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

Posts tagged ‘travel’

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.

Couch Potato Olympics!

Well !  How tiring was that?  Great to see all the old rockers at the Olympic closing ceremony.  Makes you feel good to have survived without the need for too many non prescription drugs.  And marvel at the superlative effects of looking after yourself with the help of coaches, advisers, managers – and the occasional botox injection if you are a Spice Girl (possibly)?

It just feels supremely ironic that:

  1. Most of us watched prodigious amounts of TV entirely sedentary and now want to become the new fit for GB legacy
  2. The cynics at day 4 (no gold rush yet) have stopped saying ‘told you so’ and now want to bask in the reflected glory?
  3. The best commentators on BBC knew when not to comment
  4. The men cried more than the women
  5. This government is still selling off school playing fields

The Blubolympics one of the Gamesmakers called them.  And wasn’t it wonderful that the longest and most sustained standing ovation was reserved for them?  They really did us proud.

I will not need to stock more Kleenex tissues now – the blubbing is over.  My favourite moment?  Jessica Ennis taking her private moment as she won the 800 metres to cap her glorious Heptathlon victory.  Eyes shut, arms extended and smiling and drinking it all in.  Wow.  And she doesn’t normally win that race – but wanted to put  show on for the fans.  Double wow!

Jessica Ennis flying over the 100m hurdles to take Olympic Heptathlon Gold commemorated on Royal Mail stamp

Yes – we can all buy the stamp (and I bet they sell out as well as the seats did eventually…)

That’s the link if you want to look at the whole range of stamps.


One of the athletes said he wanted to thank two people.  My cynical hat thought here we go – mum, god, coach, EPO or whatever.  Ban that cynical view!  he said “The Gamesmakers and the crowd”.  And, come to think of it – Gamesmakers – what a stunning name for the volunteers?

The other thing that seemed in abundance was sportsmanship.  Astonishing that Victoria Pendleton held aloft the hand of her nemesis the pusher from Australia, Anna Meares, after being relegated in the first session of the Sprint final.  There were many other moments like that (Chris Hoy being hugged by Steve Redgrave, cheers for the brave injured who crossed the line last, Mo Farrah and Usain Bolt doing their opposite trademark poses – and you will all have your faves too).

I’m a football fan, and was desperately trying to Hoover up all the last crumbs of the last day of the games and dip into the Charity Shield match between Chelsea and Man City.  They didn’t feel like they had learned anything from the Olympic spirit.

Can’t wait for the Paralympics now!


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.

Horse & Groom, Mortimer Common

Sometimes you just come across a pub by sheer luck.  We tend to use the Good Pub Guide – which does take a lot of the hit and miss of taking a chance out of the equation.  It is usually pretty accurate.  But this week we found a lunch time place just by saying “this will have to do”.  That’s how we came up with The Horse and Groom.


Mortimer Common is a pretty village south of Reading.  We were there to update our efforts with Old Bull and Bush – the treatment for our TV prog is out for consideration at the moment.   (see web site – )  Jay and I always had a rule when we set the company up – all meetings had to be in pubs!  That is our only rule in the business.  Bet you wish that was your Mission Statement!!

The specials included Rabbit Ballotine with dumplings.  The dumplings were the European variety – incredibly filling, and a surprise because they look like mashed spud!

A rabbit aside, here.  I was running a course at a local posh hotel this week, and we had dinner.  It was an all female senior management team.  I ordered roast rabbit for starter – and there was a huge protest from all the women! I hoped it was not serious – but they said I couldn’t have a pretty little bunny to eat!  So I had Ham terrine.  I like pigs, both to look at and eat.  But hey, it prevented being sent to Coventry…

Craig and Marcelle run both this pub and The Red Lion close by.  They also have an Michelin level place called The Eagle at Little Coxwell.  That level of food know how shone through in this dish.  Jay and I were really very quiet during lunch.  It was quite splendid.  What was even more impressive was the level of service at this place.  Attentive, attention to detail and a real love of people and food – all of this adds to the experience.  Well worth seeking out.

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