Friday 31 January 2014

5 years of Essex Eating!

Five years! Can you frigging believe it? Five whole years. Yes, people. This blog has officially made it out of nappies and grown up. Thanks for sticking with it, muchos beloved readers, as Essex Eating found it’s voice and tentatively took it’s first steps, albeit staggeringly erratic ones and occasionally, crapped itself extravagantly with unashamedly wild abandon. Nevertheless it’s still here, an unvarnished electronic testament to my monumental stupidity and unabashed gluttony. 

As is now traditional on this, the birth date of Essex Eating, I like to look back over the previous year. Picking out the gastronomic triumphs and the unmitigated f*cking disasters that I’ve experienced both while dining out and embarrassingly closer to home. 2013 was a pretty vintage year in every respect. Enjoy. 

Best meal I ate in 2013
I ate in some pretty amazing restaurants last year; in fact I probably ate out more often in 2013  than at any other time in my life. I have to say, the absolute best meal I ate was at Le Champignon Sauvage, David Everitt-Matthias’ s two Michelin starred restaurant in Cheltenham. The food was so beautifully cooked, so inventive and such a ridiculous bargain it’s almost hard to believe. 
Closer to home, Bells Diner & Bar Rooms newly re-opened in May with talented Chef, Sam Sohn-Rethel running the kitchen. Providing me with something of a regular haunt, I ate there a hell of a lot in 2013, at one memorable point, almost twice a week. The food is superb. It’s now firmly entrenched as my favourite restaurant in Bristol.
Despite almost burning myself out with a week long 40th birthday fine dining binge, an evening at The Clove Club in Shoreditch was so good, it pretty much restored my faith in eating out. A beautiful and atmospheric room, inventive, fun and interesting food, easily one of the best meals I ate last year.
The Castle Terrace in Edinburgh comes in just a whisker behind Le Champignon Sauvage as my most impressive meal of 2013. I had an absolute belting lunch there. By far the best I ate in Edinburgh in fact, it’s probably one of the best lunches I’ve eaten anywhere.  Chef Dominic Jack’s food is almost impossibly elegant and beautiful. I was absolutely blown away. The set lunch menu is a total bargain.
In July I ate lunch at The Walnut Tree in Abergavenny, which is something of a legendary restaurant, with Sean Hill, who could be described as an equally legendary Chef, doing the cooking.  Yep, it was pretty expensive but bloody hell it was good. Beautiful food. Jabron potatoes, get in my belly!
Back in January I was left completely and utterly enamoured with the Green Man & French Horn, the latest Gallic outpost from the owners of Terroir. I found the food honest, simple and beautifully cooked. I still think about the poached pear and salted butter caramel dish.

Finally, I have to mention my  weekend breakfasts at Wallfish in Bristol. I'm there every Sunday and yeah, the full English is pretty damn phenomenal.

Best Dish I cooked at home 2013

Without a doubt, the best thing I cooked at home last year was fennel & raisin custard doughnuts, after a little expert advice from my mate, Sam, an ex St John pastry chef. Inspired by the flavours of Laura Harts excellent fennel and raisin bread. I churned out a batch of doughnuts so impossibly perfect that I found it hard to believe that I’d produced them with my own hands. Lovely. I was, and still am ridiculously proud. 
Another dish I was pretty pleased with was a bastardised version of Elizabeth David’s classic, Lamb Ste Menehould. I was introduced to this deep fried lamb breast dish at Bell’s Diner and mixed the original recipe with the restaurant method for preparing it. The result was superb. Loved it.
I have to also mention Sussex Pond Pudding. An absolute English classic. Suet pudding encasing a whole lemon, perhaps seems at first glance a bit strange. I first ate this at Hix in Browns Hotel and to say I was impressed was an understatement. I had to try it at home and I pretty much ate the whole f*cking lot solo. I just couldn’t leave it alone. If you’ve never tried it, make it immediately.

Worst Dish I cooked at home 2013

Strangely enough the worst dish I cooked was also doughnuts. The supreme fennel & raisin variety were my second attempt, after I’d initially made a batch of bacon and bourbon custard the week before, which were also admittedly delicious but this was before I’d been furnished with the indispensable help and tips from my pastry chef friend. I found making them a complete and utter ballache. Despite tasting delicious, they were frigging ugly, deflated and squashed, which strangely enough, exactly matched my mood as I surveyed the results.

I also cooked some lamb’s liver, which was the strongest most livery tasting piece of errr liver that I’ve ever had the misfortune to put in my mouth. I almost gagged on it and I’m normally a fan. Straight in the bin. 

I no doubt made some pretty mundane, rubbish food but I’ve somehow expunged the memories from my noggin. Nothing else really springs to mind.

Best Booze I drank in 2013

I did a fair old bit of boozing last year, a couple of things in particular caught my eye. Chateau Musar a biodynamic Red from Lebanon (available from Waitrose) was bloody lovely and Kernel Table Beer, which has a lovely flavour but is light enough to drink all evening without falling on your ass. Much.

Worst Dish I ate out 2013

Ok, couple of contenders. I’m kind of cheating here, as I didn’t order either of these dishes, the exact same friend I was eating with did on both occasions (Jemma, you have rubbish taste!). I haven’t eaten anything myself that was even close to being as appalling as these. 

Poco, I love you guys but I didn’t love your mushroom and vanilla soup. In fact, I hated it. Thick and muddy looking with a disgusting sweet note from the vanilla, definitely not complimenting the earthy taste of the mushrooms. It was pretty wrong. Sorry.

Roast Cauliflower as a vegetarian option, yeah, broken down into florets with those crispy burnt edges, lovely. Number 1 Harbourside presented my friend with basically a whole cauliflower, in one piece, on a plate. Which is strange enough, but that it wasn’t cooked at all and was raw. No idea how that left the kitchen really. I was so disgusted, I complained on my sheepish looking friends behalf.  

Best Dish I ate out in 2013

So many contenders here. Amalfi lemonade & black pepper ice cream at The Clove Club was bloody incredible as was the signature dish of  buttermilk fried chicken & pine salt, scoffed at the aforementioned restaurant and again at it’s sister restaurant, Upstairs at The Ten Bells. 
Hard to believe I’d include squid as one of the best dishes I ate last year, but cannelloni of North Sea squid with garlic and parsley at The Castle Terrace in Edinburgh blew me away. So delicate, intricate and beautifully cooked. 
A dessert of locally foraged sea buckthorn, crowdie (a type of Scottish cream cheese) carrot and biscuit at Edinburgh’s Timberyard really impressed me. It was on the set lunch menu at £5 and I just couldn’t believe the amount of work that had obviously gone into this dessert, at such a ridiculously low price. Consisting of a sea buckthorn granita and a jelly, whipped crowdie an unusual carrot sorbet (which was absolutely delicious) a frozen vanilla parfait and sheets of meringue. I know all the work is in the preparation, and assembly would take no time at all, but still, f*ck, a fiver! It was phenomenal.
I’ve obviously got something of a sweet tooth because another winning dish from last year was a warm treacle tart at Arbutus in London. It  was by far the best I’ve ever eaten, anywhere. Warm, just set, softly oozing sweetness on a beautifully crisp pastry base. As that first spoonful entered my willing gob and spread itself luxuriously across my tongue I was pinned to the seat, transfixed, radiating love for this dessert. It’s something of an understatement to say I thought it was pretty f*cking good. 
At Le Champignon Sauvage, Lamb fillet with poached apricot, aubergine, garlic yoghurt and Moroccan spiced sauce, impressed me no end.  I just can’t believe this dish is on the set lunch menu, it was phenomenal. Seriously one of the best plates of food I’ve eaten anywhere. I don’t even know where to begin; the lamb was so tender and there was so much of it! The sweet dots of poached apricot and the subtly spiced sauce, just amazing. 
Obviously, the previously mentioned Lamb Ste Menehould at Bell’s Diner and Bar Rooms. Inspirational and bloody lovely. 
Finally (that sweet tooth again) a poached pear with salted butter caramel and filled with crème anglaise at The Green Man and French Horn? F*ck yes.

Weirdest Google searches that have led to my Blog 2013

Roast Skunk
At it essek porno (?)
Arnold Schwarzenegger like pizza
alcohol+abuse+in+essex+useful+links (probably appropriate)
Add ma im hot (OK)
diahorreah it can make a grown man weep (Indeed)
butters whore-browns restaurant in London
blown veal (eh?)
birthday restaurant cack
gribiche sauce say it (No)
grans looking for love in essex
frothing milk iceberg
fernet branca makes you sober (Not in my experience)
essex posh salt (Maldon – tres posh)
essex love sausages (they do)
essex fight, cheek bitten off
eating red onions and drinking red wine
eat my ass Bristol
eat as much meat London
do they make lamb in a can for sandwiches
do people eat pig cheeks
lyme regis what to do when its pissing down with rain
living room bristol twat
interseting fact about pork cheeks
I am ready with mint sauce
how to cook pork shoulder Essex way (there’s an Essex way?)
how the fuck do you make pease pudding
how do you get mr. bacon stop oinking?
how cooking sausages in coffee shop
hot mustard make my brain hurt
porno pollen
squid eating seahorse
why do people in essex like to eat pudding with gravy
why do my new potatoes fall apart when i cook them
why are scotch eggs horrible
who eats the most puddings in essex?
whisk in arse
vintage eel fucking before cooking

Best Recipe book 2013

Loved One Good Dish by David Tanis. Stripped back, simple cooking. Almost like the American version of Nigel Slater. I found this really inspirational.

Have to include Simon Hopkinson Cooks. I bloody love Simon Hopkinson, his style of cooking, his recipes and his writing are top class.

Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food was probably my favourite cookbook of 2013. Managing to be both accessible and at the same time, slightly ‘cheffy’. I think it’s cracking. 

Strangest thing I ate in 2013

Has to be slices of tuna heart in a Fisherman’s working mans club in Spain. It tasted surprisingly subtle, almost like thinly sliced pieces of roast beef. 

Best Ingredients and Produce I ate in 2013

I bloody loved the fennel & raisin loaf at Harts Bakery, in fact I loved it so much it inspired me to use the flavour combination as a filling for doughnuts.

Right now I’m a bit addicted to Marks Bread Baguettes. They’re bloody crusty and delicious. They make awesome toast when they get a bit older. 

Hands down the best doughnuts in Bristol, comparable even to St John’s famous doughnuts in London (unsurprising as the pastry chef who makes them is ex St John) Pippin Doughnuts I love you, tres much, especially the custard variety.

Must visit restaurants 2014

As is now traditional – here’s last years wish list. I actually managed to knock a few off this time. Having had amazing lunches at Le Champignon Sauvage, Arbutus and The Kitchin in Edinburgh.  

The Kitchin – Edinburgh 
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 much for looking back, lets swivel our view forward to the future. Here’s this years wish list. As always, it’ll be interesting to see how many I actually managed to eat at by January 2015.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal – London
Hand & Flowers – Marlow
L’Enclume – Cumbria
Wild Honey – London
Brawn – London
The Dairy – London
Sweetings – London
Bocca Di Lupo – London
8 Hoxton Square - London
Chez Bruce - London
Social Eating House – London
Rules – London
Berners Tavern - London
Restaurant Sat Bains – Nottingham
The French at The Midland Hotel - Manchester

So that’s that. Five years of Essex Eating. I can hardly believe it myself. It’s been a strange year; despite eating and drinking a hell of a lot I managed to achieve some balance in my dining habits and lost two and a half stone! Basically, just by educating myself a bit as to how many calories I was actually stuffing in my gob and reining the excess in slightly, oh and doing a bit of running.

So that’s me, svelte, fit and ready for another year of (moderate) gluttony, drinking muchos (sort of), cooking and trying to write about it all. Stay tuned for more of the same, my gorgeous readers.

Mwah Mwah