Category Archives: General Information

Vive la France, Brasserie Zedel…

A little bit of France can be found in the heart of London’s West End… it was a Saturday and I was in town with Mrs HC, her sister and my fussy eater BIL for the VE Day celebrations on Horse Guards Parade – we needed a place to eat before the evening’s festivities.

I had been a few times to Brasserie Zedel, a mammoth basement restaurant at the back of the Café Royal a stones throw from Piccadilly Circus right in the heart of the West End. We had booked a table for 2:30pm as we wanted to leisurely kill a few hours before we had to sit outside for the musical and retrospective extravaganza being filmed for airing later that evening.

You enter the establishment via the café with its street tables and bustling atmosphere within. There is a staircase that delivers you down or a pair of efficient lifts (for the less energetic or in-firmed) that bring you to a lobby area with cloakroom.

Zedel-Brasserie-highres (8)Leading off from this there is a dimly lit “American Bar” with white jacketed bar staff,  of an evening “The Crazy Coqs” a night club/live cabaret venue and then a vast open door way leads you into the brasserie, resplendent with gilt and ornate columns with a real bright and airy buzz to it. In fact both Mrs HC and SIL immediately cooed appreciatively for the look and clever lighting making you think it was all naturally lit.

We were efficiently shown to our table to the right of the entrance deposited with true Gallic charm and flourish. Menus on large printed A3 sheets were proffered and we relaxed with our swiftly ordered and delivered pre luncheon drinks. As we all perused the menu the fussy BIL was relieved to find a good choice of classics he could partake of… for some strange reason they had even given him the English version of the menu whilst the rest of us drooled over everything from the classic set menu of the day to fresh oysters or classic Alsacienne Choucroute!

It seems an enormous choice but is very cleverly constructed of some classic combinations and real comfort food. Our choices made we settled down to soak up the atmosphere… It was buzzing with virtually every table full of guests eating at various stages and the waiting staff in white starched aprons bustling with laden trays to their waiting stations… pure poetry.

IMG_7367We had opted for a mix of dishes from the smooth chicken liver parfait to a French Onion soup with gratinated cheese crust and a coarse terrine “en croute”.  All were swiftly delivered and consumed with much passion! The main courses chosen ranged from a crispy Duck Confit leg on a bed of cabbage and bacon, to classic Bœuf Bourguignon, a truly unctuous beef in red wine stew with a creamy mashed potato. I myself stuck to a perfectly cooked (medium rare) Onglet Beef Steak served with a little bucket of fries and a rich shallot & red wine jus. Fantastic.

Wine flowed, beers for the BIL slipped down with ease and we continued to soak up the atmosphere. It was made even more authentic by the arrival at about 3:30pm of a large group of diners all dressed up to the nines in their best 1940’s garb… one even looked the spitting image of the “Queen Mother” Queen Mumin her sky blue tailored suit and perfectly set hair do. The Gents in their Oxford Bags or Military uniforms, the ladies with their well groomed hair, pencil lined stockings and sensible shoes and pheasant feathered hats all added to the VE Day look… we felt totally transported to a bygone time and were amazed at the efforts made! They really did turn heads!

Now feeling pretty replete we opted for a few of the desserts, Mrs HC loves a Lemon Tart so plumped for that and duly announced it was totally awesome and ranked as one of the best… SIL went for IMG_7371the Crème Brûlée which she also declared as near as perfect… I went for the “chocolate” Gateau Praline that had Mrs HC in true to form  continually diving into as well as her own. The BIL abstained and continued to sip yet another French beer.

Lunch had been a resounding success and some two and half hours later we surfaced to daylight and a stroll back down to Horse Guards parade to take up our positions to watch that evenings entertainment…

On a day of oft raw emotions we had managed for a few hours to transport ourselves to the centre of Paris and a genuine brasserie culture but also back in time to the mid 1940’s – what more could you wish for!

Brasserie Zedel 20 Sherwood Street, London W1F 7ED

Over Sexed, Overpaid and Over Here…

Well I certainly cannot vouch for the first two of this infamous statement –  but the third one is pretty accurate when it comes to describing Jeff Kipp the chef patron of a cute little eaterie in Saltwood Green near Hythe. The Saltwood is his baby.

Jeff hails from the “Windy City” across the pond and spent time working with Charlie Trotter a much respected and alas now departed cook. He arrived in Saltwood Green having worked in some pucker establishments in London town and London’s loss is now this sleepy village’s gain on the outskirts of Hythe.

I came across Jeff slightly by accident having been introduced by a chef acquaintance and a few weeks ago I met him when I was helping Jules Serkin on her weekly radio show called Scoff Quaff that is broadcast from just down the road towards Dymchurch! It was a lively programme… you can listen again here

Why I waited so long for an excuse I do not know but I found myself there for a luncheon with my good lady and an old friend (he is definitely older than me – he he sorry Mario!)  We had drooled over the menu on line and were looking forward to sampling the small but well balanced menu. Lunch is a simpler affair whilst dinner has a little bit more involved and complex dishes.

We settled into our luncheon with a celebratory welcome drink – a chilled glass of Prosecco that also contained some Kentish hop syrup – it went down rather well and certainly got the party started!

To get us going we chose a couple of their homemade breads – a soft American style pretzel served with a little ramekin of rarebit and then a Corn Bread with a dollop of tomato relish and goats curd… both were very good.

Having perused the menu my wife decided to go for one of the little plates for her main course… namely a smoked fish cake. Me and my considerably older friend decided to share a plate of Jeff’s Home-made gnocchi flavoured with wild garlic that was on the menu… I had taken Jeff a big bag of freshly foraged wild garlic and a large bunch of wild garlic flowers. These then duly appeared on the resultant starter and very pretty they looked too!

The little pillows of gnocchi had also been lightly fried to give them a slightly crunchy texture… it was an accomplished dish.

Mario chose as his main course a pan seared fillet of sea trout with petit pois, pea shoots, samphire and Jersey royals with a punchy tartare sauce… spring time personified on the plate with beautiful succulent sea trout perfectly cooked.  I went for roasted shoulder of Romney Marsh lamb served with a romesco (red pepper, almond and olive oil) infused mashed potato plus grilled Mediterranean vegetables and a Salsa Verde/Gremolata sauce. The meat was lovely, cooked slightly pink it had a lovely sweet flavour that married well with the earthy mash and the vibrant herby green sauce. Overall another well accomplished dish.

We then decided to partake in a few of the puddings on offer… Mario went savoury with what was described as Stilton crumble with apple & rhubarb… it was a de-constructed affair of apple slices, rhubarb with apple foam little pieces of crumbled Stilton of great provenance and taste… garnished with assorted young shoots it looked a pretty picture on the plate.

My better half chose the home-made Cheesecake with orange and cardamom – it had good oaty biscuit base topped with a vanilla cheesecake glazed with an orange jelly. It was however my dessert that garnered the most compliments. A chocolate tart with a malted milk ice cream and a malted caramel. This was pure luxury and the simple de-constructed presentation made it even more enjoyable (the pastry biscuit base was perfectly buttery and crisp)

Well Jeff has won us over and we are now planning a return visit (hopefully a dinner) it was worthy of the seventy mile plus round trip for us and a perfect way to complete my birthday celebrations.

I do hope Jeff remains over here and well the first two statements in the title will not be an issue either.(Just kidding Jeff)

Go and try it, it’s well worth it!

Saltwood on the Green, The Green, Saltwood, Hythe, Kent CT21 4PS

Take Five Cooks…a report

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Well it was a chilly Thursday and it was chucking it down with rain as I pulled into the Car Park at Redbridge College in Essex. Not my normal stomping ground but I was there to assist a long standing friend with his desire to host a charity dinner with his local college using students and a group of chef friends. Hence the idea of Take Five Cooks was born and Ian Samuels the lead chef was about to see it all come to fruition.

It had been some five months in the planning and Ian had asked me early on to help in the project in a number of ways. I agreed as it has always been my intention to use my supperclub format and connections for charitable purposes and have over the years done some varied charity events etc. This event was to be the most complex and ambitious yet as apart from the assorted egos of the various chefs the challenge was to make as much money as we could for the two charities we were there to support.

The charities are not big well known ones and were very personal to Ian and we had to try make sure that we could raise as much money as possible. The dinner was to be a five course affair, each chef was to prepare a course and then also a canapé as well that would be served with the welcome drink to guests on arrival. We even tried to auction a table for six in the kitchen where guests could see first hand the behind the scenes action (alas no takers)

Well we had managed to sell a total of 39 places that ensured we had a pretty full house for the night. As I checked in and joined Ian in the kitchen we leisurely got stuck into the prep work and with a bunch of willing students who eagerly were doing a good deal of the donkey work for us! As time went by the other members of the brigade arrived, Paul Blackman – pastry chef from Le Talbooth arrived in a massive van and his prepped dessert – his inability to open the van with his own car keys got us all panicked but once unloaded he got on with plating up his dessert of vanilla panna cotta ready for later. Next to arrive was a giant of a man with his hipster beard Jack Boast the Head Chef of Galvins Cafe au Vin along with a former student of the college who now works for him.

Jack then got a few of the students busy filleting fish ready for his contribution and he prepped up his assorted charcuterie for his canapé… the clock was ticking and main course chef Gary Lee of the Ivy was still yet to appear. It was not until almost 6pm just half an hour before the guests would arrive for the welcome reception that he arrived with his assistant. He was relaxed and calm as they quickly started prepping the main course dish of roasted Somerset lamb stuffed with Black Pudding.

One chef alas unable to make the dinner was Matthew Bare as his 2nd in command had broken his leg so he could not get away from his work place. Ian stepped up to produce his contribution a chilled cucumber and mint soup shot.

So wooden boards piled with assorted canapés were delivered to the assembled guests and the evening got off to a start. There was a calm chaos in the kitchen as the chefs went about their final preparations.

The guests then sat and each charity made a quick welcome speech and the food started to come out, first Ian’s dish of pan fried scallops with textures of cauliflower, followed by the chilled soup shot. It was then Jack’s turn as they plated up the assorted Escabeche of Brixham Fish, Mackerel, Red Mullet, Megrim sole and freshly poached clams on a bed of carrots… it was proverbial production line of hands placing items on the plates and waiting staff then delivering to the table.

In amongst this it was yours truly function to get the crowd front of house digging deep into their pockets as we ran a couple of Head & Tails which all added to the fun and ensured the kitchen had time to get ready.

Next came Gary Lee’s main course dish, he gathered all the troops around him and you could see his leadership skills kick in as he demonstrated the plating up of his creation, a pea and mint puree base, fondant potato, slices of meat, carrots and finally some jus and a deftly placed pansy last of all. It was poetry in motion and all the time he was cajoling the troops and the moment he finished he made sure they all gave themselves a round of applause!

There was a real camaraderie amongst them all, especially evident when they all paraded into the room for what is commonly known as the “Santé du Chefs” to genuine warm applause. It was then my turn to run the auction of a range of donated items from a pastry Master Class at Le Talbooth with Paul to meal vouchers for The Ivy and an added bonus of a couple of cookery books and a half day in the kitchen with Gary – it was hard work trying to get the prices up but with some hilarious moments we managed in a few short minutes and some very generous donations to raise just over £4000 from this alone.
Paul served up his very pretty dessert and I completed the meal with my two favourite cheeses, Winterdale Shaw and Stichleton. That was it we had done it… there was a genuine warmth from all and as I drove back home it got me thinking how kind and generous the hospitality industry is. The chefs had come together, given up their time willingly and also managed to get virtually everything they had cooked with and served donated.

Guests had dug deep and supported two local charities that as one later said to me “Cannot even start to thank you for last night! Home-Start Colchester is a small charity and we do not receive many donations, so it is just amazing to be included in your fantastic efforts to support vulnerable and disadvantaged families.”

We raised a total of £6,260 that I know Ian and all involved were immensely proud of. I am also very grateful to those customers of mine that supported the event by hiring a mini bus and venturing from deepest Kent to Essex, bidding for items in the Auction and then a special mention must go to Paul Meyer Photography who gave up his time to come and photograph the event – his pictures are stunning!

What more can we say…

The charities we helped

Home Start – Colchester

Healthy Living Projects

From Nose to Tail…a veritable collection of local charcuterie…

It was a bitterly cold Thursday morning when I swept into Shipbourne Farmers market near Tonbridge to collect some ingredients for a home brew from Moodley’s Beer and Wine Kits. At the entrance was a table laden with some rather good looking Salami and cured meats plus a plethora of smoked fish… It was a bit of a shock to then discovered they had all been produced in Kent and were the brain child of former Chef Paolo Rigoli and his partner Dalton Hopper. These were the real deal and Paolo willingly kept slicing a piece from each to let me sample… charcuterie overload or what….

I purchased some to take home and try and duly demolished in double quick time and then ordered some more to use at my pop up dinners in February when we did a small board of charcuterie to start off our Fondue parties. Their Tuscan salami was an amazing product – made with red wine, fennel seeds and some bigger pieces of fat the resulting salami is a real gem. I duly purchased whole lot more in readiness for my March Beer dinners as well. Including their small snacking salami aptly called a beer stick that is designed to go with a glass of beer!

Then recently I arranged to go over and see their production set up… It was an eye-opener and good to see how two passionate young lads have for a fairly modest sum set up a true artisan business. They have assorted Porta-Kabins that are the production kitchens and then an old refrigerated unit that has been adapted to be their curing chamber.

Then another area for smoking of the fish. In just over six months of production this set up is already not able meet sufficiently the demand they have created from the selling via the Farmers Markets they go to along with a growing wholesale demand as well. Plans to put in another curing chamber will mean they can then increase production of the larger joints they wish to cure and store such as the Parma Ham style legs, Coppa and Lomo joints. The legs taking up to eighteen months to reach their optimum maturity. The smaller salamis and sausage style meats taking less time means they would have greater capacity to meet the demands.

For Paolo it has been a steep learning curve as he gets to grip with the legislation and demands of running a new business. Dalton still works full time in his front of house role at a nearby restaurant so supports where and when he can. It truly is good to see such passion and dedication to produce what is a very fine product and I urge you to seek out their products at one of the Farmers markets they attend namely Shipbourne, Aylesford, Elm Court and Tonbridge and then also Horniman Market in south London.

Take a look at their web site for more details on the range of products http://www.kentcateringltd.co.uk/

Happy New Year…

Well here at “Covert Towers” we have been enjoying the festive season in our warm and dry home… a bit different to last year when we evacuated on Christmas Eve and did not return until early July!

imagesIt was a challenging year in 2014 for a number of reasons and we are now looking forward to a what will be our 5th year of secret dining.

We cannot thank our supporters enough for sticking with us during such trying times. We cooked in new venues provided by generous hosts and then we returned to our refurbished home and new kitchen and have been cooking up some storming events since then.

Now as we start off in 2015 we have set dates right through to the end of the year. We have some exciting themes planned for the year and we will publish more details in due course but for the moment we have two dates on February 6th and 7th when the menu will be based around Fondues. We will publish full menus in due course.

On Thursday March 26th we will also be taking part in a charity dinner called “Take 5 Cooks” plus one (a late entry) This will be held 5at Redwood College in Essex and the profits from this dinner is to be shared between Home Start (Essex) and the Welcome Project (Ilford) two small local charities. We will share more details soon as we are just awaiting confirmation on booking details and price per head. Feel free to use our booking confirmation form to register your interest. We Promise it will be a real fun night!

We will publish more details on our other events as soon as we can just keep checking back. In the meantime we wish all our current and potential new customers a very Happy New Year.

Hari Covert

Chocolate heaven…

Restaurant Mimo d’en Damian – Girona

Well it was blue skies and a warm autumn afternoon when I set off from my house in France and I basked in the glorious scenery as I whizzed down the motorway towards Spain. Once through the peage at Le Boulou you climb over the mountains before dropping into Spain and the commercial “duty free” shopping conurbation of La Jonqueria – it was all going swimmingly well and I was excited at the prospect of dinner on the opening night at Damian’s new venture.

It was then a wall of traffic in front of me and flashing indicators that bought me to a sudden halt and I then began to panic I might not reach Girona in time for dinner! Well a lorry had shed it’s load and police were busy trying to reopen the motorway… some 45 minutes later I was motoring and my expectation was rising yet again.

I arrived in Girona just as the sun was setting and the birds were all coming home to roost! The cacophony was deafening and as I wandered around the old town I found myself sitting on Independence Square with it’s plethora of restaurants and bars and a real buzz as the locals were beginning to unwind at the end of their working day.

My table was booked for 8:30pm early by Spanish standards for a dinner reservation and I was to be joined by some friends who had motored up from Barcelona. They were running a little late having got stuck in the commuter traffic of Barcelona but as I sat at my table waiting I perused the decor. Simple understated table decorations included a chocolate cube sculpture on each table, a wall mounted chocolate sculpture in the shape of a cocoa pod and then some wooden tree branches also covered in chocolate sculptured facsimiles of cocoa pods all added to the statement “it is all about the chocolate”.

Damian is a renowned chocolatier and holds the mantle of the fourth best in the world and was mentor to Jordi Roca of the local El Celler can Roca.  He has, with his partner Anna, her sister and her husband formed a partnership that has seen the rebirth of Restaurant Mimolet as Mimo d’en Damian. Located near the cathedral in the old part of the city it is a perfect location for Damian to showcase his creations with a small boutique shop and a modern understated simple decor within the restaurant.

So my guests arrived and settled and then the meal commenced… the menu is divided between fundamentally two choices of menu. The Plantation Menu – a degustation menu of either five or eight courses that reflects the varying chocolates that Damian likes to work perfectly illustrates the natures of their provenance. The use of a different chocolate in some form or another at each course is very much a feature.

The other menu choice on offer is named “La Finca”  a menu that provides a simple 3 choice three course menu that with seasonal influences of home inspired dishes often without chocolate except for the dessert!!! Then for groups of four or more Damian has also introduced a menu titled “LA  XOCOLATADA“. This is a selection of a lot of the dishes reflected in the other two menus.  Complemented by a simple main course of roasted chicken ballontine with garnish and to complete the sharing meal effectively a chocolate fondue served with assorted accompaniments to dip and dunk accordingly! The ethos is the re-invention of the sharing of a meal.

So we plumped for the Plantation eight course degustation (one wimped out with the 5 courses) and we decided to go that extra bit with the wines included chosen by the restaurant for an amazing 45 Euros per person. (more about that later)

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First up was what was described as snacks and were presented on a wooden board with a balloon whisk. Little miniature croquettes with capers, little coca biscuits (a local cracker) topped with a smooth velvety pumpkin mousse topped with chopped walnuts and then nestling in the whisk where what were described as Sweet corn Crisps – looking like giant onion rings these crisp little confections just melted in the mouth… all went perfectly with the lovely chilled glass of Cava that appeared in front of us.

Bread then arrived. It was intriguing and Damian explained had taken much experimentation to perfect. Fundamentally an olive oil bread that used cocoa butter these little rolls had a lovely crispy exterior and a very stringy moreish texture within…

The first course up was the described as the Santa Pau Bean Soup, a dry plate duly arrived with an arrangement of diced carrots and beans in the bottom – a sliver of dried bread that Damian describes as using a cocoa ferment in its making process and a spherical scoop of bacon ice cream before a dark chocolate coloured broth was poured into the bowl. Intense depth of flavours and balanced seasoning combinations ensured this was a great start to the meal, the ice cream melted to provide a creamy edge to the soup and the delicate bread softened within the broth – masterful.

Next came the Cep Royal, Onion Foam and a garnish of camomile and cacao soil, a shallow glass bowl had a dark warm set mousse in its base with that distinct earthy boletus flavour of the wild mushroom, a delicate light sweet flavoured onion foam had been squirted onto this and all garnished with a crunchy decoration of cocoa nibs. Textural and flavourful combinations that were truly magnificent and equally memorable. Flavours zinged in the mouth and lingered with every spoonful!

Our next course was described as White Fish, Saffron veloute, fennel & orange on the menu. We were served two fresh shell on prawns that were perfectly cooked. The sauce had a delicate aerated texture and had the addition of cacao butter to provide a richness to the dish. It was a accomplished but for me perhaps the weakest dish of the night and perhaps still a work in progress, nonetheless still very enjoyable.

Next came the main course and one I looked forward to as I am a massive fan of the “Pork Cheek”. It is something of a local favourite in the region and often found on menus both in Spanish Cataluña and French Catalan eateries. Damian interpretation was for me totally inspired. The presentation was simple but effective the pork cheek had been cooked perfectly and then shredded and formed into what effectively looked like a chocolate brownie.The garnish of unctuous smooth potato puree and then a masterful finely shredded acidic yet sweet addition of bright pink red cabbage provided the necessary foil for the richness of the meat… This was truly magnificent and for me the revelation of forming the shredded meat into a brownie shaped form on the plate was inspired and the addition of the classic mole sauce using Michel Cluizels “Los Ancones” 68% chocolate just delivered the whole dish to stellar heights. The Brueberry Negre wine from Monsant was the perfect choice to go with dish as well… I loved it

A short pause to allow us to digest the richness for the main dish was then broken by the arrival of the final stretch of the meal! The fact that Damian is formerly a pastry chef meant we were then in for a treat as he presented the three desserts on his menu.

Firstly as a palate cleanser he served up what he describes as a Grapefruit and Basil Sandwich. It was a slab of pink grapefruit sorbet of such a lovely intense flavour sandwiched between two thin pieces of crispy meringue that had the addition of basil within. Simply placed on a plate with an undercarriage of Jordi Rocas milk chocolate “Rocalat” effectively milk chocolate shavings as used within the local infamous “Roca” ice cream parlour. God this was good and got us all excited as what else was going to be served up.

Next came what the menu described as Original Beans Virunga 70% – Forastero Beans from the Congo, a lactic free Cremosa of Cru Virunga served with Olive Oil financier, sea water and blackcurrant crisps. This was pure artistry in the visual sense as well as the eating sense. The Cremosa or mousse like chocolate quenelle in the centre of the plate was surrounded by two little olive oil cakes with the addition of little round discs of crispy sea water and then a wafer thin scroll of blackcurrant that melted in the mouth and provided an amazing combination to the fruity flavour of the chocolate. The salty flavour of the sea water crisps were revolutionary.

I know Damian has recently developed a chocolate ganache that also uses the sea water sourced from a natural marine park off the coast of Ibiza. It was another level from the previous dessert and got me thinking how do you follow this!

Well only Damian could follow it with yet another chocolate dessert and this was showcasing a chocolate I know Damian is very passionate about. Listed as Pacari Raw 70% it is a chocolate he imports himself direct from the plantation. He served it slightly warm in a glass plate bowl aerated using a nitrogen dioxide siphon, garnished with chopped pieces of raisin biscuits and a delicate jasmine tea sorbet to cleanse the mouth between each mouthful  it was inspired and whilst simple to look at has taken many months of tweaking and re working to achieve such a memorable finish to what had been a stunningly good meal.

Coffee served with a trio selection of the water ganache chocolates Damian is famous for completed the meal – spherical white chocolate & raspberry truffles and a dark chocolate and mint truffle came served on little white spoons and a oval salted peanut chocolate completed the trio.

At the 45 Euros per person including the wines it was amazing value for money and well worth the trip. In fact I can not recommend the region and the city enough, it has such a diversity and the arrival of Damian within the city has rekindled his love affair with the area and means even more can now experience the passion he has for chocolate. The small boutique within the restaurant means you can purchase his chocolates directly and the meeting room adjacent will also be used for private parties and tutored tastings. I felt privileged to have been there on their opening night and I know my friends from Barcelona were equally impressed.

I cannot wait to return again in February when I will be back in the area… just go and check out the flights to the area , book a ticket and get yourself there to sample what has been the best meal experience I have had in a while.

I wish the team the best of luck and hope they survive and prosper in a competitive market as well as testing times in Spain – when you get there just tell them Hari sent you!

Mimo d’en Damian, Pou Rodo. num 12, 17004 Girona

Tel +34 972 202 124   email : restaurant@mimodamian.cat

www.mimodamian.cat

Consistency Rules…

I could not resist a quick stop off on a recent return trip from the depths of south west London before a I hit the M25.

I wanted to check out a chain of Fish & Chip shops that I can lay claim to discovering possibly some thirty years ago when I was working for that doyen of critics Egon Ronay. I did all seven inspections visits of them in two days!!!

“Superfish” are a chain of Fish & Chip Takeaways with licensed restaurant seating  alongside them. When I discovered them 30 years ago they were ground breaking with their modern clean decor, freshly cooked Fish & Chips served with hot French Bread & Butter. It was the brainchild of owner Michael Rhodes, still at the helm and certainly not your normal greasy spoon.

They were different in the South East for a number of reasons. Firstly they fry in dripping the Yorkshire way. They also trained the shop managers to be the only people to fry the fish to ensure a consistent standard. Staff were also well trained to provide a friendly and smiling service to both takeaway and eat in customers.

I have fond memories of making a round trip of some 70 miles to eat their food with a bunch of Swiss visitors who craved the real deal of Fish & Chips. At that time decent local Fish & Chips to me did not exist but I am glad to say this has been rectified now!

I am glad to report the branch I stopped at in Ewell was still as good as ever if a shade dated in decor it made up for it with the friendly welcome and superlative Cod & Chips. It comes in three sizes, Small, Large or Moby Dick. ( I resisted the latter)

It was crisp light batter and for summer potatoes (New Crop) great crisp chips with fluffy potato innards. The fish was perfectly cooked soft and succulent, piping hot and really hit the spot!

It was good to see that after all these years this chain is still going strong and I do believe they have spurned many an operator including another of my favourites Chez Fred in Westbourne Nr Bournemouth. So I guess if ever you are in the depths of Surrey with hunger pains then head straight to Superfish and tell them the man from Egon Ronay sent you as consistency really does rule!

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More tea vicar…

Well following our disappointment with the Bell Inn at Ticehurst the next day was as I previously described was the difference between “Chalk and Cheese”

The day started with my Swiss friends managing firstly at getting lost with their Sat Nav and arriving somewhat late for a hastily arranged private tea tasting… It was one of my friends who is something of a tea fanatic and I thought what could be more unique than arrange a private tea tasting courtesy of master tea blender Alex Probyn of Shoreham based tea company Blends for Friends.

Alex has grown his business at a phenomenal rate over the last few years and what intially was a tea blending for individual customers is now by something of a monolithic giant in bespoke tea companies. He blends brews for clients around the globe from 5 star hotels to even other tea companies.

We arrived late but Alex warmly greeted us all and we got stuck into a quick (by Alex’s standards) tutorial on the differing types of tea.

Well a good hour later after a tutored tasting and a very informative tour of his set up we left with some great tea blends and more importantly I left with a supply of specially blended tea ready for the Vicars Picnic scheduled for August 30th in Yalding!

The Vicars Picnic Blend is a mix of three teas… Indian Assam, Sri Lankan Dimbula and a Chinese Yunnan… it is a fruity flavour in the style of an English Breakfast Tea that will go well with the planned scones, jam and clotted cream!

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The “Vicars Picnic” Tea Blend

The tea will be also on sale in retail packs to take home as well so you can have a lasting memory of the day!

Not ringing my bell…

The Bell Inn – Ticehurst – Well I had a quick lunch here a couple of weeks ago with Mrs HC as we wanted a place close to a B&B that some friends visiting us were staying in. We only had some light bites but were quite impressed so we booked a table for dinner on this basis.

So the appointed day arrived and we rendezvoused with them for a pre dinner drinks while we perused the menu. The place had guests but was certainly in no way rammed with diners but service was a little slow and on reflection a little more formal than it had been for the lunch we had consumed.

Starters chosen ranged from a Spinach Soup that had a good vibrant colour and came garnished with supposedly soft poached egg in it (the egg alas was over cooked) A salad of smoked duck was also a bit of a disappointment. Some thin slices of duck were buried under a large mound of salad and for the price charged I felt all a bit of a rip off! My crab salad was ok with some nice fresh white crab meat and then topped with some mayonnaise and a mound of slaw – all pretty basic and at nearly £9 not mind blowing in culinary terms just the price.

Our main course choices ranged from a Fillet Steak listed on the menu as “Cow” that caused much confusion with the foreign contingent of the party who were not familiar with the terminology. Two had the Cod dish that was well executed and my choice was a confit pork belly that to put it mildly was awful. I was in an awkward situation in that to complain would have been a bit churlish as the friends were likely to be picking up the tab (not that I was expecting them to) and it could have put a dampener on the evening. My pork belly was so undercooked and tough to eat. It was just poorly executed but I persevered. It could have been so much better.

Finally we decided on a couple of cheese plates and one of the party had a dessert “Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate” It was OK but again nothing spectacular. The cheeses were alas fridge cold a good Kentish Blue a Lincolnshire Poacher Cheddar (Why not the more local Winterdale Shaw?) and a soft unnamed one by the staff that was ripe but for me a shade too mild tasting. An over acidic chutney and some good biscuits.

It was in no way mind blowing and staff were to put it mildly a touch patronising in the way they served us. I certainly felt less comfortable and overall thought the food had a pretension to it in comparison to what we were served for lunch and was all just a big disappointment. It certainly has not made me think I want to rush back and when I compare it to where we then ate the next night it could be described as chalk and cheese. More on that in my next post!

All about the service and the food… some reviews…

Well we are now just a few weeks away from the summer solstice – it has been nearly six months since our home was badly flooded and we had to evacuate. It has been a stressful time as we have battled with inefficient and frustrating processes conducted by loss adjusters and the insurance company, plus a rogue builder has meant we have yet still to move back home.

We have held a few private dinners and we have also conducted a couple of dinners in homes loaned to us for the purpose.

We have also used the time to go and try a few places to eat and thought as opposed to one review we thought we would lump them all together and give you a taster to perhaps try them yourself…there have been some real gems!

Alimo – Whitstable –  Tel 01227 272725

Well I had a very enjoyable lunch here with the imitable Jules Serkin who is the host of the Scoff&Quaff weekly Internet radio show. She has some amazing contacts and is a bubbly (Prosecco induced) lady to lunch with. With tales of her new husband and such like one can say lunch was certainly not boring. Alimo is a bit of a gem and I will have to go back. Located under a railway arch on the way into Whitstable from the Thanet way it has a vaulted ceiling and slightly themed Middle Eastern decor to transport your to the Kasbah or desert tent!

Alimo

I was impressed by the food we consumed as there were some sound cooking and authentic flavours – everything from some well flavoured lamb koftas in a mildly spiced tomato sauce to a zingy fresh Quinoa Salad and some tasty if a tad slightly overcooked (and sinewy) Lambs Liver with an almond sauce and creamy chick pea and potato mash. It was the manager Andy who served us and he was a great example of professionalism matched with great social skills and I guess contributed massively to the whole experience.

It is a place I am now keen to go back and sample yet again perhaps for dinner

Jo Jo’s – Whitstable  – Tel :01227 274591

photo (180)I am a big fan of this place and found myself eating here once again when celebrating my birthday. It is a gem of a place serving some great food that is well designed to share with family or friends. We had everything from the sharing platter of meats and assorted dips to the goujons of fresh fish to some amazing monkfish cheeks in a light beer batter to finally a massive meringue topped with a fruit compote or a salted caramel and brownie coupe that we enjoyed immensely and required us to take a brisk walk afterwards to try and aid the digestive system. If you have never been I implore you to try the place. It is so worth it!

Bills – Tunbridge Wells -Tel: 01892 548699

Me and the Mrs had been having a bad day with all our house woes and needed cheering up and we found ourselves in central Tunbridge Wells outside the newly opened Bills. It took over the site of Dame Tartine that had been a popular place and used weekly as the venue for a twitter gathering called Twuttle. photo (174)

We entered a pretty busy and crowded establishment and were shown to our table swiftly and politely and then a young waitress took our order and duly went about her business. We tucked into some Deep Fried Squid rings, tender and crisp, a pot of honey glazed sausages and some goujons of fish that were a little dry and tasteless. It was however the desserts we tucked into that provided a memorable finish. A lemon meringue coupe and a giant chocolate Jaffa cake that was very rich but scrummy.

The Vine – Sevenoaks –  Tel: 01732 469510

This former pub on the northern approaches to the town has undergone a great deal of “TLC” and beautification and is now something that could be described as a swanky place for the residents of Sevenoaks. I know the chef well here and have followed his career over the past few years from a new gaff on the outskirts of Maidstone to a gastro pub in central London. He is a Glaswegian that has spent most of his working life in the south but has not lost his accent one little bit, he can also cook some pretty amazing food as well.

I was eating here for a couple of reasons but what struck me was the simplicity of blending a cheap cut or inexpensive ingredient with something luxurious. It shows clever and photo (175)diligent purchasing matched to a creative eye of detail.

We kicked off with a black pudding scotch egg with a gorgeous soft unctuous egg yolk and then some fresh local asparagus topped with a crispy fried poached egg and some fresh morel mushrooms – a truly mouth-watering combination. It reminded me of a dish that I used to cook in Switzerland many years ago. Slowly poached calves tongue that was then thinly sliced and served with a brandy and morel cream sauce with a finely shredded vegetable garnish.

Next was a slow cooked pork belly and pork cheek served with an apple puree, boulangere potatoes and my dining guest tucked into a pan fried fillet of sea bream with a masterful potato puree charred leeks and truffle sauce. We ordered an extra of some truffled mash that just reeked of the fungus and we were told the peelings and nubs are used in this to ensure nothing is wasted, gosh it was so good…

A couple of desserts then followed and we were done – the Strawberry Parfait was a total triumph as a yet to be added to the menu and as I dropped my guest back at the station I felt we had consumed a very well executed and clever lunch. It will be another place I urge you add to the list to try.

Crabshakk, Glasgow  – Tel: 0141 334 6127

A few days after my visit to Sevenoaks I found myself some four hundred plus miles away from there in the centre of Glasgow. It was to be a fleeting visit with Mrs HC and teenage daughter who was off to see her idol Katy Perry in concert. I was to meet with an old friend who I had not seen for some twenty years and we headed off to the West End of Glasgow to have dinner together.

I had originally planned to go out for dinner with him at a swanky Asian restaurant as we both love this style of food but for reasons I kept from him had to change to this place. He initially said to me are you sure you want to go here as like myself I had looked at the menu and thought it was all pretty basic and not really selling itself to me via their web site or for that matter by the reviews on Trip Advisor.????????????????????????

Well a lesson to learn from this is never judge a place before you try it yourself. We arrived at the appointed time and were pleasantly surprised to be warmly greeted and shown to our table in the upstairs section of this minute and buzzy place. It’s simple decor and cramped tables all add to the flavour… clever use of every available square inch is made.

Service was slick, friendly and informed and we tucked into some stunning food. A specials blackboard boasted two of my most favourite seafood, Razor Clams and John Dory which had to be consumed and as we reminisced over lost friendships and past good times we became more and more contented with our enforced change of venue.

?????????It is a gem of a place where the seafood is so fresh and correctly handled with simplistic preparation and garnishing. The razors clams served with surf clams and a chorizo butter sauce were to die for and the John Dory well that cam e served with a celeriac puree and some puy lentils that provided an earthy dimension to the sweet flavour of the fish. Well worth the 800mile plus round trip!

A simple Panna Cotta with minimal garnish and a cheese board with ripe cheeses well explained by a bubbly pair of waitresses completed a truly magnificent meal.

So if you should ever find yourself in the region this place is a must… just make sure you book it as it is popular and do not believe all that is written about it – except by me!

Terroirs, London  – Tel: 0207 036 0660

This place is one of may favourites and located just a stones throw from Charing Cross station it provides a perfect watering hole should you need sustenance before jumping on a train to Kent! I chose this venue to have dinner with some Swiss friends visiting the UK for their summer holiday. Having done the tourist bit with them – a wander round Borough Market and then a cruise up the river and a wander round Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens we needed sustenance.photo (177)

I chose this place as a venue for it’s simple no fussy and informal atmosphere and as the friends are also appreciative of some good wines I felt this would fit the bill and it did so in so many ways.

It was not too busy when we arrived (they had emptied from the pre theatre crowd) but it soon filled and got busier. It has a bar counter with seats and closely packed tables and an open to view kitchen area allows you to see the chefs beavering away.

photo (176)We settled down to some competent and well judged cooking, A duck rillette with toasted sour dough was as usual a real triumph, a smoked duck breast and green bean salad with a soft boiled egg was also a light fresh starter but for me the best was yet to come. Grilled bone Marrow with a parsley and caper salad was as one of Swiss friends remarked as good as eating fresh foie gras and now is converted to a dish they were sceptical of trying. The main courses we consumed were boiled salt beef Pot au Feu a great classic that was comfort food at it’s best and a Sea Bream fillet served on a bed of samphire with Jersey Royals and a great saffron infused rouille sauce.

A great bottle of a biodynamic red wine from Italy was a real enjoyment and as I bid my friends fare well and jumped on a train to Kent they headed back to their hotel before setting off next morning to tour the west country.

Years ago we were hard pushed to recommend places to eat – now spoilt for choice it makes deciding where to eat a tough one – they have had a fantastic tour and we meet again in a few days for a couple of days before they head back home. I am confident they will go home still in love with what the UK has to offer!

The Kentish Hare, Bidborough – Tel: 01892 525709

photo (178)This place opened about 4 weeks ago and so is still finding its feet – I had heard mixed reviews on the place operated by a couple of celebrity chefs. James & Chris Tanner both local lads had worked in assorted places before heading west to Plymouth. They have now been tasked to turn this pub atop the Bidborough ridge into a food destination and asset to the village.

Well my visit was certainly whilst a fleeting one was impressive with some assured cooking and I have to say it was good to see the place was pretty busy for a Thursday lunchtime and whilst the clientele were predominately of a more senior nature the young staff still finding their feet seemed to be doing a good job. I will return and perhaps give it a more in depth test. The chicken liver parfait consumed was smooth buttery and generous portion size with its own little mini fresh white loaf. The Smoked Mackerel salad with salad leaves and toasted croutons was a good light starter

Main dishes of Skate Wing with sautéed jersey royals and green beans and the Duck photo (179)Confit with salad leaves were enjoyable and well executed. The cheese selection we then shared a good test to see how serious they are was I have to say a shade disappointing. The Kentish Blue the only local cheese and was the best served. A cheddar was OK but an unripe and nondescript Brie was a let down, good presentation with crackers and a piece of membrillo

A couple of small local Tonbridge brewed beers and the bill for just over £60 was fair for the offer but I suspect the extras and more alcohol could rack up the bill a good deal more. It has a great garden area to the rear and the decor within is airy light and due to hard surfaces a bit noisy when full but there are some nooks and crannies where you could hide yourself away for a more peaceful time. I will be back!

So there will be more revues soon plus we will be announcing dates for Hari dinners as well so watch this space!

Happy Eating

Hari C