Thursday, 24 January 2013

4 Years of Essex Eating!

That’s right people; Essex Eating has gone totally frigging quadruple in years! Since birthing in January 2009 this now impressively whopping organ continues it’s inevitable, steady and relentless march, as I plough a wide, bite size furrow through anything that interests me, before regurgitating it exquisitely for your pleasure, through the medium of writing. Come on, I think it’s time to admit it; I’m pretty much a national treasure.

As is now traditional, I like to celebrate this majestic and most momentous of occasions with a round up of the past year. So, this was 2012, the absolute best, the worst and the downright f*cking appalling.

Best meal I ate in 2012

Casting my mind back and looking through my posts for the last year, it’s fair to say that I ate out a lot. So, there are loads of contenders for best meal. But if you twisted my arm, I’d have say that my favourite meal of 2012 was lunch at St John.
I’d been meaning to go there for years, and despite working just a stones throw away, I’d somehow never made it to this most British of restaurants. Last year I righted this wrong and had a rather extravagant (and costly) lunch on my own and enjoyed every minute of it. St John is a one-off institution, the menu is studded with iconic dishes and the service is professional and impeccable. I bloody loved it.
Other highlights included a posh solo lunch in April at Jason Atherton’s Pollen Street Social. I’m a real fan of his cookbooks (I’ve pinched loads of ideas from them) so was really looking forward to this. The food was beautiful to look at, inventive and delicious. I’d gone for the set lunch menu, and when you consider all the extra bits and bobs, pre-desserts, petit fours etc, it was a total frigging bargain. I even got to briefly meet the man himself, which was something of a bonus.
It seems like it’s been around for ages now, but Pitt-Cue Co in Soho had only just recently opened when I ate there in February. Spearheading the so called ‘dude-food’ revolution with excellent American style BBQ and booze whilst introducing London to the delights of burnt end mash and pickle backs. I reckon it was one of the best restaurant openings of the 2012. I’m looking forward to the Pitt Cue cookbook, out later this year.
An extremely upmarket lunch at 2 Michelin starred ‘The Square’ in October was also something of highlight. Not only because, as you might expect Phil Howard’s food and the service was impeccable, but also I’d taken my Dad along for his birthday, and it’s not something we’ve ever really done together. It cost me a fair old whack, but if you’ve never taken your parents somewhere for a top-drawer lunch, I highly recommend it.
A visit to Duck & Waffle in November was memorable for an entirely different reason…that white knuckle glass lift ascent and view! Incredible. The food was pretty damn good too, especially the oxtail doughnut.

Closer to home, I had a cracking lunch at The Old Spot, Wells in October. Manna in Bristol remains my favourite local restaurant; I ate there a fair bit last year and it was superb every time.

Best Dish I cooked at home 2012

Most of the more interesting food I cooked last year was under the auspices of ‘The Basement’ supper club. Don’t get me wrong, I still cook at home a lot, but the majority of the dishes I’m most proud of were served up to paying customers.
Slow roasted shoulder of pork in cider with mash and green sauce was an absolute winner. Very simple, rustic and unreservedly British. We served this up a few times. The accompanying mash, a recipe that I’ve perfected, is probably only second in the world mashed potato stakes to Joel Robuchon’s pomme puree. Just.
New York’s, Momofuku’s Milk Bar cookbook provided the Volcano recipe that rocked my world in 2012. Bloody incredible. We sold these at our four-day ‘Basement at the Runcible Spoon’ restaurant residency in August and couldn’t make enough. Basically a whopping bread roll, stuffed with a mixture of dauphinoise potatoes, caramelised onions, and cheese. These are every bit as delicious (and filthy) as they sound.
Another dish I’m immensely proud of is the Rosemary and Lemon Posset Crumble with Italian Meringue. We served this at a few ‘Basements’ and it never got less than an ecstatic response. Yes, we nicked the idea for the rosemary and lemon element from Jason Atherton and the idea for the crumble and Italian Meringue parts from The Chequers in Bath, but errr…the rest was all ours!
September 2012 will go down in history books as the year I created my version of Fry Sauce, Salt Lake City’s condiment of choice. Feeling inspired by an episode of Man vs Food, I threw this together and it’s bloody delicious. It enhances EVERYTHING I’ve tried it on. Splurge some of it’s lurid orange coloured goodness on roast potatoes and see what I mean. Utter filth, but the best kind.

Worst Dish I cooked at home 2012

I don’t think I’m kidding myself here, but honestly, I can’t think of a single thing I cooked in 2012 that was so utterly shit that it deserves mention in this section.

We had a few disasters at the supper club, nothing that would affect the customers just panicked moments for us in the kitchen. The full to the brim deep fat fryer tumbling off the worktop and a 5 litre vegetable oil slick spreading across the kitchen floor, just as we were about to go into service at our Runcible Spoon pop-up back in August or the oven packing up, luckily just at the end of the night. Come to think of it, equipment failures seemed to be a recurring theme last year, another pop-up I cooked at, a much needed deep fat fryer broke, and then later that evening a fridge full of ice-cream busted as well. Fun.

Best Booze I drank in 2012

2012 for me was all about sherry. In May I visited Jerez in Spain, a city that could best be described as sherry Mecca. I was the guest of Gonzalez Byass and frankly, it was bloody incredible. I drank so much of the good stuff, often directly from the barrel that it just blew me away. What impressed In particular was Del Duque, a 30 year old amontillado and Leonor, a Palo Cortado. I frigging love sherry.

Back at the ranch, I was introduced to Picon bière by my friend Claire. Picon is a French, orange bitters, which is bloody superb as a shot in beer. Apparently, this combo is ‘the’ beverage currently en vogue with trendy London bartenders and also Gallic alcoholics. It goes without saying that I also adore it.

I’m crap at remembering good wine, I should make better notes, in fact I resolve here and now to sort this out in 2013. However, one in particular I drank at a friend’s house, loved and actually recorded was Domaine Fillatreau Chateau Fouquet, Samur 2010.

Worst Dish I ate out 2012

One thing instantly springs to mind, beef brisket at the Bar-B-Q Shack, located in the Worlds End Pub in Brighton. At the time I described it as ‘curled around the edge of the plate, in a slightly distressing ‘pinched off’ fashion’ and ‘dried out, flavourless strip of leatherette masquerading as beef ‘. Time and distance hasn’t faded the memory. I'm sorry to say it was f*cking grim.

Best Dish I ate out in 2012

Firstly, I have to mention Istanbul. I ate so much good stuff there on my visit in March it’s almost impossible to list it all, but off the street, kokoreç, chargrilled lamb intestines and sweetbreads mixed with oregano, stuffed into bread and sprinkled with chilli flakes was definitely a bit special.
I also had a sebzeli kebab, the meat layered through with peppers, tomatoes and onions that was incredible.
Oh and a barbecued mackerel sandwich on the back of a boat moored at the edge of the Bosphorus. Finally, the Turkish breakfast dish of simit, a chewy type of sesame seed covered bagel dipped into kaymak, like clotted cream and made from buffalo milk was bloody incredible.
Back in the UK, a dish of Calves Liver, Polenta, Kale and Balsamic Onions at 10 Greek Street was absolutely knock out. Beautifully cooked and eaten sitting at the bar, with a glass of wine. Heaven.
In March, an unlikely sounding dish of Braised Ox Cheek with an Anchovy sauce, pieces of confit Lemon and Avocado Chantilly, served at Club Gascon left me embarrassed when I realised I’d been making whimpering noises of pleasure as I was eating it.

St Johns’ iconic Roast Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad. Un-fucking-believable. That’s all I have to say.
In September at The Hardwick in Abergavenny, I was marvelling at the almost lacquered finish on my slow cooked pork belly with celeriac puree, black pudding and salted caramel apple sauce. A beautiful plate of food.
Roasted Pear with Quince Puree, Almond Croustillant and Sherry Vinegar Ice Cream at 2 Michelin starred The Square was one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten. At the time I described it as ‘a masterpiece’. The sweet and sour combination of the sherry vinegar ice-cream and the sweet caramelised pear was simply incredible.
Duck and Waffle’s Spicy Ox Cheek Doughnut is another work of genius. I bloody loved it.
Jeremy Lee’s, Smoked Eel and Horseradish Sandwich at Quo Vadis is everything I’d heard it was and more. The subtle smokiness of the eel combined with the ‘take no prisoners’ eye watering, horseradish sauce. Frigging incredible. This dish pretty much has it’s own fan club and rightly so.
I’ve eaten so much good stuff at Manna in Bristol, this past year, but in particular a dish of Slow Cooked rabbit with Butifarra (a type of Catalan sausage), peas and spring onion impressed me. Perfectly seasoned, the rich rabbit meat and sausage, in a clear broth with the fresh peas. It was bloody amazing.
Finally, pork belly again, but at Bristol’s Bell’s Diner served with celeriac, apple and truffle. Beautifully cooked and as with all the food at this restaurant almost too good looking to eat. This was a cracking dish.

Weirdest Google searches that have led to my Blog 2012

dan vox-knobs essex eating
what do people eat in essex?
beff check pictures
arrogant bastard hated by many loved by few
are essex people smell
brain grey matter noodle grape bean
eating lunch under the table porn
eat me not that
does sambuca stop a hangover (followed soon after by…)
good cure for sambuca hangover
do essex people eat chocolate
is pork face meat the same as pork cheeks?
how to make mr.bacon stop oinking
men and lamb porn
sexy girl eating a lot food
pho soup gas bloating
whores in jerez
why do i eat ice cream then celery?
what is shaking the coffee beans gesture?
what does essex smell of?
wallpaper lady helping herself to plate of food

Best Recipe book 2012

My cookbook collection is shelf saggingly vast, I’m an absolute recipe book fiend…here are some of my favourites from the past year.

The Square Cookbook – Comprehensive doesn’t quite do this justice. Phil Howard’s excellent book pulls no punches and leaves the home cook under no illusion that recreating two Michelin starred food at home is a complete and utter ball-ache. But if you want to try, then it’s all here in staggering detail. I’ve pinched bits and bobs, elements from dishes etc for ‘The Basement’. It’s awesome.

Fäviken – If you think The Square cookbook is hard work, wait till you cop a load of this. Chef Magnus Nilsson’s beautiful book is completely inspiring, compelling and utterly bonkers. A lot of the recipes here would be a pain in the arse for a professional chef to re-create, let alone a home cook. Vinegar aged in a hollowed, burnt out log. A fish dish that takes 6 months to make and then you need to get it tested at a laboratory to ensure it’s safe to consume. But for all that, it’s fascinating stuff and leaves you with the distinct impression that Fäviken the Swedish restaurant is a bit special.

Momofuku Milk Bar – I’ve cooked a load of stuff from this, Volcanoes, Bagel Bombs and Cinnamon Bun Pie to name just a few. Everything is awesome; this was one of the most inspiring cookbooks I picked up last year. Bloody love it.

Richard Bertinet - Pastry – A beautiful book from the Bath based French baker, comprehensive recipes and full of step by step photos to show you exactly and clearly what’s needed to make great pastry. Useful!

Strangest thing I ate in 2012

I ate a few rather choice bits and pieces whilst visiting Jerez including percebes or goose barnacles, ugly ass, expensive crustaceans that could be best described as looking like a kind of alien pigeons foot. Got to be honest, I didn’t rate them much.

The previously mentioned kokoreç, chargrilled lamb intestines and sweetbreads mixed with oregano, stuffed into bread and sprinkled with chilli flakes I ate in Istanbul was pretty choice too.

Apart from that, it’s all been depressingly conventional. Nothing even comes close to last year’s winner, calves brains at Racine.

Best Ingredients and Produce I ate in 2012

This is a new category to my yearly round up, as I want to give a mention to some of the fantastic ingredients and produce I’ve discovered or used over the past year.

First up Trealy Farm Spicy Boudin Noir. I cannot get across just how much I frigging adore this. it’s unbelievably good. Without a doubt the best black pudding I’ve ever tried anywhere. In fact, all of Trealy Farm’s charcuterie is absolutely superb.

Bertinet Sourdough – Cracking bread, from Richard Bertinet’s bakery in Bath. Really top-drawer stuff.

Homewood Ewe’s Curd – One of my favourite ingredients. Locally produced and equally at home in savoury as well as sweet dishes.

Severn & Wye Smokery – Another South West producer, I’ve used their Smoked Mackerel, Haddock and Cod Roe and highly recommend it all. Fantastic.

Cupboard Love – Horseradish Mustard, a Somerset produced condiment I picked up recently. Holy f*ck, this stuff is hot. It has the sweetness of German mustard combined with an eye watering horseradish kick. Love it.

Wild Beer Co – I’m proud to say a mate of mine is making this because it’s truly excellent. There have been quite a lot of people who know beer raving about this. I particularly like Scarlet fever and Ninkasi. Definitely a brand to watch out for in 2013 and local as well.

Must visit restaurants 2013

As is traditional – here’s last years list. With hindsight, it appears to have been an almost total waste of time compiling that. I only made it to one restaurant I wanted to visit on the list last year! Oh well it was St John, so that’s something.

The Kitchin – Edinburgh
St Johns – London
Brawn – London
Hedone – London
The British Larder – Suffolk
Le Champignon Sauvage – Cheltenham
Restaurant Sat Bains – Nottingham
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal – London
Zucca – London
Wild Honey – London
The Felin Fach Griffin – Brecon

So that was then, this is NOW – here’s my personal list of 2013 must visits…be interesting to see how many of these I made it to when I look back in January 2014, a few more than last year, would be f*cking nice.

The Kitchin – Edinburgh (I will definitely make it there this year)
Brawn – London
The British Larder – Suffolk
Le Champignon Sauvage – Cheltenham
Restaurant Sat Bains – Nottingham
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal – London
Zucca – London
Bocca Di Lupo - London
L’enclume – Cumbria
Balthazar – London
Honey & Co – London
Hand & Flowers – Marlow
Galvin at Windows (or La Chapelle) – London
Wild Honey or Arbutus (or both!) - London

So there you have it, my fourth year at Essex Eating.
Despite everything I’ve achieved, I feel the best is yet to come, so gather around people, throughout 2013, for another truly educational year of unrestricted gluttony, drinking, cooking and y’know, just generally stuffing myself stupid. It’s going to be frigging vintage!

Mwah Mwah



Adam said...

Brilliant post, for a blog to last 4 years these days is a mile stone, most give up after a year when they realise how much work is involved. Loved the look of the calfs liver and the slow roasted 'pork in cider'. Pretty sure there's a joke in there somewhere. Keep up with the great work fella!

Dan said...

Adam - Thanks a lot, mate. Honestly, can't believe I've been writing Essex Eating for 4 years, but really proud that I've stuck at it.

Colemansdad said...

will you have time for another cheese post?

Nic said...

Loved reading this - the Google searches made me laugh out loud!
Happy Blog Birthday!

Dan said...

Colemansdad - Quite possibly. What kind of cheese information are you after?

Nic - Thanks! Some of the Google searches are hilarious, but bloody random eh?

Kavey said...

Happy Birthday, Dan! What a feast of a year!

The Ample Cook said...

Fantastic write up Dan, with brilliant photos. Epic.

Long may you continue.

Colemansdad said...

I love lists.... so worked my way through the cheeses in your first 2 posts. Perhaps you could add 10 new ones for me to hunt down.

Dan said...

Really glad to hear you enjoyed the previous cheese posts. I'll try and write another list of cheeses to try in the future.

Dan said...

Kavey - Thank you very much, madam!

The Ample Cook - Thanks loads Jan x

Anonymous said...

Happy blog birthday! Always gets me laughing... But is also really informative, inspiring and drool inducing! Going to Istanbul this April, inspired by your good self :) Keep going!!! Dani x

Dan said...

Dani - Thanks very much. I really appreciate you this. And also really pleased to hear you've been inspired to go to Istanbul (it's amazing!) Let me know how you find it!

ricketyjo said...

Congrats on 4 years!!! I do so enjoy reading your blog and seeing where you've been and looking at all the delicious food. Hope the next 4 are even better :)

Dan said...

Ricketyjo - Thanks very much! Really pleased to hear you enjoy the blog.

Richard said...

Just noticed your BBQ shack Brighton meal comment. I had a similarly awful meal there!

Dan said...

Richard - That's a shame to hear. I was hoping it was more of a one off. Although saying that, to be fair, I do remember the ribs being great.