Category Archives: General Information

In the blink of an eye…

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On June 12th a little incident happened in my home that has impacted my daily routine in a big way.

At about 10:30am I stood up from my desk and walked to answer the front door intercom and in the process managed to slip on a slightly damp tiled floor. What resulted was a left leg at a funny angle an emergency ambulance being called and rushed to A&E

It aspired my already dodgy left leg with a false knee cap ligament and then a previously broken left ankle has a new ailment – namely a displaced fracture of my femur that then required surgery and resulted in a stay in hospital for ten days.

My previous hospital incarnation 25 years ago with the knee ligament was a period I had tried to erase from my memory as the lasting memory was the food was so dire and inedible.

Well I can report even after the intervention of the likes of celebrity chefs James Martin and Llyod Grossman and a host of foodies and a plethora of consultants the food is still shit. In fact I will go further and say totally inedible with no attempt to make it in any way tasty or exciting.

Three days prior to me finally going down for an operation I was ‘Nil by Mouth’ from breakfast till dinner so hunger was setting in and even a simple sandwich or a so called ‘Cornish Pasty’ were abominations of culinary skills. Dry stale sandwiches shipped in from Bradford and a pasty with under-cooked pastry and filling with more resemblance of dog food.

On the fourth day I had to resort to a local chef friend popping in from his place of work with a plate of something edible as the thought of the NHS offer was so depressing. His Roasted Cod Fillet with Brown Shrimps and some seasonal vegetables was a real treat that was eagerly consumed.

I can honestly say over the ten day period there was only one palatable meal that I could say was edible – namely a chicken curry with rice and peas.

Breakfast was repetitive – toast of bread or a bowl of cereal – never eggs – toast always cold and cardboard like.

So where is this leading – I have nothing but praise for all the front-line staff who cared for me or were responsible for my surgery etc. The catering however was not in anyway worthy of a good word. I appreciate they have to cater for large numbers in a challenging environment and with assorted dietary needs – as one Vegan/Vegetarian pointed out to me no chance and if you were Coeliac. I reckon prisoners get better food than was dished up to me.

I feel the whole food issue within hospitals needs a total new approach and  thought process – It requires radical change and an innovative approach. In fact as an organisation the NHS expertise lies in well being, medical etc and simply not providing nourishment. So why even try ?

Our Government demands the NHS becomes more efficient with the resources it gets I wonder what impact it would have if catering was removed totally from their remit and given to external providers? A discussion worth having perhaps – what says you?

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Food for thought…

We love a great TV Foodie programme and there seems to be many on our screens at the moment to cover all tastes.

The BBC currently has a series with Mary Berry looking to find the best Home Cook – it is pretty innocuous and you think why have some of these cooks never prepared certain foods or done some fairly basic tasks.

There is also a new series on BBC 1 that has recently started that has Front of House Supremo Fred Siriex hosting a competition for new start up restaurants looking for funding for their concepts “The Million Pound Menu” is filmed in a Manchester restaurant that strangely enough I went to just over a year ago when it first opened

Beastro is the brainchild of a young lad by the name of Richard Brown who just happens to be one of my former men tees from Oxford Brookes University – they took over his place for about three weeks last November and filmed the whole series then.

It is a programme that illustrates well the skills required to succeed in today’s modern restaurant world but at the same time illustrates the need for a good idea /concept

Masterchef can be gripping when you watch amateurs embark on their journey and then the professionals seem to go to jelly when they stand in front of Monica or Marcus when they have to complete a skills test.

The professional version of Bake Off has Cherish Finden and Benoit Blin giving the contestants what for many seem like harsh criticism but in fairness is just honest opinion. Tough if you find criticism is hard to accept.

All of this glamorises the industry in a way but one thing that is very evident at the moment is the demise of many of our high street brands as they struggle to attract our wallets and spending.

Mixed with this is the lack of chefs entering the industry and what is being described as the Brexit factor where our European work force are leaving in their droves or now not keen to come to the UK to work.

I predict many more closures and less choice on the high street. The independent will flourish as we crave something more individual but it will come with a price. The paying public needs to realise the effort required to produce their favourite dishes.

I have just finished reading an article in my Waitrose Food Magazine about Chef Jason Atherton – a chef I really admire and agree wholeheartedly with – the attributes required by all good cooks is passion and a desire to cook – not to be star as quickly as possible.

I will always frequent a place that displays a passion for what they do and I hope you will too as mediocrity is not worthy of our custom.

Do we really love food?

A recent BBC News headline caught my eye as I laid in bed supping my morning cuppa “Chef Angela Hartnett says Britons are not really foodies”

It is quite a bold statement and  I have to say an opinion I would totally concur with as there are many Britons that like to think they are but we really do lack the same food culture as our European neighbours Spain, France or Italy. (they are not without their faults as well)

The Germans are more like us whilst Asian cultures have far more developed understanding of food than we do. I have to say we have become better in the last 40 years but one of the points Angela Hartnett raises is the fact that our food culture is money driven from the “haves and have nots”

We are also so wasteful with food and totally unimaginative in using up those items past their best. The lack of skills in a kitchen both at home and now often in professional environment also means there is a need to develop the skills lost over time on how to manage our resources better. A good business practice as well.

Those BBC programmes “Back in Time” that looked at how families cooked and ate far more left overs and had a connection with food was a fascinating insight into how times have changed over the decades.

Having lived in cultures that appreciate their food, the seasons and their history it seems a real shame we do not teach from a very young age here in this country some basic principals. I fondly remember a few years ago seeing a class of primary school children (All under 5) in France being led into a Michelin starred restaurant where I was dining to come and sample some classic French ingredients like foie gras, snails and chocolate to have their palates educated.

I have for the past six years annually coached a group of young girls at a local school how to gut a fish and bone a chicken and it never ceases to amaze me how squeamish the majority are about the whole process and how unconnected they are from the food they enjoy.

I myself was a fussy child not eating many foods and it was not until I left home and started my studies and travelled more widely that I woke up to food and what it has to offer. It provides conversation, enjoyment and nourishment and is also useful in so many other ways.

If there is one thing we should teach in schools it is how to appreciate the food we eat and how we can cook it properly. I will keep doing my bit but unless we change and become a nation of foodies then alas nothing will change!

I also recently managed to watch a film on Netflix called “The Last Magnificent” about one of the first celebrity chefs in America Jeremiah Tower. It was an eyeopening and thought provoking look at how what we now take for granted is a relatively modern phenomenon. What struck me most was how as a child his parents left him to his own devices (he had a very privileged upbringing and it was this experience that helped develop his passion for food)

So my challenge for 2018 is to keep plugging away at trying to develop young palates and create a different culture towards food. I would challenge anyone who wants to join me on this mission will be most welcome to do so.

Review of 2017…

Well it has been a hectic year at “Covert Towers” during 2017 with a variety of dinners and an assortment of functions throughout the year along with some pretty impressive dining out experiences as well as the odd humdinger as well! Less said about them the better!

We kicked the year off with a new concept for our dinners where we did a “Pot Luck” menu where we literally decided the menu at the last minute and suggested a minimum donation of just £10 per person. We were amazed over two dinners and one lunch we managed to serve a total of 48 diners – a record for us and a great way to kick the year off.

Next up was our Game On dinner where we featured some amazing Game – from venison Pigeon and then Guinea Fowl and this was quickly followed by what we termed our Quirky Dinner as we were deemed a “quirky” food venue on the newly launched Quirky Kent website.

May saw us do an event in a new venue for us on the “Mountain of Crowborough” in the Community Centre where we took over their cafe for the night and popped up with a special four course menu.

We were back there in the summer when we also did another night where we served up our infamous Paella from a single large pan! In fact during this year we managed to serve up Paella a number of times with the biggest challenge, doing a party of 100 using some four separate pans.

Other private functions saw us doing Moroccan Chicken in the pans and even one where we did bubble and squeak so we could serve up Sausages with an onion gravy to about 80 guests enjoying the Tom Carradine Cockney Sing-a-Long. If you are are planning an event in 2018 check out our Man with a Pan service or our @yourhome offer as well.

We also saw events in the Autumn period ranging from our “End is Nigh” dinner to our “October Fe(a)st” and finally just before Xmas our “Ding Dong – Ho Ho Ho” events – one pair of stalwart guests who came along each month commented in our guest book “Turned up trumps again and consistently excellent… delicious food as ever” … makes it all worthwhile for us – thanks David & Brenda!

Our own dining out high has to be the WasTED pop up in Selfridges back in March 2017 whilst we really enjoyed a lunch at Adam Simmonds year long pop up in Soho “The Test Kitchen” and then a new discovery of an Asian Fusion place located in the heart of St Katherine’s Dock run by chef Neil Wager called Dokke – a meal literally just before Xmas was awesome in so many ways – I will return and post a review soon in 2018!

Now we are busy planning 2018 dates and themes. We are already excited about a week long gig in the French Alpes in early February for a long standing Hari customer.

We also have something a little different planned for April – we will publish details soon and we are also hoping to persuade some other guest chefs to join us during 2018 so you can all experience some different styles and unique experiences. We are also hoping to offer a special charity night at some stage as well.

Our first event of 2018 is a joint venture with wine tasting guru Rowena Hawtin so check out the Discover the Vine and Savour the Curd Event for more details… we only have limited spaces left so be quick and reserve your places now.

What a great year 2017 was and wishing you all the very best for 2018…

Cheers

Hari

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.

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