Seeing Red

28 02 2015

 

 

La Rossa

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Twitter can sometimes seem be a bit empty, and only filled with vacuous beasts like me, channelling their inner banal nonsense into the cyberwhatever it is that makes up that there interferweb thing. But sometimes it is a force for good, and you get to acquaint yourself with the far more noble creatures that inhabit the Earth.

 

Last year, while tweeting my usual nonsense to my friend Chef Jose Graziosi, we had another joining in the fun with verve and brio. This was my first introduction to the lady who is known on Twitter as @Carmela_kitchen. A woman known for her fondness for polka dots.

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As it turns out Carmela was born into an Italian family and lives in Northampton. She is also an accomplished cook with a passion for all things Italian and particularly pasta. The passage of time, an inspirational Grandma (Nona) and a burning desire to share her love of the Southern Italian style of simple rustic cooking, have led Carmela to the stage of her life where she has now become an authentic published author.

 

Her simple paperback book, “Southern Italian Family Cooking”, is packed with lovely ideas of how to get the best from very little. It extols that simple honest cooking that is so typical of the life in the less affluent South of Italy, it is known as Cucina Povera.

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Our Twitter exchanges have continued and I have prattled on about the spice meddling I conduct. Carmela did express mild interest, and me (being me) decided to send her some. My recollection is that she liked it, which got me to thinking. Carmela is a vivacious Italian woman with a passion for food, taste and flavour, she also has flaming red hair and style. I wondered could I think up a unique spice mix blend that would do justice to her?

After a bit of tinkering I had my prototype complete, its name….. Carmela La Rossa Pooda Blend. It is red, rich, aromatic herby & spicy with a dash of heat. To my delight, once I had it sent, delivered and sampled Carmela (she is the personification of La Rossa) declared she loved it and ordered a tranche more so she could cook more with it.

 

One was as you can imagine very pleased. It adds another spice combo to what I rather grandly call my Signature Range. This selection is so called “Signature” because all the spices have been inspired by and made for real people.

My list this far:

 

Carmela Sophia Soreno Hayes, Pop-up restaurateur, cookery teacher, recipe book author and nice person (obviously, I have just been rambling on about it)

Pierre’s Erld Smerky Pooda Blend, for Chef Pierre Rigothier in Paris

VSCJG Pooda Blend for Chef Jose Graziosi in the Cambridge area

The Peaceful Turk Pooda Blend, for Chefs David Coulson and Robert Elat at Peace and Loaf Restaurant

Bella La Parisienne Pooda Blend, for Food Journalist Annabelle Schachmes in Paris

Royster Bay Seasoning Pooda Blend for Chef Roy Brett at Ondine in Edinburgh

Carmela is equally at home with her authentic Italian ingredients as she is laughing at cake and collecting recipe books.

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It was simply delightful to hear that Carmela had been in touch with the fabulous Helen (who runs her independent book shop in the lovely Northumbrian market town of Corbridge) and made plans to come up for a short talk and book signing.

This offered me the rare opportunity to meet up with La Rossa in person at the event.

So it was in February this year Carmela rocked into Corbridge in her daring (and darling) little yellow sports car, and I met her at the Tea & Tipple Café where the book signing and talk was taking place.

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She comes across as a woman passionate about her subject and very capable of putting across her ideas and thoughts. The evening passed well with some drinks and nibbles made by Helen, from recipes in Carmela’s book. I think Helen was somewhat anxious about presenting what she had made, to the very woman who wrote the recipes in the book. She need not have been so worried because Carmela is as gracious as she is elegant.

The book itself is simple and delightful. It is packed with simple easy to make authentic Southern Italian recipes and the odd anecdote or two. It is a great book if you want to introduce someone to making fresh tasty food, but is worried they cannot cook. With this, they will be off to a flying start in no time, and will rapidly gain confidence. To those that already cook it is a handy little reference to have knocking about in the kitchen.

 

After the Tea & Tipple we had a chat, and I was able to learn a little more about her life, family (four robust, lively children and a patient husband) and her forthcoming plans.

Carmela has started to research and write her next book which is all about her speciality, and that is pasta. I imagine it will be very informative and a “must have” for those that, too, love to make their own.

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This year will involve a research trip to Italy with her dear friend and fellow rebel, Julie. I can imagine much fun and high jinx are expected and much Prosecco will be drunk.

More pop-ups and collaborations will follow I am sure, and an eventful time to be had with her cookery demonstrations too.

 

It would be nice to think that one day Carmela will get the recognition she deserves and has worked so hard for, and maybe gets her own telly program; because trust me she has the ability to charm and inform and make cooking as much fun as Nigella Lawson has done in the past. Programme developers are you watching? Especially you at the BBC.

 

I look forward to perhaps meeting this delightful inspiring woman again one day and getting her next book signed like I did the first one. Maybe that time I will be able to enjoy some Nino Franco Prosecco with her too while she regales me of the tails of mischief that she and Julie got up to in “The Old Country”.

Salute, cin cin and Jolly Good Luck la Rossa!

 





Two Fifths? Not Half?

22 02 2015

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Two Fifths is a quirky and likeable little independent restaurant, situated in what originally was a bank. It bestrides the corner of Collingwood Street and Westgate road, and is very close to the rapidly developing social area that I will call “the Station District”.

 

This area is becoming awash with coffee shops and bars and restaurants. All have their level and niche, some are better than others; some people involved with them have better ideas of standards than others.

Around the Two Fifths area are such places as Chicken Coop, Revolution Bar, Golf Rooms, Long Bar, Head Of Steam, Sausage Emporium, The Bridge Hotel, Herb Garden, The Telegraph Pub & the Newcastle Railway Station itself. Newly developed hotels are being brought to life too. It would seem to me that this is one of the areas of the town that has an opportunity to develop an identity all of its own.

 

In Two Fifths I get the distinct feeling you will not be treated as part of a the mass who will accept almost anything, key people there have excellent personal standards. One hopes that this really is part of their makeup and they don’t loose touch with it.

 

Tim Ward is the bar manager. He previously worked for four years at Popolo on Pilgrim Street and he has garnered numerous industry awards over the years. He was even crowned “NE Mixologist Of The Year” at one point. I understand he teaches classes (or taught) to those aspiring to become mixologists and are keen to learn The Ways Of The Cocktail. A friendly and informative fellow is Tim. Working the bar with Tim is Larry, a delightful young lady with a friendly kind manner who is good at what she does.

 

In Front-Of-house you have Nick Hall who has a useful background in the industry. For 5 years Nick tended bar for The Fluid Group and moved to fill the Sommelier position at Six Restaurant at The Baltic for two year. After that he was the Assistant Bar Manager then Bar Manager at Hotel Du Vin for three years. Working with him is Dickie a very friendly and helpful server, lovely lad.

 

The people who work there, and the building, do seem to give it a place with a soul I think.

 

It is always great to have service with people who are obviously interested in what they do and love the job. It is refreshing because sadly often certain Herberts in the general Public beat it out of them over time. My message to you chaps is “Stay Strong”.

 

 

John Snell is the principal guy behind the venture, and is the owner of Saints Hairdressing. The Restaurant is on his old site, the hairdressing now having moved to Jesmond.

It is John who has lent his creativity and passion for collecting The Quirk, to decorating the place with all manner of “Objects Unusual”. If you go, you simply have to mooch about downstairs where the Vault Room is. It just lends itself superbly to a group-dining night for those looking for something a little different.

 

Down in his compact kitchen is a great chap I have known for a couple of years, Lee Bell.

A graduate of Newcastle College with his Chef’s Diploma, Lee worked his way up from Commis Chef, to Sous Chef to become Head Chef at Louis’ restaurant, Jesmond, and was recruited by Steve Jobson (formerly of the Fisherman’s Lodge in the glory days).

Lee is keen to use as much local produce from the North East that he possibly can. Not only that he puts back into the industry too, with spots of demonstrating and master classes at Gateshead College; this helps those chefs at the very grass root level develop their skills.

Rather amusingly once in his life he was auctioned off (at a charity night) to cook at a private home, apparently it raised £1500 which was rather good business for the charity.

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Our evening started with a rather tasty Prosecco and rum cocktail, from Tim, while we had a look at the menu for the night and shucked some fresh oysters seasoned with lemon juice.

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Opting to loosen my belt and pace myself we decide to go for the triplet; starters, mains and dessert and a strong white wine.

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Lolo Albarino is what I picked. This Spanish white wine is bright, straw/green in colour; a big wine with a floral, citrusy zing, and mouth warteringly ripe with a fruity long finish.

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Starters

Locally caught squid with garlic, chilli and ginger. I am fond of squid this way and Chef cooked it very well; the flavours of chilli and ginger nicely balanced for those who do not want their heads taken off with heat. The Samphire is a favourite green of mine and red basil added a lovely taste to it all.

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The smoked duck with celeriac remulade, pea shoots and beetroot was gorgeous. The duck soft sweet and tender. I liked it that much, I feel I would eat that as a main course out of a bucket.

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Mains

Whole Dover Sole cooked on the bone and then taken off the bone at the table by Chef. It was a nice little touch, and a fiddly job to do particularly if you have not actually done that presentation for a couple of years.

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The fish was seared on the outside, seasoned, cooked expertly. The flesh was white, succulent and moist and tasted very fresh.

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I selected the Veggie dish as it is something I rarely ever do being terribly fond of meat, and I do think it’s a shame to waste my canine teeth.

The steamed leek pudding with sweet potato and mushrooms was a real comfort-food, stick-to-your-ribs, hearty filler. If you are veggie and want a solid winter meal this is the one. I would happily have one of those leek puddings with a piece of lamb or crisp-skinned chicken. Make a note of that chef please. The mushrooms were creamy and savoury and fabulous.

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Desserts

Nana’s rice pudding just has to be based on an old, fond childhood memory that Lee has of a pud that his Grandma used to make, served with raspberry sauce and a few freeze dried raspberries. Homely and simply lovely.

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The Set English Cream was wonderfully indulgent and rich, flavoured with vanilla. I am far too fond of the likes of Pana Cotta than I really should be.

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I like this little place and imagine it will find its niche amongst the restaurants of Newcastle. I certainly hope it goes from strength to strength.

Our thanks to all who made it a comfortable and enjoyable night.

 

My last thoughts are these:

I will go again.

Two Fifths is one of those place you try to find when you go abroad. How lovely we have it in Newcastle.

 

Cheers all

Mr. Wolf





In With The Inn Crowd

27 01 2015

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St. Mary’s Inn is situated approximately 2.5 miles to the West of Stannington Village, just off the A 1 as it passes through Northumberland to the North of Newcastle Upon Tyne. It is best described as an Inn-with-rooms.

St. Mary’s Inn is the new “sister” to the established and much-lauded Jesmond Dene House Hotel. The building is a clever and sympathetic conversion of what was once the administration block for a psychiatric hospital.Some housing has been developed and much is yet to be done; the main building behind is either going to have a sympathetic makeover, or will be cleared for new buildings.

One has the sense, as one stands on the car park, that a new village is coming into being here. Around the corner a cricket pitch will be created; an orchard that will serve the Inn (and may possibly be utilised to form a kitchen garden) is nearby.

The conversion is a clever use of the orignal structure, with a timber annexe to house extra internal useable space added to one side. As one walks through the large wooden front door one finds oneself in a spacious dog friendly bar. The Inn is intended to be at the centre of the new community that is forming around it, and be its beating social heart.

 

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Plenty of standing room and space to chat to friends while your dog (if you have one) lolls about; and you will need a bit of space if you find Max has lumbered in with his friendly owner. Max is a soft, big old lug and loves attention. Well.. If you were him you would too, after all he is an old retired Cruft’s veteran, with paws the size of saucers.

 

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The building has been opened up to create areas and pockets for dining in cosy little spaces, each has a wood burning stove and the lovely waft of wood smoke permeates throughout.

Something that I would think is nice to know is;  during the development of the site, various members of the team that were involved were encouraged to access a small allotted budget and search/forage for props to decorate the building, initiative was encouraged. The resulting effect is pleasing and adds to the formal decoration and design plan. One day I will have a peek in the ladies-room, as I gather the Ladies Team did well. That is not to say that the lads did poorly, it is just I can’t  see that other room that contains mysteries.

Throughout the attention to detail is lovely.

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Art adorns the wall by local artists, some even have an import to them. Beer mats and small thematic pictures created by Times cartoonist Haldane are to be found about the rooms, less accidental than you might think. It seems he is local to the Inn and even drinks in there occasionally.

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Local artist Judy Appleby has lovely interpretations of Northumberland landscapes on display. I know if you find something you like a purchase might be made, merely ask.

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In my fevered opinion I do recommend you drift around the rooms and look at the art and artifacts and indulge your visual senses.

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The fabrics you see have a story too. Jeanna (wife of Developer and General Bigwig Peter Candler) sourced it abroad and brought it home on her own back, bent down with the sheer weight of the yardage.

Fabric panels decorate the beautiful rooms in the 11 room accommodation wing. The rooms really are lovely, comfortable, beautifully decorated and fitted. The rooms themselves are named after local reservoirs. Let me show you Catcleugh where we stayed a night.

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So eventually I come to the food upon which you may wish to indulge yourself when you visit.

As the little sister to the lovely Jesmond Dene House Hotel, you just know that it comes with a pedigree upon which it can draw upon deeply. To develop a menu JDH selected a talented fellow called Shaun Hurrell. Shaun threw himself into the project mind, body and soul and did a damned fine job. His sense of good honest fayre, combining with creative flair has brought together a kitchen, and team, and a sense of the spirit of what “The Mary” should offer. Good Job Shaun.

Job-done Shaun has moved on, and talented JDH Head Chef Michael Penaluna (also Executive Chef for the now expanded “JDH Group”) was rattling the pans for our meal. The ethic of: “Fresh & local wherever possible”, is evident in the Food-Hero Wall near the entrance to the kitchen. An eagle eye will spot legendary Ken Holland in there.

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The menu will not scare you, it is solid honest and true. Another paradigm put into play is: “Make our own as much as we possibly can”. You have to applaud them for that.

Being my birthday a little bottle of Champagne was always going to be a welcome sup.

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As a brace of starters we chose the ham terrine with pease pudding and duck egg with black pudding and crisp salad.

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The ham was a succulent, meaty and wonderous slab lying atop the traditional soft peasey Pease Pudding decorated with sweet crisp pea shoot.

Soft fat yolkey duck egg and a dark black pudding and endive with cubes of fried potato hit my spot.

We needed a wine that would work with a wide variety of elements we were going to throw at it, so I chose this rounded Drouhin Chablis. I think it had the fortitude to last the journey. Slightly “salty”, lemon on the nose, green, great colour, with finesse and balance and a lovely soft finish on the palate.

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Now the mains… Lawks! the mains. A selection of fresh greens and roasted veg was chosen to accompany the pork chop and the rib eye steak. This was rounded off with fabulous chips cooked in marrow fat.

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Mine was the rib eye and it was really lovely, like the chop it was cooked on a lumpwood charcoal grill, and the flavour shone through, soft and medium rare with a lovely internal pink.

But.. and I say but again, I have never seen such a humongous pork chop in my life and I have seen a fair few now. It has to have been a monster of a pig to give that rib up. The meat was juicy, flavoursome and charred beautifully. I helped finish it off so I can input my honest view on that.

But where would we be without a mention of, and a tip of the hat to, Kristian Branch the Head Pastry Chef at JDH? Really this man is a pudding God. I admit I had hit my belly bursting limit, so the decision to share a pud was a wise one. I scanned the menu again, but was advised a new item had been added. A meringue! Light little thing I ordered. this turned up and I smiled and groaned in pleasure.

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Good is it not? you want one do you not? Well good for you buy your own. It is a floaty, creamy rhubarby sharp, cinder toffee sweet crisp, creamy belter. I want my own next time.

Next time? But of course.

The sharp-eyed will remember I said we stayed a night, which means yup… we had breakfast.

 

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A lot of damage had been done to my capacity to load more, but darn it! one had to follow through with the mission.

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It is a filthy job but someone has to do it no?

Ok we went “light” poached egg on sourdough bread and a bed of avocado & a duck egg on salt beef with fried potato.

Conclusion:

Go, eat, enjoy, be convivial, talk to dogs, talk to lovely staff members urging you to have a great time, loosen your belt and like us waddle like stately galleons back to you carriage, and pootle home for a lie down, then plot your return.

The devil is in the detail.

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Peter Candler…you are a little devil, and we love you for it.

Thanks St Mary’s Inn one and all, but special thanks to the Marvellous Vic and his FOH team, service was bang on and freindly throughout. Nothing makes a meal nicer for me than a convivial and helpful service crew. Phil and Stephanie thanks for your attention.

Mr. Wolf

 

 

 





A Re”Ward”ing Night

16 01 2015

Gareth Ward Peace & Loaf Guest-Chef Night

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A triplet of talented Chefs Rob Elat, Gareth Ward & David Coulson

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Those that know me, and are kind enough to follow me in my amateur foodblog meanderings, will know I have a soft spot for the Peaceful Loafers in Jesmond. I have blogged before about what I consider their high standard of food, and what they are trying to do. However I am wiping my “slate” clean as it were and have removed the previous blog to plop in this one. It is a new year and I need to make some fresh space for where I will be going in 2015. Not that I will surprise anyone with remarkable and glorious new exotic locations, however I plan to revisit with a new eye (and maybe marginally better interpretation of my experiences) some of the places I have been before and written about. There will however be the odd few places that will be a new experience for me here and there throughout the year. And so this brings me to the very first blog entry in The Year Of Our Lord 2015; the Gareth Ward Guest Chef Night at our local restaurant Peace & Loaf. I know my friend Ken Holland (he of superlative vegetable fame) knows him in some fashion, but despite my love of food I am not knowledgeable of the world of clever Cheffy Chefs. For those like me who know little of the talented chap there is this: Gareth Ward Twitter @garethward1 I have unearthed the following pedigree (there may be more I should know but I think the brief amount exposed here gives a hint and the mans superior cooking credentials) Hambleton Hall Michelin star AA 4 Star and 4 Rosettes Hart’s Restaurant AA 2 Rosettes Seaham Hall Head Chef at Ynyshir Hall Michelin Star Sat Bains’ Sous Chef when they gained the second Michellin Star Named, by Waitrose in their Good Food Guide 2015, as…… “Chef to Watch.” I found out about this Guest Chef Night proposition from Cheffy Dave Coulson of Peace & Loaf fame on a friendly visit, and despite its proximity to Christmas and a decent amount of fiscal outlay, I thought it might be prudent to say yes. Just as well I did because it was sold out in a few hours of being announced. As it turned out “young” Robert Elat (also Peace & Loaf fine Cheffy and Yamaha riding hooligan) was booked for dining at the same time, and on the night we sat close enough to disturb his enjoyment of his food from time to time. I may have stolen a few of his superior photographs to supplement my rotten attempts for which I apologise on both counts.

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The Gifted & “Young” Robert Elat

Gareth it seems has a reputation for being a man with great creativity and held in high regard for his tasting menus, from what we had I fully understand why. The menu that was placed before us was sparse on description, but I liked that because it staves off one developing too great a preconception of what will follow. It can be a lovely moment when you look at the presentation and think, “ohhhhh”, taste it and go “mmmm”. Here is the list: Not French onion soup (Apparently some degree of amusement is derived from the Ward camp over this, as there is an “in-joke” locked into it somewhere) Mackerel sweet & sour Duck Liver Cox apple, smoked eel, spelt BBQ Pork Leeks Prawn Banana, miso Caesar Welsh Wagyu 1,2… Optional cheese Tunworth Cauliflower cheese (£6.5o per person) Parsnip porridge Coedcanlas maple -8 Verjus Tiramisu Cox apple Buttermilk, wood sorrel As it would happen a brochure accompanied the meal that informed us of the source of the meat. Imagine my surprise when it dawned on me I had in fact prior knowledge of the supplier. Alternative meats and Jeanette Edgar @Alternativemeat I already crossed paths with on twitter, and a nice soul she is too. As of now I can vouch for the quality of her Welsh Wagyu beef too.

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So let me start. Chef Gareth is a big man, I am talking heavyweight boxer kind of size, tall and imposing, vocal and from where I sat I could see him ducking to peer through the Peace and Loaf Kitchen pass so that he could direct operations. Make no mistake this was a lot of work for kitchen and service because this was a fully booked event and each cover would require much to-ing and fro-ing to deliver and clear tables. Remarkably Chef had arrived with a full van of his own equipment, supplies, ingredients and kitchen/service staff. So along with the staff compliment from the “Peace and Loaf Massive” all went well. I am sure the Home Team had eyes and ears peeled, calibrating the service details from Team Ynyshir. To my eye it went well, very well. After a wee gander again at the menu, Buitenverwachting Chardonnay was picked because it has the complexity and strength, and sheer quality to cope with the array of elements within Chef’s indulgent presentation. While we waited fresh bread was brought, created with a beautiful toasted, crunchy, crisp crust, and soft dough centre. This was accompanied with their own-made butter and a stunning and beautiful whipped Welsh Wagyu beef dripping, creamy white and outrageously tasty with little nubbins of crispy beef fat sprinkled over the top… move over butter for I have seen the future.

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Not French Onion Soup Soft sweet onion in a clear dashi, gloriously rich & green light onion oil and  crisp crunchy crutons with savoury flavours

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Mackerel Sweet and sour, compressed thinly sliced pineapple, and bean sprout adding that pea like sweet crunch. The fish flesh soft sweet and warm working well with the sweet fruit and pickle. An umami based concept (waiting for pic)

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Duck liver The blowtorched liver, caramel-seared on the outside and inside pink and soft, the texture such that it popped sweetly under light pressure on the tongue in the most delightful way. Smoked eel adding a meaty smokiness, moisture from dashi and sweetness from a sharp Cox’s apple, texture/crunch and toasted flavour on the end brought by the toasted spelt. Devine flavours dreadful photographic rendition that comes nowhere near close to doing it any justice at all

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BBQ pork A morsel of butter-soft bbq pork topped fermenting white cabbage with sweetcorn, a mild heat from the sweet bbq sauce glaze.The pork crackling buttons just finishing it off with crunch and depth

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Leek Soft length of leek on a dark puree of burnt leek, amazingly flavoursome but without any bitterness from the burnt leek and sprinkled with leek ash. Sourdough creation creating a great texture, and the Welsh Connection with the leeks not being lost on us as we dined This was presented with a centerpiece of visual theatre, a bowl of aromatic dried, burnt leek and misty smokey dry ice, adding olfactory elements enhancing the subtle vegetable

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Prawn This was a surprising dish. I liked it but would hazard it is a “marmite dish” you love it or hate it. Profoundly sweet with peanut tuille, banana miso puree and raw, sweet fresh prawn and a garnish of cilantro. Big, big flavour off delicate proportioned plating. Crisp, soft, sweet, rich, pungent and salty Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 17.23.23

Caesar A lovely serving with a twist on Caesar salad, grated Parmigiano milk, sweet and cheesy Parmigiano breadcrumbs with Iceberg lettuce, bacon crumb all creating a lovely effect on the taste buds. All the taste you would want in a Caesar but intensely packaged for taste

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Wagyu 1 The “burger”, a bite sized mouthful of supersoft, Welsh Wagyu beef, melt in your mouth packing big mature beef flavour, charred and with a crispy crunchy cruton atop. Like the liver it just burst with amazing taste in the mouth. All the flavours you want from a burger even a cheese cruton and sea purslain foraged from the Welsh estuary near Ynyshir

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Wagyu 2 A cube of supersoft and rare melt in your mouth Welsh Wagyu rump of beef, thinly sliced cap mushroom, soy, jus and crisped seaweed, tasted amazing, simple and amazing

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Wagyu 3 Ohhh the delight and surprise of being served two little Welsh Wagyu beef fudge flavour bombs. Sweet salty fudgy meaty beefy juxtapositional explosions on the tongue. Never had fudge sweet beef fat before, I LOVED IT!

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Tunworth Cauliflower cheese Cauliflower was delicate and the beautiful Tunworth (a Camembert-like soft cheese) sweet cheese, I mean powerfully cheesey, pleasantly pungent, the dish had a long savoury finish. The thin crispy bread slivers nicely complemented the dish and entertained the tongue

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Parsnip porridge A delicious dish of sweet sticky parsnip, highest quality maple syrup with depth and flavour and the tart -8 Verjus (tart unfermented pressed grape jus sharp and sweet)

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Tiramisu Gareth’s take on a classic so as you might expect nicely deconstructed, but all the traditional flavours waiting to be brought together as you eat. Masala coffee, caramel and intense

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Cox apple Crisp fresh Cox, sour citrus wood sorrel granita, compressed coconut, overall tart and sweet with textures for your tongue to play with

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To finish and to cleanse the palate a theatrical a la table preparation of Liquid N2 frozen white chocolate mayonnaise flavoured with eucalyptus or pine extract…. Amazing insubstantial whiffs of taste, Eucalyptus being my favourite In my estimation Gareth Ward may have the countenance of a burly Heavyweight Boxer, but in the kitchen he has the lightest of touches of an accomplished and gifted artist. And, let me say this to you, Gareth, that was a wonderful meal very many thanks… so very sorry if I was wrong about ingredients or presentation or anything else that may harm your reputation being associated with my blog. Please don’t hit me. And you will find the great man here:

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My huge thanks to David and his team at Peace & Loaf, to Chef Gareth and his fabulous and knowledgeable Ynyshir team. I look forward to being able to get my foot in the door for other nights like this, and I do believe that the idea of guest chef nights is a simply superb idea, particularly if the intention is to persuade renowned and skilled chefs from parts of the country I rarely get to see on a map let alone go to. Honestly if you get wind of an event like this again at Peace & Loaf, grab the chance to be there, mind you … I think you will have to climb over me first.

Mr. Wolf





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.

 

 








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