Food cooking and eating – stories and ideas from a passionate foodie

Sunday, 1:30 booking. Not Sunday lunch though…although we do love a roast.  This was the usual evening menu as the pub trade calms before the December storm. Shopping or saving? Not sure. But hey, who’s complaining when the food is as a magical as this?

Kamal is head chef here. I’ve written about his fusion style before. He is Sri Lankan originally.  A gentleman who takes the time to come out of the kitchen and chat to the happy customers.  And a bit of a alchemist when he is in his domain.

We decided on no starter, and to have two different mains. But an amusee Bouche arrived from chef.  Gravadlax with truffle and more.  Just look at it! A work of art and a work of taste explosions. Oh. This was shaping well.

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Our bouches were amused…

We both had Pheasant in our mains. There are so many shoots around us that the darn side roads are full of escapees. To be honest, anything to reduce their numbers is good news by me. We did our bit by eating a couple!

Mine was a game pie. Hare and Rabbit to add extra flavour to the pheasant. J’s was straight roasted pieces of breast. With roast artichokes to add more excitement. As with all good chefs, the sauces were fantastically concentrated and rich.  Vegetables were fabulously crunchy and fresh.  And the chips were exactly how they are described in the best cook books.  Crispy exteriors but with cloud-like fluffy insides – like you always want and expect the perfect chip to be – but they never are.

And that’s the attention to detail.  It definitely went very quiet when we were presented with the dishes. We did try each other’s. I loved the roasted artichokes. And the pheasant itself was juicy, and as gamey as you would wish. Sometimes I have been drily disappointed with all of the white game birds. Ended up like over cooked cheap chicken. Not here, of course.

I do think game, from pigeon to partridge to pheasant really suits a slow cook -personified by a good old English style pie.  Just succulence at its best.  I ate slower and slower, to both savour and prolong the experience.  Jane said I’d shut my eyes reverentially at one point…I do remember it.  Rather an other worldly experience, to be fair. Just fab.

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Just scrummy…

We couldn’t resist sharing a pud. And very glad we did so…Apple Strudel, with amazing custard sauce, and vanilla ice cream.

We don’t want everyone to know about this hidden gem.  It opens properly, from Wednesday Lunch to Sunday afternoon. Chef is looked after because he really does deserve to be.

I have no idea why I’m publicising them! But hey, I’m going to work my way through the menu over the next couple of months.  I look forward to seeing you in there. But please, if there is a table served for me, don’t complain that you can’t get in. I saw it first!

Thanks Kamal and Liz. It is so good we have this gem so close to home. It’s not a bad old life.

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Pysgoty – Fish Restaurant. Yes it’s Welsh. There’s a reason for that. We are staying Borth, just north of Aberystwyth. Mid Wales on the coast for the English reading this. We were in this tiny restaurant, in Aberystwyth itself. What a find.

(This is the whole place, and through the door, the tiny Kitchen!)

I do tweet (sorry older people…me and Donald Trump are the older ones who do. Currently he has more followers than me…mainly people panic stricken as to what he might pronounce on next..).  I have two hash tags. One is

#INABOL – It’s Not A Bad Old Life

And

#DAGTH – Died And Gone To Heaven

Just had lunch at this amazing place, with our friends T and L and their lovely daughter Rachel.

And I feel compelled to use both hash tags.

The kitchen is a tiny galley.  The covers – 14 inside, max, maybe 24 outside. More a cafe than a restaurant.  Yes, they have to keep things simple, but it is fish and fish – not fish led, or specialising. Just fish. And more fish. (OK pedants, there was puddings – and cheese…).

Scallops

Tony and I cannot see another starter once we have seen the word “scallop”. And the other three had grilled mackerel with mango chilli salsa (but with hardly any chilli and some gorgeous deep fried shallot pieces). And crab bruschetta with tomato salsa. We were next to the open galley kitchen so could see the dishes being assembled.  In the hatch, we witnessed the build, and the calm way chef told the servers where the dishes were headed.  If the kitchen is that small, then calmness is the only positive way to be? I bet some big name chefs could learn a lot from that…

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Reverential silence settled over us.  Until we started to share. Orgasmic. Exotically fantabulous. Simple but best quality ingredients, cooked with honest excitement. And that appears to be the key to the place.

Mains? Three half lobsters from the bay we were looking out over. And two sets of monkfish with a fragrant tandoori sauce – not too spicy, just very tangibly tasty. Served very simply with saffron rice and salad. Our lobsters came with salad plus the strange Welsh delicacy which is Laver Bread, which added a touch of the ordinary (it is a type of seaweed after all) and made the whole salad a bit extraordinary. Chips or New potatoes – those who had the new spuds were jealous of me. They added a set of new potatoes as a side after a slight mix up with the order. They went too. We sent a few shell bits back. Nothing else.

I was embarrassing myself by thanking chefs already. Profusely. And so well deserved. We did have puddings (you are hugely satisfied but not stuffed at that stage…), and they were all rather good too.

A simple wine list. Great suppliers. Calm and hard working chefs. Lovely serving staff. What’s not to love?

I have said before that I don’t want to write a review in case somewhere becomes too popular. I realise I’m over stating my impact, but honestly, this was one of those occasions.

I hope we do get in again in the future. I did say that I would find it difficult to go to another sea food restaurant from that point onwards.

Pysgoty is very very special. Don’t tell everyone.

What to do to break up a 200 mile journey to your holiday destination? Lunch on the way, of course. And I can think of no better way to start a holiday than in The Glasshouse at The Salutation Inn.

Topsham is well served for food outlets. There’s straight pub grub and many a gastronomic pub. And a lot of restaurants. And this hotel, which converted what would have been the entrance for Carriages in the 1850s. A dead courtyard space has been glazed over to make an indoor outdoor style eating experience particularly pleasant.

There is one item if available on a menu that I find hard to resist. Moule Mariniere. I tend to stop reading as soon as I see it there. These are local, River Exe dwellers. What’s not to love? We only wanted lightish lunches, so J had an open local Devon Ruby beef sandwich. And I just had the starter size of the mussels.

 

Topsham Mussels

I just wish you could sniff too…

 

They arrived with the usual aplomb and accompaniments. Lots of bread for mopping up the unctuous liquour. A bit of salt free butter (on a tiny bit of slate – lovely touch). A finger bowl to wash up your stickiness afterwards. And reverential silence as you sniffed the fabulous mixture of garlic, shallot, wine, herbs and samphire.  And it’s that level of ingredient that sets this place apart.  Samphire – sometimes called Poor man’s Asparagus, (shape not taste, I think), – is just a perfect accompaniment to any fish. Far more expensive than just parsley or similar additions.  And it signifies  the attitude level of the chefs here.  Only the best ingredients are good enough

I am sorry the innovators of the IT world can’t let you scratch and sniff the photos yet. One day. Suffice to say I had to tell our servers that I felt I had died and gone to heaven. Perfect food. They suggested a dry Rose to complement the food, and boy, it did.

The beef wasn’t bad either…actually, it was amazing too.  Take a look…

Topsham Beef

Lovely non rushed service, tight and calm and professional and involved. What a fabulous start to a holiday. We managed to get the last table…book to prevent the potential for missing an absolute treat.

And here’s the other things you shouldn’t miss – the choice of Patisserie fantastical creations, and a beautifully constructed Macchiato – the king of coffees for my taste.  A sort of tiny Guinness style concoction, with the head on the Espresso replaced with frothy milk.  A fabulous ending…

 

Celebration Meals

It was my sisters big birthday – it had a zero at the end, and that’s as far as I will go! But what do you do when you are recently confirmed as Gluten intolerant? Or even Coeliac?

I am amazed to learn how many people suffer from this auto immune gut inflammation condition. It has many symptoms including bloating diarrhoea, nausea, indigestion, constipation, malabsorption, iron or Vitamin B12 deficiency, fatigue, and more. Just do a search – you will be amazed. And 1/100 suffer from it…which maybe an underestimate. Milder symptoms may lead to misdiagnosis as (e.g.) Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

And you will all know many people who have cut out Gluten as they are intolerant of it. Every supermarket has lots of gluten free products nowadays.

I had a couple of people away on a residential training course with me recently who were Coeliacs. 2 out of the 12 there…

Both said how much easier it was eating out nowadays, and the catering team at the venue really did know what was what.

Jean 60 family

Which brings me nicely onto our Jean’s birthday bash! She really did want to go out with the family, and had found a restaurant in Liverpool that catered very well for anyone who was Gluten intolerant. It didn’t major on that as its unique difference, but it made it quite clear that they did make sure that their food was suitable for all. I suspect the owner manager might have been a sufferer himself? Also, it is best not to just market as “the gluten free place”, as you might put off ordinary punters? Anyway, they seemed to be doing very well with afternoon tea and bubbles, especially for Baby Showers!

Jean sparker 60

Jam Restaurant (see their website here), was vibrant happy and noisy. The staff were very attentive and helpful, and also seemed to love what they were doing. That doesn’t always happen, as you are probably well aware from your own experience. The menu is light bite, to big appetite to afternoon tea level, to wine bar and snacks. As you can see, we had a grand old time – and a gluten free birthday cake at the end!

Jean birthday cake

Congratulations Sis. It was great to be there…X

This is the main event, and some bits to go with…

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Christmas Dinner in 67 Words

I had a panic text from a family friend last year, on Christmas morning.  Claire was helping her daughter to cook Christmas lunch – and they had not a single recipe book in the house with the advice on how to cook the turkey.  I managed to send them the entire recipe by text!.  If you can text a recipe, then it can’t be so difficult – can it?  Here it is, in its entirety:

“Turkey – 14lb, for serving at 1.45, cooked by 1.15, rested before carving. Start at 8.15 with bird at room temperature.  Loads of butter and strips of bacon on the breast.  First 45 minutes at 220C or 200C for fan oven.  Lower to 170 (160 fan).  Foil off / peeled back at 12.30.  Then lots of basting (every15 mins) to 1.15.  Usually takes longer than you think.”

67 words must be a record for a Christmas Turkey recipe! But at least with these timings, you can be confident of the main attraction being OK?

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Cranberry Sauce – enough for Christmas Dinner and Leftovers

300g Fresh Cranberries

Zest and Juice of one Orange

½ Teaspoon each of powdered Ginger; Cinnamon and Ground Cloves

200g caster sugar*

Port

Gently heat cranberries in a saucepan with the orange, spices and sugar.  Stir until they ‘pop’ (like popcorn) and the sugar is dissolved. Leave to cool slightly and then add 2-3 Tablespoons of Port.

*Cranberries are bitter and this has a sharp, ‘adult’ flavour so you may wish to add more sugar.

This can be made in advance as it freezes well.

and there they are - boiling away!

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Brandy Butter – serves 8 (approx.)

250g Unsalted Butter

250g* Sugar – this can be light or dark soft brown; caster; or icing – or a mixture

5 Dessertspoon of Brandy (or Rum)

 

Cream the butter by hand with a wooden spoon, electric whisk or food processor until white-ish. Add the sugar a little at a time. *You may find you need less than the suggested amount.  I used a mixture of light and dark soft brown sugar and found 200g was sufficient.  Add the brandy a spoonful at a time. Add more to taste but not too much as it may separate.  If this happens, add more sugar.

This will keep 2-3 weeks in the fridge and also freezes well.

 

HAPPY COOKING – AND HAPPY CHRISTMAS

Next – stuffing!!

Stuffings – on Christmas Day

Get the kettle on at 7, and take your turkey out of the fridge.  Kettle is for your well-earned cup of tea for getting up early on Christmas Morn.  You should have taken the plastic bag containing the giblets out of the turkey, but check again just in case!  These bits are excellent to boil up for stock to make real gravy.  As you know, I always prefer to do most things from scratch, rather than using too many convenience foods (like gravy browning or stock cubes and the like). It feels easier to control salt, sugar, E numbers, antioxidants, and all the other additives that are in most convenience foods by doing this.  It tastes better too.

I have two favourite stuffing’s – Sage and Onion and Apple and Chestnut.  I will start with the second one – which may be surprising as you may think chestnuts could be a problem?

  • 1 pack chestnuts (Whole ones are good)
  • 1lb of pork sausage meat
  • 1 large cooking apple (Bramley is best)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 beaten egg
  • Salt and ground white pepper (seems to be better than black peppercorns at not causing problems)

I think this is easiest to make in a food processor, because it will chop the onion and the apple very finely.  Peel the onion and apple first and chop them a bit to put into your food processor, and wiz for 10 to 20 seconds to chop them very finely.  Add the sausage meat a bit at a time and blend between each addition (say in 5 or 6 portions).  Then add the chestnuts,  whizz until they still have a bit of texture, then add the egg (which helps to bind it together) and the salt and pepper.

If you prefer Sage and Onion stuffing – here’s how to do that:

  • Two pieces of white bread
  • 1lb sausage meat
  • 1 dessertspoon of dried sage
  • 1 peeled onion
  • A squeeze of lemon juice
  • Salt and ground white pepper

Again, a food processor helps.  (This isn’t just to help with getting everything finely chopped to help prevent blockages – I think it helps with flavour enhancing and making a much better gastronomic experience).

If the following sounds too fiddly or tricky – then cook the stuffing separately… but this is how I do it

The best and safest place to cook the stuffing is the breast end of the bird, not the main body cavity.  This helps it to cook well – stuffing the body slows everything down. The breast is kept moist by the fattiness of the sausage meat.  You need to ease the skin off the breast itself, and you do this easily by easing the skin away from the breast with your fingers and pushing gently You will find it comes apart easily.  The middle bit of skin between the two breasts is slightly more of a sinew, and you will need to hook your finger to pull this apart.  You can then spoon your chosen stuffing into this cavity. Push it right in and pat it down, making a nice rounded end.  Not too tight or skin may crack open. You should seal the end by pushing a couple of cocktail sticks though the skin flaps (but remember to take them out at the end so no-one eats them!)  If there is some left over after stuffing the bird, you can put this in an oven proof dish and cook it with foil on top for the last hour before serving.

 

Curry Night at The Plaisterers.

Ok.

Just occasionally I really do not want to write a blog.

It’s not laziness or because I never review anything that’s so bad I can’t write anything at all.

It’s this type.  When I am so enchanted, I just don’t want anyone else to know, in case I can’t get in.

Honestly.

Kamal, chef artiste at the Plaisterers Arms in Winchcombe, hails from Sri Lanka.  He does fusion so well, I suppose because he has lived it.  But it is just a fascinating and all consuming experience eating the standard menu (and that undersells it). But when he is in his own food history, his own element, the love gets deeper.

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“Prawn,Chorizo & Lentil stuffed squid, Pickled Cucumber, Fennel & Onion salad, Mild Curry Sauce”.  Would you have chosen that starter? It’s a blimmin’ first chapter of a book! And omg, it told a story…look at the photo.  We are in a good drinking pub, Irish and dark and warm and friendly.  And then, you get this put in front of you…and your nose is assaulted with flavours ready to be savoured.  Nothing dominated.  Nothing was wasted.  Nothing was added that didn’t need to be.  Just lovely.

Two mains: Pork dopiaza, Tomato and cumin rice, Dhal Makhani, Mango Chutney.  And, Black Lamb Curry, Tempered Cassava, MalayPickle, Pumpkin and Mustard Curry.

 

Hard to know where to start! Ok. I had the lamb.  And it was black. And it was sumptuously energised by its sauce.  Which the Cassava (looking a bit like roast parsnip, but more floury?), just drank up and enjoyed…and we enjoyed them even more for their thirst! The Malay pickle was honeydew fresh.  The pumpkin – ridiculously scrummy!

The pork? Hit your taste buds less hard, but that softer feel was fun to experience in the one mouthful I was allotted….but that mango chutney was not like anything you have normally had in yer standard place…and that’s the whole point here.

Yes, it’s called a curry night.  Yes, we had lovely eastern background music.  Yes we had too much to eat ( did I add the pudding? Assiette of desserts? Gulab Jamun, Spiced Rim & Dark chocolate Wonton, Passion fruit mousse, Honey Hopper, (like a crispy pancake of honey), Rulag Aluwa. Sorry…forgot…), yes we had too much too eat…in case you forgot where we were…

 

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The Assiette of desserts – Divine!

But you know what? It really wasn’t your standard curry night.  It really was in a different echelon.

Kamal patently is an artist.  A different league.  And lives it. And loves it.  And so do we.

(Please check at the next special curry evening when you try to book.  If my name isn’t on the reservation list, you will have to wait.  Sorry.  It’s my new law….)

Thanks Liz, Ash And team.  And especially Kamal.  Stunning.

 

Food Gifts

I’m talking about receiving here, not giving.  Giving, we will cover another time!

People have allotments, or growing patches in their gardens. Or a fruit tree. And they are often very generous with their produce!

Our lovely local, The Plaisterers Arms in Winchcombe had some very local plums on the bar last night. A very Lewis Carroll sign pronounced “Eat Me”. So we did. Ash told us they came from next door. They traveled well!

Later, she offered two enormous figs, which were not going to be eaten. We gratefully accepted them. They smelt gorgeous.

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What to do with them?

You can see we fancied a starter sized snack.  I chopped them in half.  Added a roughly folded slice of Parma ham between them.  Hiding beneath the other bits A heritage tomato from Mudwalls.  Lovely colour and flavour. Cubes of cheddar – extra mature, and a sprinkling of Parmesan shavings. A squirt of balsamic glaze, some honey, and then cider vinegar drizzled on, leaves from our two week old living salad and a few basil leaves ripped over.  And a few strawberries left over from a cream tea extravaganza.  Squeeze of lemon, and Robert is most definitely your fathers brother.

Thanks Ash.  And next door for growing them.  Just unctuous. Mmmm.

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