Thursday, 30 April 2009

Barbecued Lamb

Barbecued lamb is to die for. Charred, smokey and juicy pink, it is hard to beat. More often than not it gets overcooked to a gruel like grey. But the joy of the BBQ is that the meat gets charred and stays pink at the same time.

For our first BBQ of the year we decided to splash out on a 3kg boned leg of lamb from Chadwick's in Balham. It had to be massive in order to feed around a dozen hungry mouthes. The meat was dark, dry and smelt of a life well lived. We stuffed and marinated the meat overnight in a balsamic vinegar, garlic, orange zest, oregano, rosemary, thyme, anchovies and olive oil having got some inspiration from

Lamb marinating

We let the coals die down and spread them around the periphery of the BBQ in order to limit the singe factor. I layed the meat on the grill flesh side down for a few minutes before turning it over onto the side covered in skin and fat. We left it this way up for the next 40 minutes whilst salivating and wincing at the smell of our amazing lamb. And after 45 minutes we were left with pink, smoky, mind blowing lamb that made me want to do a mini lap of honour.


Served with some new potatoes from the Clapham Farmers Market and a Cowie classic roasted veg it was as close to my perfect meal as it gets. When you've got meat from a good butcher and veg from a proper farmer it really is hard to beat.

Rhubarb Tart

Rhubarb is brilliant. Anything that can taste so good, yet potentially be deadly gets my vote. And then another. It's like a fauna version of blowfish. Maybe chefs who cook with rhubarb should be trained for 20 years as well. Imagine what amazing delights we'd be served.

I'm always looking for new ways to cook rhubarb, so when I saw this sensational rhubarb tart over on Cook Almost Anything at Least Once I got very excited. Just to look at the undulating, pink and cream furrows is enough to make you want to give up everything and become a professional rhubarb chef.

So, having rolled out some dessert pastry that may or may not have been bought we followed Cook Almost Anything at Least Once's recipe to the letter which you can see below:

"Semolina Cream:

1 1/2 cups milk
1 cinnamon stick
55 grams caster sugar
45 grams semolina
3 egg yolks


Rhubarb stems
55 grams caster sugar

Make the Semolina Cream:

Place the milk, cinnamon stick, sugar and semolina into a saucepan over a low heat and stir while the mixture starts to thicken and boil, then stir constantly for another 2 minutes or until the mixture becomes very thick.

Remove from the heat and whisk in the egg-yolks, one at a time until well combined. Place the filling into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap - make sure the plastic wrap actually rests against the cream as you don't want a skin to form. Let this cool to room temperature.

Assemble the tart:


Pour the semolina cream evenly into the tart, smoothing out the top. Lay the rhubarb evenly over the cream then sprinkle over with half of the sugar.

Rhubarb tart 3

Cover this loosely with foil and place in a preheated 180°C oven - cook for 20 minutes before removing foil. Continue to cook for another 15-20 minutes or until the cream is set and the rhubarb is tender.

Rhubarb tart

Sprinkle over with the remaining sugar and using a blow-torch, caramelise the sugar (you could do this under a grill)."

Blow torch rhubarb

Rhubabr tart 4

The combination of slightly grainy semolina cream with soft, tart, full flavoured rhubarb was incredible. It was well worth the effort and is a tart I'm going make every Spring. I've now got a rectangular pastry case so I can make my tart look extra smart. As an evolution of this tart, it would be fantastic with ginger and mint ice cream.

For anyone who has noticed the continuity errors it's because we made several tarts in order to feed a lot of hungry friends.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Cowie's Pizza Oven

Cowie's pizza oven

Being the amazing girlfriend that she is, Cowie took it upon herself to build a pizza oven from scratch over Easter whilst I was back at home with my family. Not only is this an incredibly brilliant thing to do… it is also enormously selfless as the wheat in pizza dough doesn’t really agree with Cowie’s stomach. So it was quite literally a labour of love.

I’ve been desperate to have a clay pizza oven ever since we saw one at River Cottage. I bought the book , by the amazingly well named Kiko Denzer, that they recommended and became engrossed in the incredibly passionate world of DIY clay oven sites such as “instrucatables” and “clayoven”. I love the idea of crispy based pizza. Of charred, smoky crust.And of puffy dough.Of that Neanderthal smell of primal food. I guess it has brought out the latent Ray Mears in me.

If you want full instructions please visit this brilliant, brilliant site. But here’s a quick overview of how we bodged our oven together.Or rather how Cowie went about creating the best pizza oven anyone has ever made for me!

1.Persuade parents, landlords, other-halves etc. that they simply cannot carry on living without a pizza oven. Don’t underestimate how important stakeholder buy in is.
2.Build a base for your oven. This should get to a height at which you’d like to cook at.
3.Use a concrete slab as the floor to the oven. Or fireproof bricks.
4.On top of you base, build a dome of wet sand. Make sure the dome is the right size. You want space around the outside to form the clay oven. The sand is essentially mapping out the negative space that will become the inside of the oven.
5.Coat the outside of the wet sand with wet newspaper.
6.Dig up some clay and moisten. Mix with sand and build a layer of clay that covers the newspaper. Ensure this is around 2 inches to 3 inches thick. Make it as strong as possible.
7.Leave a hole at the front that is 63% of the height of the oven itself. Apparently this is the perfect ratio to allow the oven to breathe.
8.Once the dome is formed and secure, pull out the sand.
9.Light a small fire and allow the oven to dry.
10.Add a second skin of clay to fill in the cracks that will have formed.
11.Light another fire to continue the drying out process.
12.Add a third layer of clay as a cosmetic layer. Make it as smooth and attractive as possible.
13.Light a proper fire and get baking!

So far we’ve got to number 9. We got a bit overexcited and decided to cook in it straight away. To our joy it worked! (We’re going to finish the process next weekend.)

Cowie made some dough following a Jamie Oliver recipe and we threw together a collection of toppings. Given that we didn’t have any mozzarella we’re delighted with the results. The pizzas were gorgeously smoky, crispy and authentic. Step aside Zizzis!


Ham and pepper pizza

Pizza in the oven

Pizza done

We now can’t wait to evolve our technique. For instance I’m keen to make sourdough bases, buy a herd of buffalo and to harvest my own wheat. Also, if anyone knows where we can get a bakers’ paddle, please can you let us know.

Monday, 27 April 2009

The Crown Inn, Broughton, Cambridgeshire

We’ve become addicted to Diana Henry’s Gastro Pub Cookbook, not for its recipes, but instead for the way it recommends the best pubs to visit all over the country. So when we were looking for an Easter Saturday excursion from Bedford, reached for her book, like a heroin addict grappling for their syringe.

Nestled in a small village, a cricket ball’s throw from Huntingdon is The Crown Inn, in Broughton. It is an attractive pub that overlooks a handsome church. Several years ago the pub went bust and was bought by a consortium of locals. Having been put back on an even keel, it has never looked back and has recently been taken on by a private individual. It’s a fairytale ending for this village pub, that will make many other villages feel jealous.

Whilst it definitely is not a drinking pub, it still has a bar area to nurse a pint and put the day’s troubles to bed. We enjoyed a pre-meal drink in this homely space whilst visually devouring the menu and engrossing ourselves in their collection of cooking and guide books.

We needn’t have been kept waiting for our table because it was empty. But we’ll let them off this indiscretion because they only had a skeleton staff and we were happy having a drink. Throughout the pub you encounter stylish touches that elevate it above the average boozer.If you were to conjugate their style you might come up with a wanky mantra such as “contemporary style with a rustic jus”. For instance linen napkins are tied into a scroll with rough gardening string. The same approach translates to their cooking.

Our starters were a collective success. The safe option of smoked salmon was adjudged “very good” by my Grandfather who has had as many smoked salmons as he has hot dinners. Char grilled King Scallops with sweet chilli sauce and crème fraiche was far better than we had dared to hope. The chilli sauce had genuine warmth and the scallops was discerningly charred. My pork belly with sesame, ginger and a Thai dipping sauce made me sit forward abruptly and grin with heady glee. Not only was the pork belly so soft I was able to tease it apart,like Matilda using only telepathy, but the oriental sauce which I was dubious about, in an English country pub, was a the real deal.

Act 2 wasn’t bad either. The fish and chips showed us that the kitchen can do “pub grub” as well as any. But a mushy pea connoisseur may have questioned the “neither one thing nor the other” pea puree perhaps. Chips were good too, but too prolific. Medallions of Aberdeen Angus beef were pink, soft and doused in a deep, savoury gravy that met with grumblings of approval and a refusal to share which is a sure sign of success. My roast rump of lamb, marinated in rosemary, garlic, thyme and lemon with gnocchi was good without being enough to warrant a “great”. The meat was beautifully rare and the Mediterranean vegetables and the gnocchi were a delight. But the marinade-cum-gravy was a touch bitter which held back this dish’s zing factor. Whilst none of the actors botched their lines, they didn’t quite have us queueing at the stage door with our autograph books out.

Some of the greedier members of the Brown family couldn’t resist pudding. AKA the misters. Three generations of Brown men tucked into a faultless pannacotta, a text book steamed syrup pudding and a decadent chocolate tart that saw the girls having to sit on their hands to resist.

The atmosphere was warm, the service was slick and the food was some of the best in the area. It’s a pub well worth an hour’s drive for a family visit for lunch. Once again Diana Henry has come up trumps.

All images are from The Crown Inn website.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Breathable Hendrick's Gin and Tonic, courtesy of Bompas & Parr

Hendrick's describe themself as the "unusual gin". They are well known for their quirky, slightly mad behavior that some would describe as eccentrically English. This stems from the way they make their gin. Instead of being juniper heavy, their gin is bursting with fresh cucumber and if I'm not mistaken a hint of rose. They have sponsored the brilliantly weird Chap magazine and have curated events such as the Chap Olympics which you can see more about on their G&TV show below.

So their partnership with Bompas and Parr, Jelly Mongers extraordinaire, is probably one of the best brand cross overs since Kate Moss signed up to TopShop.Bompas and Parr are a best known for their work with jelly which has seen them create wobblers that glow in the dark as well as an impressive array of architectural wibblers as well. You can see some of their masterpieces below:

St Paul's Jelly

Courvoisier Future 500 Jelly

Airport Jelly

Glow in the Dark Jelly

They have also curated surreal and surprising events such as a scratch and sniff cinema performance of Peter Greenaway's The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover.

And I am really upset to have missed their flavour tripping event last year, where, "Participants investigated the curious effects of miracle fruit (Synsepalum Dulcificum) which makes lemons taste like toffee and vinegar like sherry."

So when I was invited to the launch of "Alcoholic Architecture", the UK's first walk in cocktail experience, I felt like Charlie finding a golden ticket. We arrived to find a gaggle of giddy onlookers standing outside, curiously wondering what was going on.

Alcoholic architecture

Being British, we formed an orderly queue and pondered what lay ahead. The St. John's ambulance guy who had been drafted in lent himself to a brilliant contextual photograph. I love the fact that the saucy manequin is staring at him whilst he's on the phone.

Porno St John

Once inside we donned white boiler suits and joked about how similar we all looked to Dexter.To say the setting was a bit weird would be an understatement. The space, music, lighting and close confines are designed to disorientate and create a sensorially integrated experience that bamboozles the brain and manipulates the mind.

You follow the sign and head downstairs...

Walk in cocktail sign

... whereupon things start to go from weird to bonkers...


Around 20 of us mingled in the mist, like shadows on the set of Hamlet. It was similar to the experience I had a while ago in the Hayward Gallery when I got lost inside Anthony Gormley's Blind Light installation. The word on everyone's lips was "weird" and the taste was of sweet lime with a bite of gin. The fog was pumped out by a very aptly named bit of kit called the "Mistifier" which seemed to be powered by a Hozelock weedkiller canister! It chugged its little heart out all night, putting smiles on faces and sticky, greasiness in their hair.






The mood in the gas chamber was buoyant. Spritely. Fizzing with mirth. All fueled by the imagination and sense of fun that Hendrick's and Bompass and Parr are rightly known for. We certainly left the event with woozy heads. But whether that was down to the booze in the mist, the two double gin and tonics, the surreal setting or option D, "all of the above", I'm not sure. I must admit I was coping fine until the drink that I thought was a gin and tonic tasted of ginger beer. I took a few more sips and questioned the barman who insisted it was gin and tonic. Until I pointed out that his Fever Tree tonic bottles were actually Fever Tree ginger beer bottles. Whoops! This only made the whole thing even more perplexing and unusual. But I wonder how many other guests were oblivious.

This has to be one of the most unusual events of the year so far. I just can't wait to see what crazy ideas they both come up with next.

Hendricks scales barman

You can find out more on the JellyMongers website. I have a funny feeling that tickets have sold out unfortunately.

Also check out the review in the Times, including a video that I am definitely not in and also pay Tiki Chris's review for the Londonist a visit as well.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Steak in Chicago - Gibsons vs David Burke

Image courtesy of Anotherpintplease on Flickr via Creative Commons

Chicago is my kind of town. Urbane. Steeped in exciting history. On a lake so big it feels like an ocean. The home of the skyscraper. Oozing exciting restaurants like Alinea, Charlie Trotters and Moto. Posted there on work for a few days I put some feelers out about where to eat. Fiona Beckett, the Frugal Cook, came up trumps by sending me a brilliant article she had written on the subject. I used it as my bible!

Top of my list were Frontera Grill, which is famous for its Mexican food and a bunch of steak houses. My theory is that Americans do steak and Mexican food far better than we tend to over in Blighty. Sadly, we had to spurn the Frontera Grill, in favour of focussing on steak. In part this was due to their website which looked like it had been created in the 1980s by someone afflicted with colour blindness.

Our first port of call was Gibsons. 2 large, sipping tequilas and a couple of beers to the good, we were in the mood for embracing our inner carnivore. The restaurant was packed. Throbbing. A seething mass of greedy consumption. Just how a good steak house should feel. Not quite and deferential. But bristling with steak knives and humming with bravado and virility. For me nothing gets closer to the spirt of America than a restaurant that specialises in overfeeding people with expensive (and delicious) meat.

Upon arrival we jested around with the girls at the front desk. Jokingly I asked what she recommended, expecting her to say "steak", but instead she spent the next minute or so expounding the virtues of their double baked potato. I pictured this as simply being two baked potatoes. But it turned out it means a potato that has been baked twice!

We were lead to our tables, having been fashionably made to wait by a gentleman dressed in a white jacket. No sooner than we had sat down than we had been given a glass of iced water each and another white jacketed waiter was showcasing a range of tantalising steaks. It has only struck me what a great marketing ploy this is. And bravo to that. We couldn't resist and almost tripped over ourselves as we pointed and blurted out medium rare.

I had W.R.’s Chicago Cut and Patrick very modestly went for a small rump along with a small side salad (that was vast) and some creamed spinach. Apparently the W.R. Chicago Cut is quite famous. It is a bone in rib eye named after William Rice, the Chicago Tribune Food and Wine Columnist who used to adore it. I really am a sucker for a steak with a bit of history.

The steaks were both excellent. Mine was moist, charred, juicy, tender and seemingly never ending. I loved the crispy fat around the bone and the way the meat takes centre stage, just as Sinatra and Streisland used to here in the restaurant's former years. There's no messing around with chips, salads and dodgy tomatoes (unless you ask for them). The Americans do steak so much better than we do. They treat it as an art form and aggressively debate the merits between wet and dry aging. At Gibsons they wet age their meat which is frowned upon by the steak-onados. I cheekily asked whether the cattle had been grass fed and was laughed at as the man in the white jacked proudly explained they were grain fed USDA prime. This steak was hard to fault. The only slight whiff of criticism would be that the meat could have had more depth of flavour.

All around us groups of men (with a few women scattered in for equality's sake) gorged themselves on giant lobster from Australia, steaks the size of Chicago and cakes that burst out of the normal confines you'd imagine constrain the word gluttony. We couldn't help but be charmed by the intoxicating atmosphere and left both physically and emotionally fattened up.

The following evening I went to David Burke's Primehouse at the James Hotel for part two of my steak adventure. The website claims, impressively:

"The restaurant features meats hand-picked from Creekstone Farms in Kentucky that are dry-aged on the premises in a Himalayan salt-tiled aging room....

... Prime is the name of our prized bull. Residing in the bovine splendor of Creekstone Farm, this magnificent 2500-pound Black Angus senior herd sire has a proven ability to breed offspring that achieve the highly coveted USDA quality grade in Creekstone’s proprietary progeny testing program.

Marbling is what imparts the unique flavor and juiciness of high quality beef, and Angus beef is recognized as the superior marbling beef breed. But Prime takes it to the next level. Based upon computer modeling of Prime’s lineage and offspring, he ranks in the top 2% of the active 14,361 Angus bulls in the United States with recorded purebred offspring. That means Prime’s unique genetics and offspring provide the finest dining experiences across the United States."

Wow. That's some serious attention to detail. I'd kill to see inside their Himalayan salt-tiled aging room. And to actually feature the exact bull that is the sire of all the meat is even more AWEsome. Having said all this, it does make things feel a bit cryogenic and weird! It takes away the image of cattle grazing on the Welsh hills and a bit of the magic. They even supply the name of their beast - Prime 207L.

Danny and I arrived early and were immediately shown to an empty booth. The restaurant was very smart as you'll see from the image above, but lacked the buzz of Gibsons and felt a bit flat. The waiters here wear black as if to add a more scientific and premium edge to contrast with the white jackets further uptown. Our waiter was extremely efficient and professional. It was the sort of performance that would see him alone being reviewed ahead of the steak back in London. But here this sort of service is the norm. When Danny and I noticed that he reminded us both of Ben Stiller's performance of a nurse in Happy Gilmore we almost had to walk out because we couldn't contain ourselves.

Instead of bread we were given what can only be described as a very well cooked Yorkshire pudding in its own little saucepan. A great touch of theatre, even if it was a bit odd and failed to satiate my desire for bread!

Then came some miso glazed scallops which looked sad, small and lacked any miso flavour. The lobster fried rice they came with was only two thirds accurate and missed the only exciting ingredient. Never over promise like this. It made me wish I had order the Angry Lobster, which has to go down as one of the best named dishes I've seen in a long time.

We were both drawn like mosquitoes to a flame towards their 55 day aged 20oz bone in rib eye which the menu proudly points out was voted Chicago's best dry aged steak in 2008. It was served perfectly medium rare. It had a slight crust and deep flavour. The flesh melted away to the soundtrack in my head of Blur's "Tender". Our Caesar salad was made at our table for added drama and extra freshness. It was all hard to fault. Prime 207L is one impressive beast.

I loved the contrasting experiences. The steak at both was excellent with David Burke just shading it for the flavour added by the dry aging process. But overall, the atmosphere at Gibsons far outdid the stiff and slightly contrived vibe at the DB's Primehouse. It's quite telling when you look at David Burke's website and find his range of flavour mists, dusts, pastrami salmon and salt. He's obviously a hell of a cook, but it just all seems a bit false and gimmicky. As a result Gibsons wins this little battle. Next time I'm keen to try out Morton's which steak-onados seem to approve of. I'm now looking forward to continuing my quest for the perfect steak in London. Any suggestions?

David Burke's Primehouse on Urbanspoon

Gibsons Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Huong-Viet in Hackney

Huong Viet

We had one of our most fun nights out of the year at Huong-Viet. All of our foodie friends from the North of London have raved about this Vietnamese canteen. As have Charles Campion, Time Out and Nigel Slater. It has a sense of authenticity and quirkiness that appeals in spades. Much of this is derived from the fact that the site for this restaurant used to be public laundry and baths and then became a community centre for Vietnamese refugees. It then evolved into a canteen serving authentic, inexpensive Vietnamese food to whoever was either close enough or brave enough to visit.

So when the excuse arose we pounced. With the aid of a compass, some thermals and an appropriately named Hackney Carriage we waded in on a mission to try the entire menu. With the aid of Edwin's impressive grasp of the Vietnamese language and Jack's sheer appetite we were soon swamped by so many dishes that we had to annex a second table!

Summer rolls were fresh, crunchy, soft, cool and fragrant all at the same time. I reckon I could eat these all day. For me they are on a par with the Paddyfield in Balham, if not better.

Prawn summer roll

A Vietnamese omelette was unnecessary, given the amount of food we'd ordered, but delicious nonetheless. Stuffed with crunchy and gungy stuff it was a text book example of contrasting textures. Doused in firey chilli sauce and it really came alive.

Vietnamese omeltte

The highlight to the first act of our meal was a plate of chargrilled squid which achieved the ultimate goal of being succulent and rammed with flavour at the same time.

Char grilled squid

Other starters such as fish cakes and beef wrapped in leaves were so good they disappeared before I could photograph them! Much to my irritation and everyone else's mirth. The beef transported me back to a lunch time cafe in Hong Kong which I became addicted to several summers ago.

It was as if the main courses didn't want to be outdone by the starters. My hot and spicy lamb was one of the favourite things I have eaten this year. It lived up to its name by delivering the sort of sticky, tangy heat that makes you lick your lips for days afterwards. I had to fight Jack and Anna off with my chopsticks.

hot and spicy lamb

Cowie's whole steamed sea bass was good enough to prevent me from being offered any. Always a good sign. It's just a shame they couldn't find a larger plate. But I guess that is part of the charm. incidentally, this appears to be one of Nigel Slater's favourite dishes.

Steamed sea bass

Edwin's impressive ordering skills resulted in a scene that wouldn't have been out of place in an ad for HSBC! A waiter appeared holding a scorching hot plate at arm's length and deposited it, still spitting in front of Edwin. It was a wonderful piece of theatre. And cooking too. Given the amount of burning hot oil that splattered onto the table it was essentially a healthy option.

Sizzling beef in black bean

Other dishes included a fragrant chicken curry with a plenty of lemon grass and a saucy pork curry. All washed down with plenty of Vietnamese beer and a lot of banter. If you can judge a meal by how dirty the table cloth gets, then we had a whale of a time. By the end we were trying to interpret the oily splodges around Edwin's plate in a way that would have had psychologists raising a lot of eyebrows!

We loved the informal atmosphere, direct service, delicious food and cheap bill. Some writers have suggested that there has been a lull in quality in recent times. But that wasn't on show when we visited. We loved it and are already planning a return trip. We just wish that we either lived closer, or that they would consider opening in Brixton or Balham.

12-14 Englefield Road
020 7249 0877
N1 4LS

Huong Viet on Urbanspoon

The White Bull, Ribchester, Lancashire

White Bull Sign

Nestled in the middle of the area where there the map says “here be dragons” is a charming village called Ribchester. We decided to break up our journey to indulge in a birthday meal at L’enclume in the Lake District with a stop-off en route. We managed to put the Alan Partridge inside us both to one side and instead took inspiration from Diana Henry’s increasingly invaluable guide to the gastropubs of the UK. We were keen to viist the Three Fishes Inn, until we saw their website and instead went for the rustic hospitality of the White Bull which has rooms.

The M6 is certainly an arterial road. It pulses and stops like a heartbeat resulting in a deeply frustrating journey that involved grid lock every 20 miles for absolutely no reason. Relief coursed through our capillaries as we abandoned the motorway and trickled our way round the Ribble Valley to the charming Roman village of Ribchester. The White Bull is an 18th century stone pub with a fine, pillared entrance and statuesque outlook across a small square at the front and the river at the rear. We gave each other a look of approval and were greeted by the head chef/co-owner, Chris Bell, who welcomed us like long lost friends.

Our room overlooking the river was spacious, well appointed and furnished with an excellent bed. We spruced ourselves up before heading down for some well earned refreshments. It never ceases to amaze us how early people have their dinner in the North. A couple arrived at 5.40 and were furious that the restaurant didn’t open till 6! We settled in for a few drinks before giving in to our stomachs at a more civilised time.

Sadly the restaurant was only a quarter full. This made the atmosphere slightly stilted to begin with before we warmed up and decided to talk to each other rather than pass notes back and forth like naughty school children. The menu was one of the more exciting we’ve seen recently. As ever we could both predict what the other wanted! Cowie had potted crab followed by salmon with Mediterranean vegetables – so Cowie! Whereas I blasted through my RYA (Recommended Yearly Amount) of fat by ordering confit of duck followed by roasted turbot with foie gras and morels.

Cowie’s crab wasn’t really potted at all. It was flaked and then mixed through with crème fraiche and coriander which worked brilliantly. Light and zingy. Almost as if it had been designed for girls. My confit of duck was soft and melting. But it lacked the crispy skin and salty bite I was yearning for. It put a smile on my face and an inch on my waist.

Cowie’s salmon was perfectly cooked. It had that pearly sheen you lust after. Bolstered by some expertly roasted vegetables it had Cowie purring away like the cat who got all the clotted cream. My turbot and foie gras was less successful. Whilst it’s pretty hard not to enjoy a dish with such great ingredients it wasn’t without flaws. It seems churlish to complain that there was too much foie gras. But it managed to completely overwhelm the small piece of turbot. Deveining the liver, some seasoning and not singeing it would have helped too. It was my fault for ordering something so tricky when I should have had a nice steak or a pan roasted fillet of halibut. But turbot, foie gras and morels is hard not to order.

My pannacotta was excellent. As was Cowie’s poached pear. Overall, our meal was like listening to a talented choir singing with a soloist who doesn’t quite hit all the high notes. We had a very memorable evening and loved the fact we could just roll upstairs, past the boozy locals, to bed.

Whilst dinner and accommodation were good, our breakfast was disappointing. The excellent black pudding and fried eggs in my fry up were let down by poor, sweaty sausages and a cold tomato. But this wasn’t a patch on Cowie’s comedy breakfast. I’ve never seen Cowie look so let down. It took several hours of jesting and joking to take the scowl of her face that her soggy bowl of cornflakes induced.

But don’t let our breakfast woes and the off-key soloist put you off. Dianne Henry was right to feature The White Bull in her guide. It’s a great credit to Ribchester and Lancashire. The staff are seriously passionate about their food and made us feel extremely welcome. Chris and Kath are onto a winner here. If you are heading North on the M6 can I recommend you pop in to pay the White Bull a visit. It set us up brilliantly for our onward gastro-trip to L’enclume in Cartmel. It's yet another massive tick for what is fast becoming our Around Britain with a Paunch traveling bible - Diana Henry's Gastro Pub Cookbook.

Friday, 3 April 2009

March Sandwichist Saga

This month's Sandwichist article seemed to be cursed. Cursed by some evil Sandwich ogre who seemed determined to bugger up all of my plans. The palaver started with a failed attempt to find a lamb sandwich and then got worse as the theme switched to Indian. I was very excited about the idea of reviewing a curry sandwich that tied into the Indian festival of Holi. But alas. The sandwich shop that was recommended turned out to be closed. In it's place stood a hippy bric a brac shop.

In desperation I considered reviewing M&S's new 75p jam sandwich.

Jam Sandwich

As jam sandwiches go it was an absolute belter. Where mussels and oysters taste of the sea. This tasted of boarding school. I was transported at first bite! Plastic bread and red gungy jam. Mud on my knees and aching shoulders from playing too much rugby. I guess you could call it a Proustian moment.

I also discovered a fantastic cafe / deli on Marylebone Lane that could not be more English. It's called Paul Rothe and is now firmly in my favourites list.

Paul Rothe

Their corned beef, cheddar and pickle sandwich on granary bread is awesomely English. And their scotch eggs are on a par if not better than the Ginger Pig's. Controversial I know. But not without merit.

Corned beef cheese and pickle

I was a bit disappointed by the photos and still couldn't find a theme. Then Malcolm Eggs (from the London Review of Breakfasts) sprang to the rescue like some sort of foodie superman. First he suggested Konstam's ox tongue sandwich. A thing of elusive beauty. I was planning to tie it in with Mothering Sunday via a tenuous link to a plant called Mother in Law's tongue which ominously was suggested by Cowie's Mum. The theme was set. The scene set. And then I was dragged into a meeting and the whole thing fell apart!

I apologised, groveled and rearranged. But the ox tongue had all gone and it takes 11 days to brine! Disaster! Feeling pretty low we decided to go anyway and see what happened. And that's where the sandwich Gods changed their tune. Their on the menu was a sandwich so perfect for the occasion that I almost did a lap of honour.

Konstam sandwiches

The bacon and marmalade sandwich was the perfect combination for us. And this month's theme is obviously breakfast. For this month's Sandwichist article about Konstam's Bacon and Marmalade sandwich click here.

Bacon and marmalade sandwich

If anyone has any suggestions for themes for April please leave a comment. So far I am thinking of doing a true British sandwich to tie in with St. George's day on April 23rd that may or may not be St. John's ox heart sandwich.


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