarket, and the mighty 2011 Bolgheri Sassicaia Tenuto San Guido vintage, yours for around £120 a bottle?

Stay tuned to find out.

I just hope the Sassicaia has travelled well…..

Restaurant review – River Cottage

 

18-Agretti-Heart-Corbis.jpgSo what was the spindly green vegetable?”, I asked. “Looked a bit like samphire?”

Agretti“, said the chefs. “Italian. But we grow it in the garden here, then cook it and serve with three types of beetroot – candy, purple & golden.”

Nice. Loved it. And what about the cabbage?….I’ve spent 59 years avoiding it, but that tasted so good with the beef and all the other veg.”

“Yeah, that’s just a bit of lovely summer cabbage, chopped finely and cooked with chives and lemon.”

Whoever thought vegetables could be so interesting and tasty, almost hoisted to the front of the stage after years cowering in the wings?

I was in the kitchen of River Cottage HQ, in a gloriously verdant valley just outside Axminster, on the border of east Devon and west Dorset. I have never really watched the TV series but one of our holiday group is a fan of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and, staying nearby for a week, Sunday lunch at RC HQ sounded an appealing prospect to us all.

But this is so much more than just another meal.

From the moment you arrive – transported from the car park to the farm by rustic tractor and trailer – everything done here is a joyous celebration of nature and food, rather than a reverential prayer at the altar of yet another temple of gastronomy.

Welcomed in a splendid yurt with a glass of apple cider brandy, we sit on straw bales to hear what’s in store.

In a moment, we’ll bring round a couple of appetizers to enjoy with your drink. Then feel free to wander anywhere you want. The cottage is on the other side of the dining barn. The kitchen garden is beyond the cottage. The pigs and chickens are up on the ridge, by the polytunnels, where the tractor dropped you off. Drop into the cookery school, where they’re being taught how to make blue cheese today. And go and say hello to the chefs in the kitchen.”

Labneh with cumin, pickles and sauerkraut, and pork liver pâté with tomatillo chutney, got the taste buds moving. And after exploring the estate, sitting communally in the cathedral-ceilinged dining barn on two long tables, British split-pea hummus with seeded dukkah, and smoked pollock rarebit with leeks and apple chutney revved up everyone’s culinary engines.

Between courses, ask the friendly chefs about ingredients and techniques. No sweary, over-stressed prima donnas in this kitchen.

 

Or browse through the RC books and other merchandise on display by the bar, although there is no hard sell at any time. Or find out what’s brought your fellow diners to River Cottage.

Back at the table, fennel roasted carrots, green beans with shallots and tomatoes meant the innovative veggie support acts were threatening to steal the main course show.

But not quite.

The undoubted star was the 6 year-old local heifer, barbecued overnight in the rustic smoking machine, carved and served with that perfect combination of blackened crust and still reddish meat. Add a rich, silky beef-bone gravy, anise hyssop Bernaise sauce, roasted skins-off charlotte potatoes, the symphony of vegetables and a glass of red and you have a meal that lingers long in the culinary memory.

Orchard mist jelly, barely concealing cheeky wobbling raspberries, apple crumble, cinnamon and vanilla ice cream completed the show.

We wandered around the estate and trudged back up the valley to cars, reluctant to leave River Cottage behind.

This wasn’t a cheap lunch, but the overall experience was worth every penny. Come here to see first-hand the easy, natural transition of food from farm and garden to table, to understand better how to combine ingredients and how to cook with passion. But don’t come here if you want just another Sunday lunch.

Thanks to all at River Cottage, and especially to Andy Tyrrell – senior sous chef – for his humour and for his patience in annotating all the ingredients for me!

We’ve got a vegetarian friend coming for lunch tomorrow. I hope she likes agretti…..

Restaurant review – Galvin la Chapelle

The Galvin brothers are gastronomic rock & roll stars, with several acclaimed eateries in London and Edinburgh.

Image result for galvin brothers chefs

La Chapelle is their outpost near Spitalfields Market in the city, close to Liverpool Street station and Bishopsgate. Once St. Botolph Hall, the building was a girls’ school in the 1890s and served as a parish hall and gymnasium until 1975. It was due for demolition in the late 1970s, until a group of local residents chained themselves to the front door gates to stop the bulldozers moving in.

Derelict for years, it was only opened again in 2009, as La Chapelle restaurant, after extensive refurbishment for Chris & Jeff Galvin.

Image result for galvin la chapelle outside

And what a refurbishment. As soon as you walk through the front door, the building and the interior space is as much a star as the food. Well, almost. Your eyes are drawn to the soaring cathedral-like ceilings, light flooding in from the Gothic-arched church-like windows, and the suspended mezzanine floor inserted into history.

Image result for galvin la chapelle

The restaurant was awarded a Michelin star in 2011, and continues to dazzle. We went for the first time a couple of years ago, for a special celebration, and vowed to return.

Well, we just have done. With friends, and to take advantage of a special summer menu, at a fixed price of £29 for 5 gastronomic courses, and including a glass of fizz. Yes, it’s expensive, but not bad value really for such an acclaimed venue.

Parfait of goosnagh duck liver was as light and ephemeral on the tongue as a church wafer…but much more sinful.

Lasagne of Dorset crab, with beurre Nantais and pea shoots, was a perfect marriage of English seaside and Italian pasta. I wonder if it will last…

The central culinary pillar was pot roast supreme of Landes corn-fed chicken, nestling down on a risotto of girolles and soft herbs. This was an unctuous dish, a tad salty but with rice of that perfect texture that is so elusive at home.

The cheese course – a creamy blue Fourme d’Ambert, with grape chutney and walnuts – was so small that we sent out a search party to find the fromage.

But a raspberry souffle, bathed in decadent Valrhona chocolate sauce, was a suitably indulgent finale, before we staggered out into the Spitalfield night.

Service throughout was impeccable. Professional, friendly and engaging, but not subservient as it sometimes can be at temples of gastronomy.

If I’m honest, the meal was slightly disappointing. It fell between the twin stools of a proper a la carte menu and a grazing option, and felt a little like a summer conveyor belt. If you decide to push the boat out, la Chapelle is highly recommended but go for the full a la carte experience, if you and your wallet dare.

Scotch Eggs – another referendum

We wandered down to the Godalming Food Festival yesterday.

I overheard somebody saying it was just like Borough Market. Perhaps that was a little overstated, but it was a cracking foodie-fest on a day that seemed – briefly – almost like summer.

All of the town’s restaurants and cafes had spilled out onto the cobbled high street, along with pop-up producers of sauces, cakes and breads, local brewers, gin distillers and cider pressers, German Wurst grillers, Thai satay skewerers, Mexican burrito constructors and Sicilian arancini makers.

We succumbed to some Thai chicken satay sticks and vegetable spring rolls, eaten messily by the bins outside Cafe Nero. And we bought some enticing Scotch eggs and a poacher’s pie from Simon’s Pies to take home.

We have just devoured the Scotch eggs for an alternative Sunday lunch, one an exotic combination of chicken and tarragon, the other piquant chorizo.

But I’m worried. Really worried.

What happens to Scotch eggs in our post-Brexit world, where it’s likely Nicola will engineer a Scexit from the United Kingdom and seek direct entry for Scotland into the EU?

We may once again be able to shape our carrots and bananas entirely to suit English tastes, but will we lose Scotch eggs?

But hold on….London’s very own Fortnum & Mason claims to have invented the crisply coated savoury snack in 1738. Possibly with some inspiration from India’s nargisi kofta, but with no help whatsoever from north of Gretna Green that I – or Wikipedia – can see.

So while we’re in a mood of defiant independence, let’s take back our eggs from Holyrood, wrap ’em with 100% English sausage meat, add a coating of fried Warburton’s breadcrumbs…and call them Brexit Eggs. Or Piccadilly Eggs.

They may be able to take our seat in Brussels, but we want our savoury eggs back.

Restaurant review – Drake’s, Ripley

Foodie neighbours and friends Ian & Jean have long eulogised about Drake’s in Ripley, but somehow we had never quite made it across the Georgian threshold ourselves.

Well, tick that one off the bucket list.

We’ve just enjoyed – with Ian & Jean – our first adventure at this stand-out Surrey temple of gastronomy. And, mange tout Rodney, was it worth the wait!

Remember the saccharine rom-com movie Jerry Maguire? Towards the end of this far-fetched Hollywood piece of schmaltz, sports agent Jerry (Tom Cruise) finally expresses his love for Dorothy (Renee Zellweger) in a long-winded speech.

Her simple reply? Shut up. You had me athello“.

The very first bite, one of three amuse bouches – a tiny morsel of tender beef inside a feather-light crunchy bread-crumbed parcel – sets the tone for everything still to come in a long, lazy lunch at Drake’s.

You had me atcroquette“.

And we were still in the bar at that stage, agonising over the many menu options: should we go for the simple, cheaper fixed-price seasonal lunch menu? The grazing menus….either the 6-course Journey * or the 8-course Discovery? With or without the matched wine flights? Or the a la carte multiple-choice option?

We all decided on the Journey*. Well, it was bucket-list time….

We put ourselves in the expert hands of the sommelier to recommend complementary red and white wines. He delivered. And how appropriate – but surprising – that he served up a subtle, spectacular Pinot Noir from Tasmania, where we were a year ago to the day.

I can’t find words that will do justice to the food that we savoured over the next few hours.

The Journey* was quite simply a culinary trek through perfectly balanced ingredients, beautifully married tastes & textures, and impeccably judged quantities and pacing. All transported from the kitchen by charming staff, professional but friendly, helpful but unobtrusive.

My own highlights?

  • the will o’ the wisp texture of the parsnip crackling, accompanying slow cooked pork cheek, scallop and gribiche sauce
  • the complete dish of guinea fowl, coq au vin, dandelion, wet polenta, king oyster mushrooms and pancetta
  • cinnamon, hibiscus ice and Pedro Ximenez

But that’s really unfair to the rest of the menu, like singling out Geoff Hurst from his 1966 World-Cup winning team-mates.

No wonder Steve Drake has been awarded a Michelin star for the 13th consecutive year, and has recently been voted number 35 in the Sunday Times Top 100 UK restaurant list for 2015/16.

It took us a few years to get here, and it might be another few years before our bank balance has recovered – but thanks, Ian & Jean. We’ve finally been Draked. And we loved it.

JOURNEY

Available for dinner Tuesday and lunch/dinner Wednesday – Saturday

Designed to be taken by the whole table

Leek, Haddock, Quail’s Egg

Slow Cooked Pork Cheek, Scallop, Parsnip Crackling, Gribiche Sauce
Brill, Romanesco, Vanilla and Parsley Root, Grain Mustard, Baby Spinach

Guinea Fowl, ‘Coq au Vin’, Dandelion, Wet Polenta, King Oyster Mushrooms and Pancetta

Cinnamon, Hibiscus Ice, Pedro Ximenez

Roast Plum, Hazelnut Cake, Caraway Syrup, Mint Jelly

Pine Cottage Supper Club

Love food? Love the sociability of dining with friends?

But hate all the shopping, preparation, and washing up?

And there’s always that constant struggle to get the timing right, wanting to serve each course in a blaze of perfectly timed culinary glory, but without neglecting your guests.

The solution? A Supper Club.

Gill had heard about Pine Cottage Supper Club a while ago. Last night 12 neighbourly friends took advantage of the generous hospitality of Chef Snoo Powell and her husband Gary, in their beautiful home in the nearby hamlet of Hydestile.

Imagine the idyllic cottage where Cameron Diaz falls in love with Jude Law in romcom classic The Holiday, and you won’t be far off….

As Snoo says on her website:

Pine Cottage Supper Club is a new dining experience – supper clubs have been on the scene in London and other major cities for quite a while and now we have one in Godalming!

If you want to go out to eat with a group of friends to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or just the fact that spring has arrived, and fancy eating in a very informal and relaxed atmosphere, almost as if you were dining at home, then come and eat at my kitchen table. This is not a formal restaurant – more like eating at the chef’s table.

And although we all dressed formally, the evening could not have been more informal. Or fun.

Glasses of Prosecco were enjoyed in the kitchen, with some exquisite nibbles, as we got to know our genial – and remarkably stress-free – hosts.

Dinner was served at a long unfussy table in my kind of dining room. Surrounded by books. Especially travel books. This is beginning to sound a bit like Through The Keyhole. Who would live in a house like this? I just hope Keith Lemon doesn’t show up…..

The first culinary surprise was an amuse-bouche – although linguistically I prefer the more slangy amuse-gueule (pretentious, moi….?) – of creamy vegetable (courgette?) soup. Served in an espresso cup, it was sinfully calorific, I suspect, and all the better for it.

Most of us had the excellent starter of goat’s cheese and smoked salmon parcels, with rocket and lemon wedges. Although it wasn’t until later that the interesting sweetness was identified as white chocolate.

Through all the conversations and email exchanges with Snoo we’d had before the night, we’d been struck by her ideas and flexibility.

Some people don’t like fishy things? Or goat’s cheese? No problem. Enter an interesting mélange of beetroot and aubergines.

The main course was a vast platter of slow-roasted spicy pork. With perfect filling-threatening crackling. And crunchy spuds. And a week’s quota of fresh greens and vegetables. But – and imagine this in Marcus or Monica’s most portentous Masterchef voice – what really lifted the dish for me was the silky smooth apple purée, the sweetness of the fruit wrapping itself around the meaty pork and iron of the greens. Yum.

To be honest, around this stage of the evening the effects of the Prosecco, white and red wines (bring your own plonk) were kicking in. I have a sense of many sweets arriving, all good – Snoo, if you read this can you please fill in the gaps? But the taste and perfectly wobbly texture of the smoky lapsang buttermilk pannacotta will linger a while. It transported me to Italy, pronto.

The cheese board was laden with – ooh – at least 10 outstanding, and quite unusual, varieties. Bit hazy again….Snoo, any help here, please? And where did you source that great selection?

The evening was over all too quickly. For us, at least. The 5 hours had flown by, filled with an endless stream of imaginative food, laughter, conversation….and an, erm,  interesting choice of inter-course entertainment.

Snoo had offered up the piano’s ivories to be tinkled. Sadly nobody took up that option, but it epitomises the philosophy of Pine Cottage Supper Club….this is your home too for the night.

Huge – and well-fed – thanks to Snoo and to Gary. The word is out.

ps – we’ll be round soon to pick up the cars

CONTACT

Pine Cottage, Salt Lane, Hydestile, Surrey, GU8 4DH

Tel: 01483 860 318

Email: pinecottagesupperclub@gmail.com   

Snoo’s dining table can be found in her family home of over 10 years, nestled in the Surrey hills and overlooking the garden.

You can’t beat a Great Fryup

Just back from a splendid trip ‘oop north, to the Lake District in the north west and then to the North York Moors in the north east.

We stayed at two excellent B&Bs, both providing breakfasts to set us up for long, hard days exploring the Cumbrian fells and the Yorkshire moors in our faithful old walking boots.

I love a full English but even I was wilting after 9 consecutive days of fried breakfasts.

A few observations:

  • the skinny Cumberland sausage is a bit of a wimp, and not a proper man-sized banger like they serve up in Yorkshire
  • you just can’t beat a simple fried egg. Poached, scrambled, boiled – even en cocotte – have their place, but a full English breakfast without a fried egg is like an orchestra without a violin
  • baked beans are the oil that lubricates the engine: without them, the other staple ingredients are a tad too dry. Nice, obviously, but a bit hard-going. The egg yolk does its bit to reduce the density of the sausage and bacon, but for real symbiotic liquidity, it has to be beans
  • bacon should be local and treated with care. If it’s over-cooked, it detracts from the overall dish rather than adds to it. But a couple of rashers belong on the plate, as essential to the orchestra as the fried egg
  • mushrooms can be a lovely addition, especially if chopped to the right size and shape to fit with the rest of the ingredients. And they must be fresh, cooked in just a little butter and definitely still al dente, rather than limp
  • tomatoes can cause arguments. I’m talking about small, fresh ones obviously. Never, ever open a tin and plonk those on the plate next to the other sacred ingredients. Some people like a few small halved fresh tomatoes, grilled and with some herbs sprinkled on their shiny skins. I don’t
  • hash browns. These are American potato concoctions and should NEVER find their way onto a plate with a full English breakfast

Loosen your belt a notch or two by the third day.

And marvel that there really is a place called Great Fryup on the North York Moors. And little Fryup Dale for the small eaters.

 

 

 

Partnerships

Lunch today was a marriage made in culinary heaven: a humble bacon & avocado sandwich, common and yet regal in its symphony of different flavours and textures.

The avocado was ripe enough to slide off its rounded stone without the usual messy palaver. The thin layer left inside its mottled skin was spreadable on the fresh wholemeal bread, with the rest sliced like a moist Braeburn apple for a pie filling.

Slightly salty back bacon had been fried in its own fat – untainted by other oils – until just turning that slight tint of burnt brown that Masterchef says is the perfect finish for the ubiquitous scallop.

The crinkled rashers were eased onto the ridged avocado slices, and into the healthy wholemeal, as comforting as sliding under a warm duvet after a hard day at work. Except that there’s unlikely to be a generous smear of brown sauce in bed, that final ingredient making a bacon & avocado butty such a comforting foodie blanket.

An unlikely partnership perhaps, but a classic example of success through unholy alliances.

What unexpected combinations work for you, I wonder….?