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

Archive for January, 2014

The Britannia, Marlow

“A nautically themed pub with reassuring grub”.  Well, their web-site certainly hits the mark for shortest most accurate description!  The Britannia – just a year since it was remodelled from an uninviting sprawl of a pub that looked too big, but had little room before, and now is a bright and airy higgledy piggledy sort of place – and always seems to be full!  Jane always says “The best decor a restaurant can have is loads of people”.  The decor gets you in there – the friendliness and reassuring grub help you to stay – and return.

I’ve never had a good local in walking distance for years.  I still feel The Brit is food plus drink, not food or drink (which I think very few people have managed to satisfy both the serious drinker and the sitters and eaters).  It does this very well though.

Just click here for the daily menu – and you can see what I mean.  There are faves like Ham Egg and Chips, and pies, as well as pretty tasty and healthy salads.  I had the Goats Cheese salad – and it felt so healthy, I had a pudding too!  Puddings often feel a profit making addition in most places.  Here?  Apple pie and ice cream or custard – £2.95!  Or you can just have a 99 ice cream…which seemed a very common order amongst the early retirees near to my seat.  Another major group is well catered for – yummy mummies!  They cater well for people with prams.  A good niche of people who are not really targeted in other pubs and restaurants.  Well done McMullens.

Another simple and clever innovation is portion size.  Look at Ham Egg and Chips.  (ham, incidentally, is hand carved and really good, not plastic shrink wrapped stuff).  The L (light) has one egg, Regular 2 and King Size 3 – with all the other ingredients getting larger up the sizings too.  So if you know you are having a big dinner – you can still light lunch successfully.  I really like this simple idea – and it is beyond some other places I have complimented who tend to have a light and regular – which is a great start.  This just gives even more flexibility.


Free wi-fi, good beer, and a bit of a buzz about the place.  Certainly worth a visit.

Adam’s Brasserie, Luton Hoo

It’s a wonderful race back in time at Luton Hoo.  You can see why so many film companies are drawn to it as a location. It’s not just the buildings and the opulence.  The staff lives it too.

Knowing me, knowing you

Knowing me, knowing you

I’d managed a sprained ankle while doing new years resolution early morning run.  Tripped over a kerb.  Out for 6 weeks.  I was at a meeting and was driven there by my friend Sue Leach (who was the designer for my book, “Can Men Cook?” – and what a great job she did!).  We had to ask at reception where Adam’s Brasserie was – and as it was 3 minutes walk away (or hobble away) they gave us a lift down.  Lovely, old-fashioned service.

The place is definitely Michelin style. Mike Kean (another friend and colleague) was treating us to lunch – and what a treat. Here’s a taster (see what I did then?) of what we had.


Smoked mackerel pate with a horseradish crème fraiche lemon salad and beetroot wafers. Not traditional at all – a quenelle of the pate, and the beetroot wafers were divine. The horseradish was de-heated by the creme fraiche and lemon.  Loads of good feel to this.

Red wine poached pears wrapped in Parma ham with baby spinach and a balsamic reduction. I’ve never considered using a poached pear like this.  It works as an accompaniment as it was very tart – no sweetening added to the wine.  Looks fun too, doesn’t it?

Slow roasted pork baby back rib with a spiced cracked wheat salad and chilli dipping sauce.  OK – I did have choice jealousy at this stage.  And I didn’t steal any, even though I wanted to.

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Our starters

Our starters


This is a golf course as well as a meeting place and spa.  Mike went all golfer – and had the burger with triple fried chips!  It was the full monty – bacon, cheese, but on focaccia bread (bit better than a burger bun!), and the tart and hot tomato relish was rather good. Sue had Dingly Dell Farm pork fillet, served with duo of apples (sweet and tart) sautéed greens and wild mushrooms.  It wasn’t just a nice name and description, but I am sure many will be drawn to it for that – it was silence making in its richness.  Sue is not a quiet person – so creating a lull is no mean feat – so the food definitely passed muster!  Fish of the day was sea bream – and we could smell the wafts of the sea 10 feet away – again, simple separate flavours, well executed and just fine dining.

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The Mains...

The Mains…

One of us had pud – lemon meringue pie.  That was good, but the lemon curd took it up a notch, and the blueberry sorbet just exploded with delight.

A clever menu, with enough variety to entice a jaded January palate.  A great discovery in an unexpected place.  Great lunch – thank you Mike.



The Sir Charles Napier – lunch to shout about!

It is obvious when love strikes.  You can feel it in the air.  The team at The Sir Charles Napier love their food and their work.  You can’t fake that.

If you pop back to November in the archive you will see our last visit there was a Fungi Foray.  Today we visited for an ordinary lunch.  Wrong word – an extraordinary lunch.

This place is a proper gem.  (Spriggs Alley, South Bucks, north of J5 and J6 of the M40 – see web site here ).  Two course lunch menu is £17.50.  Yes, it does have Michelin stardom, so this feels a bit of a bargain? And that feeling would be spot on.

Here’s our choices: Beetroot cured salmon with horseradish cream.  And yes, the salmon was beetroot in colour – but the horseradish was very creamy and only hinted at fire.  Some chefs go overboard in the hot accompaniment, when the fish or shellfish are quite subtle.  I hated the fashion for chillies with crab – it seemed a waste of both ingredients to me. The other start we chose was Tamworth pork belly, stornaway black pudding and vanilla puree.  Wow.  (Oh – we both taste each others, so I am speaking from personal experience here).  The black pudding was weirdly wonderful.  Dry – un-fatty, I suppose, but fluffy and creamy and moist in itself.  I told you – weird. But absolutely scrumptious, and heightening to all around it.


The starters...

The starters…

(There was one other starter that had such en exciting description – “onion and ale soup with lancashire bomb croutons” – that I do wish I ‘d had it just to tell you what it was.  You will have to go yourself!)

Mains? Confit duck with flageolet bean cassoulet and calvo nero.  Duck was melting and positively gamey – and pink enough for me – which I do prefer – not uncooked, but definitely cooked through.  And Breaded haddock with roast cauliflower and puy lentil dressing.  This was a bit of a Friday throwback, although not exactly fasting level fish and chips, it was just powerfully fishy.  Now, I think I may have hit the secret.  Great ingredients, from great suppliers, lovingly served simply in themselves, but with complex accompaniments.





We shared a pud – and I will tell you that you should have a pud too.

And there’s more joy.  We overheard someone asking how long the owner Julie had been there.  “42 years” she replied.

That’s love!

Allergies – Guest Spot from Ruth Holroyd

I have a friend I met through a writing group called Ruth Holroyd.  Ruth told us fascinating stories about her own allergies – and as a cook, I often freak out with panic when a guest tells me they ‘have an allergy’.  So I set some questions for Ruth to try to give me (and you) a greater insight.  Here is how the interview went:

Here's Ruth - contact details at end of article

Here’s Ruth – contact details at end of article

Hi Ruth – most of us know someone who has allergies – hay fever, some asthmas and the like.  We also know of extreme reactions – like to bee stings and nut allergies, which are not just ‘reactions’ – they can be fatal.  I assume there are lots in between?

There are four main categories. 1) Anaphylaxis which is the really scary swelling of the throat which can be fatal.  2) Allergies can also affect breathing, cause asthma, chronic eczema and stomach problems and can develop from a mild reaction to more severe and anaphylactic reactions over time and exposure.  3) Food Intolerances are also very common, in this case someone might tolerate milk in small doses or be able to eat butter and hard cheese but not milk.  They don’t get an allergic reaction but can feel very unwell if they eat too much of their problem food. 4) Finally there is coeliac disease which is an auto-immune condition where gluten damages the villi in the small intestine. It’s hard to diagnose and left untreated can lead to fatalities.  These days though we understand the condition better – avoidance of gluten forever is the only treatment.

I have a friend (shock!) who was my best man – and he has an allergy to dairy.  I guess this one varies in intensity of reaction too? He used to have a very small amount of cheese weekly to try to keep that enzyme working?  I guess some people can and some can’t?

Allergies can range in severity.  It sounds like your friend has a dairy intolerance if he is able to tolerate a small amount of cheese and in this case he is doing exactly the right thing.   It can be a bad idea to completely cut out foods if you don’t need to.  I used to be able to tolerate butter and yogurt but slowly my reactions got worse, my lips and mouth would swell and itch and my skin would become very itchy too. I cut out dairy altogether to stop my eczema, which worked, but now even a tiny trace of milk or dairy causes chronic, severe swelling around my eyes, cheeks, face, neck and scalp. It looks like I’ve been burnt badly and it so painful and sore.  If I eat a larger dose of diary, by accident I have had anaphylaxis.  This happened when I ate scrambled eggs a few years ago without considering that these, in a pub, may well be made with lots of butter, milk and cream – a deadly concoction for me which resulted in a visit to A&E and very painful few weeks recovering from the skin rashes that resulted.
Do you think you need to be an ‘allergy sufferer’ (is that the right term?) to be able to know what to do, in the case of cooking for friends, for example (close to my heart, of course!)

I hate the term sufferer… I don’t know why. I guess I don’t want special treatment. I don’t suffer my allergies, at least not most of the time when I can avoid them successfully. I make mistakes sometimes but generally I don’t suffer. I prefer person with allergies or allergic person. Something like that.  But I find that once I’ve explained my allergies, what happens to me and that even a tiny trace will make me very ill, generally most people have a lot of empathy and understanding.  I think if you live with someone you see it close up, you see how much they really suffer, whereas I don’t want any fuss so you won’t actually know what my skin looks like or how many days I have not even got out of bed because I’ve been in so much pain.  Most people don’t see that raw pain so they might find it hard to understand and may even think the person is just being fussy. We’re not! And even a food intolerance can be painful and affect people’s lives. It’s serious stuff so it should be taken seriously.  And as for cooking for someone with allergies – it’s hard work if you’re used to using milk and tomato (two of my allergies) but if you speak to the person, understand fully what they cannot eat and also discuss what you plan to cook. It’s best to go through it in minute detail which might seem like a pain at the time, but then you will learn exactly whether your planned recipe is OK for them.  Any random ingredient chucked in at the last-minute of cross contamination must be thought of too. E.g. don’t stir with a spoon from a pan that contains the allergens. Keep surfaces clean. Use a clean grill. Be careful when plating up.  It’s simple stuff but it needs careful thought.
What about eating out – I have had a friend have a reaction to peanuts at an Indian restaurant, even though the dish he chose should have had almonds in it – he stopped straight away because he ‘knew’ even amongst the spices.  How scary is it eating out?

It’s very scary eating out.  I’ve had similar experiences to your friend and usually, if I can detect the peanut early on and stop eating I won’t have a serious anaphylactic reaction but it depends very much on how much peanut was consumed.  I’ve been so ill in restaurants before, puking in the loos and having to leave. It’s horrible. I now rarely eat out unless we’ve planned it very carefully. I use diet cards which explain in detail what I’m allergic to 0- there are quite a few things including peanuts and nuts, all dairy, soya, celery, tomato, kidney beans and broad beans. Weird huh?  I prefer eating in and meeting friends to do things that don’t involve food. I never ever quite relax. I’m always keenly aware of what I’m eating if I’m out.  And the main problem is, when you’re drinking alcohol you may ignore the itchy lips or tingling sensation when you shouldn’t.   My allergies are also exercise induced – so if I sit still and stay calm I might have a lesser reaction. If I walk or run or do any brisk exercise the wrong food can put me into an anaphylactic shock.
What sort of questions should I ask my friends coming to dinner – without embarrassing either them or me?

Basically there is no stupid question.  If you want to ask it, ask.  I try to go through everything, every ingredient.  Read labels on packets and if you’re not sure whether to use that stock cube or whether pine nuts are OK, check. Check. And ask about anything you might not be sure about. Better to come clean that you remember you used a knob of butter than to keep quiet because you know you should have checked.  If you are open and honest people won’t mind. I don’t even mind taking my own food if someone is genuinely really scared of catering for me.  But once you’re eating try not to make the whole dinner conversation about allergies. That really does get so boring.  But every meal out involves some kind of, “How do you cope?” kind of conversation which I HATE! I have to cope, I have no choice but I would also like to be just like you. Just normal. I know I am far from normal – ha ha. But at least I can try!

I know many parents go into a complete panic when a child of theirs is diagnosed as an allergy sufferer – what advice do you give them?

It is very hard. My mum has sat by my bed all night after a nut allergic reaction when I was a teenager.  I don’t have kids of my own but I know lots of parents with kids and that moment when they start to take control of their own life and take responsibility for themselves and their safety must be terrifying.  If they have learnt that it’s OK and totally the right thing to always check, phone restaurants before, speak to the chef and check again when they arrive they should be fine.  You have to learn to let go which must be very difficult.  A good friend has just gone through this very same thing, she sat by the phone all night hoping it wouldn’t ring and just about managed to ignore the urge to stake out the restaurant in a disguise so she keep an eye on her boy so she knew he was safe. He was fine and really enjoyed going out for a meal with his mates and not his parents.  It’s the teenage years when people are most at risk. Alcohol may be involved which speeds a reaction and there may be that tendency to think they will be OK.  Maybe they are not so allergic… how bad can it be?  The Anaphylaxis Campaign run groups for teenagers which help them to cope with having allergies and learn coping techniques like eating before or taking a snack and avoiding dangerous situations.  Indian and ethnic restaurants are a no-no.  Encourage them to also explain their allergies to their mates – if they have good supportive friends they will look out for them too. I know mine do!

The prevalence and types of reaction seem to be increasing exponentially – do you agree, and if so, why is it happening, in your view?

Allergies do seem to be on the rise.  I really don’t know why. There are lots of studies going on about this even as we speak.  I think there are lots of possible reasons.  The hygiene hypothesis where our lives are sanitized to such a degree that our immune systems have nothing to work on so start to attack itself; the harmless peanut becomes an invader it must fight to the death.  Chemicals, additives and man-made things which find their way into our skin care, shampoos and food.  Pollutants in the environment.  Improved health, immunisations etc. all mean we live longer and have better health but at what costs? Could this affect some people and be causing the rise in allergies ie. They haven’t had to fight off measles, mumps etc. so the immune system is not used?  Also, maybe allergies have always been around but not diagnosed?  If you look back through my family tree many people died of asthma.  I know that my allergies cause asthma as well as other symptoms. Were these people really just allergic but never able to work out what caused their asthma?  Those who are born with eczema, like I was, are also at a much higher risk of developing allergies before even eating the food – this happens by sensitisation through the broken eczema skin. Doctors are learning that this is happening and parents with children who have eczema should be given better support and advice on treating eczema and how to minimise this effect.  For instance – the bath emollient I was prescribed as a child contained peanuts – could bathing in this stuff have caused my peanut allergy? It doesn’t explain why even now I am developing new allergies.  It’s a bit of a mystery but it’s definitely something to do with our western way of living, fast food, processed food, chemicals, pollutants.  It’s not good. Some people are just way more sensitive than others.

Thank you Ruth – chastening, enlightening and fascinating!

Ruth works as a freelance copywriter and marketing communications specialist She regularly blogs for various companies including the TalkHealth Partnership, ebuzzing and numerous freefrom food companies. Her own blog, was voted in the top 5 UK allergy blogs and reaches nearly 80k visitors a month who regularly comment and join in discussions. She also enjoys writing poetry and short stories in her spare time.

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