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

Posts tagged ‘restaurants’

The Birthday Progress – The Day itself

Gidleigh Park

We had a lot of people and things to fit into Jane’s big birthday (no need to ask which – it had a zero, and that’s all you need to know)!  The day itself we shared with our friends and old neighbours from Cheltenham times, Mike and Judy.  We had shared another celebration with them – our 25th wedding anniversary coincided with their 40th.  So Silver and Rubies combined!  We joined them in a foodie holiday in Italy then.  This time we lunched at Gidleigh Park

Gidleigh Park was voted No. 1 in Sunday Times top 100 restaurants.  A birthday lunch not to be missed?  Well, let me share some of it with you (not physically of course…).  Two Michelin stars have been awarded to the place.  Chef is Michael Caines (he is the guy you have seen on TV – the only 1 armed chef that I know of…)

So here’s what we had from the new Autumn Menu – which was launched on that day.  Auspicious or what?

Pigeon Breast was a great start.  But I’m forgetting, we had ‘canapés’  to start, with drinks in the lounge.  I’ve put inverted commas because they weren’t the usual bits of quite enticing stuff on a bit of toast – they were mini starters in disguise.  This is why your lunch takes 4 hours.  They do this at the end too – Coffee and Petit Fours does not do justice to the 3 mini puddings that arrive, sumptuously, back in the lounge with your coffee.  Getting ahead of myself here…

As you can see, there is a lot more going on than the pigeon breasts! It was just gorgeous.  The other starter was of the vegetarian sort – and was as good looking as this one, and just as exciting. It doesn’t sound so when it says ‘medley of roast Mediterranean vegetables’.  But there you go – it was far more than it’s description.

Pigeon Breast starter

And so to the main course.  Dartmoor leg of lamb.  Three of us went for pink, but they don’t get all prissy if you want it cooked through.  Some places seem to.  That’s the way service was here.  So many staff, all smiley and feeling like they were enjoying it as much as you, to be honest.  I don’t know if you just rush out and have beans or a hamburger when you are surrounded by such joyous smells and perfect presentation all day – but they all enjoyed the setting down and your reaction to the revelation.

We had chosen one bottle of red to go with, but one of our party prefers white.  Now, the glass was brought out with the bottle it was coming from, then transferred to a small carafe for you to take what you wanted.  All you guys who are trained in these fine sommelier arts will recognise this, I’m sure, but blimey it just made me smile and think “that’s why we are here”.  It just takes it up to a different level, really.

Look, I probably don’t need to say how good the main course was.  Just look at it.  if I could arrange scratch and sniff panels on this blog, then I would.  I’m going to let the photos do the rest of the talking.  Plate of apple – wow – Tarte Tatin, mousse, ice cream and a cider coulis.  Yes, but just look at it!  And then the petits fours, and the Happy Birthday sign.  Just how nice is that?  Final picture is Jane and myself out for a walk after the event.  The grounds are stunning.  No, you don’t want to eat every day like this, for sure, but if an occasion needs to be made special, then Gidleigh ticks many, many boxes.

Dartmoor Lamb

Apple Plate

The Petit Fours

Birthday girl, and me

a 65th Birthday treat

OK – not me – my Brother In Law, Vic.  His absolute favourite is a full on Roast Dinner.  We had it last night at Vic’s Sister In Law.

It was all rather splendid.  Far too much in the way of wine and beer (still some lovely local IPA from rebellion brewery in Marlow left over).  And the pork – stunning crackling (loads of salt and dried beforehand – makes all the difference).  Clever bit of chilli in the ratatoullie, which was a bit of a shock, but a nice one.  All the other bits – roast potatoes, carrots and beans, apple sauce, lashings of gravy, were there too.

And then we had a proper pudding – Bakewell Tart.  I know there is no real need for pouring cream all over this too – but hey, it was a birthday party.

Great pressies, a bit of a quite moved Vic (Sue, his wife, had put together a lovely photo collage), and then the wine helping us sort the world out.  What’s more to want?

The gang is all here…

What would you choose for a special birthday?  I know Jay (see previous guest blog) really did want a great steak with boiled potatoes as the core of his meal – and managed to both cook it and eat it outside as he prefers.  Not sure for me.  Probably Scallops followed by Beef Stroganoff.  But the company would be more important.


Guest Blog – Jay’s Special birthday

Phil made a public promise that there would be an occasional guest blog from me – so here it is – the ramblings of a virgin blogger!

A few weeks ago I had a significant birthday – one of those ones that ends in zero, and having got over the disappointment that I have to wait another 3 years to get my bus pass, I decided that I wanted to spend my birthday walking and camping in the sunshine in the Pyrenees.

A birthday bridge?

If you ever get the chance to go to Andorra – jump at it, it’s beautiful, clean and peaceful and while very few people speak English, they seemed content to let me rabbit on in sentences that mixed my vocabulary from my schoolboy French, German, Spanish and English. So with the help of arm waving and speaking slowly and loudly I assembled the ingredients for my birthday dinner – a superb piece of wild boar Serrano ham, a sheep’s milk hard cheese, some olives, and a few pickles for a starter, and a beautiful piece of steak, some new potatoes and selection of fresh vegetables. Yes you can imagine the gestures and noises to establish that the ham was from a wild boar, and the cheese from a sheep.

On B day minus 1, I found the perfect spot for the special dinner – about 30 minute’s walk from the head of the valley road, fantastic views, a small bridge over a babbling stream of snow melt water, space for a wild camp site and a barbecue base for an open fire – just the party I had imagined.

B day turned into the biggest low pressure system stuck over Andorra, with thunder, lightning and torrential rain – the vision was no longer realistic, the location at least would have to be changed – more arm waving and jumbled languages established that the sun was shining further south and east in the foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees. So to a camp site run by Frau Grumpy – more of her special brand of customer service in another guest blog.

And to begin…

Well the location had changed but I still had the wild mint and thyme picked the day before, and I had my trusty Primus Eta Express – the best lightweight camp stove I’ve ever owned – boils enough water for a pint mug of tea in less than 2 minutes. But could I still recreate the vision, with a single burner stove and a one litre pot? Or should I take the easy but disappointing option of a one pot stew, or the even easier or more disappointing option from Frau Grumpy’ s camp site “restaurant” of sausage und salat. How did a miserable German end up running a camp site in a beautiful part of Spain?

I can still be a petulant 60 year old child – I had dreamed of steak, minted new potatoes, and roasted vegetables – and Frau Grumpy helped reinforce that desire.

Could the Eta Express deliver – well why would you ever doubt it, just a bit of creative thought required. First almost cook the potatoes with the fresh mountain mint, drain, plate up wrap in a T towel and stuff in the sleeping bag to finish cooking and keep warm. Then with an excellent Spanish olive oil blast the chopped onions, courgette, peppers and mushrooms with some fresh mountain thyme – crunchy and bronzed, and while they keep warm in the cooking pot use the lid to quickly fry off the perfect rare steak.

The main event

Now I was pretty pleased, but of course the 2004 Gran Reserva Rioja may have had something to do with that.

Beans on toast

The evening after the extravaganza that was Old Bull and Bush training day was a tired but happy occasion.  A beer, then thinking about food for us at home.  The cooking team had not used the venison steaks, so they were available.  But I really couldn’t face any more cooking or fine dining after the spread created by the team.  It’s a bit like when you have been on holidays and had meals out a lot, or been on one of my training courses at a hotel – which tend to be eat-athons.

You just want something simple.  And quick.  And tasty.

And in that situation nothing gets close to beans on toast.  Nothing compares or competes.

Naturally, I faff about a bit, adding some lemon juice to the already fine Branston Low Sugar and Low Fat beans (with no added sweeteners – which just seems daft to add fake sweet instead of sugar).

RANT:  When you buy ‘low fat’ anything, just check the labels.  You will often find the tasty and quite healthy fat has been replaced with corn syrup or other sugar.  I firmly believe that sugar and sugar addiction makes us more obese than dietary fat.  Cheap groundnut oil, often grown in plantations that used to be Amazonian rain forests not only contribute to global warming, but also make us more likely to be fat.  The easiest thing to do is buy less convenience stuff – which they can adulterate – and make more of your dinners from scratch.  You then have control.  You can find a lot of advice in my book, “Can Men Cook?”  You will also find stories and jokes.  I think it may be the first cook book you can read like a novel!

But beans are good.  Three minutes from tin-opener to gob.  What’s not to love?

Birthday Dinner – Royal Oak, Marlow

The Royal Oak, Marlow.  Quite a common name for a pub – I think maybe The Red Lion and The Kings Head beat it with  numbers – but not with food at this place!

Yes – been before (including for my 50th birthday).  Management has changed over the years, but the passion and style haven’t.

This is another place that does that small plate thing.  I’m all for that at lunch times – we do have the three plates between two quite often.  Thus was a blow out evening though.  7.45 to 11.  Always a bad sign when the drinkers order a taxi before they imbibe the first sip.  They were on a mission to make the most of the car keys being left at home.

Chris had his drinking head on – and an old-fashioned one at that.  “It’s traditional for the men to take the birthday boy to the bar for pre-prandials”.  I think the tradition had only just been invented, really! A swift half, then the food started.

We shared 3 starters and some home cooked breads with a whole roasted and smoked garlic globe.  Vampires were nowhere to be seen.  Liver pate, grilled haloumi and deep-fried whitebait gave us all a little taster.

3 had medium grilled Rib Eye steaks – all different (two with the garlic butter, one with fat chips).  I know it’s easy really, but it still impresses me when the waiters and chefs get it right.  One had slow cooked pork below (described with silence – and coo-ing noises: always a good sign), Jane had baked hake , and I had Duck Breast.  The meals are always a well thought out plate of complementary items.  You don’t really need more.  The pork came with polenta and tiny mixed veg, my duck with wilted spinach and potato cake, and the fish with real mashed spud.  All the sauces are well reduced too.  OK – none of this is rocket science, but the attention to getting the plate right and well thought out does make a big difference to the outcome.  And the enjoyment.

The Italian Merlot was excellent.  especially the fourth bottle.  As was the cheese board and the one pudding (for greedy birthday boy) – baked custard tart with poached rhubarb and clotted cream.  What’s not to love?  Brandies, coffees and taxis – the favoured finishing trio.


You can see why The Royal Oak has been awarded Buckinghamshire Dining Pub of the year by the Good Pub Guide for 2012.  Book now, or forever wonder.  01628 48 86 11.  Enjoy – we did (again).

The Royal Oak, Marlow

We have been frequenting The Royal Oak (Frieth Road, Marlow on the road to Bovingdon Green), for about 10 years.  It’s popularity was built up around a stupendous character called Trasna, who got the ambience just right.  She was front of house and Maitre D’.  Or is it Madame D’?  Anyhow, she had a lot of great sayings  like “Never carry more than you can pack” and “be well mannered at all levels – the food will know”.  Now owned by James, David and Becky.  And they are carrying on the good traditions.

Food is single plate robust English Fusion.  They have a great idea called Small Plates – I’ve written about this before.  We did that 3 plate between two, one pudding between two thing today.  I can’t imagine ever thinking about this in a more formal environment – but here, nothing fazes. BLT salad with honey bacon hock, lettuce and mayonnaise;  Crispy shredded 5-spice duck leg with sesame bean sprouts;  Cornish skate wing, beetroot, & orange salad with crispy Monmouthshire pancetta.  Yes, they are bigger than starters, and fine for that.  The Pancetta was astonishing.  I couldn’t believe it was British.  The thinness, fattiness (obviously an older breed of pig, who hasn’t found out yet about thin being sexy – preferring tastiness as a virtue) was quite a revelation.  Different dressings, different sensations, and very different feels to all three plates.  It is the taste variation that is so satisfying.  There is love in this cooking.  And with these salads well on the way to your 5  a day!  OK – we could have main courses like Confit Pork Belly with bacon and sage potato cake, or slow cooked ox cheek bourginon with creamed champ.  But we were light lunching – and that was enough taste to entice.

You can see the style though – chef designs to make the whole plate complete.  It does make you realise that the days of a coterie of vegetables on a side plate are a bit passe.  That’s if you want a bit more modernity.  I don’t mind the “choice of seasonal veg” as long a s it fits a narrower menu than her.  But I do enjoy the effort of design that tries to make the dish a whole experience.

We treid to do that ourselves for pudding.  Warm pecan pie with Chantilly cream – and drizzled Creme Anglaise.  We added a scoop of Salted Caramel ice cream.  This proved to be a marriage made in heaven.  Quietly tucking in, admiring the crema on our coffees, we did resolve to return soon.

I love the attitude and style of The Royal Oak.  The food reflects the whole staff very well.

Check out their web site:

Perhaps these are our pigs?We chatted to James afterwards.  He just talked food – and you can’t fake that.  He seemed to like the idea of my book, Can Men Cook too – becasue there certainly is a difference between cooking and the whole chef thing.

Go.  It’s worth finding.

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