Saturday, 29 March 2008

Roast Loin of Pork with Crackling and Gooseberry Sauce

Brown's of Stagsden provided Mum with a real Easter treat. A firm, long cylinder of porkyness. Dry skin, well scored with a Stanley knife got me salivating about the possibility of top class crackling. Too often a rarity. Too frequently like a soggy savoury toffee that threatens to rip out fillings and stick teeth together.

With such a healthy layer of fat and an emphasis on the crackling it's important to balance this greasyness with an acidic sauce. Mum's freezer was full of gooseberries which I boiled down with a good glug of elderberry cordial and a bucket load of sugar! It reduced down to a gorgeously unusual sauce that I strained and could barely resist downing in one! Oddly it becomes a dark plummy colour when stewed.

The pork was gorgeous. The crackling was spectacular and the gooseberry sauce was sensational. I got a bit carried away in the cooking and eating and only fired off a couple of photos at the end to document the triumphant aftermarth.

Roast pork

Gooseberry sauce

Pork and gooseberries are made for each other!

Easter Roast Lamb and Boulangere Potatoes

Easter came so early this year that it was almost impossible to find a British leg of lamb anywhere. Mum was a legend and managed to purloin a whole boned saddle of lamb from our brilliant and aptly named local farm shop, Browns of Stagsden.

It was a fine piece of meat. Weighty, lightly covered with an even and sweet looking covering of creamy fat.

Easter lamb in blue dish

Easter lamb with rosemary

I studded the surface with slithers of garlic, shards of anchovy and sprigs of rosemary. Unashamedly copying the legend of Simon Hopkinson. I smothered the surface with butter mixed with the leftover garlic, rosemary and anchovy, poured half a sorry looking bottle of chardonay around the outside. 2 halves of a head of garlic mirrored each other on either side before it was triumphantly placed at the top of the aga to brown the outside.

After half an hour of Maillard action I transfered it to a cooler over to let the sweet meet and tasty juices develop more gently.

Lamb roasting

Bored of mash and devoid of suitable roasting fat or potatoes I decided to try something new on the starch front. I've seen James Martin and others make boulangere potatoes on telly. The story seems to be that back in the day when villages relied on the local baker's oven to cook things like Lancashire hotpots the French did something very similar with their boulangeres. Using the hot but cooling oven to cook fantastic non creamy version of dauphinoise.

All you need to do is slice some onions and shallots very thinly. Do the same with some garlic. And then likewise with some peeled potatoes. Arrange in layers alternating between tuber and bulb. Season aggressively and add whatever herbs you can get your hands on. Sage, rosemary and thyme work well. Then glug over some white wine. Sprinkle the top with salt and lob in your local baker's oven. Or failing that just use your own!

They should come out looking like this and tasting fantastic.

Boulangere potatoes

The lamb emerged from the bottom often sighing with flavour. I let the meat rest and created a gravy from the pan juices using a mix of marmite, hot water and some wine. It reduced down to a sinfully rich sauce that hard to keep Dad from finishing in seconds!

Roast Saddle of Lamb

Mum complained about the lack of mint but soon disisted after she had tucked in. Easter roast lamb has to be one of the culinary and family highlights of the year. The anchovy, rosemary and garlic flavours mingle, mellow and melt into one of the most moreish flavours. I can't wait for next Easter and tucking into more lamb as we move into spring and BBQ season.


La Trompette, Chiswick

I'm lost for words and the only word I've found to describe how immense our 3 year anniversary meal at La Trompette was is...


For more descriptive words that help to describe our meal please click here.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Ditto, Battersea

Food at Ditto is half price when you use a TasteLondon card. So we made the most of it and chose scallops and beef carpaccio followed unanimously by lobster spaghetti. Awesome.

Sorry I am afraid the lobster isn't available...

Well why print it on your daily menu then? Unless of course your menu isn't daily even though that's its title!

They promised so much and got our hopes up and then dashed them out of hand. You might think this is overdoing it a bit. But the last time I had lobster spaghetti was at the George in Stamford when I pretty much fell in love with it! To then get within inches of having it again and then be denied it was hard to take. I'll just have to wait till I'm on the Italian Riviera sipping chilled white wine and looking out at my yacht to do it properly.

Scallops came with grilled prawns and an avocado dressing. It looked and tasted pretty but was neither hot nor cold and was fairly wimpy on the flavour front. Big plates and lots of swishes and dabs of sauce. Very Turner prize.

With the lobster spaghetti debacle behind us, I chose pork belly with white beans and a dark sauce which is firmly ensconced now as my default choice. If it's on the menu I will struggle not to order it and normally fail. It takes something exciting like lobster to trump it!

The pork was partly delicious partly disappointing. It struck me that it had been badly reheated. Dried out patches clashed with moist bits. The beans were both perfectly soft and also dried out. The sauce was a bit unidentifiable. My memory of it is that it was dark brown with a hint of sweetness. The best bit was the side order of garlic spinach.

Gilly's rump of lamb was generous and sweet. Really impressive. Whilst Cowie's tuna was pink and tasty. Very light and sexy. Very Cowie.

It's a very cool little restaurant with a variety of special offers. Tuesday is ladies' night - 25% off if you're a bird. They've got a projector and screen and art all over the walls. On a Tuesday night it was a third full and we enjoyed being allowed to linger of our meal. Whilst slurping our coffees we imagined what it would be like to enlarge the bar area and make the dining room more intimate. But who were we to offer design ideas!

We'll probably return at some point but only because it's local and half price! There are too many other places to try out.

Ditto on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 22 March 2008

The Paunch on Market Kitchen

One of our New Year resolutions was to make a TV appearance of some sort. So when the opportunity to appear in the Market Kitchen audience came up we decided to take half a day off work and get stuck in.

Andrew from Optomen, the TV company who produce the show, was really friendly and put us at ease. Being surrounded by foodie legends such as Tom Parker-Bowls, Matthew Fort, Paul Rankin and Mark Hix had the potential to be a it daunting. But the crew were brilliant at making everyone in the eclectic audience feel at home. Baristas served coffee and water all day... so much so that Cowie and I were bursting for the loo for much of the afternoon!

Paul Rankin cooked a superbly tender piece of fillet steak with a pepper corn and mustard crust with colcanon mash. Juicy and full of flavour, the steak was pretty special, as was the cabbagey mash. I'm looking forward to giving this recipe a go myself quite soon. It's simple and just chefy enough to impress!

Hilariously, Cowie and I were asked to give our opinions on camera! Cowie did a great job, praising the steak's tenderness, leaving me to give the verdict on the colcanon mash. It's hardest enough to type, let alone say! My first attempt got the better of me... my voice got a bit flutter, but my second attempt seemed to a bit better. It's quite intimidating having a camera and microphone thrust in your face without a moment's notice!

All the food we got to sample was delicious... albeit not without controversy. I am a firm believer in the fact that you are supposed to add salt to your scrambled eggs when you plate it up and not during the cooking process. Salt makes the egg protein break down and results in gloopy eggs. Essentially you land up with scrambled egg soup, which is what Tom Parker-Bowls served us. I couldn't help but mention this on camera... I just hope I don't sound like a complete prat!

Cowie and I had a great chat with Mark Hix about is Dorset roots and his new venture in Lyme Regis. We can't wait for it to open in June and are really pleased to hear that the Riverside is going to carry on going too.

But the best thing happened at the end. I got a chance to talk to one of my heroes and the man who inspired the name of the Paunch - Matthew Fort. Our blog is named after his column in the Guardian, "Around Britain with a Fork". His advice was extremely helpful and his story about how he got into food writing was refreshingly familiar - yet another talented man who graduated from the school of hard knocks that is otherwise known as the advertising industry!

His key points were:

Find your tone of voice. Keep writing. And writing. And develop it every day in everything you write.

Be interesting.

Write about things that your audience want to hear.

Be pithy and single minded in the focus of your work.

Punchy headline. Gripping first sentence. And a singularity to the article. Don't deviate and waffle.

Fantastic advice. I'm keen to put it into practice. Inspired to write more. Find my niche. Develop my tone of voice. Develop a relationship with my audience. It's just like advertising really. Matthew, thank you so much for the chat. It meant a lot more to me than I think you realised.

The programme is being aired on April 1st on UKTV Food. I'm looking forward to watching it and making the most of Matthew's advice.

Tate Modern Restaurant

Swallow the blue pill and you emerge in a dungeon serving offal, greasy meat and portions so large you feel like you're in Las Vegas.

Choose the red pill and you're whisked off to a penthouse with a view like St Peter gets from his gates, serving delicate, feminine food in a venue steeped in culture.

We went to Tate Modern's private view of their Duchamp, Man Ray and Picabia exhibition. Our general feeling was that the three of them were essentially very witty, artistic commentators on the world of art and culture. They could almost be seen as the grand fathers of post-modernism. It's an exhibition full of clever parodies, knowing pastiches and inspired cultural commentary. We pottered upstairs to the buzzing restaurant to chat about all the ideas we'd had on our way round.

We had cured salmon and smoked duck for starter. The duck came with a chicory salad with a bitter orange dressing. It made for a dish full of clashing contrasts. Sweet, smokey duck punched in the face by the bitter salad... in a pleasing way.

Cowie's salmon was delicious. Cured in a lime dressing it was delicately balanced and as feminine as starters come. Tom Ilic's manly offal this was not! These starters oozed artistic, feline charm. Not the kind of food you want when you've just come back from rugby training. More the kind of grub you want to look at, inhale and not get fat! I swear you could eat these dishes all day and lose weight!

I had a Dover sole with a gorgeous caper butter sauce. the flesh teased away from the bone like only sole does. Soft, delicate and buttery, it was the perfect follow up to my bitter sweet duck. Cowie had an attractive piece of trout in a thin vegetable broth. Cowie was in heaven. It's the kind of meal that girls like Cowie crave. Light, interesting, attractive and well balanced. You get home not weighed down with the hefty fare you get at places like the Anchor and Hope and Tom Ilic.

The blue pill or the red pill... there's a time and a place for both.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Awesome Teapot

I saw this on NotCot and thought it looked pretty cool. This is from Sandritaparra

Hugh's Ultimate Cup of Tea

We've become big fans of Hugh's typically eccentric way of making tea! No other method compares! This is an extract from an article on The Guardian.

"That's all changed. Now, to make my tea, I need two good-sized mugs. I boil the kettle. The hot water goes into one mug first, stays for a few seconds so the mug is heated, then goes into the second mug. The tea bag goes into the first, hot, mug, boiling water is poured in, to within a couple of millimetres of the top, and the two mugs, one containing brewing tea, and the other containing hot water, are left to stand. After about five minutes, the mug of brewed tea is placed in the sink, where some new hot water (freshly re-boiled) from the kettle, is sloshed into it, so it overflows by about half a mug. This is to stop the well-brewed tea being too strong. The full-to-overflowing mug is now tilted a little bit, so it spills out enough tea to allow room for some milk.

Remember the second mug, full of the hot (now not so hot, but still quite hot) water that was used to warm the first mug? That is now emptied. The tea bag is fished out from the first 'brewing' mug, and placed in the bottom of the empty 'warm' mug, where a small splash of milk is poured over it. The effect of the hot tea bag, and still-warm mug, is to take the chill off the milk - and impregnate it with a mild tea flavour. To encourage both these objectives, the mug is picked up and swirled, put down for a few seconds, picked up and swirled again, and left to stand for a short while longer. The tea-coloured, warm milk is now poured from tea-bag mug to brew mug, which is given a stir.

The resulting colour is observed. A little more milk may be necessary, in which case it will go via the still-warm tea bag mug, into the brew mug. When the colour is exactly right, I will stir in exactly one rounded teaspoonful of golden caster sugar. The tea, which at this point is still far too hot to drink, will now be left to stand for at least five minutes, before a sip is attempted."

The tea tastes better - stronger, hotter and more balanced. It's fun to do and has is fast becoming one of life's rituals. The ceremony known as tea making is sacred. Hugh's come up with a piece of Japanese tea zen for Britain!

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Black and Blue

Joe and I went to Black and Blue on Wigmore Street for a well deserved lunch. I've heard mixed things about their steaks ranging from how brilliant they are to quite the reverse.

Black and Blue is a great name. Arguably my favourite chain restaurant name. It's the Ronseal of the steak house world. It's name alone had raised my expectations. I was looking forward to London's best steak. Charred on the outside and mooing in the middle. So soft that I would barely have to chew.

The space is open, airy and welcoming. Families and business people filled the booths and open tables. Stylish old fashioned Oxo posters filled huge wall spaces. Green leather booths make good use of the excess cow that we don't want to eat. Joe and I thought the fact that the restaurant smelled of a mixture between fish fingers and sweet and sour Chinese food a bit strange. I was expecting the smell of charred meat that you get when everyone starts BBQing on the first vaguely sunny day of April!

Joe's chargrilled king prawns looked fantastic. Blackened and dunked in a rich buttery, garlic sauce. It's just a shame Joe didn't feel like sharing! My retro prawn cocktail was delicious. Crisp lettuce. Plenty of sauce. Lashings of prawns. And just the right temperature. I would have liked to had a bread roll to go with it like the woman on the table next door was brought though.

Now for the serious stuff. Rib eye steak. I asked for mine to be black and blue - charred on the outside and rare in the middle. It was beautifully tender. Perfectly rare. But it was far from the pinacle. It was a million miles away from being the Platonic form of steak. That abstract ideal that is unreachable. The kind of thing that even Heston struggles to create. But they should have got closer to it than this.

Whilst I was pleased with it's juicy rareness, it didn't have much flavour. Underseasoned. Undercharred. Where's that meaty, smokey, BBQ and wood chip experience?

It's all about the promise. At Pizza Express they promise you a good pizza cooked and served quickly. Simple. They don't promise much more than that. If they bring you a good pizza in a short period of time you leave feeling pleased that Pizza Express is a good place. They cook a far better pizza than I can do at home.

If you transfer the same thing to Black and Blue - they promise you a black and blue steak - charred on the outside and tender in the middle. In my one experience of their steaks they only delivered half of the promise which isn't good enough if they want to become the UK's leading chain of steak restaurants. I put my steak knife down after finishing wishing that I had been allowed to cook it myself.

Overall, it's got a lot going for it. Cool atmosphere, a menu where you want to eat everything, an amazing name and a good wine list. I just wish they did better steaks!

London is a bit barren when it comes to places that specialise in steak and deliver on it. La Pampa in Clapham is unreliable. Black and Blue isn't as great as I had hoped. Hawksmoor on the other hand was fantastic - it's just a shame it's the wrong end of town. L'Entrecote in Marylebone is pretty special. And I have never had a bad steak at Mon Plaisir.

If only we were in the same league as the Americans when it comes to cooking steaks. Beef Officianado's site is fantastic. It almost makes me want to emigrate! Us Brits don't seem to get it.

If anyone has got any suggestions for where to find the perfect steak in London please let me know!!!

Friday, 14 March 2008

Coffee at Glow, Clapham South

In need of a coffee and a chance to get out of the wind we nipped into Glow near Clapham South station. On a Sunday morning it was buzzing with 20 somethings catching up with their social lives - Macbooks out, Newspapers spread, gossip even more so.

Whilst Cowie was chatting on the phone I decided to nip inside and take a seat at their bar. Whilst enjoying a very robust coffee I was impressed by the quality of their backbar and the amount of Courvoisier they sell. The Australian girl behind the bar was good fun. Constantly making smoothies from sachets of frozen fruit she kept on giving me little samples! They were so busy she had to multi task by managing the bar, taking orders, blending smoothies, entertaining me and phone up all her contacts to see if they would be willing to come in immediately to help out with the Sunday rush.

I absorbed the Observer supplements, another coffee and some sample smoothies and left thinking that Glow is awesome. The breakfasts and brunches look brilliant, the staff are really friendly and efficient. They've got wifi and the right newspaper. The perfect place on a Sunday? Or any day of the week perhaps.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Comforting Chorizo Stew

Whenever I've been to Spain I've loved gorging myself on chorizo and morcilla. I think it's probably the naughtiness of it all. I land up with a huge red grin and a insatiable desire to drink up all the "juice" which is just spicy fat!

Some time last year Nigel Slater wrote an article in the Observer Magazine explaining the roles and cooking methods for the various types of chorizo you increasingly find at markets and delis. I found myself some boiling chorizo in Waitrose and recreated his chorizo and chickpea stew which transforms wintry Sunday evenings into an experience you never want to end. Since that moment I have been busy trying to perfect my own version of the chorizo stew which has a few variations from Mr Slater's.

Sweat a couple of onions in oil and butter. Add some salt to speed things up. Then lob in a few cloves of chopped garlic and some sliced mushrooms. Once this has all turned into a beautiful brown slick open up your designer smoked paprika tin and stir in 3 tea spoons of the firey red powder.

Breathe in deeply and feel your nostrils transport you to a tapas restaurant in Barcelona and watch as the oniony goo does a bit of an Enoch Powell and turns blood red.

Be careful not to let the mixture burn and add a good squirt of tomato puree and then some plum tomoatoes who's juice you've discaded and flesh you've chopped a bit. Then pour in a carton of passatta and some tinned butter beans. Make sure there is space in the pan to accommodate your boiling chorizo and pop them in. Cook on a low flame for as long as you can manage. If you're like me it won't be long before you've started boling your rice, flaming your red pepper and have got an egg ready to poach!

Garnish with a bit of parsley and charred red pepper. Then spend an inordinate amount of time getting the lighting right for your money shot photograph. Then savour with a glass or two of bold red wine with the opening session of the test match in the background. Bliss.

Duke of Wellington, Marylebone

Arthur Wellesley, AKA First Duke of Wellington has very kindly given his name and blessing to the best gastro pub in Marylebone. It has only recently become a proper foodie pub in the last 6 months having previously been ideal for a lager top to get a bit of colour back in your cheeks after a game of squash. Back then it was yet another unremarkable boozer filled with old men with marriage problems and jobs they hate.

It's had a changing rooms makeover complete with an eclectic selection of trendy art. Even Shepherd Fairey makes an appearance which I am very pleased about. They've got a signed print of the Obey image below above their door.

They've got a chandelier dominating the ceiling that looks like it was designed by someone with a lot of mental problems and a brass plate on the door that Oli and I agreed was the kind of thing we both wanted in our kitchens. In short it's got a cool vibe that I am sure will not be to everyone's taste. Certainly it seemed a bit out of kilter with their clientelle when we were there on a quiet Monday for lunch.

Not having much time and not wanting to get so weighed down that we wouldn't be able to run back to the office through the torrential rain, we just had main courses.

Oli's quails looked well cooked - possibly a bit overdone. But I wouldn't know because the stingy git didn't offer me any. Meanwhile my rump of beef arrived beautifully rare but wasn't quite as flavoursome as I expected. Don't get me wrong it was very good and came with an interesting cafe de Paris butter topping. It just didn't wow me. Chips and salad were excellent. But we weren't offered mustard or ketchup which was disappointing. Jenny's pollack looked excellent. Moist and flaky. Just like cod really.

The chap on the next door table had steak tartare which looked really good. And judging by the way he inhaled it he must have enjoyed it! He also had some ketchup issue. If you serve chips it just makes sense to deliver mayonaise and ketchup with it.

I'm very pleased to have dipped my toe the Duke of Wellington's water and am looking forward to returning triumphantly!

And I leave you with one of my all time favourite quotations, "being born in a stable does not make one a horse". This was the Duke of Wellington's response to horrifica accusations that because he was born in Ireland that made him Irish!

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Wine Poll

I'm interested in why people buy different wines. If you buy wines around the £4 mark on a regular basis it would be great if you could put a tick in a box that suits. Thanks!

Create polls and vote for free.

Quick San Lorenzo Lunch

Whilst watching the dire England performance against Scotland on Saturday Cowie russled me up a delicious lunch using goodies from Tentazioni and San Lorenzo. Both brilliant freebies!

The Tentazioni pasta was still slightly chewy which was great whilst the sun dried tomatoes from San Lorenzo added a bit of class to Lloyd Grossman's tasty tomato and chilli sauce.

To make things a little bit more special Cowie even used my extra special tin of tuna.

What a great way take your mind off the awful rugby!

Clapham Farmers' Market Supper

Cowie and I made the most of our Sunday back in London by heading off to the Clapham Farmers' Market in Clapham South. Just off the very smart Abbeville Road it opens every Sunday in a school playground. It's our local market and tends to do fantastic veg, good apple juice, tasty sausages, brilliant bread and some wacky cheeses. Apart from one occassion when I bought 3 venison shanks we haven't really been that impressed by the meat.

We pottered around sampling bits and pieces. The goat cheese stall is brilliant. As is the buffalo milk stall. If I'd had some more cash on me I'd have bought some bufallo milk yoghurt. Maybe next time.

My coins were instead spent on a punnet of craggy looking artichokes, leeks, shallots and mushrooms. All for under a fiver. We beetled home and browned some chicken thighs before tossing in some bacon, shallots, leek and mushrooms which all took on a fantastic sheen. Before going off to play squash I added a cup full of rehydrated wild mushrooms and the liquor, some vegetable stock and a third of a bottle of red wine, some butter beans and a tin of tomatoes. Into the oven went some beetroot segments and some chopped artichokes to roast.

We came back to the house smelling of glory. The chicken had simmered its way to victory and the artichokes and beetroot had become soft, caremlised and deeply flavoured.

Although it may not look fantastic it was sensational. Rich, deep, flavoursome, moreish and not too expensive. Just what we needed after a frantic game of squash and a week eating cheese!

Monday, 10 March 2008

Restaurant des 2 Ours

On our last day we decided it was a good idea to all meet up in a nice restaurant for lunch and indudlge ourselves. Not that we hadn't been doing so before this point. Cowie and I arrived first eager to secure a seat and not break any bones on the last day. It didn't take long for me to demand onion soup which turend out to be fantastic. I love the way the cheese becomes all stingy and gloopy.

A great deal better than the boeuf bourgoignon taglatelle that I foolishly chose to follow it up. The sauce and the pasta just don't go together. You need some serious potato starch to absorb the juice whereas the pasta just acts like a wet suit and resists the water. Tasty. But not right.

The others filled their boots with omelettes, lasagne, goulash, steak, rustic salads, tarteflets and all manner of calorific fodder. All of the dishes apart from my rather odd choice were tremendous. The service was excellent. The view was even better. And the banter amongst the group was huge fun. Except for Adam who landed up with 3 sachets of ketchup, 2 tubes of mayonaise and a handful of breadcrumbs in his skiing jacket hood!

Chef Guevara

I got this for Cowie in Buenos Aires and think it's the best T-shirt. EVER!

Fondue to die for?

On Wednesday Gwen and Sophie had the day off and we all pottered over the road to a super alpine restaurant to cause chaos elsewhere. Edwin and Anna had been here previously and heartily recommended it although I have now forgotten the name. But don't worry the story isn't about the food it's about the near deat experience we had!

Hot on the heels of our crepe catastrophe we plunged further into trouble when our entire table was set on fire during what can only be described as Fondu-gate.

We spent an age deciding what to have. Raclette? Hot stone? Fondue with meat? Fondue with cheese? Or more simply some grilled duck or steak. Cowie and I chose brilliantly. As much as we wanted to get stuck into something novel and alpine we didn't think we could face the idea of a vat of molten cheese or a medieval bowl of boiling oil. And the hot stone turned out not to be a stone at all. It looked more like a nocked over trouser press and gave out about as much heat. I had some delicious duck with a fig sauce and Cowie had a steak. Well done us. Both were brilliant. I'll be repeating the fig sauce at some point soon. Or at least trying to!

This story is all about Edwin and Anna and their exploding fondue. Now my French isn't what it used to be, but I'm pretty sure we would have spotted the word combustible, flamable or exploding on the menu next to the meat fondu had it been there.

After dipping in their fifth or sixth lump of meat the spectators next to Edwin and Anna started to wince as the fat started leaping out of the pan an onto their arms. Cowie jumped to the resuce and turned the flame down. But in doing so turned it completely off. For some reason it wouldn't restart. Not to worry the waiter with a splendid pink shirt brough a replacement burner. Which didn't work. So he brough another. Cowie mentioned in the aftermath that she could hear it hissing. Ah. One turn of the ignition button later and the entire table was on fire. The gas from the canister had spread all over the table and onto the girls' laps. In two terrible seconds we went from being mildly peaved that the fondue wasn't working to hopping around evading the grim reaper's colourful clutches. Drama doesn't come close. The waiter gave a wry little smile as if he expected a big fat tip for the entertainment and skipped off leaving Edwin and Anna with a story to tell for the rest of their lives!

Val Thorens' Highest Kebab Shop and Pub in Europe / The World

Val Thorens is the highest ski resort in Europe. It's so high up there are no trees and the snow is fantastic. This also means that it is the proud home of the self proclaimed "Highest Pub in Europe" - The Frog and Roastbeef as well as the "Highest Kebab Shop in the World" whose name I have forgotten.

The kebab was average at best. Not spicy at all and lacking in dirtiness. I didn't think the French would be able to cope with the intricacies of the perfect kebab. It's not really their bag!

Val Thoren Market

Tuesday and Thursday are market days in Val Thoren. A fairly ugly town that needs a bit of va va voom to take your eyes away from the fairly monotonous bars and concrete buildings. This came in the form of a fantastic alpine market selling everything from warm gloves, hats and scarves to things that got me a bit more excited such as countless types of sausage, honey, stupidly smelly cheese and jams to die for.

Cowie had a great time nibbling away at all the freebies whilst I spent most of my time either posing for photographs with enormous hams or trying to find a cash point!

Cowie bought me a fabulous chanterelle mushroom sausage which smells like one of John Wright's socks. I can't wait to find a good recipe for it, or better still to simply slice it thinly and have it with some fine cheese and bread for lunch or a picnic.

It didn't take me long to find the jam stall. It was heaving under the weight of scores of different types of conserve and preserve. I never know the difference. After much teeth sucking, humming, ahhing and rearranging of jars I decided on two classics. Arpicot and raspberry. I was tempted by the myrtle and the blackcurrant but we've already got some at home. I had a good lashing of both on some toast when I got back home and they are both delicious. Really fruity. Very French. But I have to say, the blackcurrant jam I got from Whitstable in the plain jar is the best jam I've ever had.

Holy Crepe! What a nightmare!

On one of our more successful day's skiing Edwin, Anna, Cowie and I found ourselves in Meribel for lunch. We'd skied hard all morning and decided it was well and truly time to get stuck into a crepe or two. We sat down inside and thawed out quickly. It didn't take us long to decide on having a galette each and a bowl of chips per couple. The girls fancied some tea to warm them up and some water to stop us getting thirsty.

So far, so good. Pretty straightforward. Not in France!

3 fantastic galettes arrived. Oozing with barely cooked egg and bursting whith cheese. Magnificent. Cooked by a pro. Eaten almost immediatley by everyone except Cowie who waited patiently for hers.

The tea arrived. Whislt stictly speaking this is true it's not much help ordering tea if they aren't going to bother either supplying the hot water or doing it themselves. So our tea bag remained unopened for the whole meal. It wasn't as if we could pour cold water on top and warm it with our hands because they forgot the water as well, despite being asked for it so many times that we just got embarassed to ask again!

All around us chaos was breaking out. An English couple slipped out having not been visited by the waitress for 15 minutes. Then, even more dramatically, a table of 5 girls walked out without paying only to be chased by 2 members of staff. It's amazing to see such otherwise slothful staff spring into action. Too little far too late. It did mean that they left 4 boys from Upppingham to deal with the aftermath!

Cowie's crepe never arrived. Poor little Goose. She'd been looking forward to it all day! It just means I am going to have to take her to My Old Dutch in London to make u for it.

Maybe they were having a bad day. Maybe they are just useless? Who knows? At the time it was disastrous but now it seems quite funny. It just made us appreciate the times when we got good service elsewhere.

Skiing Cuisine

We've just got back from a fabulous week in the French Alps gorging ourselves on everything that Val Thorens and the rest of the 3 Valleys could throw at us. Our Ski World chalet was brilliant with a fantastic view over the slopes.

Gwen and Sophie did a great job of keeping us fed and watered with cooked breakfasts every day, afternoon tea including a cake and a 3 course meal in the evening. Somehow they managed to feed all 14 of us. Quite a feat. But then again they do cook entirely the same thing each week. How boring for them must that be!!!

Our meals ranged from chicken monteyard (chicken breast stuffed with herby Philidelphia and wrapped with bacon), to confit of duck, pesto breaded salmon and pork fillet for main. The duck was excellent despite coming out of an enormous tin. Meanwhile the salmon was very tasty but the sauce was split and the pork was very measly and dry. Our deserts were quite fun. The girls made us a delciious chocolate torte which would have been great had we not already stuffed ourselves with a mascapone fondue and confit of duck! You could almost hear our arteries clogging up and tapping out morse code contractions.

Ski World's meals bookened our busy days' skiing in a way that made us want to wake up and also come home. Pretty impressive when you consider that the skiing was absolutely awesome. Gwen mentioned that you can write to Ski World to get their recipes. I think I might well do that!

It would be really cool if Ski World were to run an online competition to revamp their recipe book and weekly menu. I'm sure the blogging community could rally round and help out if a free skiing holiday or two were thrown in. It would be a super way of Ski World standing out from the crowd. Anyone keen?

Never eat at The Fat Duck, Bray

Whilst I was away on holiday Oli and a couple of the guys at work went to the Fat Duck. Here's Oli's review of the meal as the Paunch's first guest blogger!

Anyone who is interested in good food and enjoys going out to fine restaurants should never go to the Fat Duck. It is just so good that you will never enjoy another meal quite as much again.

With that said, I was "lucky" enough to be taken to The Fat Duck last week. I was initially quite worried about whether the place would live up to all I had read and seen about it in countless articles and TV shows. So much so that I had a string of nightmares in the month leading up to our visit, where the meal passed me by and I missed out on experiencing any of the molecular delights that Heston had prepared.

In fact, quite the opposite occurred. We (Ed and I) spent an hour and a half waiting at our table until the rest of our party arrived, so had the opportunity to take in the full atmosphere of this tiny place before we started eating. We observed the meticulous way in which the staff waited on tables around us, and polished the silver trays in search of glimmering perfection. All the while we were tucking in to the champagne trolley!

When we did come to order, the tasting menu was chosen by everyone (including a vegetarian option for one) – In fact we were told by our waitress later that 95% of people do go with the full tasting hit, reinforcing our faith in the fact that we had chosen wisely.

So, in we went.

It Started with a green tea mouse, cooked in liquid nitrogen as a palette cleanser - Standard fare really - They sprayed a lime mist into the air at the same time as you popped it into the mouth to give a whole fresh feeling before you started. It woke you up completely and got you ready for the divine onslaught of what you were about to receive.

For the second course we had an oyster, with passion fruit jelly and a spot of horse radish cream. I've never liked oysters before really, but this was amazing. It had a kind of salt sail sticking out of the top that gave it an little crunch that you are after.

Then there was a really light mustard ice cream, with a tiny bit of shallot, chopped finer than a gnats whiskers. They then poured a red cabbage soup over it which made it like a gaspacho. Very tasty and a sign of the flavour combinations to come.

Then they brought out a tray of woodland moss, and plonked it into the middle of table onto which they poured a moss flavoured tea, which I think hit some dry ice in the bottom of the tray as it filled the table with a really nice smelling cool mist, giving you the sense of being in a alpine woodland. They gave us one of those films which melts on the tongue (a bit like those breath freshener things), and then to go with it a jelly of quail, with foie gras quenelle on top of a langoustine cream - They told you to cut through the different layers with a special spoon so that you could have the flavours combining on your tongue. It was like heaven in a small bowl. Ooh and it also had a small piece of brown toast, with black truffle. All giving a feeling of earthy woodland to the course.

Next up, the world famous snail porridge. It was very nice, but I don't think it was the most amazing thing in the menu - it was delicious, but I think that what we were about to be served had more reason to be famous.

Roast Foie Gras with almond fluid gel, cherry and chamomile - My goodness me. I’ve said in the past that I wasn't a massive fan of foie gras, but that was before I’d been served something quite like this. It was the softest thing I've ever put in my mouth, and it was utterly delicious, there wasn't a hint of the bitterness that I haven't liked in the past and it went so well with the cherry and chamomile.

Next up, a conch shell is placed in front of us, out of which protruded a set of iPod headphones. Slightly odd. Then there was a glass plate suspended over a sandy bottom, with what looked like a beach with shellfish all washed up in a frothy sea spray.

It included various types of seaweed from Japan, a muscle, an oyster and a clam and apparently a baby eel. All of which was eaten with the sound of seagulls ringing in your ears. It was a complete sensory explosion.

All this time, we had been drinking a bottle of Mersault premiere cru, which was a delicious white burgundy, and on top of the couple of glasses of tattinger I was starting to feel ever so slightly dizzy.

Onward with the final fish course. Salmon poached in liquorice with flecks of red grapefruit aged balsamic and olive oil. Then it had a miniature artichoke with it and a streak of vanilla mayonnaise, which was really nice. This is the one that I think was the best visually on the plate and I keep picturing it when I close my eyes now. I looked like a small square of leather in the corner of a massive plate with multi coloured flecked polka dots. When you cut into it, the leather was actually like a black liquid coating over the softest and most delicate salmon I've ever tasted - I guess cooked sous vide.

Moving into the main meat course, it was a ballotine of Anjou pigeon with a black pudding sauce that was just like melted chocolate, and probably the second smoothest thing I've ever had in my mouth (after the foie gras). It came with a little pickled onion and another foamy sauce made with the pickling brine. It was fabulously tender and tasty.

We were now strongly onto the reds, and we had a delicious bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, a Rioja and a Portuguese wine (to try something different), at which point it wasn’t just the tiny onions that were a little pickled.

Just when you are thinking that you have tasted it all they brought out a small mug of tea. Which seemed a little plain. The name should have given it away, it was called Hot and Iced tea. When you sipped on it, half of the cup was hot tea, and half was iced tea, and it mixed in your mouth amazingly. It was like some kind of magic trick. Somehow it stayed unmixed all the way to the bottom, I couldn't quite explain it, but it just made you want more.

Starting off the deserts a little booklet was brought out all about Mrs Marshall's ice cream maker, who apparently was the Mr whippy of her day. This accompanied a tiny cornet of ice-cream with ginger and apple ice cream, which really took you back to seaside childhoods, which I think was the intention – to evoke nostalgia.

Once this had disappeared, they brought out a "Pine sherbet fountain" It was a miniature sherbet fountain, flavoured with pine and instead of a liquorice stick, it was a vanilla pod - very tasty and completely different - I think that he has a thing about pine forests and harking back to the nostalgia of your youth.

Into desert proper and there was a Mango and Douglas fir puree, served with a barois of lychee and mango - not sure what that actually means, but it tasted good and came with a delicious blackcurrant sorbet. At which point the pudding wine was flowing - It was a Tokai that the sommelier explained had 200g of sugar per litre, as opposed to 7g per litre in champagne. Sweet.

What on earth could come next?

The waitress strolled over and greeted us with "Good Morning!" - It was about 4 in the afternoon. She then produced a cereal packet and a jug of milk. Inside the cereal packet was a bag of parsnip corn flakes, and the milk, was parsnip infused to go with them. It was a bit weird, but somehow really woke you up when you were feeling just a little bit snoozy after course number 13.

This was followed by another "good morning" as she came over and appeared with a box of eggs. She opened the eggs, cracked one into a bowl and then poured liquid nitrogen over it, instantly turning it into egg flavoured ice cream, This was then served up with a freeze dried slice of the thinnest bacon on top of a bit of eggy bread. It also had tea flavoured jelly with it, which really freshened up the mouth as we were nearing the end of the meal.

You know at the end of a long meal when you just fancy a whisky, but you aren't sure what to go for, well the next course really nailed that for you. It was delivered in a picture frame showing a map of Scotland and a bit of Tennessee, onto which were stuck 5 different jelly whisky bottles made with malts from around the country. It was amazing - the Glenfidich tasted just like it does from a glass, as did the Laphroaig, the Oban and the Highland Park, it was finished off with Jack Daniels, which was a pleasant surprise with a sweetness that the others didn't have so much. It was such a nice way to have all of the whiskey that you might otherwise not have been able to have.

We finished off the meal with a selection from the Chinese tea menu, which was served as an individual tea ceremony, exactly as we had done it in China, which beats a cuppa with some milk hands down. This was served with Petits fours - A carrot and orange lolly, mandarin aerated chocolate - a bit like an orange aero - a violet tartlet, which was bright purple and tasted exactly like a Palma violets that I had in Madrid a few weeks ago and finally an apple pie caramel, it was served in a wrapper that dissolved in your mouth so you didn't have to unwrap it.

So that was it. Just imagine the best meal you have ever had - I'm pretty sure that it was really really good, but no matter how good it was, I'm going to put my cock on the block here and say it won't come close to this. I really think that I'm never going to eat anything as good again, which makes it amazing, but it does mean that it's down hill from here!

So as I say, never eat at The Fat Duck, please. Unless you’re terminally ill, in which case, eat there, lots.


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