Margate’s delicious revivalNovember 15, 2017

Margate, on Kent’s northeast coast, was once a fashionable bathing resort but after the war slipped into decline. But over the past decade it’s seen a revival, largely thanks to the opening in 2011 of its seafront Turner Contemporary gallery. “Merry Margate” is merry once again: vintage shops are breathing life into its pretty squares, decrepit boarding houses are being restored and opened as stylish places to stay (bag, if you can, one of the boutique B&B rooms at The Reading Rooms , and its Dreamland amusement park has been returned to its former glory. Margate is so cool, the trend-spotters are dubbing it Shoreditch-on-Sea.

Happily the resort’s revival extends to its cafes and restaurants, as I discovered while researching an On The Road feature about Kent’s northeast coast for Olive magazine. We’re not talking fancy Michelin places, but edgy eateries using local ingredients. One of my favourite finds was Bottega Caruso deli-cafe inside Margate’s Old Kent Market, whose homemade pasta you can see pictured here. Also fun is Hantverk & Found, a pocket-sized gallery-cum-cafe in the Old Town run by Hackney migrant Kate de Syllas; I loved her  Seafood pastilla, packed with local crab (pictured). For ethically-produced chicken and posh burgers (with sweet potato fries – pictured) Roost , opposite the old Lido, is the place, while for views of the harbour (pictured) you can do no better than visiting Cheesey Tiger, a diddy restaurant-takeaway specialising in cheese, located at the end of Margate’s Harbour Arm stone pier. My article is in the December issue of Olive, but you can also read it online here.

The Sportsman, SeasalterOctober 31, 2017

This year Stephen Harris celebrates 18 years at the stoves of The Sportsman at Seasalter near Whitstable in Kent, a pub whose rambling exterior and bleak location belies the exceedingly fine cooking that awaits within and now commands a cult following worldwide. Stephen has just published his first cookbook too, so you can find out some of the secrets behind his simple but stylish dishes. I tried the restaurant’s tasting menu while researching an On The Road feature on the northeast Kent coast for Olive magazine. The menu is supposedly a mere nine courses, but when you include all the initial bouche amusement (pictured) and delicacies with coffee it’s actually 12, including, hurrah, two puds. Given its proximity to Whitstable, which has farmed oysters since Roman times and even has an oyster festival , the molluscs kick off proceedings – natives au naturel if you come in winter when they’re in season but mine were poached (pictured). Other highlights were the firm-fleshed slip-sole in a foraged-seaweed butter and the stupendously good homemade breads and home-churned butter (rightly honoured as a course on their own). You round things off with a soufflé as light as the clouds scudding across the steely skies outside (pictured). My article is in the December issue of Olive, on sale now.

Stellar food in a Stark settingOctober 23, 2017

Stark, inside a terraced house in the centre of Broadstairs in northeast Kent, does not even have its own inside loo yet. But this broomcupboard-sized restaurant is already making serious culinary waves, thanks to the stellar cooking by its chef-owner Ben Crittenden, who formerly manned the stoves at Kent’s Michelin-starred West House in Biddenden. As the name suggests, you come here,  in Ben’s words, not for plush surroundings.  but for “good food, laid bare.” I tried the restaurant’s six-course evening tasting menu (currently its only offering) while researching an On The Road feature on the northeast Kent coast for Olive magazine. Highlights for me were the starter of mackerel, watermelon and beetroot, that looks like a Kandinsky painting (secret ingredient: watermelon jam), and the duck terrine with hazelnut and ginger biscuit and a duck and hazelnut parfait. The citrusy blobs of orange puree encircling it cut through the richness of the duck perfectly. Many thanks to a resident foodie who tipped me off about this place shortly after it opened. The Good Food Guide has now included it in its 2018 edition, so do visit while you can still get in – and before the Michelin inspectors discover it. My article is in the December issue of Olive, on sale now.

Bristol’s budding bakeriesJanuary 31, 2017

If you’ve not tried it yet, put Pinkman’s Bakery, on Park Street, on your gastronomic map of Bristol. One of a clutch of artisan bakeries to open in the city over the past few years, this attractively designed spot not only makes lovely breads and cakes, but also serves meals from breakfast through to dinner seven days a week. The array of sourdough breads is impressive, from a Country cob mixing wholemeal, spelt and white flours with a rye starter to a super Seeded sourdough and a Walnut boule. Wood-fired sourdough pizzas are also a speciality, but the absolute stars of the show for me are the sourdoughnuts whose fillings vary daily depending on what’s available at the market. Because they’re made from sourdough you can kid yourself they’re doing you good. A welcome addition to an area not generally known for its high gastronomy.

The Ivy opens in BristolSeptember 2, 2016

Covent Garden’s iconic showbiz haunt, The Ivy, has extended its tendrils to Bristol’s Clifton Village. The all-day food is similar to the comfort classics you’ll find at HQ, including its famous Shepherd’s Pie, but with some nice additions such as the Raw Market Salad and the Dairy free coconut panna cotta, pictured here. The afternoon tea, which promises to be popular, ranges from a standard cream, jam and scone affair to a Champagne blowout.

But what you really come for is the setting. The Ivy Clifton Brasserie is housed in the magnificent high-ceilinged Georgian edifice that since 1922 was a branch of the Nat West bank. It happens to be my bank actually, although when I was in there I’m afraid fears of being overdrawn  probably overshadowed any appreciation of its architectural merits. The old bank manager’s office in the back is now a super little private dining room, and some of the bank’s wooden till structures have been preserved in the bar area. Bizarrely, when I went to try out the brasserie, the woman on the table next to mine had worked there for 20 years!

The Martin Brudnizki Design Studio, which masterminded the building’s transformation, has put in beautiful blue and mustard floor tiles, with banquettes to match, and hung the ceilings with glamorous chandeliers. What I love most about the new Ivy offshoot, though, it its stunning collection of old prints and artwork, depicting Bristol’s industrial heritage – a reason in themselves to visit.

Food images by Clare Hargreaaves

Ivy Clifton Brasserie - PWF - 0071 P1700867P1700902P1700937

Epicure ExperienceJune 20, 2016

If you’ve wondered what lies within that vast building on the M4 that’s often rudely likened to Colditz, now you have the perfect excuse to drop in to find out.

This is Celtic Manor Hotel, and since February, Richard Davies has been heading up the kitchen at a new restaurant inside this edifice called Epicure Experience.  Some of you will remember Richard as the Michelin-starred head chef at The Manor House at Castle Combe, near Bath – or as the chef who cooked an Endangered Foods Feast in Bristol for Feast with a Chef two years ago.

Richard, who is originally from Bridgend, trained at the Michelin-starred Gordon Ramsay in London and has three times represented Wales on the BBC’s Great British Menu. I tried Richard’s tasting menu (5 courses for £55) which was absolutely outstanding. Kicking off with Foie Gras with apple and walnut, and a fish course of Turbot with Cepe, celeriac and pancetta, the main course was Lamb (Welsh of course) with onion and baby leek, pictured below.  The meal finished with a variation on Richard’s winning Great British Menu pud of ‘Strawberries and Cream’ which he served at the Royal Albert Hall in 2013, also pictured.

If you are Bristol based, it’s easy to pop over for lunch or dinner. Do go.

Celtic Manor Resort Chef Richard Davies

Gin-cured sea trout with apple and fennelMay 17, 2016

As you know we’re lucky enough to have had 2-Michelin-starred Nathan Outlaw cooking us a Cornish Seafood Feast in Bristol, celebrating the publication of his new book, Everyday Seafood (Quadrille). Here’s a recipe from the book to whet your appetite. It’s based around sea trout, a migratory fish whose arrival in spring is greeted by foodies with as much excitement as the first asparagus. Says Nathan: “Wild sea trout is, for me, a delicacy. I actually prefer it to salmon and find that it responds particularly well to curing.” Being a gin fan, I like the fact the trout is cured in gin too. “Using strong alcohol in the cure helps to achieve a pronounced flavour and the combination of gin, apple and fennel works well,” says Nathan. Picture by David Loftus.  

Gin-cured sea trout with apple and fennel

Serves 6 as a starter

1 very fresh side of wild sea trout, skinned and pin- boned

For the cure

250g sea salt

250g caster sugar

2 tbsp juniper berries, crushed 

150ml gin

For the salad and dressing

200ml olive oil

2 shallots, peeled and finely sliced

4 juniper berries, finely chopped

100ml cider vinegar

30ml gin

2 fennel bulbs, tough outer layer removed

3 eating apples, such as Braeburn

3 tsp finely sliced tarragon

For the cure, put the salt, sugar and crushed juniper berries into a food processor and blitz for 3 minutes.

Lay the sea trout on a tray and sprinkle evenly with the cure mixture. Turn the fish over in the cure a few times to ensure it is coated all over. Drizzle the gin evenly over the fish, then wrap the whole tray in cling film and place in the fridge to cure for 4 hours.

When the time is up, unwrap the fish and wash off the cure with cold water, then pat dry with kitchen paper. Wrap the fish tightly in fresh cling film and place back in the fridge for an hour to firm up. (At this stage you can freeze the fish for up to a month).

To make the dressing, put the olive oil, shallots and chopped juniper berries in a small pan over a medium heat until the oil just begins to bubble. Take the pan off the heat and add the cider vinegar and gin.

Slice the fennel on a mandoline as thinly as possible and place it in a bowl. Peel, core and grate the apples, then add to the fennel with the tarragon. Toss to combine and dress the salad with half of the dressing, keeping the rest to finish the dish.

Using a sharp knife and a clean board, slice the trout as thinly as possible. Lay it out on large individual plates and drizzle with the remaining dressing. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Game for gameNovember 3, 2015

I’m not into shooting birds, but I think I probably look forward to the game season with as much anticipation as those who are. I just love game birds’ rich flavours and dark lean flesh, as well as knowing they’ve eaten a wild and varied diet. If you ever need someone to introduce you to the joys of game, Tim Maddams, who used to work at River Cottage and has just written a book about game, is your man. I was lucky enough to join him in cooking this lovely dish of Pigeon with blackberries and chanterelles at Vale House Kitchen cookery school, near Bath. Easy to make (see recipe below), delicious to eat.

I couldn’t resist making game the centrepiece of a feast. So on 30 January the talented Will Holland, chef at Coast in Pembrokeshire, will be cooking a Game’s Up! Feast in Bristol. Will used to be head chef at the Michelin-starred La Becasse, in Ludlow, so knows his game. (Becasse is French for woodcock.) I can assure you we’ll be making the most of the final weekend of the shooting season.

Pigeon with blackberries and chanterelles

Serves 2

Rapeseed oil, for cooking

4 plump pigeon breasts (easily removed, see pp.150–3)

2 good handfuls of chanterelles, trimmed and brushed clean of grit

A knob of butter

A good handful of blackberries

A couple of handfuls of salad leaves

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place a heavy-based frying pan over a high heat and add a little rapeseed oil. Season the pigeon breasts with salt and pepper and add them to the hot pan. Give them a minute or two, until they start to form a nice caramelised layer on the base. Now turn them over and add the chanterelles and butter at the same time. After about another 2 minutes, once the pigeon breasts are firm but not overcooked, remove them to a warm plate and set aside in a warm spot to rest.

Finish cooking the chanterelles for another minute or two, then lift them out and put them with the pigeon.

Turn off the heat and pop the blackberries into the pan to warm and release a little juice. Add any resting juices from the pigeon and mushrooms to the berries.

Divide the salad leaves between a couple of plates. Slice the pigeon breasts and arrange on the leaves, then scatter over the mushrooms. Spoon on the blackberries and sprinkle over the juices from the pan. Drizzle with a little more rapeseed oil if you think it needs it and serve with some fresh crusty bread.

From: River Cottage Handbook No15: Game, by Tim Maddams, published by Bloomsbury. Recipe image: Gavin Kingcome

Pigeon with blackberries and chanterelles © Gavin Kingcome game book cover

Dinner’s in the vegboxJuly 24, 2015

Recipe books are all well and good (I confess to owning hundreds and cherish them as I would children) but who has time to read them, let alone shop for all the required ingredients, after a long day at work? Riverford has come up with a brilliant solution: recipe boxes. Each box contains the step-by-step recipes and weighed out ingredients for three organic evening meals. So all you have to do is put them together – the fun part – safe in the knowledge that the ingredients are impeccably sourced from Riverford’s organic farms. It’s not just veg, there’s meat too.  Recently Riverford has been offering celebrity chef recipe boxes so I tried one by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, of whom I’m a massive fan.  The recipes were from his Light and Easy cookbook, so didn’t take a minute to prepare. The Spiced beef with bashed beans recipe was a winner. If you fancy having a bash at recipe boxes, there’s info on the Riverford website.

Guy Watson and Hugh cooking.

An appetite for spicesApril 28, 2015

TEST TUBES OF SPICES – At first glance, the ceiling of Ametsa, inside London’s Halkin hotel, looks like the swanky decor you might find in any London restaurant. Look closer, though, and it’s actually made up of over seven thousand test tubes, each filled with the spices that are used in the restaurant. The cuisine here is Basque, so expect to find spices such as mustard, white pepper, paprika and turmeric. It’s no ordinary Basque cooking though, for its owner, Elena Arzak, is chef-owner of the eponymous restaurant in Spain’s San Sebastian that has no fewer than three Michelin stars. Ametsa is its London ‘branch’ if you like, and since being set up in March 2013 earned its own Michelin star in just six months. I was lucky enough recently to interview Elena and to join in a six-course dinner at Ametsa that was cooked by her and Ametsa’s executive head chef Sergi Sanz.

Two of the highlights were this stunning Squid Abstract – modern gastronomic art at its finest – and Moon Rocks, one of Elena’s sig dishes that mimics the surface of the moon. The moon dust is mostly sesame, while the rocks are filled chocolates and the craters are filled with wine jelly. I’m up for this sort of space travel any time!

Ametsa Interior Moon Rocks Squid