Category Archives: General Information

The Butchers Block, Burham – a review…

Well it has been many a year since I have visited this establishment in its previous incarnation as the Toastmasters Inn.

About three months ago it reopened its doors following a major refurbishment and renamed the Butchers Block… a reference to its provenance of being owned by a butchers family.

I have to declare at this point I have a big affection for this place as I spent some of my earlier culinary years at this place and worked alongside the proprietor who was something of a mentor to me and instilled a real passion for cheese if nothing else.

The place has been beautified and decorated in a pleasing way but it is the menu that for me speaks volumes about their aspirations and aims. It is obviously and rightly very meat centric (considering their connections) and features a meat cabinet in the dining areas entrance that displays some really good looking hunks of ageing beef.

The menu highlights for both lunch and dinner are steaks and prime cuts from a T Bone to a Cote de Bouef or Fillet with the classic accompaniments. These all come with a price tag that whilst not eye watering expensive they are not such good value as perhaps lesser known cuts would be. Why not feature a Jacobs Ladder or a bavette. Especially on a lunch menu where a diner wants to eat more quickly as they are time constrained and also price sensitive.

It is a continual debate even in high end restaurants in the big metropolis that you can eat a highly accoladed meal for far better value for lunch than dinner.

The Butchers Block is really missing a trick here and need to rethink the offer. It should be a shop window for what to expect for the more formal dinner service and in particular special occasion diner.

So what did we eat – well we did not fancy a paddle (wooden board) Ploughmans, charcuterie board or fish platter but craved something a little more substantial and the burger whilst tempting had been our menu choice the day before on a visit to Windsor.

So we opted for Fish & Chips a pub classic and then a Steak and Ale Pie – both priced at £12.90 seemed to be the choice of the majority of all the other diners as the Steaks were all prices at double this amount.

A wait of just on one hour from when we had entered the place was our experience before our food arrived. It was not busy and I felt the kitchen was struggling to cope to produce what was pretty basic fare.

Fish & Chips arrived on a wooden board (a modern trend that needs to be discouraged) and was duly sent straight back to be put onto a plate as Mrs HC wanted to eat it off a hot plate!

My Steak & Ale Pie came served in a bowl shaped plate – better than a board but again not my favourite receptacle shape as the cutlery has a tendency to fall into the centre if ever you rest it on the rim! Much was made of the fact the pastry case was short crust and the top was puff pastry and whilst tasty with a well cooked inside filling the gravy boat with extra sauce was much need as it required some extra lubrication, the accompanying  mash and vegetables with it were not so pleasing.

Gritty baby carrots and then sugar snaps were nestled alongside a mash potato that had a stale flavour that was close  to turning.  The pie was I suspect not made in house which for £12.90 was not really good value. I was hungry so ate it and did not fancy an hours wait for a replacement.

Overall I had and expectation that this place would deliver something far better than it did. It could be described as very average and the fact they have access to high quality produce they could execute it all with more flair and imagination.

Service was also lacklustre and in need of polish. There seemed no urgency and classic example of lack of communication between the husband and wife team resulted in us being overcharged for our two small glasses of wine. Quickly rectified when pointed out however the landlord did not seem to posses the social skills to back it all up.  Not a natural front of house so left us feeling it was all a bit amateurish.

It had been many years since I had been in the place and I guess it will now be many more years before I will want to make a return visit… says it all really.

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Fancy a dinner on us?…

It has been sometime since we have held a competition so we thought we would have one now.

It is very simple to enter, we want your recipe for your favourite Autumn dish.

What for you epitomises this lovely season? It can be anything you like.

To enter all you need to do is email us your recipe at covert.hari@yahoo.co.uk with the phrase Recipe Competition in the subject line.

We will then look at them and test the best ones and then pick a winner which we will share with you all in our November Newsletter.

All entrants will then go into a free draw to win a free place at our next event in November where they will be invited to attend and have  their dinner on us!

So simple – just send us your recipes as soon as possible

Closing date is Friday 20th October at 5pm

You can also send more than one recipe and increase your chances!

 

Chicken vs Pork

Well almost two years ago one of our customers came along to our “Fowl Feast” dinners and kindly bought us some sample packs of chicken crackling to play around with.

It was all the brain child of Robert Jebb an Ad Man who has spent a considerable amount of time and I would think money perfecting the product that was initially called “Fowl Scratchings”

Well it has just had a relaunch and it has already gained some notable  exposure as it is being used by chef Simon Hulstone at his London Pop Up in the John Lewis department store… It is a great little product and highly addictive.

Little “Bobby Jebb” as he is now marketing himself as has also recently posted a clever promotional video that has certainly captured the spirit of this new product. 

Check out the video here and if you fancy purchasing then just head over to their shop on their web site…

http://chickencrackling.com/ Please tell them Hari sent you…

Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells…

I have been highly amused by the rantings of a one Steve Wynne a resident of Tunbridge Wells who is something of a “media mogul”.

Steve along with his wife Hanna and a friend are planning to have a regular rant on a whole series of topics.

The first one is on “Driving” and the second is on “Shopping” and I have to say I do agree with some of Mr Wynne’s rants so think I must have some of his disgusted tendencies.

I look forward to their podcasts now and hope they pick the subject of “Eating Out” as one of their rants as I am sure it will be a rich vein to tap into.

I just hope they do not use their experiences of eating at a “Hari Covert” event – but then again I would be proud to feature as I am sure the publicity would be worth the pain!!!

My old boss Egon Ronay always said even bad publicity if used well and managed effectively could be useful.

Keep on ranting Steve and Hanna…

Check out their Podcast here 

You look wastED…

wastED – Selfridges London

Back in early 2017 I had a FB message from a friend who just happens to be the Executive Chef for Selfridges.

He wanted to make me aware of the Pop Up Restaurant that was coming to the top floor of the Oxford Street store…

Dan Barber is a superstar chef and the brains behind the concept known as wastED. It took some 18 months of collaborative planning to bring this rather simple and very thought provoking concept to London. The attention to detail was mind boggling and the efforts they have gone to highlight how much good food we waste that can be recycled or up-cycled.

The simple decor with tables made from re-cycled artichokes, lampshades made from spent mushrooms compost and even down to the little boards used to present the diners bills made from re-cycled wool… cutlery in old earthenware pots was re-cycled from “Taste of London” events – it was totally fascinating.

The menu is what it is all about as the brigade of some 35+ chefs since late February have been serving up a menu lunch, tea and dinner to packed in crowds of appreciative diners.

The dishes on offer use produce either rejected for perhaps being slightly past their best, bruised or fundamentally just wasted… The Kale Tree is a classic example as the more succulent lower leaves are sold and the top leaves are thrown away with the stalk- not here they are roasted off in the Wood Fired grill and served with a pair of scissors along with a broth.

On my recent visit we kicked the meal off with a canape of Crispy Salmon Fins with a piece of skin that was then topped by a generous spoonful of “past its best” caviar from Caviar House (Located in the Selfridges Food Hall) that was about to be thrown – still edible and safe to eat but served here on a crispy fried carcass of salmon that certainly got our tasting menu off to a memorable start!

We consumed some 14 different dishes as part of this set tasting menu and the table of chefs and consummate foodies were all unanimous in agreement that this was an amazing experience and truly mind blowing that each dish we consumed was made from discarded produce or just not utilised.

Highlights for me were the “Fish & Chips” – Fish Bones, Fish Skin, Egg Wrack Seaweed, Pockmarked Potato Cream that used smoked salmon bones and skins infused in the milk to give another flavour dimension -all served on crumpled newspaper, it comprised of slivers of fresh Pollock, sardine heads and crispy skin and some little nuggets of potatoes. Stunning.

Then the Cod Head Kedgeree served with little dishes of curried broken rice, spelt bran & trial rye. The Cod Heads were brine cured and then roasted in the “Josper” grills. It was masterful combinations and amazing how much tender and tasty meat could be consumed from the head. It was a remarkably rich dish and we were pretty well stuffed by this stage but the dishes just kept coming.

It was a really great lunch and the whole experience was something to make you think about a) where our food comes from  and b) how much we waste… now there is food for thought for a future themed Hari event… it was certainly inspiring and I think the photos will give you a flavour.

It all finishes on the 2nd of April and I believe is totally sold out… so hard cheese!

 

Gastro Boast…

About two years ago I was involved with a very enjoyable charity fundraising dinner over in Essex with a group of other chefs… It was a hugely successful evening and we managed to raise some significant monies for two smaller charities close to the lead organisers heart.

One of the chefs involved (there were five) was a hunk of man in name and stature by the name of Jack Boast. He was at that time working for the Galvin brothers at one of their central London places.

Jack has now moved out of London to the depths of the Essex countryside. He is now based in Chelmsford and he is now heading up one of the Galvins latest ventures a Gastro Pub called The Green Man in the village of Howe Street Nr Chelmsford.

This former derelict pub believed to date back to the 1300’s in parts has undergone a major refurbishment and extension that is thought to have cost circa £1 million.  What has resulted is a bright and airy building that can serve in excess of 200 diners on a busy day before they even start to open the extensive gardens in the summer months.

Jack has put together a menu of some tried and tested classics such as Fish and Chips or Sausage and Mash. But equally there is much more on offer from this talented guy. Locally reared pork, wood fired oven dishes to grills. There is much on offer to tempt…

We visited on what we thought was a busy Saturday lunchtime… Jack assured us it was relatively quiet this day but can get very hectic. The place was buzzing when we arrived and as we sat down at our table our friendly waitress and young staff were working full pace to serve all.

We were on our way to Colchester as we had tickets for the theatre that evening so this establishment fitted the bill perfectly as a stop off on the way up…

We tucked in to some really good grub… Mrs HC was in raptures with her bowl of Wild Mushroom Soup that was unctuous and full of flavour whilst I myself went with the roasted heritage beetroot that were served with mixed salad leaves and a creamy & generous garnish of crumbled local Goats Cheese. Tried and tested combination that got us both salivating for more!

Mrs HC on the set menu had chosen the smoked haddock fish cake topped with poached egg and some creamy leeks… perfectly balanced and well executed.

I myself went for Grilled Calves Liver and Bacon… this was a generous slab of liver that was perfectly grilled still pink and tender – some crispy rashers of streaky bacon and crispy fried fresh sage leaves all nestling on a compote of onions… just perfect with a little
bucket of triple cooked crispy coated fries with floury centres!!!

Dessert from Mrs HC’s set menu was shared with two spoons… a classic arctic roll of vanilla ice cream encased with a light sponge and gratinated Italian meringue and some segments of blood orange with candied peel.  A perfect finish…

We sat there thinking why had we not got something like this more local to us… Mr Boast stuck his head out and then showed me round quickly his domain… it was amazing to think they had just had a relatively quiet lunch service (it seemed busy to me) but were expecting to do in excess of 200 customers that night  – there was a real calm and focused intent from the kitchen and elsewhere around the place…

Something they can “Boast” about is they have got things pretty well right since opening and already have got a loyal following … we certainly are looking forward to going back… just wish they were this side of the Dartford crossing!!!

Galvin Green Man – Howe Street

 

Only lukewarm…

I am sat in a London branch of Pret … why is every time these places make a coffee the milk is never warmed properly?? Is it me or does this annoy others – it seems like the speed thing outweighs getting it right…


I have always loved these places but there never seems a time when having sat down I am back asking for a hot coffee. 

Rant over…

Is Brexit to blame?

Oooo getting all political here but there was recently a great deal of press surrounding “Jamies Italian” closing a number of its restaurants brexit-1that basically were under performing and the reason given was the “Brexit Effect”

One said establishment is local to me in central Tunbridge Wells. Now I have to say I have not eaten at this said establishment but looking at the local reviews and Tripadvisor feedback there seems to have been some local animosity to this place and generally negative feedback and when it was announced many said “no sad loss”

A touch harsh but what intrigued me was the reasons given by Jamie Oliver himself was “the Brexit vote” There has been much press recently about how the uncertainty of labour movement will effect the hospitality industry and an already struggling industry with regards to staffing will therefore suffer even more.

I know of one hotel close by to me that is fundamentally staffed totally in the kitchen by a plethora of foreign labour (EU and beyond) another local pub to me has possibly 50% of its brigade as ex prison offenders (a very noble gesture by the employer but perhaps out of more necessity as recruitment is so hard)

The biggest issue the hospitality industry faces today  operationally is staffing… I was recently at a meeting at one of the UK’s leading Hospitality Schools and was staggered to learn that their intake of new students in particular for post graduate programmes was dominated by international students and on their undergraduate programmes a pretty high proportion come from within the European Union… another likely pressure post Brexit on our labour pool.

The hospitality industry fails to attract youngsters committed to a career in it. It’s often seen as unsociable and poorly paid. In fact  I have been involved in the past with several school career fairs and been so frustrated by the lack of understanding of both schools and parents as to what the hospitality industry actually involves.

As the UK’s 4th largest hospindustry it is about time people wake up to what it can offer in employment not just in the UK but globally and more importantly the effect that our lurching towards an even more insular and inward looking approach will impact their future.

Jamie’s comments for me are not without foundation, someone like him with such a global profile to be concerned by the “Brexit Effect” needs to be thought about more deeply.

hosp2Why is it when I eat out the staff that serve me or cook for me are more often than not from overseas and display far more passion for the job they do than their British counterparts?

I fear the future post Brexit does look a shade bleak, I am however optimistic that passion will surface and ever the optimist the future will be brighter…  so what do you think?

 

Farmers Markets… are they worth the money?

photo (177)Now I am always keen to feature top notch local produce at my dinners. I love a good market and relish wandering around trying to find some new inspiration or quirky new product that I have not come across before.

I do however ask the question have the “Farmers Market” had their day?

My biggest gripe is that often a stall holder is not first and foremost a particularly good sales person or customer focused. I have seen too many hide behind their stall looking at their phone seeming totally disinterested and non-engaging with their customers…

Harsh you may think but something I feel is ripe for a discussion /poll.

I often feel there are some stalls that seem to think that their chosen product is worthy of grossly inflated prices and substandard production. I have seen many a cupcake or even a loaf of bread look like an abomination of baking prowess at an eye watering price that even a supermarket would be hard pushed to justify.

Fish that pongs or not looking its best and a dirt encrusted vegetable that makes out it is better because of it…

Thenphoto (17) there is the snobby customer who also makes out they are more than righteous for supporting the market and are a dedicated foodie because they do so!

Well I for one will happily support a Farmers Market but I have to say the stall holder has to up their game to get me to part with my hard earned cash and have a product worthy of it.

Good imaginative food is worth it but alas a lot of it is not… what says you?

It’s official we are Quirky!!!…

qkWe were surprised and rather chuffed recently when we had an email from a newly established web site called QuirkyKent. The site is the brainchild of a former military person who we will call “QK”. (As like us they wish to remain covert for the time being!)

It is basically a labour of love and has taken a fair bit of time just to research and set up. “QK” tells me it is also a work in progress as they are currently working on a revamp and ensure the site works as well on mobile phones and tablets.

Since its launch in just a few weeks it seems to have had in excess of 5000 visitors and is increasing rapidly but it is the content that is what makes this site rather fascinating and for me it seems like a lifetime of trying to be “Quirky” is finally being recognised.

The site has assorted sections e.g. Quirky Dates & Adventures everything from the Panic Room in Gravesend – my daughter has been several times and absolutely loves it to what “QK” informs me is a real bargain from Lydd Aero Club where you can take a private plane with pilot and two friends (Subject to weight restrictions) and have a half hour flight from as little as just a tad over £30 per person depending on time of year and who your pilot is!!!

There is also a section on Quirky Accommodation that has everything from sleeping on Safari at Port Lympne Zoo to a Romantic Tree House at Blean complete with Hot Tub!

We sit in the section Quirky Bars & Eating Out, I love the idea of Playopolis Cafe in Rochester where you can choose from over 500 different board games to a bang on trend converted shipping container Spitfire Cafe located in Hythe where there is a very personal collection of WW1 & WW2 memorabilia.

Speaking at length to “QK” they have some great plans for the site but are keen to only highlight  the very quirkiest of places within the county… we are proud as punch to be featured and we are keen to develop a further relationship with them and look forward to qk2actually meeting with them and perhaps even hosting a totally exclusive “Quirky Event” with perhaps some rather “quirky food” so watch this space… do head over to their site and explore a little further as we aim to do just that as well!

www.quirkykent.co.uk