Sunday 24 October 2010

This and that, bits and bobs etc…

What with all the work involved in The Montpelier Basement, I’ve found it pretty hard to find time to keep up with the blog posts. Seems this supper club gig is really time intensive!
But rest assured, in the background I’m still ‘out there’ doing all the same foodie stuff, eating in restaurants, cooking at home and falling out of bars…a lot – I just haven’t been writing about it as much…. which come to think of it, is no fun for anyone dammit, you want…no, you DEMAND to know what’s going on…. and I hear you, my beautiful, intelligent readers…. For indeed you are all beautiful and extremely intelligent and I am listening, like an unusual Essex-bloke-shaped radio antenna. I hear your plaintive cries for information reaching my furrowed brow, bombarding my brain with pleas…. I am attuned, and I’m going to give you what you want! Oh yeah, I’m going to squash a load of stuff into this post…. pack it, squeeze it all in until something breaks, or I get bored…and we’re off!!!!

First up, the next Montpelier Basement supper is being held on Saturday 30th October. The inaugural event seemed to be a massive success (*taps nose* check out Xanthe Clay’s column in The Telegraph next Saturday – say no more, say no more). We’re sold out already. However, we’ve worked out some future dates for the diary; Saturday 13th November and Saturday 27th November. Both dates are being booked up fast, so if you want to come, email

What will we be serving up at the next event on the 30th?

Here’s the menu….

Arrival drinks and nibbles

Bertinet bread and West country butter

Pumpkin and sage soup with deep fried sage, brown butter and chilli

Baked Cornish haddock with pumpkin crust. (Vegetarian option tbc)

Onglet with pumpkin jam, greens and polenta chips
Mushroom and Ogleshield tatin with thyme, chestnuts and squash

Spiced pumpkin and pecan cake with maple mascarpone, honey and toasted nuts.


As it’s Halloween weekend, we’ve tried to feature pumpkin in the menu a fair bit. Mainly because it’s orange and errr scary.

Moving on…..

Lets talk about Elizabeth David. Rightfully considered to be one of the most influential post war food writers and cooks Britain has ever produced, she pretty much singlehandedly shaped the face of what we eat and in some ways still influences what we eat today. So basically as important as it gets. Aaaaaaand, until I started writing my food blog almost two years ago, I’d never heard of her. There I’ve said it! I didn’t know who Elizabeth David was; fellow foodies come hither and flay me with chains, then squirt me liberally with lemon juice (Sicilian of course).
I’d like to say it’s because I was just too ‘into Escoffier to have time for her man’, or something. But no, I was just blissfully ignorant. Yet, gradually I became aware of her and her works. As they were entirely text (and being from Essex I’m all about the pictures) I always just scanned them and never really took them in. Until a few weeks ago, when I was sent *drum roll purlease* ‘At Elizabeth David’s Table’, a collection of her more everyday recipes, all with glorious food porn photos of what the grub is actually supposed to look like. So now, when I’m knocking out a quick Perdrix a l’auvergnate, I know exactly what it’s supposed to look like.
The interesting thing about this book, for someone like me who is less accustomed to Elizabeth David’s work, is how ahead of her time she was and how obviously influential she has been. Nearly all of the recipes could have been written yesterday, and considering how hard the exotic ingredients must have been to source in a dreary, just released from the shackles of wartime rationing Britain, the book is not only a cracking collection of her recipes, but a fascinating insight into our country’s food heritage.

I cooked a couple of things from the book (had to try it out of course), and the results were pretty good. Although, a quick pasta dish, Fettuccine alla marinara was fairly unspectacular as far as pasta goes.

I was much more impressed with the coffee ice cream recipe (which incidentally is something ‘E’ absolutely loves) and the classic chocolate mousse. Results for both of these were good, and being Elizabeth David, the recipes are beautifully written.

But enough about the past, now let’s talk about the future, in the shape of Stevie Parle, who aged just 24 has managed to cram a ridiculously impressive list of restaurants onto his CV. He has recently been awarded Young Chef Of The Year by Observer Food Monthly, as well as running the London pop up Moveable Restaurant AND has now opened his own restaurant, The Dock Kitchen…. oh…in between this it seems like he’s travelled everywhere. As such, we should all hate him with a fixated jealous seething anger, but I was sent his cookbook ‘My Kitchen, Real Food From Near And Far’ quite a while ago, and this is the thing…. all of the recipes I’ve tried so far are frigging amazing! (Chana Masala, I’m looking at you baby). So he’s grudgingly forgiven, frigging overachiever that he is.
Anyway, we were so impressed we had a bit of an evening where we cooked a few dishes from it, all were new to me and all were superb.

Apart from the aforementioned Chana Masala, a chickpea curry which achieves the rather enviable double whammy of being both delicious and cheap, we also made Avial, which was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever eaten; a thick coconut, yoghurt and vegetable paste, it looked utterly bizarre but was strangely tasty.

While we were at it, we made our own chapattis from a recipe in the book, which were surprisingly simple to knock up. Finally we made a fresh ginger and tamarind pickle. This particular accompaniment seemed to involve a hell of a lot of work for the end result of a small pot of pickle, but wow! It was bloody gorgeous. The strange thing is, when I tasted it, I realised immediately that I’ve encountered versions of it before in a hundred Indian restaurants, but I’ve never known what it was and it always tasted disgusting. Not this though, it was fresh, vibrant and punchy – I can’t recommend it enough.
So in conclusion, if you don’t have it – Stevie Parle’s book is really worth picking up.

Finally, the other night ‘E’ and I attended a Bristol supper club run by Sam J Leach. We’ve visited before and I wrote about it here, the food was cracking and when we heard he was holding another event, we signed up straightaway.

As before, the food was superb, and now having had a go at running our own supper club we have a bit more of an appreciation of how much bloody hard work it all is. There were a couple of truly standout courses, the duck heart, smoked mash and beetroot was delicious and beautifully presented, but what really blew me away (and everyone else it seemed), was the dessert.

A toffee apple hollowed out and filled with custard. Sam had cleverly worked out how to achieve this, and the ‘oooh’s and ‘ahhhh’s from our fellow diners that filled the room as everyone broke through the outer caramel shell and discovered the custard filling in unison, were a delight to hear. Stunning and extremely clever. Bravo.

There’s a hell of a lot more that I’ve eaten, cooked and drank lately that I’d love to share with you, (An excellent lunch at Polpetto in Soho, a not so great burger but great beer at Draft House Tower Bridge and a book launch at Moti Mahal spring to mind) but I’m acutely aware that too much information and peoples attentions start to wander. Yes I’m talking to you at the back.

So until next time, and do come to our supper club if you can, we'd love to see you.

Monday 18 October 2010

Montpelier Basement - Gastronomic success or gastroenteritis?

Slowly, almost painfully, one heavy lid creaks open to expose my bleary and bloodshot retina to the blurred soft grey hues of early Sunday morning. Sunlight leaks lazily around the corners of the curtain, rudely intruding into my dark hungover world. I lay there still, staring blankly, studying the ceiling as my brain winds up slowly like a dynamo; it's not quite there yet. Silence. But not perfect. I strain my hearing and concentrate on the deep rhythmic breathing of a slumbering 'E'.
Suddenly, almost surprising myself, I wrest off the covers and immediately wish I hadn't, as the cold morning air envelopes my still duvet-warm body. The shock wakes me up instantly and my brain moves up a gear, from reverse into first. Like an automaton, I reach out blindly for a sweatshirt from a pile of clothes, dragging it over my head, as I creakily fall out of bed in a kind of silent controlled tumble and pad quietly, bare feet on carpet to the door and the darkened silence of the rooms beyond.

Making my way downstairs, I turn into the dining room. Sunlight streams unrestricted through the French doors, lighting the scene in stark detail. I stand in silence, my eyes picking over the wreckage of the night before. At least a dozen empty, dull emerald wine bottles lay forlorn and discarded. The length of the table is strewn crazily with screwed up napkins, crumbs, water glasses, wine glasses, pitchers, knives, forks - in fact pretty much all the cutlery we own. The white tablecloth has a massive red stain spread across one end. I stare and remember. It looks like a map of Africa painstakingly drawn in claret. Strangely impressive.

Leaving this scene behind, I take a few steps and turn into the kitchen and gasp. Utter carnage. Every surface is covered haphazardly with bowls, plates, saucepans. It looks like a bomb has gone off. My head hurts. I'm starting to think that the bottles of Japanese lager that we necked whilst cooking the previous evening, followed up with white wine, then celebratory red, more white...stout, and sherry?!! Probably wasn't the wisest course of alcoholic consumption. But let's rewind....celebratory, yes....last night had been cracking, in fact it had been a real success. We'd even been applauded by our guests, amongst them no other than Xanthe Clay, the Telegraph food columnist and author.
Smiling, I turn back to the kitchen wreck and start the business of clearing up. It's something I'm rather good at, being almost borderline OCD when it comes to tidiness. Whilst I work, I process the day before in my mind; it had flown past in such a blur with all the preparation....

Saturday was to be the first date of our supper club, Montpelier Basement. We had begun early and were up and on the train to nearby Bath at 7am to pick up some bread from Richard Bertinet's famous bakery and fresh produce from the excellent weekly farmers market.
We met Richard Bertinet who was incredibly friendly and helpful, and the bread well what can I say - amazing. Gorgeously crusty and flavoursome sourdough, beautifully lightly textured Bath Buns and incredible focaccia. Both 'E' and I were goggle eyed, as we looked around at all this beautiful produce displayed on the shelves of the bakery. Richard asked us about our menu, and suggested some of the aforementioned incredible sourdough, a spelt loaf, two different types of focaccia (rosemary and olive), some ciabatta and finally, we couldn't resist a sweet Bath bun to nibble on as we walked along the still quiet, early morning streets to the farmers market, which by contrast was a hive of activity. The incredible fresh bread smell emanating from the bag was quite something.

Surveying the various stalls heaving with beautiful fresh local ingredients, we worked quickly and soon had a massive bag full of different types of beetroot; (purple, amazing candy striped and golden. We planned to roast these with thyme and a dash of balsamic vinegar), big bunches of cavolo nero, some brussel tops (similar to greens, we planned to chop, blanch and finally pan fry these), some beautiful locally grown Desiree potatoes, quite unlike anything you'd get from the supermarket in terms of quality, and some bunches of incredibly varied coloured carrots. Quite a haul and pretty damn heavy as we struggled our way back to the station.

Arriving back in Bristol, and leaping into a taxi at the station - I decided the next thing I should do in order to prepare for the evening supper club, would be to slam my finger in the taxi door. That's right, God knows how I did it - I jammed my finger in the closed door good and proper. As a justifiably alarmed 'E' struggled to help me and shouted at the Taxi driver, he looked blankly at me and said "errr do you want me to unlock it then?"
My barely restrained response of "errr yes!" elicited some action and as he unlocked the door from outside, freeing my mangled finger, I almost dreaded to look. It was flat - probably half the thickness that it normally is. Inside I was screaming like a child throwing a tantrum, but outside I was strangely calm as I assured both 'E' and the driver I was completely fine. I'm not entirely sure why we do that, put a brave face on things; the psychology of it is lost on me.
Strangely, despite my finger throbbing, and the taxi driver grimly assuring me that it would
"hurt tomorrow, oh yeah - that'll be black and blue that will",
before launching into a litany of other finger-trapped-in-door accidents he had known. Meanwhile, my flat finger had somehow 're-inflated' itself. Yes it hurt like hell, but it was back to its normal size. I could wiggle it. Not broken, luckily!

Leaping from the taxi, this time I was extremely careful in slamming the car door. We hurried downstairs to the kitchen and began preparing for the evening's supper right away. I glanced at my watch, it was just before noon.

We'd already laid the communal table, polished the glasses and cutlery, washed and stacked all the tableware. I'd got the log fire ready, I'd already made the beef cheek with milk stout stew, we'd tidied and prepared. 'E' had made the St Clements posset dessert, and was busily making stem ginger shortbread. We were well on track, in total control - we had hours and hours to prepare....

...Seemingly five minutes later, it was 7pm and our first guests would be arriving in half an hour as we hustled around the kitchen. I don't know how we did it, but as the first people began to arrive, we were ready. I have to say when it comes to organising a kitchen 'E' demonstrated ably why it's her profession.

With the guests drinking sherry and tucking into nibbles of spiced almonds and pumpkin seeds, we quickly readied ourselves. 'E' had drawn up a complete timing plan, and wow was it complicated. The roast baby squash with beet leaf and hazelnut pesto starter, although involving some last minute work, wasn't too bad, but getting the main and accompanying side dishes out for ten people… all at the same time, and all hot, would involve some serious organisation in a domestic kitchen.

As 'E' patiently explained to me how it would work, I listened stupidly, went boss eyed and wished that I'd studied rocket science so I would be better able to understand what the hell she was talking about. Snapping out of this revelry I assured a doubtful looking 'E' that I'd taken in all that she'd just said and understood the plan backwards. And we were off!!!!

The next hour or so passed in something of a blur. I didn't really get the chance to get out of the kitchen as much as I'd have liked, but - and this is the main thing, our guests were obviously having a cracking time judging by the sounds of raucous laughter and noisy conversation. The kitchen actually leads directly off the dining room, so we were no more than two meters away from the table.

The cleared plates coming back pretty much empty were also a good sign. After reaching the high point of the evening, getting the main course and accompanying side dishes out on time, and most importantly, hot, 'E' and I grinned at each other broadly and had a congratulatory 'high five'.
Able to relax a bit more, we joined our guests for dessert and a few glasses of wine - and received a round of applause. Superb.

Finishing off the meal with Keen's cheddar Welsh rarebit on Bertinet sourdough and some Trethowan's Dairy Caerphilly with homemade membrillo, some of our guests - proclaiming themselves stuffed to the gills, made their way off into the night. Others stayed till way after 1am as we chatted, and drank the remaining wine and sherry.

'E' and I had a bloody good time, and were more than happy with the evening. Of course there are things we'd like to improve, but it's a learning experience and for our first supper club, the feedback from our guests the next day was phenomenal.

I only wish I'd managed to get some more photos of the food, but just didn't have time.

My twin brother texted me the next day with the question “So, Montpelier Basement – Gastronomic success, or Gastroenteritis?”
Gastronomic success I reckon.

In actual fact, we enjoyed ourselves so much, we've already set the next date - Saturday 30th October. The menu is yet to be confirmed, but will again be British, seasonal and where possible, local. (With a bit of Halloween thrown in for good a completely classy and non-cheesy way, naturallement).

If you like the sound of this, and want to join us, or would like to be added to the mailing list - drop an email to

Tuesday 12 October 2010

The Montpelier Basement - A Bristol supper club

If you follow ‘E’ or myself on Twitter, you may (or may not) have realised we’re about to try our hand at running a supper club from our home in Bristol. The first night will be Saturday 16th October. The kitchen and surprisingly spacious dining room is downstairs, in the bowels of the building as it were – so we’ve cunningly decided to name it ‘The Montpelier Basement’ – or ‘The Basement’ if we’re being familiar.

We’ve talked about it and talked about it, and in the end thought ‘lets set a date and just do it’. We did, and we have…and it’s come around faster than we can believe. We’ve had so much to organise, and ever finite amounts of time to do it in.

But saying that, we’re on top of things (just) and seem to be pretty much ready. Our first menu is written, we’ve pilfered our respective families’ houses for likely looking tableware, and we’ve pretty much got a full house.

Our menu has a real British theme, and we’ve tried to use local suppliers and seasonal ingredients, as much as possible. (We’ll be picking up most of the veg. on Saturday morning at the rather excellent Bath farmers market, so if you see us looking harassed and lugging huge bags, be kind and slip us a Valium or two).

Anyway, without much further ado – for your delight and delectation here is our first menu…. God help us.

Saturday 16th October - 7.30pm for 7.45pm

Arrival drinks and nibbles

Herbert's Bakery bread and West Country butter

Roast baby squash with beet leaf and hazelnut pesto, leaves and toasted seeds.

Beef cheeks braised in Bristol Milk Stout with horseradish and herb dumplings, mash and veg OR Braised Puy lentils and roast celeriac with horseradish and herb dumplings, mash and veg

Earl Grey cream with stem ginger shortbread


All for the bargainous suggested donation of £20 (in used notes, please).

Do follow us on Twitter @MontpelierBsmt depending how it goes, we’re hoping to hold evenings every couple of weeks or so.

Drop us an email if you want to come along, (there’s a couple of spaces left), want to wish us luck, or just want to be added to the mailing list: -

I shall keep you posted on how it all went, right here.