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


Friday 18 January 2013

Green Man and French Horn - London

Despite my aristocratic sounding French surname, noble Norman bearing and obvious high intelligence, you’ll no doubt be extremely surprised to learn that I hardly speak any French. I can get by of course, I learnt enough back in secondary school to announce with some degree of fluency, ‘I am Dan. I live in England’ and I can pull off a pretty convincing Gallic shrug of the shoulders and contemptuous ‘damn your eyes’ scowl, whilst sucking on an obligatory Gitanes. Not unsurprisingly perhaps, none of this helped me in the slightest when I visited the Green Man and French Horn for lunch, earlier this week.

This St Martin’s Lane restaurant is from the same stable as the excellent Terroirs, Brawn and Soif and shares their emphasis on good food and natural and biodynamic wine, but in this case all originating from a very specific section of France, which is along the length of the Loire river. This means sod all to me, my geography à la française being about as useful as my shoddy language skills. However, a quick punt on the interweb tells me. It’s the longest river in France (629 miles) and it runs from the Ardèche in the South East, all the way to St Nazaire and the sea, in the West. Educational, eh?

As I arrived at The Green Man it was snowing and bloody freezing. I took a hurried glance at the exterior, which looks every bit the former pub and hurried inside, where the interior is something else entirely. Bare brick walls, black and white chequerboard floor tiles, high stools at the bar. It all feels very comfortable, very French and very unboozerlike.

Running my eye down the English menu descriptions, albeit punctuated here and there with classic French culinary terms, I found myself struggling to remember exactly what some of these dishes were, and believe me, it matters where Andouillette (a particularly ‘challenging’ and infamous sausage made from chitterlings) or Tête de veau (calf’s head) are in the offing.

As if to emphasise the sheer Gallic’ness of the operation, my waitress had the most impenetrable French accent I’ve ever head. When I asked what Saucisse au Couteau was (the Plat du Jour), I was nonplussed by the apparent answer of ‘vegetable box’. Accurately reading the total look of bewilderment on my face, she had a few more attempts until my ear suddenly tuned in and ‘vegetable box’ morphed into ‘pork sausage’.
Idly munching on some rather good sourdough baguette and unsalted butter (to be honest, I’d prefer salted) intriguingly served on a vintage ‘Quo Vadis London’ metal platter, I had a flick through the rather weighty wine list. Comprehensive doesn’t come into it, but at the same time, it’s surprisingly accessible, even for wine dunces like me, with interesting and witty explanations introducing each section. This was all redundant however, as I’d ordered the ‘vegetable box’ plat du jour, and was sipping on the accompanying rather inoffensive glass of house red.
I’d had to look up Rillons (which I now know is a slow cooked cube of pork belly) and bloody hell, I’m glad I did. It was absolutely frigging delicious, served with sliced, crispy, chilled endive, which had been drizzled artfully with mustard. I’ll definitely be having a go at re-creating this at home.
Saucisse au Cocteau, a simple dish in the same spirit of my starter, consisting as it did of pork, crisp veg and mustard was something of a revelation for me. Sausage and mash, yes of course. But the addition of ice-cold lettuce on the side blew me away. It’s just something that would never have occurred to me to add and it worked incredibly well. The mash was very good (as you may know, I’m an absolute frigging connoisseur of mash) and the sausage was coarse and meaty, what can I say. I ate the lot and enjoyed every last bit.

Just then, sitting there with my glass of red wine, my bread to one side and a plate of very comforting food in front of me, I broke out into a smug, self satisfied grin. This all felt very right.
A poached pear sitting in a puddle of salted butter caramel with a sable biscuit propped against it was, pardon my French, un-fucking-believable, seriously good. When I broke through into the centre of the pear and was suddenly surprised by cream oozing out of the middle I almost felt like applauding. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed eating a dessert as much for quite some time.

I’ve got to say, I loved the Green Man and French Horn. I had no real expectations when I walked in, but I left completely and utterly enamoured. There is no extraneous faff or ostentation to what they’re doing, just honest, simple, beautifully cooked and plated food. Which is exactly the sort of grub that I enjoy eating the most. That the accompanying wine list is huge and very accessible just makes the whole proposition even more attractive. Thinking on it, this was easily one of the most enjoyable lunches I’ve eaten in the past 6 months and I will be heading back next time I’m in town, no doubt about it. Chalk this one up as superb.

Green Man and French Horn

54 St. Martins Lane,

Telephone - 0207 836 2645

Wednesday 2 January 2013

John Salt - London

First things first, Happy New Year and welcome to 2013, discerning readers!

When I originally started writing this blog, I treated it as something akin to a personal diary, among other things I wanted to keep a record of the restaurants I ate in, what I’d ordered, what I thought of them. That anyone was remotely interested in what I thought and actually read my ramblings has remained a source of constant surprise.

Just before Christmas, I ate lunch in the hip, new, thruster about town of a restaurant, John Salt. The chef, Ben Spalding of Roganic fame had been receiving a respectable measure of critical acclaim and some bemusement for the chicken mousse served on a house brick, which if nothing else, everyone was seemingly talking about. Just a couple of weeks after my visit and it was game over. Ben Spalding and John Salt had parted company (not entirely amicably judging by the press releases and reading between the lines) and my potential restaurant write-up was now less a ‘happening’ review and more a historical document. Bollocks.

Nevertheless, in the original personal diary spirit of this blog, I’ve decided to write it up anyway, just for shits and giggles.
A fortnight before Christmas, mid afternoon you’d have found me strutting my way down Upper Street in Islington towards John Salt. The timing hadn’t worked out for the more desirable house brick licking dinner upstairs, but I’d wanted to eat there anyway so lunch it had to be. I was looking forward to it. I’d eaten Ben’s cooking a while back at Roganic and it had been bloody impressive.
I stepped into a large and surprisingly empty room, except for a young chef to my right, head down, cooking at a table with four diners seated around. I walked up to the bar and announced that I had a reservation (obviously unneeded) and was here for a spot of lunch. The barman treated this information with something approaching a startled look, and then quickly recovering directed me to take a seat at the table I’d spied the chef cooking at as I walked in.

I pulled up a seat opposite the chef, cooking an arms length away on an induction hob and waited…

Waited some more….
Still waiting…

In an impressive case of customer service bullock dropping, I was being completely ignored. No one said anything to me, the young guy cooking so close I could have reached across and given him a polite slap around the chops with a chicken smeared house brick had his head down and seemed intent on not meeting my enquiring looks and polite coughs. The barman had also wandered off down the other end of the room. I sat there relentlessly ageing, wondering what the hell was going wrong here and hoping that someone would break the stalemate soon.

But wait, what’s this…

A sudden, hissed, barely overheard angry conversation between the chef and the barman concerning my seemingly awkward appearance. Yes I’d asked for lunch at the bar. No I didn’t have any cutlery. The barman stomped away again. My stomach grumbled.

At this point, deciding that potentially I’d like to eat today, I became captain of my own dining destiny and put it directly to the chef

‘What happens here then mate, do I order through you or what?’

Looking up, eyes returning my gaze for the first time he acknowledged that I could indeed place my order with him and just like that, the very fucked up ‘Ignore Dan’ spell was abruptly broken. Cutlery appeared, and then the barman with a drinks menu and the show very definitely trundled its raggedy ass onto the road.

Determined to recover from the shaky start and extract every last ounce of pleasure out of proceedings, I ordered the six course tasting menu and decided to let the chef pick what dishes to cook for me.
Things kicked off with Buffalo Mozzarella, warm maple dressing, Brazil nuts and turnip tops. A simple dish with clear, balanced flavours. Very clean tasting and delicious.
The next dish, Greasy Chicken Skin Sandwich was probably the weakest that I ate. Don’t get me wrong, it was pleasant enough, but unlike everything else that followed, it just didn’t really surprise or leave me thinking about the unusual flavour combinations
It’s hard to credit, soup often being considered something of a filler course, but the Violino Pumpkin and Douglas Fir soup was quite possibly the best dish I ate, finished with a side smear of smoked cream cheese it was absolutely delicious with such perfectly defined richness and seasoning, I was sure it had to contain chicken stock. Of course, one of the benefits of eating on the same table the chef is cooking at, is that you can ask. I did and was surprised to hear it contained vegetable nage.
The accompanying marmalade ciabatta with butter (Produced by ‘Butter Viking’ Patrik Johansson as served at Noma – I’d never heard of him before then) was unbelievably good. Rich and chewy with a perfect crisp crust and an underlying marmalade tang.
Pink Fir Potatoes, Lemon Grass Yoghurt, Bacon, Crispy Onions and Chocolate. As unlikely a combination as you’ll see anywhere, but it worked. This is the sort of food I silently marvel at, the seemingly disparate flavour pairings that combine together so well.
A Spiced Venison Wrap with minted sour cream and ‘blowtorched lettuce’ is assembled in front of me. In comparison to everything else that has come before it, the uninspiring white cylinder is somewhat Spartan. It’s a wrap, and that’s what they look like of course, but it doesn’t make for the most inspiring photograph. The chef obliges me by cutting it in half, on the oblique, naturellement. It’s bloody good, incredibly rich, but very conventional.

On the other hand, Ice-cold Basil Milk to accompany my dessert of Chantecler Apple and Lemongrass Crumble is anything but. Once again, simple clean flavours that work very well together, as a conclusion to lunch, no complaints here.
And that, my friends, was that. I paid £34 for the privilege, and buggered off into the rarefied air of Islington.

What to make of the whole experience though?

The food was good, no doubt about it, Ben Spalding (and his team) can cook. Inventive, unusual and definitely not boring. I enjoyed everything I stuffed in my gob. The lacklustre service, not so much. There was a pretty evident breakdown in communication between the chef and the bar staff and an almost palpable tension between them. It didn’t make for pleasant lunchtime viewing and left me with my thumb up my ass for 10 minutes. I don’t blame the chef, he was chatty and pleasant enough when he finally got warmed up, but he was young and I suspect probably wasn’t that comfortable meeting and dealing with customers (I certainly wasn’t at his age) In which case he shouldn’t have been left out there to deal with lunchtime front of house.

In any case, it doesn’t much matter now. Ben Spalding at John Salt is history, although I look forward to seeing what the chef does next.

But…. the King is dead. Long live the King.

In a final unexpected and very pleasant twist to proceedings, I’ve since learned that a mate of mine, Neil Rankin, former Head Chef at the rather splendid Pitt Cue Co is taking over at John Salt and will be doing entirely his own thing. I can’t wait to see what that is. Bookings are being taken from the 16th January.

John Salt
131 Upper Street
N1 1QP