Hunting A Close Thing

27 07 2014

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With our modest Food Safari in full swing we headed slightly south of our location to the lovely Tees Valley are to a lovely picturesque spot called Summerhouse on the B6279. It is set in the centre of the triangle with Newton Aycliffe to its North, Barnard Castle to the West and Darlington to the East. I did not ask but got the idea it is situated on the sight of a small old country pub, if that is wrong then disregard it as ill-informed rubbish. There is a small parking area just off the road and a little exterior sitting area near the rear entrance. We arrived in warm bright sunlight, so bright in fact the ligt stone of the building seemed to reflect the light back at us. Craig the FOH manager greeted us warmly and seated us out in the warm sun. I say warm but it was actually hot and I did wonder if my little baldy head was going to get properly pinked.

At this point I think settling in for a comfortable afternoon is essential so we chose a nice chilled glass of sparkling wine to set the tone. Sadly I was not note taking and for the life of me don’t remember if it was a light champers or Prosecco I suspect the latter. I do remember sitting back and thinking “Great, we have made it to the Raby Hunt”. Friends like Ken Holland (specialist veg grower and culinary leaf developer) and Dave Coulson (Peace and Loaf) had previously asked if I had been, because they rated it and Head Chef James Close so highly.

While we looked over the menus a little entrée was placed before us.

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Crisped cod skin and aioli. The dressing richly combined with the crispy skin, the effect was to create a lovely mixture of fresh fish and delicately favoured butteriness in the mouth. I am so fond of crispy fish skin, I would happily steal it from a plate. Sadly as much as I tried to distract Mrs. Zaps she was far to eagle-eyed for me to pull of a fish skin heist.

The menu was housed in a fantastically purple coloured binder. I was getting a nice feeling, what with the finesse to detail and execution of a fragile amuse and satisfying wine.

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The plan to have a meal from the standard menu actually fell by the wayside at the first hurdle and the tasting menu was set to be the order of the day for both of us.

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The interior of the Raby Hunt is tasteful and contemporary without being cold and loud. There were a couple of small parties in, it became obvious that a couple of diners were not strangers to the restaurant by the manner they interacted cordially with the very effective and friendly FOH team. Just watching them work together showed they had their collective finger on the pulse of service. Craig and his staff are friendly and knowledgeable and smooth.

the first thing presented to us was a remarkable little thing. A sous vide oyster with gooseberry snow on top and a beautiful elderflower cordial underneath. But is was one of those brilliant little food moments for me. As I put it in my eager mouth the smell and taste of gooseberry mixed with the fresh sea oyster and blended superbly, the elderflower bringing a fantastic compliment to the gooseberry. It was like eating an oyster with and intense Sauvignon Blanc. Lovely totally banging was that.

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Razor clams are something that I like and yet at the same time often struggle with because they can be right slippery little beggars and texturally challenge me. However the James Close way is altogether bloody lovely.IMG_4666

 

Now I know Ken Holland had his hand in this, because I know he had his hand in this. The presentation was lovely, razor clam and shrimp, girolle and pea leaf and foam. I was paying attention at the time and the idea was to hit sweet sour and savoury in this dish. It darned well did too. I think it properly umamied itself quite brilliantly.

So here we are just two little tasters in and I am seriously thinking I could eat a whole plate of each of one of those things. I felt like I really needed to move in.

Quite what it would be next was unknown but it had something to do with ol’ Ken Holland again. This was something, Graig said, that James and Ken had been working to develop for about 8 months .

When it was placed in front of me my one thought was “WOWSERS!” it was utterly beautiful and.. such colours. Not a limp leaf anywhere, Perfecly fresh and vibrant. No meat, just perfect delicate veg and flower. Kale, nasturtium, carrot, fennel, beetroot and DRAGON’S EGG CUCUMBER. Yes you do have to shout that one becaue it is so rareyou see it. Feast your eyes on this.

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The next plate might be what has become James’ signature dish. Beetroot, duck parfait and eel. I will splosh the picture in and then talk a bit more of my nonsense.

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Drawing upon a red and white palette James worked a wonder with textures and flavours. The beets bring an earthy sweetness, the beet meringue cones added crunch, the flavour dots an intense softness and the duck and eel logs turn to a soft paste on the tongue. Gorgeous.

I was a light relief to the have a serving of a simply and artfully plated piece of bream spinach and roe. Well I say that (because it was fantastically intense visually and from a taste perspective) but really it was superbly cooked and the roe powder on the plate enlivened the tongue with its strong fish flavour.

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When the squab arrived, all I could do was wonder what creative twist was being wrought upon my sense. The pigeon meat was rare and perfect and succulent, the Jerusalem artichokes presented in puree, julienne and crisped. Artichokes are a dangerous love of mine. I think they are so fantastic with such rich flavour but I do fear for the consequences, but hang it all at least by the time the effects kick in I will usually  be clear of the restaurant.

 

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Pork is always a favourite of mine and what a thrill to have 3 beautifully cooked pieces (might even have been the suckling pig too I think it was), each done differently, loin, belly and shoulder. utterly lovely. meaty and fatty to the right degree, succulent and with all the flavour you could wish for.

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Again they were plated well and sweet meat meets sweet musty earthen tuber was a treat.

Dessert wa described as strawberry, and you know that you are going to be properly flummoxed when it arrives because you know it can’t be that simple in The House of Cheffy Chef James Close. And it’s not.

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I know the ice cream was melting but I was wittering on to poor old Craig about how lovely it all was, and as we know it was a warm day so the frozen loveliness did what it would do under such circumstances.. it began to melt. trust me it still worked properly well. Pistachio and delicate mallow meringues and mint all adding more to the simple fruit propping it all up.

Trust me people if you are fond of a clever meal and a well cooked meal and an artistic interpretation of a meal, you really need to come here. I know I will again… they have rooms to stay over in. Next visit will be with a night time rest following the excess.

My thanks to James and Craig and all the servers and to Ken Holland for his produce and veggie know how and Dave Coulson for piquing my curiosity and to Stephen Hardy for supplying the words Flummoxed, Banging and Wowsers.

In the Hunt I am very impressed

Ciao

Mr.Wolf…. TZ.. The Zap





Hook line and sinker, landed at Ondine

23 07 2014

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I don’t know much; this is a self-evident statement so hardly a revelatory one. However I do like fish, and it has been asked of me before by my Cheffy friend (Signore Jose Graziosi) if I had been to Ondine. Up to now the answer has always been … “nope”.

Although Edinburgh is but a brief ride on the train from Newcastle, I confess such a mission had yet to be undertaken. Owing to a week’s work-break, and a reluctance to grapple with airports and endless security for a brief getaway, we planned a wee Food Tour. Or as Ken Holland, VegMeister at North Country Organics calls it, a Food Safari. Ondine was now on the list.

So it was on a damp Tuesday (thunder and lightning when we left) we found ourselves train-bound in cramped seats, heading for the equally wet city of Edinburgh for a sit down at the famous Ondine.

Following this pleasant excursion to eat at the table of Roy Brett, I know 5 things that I never knew. Firstly is that Ondine is the name of a water goddess/nymph/deity. Secondly, Dame Margot Fonteyn may well have danced in some production of such naiad. Thirdly, Chef Roy Brett was once Sous Chef to non other than Rick Stein, he of great fishy food fame in Padstow. This neatly explains number four and how he is friendly with Cheffy Chef Jose Graziosi; he was once a senior Sous Chef at Padstow and they worked together; possibly stealing each other’s knives and generally behaving like rascals. Number five on the list revealed itself with a wallop; Roy is a very, very fine Chef.

Ondine can be found on the George Fourth Bridge road where it hits the corner of Victoria Street and the lovely oldtown slope down to Grassmarket. It is ensconced in a new building on the first floor, accessed via a discrete doorway and a flight of stone-clad stairs. Modern and clean with good light from wrap around windows on the corner, one can sit and people watch contentedly.

We were greeted and attentively shown to a nice seat near a window overlooking the landing walk on Victoria Street. From my position I could readily imagine a crowded night at the oyster bar with some well-heeled souls, sipping a nice wine, perhaps champagne, and hoovering down delicate, fresh oysters with a slug of Tabasco on them. I bet my Wor Shy Sista’s Sauce would give the slippery buggers run for their money.

Now seated, and at a decent viewing point from which to people-watch, it was definitely time to look at the menu and select a bottle of wine. To help us in our ruminations we were graciously gifted a plate of beautiful tempura squid with a sweet and gently spice hot dipping sauce and garnished with delicate fried onion rings. Sadly it distracted us (in a delightful way) from the task, and we had to be reminded about the bigger game in play.

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So food-head back on we both chose the Dunbar dressed crab with Iberico Ham. Peas and mint were nicely worked into the meat from the crab that was fantastically flavoured and stunningly fresh. The depth of the flavour though was quite remarkable considering it was mostly white crab meat and not the dark meat. The peas combined well with the sweetness of the meat and the mint added a boom of counterpoint on the tongue, and the gorgeous ham worked brilliantly adding a meat texture to the mouthful.

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Domaine des Lauriers Picpoul de Pinet 2013 from the Languedoc was the choice to accompany the treasures of the sea, and in my poor opinion it was a good pick. It is citrusy, crisp a smidge acidic, very refreshing.

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My Main was the market catch of the day, a sea bream on a bed of delicately cumin-spiced chick peas. Wonderful. The spice was just-so and did not detract from the taste of the fish nor its sea-fresh flavour or its excellent cooking. Mrs. Zaps enjoyed the equally superb Wild Cornish sea bass, moist fresh and delicious, tender and perfectly cooked.

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We both chose a light dessert, namely Pavlova, with raspberry and lemon curd. The latter beautifully concealed withing the heart of the crisp, snow-white meringue. Top marks to the maker of that little beauty.

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Service was indeed excellent throughout (FOH did a magnificent job keeping us informed about the meal and ingredients, and presenting to table with aplomb, and while we were talking, Shazam! a stealthy, ninja-like delivery of an extra pud sample appeared. Chocolate soft coated, parfait-like centre with a salty caramel heart and creme fraiche ice cream, I tell you it was what I imagine heaven would serve up.

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Our deepest thanks to Roy and all at Ondine for a great lunch and special thanks to Roy for taking time to pop out and say hello. I am sure your life is busy enough without filling it with idle chit-chat with less sophisticated folk like us.

The last word goes to Stephen Hardy, Cheffy of DH1 restaurant in Durham. His challenge to me, when I pondered what words I should throw at the page to describe the experience, was to include the words:Wallop, Boom Shazam. Mission accomplished me lad.

Till next time, ciao.

The Zaps…. or if you prefer, Mr. Wolf.

 

 





Italian Farmhouse Nights Delights

27 05 2014

Without wishing to upset anyone, imagine Italy was lying on her back and basking on a beach in the Med somewhere. OK Liguria is where her right armpit is. Or to put it far more accurately and politely it is a thin coastal belt in the North West of Italy. France lies to the West and Switzerland to the North.They are fond of seafood and herbs and pesto; like so many places in Italy they know how to put great food on the table, and in my humble opinion Cafe Vivo on Newcastle Quayside are the masters replicating food I have enjoyed on my trips to Italy.

It was a great deal of delight to find that the Vivo’s have started Farmhouse Italian Food Nights, where they showcase food typical of the regions around the country. Emphasis is on quality of produce and an authenticity of what one would have as a farmhouse platter. Sadly we missed the first one, and we do find it is a bit of a stretch for us as a midweek meal. Being a lightweight, a meal out and a late’ish finish is enjoyable but tiring. One is not as young as one once was. Never mind we are game troopers so we pootled along for the Ligurian night and booked straight away for the Tuscan night on the third Thursday night in June. Sorted.

So what of the Ligurian fayre? gorgeous is what. The menu was spot on, and required us both to have what was set for the night. Mrs. Zaps is no veal eater and they wer happy to offer a fish as an alternative, soundly satisfying her food tastes.

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The Sardines were soft sweet and rich, nothing was lost from the lovely oily quality they have and  no doubting the freshness, Freshness of the vegetables and sweet pickles were great, the acidic dressing cutting the oil nicely. Deeply lovely dish.

 

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The seafood stew was packed with pasta nubbins, muscles, clams, prawn and an outrageously deep flavour. I think crab bisque or similar, whatever it was, it was superb, The stock aroma was magnificent, and a mopping up using the fresh, light farmhouse bread was essential.

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The veal platter accompanied by deep green fresh veg was lovely. The veal is something I don’t often eat but the succulent tender meat with a herb stuffing was easy eating and a delight.

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To finish the dessert fruit bread was claggy sweet and would sink ducks on the park like a good spotted dick would. It defeated me and boy did I try. It was accompanied by a bowl of booze soaked raisins and marscapone too. Rustic hefty pud would be the kind of thing to set you up for a good afternoon nap is what it was.

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Yet again another great meal from Chefs Glen Robinson and Darren Busby. I well thought out and executed rustic meal, finessed with good skills and an understanding of the flavours of the region.

I can barely wait for the Tuscan night now! Remeber they do these things on the 3rd Thursday of the month… book now I urge you.

Thank guys.

TZ





Peaced out with pleasure

7 05 2014

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Well now, here I am again after having another lovely food experience wondering how to put it into words with some degree of consideration.

Not that it matters; we are treading something of a literary backwater here. Think of it like a tiny dribble of a puddle home to the odd newt or two, off a nondescript brook, which feeds an unremarkable stream, which connects to a modest waterway which in turn flows into a river in the middle of nowhere that eventually becomes a waterway that is big enough to be given a name somewhere. You are metaphorically muddying your feet in the puddle as you tarry here, I do apologise for the inconvenience.

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Back in 2010 two Cheffy people met and competed in a telly competition, their names: David Coulson and Clare Lara. The competition, Professional Masterchef. Ultimately they made their way and worked themselves into the final and Lara found the edge to impress the judges enough to claim the honour.

Fast forward to 2014. We now find David master in his kitchen at his Peace and Loaf venture where he is a co-owner, and Lara Mistress of her pans in Rhosneigr Anglsey at a lovely location called The Oyster Catcher. Two very crafty chefs reunited.

I had heard of it via the Twittery chatter and decided instantly that we should check this out. After all I do watch the Professional Mastrchef program, and by eating a menu taken directly from two finalists (one the ultimate winner) combined presentations I would have a great way of benchmarking the level that the judges are forming their decisions on.

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Seems I was not alone in this thinking process, it was a full house and a lively busy night for FOH.

While we absorbed the range of items on the menu that would be brought to us I ordered up a bottle of 2012 Viognier. My reasoning was that with so many courses and so much flavour likely to be on show, I would need a characterful, full, rich, fruity wine. The slightly spicy and citrusy sharpness on the finish meant that it would not detract from the plated delights

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A selection of amuses in delicate sizes that followed were: carrot and intense orange puree, duck terrine with sharp and tart capers, and a smoked salmon pate adorned with trademark Peace & Loaf heart. Admittedly due to my pouring over the menu longer than I should, resulted in the cool-set delicacies to warm and soften a wee bit more than they should have been for a more manageable handling experience. But hey ho! it is delicious finger food and they were fabulous.

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Two little buns filled with beef and cheese… mini burgers nice

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Mrs. Zap read the NE2 on a toast as a postcode and deciphered the code to mean wild garlic because it intimated a postcode. She was right.

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WOW! that was a huge bang of garlic of such tiny dots on the plate, for us not unpleasant because we love garlic. The flower heads pack whallop too! Crunchy bread cracklingly crisp combined with a taste and olfactory experience indeed. definitely a zingy little thing.

Cured salmon, baby beets ( Ken Holland’s bairns no doubt) and Dashi. Light, colourful and crunchy zipping along with garden fresh succulence.

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Ham, pease pudding, stottie next.

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With a drizzle of green, peppery, grassy olive oil (guessing Kaltur) around its edges and succulent, well-seasoned ham this modern take was completed with a creamy rich pease pudding and crispbread thin stottie. Great textures and flavours.

The next plate of mackerel was utterly stunning in the flavour combinations and the fish was quite simply perfect and superb. So moist and tender. I could eat a right old plate of that and still come back for more.

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The next fish dish to arrive was the smoked haddock with black pudding and quail egg.

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Lovely it was too. I like the way the rich haddock, egg and spicy black pudding all combined. Again my tongue was left quite simply wanting more. The fish was cooked excellently, the soft egg surrounded by crisped crumbing echoed by the crisp pud casing combined beautifully. I love egg and smoked fish anyway, and I think I would have grinned insanely if there had been an asparagus puree on the plate.

David’s, deconstructed chicken pie was stupidly tasty and a good-sized portion at this point in the proceedings. I did wonder if I was going to be able to last the duration. The jus was intense, the chicken perfectly moist and well cooked, the little crisped wings packed with glorious chicken flavour, there was even a wee piece of chicken skin crackling….. ohhhhhh deep joy! Amongst it all a little crunchy pastry cap added to the taste a nd fun.

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Lamb loin and sweetbreads were the next to test my ability to last the course. I apologise for the dreadful quality of my pictures i the low light conditions, but this lamb was lovely, tender and succulent.. and can I say very lamby? Morel mushrooms, beautifully soft (but not squishy) asparagus, and rich sweetbreads giving it an altogether buttery rich sensation in the mouth.

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Now Mrs. Zaps  is not a beef or lamb sort of gal so Chef Lee Bennett rustled up a wonderful duck egg and asparagus platter for her much to her delight.The old egg and asparagus combo always a winner for her, and struggling as she was to fit all this food in, all credit to her she cleaned the plate.

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And so to Pudding….. White chocolate mousse raspberries and thyme. The raspberries were sharp and sweet, the chocolate a wonderful rich indulgence and the little bangs of thyme all worked well in this curtain closer. The thin crisp sheet covering the chocolate adding that counterpoint of texture to the creamy dessert.

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All that remained was for me to polish off a little coffee and the petite fours, waddle to a taxi and smile all the way home.

One hopes that David judges the result a success and manages to persuade more Professional Masterchefs to come and do a similar meal. If they do…… well, you are in for a rare treat if you squeeze yourself in.

Safe to say in my small unimportant view, David and Claire created a beautiful meal and displayed fine craft and cookery skills that show them to be very much Master Chefs. Thank you both and the wonderful FOH team they worked hard and were wonderfully informative and enthusiastic.

 





Restaurant DH1…. Find yourself a real spot of pure pleasure

19 04 2014

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I have been a Twitter picture-fan of Stephen Hardy (Head Cheffy Chef at the new look Restaurant DH1 over Durham way) since our two paths collided on the social media site back in 2013. I just plain like the look of what he puts on a plate. It was the same feeling had when I saw work being done by Darren Goodwin at Losehill House in Derbyshire. I had a feeling if I was not disappointed by Darren’s food then, this young man’s skills would equally please me. Quite simply, I was not wrong one jot

Restaurant DH1 is located on the outskirts of Durham on the way up to Neville’s Cross. Not far at all from where I went to college back in the olden days. The main building is Farnley Towers and the restaurant and kitchen overlook the garden, which in turn overlooks the Cathedral in the distance.

A local architect built the property as his own residence in 1870 and from the look of it he had a thriving well-paying practice, it is a lovely property. After an extensive restoration in 1998, Farnley Tower reopened as a 4 star guest-house with a onsite restaurant.

The notion to call it the Gourmet Spot with a signage that left you in no doubt someone thought it amusing, they probably did not entirely help promote the quality of food seriously. All has now been suitably rectified. Restaurant DH1 re-launched and opened its doors in March 2014, now owned by the Head chef (Stephen) and his wife (Helen), the décor to this 22 seat little gem is tasteful and contemporary and modern.

It was Helen and her lovely young front of house team who greeted us warmly and took us through into the snug dining room and settled us with drinks and breads. Let me say this about the breads, eat them all and consider it as part of the meal, they were excellent. As I write this now a few days later and falling back on memory the though “Black Pudding bread… mmmm” pops into my head.

The dimension of the place makes it very intimate, and I found it and the other diners friendly and comfortable company. Nice to find ourselves seated next to a couple visiting from “The South” staying over, who reported a comfortable family room, and who also had enjoyed a wonderful dining experience.

The menu itself has a nice touch to it. I find the logo design has been done well, and its clear neatness marries well with the food ethos.

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Inside you will find a brief intro, one sees they wish the diner to be relaxed and welcomed to their world of tastes and textures.

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The selection we opted for on this our first visit was the tasting menu. Nothing on the meat selection ran across the bows of the Mrs. Zap, so we both opted for the tasting menu. Our thinking was that it would offer us a good insight into the ingenuity, qualities and skills residing in the mind and hands of the chef. At £50 per head for a wide selection of “fiddly food” I considered it to be an acceptable trade of our money for such gastronomic variety. A glance down the menu was very enticing.

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As a welcoming gesture (I like to think in some part due to our previous cross correspondence on the Twitter thingymajig, but he might do this as part of the meal and my narcissism is misplaced) we were presented with a couple of amuses; a lovely light mousse incorporating smoked eel and duck within a crisp filo pastry, first.

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This was followed with two delicate beetroot meringues filled with soft gentle tasting goats cheese. The sweet powerful beetroot flavours had us sucking our teeth and “mmm” ing long after the tasty morsels had been devoured. I just know that when that happens whatever is coming next is going to be pretty darned good. It is a great skill to extract that level of flavour and package it into such delicacies.

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Crispy Oyster with seaweed and  fennel was the first platter.Perhaps purists would frown at a cooked oyster but I like it, it made the texture more like a meaty mussel, the crumbed coat with the fennel and seaweed was not overpowering, and Mrs. Zap found the aniseed taste suitable for her palate, for me I would always go a little more obvious.. but then again I get told by Cheffy Chefs my taste buds are shot, so who am I to say.

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The Torched mackerel, cucumber, lemon and horseradish was beautiful. The fish marvellously pink, soft and sweet. The cucumber  seared rendering it as a melon like taste and the horseradish ice-cream …. superb, a lovely lovely combination of tastes in this dish.

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Following on next was the sea bream with baby leeks, mussels and seaweed butter. Beautifully plated, and excellently cooked and all flavours present and correct. A harmonious creation.

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Moving away from the fish we had the first of the big meats; pork cheek cooked in soy with Granny Smith apple, eel and shallot. This was rich and sweet and sticky, the pork melt in your mouth soft the acidic sharpness and sweetness of the apple a lovely taste contrast to the rich dark soy jus.

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Goosenargh duck with sprouting broccoli orange puree Juniper and turnip…. Well now… What a fantastic piece of duck. Pink, cooked to perfection, sitting on a symmetrically shaped finger of layered seared potato. Very neat. The orange taste bombs exploded magnificently on my tongue. I loved it to bits.

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Rhubarb, pistachio & gingerbread. All I am just going to say is, look at that pud … just look at it. It was that good.

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Lastly Aerated chocolate. salt caramel and popcorn. It says it all in the description; the set aerated chocolate was textured tasteful and tongue pleasing, the salt caramel was sticky, sweet and satisfying the popcorn was … well popcorn, and added a textural difference and went so well with salt caramel, just like the stuff I can eat by the bucket load in front of the telly and a good film.

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The wine I chose was a Mandrarossa Fiano. A good big, full-bodied white, which I sipped sparingly and took half the bottle home as I was driving. Golden in the glass, and filling the palate with rich tropical fruits and a nice long finish. My choice because of the variety of dishes from fish to meat to rich pudding.

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I am pretty sure in my thinking that Stephen and his wife and business partner Helen have put their hearts, souls and futures on the line in making DH1 theirs. It is a bold and scary thing to do, to step out and finance your own restaurant. I can’t see how it can fail. Quite how a two-man team in the kitchen can do what they do is beyond me. If I had known that there was just the two of them back there, plating-up the tasting menu and preparing regular meals for a full service, I would have just gone A La Carte. I apologise for taxing you so hard Stephen.

Table service was handled well by a great young server called Ashleigh, we thank you for being excellent. Kitchen cheffy dudes… we salute you. FOH team job well done, Helen you looked lovely and were superbly efficient.

In conclusion DH1 is worth the visit and still is a Great Spot to eat (in-joke I could not resist).

Thanks Stephen you are a fine, fine cheffy chef.





A man in a field, his shed and his supper

12 04 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Someone I call friend has asked if I would be kind enough to write a bit of a blog on his behalf, and seeing as the fellow is such a kindhearted man (always has a thoughtful word for “Gentlemen Of The Road”, and fallen women) who am I to deny him my generosity. I hope that I can do him the justice he so warmly deserves.

Somewhere up in the fields around the outskirts of Hexham toils a man of the soil, a true yeoman, stout of heart and earnest. His fingers are strong as you would expect from a man who is “The Salt Of The Earth”.

Not a born farmer he, but more like a priest who has taken Holy Orders and has been “called unto God” to work in his service, and evangelise his name. Ken Holland has been called by the clod and the sod, to grow forth from the ground the finest vegetables a cheffy chef could ever wish to plonk on a plate.

The man is what can be honestly called a muddy genius. Seeds sprout under his tender care as if  caressed by a botanical sorcerer. Vegetables, and all things green, sprout from where he once trod; it is as if The Gnole is not myth, but hard fact, and he walks amongst us quietly going about his growing craft.

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No he modestly prefers to live frugally and humbly amongst his green tenderlings, whispering arcane magical spells as he talks quietly to them; if you have witnessed this, know this; It is no madness nor garbled tongues of some simple-minded country bumpkin, but purely him expressing his gift.

Throughout the year, come hail or shine snow,  sleet, light or dark, Sagacious Ken Lord of  Veg Lore is amongst his flora, legumes and herbage, urging them on. Then as the clearing mist and dew and his arthritis allow, he harvests for the Kings and Queens of the kitchens so that they may craft the sumptuous meals the fine diners crave.

Quite how he manages such prodigious achievement is unknown but he is the very stuff of legend, a woven thread on the rich tapestry on the Northumberland landscape.

His remarkable stamina is rooted in his culinary abilities. He forages in the fields and hedgerows claiming for himself only the healthiest specimens, and when his supply of voles insects and small birds becomes sparse, the renowned and kind-hearted Chef Dave Kennedy up at the Vallum Farm Restaurant provides the odd off-cut of chicken, beef trimmings or offal to supplement the pot, and so ensure our Ken keeps his pecker up.

It was one ordinary night that Ken asked of me to show his abilities to the world. Sadly I have but a barely read and irrelevant blog, but I did not want to disabuse him of his dream so I agreed.

Using scraps of old paper for kindling and old socks whose country odour added pungency to the cooking, Ken brought a fire to flame. The ignition of the socks was quite startling and singed my eyebrows. One assumes his libations with the medical spirits and diluted shoe polish has created a remarkably combustible urine, and his tendency to urinate into his boots to prevent chilblains  has resulted in the  fermentation of volatile compound that would put the initial ignition stage of a Cape Canaveral launch in the shade.

The initial fierce flame instantly brought heat to the beaten lorry hubcap that Ken uses for  cooking, the fresh wild garlic and onions seasoning the rusty metal. Scraps from “the big house” were added, and the finest greenage one could hope to find this side of paradise stirred in a handful at a time. From a small box in the corner of his wheeled shed Ken produced a battered box. The signs of use were obvious, there were no words upon its aged and battered form save but for two letters written in an infant script, TZ.  His “Precious Things” he lovingly called them. Muttering under his breath he took a pinch of this and that, a dribble of something other that had the skillet lurch, hiss and bubble. What was required next, he informed, me in quiet anticipatory glee, was to leave it for about 5 hours glerking away on the incendiary embers while we went to talk to the vegetables.

What we came back to was this:

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I swear as you stare at it stares back at you. Served in glazed plant pot bases with hand crushed boiled potatoes (the man has hands of asbestos) and using spoons Ken has dug up over the years we sat down together and watched the stars come out and ate the rustic fayre.

Earthy, colourful and flavoured by such spiced ingredients I know not; Ken had created a culinary masterpiece of the like I have never tasted. With so little he had manifested little short of a moment of wonder.

Ken Holland, a man out standing in his own field……. I salute you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





Artisan Takes The Biscuit

11 04 2014

Art is an expression of creativity. An artisan is a skilled craftsman/woman. An artesian aquifer is a confined aquifer containing groundwater under positive pressure. This causes the water level in a well to rise to a point where hydrostatic equilibrium has been reached. It is worth knowing the differences between them all.

The Biscuit factory opened 2001 and is an impressive independent commercial art gallery. Aside from the main art gallery there is a Biscuit Room venue function suite set to open some time this year if all keeps on track, and it is home to a multitude of artist studios, and an existing function facility with a tidy café upstairs too. It is a great place to wander around casting ones lustful eye over the beautifully crafted artistic creations. A pit stop for a coffee and a snack is possible up stairs but if it a proper sit down and an enjoyment of gastronomic creation then the refurbished and integrated Artisan Restaurant is what you want to head for.

My recollection is that the original Restaurant was Black Door that became DK Food Social as Dave Kennedy began his independent operation. He has now moved on to concentrate on his other venture. DK at Vallum, thus leaving his old Head Chef Andrew Wilkinson to let loose his own epicurean imagination and ingenuity. Like Dave before him Andrew is a previous winner of The North East Chef Of The Year. My understanding that winning that accolade at the age of 22 (back in 2009) made him the youngest holder of the title. A young and gifted cook is what he is. So really what of it? What did the ol’ fella make of the re-launched venue? In truth the space is much the same, but subtle décor and special definition changes have been made. I think it has helped define the space better if I was pushed to comment. Staff-wise the main players are still there; Robin Price and Tracey Bain are very amenable in their front of house rolls, having been there for a good while, and very comfortable at trying to make the diner comfortable. We arrived a week or so after the rebranding exercise and were expecting a great meal. The night was with friends who may or may not share my enthusiasm for food and blogging so I am only giving a feel for what I had and have a modest amount of images to share due to my unusual discretion. A kind helper (non other than Tracey) helped to provide me with the best images she could muster, so my thanks to her for the canny effort xx.

The menu and wine list below will show you the choice of courses we had for the evening:

HOMEMADE FOCCACIA, OLIFERRA, DUKKA – £2.95

STARTERS

NORTH SHIELDS FISH SOUP, ROUILLE, GRUYERE, GARLIC CROUTONS – £5.95

NORTHUMBRIAN GOATS CURD ‘SPRING ROLL’, BEETS, CURED SALMON– £5.95

CHICKEN LIVER PARFAIT, HOT TOAST, WATERCRESS & ROCKET- £6.50

CARAMELISED KING SCALLOPS, MUSCAVADO GLAZED PORK BELLY, TUNNEL SHOOTS – £8.95

HERB PANNA COTTA, CURED HAM, ROASTED PEPPERS, GARDEN PEAS & SHOOTS – £6

(V) CRUNCHY HEN’S EGG, WALNUTS, ASPARAGUS & TRUFFLE – £5

HOMEMADE BLACK PUDDING, PEA PUREE, POACHED EGG – £6.95

 

MAIN COURSE

10OZ RIB EYE STEAK, DOUBLE DIPPED CHIPS, CHEF’S SALAD – £25

CARAMELISED HALIBUT, FORAGER’S CROQUETTE, ASPARAGUS CREAM – £21

CRISP FILLET OF SALMON, SPRING VEGETABLE MINESTRONE, WILD GARLIC PESTO- £15.50

RUMP OF LAMB, ROASTED PINK FIR, SHALLOT PUREE, NEW SEASON GARLIC & LEEKS – £17

(V) GRUYERE CHEESE & THYME SOUFFLÉ, PEAR & WALNUT SALAD – £13

BACON CHOP, CARAMELISED APPLE, BUBBLE & SQUEAK, MADEIRA SAUCE – £15

(V) TOASTED SOURDOUGH, FRIED DUCK EGG, ASPARAGUS & WILD LEEKS- £12.50

 

SIDE DISHES £3 (per option)

DOUBLE DIPPED CHIPS FRENCH FRIES,

GRUYERE & ROSEMARY PURPLE SPROUTING BROCCOLI

CHEF’S SALAD BUTTERED NEW SEASON HERITAGE POTATOES WILTED LETTUCE,

PEAS & WILD GARLIC

 

DESSERTS

VANILLA CRÈME BRULEE, ARMAGNAC PRUNES, SHORTBREAD – £6

DARK CHOCOLATE DELICE, HAZELNUT ICE CREAM, PRALINE, LIME & GINGER – £7.50

SELECTION OF HOME-MADE ICE CREAMS & SORBETS – £4.95

LOCALLY SOURCED CHEESEBOARD, BISCUITS & CHUTNEY -£8.50

COCONUT PANNA COTTA, SPICED PINEAPPLES, MANGO & LIME SORBET – £6.50

STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING, HOT TOFFEE SAUCE, VANILLA ICE CREAM – £5.95

BAKED WHITE CHOCOLATE CHEESECAKE, POACHED RHUBARB & SORBET – £5.95

 

WINES WHITE

PETIT BALLON BLANC, GASCONY FRANCE BOTTLE £16.50|250ML £6.40 | 125ML £3.25 LIGHT AND FRESH SOUTHERN BLEND WITH HINTS OF LEMON AND GREEN APPLE

SAUVIGNON BLANC, ROSARIO ESTATE, SAN PEDRO CHILE BOTTLE £17.50 | 250ML £6.60 | 125ML £3.40 WONDERFULLY EXPLOSIVE PASSION FRUIT AROMAS AND MOUTH-WATERING ACIDITY

IL BARROCCIO BIANCO,(GARGANEGA), VENETO SICILY BOTTLE £18 | 250ML £6.80 | 125ML £3.50 BURSTING WITH FLORAL AROMAS OF PEACH AND CAMOMILE & A CRISP ACIDITY

VIOGNIER, PUERTAS ANTIGUAS,VALLE CENTRALCHILE – £19 LIKE WAKING UP IN A FLORISTS STOCKROOM! EXPECT PEACHES, ORANGE BLOSSOM & SPICE

TORRONTES, DOMINIO DE TOYO, FAMATINA VALLEYARGENTINA – £20.50 AROMATIC EXAMPLE OF THIS DELICIOUSLY DIFFERENT VARIETAL. JASMINE & HONEYSUCKLE NOTES

VERDEJO, VINA GAREDO, RUEDASPAIN – £21 A REFRESHING, CITRUSSY BLEND OF VERDEJO, SAUVIGNON BLANC AND VIURA

PINOT GRIGIO, CECILIA BERETTA, VENETO ITALY – £22 A PINOT GRIGIO WITH RARE DEPTH AND ELEGANCE FROM TOP-CLASS ESTATE BERETTA

UNOAKED CHARDONNAY, UMBRELE ROMANIA – £23 RIPE, RICH & SUCCULENT – EXACTLY WHAT A CHARDONNAY SHOULD BE

PICPOUL DE PINET, DOMAINE DE MORIN LANGARAN FRANCE – £24 DELICATE, FLORAL YET PERFECTLY BALANCED WITH CRISP ACIDITY

SAUVIGNON BLANC LOFTHOUSE ESTATE, MARLBOROUGHNEW ZEALAND – £28 INTENSE KALEIDOSCOPIC FLAVOURS. IMPOSSIBLY TASTY AND DANGEROUSLY EASY TO DRINK

 

CHAMPAGNE & PROSECCO

PROSECCO BRUT “LE COLTURE” NV ITALY BOTTLE £24.95 | 125ML £4.95 BEAUTIFULLY HAND-CRAFTED SPARKLER FROM THIS FAMILY RUN ESTATE

ROSE SPUMANTE BRUT “LE COLTURE” NV ITALY BOTTLE £27 | 125ML £5.95 BRIGHT RED FRUITS WITH A BEAUTIFUL FLORAL FINISH

CHAMPAGNE DELAMOTTE BRUT NV, LE MESNIL FRANCE BOTTLE £49 | 125ML £10.95 DISTINGUISHED, STYLISH AND SUPREMELY DRINKABLE. WORLD CLASS WINEMAKING

 

ROSÉ

PETIT BALLON ROSÉ, GASCONYFRANCE BOTTLE £16.50 | 250ML £6.40 | 125ML £3.25 PINK, PERT AND DAMN NEAR PERFECT. RED FRESH FRUITS & HINTS OF WILD STRAWBERRY

MAS OLIVERAS CABERNET ROSÉ SPAIN BOTTLE £17.50 | 250ML £6.60 | 125ML £3.40 DEEP IN COLOUR WITH BRIGHT SUMMER BERRY FRUITS & A JUICY PALATE

PINOT GRIGIO BLUSH, MONTEVENTO ESTATE, VENETOITALY BOTTLE £19 LIGHT AS A FEATHER AND SUPER FRESH. A GLUGGER FROM THE TOP DRAWER

 

RED

PETIT BALLON ROUGE, GASCONY FRANCE BOTTLE £16.50 | 250ML £6.40 | 125ML £3.25 A MAGIC MASH UP OF MERLOT, CABERNET, GRENACHE & SYRAH. SMOOTH, SAVOURY & SPICED

IL BARROCCIO ROSSO, (NERO D’AVOLA), VENETOSICILY BOTTLE £17.50 | 250ML £6.60 | 125ML £3.40 STEREOTYPICALLY SEXY, DARK BERRY AROMAS AND VELVET-LIKE TEXTURE

SHIRAZ, PUERTAS ANTIGUAS VALLE CENTRALCHILE BOTTLE £18 | 250ML £6.80 | 125ML £3.50 SUPER RICH & SMOKY WITH COFFEE, CHOCOLATE & SPICE ON THE PALATE   MERLOT

LA COMBE DE GRINOU, BERGERAC (ORGANIC)FRANCE – £21 BRILLIANCE IN A BOTTLE. ALLURING, EASY DRINKING, BORDEAUX-STYLE RED WITHOUT THE PRICE TAG

MALBEC, CHAMUYO ESTATE, MENDOZA ARGENTINA – £22 DUSKY DARK FRUITS WITH A SMOLDERING SASSY CHARACTER. THE PERFECT PARTNER TO BEEF

CABERNET SAUVIGNON-MERLOT, BIN 19AUSTRALIA – £23 BLACKCURRANT & PLUM FLAVOURS WRAPPED IN A SMOKY, VANILLA EDGED CLOAK

TEMPRANILLO, LAGUNA DE LA NAVA, VALDEPENAS SPAIN – £25 SOFT BRAMBLE FRUIT WITH WONDERFUL OAK AGE. IF YOU LIKE RIOJA YOU’LL LOVE THIS

QUINTA DE CHOCAPALHA TINTOPORTUGAL – £26 A MODERN, COMPLEX BLOCKBUSTER FROM THE OUTRAGEOUSLY GOOD ‘HOUSE OF CHOCOLATE’

THE RUINS PINOTAGE, ROBERTSON (ORGANIC)SOUTH AFRICA – £27 A PROPER, UNAPOLOGETIC PINOTAGE, CHOCK FULL OF PLUM AND SPICE

PINOT NOIR, LA TUNELLA, FRIULLI REGIONITALY – £29 PINOT THAT OOZES SOPHISTICATION. DELICATE SPICE & JUICY CRUSHED RASPBERRY FLAVOURS

 

My selection for the evening followed the following lines: For the wine, as we were a party of four and to cater considerately for mixed palates and menu options a white was the preference, hence:

UNOAKED CHARDONNAY, UMBRELE ROMANIA

As an unoaked it is decently well-rounded with soft peachy flavours.  Nicely chilled offers up its crisp, ample, ripe, tropical fruit tones and a good finish.

A taster of Pork croquettes, Smoked Salmon Roulade on crisp rustic bread and Asparagus, Truffle & Parmigiano Soup was offered, I hope in appreciation of some spice offerings I had brought. If not I still owe for them them.

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They were all excellently cooked. the pork succulent and meaty inside a crunchy outer coating accompanied by a great little tart, creamy dipping sauce (I forgot to ask what it was… my mouth was too full and happily engaged in its masticatory duties). The crisp crunch of the bread offered both texture and sound to the eating pleasure, and a counterpoint in physicality to the lovely soft, smooth, smoky discoid delight of salmon. The soup was that fantastic brilliant green one gets with asparagus… and maybe pea was involved, along with Thermomix duties, as nought else seems to get close to delivering the smoothness at that level. It was cheek suckingly gorgeous and savoury, excellent seasoning too.

I was drawn through natural, predisposing weaknesses to a starter that offered the prospect of a runny egg

HOMEMADE BLACK PUDDING, PEA PUREE, POACHED EGG

DSC_1674

A dark, and slightly crumbly texture to the black pud and probably to my peculiar taste preferences slightly down on a little spiciness. Still it was rich on the tongue and the runny egg really did go well with the pud. The little fried bread crisps offered more audiological pyrotechnics and gave a nod in the direction of a firm breakfast favourite. My modest suggestion would be a bit more seasoning in the BP and a shade more fat but otherwise a lovely little plate it was. My Mains rapidly landed on this one.

BACON CHOP, CARAMELISED APPLE, BUBBLE & SQUEAK, MADEIRA SAUCE

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And I will tell you for why. I had a bacon chop previously at  Cafe Vivo and considered it to be a fabulous cut of meat and fabulously tasty, oddly something many people do not chose to try, the silly fools. Honestly it is lovely stuff to eat if you can find it. The meat was served off the bone and sitting atop a fine round of the bubble and squeak. the tuille of pork crackling was an absolute belter, bags of taste and a sound like a thousand cinder bricks being crushed when I chewed it. Oh how I love pork crackling! the accompanying apple compote bringing in a lovely sweet and tart moistness to the event. I loved every mouthful, and suspect it to have come from non other than The Meat Merchant fellows, the one at Vivo did so I will continue to think it was the same lads that provided the chefs with such a great piece of meat.

 

Now then this dessert….. COCONUT PANNA COTTA, SPICED PINEAPPLES, MANGO & LIME SORBET

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My oh my! utterly lovely. It passed the Panna Cotta jigle and wobble test with flying colours. This is my initial test of a good PC it must not stay rigid and be a bouncy little swine but must have stability under directional stress and the will to remain on the plate. It also must have a soft moist outer skin almost at the point of melting buuuuut not quite. I also like it to cut easily with a spoon and grip slightly in protest as one does the scooping. As I said flying colours. The flavours of the fruits were fantastically intense and rich, I find myself salivating as I type because I am looking at the pictures again.

 

I can confidently report that the Hen’s egg starter and Halibut main were equally up to scratch because I stole some off the OH’s plate, sadly I had to trade back a little of my dessert, but hey ho! swings and roundabouts. Head chef Andrew was not in on the night but his superbly able team lead by Dave delivered superb results. The restaurant was busy with a mixed bag of diners and atmosphere was convivial, helped along at our table by a super little server. Thanks to all of the craftsmen & women involved in the creation of our lovely meal. Artisan definitely takes The Biscuit by storm.

 

The Head Chef Andrew Wilkinson on the loose from the furnaces

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