Category Archives: General Information

Covert Cook School… it’s back

When we launched “Covert Cook School” in the autumn of 2015 we were not sure what was the best format to pursue.

We feel now the best way forward is to structure the lessons to suit you. We are flexible on dates and the format the class will take… all we ask for is you choose the style of class you have that will then dictate the size of the class so the  number of friends or acquaintances you come with.

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If you want a one to one lesson that is fine – if you want it hands on then we ask for just two attendees. If you want just a demo class then four people is the ideal number.

We will then discuss the content of your lesson and tailor it to what you want to learn. It can be tricks of the trade or perhaps something more complex and involved.  Just remember the lesson will be bespoke to you.

To book your own Covert Cook School please complete the form below or go to the Covert Cook School dedicated page.

Hawker House – Street Feast London

 

I had been made aware of Hawker House by fellow supper club operator Sprig of London who had recently attended the venue and was excited to know more about it.

Having just completed an outside event with “The Hands” Julia we got talking about taking our respective off spring up to London for the evening to see the Christmas lights and soak up some festive spirit.

I suggested a detour to take a look at this much talked about concept. Street Feast London – it is a street food concept that brings together a group of food retailers producing an eclectic mix of food under one roof. The parent company behind it all are London Union a partnership of Henry Dimbelby (of Leon Restaurants fame) and Jonathan Downey the initial instigator of the Street Feast concept.

Hawker House is an unassuming old warehouse located behind the Surrey Quays retail park close to Canada Water – it is marked by a fire brazier entrance area and an illuminated sign leading down to the security manned front doors that led you through some black curtains into a dimly lit walkway and opened into a buzzing cavernous warehouse.

Friendly cheerful hosts greet you and ask for your hand to then ink stamp you with the Hawker House logo and you enter into a wide open space filled with long trestle style tables and chairs in the middle and then round the edges of the space there are the assorted food vendors. The space is divided between two main areas and a staircase leads up to an area with assorted bar/drink vendors. It is a massive area and full of urban character with cleverly lit areas and  graffiti clad walls. I could best describe it all as grunge chic and the vibrant atmosphere makes it all rather special .

It is however the food on offer here that is the star… the assorted traders are rotated among their other sites and I found the first visit here is really not enough to sample the full delights on offer and had to go back the following week as there were others I wanted to sample.

Highlights for me were Meat Hook – wood fired grilled beef topped with a fiery chimichurra sauce,  a Chuck Burger freshly grilled burger knocks your average burger into the sidelines but for me the Yum Bun stall was one I kept going back to. The Smokestak was another concept that had me gravitating towards it… I am drooling just thinking about them again. White Men Can’t Jerk and Mother Clucker to name just another two of the traders could tempt you!

The food offer is what for me was so exciting – the place might be a bit trendy for the local hipsters and drinkers it is however the food that made me want to make the 60 mile round trip again the following week!

In fact when it all reopens at the end of this month I will be dreaming up an excuse to go again ! If you want to sample some amazing street food then I can thoroughly recommend it all. The excesses of the festive period will be forgotten by the time it all starts up again!

 

2016 Dates…

Happy New Year…

chocs

We have had a hectic festive period and are now recovering from a 1200 mile trip to Switzerland between Xmas and New Year to visit friends and stock up on Mrs HC’s chocolate supplies.

We have now just released some of the dates and themes for our 2016 events.

Do take a look here.

We will be revealing more details soon but our first event at the end of January will be what we have named a sausage fest – we will be serving up cured salamis and for the main course a classic Choucroute with smoked sausages. Menu just in the final stages of tweaking.

February will be the return of a couple of Fondue nights and then we will have yet to be confirmed dates a return visit of Chef But and we will also be taking Hari Covert to foreign shores with a pop up planned in Switzerland at some stage during 2016.

We will be doing a charity alfresco theme in July that will take “Underground Dining” to new heights.

So there will be plenty to keep us busy during the coming year. We hope you will also come and join us.

Please keep watching this space for all the latest news…

Waste… and just lazy behaviour?

waste1The recent BBC programme “Hugh’s War on Waste” with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall that aired recently highlighting the problems of food waste was a fascinating look into how we have become.

I recognised so many traits of people I know that will buy excessive food and then have to throw it out or they will only buy perfectly formed produce because they have become so conditioned. Do not get me started on Organic and the such like!

I always remember once going through my mothers store cupboard and finding jars of jam, tins of food etc that were years out of date. She was of the “war rationing” generation that horded food and just hated waste. We have cultural differences as well – we see people in our French village going out each day buying the produce and food they need for that day.

I have had a chef training and I feel I am pretty good at ensuring I use every bit of produce I buy and I like to also think I am pretty canny with my purchasing and try to buy what is in season. Local is good but can for me also be limiting… e.g. I love a Barbary Duck Breast so will purchase when I am in France and import or source an Asian ingredient I require when a local cannot be substituted.

Hugh’s programme highlighted the public’s so called desire for perfect fruit and veg with tonnes of parsnips being rejected by supermarkets as they were marked with small blemishes or were the wrong sizes! Madness and irresponsible for all parties involved. Intermarche the French supermarket chain actually have a cheaper section of Fruit and Veg that are seconds or misshapen. It requires the public to demand their produce is not sanitized to the extent it currently is.

What is worse is this “Best Before Date” people now think if it is gone beyond this it is dangerous and should be thrown. I was also equally annoyed by the way people stored their opened produce in the fridge in the same packets and unwrapped – open to cross contamination and spoiling.

I get through copious quantities of large commercial rolls of cling lidl sealerfilm quite quickly as I am constantly wrapping and storing using this or my £25 Lidl purchase of a small vacuum machine with rolls of
plastic bags as an invaluable piece of kit for me as I freeze or wrap gluts in bags till they get used.

For me it is all in the planning, rotation and knowing what is in your fridge, freezers and storage cupboards so that it gets used. It is simple kitchen management and what annoys me most is when someone takes something from the fridge and then puts it back unwrapped (if already wrapped and not in the same place it was taken from) It might sound like a case of OCD but for me it is about sound management. Ask any good professional chef and he would agree.

The public needs to up its game on many fronts and our supermarkets need to change its policies with regards to what it sees as acceptable standards.

Rant over… any comments are welcome.

Parental Control…

I was with Mrs HC in my local cinema the other night and we were eating in a Pizza restaurant before going to see the latest Bond picture.

kids2Now it was our first visit to the said restaurant part of a small independent chain and we did not know what to expect. It was fairly early evening and on arrival there were quite a few children eating with their parents.

We sat down on our allotted table with a mother and two young hyperactive  girls located on an adjacent table. In fact when we inspected the room there were possibly 90% of the tables with one or more adults and a plethora of children (well it was the half term holiday)

The menu was a classic pizzeria style menu in the Pizza Express mould. There was also a  fairly hefty children’s section that was well thought out and exciting for our little ones and all reasonably priced.

However it was the lack of parental control by certain Yummy Mummy’s that galled me most. Children misbehaving and running round the place is dangerous as drinks are carried to the tables along with hot food, one group of boys played up and down the staircase and lift to this first floor restaurant. All this time the parents just sat there and ignored them. One mother just seemed to be bored and playing on her phone!

kids1One more elderly lady (a granny perhaps) was sitting with two young children who were impeccably behaved through out, and a young girl on the next table to us with a school friend when they left the table to go to the toilet did rather boisterously run down the stairs and their Mother turned to us and remarked “when will they learn”!

Perhaps you might think me a grumpy old fart  for making such comments but if you delve deeper into the restaurant scene and what the public expect and how they behave in our eating establishments then you would understand my dismay.

There was recently a very well crafted article in the Guardian when critic Jay Rayner commented about children’s menus. I could not agree more with him… we are culturally backward when it comes to eating out with children. What is more children should be taught how to behave in a restaurant what ever its style or purpose from a very early age.

I have very fond memories of eating in a Michelin starred restaurant in France when a primary school class of 4 & 5 year olds were bought into the restaurant and sat down to try some foie gras, snails, caviar, Steak tartare and high quality chocolate to educate their taste buds and palates.

Our meal was good and the film was very impressive it was however the lack of parental control of their young ones that had a  great deal to answer for. One can live in hope…

Five Guys vs Byron Hamburgers…

Me and the DD were at Bluewater with Mrs HC the other week and we decided to give the burger joint of Five Guys a try out. Me and little miss HC rather like a good burger and are big fans of Byron Burgers… So we thought this one would be worth a trial.

IMG_8122 (1)The main difference is they are best described as a self serve establishment but their burgers are somewhat more high class than your McDonalds or Burger King.

The concept is very simple… Small or Large Burgers (two meat patties) and then any combination of 15 assorted fillings!

They claim there are over 250,00 possible ways to order a Five Guys Burger, they only use fresh ground beef and there are no freezers in any of their locations… They even listed in the Bluewater place where the farm was that provided their potatoes (A farm in Sufflok) plus they only fry in peanut oil.

Menu
Menu

You make your choice and pay at a till and then move along the open to view kitchen area to a pick up point and watch the burger being assembled and then pick it up when your order is called. The place was packed and our wait was really no more than six to seven minutes. Plenty of theatre as they assembled the orders and you helped yourself to your ordered drink and could go back for a free refill if required.

Byron
Byron Burgers

Overall the burger was a good juicy one and the chosen garnish was generous… for me the Fries were really good, very crispy and well seasoned. In fact overall we were impressed and the meal cost circa £20 so certainly more than the McDonalds genre… Better than Gourmet Burger Kitchen but for us we still like Byron Burgers… they are all very individual in style but with their friendly table service they win for hands down for me and little Miss HC.

Worth a visit to both if you enjoy a burger!

Five Guys

Byron Hamburgers

All about the service…

Well during the past few months I have had quite a few eating out experiences of both a good and bad nature.  Having made a living out of restaurant reviewing in the past as both an “Egon Ronay Guides” inspector and also an “AA Guides” patch inspector my tastes have developed to appreciate firstly much simpler food where the ingredients provenance takes centre stage.

I have however begun to appreciate far more the service proffered by an establishment as also being an integral part of the whole experience.

I recently found myself for a few days in the West Country and we had a rather posh afternoon tea at a newly opened 5 star hotel – the Afternoon Tea served was £30 a head and whilst generous in proportion was not so memorable for the quality of the offer. Firstly sandwiches when delivered did not match the menu description and the chefs predilection for tomato in them was rather overzealous.

Scones whilst home-made were stodgy and stale, jam and cream was however generous. Cakes and pastries were pretty unimaginative and amateurish – a tartlette case filled with meringue needed the citric base to compensate for the sweetness. A chocolate cake and a caramel mille feuille were also nothing special and the only saving grace was the fresh fruit tartlette.

An apfel strudel with vanilla sauce was also out of place as a tea time treat – more in keeping as a restaurant dessert was also soggy and not in the least bit dainty!

The only saving was friendly and concerned service from a young but professional team of staff who held it all together and helped redeem the food quality misgivings.

A couple of days later we then had a meal in the depths of Cornwall at an establishment in a very busy and bustling coastal town that is dominated by a certain celebrity chef.

We went to his “Bistro” operation for a dinner. It was a return visit since we had had a memorable lunch some nine years earlier. Whilst the food was spot on and highlighted well the great produce on offer from fresh local scallops served with a truffle butter to an amazing combination of John Dory, Grilled Baby Leeks, Soft Boiled Egg and shaved Parmesan  cheese that was an enlightening combination. It was however the service we had that was more memorable. Young staff were engaging, sociable and efficient throughout so much so it was refreshing to watch and made the evening all the more memorable!

The day afterwards at a seaside Cafe we visited for a traditional Cornish clotted cream tea there was a slightly annoying pre-order system at a bar counter and then your order was delivered to your chosen table. Not ideal, but acceptable except what annoys me more is waiting staff who walk past a laden table of a previous occupants detritus that is not cleared by them… somewhat all to apparent at this canal side eatery that whilst popular lacked the slickness of the previous nights dinner.

My other pet hate is the “Nandos” concept of sitting at a table and then being made to go to a till to order and pre pay – My disabled wife has been discriminated before with this concept  and forced to send our young daughter to order and pay. A visit to chain of burger restaurants using such a format was underwhelming and confirmed my favourite style of this eatery is the “poetically named group” found all over London who has continually delivered great service and a very consistent product in each of their places. My daughter is now hooked on them as are all of her school friends.

Whilst eating with friends at one of Mr Raymond White’s bustling restaurants a mistake to our dessert order was handled with great aplomb and apologetic efficiency that left us impressed with the establishment and happy to return at a future date as opposed to a negative and disgruntled attitude!

Our visit to a wonderful restaurant with rooms in deepest north Devon owned and operated by friends admittedly was made more special by the service proffered that was concerned, measured and efficient throughout our visit. From the welcome cup of tea on arrival to a coffee served in the lounge whilst writing up a report to a sumptuous dinner and well cooked breakfast reminded us how committed you need to be to be hospitable and successful. This couple have now done some 15 plus years in their own business and just one look at the positive and glowing feed back on their trip advisor rating speaks volumes for their dedicated professionalism. I am not surprised they are trying to now sell up and take things a little bit easier as they work long hours and very hard to maintain their loyal and appreciative guests! I wish I had the energy and money to invest in their truly lovely place. I thoroughly recommend a visit to see how it should be done.

Whilst the food is important the service can make or break the experience and the rise in popularity of TripAdvisor hated by many a chef in my mind when you read between the lines is a useful tool to ensure you do not waste your money!

I can thoroughly recommend the following as they provided some truly memorable meals and service over the past few months… I will not bore you with the not so good!

St Petrocs Bistro

Blagdon Manor

Byron Burgers

Restaurant Aquar’aile

Cultural differences…

Well I have been watching the BBC 2 series about Chinese School “Are our are kids tough enough” – despite it’s infuriating editing making it seem a disastrous experience it does illustrate very well the differences between ours and their cultures.

This was also brought home to me following a recent visit of a young 15 year old Singaporean lad who spent two weeks staying with my family for some culinary mentoring.

His very polite and respectful nature for such tender years was refreshing – his eagerness to learn was also commendable – unlike some of the 15 year olds on the TV programme.

It was however the visit we made together to France for an eating and shopping fest that also illustrated to me how different our cultures are with just twenty plus mile of water between us!

We paid visits to some French hypermarkets… he was in awe of the 50 plus checkouts/tills and the range of produce on sale. We then paid a visit to a weekly market in the village of Etaples where the range of fresh seasonal produce was breathtaking. Fresh peaches apricots and nectarines were cheap and great quality alongside an amazing array of fresh tomatoes.

Stalls selling just cheese, fresh fish or one selling a freshly made Paella or another a spit roasted chicken all seemed quite exotic. We had also visited earlier in the week the farmers market in Tonbridge and whilst the produce on show was good the price differentials were eye watering. It seems that twenty plus miles of water has a great deal to answer for.

John Dory with a ginger beurre blanc sauce
John Dory with a ginger beurre blanc sauce

We also paid a visit to the local fish market after having had a wonderful fish based lunch at Perard in nearby Le Touquet – a hugely popular  and busy restaurant that seemed ever popular (it had been many years since my last visit) their infamous fish soup still as good as ever! The range of fish on offer at the Etaples fish market was stunning and so fresh looking – we succumbed to a purchase of three large John Dory at an eye watering forty plus euros. Worth every penny when we the next day filleted them and cooked them for supper.

It all illustrated very well how different our cultures are and respecting this is key to ensuring we appreciate what is on offer. It never ceases to amaze me how we expect to be able to eat an out of season strawberry at Christmas or an asparagus spear imported from thousands of miles away instead of only consuming when in season and more locally sourced.

We should all embrace cultural differences and what they can contribute to our daily lives and not treat them with suspicion or fear…

Rant over…

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