The Cutting Edge Of Reason

14 09 2014

Twitter it seems, has been kind to me. It has offered me a chance to reach out to folks I know who have moved to different localities and keep in touch with them. Twitter has also introduced me to a wide range of people who can be stupidly amusing.

Twitter has also afforded me a way of asking questions, and resolving puzzles, because someone always knows someone who knows what could be helpful.

 

I was mooching about in Peace & Loaf Restaurant (the fine culinary collaboration between Dave Coulson and Bob Arora) one evening, and the name Paul Brown popped up; he had arrived it seems.

Now I had been looking at Twitter earlier, and one of the chaps I had added to my follow list was Paul Brown, the MD at Continental Chef Supplies in Peterlee. I had seen on the Twitter time line he was off to the P & L, and fortuitous I thought to be there when he was there.

It seemed rude not to say hello and introduce my corporeal identity to him seeing as we were just feet away. I typically enthused about food, spice, P & L as you might expect I would. Paul, as it transpires is a very nice fellow, and soon I was yacking on that I really (and I mean really) wanted to buy a Mac knife from him. Obviously not there on the spot, but if he had been carrying one I would have done the deal.

This chance meeting fired the determination and deal was done; a very good deal by my reckoning too, however I think it has opened a door to my greedy nature. I have often looked online at the items of a superior nature that CCS provide, and my “Want Gland” becomes terribly excitable when I do look.

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Within a couple of days a box arrived at work containing a fabulous catalogue of culinary products by Zieher. Now do bear in mind I don’t work in the trade, but I do say the products in it were fabulous, I kept looking to see what was in there that would work in my mundane domestic life and there are a couple of things, but for the time being they will remain there.

What also was in the box was another box. This one was slim and black with a textured finish elegantly written on with Japanese script, on the side a small label “Chef Knife 200mm”. Box opened in a very excited manner I slid out the knife from its protective stiff, pretty, card sheath and held the Mac Mighty in my hand. You know what? if you balance it lightly in a loose grip and tap the blade gently but firmly with a fingernail, the metal has a light ring to it. None of my other knives do this and I have no idea if it is important but I believe it might indicate its quality.

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I have wanted to own a Mac for ages and now I do. I have heard of their excellence for such a long time from many of the chefs I have spoken to on such matters.

Without even cutting a thing I was immediately running an inventory in my head on which knife I would give away to make room, and which knife I would replace next after a little saving exercise. Actually there are two on the wish list I will need to talk to them at CCS about, the 6.5” Santoku and the 3.5” Pro paring knife.

But let me get back to the Mac Mighty Cooks Knife. It is an absolute peach and sits superbly in the palm. It is light, has a little flexibility but in no way wobbly. The tip is precise and the blade edge is beautifully sharp from end to end. I was introduced to its keenness when I automatically swiveled the knife round in my hand to walk across the room. I always carry a knife handle-down blade-up against forearm when walking about with one for safety reasons. When I did this I merely bumped the heel of the blade into the edge of the heel of my palm. By way of introduction, the blade said “Hi” in the only way it knew how. It made a clean cut. Not a big cut, but a cut like my Surgical Scalpels do at work if you don’t concentrate. I can’t say I was upset, more like I was terribly impressed really.

Mac knife blades are remarkably sharp, pick the with your thumb as I do to feel the edge and you are rewarded with a rasp off the lightest of touches that lets you know what its intention and purpose is.

So what is it like in the kitchen? Still sharp, in fact beautifully sharp. I would normally use my Cold Steel bread knife to score pork rind. With he Mac no need it is razor-sharp and with little effort slides right through it. General cutting is effortless, but do… do …. do…. do, pay great attention to your cutting technique. Concentrate. I say this not to scare anyone but simply because these knives are like thoroughbreds compared to most knives that are like donkeys.

Macs are brilliant (you can tell I am now completely obsessed by them and have fallen in love with them can’t you?) cutting action is smooth and precise, balance in my hand is superb, feel from the blade perfect. Look after the Mac, it will look after you and your kitchen requirements. I think I am going to use my microfiber glass cleaning cloth to dry it with, just to keep it in tiptop condition.

Anyone who loves to cook and recognizes the importance of good quality equipment in what ever they do, will understand the need for the best of knives in a kitchen; whether they be a professional or an enthusiastic amateur like me. My recommendation is have a really good think about a Mac and then go and buy one from CCS, tell Paul The Wolf sent you. Get a Mac get a great deal in more ways than one.

Ciao and stay safe.

Mr. Wolf





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.

He wants not for comfort and the trappings of success. No fast cars nor palatial home with amenities.Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 18.48.44

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 








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