Well with Christmas fast approaching we can announce some exciting plans for 2017 and this might well make an interesting Christmas gift for someone that appreciates their food…
We will be announcing our full line up of dinner dates for 2017 in a few days but a note for your diary will be our planned event for March 2017 that will be a much bigger dinner in a new location for us.
We will be taking secret dining to the town of Crowborough just south of Tunbridge Wells where for one night only on March 25th we will be serving a four course dinner to guests in the Gallery Community Cafe a space within the Crowborough Community Centre that we will be renting for the evening.
The poster below explains a little more and our booking site for this event will open on Monday December 12th at 09:00am.
Reservation Tickets will only be on sale until Tuesday 28th February 2017 so make sure you reserve your places early to ensure you get in.
To book your places please go to our dedicated booking site for this event here
Well it has been a summer of mixed emotions for us… we have loved watching the Olympics and the herculean efforts of all our athletes who have given it their all. The nail biting gold medal fight with Andy Murray to the dying second loss of a gold medal for the Taekwondo guy!
We have also after 16 years just sold our French home in the village of Rivesaltes. It was with some sadness we spent our last summer holiday in the “maison” but we will return to the area as we love it so much.
One thing I managed to do this time was something of a long term desire and ambition to work in a genuine French bakery and make the bread!
Well I have to thank Patrick Aiguaviva for the patience and opportunity to do this as he and his family took over the old bakery called La Muscaline on the Place General de Gaulle in the village and following a redecoration re opened it as “Pain de Place” The already own and run the bar opposite so they are slowly dominating the commercial enterprises of square.
Patrick was a little surprised I wanted to get up at an ungodly hour whilst on holiday to make bread with him but he patiently agreed and I duly turned up on a warm sticky Saturday morning at 5:30m
Patrick has a culinary background of working on cruise ships so is use to production on a large scale but running a bakery is a challenge. He makes the dough up the day before using his assorted flours but what intrigued me was the recipe he uses also used some sour dough from the previous day’s dough as a starter in the dough and allows it to prove very slowly. This creates to a good tasting bread.
He does very little hand formation of the dough as he is lucky to have an ancient large rolling machine that rolled the dough into the assorted sized breads. From the traditional baguette, to a thinner smaller ficelle or the “ancienne style” baguette with their pointed ends.
Each batch was placed onto ready prepared cloth covered trays that were then wheeled into the proving cupboard where the dough was held at about 12 degrees centigrade overnight before being got out ready to be placed into the large bakery oven the next morning.
Even loading up the oven was semi-automated with a belt tray that pushed the baguettes into the oven direct onto the oven floor.
Patrick was so well organised with certain functions all geared to make his life easier so that he could bake the required number of baguettes to service the shop and a few of his local contracts. Small bread rolls for the school canteen to some Pizza dough ready for a regular client.
Within no more than 3 hours we had baked the lot as one lot went into the oven and about 12 minutes later came out. It was fascinating to learn the slashes on the top of the baguette or the Boules (round loaf) and the Epis baguettes are all traditional processes and very much the signature of each bakery and their bakers.
I had a go and found it a lot of harder than he made it look and was painfully slower. Practice will make it easier and quicker.
Viennoiserie or “morning goods” of Croissants. Pain au Chocolat and Pains aux Raisin are all bought in frozen and baked off in another oven upstairs (it was cavernous behind the scenes) This is not uncommon in French bakeries these days as it is a time consuming and highly skilled job and not really cost effective for a single man operation!
Patrick also makes large Palmiers Biscuits which he explained were traditionally made from the left over puff pastry dough that were then dredged in sugar and rolled to make the ear shaped crisp sugary pastry much loved with a grand café crème
I shot off with some warm baguettes for breakfast and then popped back a couple of hours later to roll out the next days required bread from a large batch of dough he had already made up.
It was fascinating to see and struck me the amount of effort that goes into that ninety cent baguette is certainly something to cherish and respect. The passion bakers have along with their skills is worthy of our support and our custom!
The locals of Rivesaltes are spoilt for choice and seem to appreciate the differences of each bakery. We had five bakeries all within a five minute walk and now having seen behind the scenes of our nearest I am in awe of what they all achieve but will remain loyal to Patrick’s prowess. It was a very fitting end to our holiday and a memory I shall cherish… a bit like our daily bread!
Well it has been a very hectic month for us with some charity gigs and then a plethora of private functions… We are just about to complete our last one before heading off to France for our annual break. It will be twinned with sadness as we have now sold our French home so it will be the last time we will be staying there!
We have lots already planned for the Autumn season and we will soon be taking bookings for our September & October dates… So do watch this space where we will be publishing full details in the next couple of weeks.
I hope you all have a great summer holiday and come back rested and refreshed! We will!
I have always enjoyed the idea of small plates of food that you can share so that you can sample what a kitchen has to offer and also a great way to share a meal. I have recently sampled a few meals like this in the last month or so. Firstly on a recent hook up with world renowned chocolatier Damian Allsop in Girona Spain we sampled some beautiful tapas in a back street establishment called Restaurant Curcuma. It was right in the city centre and had a modern simple decor but some great tasty and innovative tapas.
Highlight for me were the turmeric (the name of the restaurant) scented croquetas, crispy cased and soft unctuous centres and some steamed cod topped with roasted onions, honey and Sobrassada sausage. Innovative flavours simply presented and reasonably priced.
Then more recently we found ourselves back in the town of Whitstable at one our favourites – the infamous and highly popular Jo Jo’s Restaurant where they specialise in Mediterranean meze, – large sharing boards of assorted well sourced cold meats, cheese and small bowls of Hummus, Tzatziki etc as well as small plates of other ever changing specials and regular favourites. The cod or haddock goujons in a beer batter highlight the fresh fish that are ever so popular.
I also quietly ordered one of the blackboard specials of the day… Crispy Pigs Ears with a Remoulade sauce. This was a very generous portion of crispy crumb coated slivers of porcine goodness that were to put it mildly rapidly devoured by even the youngest of our party ( a 4 year old) with gusto.
All that sharing ensured a very respectable and celebratory lunch was had by all.
Then most recently I was invited to a restaurant in the centre of Canterbury that was not on my radar or I had any idea of its existence. I was joining a friend who had been invited for a lunch at Deesons Restaurant where head chef Ross Barden was keen for us to try their newly launched “British Tapas” dishes in this quintessentially modern British restaurant.
The tapas idea here was both innovative and at time quite unexpected and as a whole worked well with some good skilful thought out dishes but then some not so well executed ones.
We actually sampled the entire menu and were generally impressed but did feel the kitchen was trying just a shade too hard. Dishes that worked really well and were outstanding were a twice baked “Old Winchester” cheese soufflé with a carrot pureé that needed a little more seasoning and sweetness to cut against the savoury nature of the cheese. The Confit hen’s yolk with buttered leeks and crispy chicken skin soldiers was inspired. The Crispy Haggis with a poached egg and parsnip crisps was also flavoursome but technically the haggis was a tad dry from over frying/baking so needed the soft egg to add liquid!
Cider Braised Beef Shin with apple juice and ginger with mash and cabbage was a wonderful unctuous dish but again lacked in seasoning. The Spring Greens with wholegrain mustard worked beautifully as did the charred broccoli with cheese sauce and flaked almonds whilst smoked mash potato was less popular than the the plain one – it did need more butter, cream and salt.
In fact the seasoning overall throughout the meal did raise the question did “Chef” smoke as a lot of the dishes seemed under seasoned. This is a common situation in many a kitchen and for me something that was drummed into me in my formative years how important it is to season the food correctly and also taste it.
We also sampled a couple of croquette style dishes that when compared to a “Spanish croquetas” sadly missed the mark. The Smoked Cod Kedgeree was a good idea but the large cake like croquette was just to big and clumsy, a good livid coloured curry mayonnaise was much needed to moisten it.
The Pork and Potato Croquette served with an an apple butter was also oversized and would have been better smaller and perhaps served as a threesome. The apple butter on the tapas version did not pack the same punch that it did when served with the a la carte main course of Pork Tenderloin along with Black Pudding crumb and candied walnuts and a cider jus (to die for)
So overall this was a highly enjoyable delve into how we can equally compete with our continental partners and it can well showcase our own culinary heritage.
Deeson’s is a a little gem and I look forward to a return visit as I think if Chef Ross can sort out the issues we encountered he will be a place to watch in amongst the plethora of those uninspiring tourist eating establishments of Canterbury.
It was great to recently catch up with Damian Allsop the chocolatier that was until early 2013 located in Tunbridge Wells. He moved back to Spain with his Spanish partner Anna and took up residence in the town of Girona.
His chocolate business struggled to continue and a short period of his own restaurant in the centre of the town was also despite great reviews thwarted by circumstances beyond his control.
Damian has had a tough time of it and his story is a fascinating one. Some 15 plus years ago he had a nasty self-induced accident that resulted in him breaking both his feet, a result of falling from a second floor balcony.
It seems amazing to think how he has bounced back but much is to be credited to his stalwart partner Anna. Anyway after he folded his chocolate business and the restaurant business he was approached by his old bosses in Girona the “Roca” family. Their 3 star Michelin restaurant empire has become his current “lifeline”.
He is tasked with making all the chocolates for the restaurant and banqueting as well as making some of the centre piece cakes for big banqueting functions. Using all his old pastry skills learnt over the past 25 plus years. Plus his amazing and much respected chocolate making skills.
Well the last few months has seen some interesting developments in his journey that will I am sure bring a new chapter for them. He is now classed as just the chocolatier for the “Roca Empire” introducing a range of seasonally changing chocolates for the business every 3-4 months.
He has just had a busy Easter period producing some moulded chocolate monkeys over 300 of them in just under 2 weeks… it was a last minute task he was given and one he says he will not repeat next year without a bit more forward planning!.
But more exciting is the plans ahead… The Roca Empire is expanding and it would seem pivotal in all of this is Damian’s skills as he is looking to develop a “bean to bar” business for them in an ethical and sustainable way. There will be a chocolate factory in central Girona and some boutique hotel rooms that will also be chocolate themed.
So hopefully by next Easter a weekend trip to the city will have a chocolate overload and be the best way to indulge those chocolate fixes.
We are showcasing a fledgling company with our next dinner when it comes to our coffee service at the end of the meal.
The brain child of Maidstone Boys Grammar School 6th Former Dan Westby, he has been a big fan of coffee for a number of years. After much internet searching along with a loan from the bank of “Mum & Dad” he set himself up with a coffee bean roasting machine.
Dan has thought through the whole business he has set up from the very clever name to the whole structure and set up. Velo Coffee is designed to be sustainable by selling their roasted beans at local farmers market in Bearsted each month to then being hand delivered by bike as that is Dan’s second passion.
So after much research and some clever branding Velo Coffee was born and Dan now sources his bean choice with the help of his customers and effectively small batch roasts to order the coffee to ensure the maximum freshness.
His current choice of bean is from Rwanda , and precisely Gashonga a small region close to the Congo and Burundi.
This “Red Bourbon” Variety is hand-picked by smallholders at 1600 plus meters above sea level in ideal growing conditions that is then fermented and dried at the “Gashonga Station”. He describes them as having a Chocolate & Brown Sugar flavour with a citrus acidity and a syrupy mouth feel.
Dan will normally buy 30kg of the chosen green beans that he will then roast to order in batches of 250g at a time – a process he will do at last minute before delivery by bike to ensure they are at their optimal freshness. He will then also grind the beans for the desired method of brew. A finer grind for the filter method and a coarser grind for a Cafetiere or “French press”
The smell is evocative as the beans roast in circa 12 minutes and Dan brewed me a fresh cup on my visit to his set up that illustrated well the citrus notes of the light roasted bean that when drank black and without sugar was a perfect way to appreciate his passion.
He has promised to be on hand each night to talk about his business and the way it operates from his monthly stall at Bearsted farmers market to the subscription service that he offers to local residents where he delivers a freshly roasted pack by bike or for those further afield he will also send by Royal Mail.
For someone so young it is an enterprise to be admired and what is so evident is the passion he shows for the product – the care and attention to detail from the branding to processes involved is to be commended. I trust you will come and support him at our next dinner.
Now that heading sounds a bit weird I know but all will be revealed…
I am for my sins a graduate from what is now Oxford Brookes School of Hospitality Management (Was Oxford Polytechnic in my days!) at Oxford Brookes University.
I am also actively involved with their Alumni Association and get to go to assorted functions and events their Oxford Gastronomica organise throughout the year.
Well recently one of their esteemed ambassadors was in the UK for Chinese New Year and he was hosting a luncheon at A Wong a much lauded and on trend Chinese eaterie in Wilton Street Nr Victoria Station London. Ken Hom was in town and well I needed little persuasion to book my place at a lunch he was hosting at Andrew Wong’s gaffe!
It was quite an intimate affair with some two dozen diners ensconced in the basement bar of this restaurant. An introduction to the proceedings by head of School Donald Sloan was followed by a few words from Chef Patron Andrew Wong who informed us we were lucky to have him there as he wife was scheduled to have her baby that very day but in fact ended up having their baby on Christmas Day!
Any way we settled down to a real feast with firstly some Dim Sum style starters appeared – Sui Mai and Har Gau as steamed dumplings. Then a plate of crispy prawn filled Wan Tuns and a Mushroom spring roll coated in Vermicelli… very delicate but also very tasty. The steamed dim sum had some great embellishment The Sui Mai with crispy Pork crackling and the Har Gao with some delicate citrus foam.
Then came a whole steamed Dover Sole – zingy fresh and expertly removed from the bone and garnished with the trinity (garlic, ginger & spring onion) Some lusciously pink prawns with a crispy fried garlic and spring onion topping were beautifully sweet tasting – shame it was only one prawn each!
Next came a Crispy Duck course that had some wonderfully novel twists on the standard restaurant serving. A paint brush came standing up in a shot glass ready to paint the steamed pancake with the Hoisin sauce. The normal cucumber and spring onion garnish was added to by small slivers of smoked duck and then some crispy fried pieces of dried bean curd. It was a clever and well thought out addition that gave the whole dish a new flavour dimension and texture.
Once the duck was cleared away we then had a slight pause before rice bowls arrived and then a plethora of main dishes. First a seared beef dish described as Yunnan Seared 40 day aged beef with mint chilli and lemon grass. (It got demolished before I could take a picture!) A masterful combination that had a real zing and freshness to it with quite an after kick to it.
A bowl of Singapore Noodles then arrived along with stir fried market Chinese greens. Then a really unctuous slow braised pork belly with lotus root and then another bowl arrived with Gang Bao Chicken with roasted Peanuts and a good chilli kick and then apparently a classic new years dish of a rice noodle cake with a bean sprouts. This was a real classic of flavour combinations and textures that was soft and chewy – in fact it was a bit of a “Marmite” dish amongst the other diners but I have to say I loved it.
To complete the meal once all was cleared away wooden boards arrived laden with what looked like little white peaches. These were in fact what could be described as one of Mr Wong’s signature dishes. The recent Jay Rayner review on the establishment describes the dessert as possibly the best current dessert in London at the moment! It was I have to say quite honestly an amazing dessert. A crispy base to the dumpling that had a gorgeous duck egg based custard hidden inside a soft delicate casing that beautifully oozed out of the bun as you bit into it!
This was a truly magnificent meal to celebrate Chinese New Year and the company of Mr Hom was equally welcome. I am in awe of Mr Wong and now am keen to go back… I am celebrating a significant birthday this year and am already trying to plan as many return visits as I can.
My long time friend Chef Kam Po But who has guest cooked a couple of times with me is one I want to eat here with as I know he appreciates Andrew Wong’s talents and knows him well. If anyone wants to join me and But as this is very much a must visit establishment! Please just let me know and I will add you to the list! (You will have to pay your own way though!)
You can tell I enjoyed myself and when I finally left at nearly 5;30pm you just now when it has been a great lunch as much as great company!
When we launched “Covert Cook School” in the autumn of 2015 we were not sure what was the best format to pursue.
We feel now the best way forward is to structure the lessons to suit you. We are flexible on dates and the format the class will take… all we ask for is you choose the style of class you have that will then dictate the size of the class so the number of friends or acquaintances you come with.
If you want a one to one lesson that is fine – if you want it hands on then we ask for just two attendees. If you want just a demo class then four people is the ideal number.
We will then discuss the content of your lesson and tailor it to what you want to learn. It can be tricks of the trade or perhaps something more complex and involved. Just remember the lesson will be bespoke to you.
To book your own Covert Cook School please complete the form below or go to the Covert Cook School dedicated page.
I had been made aware of Hawker House by fellow supper club operator Sprig of London who had recently attended the venue and was excited to know more about it.
Having just completed an outside event with “The Hands” Julia we got talking about taking our respective off spring up to London for the evening to see the Christmas lights and soak up some festive spirit.
I suggested a detour to take a look at this much talked about concept. Street Feast London – it is a street food concept that brings together a group of food retailers producing an eclectic mix of food under one roof. The parent company behind it all are London Uniona partnership of Henry Dimbelby (of Leon Restaurants fame) and Jonathan Downey the initial instigator of the Street Feast concept.
Hawker House is an unassuming old warehouse located behind the Surrey Quays retail park close to Canada Water – it is marked by a fire brazier entrance area and an illuminated sign leading down to the security manned front doors that led you through some black curtains into a dimly lit walkway and opened into a buzzing cavernous warehouse.
Friendly cheerful hosts greet you and ask for your hand to then ink stamp you with the Hawker House logo and you enter into a wide open space filled with long trestle style tables and chairs in the middle and then round the edges of the space there are the assorted food vendors. The space is divided between two main areas and a staircase leads up to an area with assorted bar/drink vendors. It is a massive area and full of urban character with cleverly lit areas and graffiti clad walls. I could best describe it all as grunge chic and the vibrant atmosphere makes it all rather special .
It is however the food on offer here that is the star… the assorted traders are rotated among their other sites and I found the first visit here is really not enough to sample the full delights on offer and had to go back the following week as there were others I wanted to sample.
Highlights for me were Meat Hook – wood fired grilled beef topped with a fiery chimichurra sauce, a Chuck Burger freshly grilled burger knocks your average burger into the sidelines but for me the Yum Bun stall was one I kept going back to. The Smokestak was another concept that had me gravitating towards it… I am drooling just thinking about them again. White Men Can’t Jerk and Mother Clucker to name just another two of the traders could tempt you!
The food offer is what for me was so exciting – the place might be a bit trendy for the local hipsters and drinkers it is however the food that made me want to make the 60 mile round trip again the following week!
In fact when it all reopens at the end of this month I will be dreaming up an excuse to go again ! If you want to sample some amazing street food then I can thoroughly recommend it all. The excesses of the festive period will be forgotten by the time it all starts up again!
We will be revealing more details soon but our first event at the end of January will be what we have named a sausage fest – we will be serving up cured salamis and for the main course a classic Choucroute with smoked sausages. Menu just in the final stages of tweaking.
February will be the return of a couple of Fondue nights and then we will have yet to be confirmed dates a return visit of Chef But and we will also be taking Hari Covert to foreign shores with a pop up planned in Switzerland at some stage during 2016.
We will be doing a charity alfresco theme in July that will take “Underground Dining” to new heights.
So there will be plenty to keep us busy during the coming year. We hope you will also come and join us.
Please keep watching this space for all the latest news…