Tag Archives: restaurant

Strawberry Fields of BryherJune 24, 2019

 

It’s strawberry season, hurrah. There’s no food that evokes British summer like this jubilantly juicy fruit. I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t love them and from my personal experience it’s impossible to overdose on them too. And believe me, I’ve tried. 

I’m helping out my friends Graham and Ruth Eggins on their mixed farm on the wild one-mile-long island of Bryher in the Isles of Scilly, best known perhaps for its Atlantic-bashed Hell Bay. The Eggins produce pretty much everything from beetroot and broad beans to beef, but the crop that flies fastest off the honesty stall outside their Hillside Farm is their strawberries. Holidaymakers abandon their breakfast coffees or jump on early boats from neighbouring islands to hover outside the barn where Graham and Ruth pack them first thing. Snooze you lose. And a day without strawberries on Bryher in June is a loss indeed.

If you think you’ve tasted a good strawberry, quite simply, you haven’t. (Okay, if you grow or pick your own, I’ll grant that you might have. Possibly.) The Eggins’ secret? They leave their elongated fruits to ripen on the plant until they’re mature and fragrant. That means properly ripe; so no coral underbelly, no white collar, but pillar-box red top to toe. Warmed by the summer sun, they’re so gorgeously sweet you can throw away your sugar packet.  

Of course Hillside can do this as their strawberries are sold and eaten within hours, if not minutes, of gathering. In contrast, supermarkets have to pick these fragile fruits underripe to ensure they last, so the sad truth is that many of us have never tasted a strawberry at its best. And although supermarkets no longer worship solely at the shrine of Elsanta, the varieties they’re chosing are still selected for shelf life, disease resistance and transportability. Here at Hillside the Eggins have chosen their variety (which is a closely guarded secret) for flavour. Yes, flavour. Remember that? Flavour that fills the mouth with summery ecstasy, and for many of us, the flavour of childhood.

If you care about your health and that of your natural surroundings, it’s also good knowing that nothing has been sprayed on Hillside’s strawberries. Did you know that “conventionally” grown strawberries contain the most pesticide residues of any fruit and vegetable we buy in Britain after citrus fruits? UK government tests carried out between 2011 and 2015 (the most recent years for which figures are available) found that over 91% of strawberries showed residues of a single pesticide while over 87% showed several. A cocktail of pesticides aren’t what I want to eat at a midsummer fete or al fresco supper at home. Two of the most commonly used in 2013, Boscalid and Iprodione, were known carcinogens.

Even if Hillside wanted to use these pesticides (which they don’t – they value the biodiversity of their insect life), they’d actually be unnecessary as the only threat to the strawberries is the rain which can damage a few if you don’t get to them on the right day (and is making Hillside consider switching to growing them on tabletops so fruits are not sitting in water). And occasionally, birds; although the strawberries are netted, somehow the birds find their way in, so the task of gathering strawberries can also entail cajoling terrified blackbirds towards an exit. One feels like saying ‘You shouldn’t have come in if you didn’t know how to get out’ but they carry on. At least I’ve not had to do battle with a kamikaze seagull yet.

Fruits that are less than perfect go into jam (pictured), which Ruth makes and sells on the stall along with the raw fruits. What jam – full of whole strawberries that you can sink your teeth into. It’s decadently good with fresh Hillside strawberries, homemade scones and local clotted cream as I discovered when Ruth laid on the lot for tea (pictured) last week when a crew were filming the farm. Life doesn’t get better than that.

June is strawberry month here. If ‘for ever’ means all year round, Bryher’s strawberry fields are NOT for ever and in a couple of weeks my nostrils will no longer be filled with strawberry-scented aromas. But seasons are good, they make life interesting, give us something to salivate for. Just as it was asparagus’ turn before the strawberries, when the strawberries are over, courgettes and tomatoes will be the next seasonal treat. As Graham puts it,”If you have Christmas every day, it wouldn’t be special. The strawberry season is special because you look forward to it.” I don’t want sprayed strawberries that taste of cardboard in the winter. I’m happy to wait for a proper June one – and come to Bryher to find it!

Hillside Farm, Bryher hillsidefarmbryher.co.uk

Isles of Scilly Tourist Information visitislesofscilly.com

Plot to plate eating on the Isles of ScillyJanuary 7, 2019

One of the many lovely things about eating out in the Isles of Scilly is that while you do so you can usually see the place where your meal was born. Food generally travels yards not miles. So bag a seat at Juliet’s on St Mary’s (pictured above) and you gaze over the bay in which the crustaceans for  its crab sandwiches were caught, and below, the century-old greenhouses where Juliet’s family cultivates tomatoes that taste like your grandad’s used to taste (and if you’re lucky, you’ll grab a stonking sunset too).  Boat it to Tresco to eat in its New Inn or Flying Boat, and you’ll be offered a Beef and Stilton pie or sirloin steak using beef from the island’s herds of Devon Red and Limousine cows which you’ll have passed. On Scilly you won’t find Michelin stars (although there are plenty of the other kind in its pristine skies) or celebrity chefs. But you will find food that’s as fresh and local as anywhere in the British Isles. Time your visit to coincide with Scilly’s annual Taste of Scilly Festival throughout September.

I recently ate my way round the Isles while researching a food feature for their annual guide (read the 2019 one here). Here are ten of the many places I can recommend (with pictures taken by me):

Juliet’s Garden Restaurant, St Mary’s

This old-time favourite, owned and run by Juliet May, may have been going for nearly 40 years but hasn’t lost its touch. One of the best things about it (apart from the crab sandwiches and tomatoes) is that it’s a fifteen minute walk from Hugh Town, so you’re suitably hungry when you get there. The views are as delicious as the food, and almost as good inside the glass-fronted restaurant as outside on the terrace.

John Dory on a pea risotto at Juliet’s, St Mary’s

 

On the Quay, St Mary’s

As its name suggests, this industrial-chic hangout is right on the quay where Scilly’s inter-island launches depart from, and its balcony is a prime spot from which to view its famous May bank holiday gig races. We loved its contemporary vibe, original pine floors and art-daubed timber walls. Much of the spacious interior is created from reclaimed materials, including scrubbed wooden tables made from scaffolding planks and poles and a well-stocked bar formed from the steps to Porthcressa beach! Sensibly-priced food hovers between casual and fine dining, so there’s something to please everyone. We loved the grilled mackerel fillets with salsify, baby fennel, parmentier potatoes and celeriac puree.

 

Strudel in Town, St Mary’s

This tiny cafe (attached to a hairdressers) on the main drag of Hugh Town is the second of two strudel cafes owned and run by German-born Sabine Schauldolph. Grab the table in the window to see the goings-on on Town Beach, and choose from a range of Bavarian goodies; the must-eat, of course, is Sabine’s apfelstrudel, made daily from locally grown apples and served with generous lashings of clotted cream.

Apple strudel at Strudel in Town

 

The Spirit Restaurant, St Mary’s Hall Hotel, St Mary’s

Sustainability and provenance are the catchwords at this gastronomic boutique hotel, in the centre of Hugh Town. So the hotel will even be able to tell you the name of the Scillonian boat that caught the crab accompanying your linguine for starter! Meat all comes from the owner’s Gloucestershire farm which slow-rears rare-breed cows, pigs and sheep.

 

The Beach, Hugh Town, St Mary’s

Feel the sand between your toes as you eat that this joint, housed in a converted boat shed on  Porthmellon Beach. In summer you can sit out on the balcony and watch the sunsetting over Samson and Tresco. But, with its scrubbed wood tables and reclaimed wood walls and blackboard menu, it’s equally atmospheric inside. The restaurant is owned by St Mary’s Hall hotel, so you can expect the same scrupulous sourcing of both (rare-breed) meat and seafood – but here it’s barbecued. Lobsters come half or whole, with a choice of flavoured butters, and burgers (in a sourdough roll) are from 28-day-dry-aged Gloucester beef. If you want the real deal, plump for the Beach Surf and Turf Burger which combines the two.

Lunch at The Beach, St Mary’s

 

Dibble & Grub, Porthcressa Beach, St Mary’s

The building housing this friendly, Moorish-feel restaurant used to be a fire station – hence the name borrowed from two of the firemen in the Trumpton children’s TV series. The style is Spanish tapas but the ingredients are very much Scillonian. If you want to eat truly local, opt for the Taste of Scilly menu which, on the night I visited, included butternut squash, courgettes with tomatoes, and edible flowers and leaves (pictured below). The service, convivial atmosphere and coffee are as wonderful as the food.

Taste of Scilly tapas at Dibble & Grub, St Mary’s

 

Hell Bay Hotel, Bryher

Made it to the tiny island of Bryher? Sit by the fire in the bar along with contented dogs and anoraked walkers, or settle into one of the hotel’s restaurants; either way the food is firmly rooted in Bryher’s earth and sea. Vegetables and strawberries come from Hillside Farm, down the road,  while fish is from Island Fish, near the landing stage. In summer, get your fingers sticky in its Crab Shack, in the hotel grounds, where you feast on locally caught crab and mussels, followed by Eton mess from Hillside strawberries. Heaven.

 

Hillside Farm, Bryher

If you’re self-catering you might not want to eat out every evening, so the roadside honesty stall at Hillside Farm is a godsend. Stacked with everything from asparagus to eggs, courgettes, tomatoes and strawberries, it has everything you could need for a gourmet supper. There’s meat too – beef from their North Devon cows and pork from their Saddleback pigs.

Hillside Farm, Bryher

 

Island Fish

Doubling up as a fish shop and cafe, Island Fish – by the landing stage on Bryher – is the place to get ready-to-eat crab. It’s run by brother and sister Amanda and Mark Pender whose family who have been fishing for three generations, and their operation now includes a boat run by Amanda’s teenage son. On Thursday evenings, Amanda and Mark’s mum makes seafood paella which you eat on the verandah, and on Sundays Mark grills lobster which he serves with potato wedges and coleslaw for a tenner. “People are often scared of shellfish,” says Amanda. “We try to make it accessible.”

Crabs ready for picking at Island Fish, Bryher

 

Westward Farm Gin, St Agnes

Offbeat, quiet and stunningly beautiful, St Agnes has attractions enough. But add ice-cream and gin to the mix, you have something that in my book is something approaching heaven. The ice-cream and clotted cream produced at Troytown Farm at the end of the island’s single road has been amply covered but the gins at Westward Farm are new. Westward Farm has long been producing essential oils (some of which are used in Troytown’s ice creams) and now they’re using them in their gins, along with foraged botanicals such as gorse flowers and kelp which are  the key ingredients of their Wingletang gin, named after their local downs.

A house on St Agnes

Truth, Love & Clean CutleryNovember 26, 2018

Times restaurant critic Giles Coren describes his recently-published Truth, Love & Clean Cutlery, as “a guide to the truly good restaurants and food experiences of the UK.”  But what – apart from stonking food and wine – constitutes a “good” restaurant? Is it Michelin stars? A chef with celebrity status? Designer decor on both walls and plates? Or what?

The answer, according to Giles, is a restaurant whose food does good as well as tastes good. In recent years a growing number of chefs and restaurants have been emphasising local and seasonal produce, reducing carbon emissions, minimising waste, supporting sustainable practice by farmers, producers and wine-makers, and being an active part of their communities. Helpfully, Truth, Love & Clean Cutlery tells you which they are.

“This is a new kind of restaurant guide for a new kind of restaurant world,” says Giles. “In the year that Blue Planet II brought home the oceanic catastrophe wrought by single-use plastic and all but killed off the disposable drinking straw in a single evening, it is just not tenable to buy food and drink anywhere now without an assurance that every possible effort has been made to – in the words of the Hippocratic Oath – “do no harm.””

Giles’ first principle of selection for the guide was, naturally, divine food. “No one crosses town for dinner because the restaurant recycles its grey water to feed the tomatoes on its roof, or makes its furniture from old plastic bottles,” says Giles. “We go for the crispy, gooey pizza, slightly charred at the edges and blobbed with nduja and sage… But with that assured, don’t we want to know that what they are doing in this place is good?”

By Giles’ own admission, the selection is far from exhaustive and definitive, just a first attempt. We will all know places that deserve to be in the guide, but are not (yet), and I know Giles and his associate editor Jules Mercer would be delighted to hear from you with any suggestions for the next edition.

Buy this guide as a Christmas present for every foodie you know, and you’ll be helping both the restaurants who care about the world they live in – and the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA), which helped Giles compite his list and to whom ten percent of the book’s revenues will go.

“With this guide people can vote with their forks and use the power of their appetites wisely,” says Andrew Stephen, the Chief Executive of the SRA which helps food-service businesses work towards sustainability.

Well done Giles, Thames&Hudson, and all the restaurants in this brilliant book. No longer do you need to leave your conscience at home when you eat out. I’m afraid it’s no secret what my friends and family are getting for Christmas!

Truth, Love & Clean Cutlery, A Guide to the Truly Good Restaurants and Food Experiences of the UK, Edited by Giles Coren, is published by Thames & Hudson, RRP £19.99  truthloveandcleancutlery.com

Here are a few of the restaurants which Giles has selected for inclusion in his book:

Sorella

Sorella, 148 Clapham Manor Street, London SW4   sorellarestaurant.co.uk

“Dishes of an incredible quality, so focused, so well balanced, so adventurous and hearty. One of the most promising openings of 2018.”

 

Cafe Murano

Cafe Murano, 33 St James’s Street, London SW1   cafemurano.co.uk

“Angela Hartnett calls this a cafe, but the level of attention to detail, the skill in the cooking, the beauty of the presentation, and the professionalism of the staff bespeak far higher things – but without all the tosspottery of fine dining. Cafe Murano is Truth, Love & Clean Cutlery to the max!”

 

The Bookshop

The Bookshop, 33 Aubrey Street, Hereford   aruleoftum.com

“Thursday to Friday it’s cuts of dry-aged Herefordshire beef and other seasonal, local specialities. On Sundays it’s a roast they say is “better than your mum’s”, which we will gladly believe. Our mum mostly opens tins.”

 

The Whitehouse Restaurant                                           Image by Clare Hargreaves

The Whitehouse Restaurant, Lochaline, Morvern, Scotland  thewhitehouserestaurant.co.uk

“For delicious, fresh and exciting fare that aids the community and does its bit to help the environment, a visit to The Whitehouse hits the spot.”

 

Petersham Nurseries

Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, London       petershamnurseries.com

“We particularly admire their attention to waste management and recycling, which are by no means the most glamorous or visible aspects of the business… They are also committed to reducing food waste from their kitchens, prep from entire carcasses, and are committed to composting. They use imitation greaseproof paper made from sustainable forest paper and havde swapped from clingfilm to compostable bio-film.”

Galway’s gourmet revolutionJune 14, 2018

Quietly, Galway, on Ireland’s wild Atlantic coast, has been witnessing a gastronomic explosion, leading it to this year be awarded European Region of Gastronomy status. Among the chefs igniting this gourmet revolution is flame-haired JP McMahon, who runs tiny, Michelin-starred, Aniar (Gaelic for “From the West”, pronounced “An Ear”), so named as its dishes are inspired solely by County Galway’s fields and rugged Atlantic coast. So imported lemons and black pepper are out. Instead, its chefs craft vinegars to provide acidity, and to spice things up, powders from seaweeds or plants. To extend flavours and seasons, they draw on age-old traditions of salting, fermenting and pickling.

When I visit, dinner starts, predictably enough perhaps, with homemade soda bread, moist and dark as an Irish peat bog, served with a choice of cultured butters. But then I’m served a slip of paper bearing an Ode to Bread that starts “Someone else cut off my head in a golden field”. An academic by background and self-taught as a chef, JP doesn’t do anything the ordinary way.

The nibbles (pictured) set the tone: a garlicky chicken heart on a stick, a baby parsnip sprinkled with dehydrated onion crumb, an eel and kohlrabi spring roll, and kelp and sea radish soup – all humble, unfussily presented, ingredients that JP lifts to fabulous flavour-packed heights. Presentation of both food and restaurant are pleasingly uncluttered, allowing you to savour the essence of each glorious ingredient.

Subsequent dishes push the boundaries with equal dexterity, such as the fermented potato (we’re in Ireland, after all) with smoked cod roe and cured egg yolk, snuggled inside an eggshell. Or the Atlantic cod that’s topped with foraged pepper pulse and pickled pine needles. The second of two desserts is candied beetroot with a yoghurt cream, topped with a beetroot leather like a floppy sombrero. This is contemporary Irish food at its pared-down best – and some of the best I’ve eaten anywhere. Get to Aniar when you can.

I visited Aniar while researching a feature on the food of Galway for Olive Magazine. To read more about Aniar, and other eateries in Galway, read my feature in the June issue of Olive magazine.

Aniar Restaurant. Nibbles.

Aniar Restaurant. Atlantic cod with dulse, potato, egg and a pine cone powder.

Aniar restaurant. Beetroot and yoghurt dessert.

Aniar and Dela restaurants.

Bistro on the BridgeJune 2, 2018

All too often, British beach cafes mean soggy chips, cardboard panini and mass-produced ice-cream at rip-off prices. There’s precious little actual cooking. But Bridge Cottage Bistro, in little Sandsend, on the coast just north of Whitby, happily breaks the mould. Here, in a cottage next to the beck that flows onto the beach,  young chef Alexander Perkins draws on his rich local Yorkshire larder to do some very proper cooking. Pop in for elevenses and try his classy pistachio and rose cake or super-sized chocolate brownies. Lunchtime menus are dominated by East Coast seafood, much of it sourced directly from the fishermen who caught it. I kicked off with scallops accompanied with parsley root puree (if you’ve not tried parsley root, it’s fabulous) and pomegranate, and for main went for a lemon sole with nut brown butter, capers and lemon, that was utterly delicious. Also very popular are Alex’s twice-baked Northumbrian cheese soufflé and his fish stew. The restaurant also opens in the evening from Thursday to Saturday. Thursdays are often themed evenings, while on Fridays the restaurant does an East Coast Tasting menu (6 to 9 courses for £38, booking required). To finish, I had a lemon posset topped with poached damsons. It’s all sensibly priced and served in a friendly, gently contemporary space. Just the kind of place that the Yorkshire coast needs.

I visited Bridge Cottage Bistro while researching a feature on the food of the North York Moors for Olive Magazine. To read more about Bridge Cottage, and other eateries on the North York Moors, read my feature here.

Bridge Cottage Bistro at Sandsend near Whitby, Yorks. © Clare Hargreaves

Bridge Cottage Bistro at Sandsend near Whitby, Yorks. © Clare Hargreaves

Bridge Cottage Bistro at Sandsend near Whitby, Yorks. © Clare Hargreaves

Beefing up the beetroot with Tommy BanksMay 2, 2018

I must have first visited the Black Swan at Olstead, on the southwestern fringes of the North York Moors, six or seven years ago. It was a comfy country pub in the middle of nowhere (nearest landmark Byland Abbey) serving elaborate variations on a theme of meat and two veg. But its special point of difference was that it was run by Mum and Dad Banks and their two sons James and Tommy. Tommy was working in the kitchen with its head chef Adam Jackson, while Mum and Dad served in the bar and kept food journos like me entertained. The village was silent as a morgue as I crept outside to the room next door they’d just converted into swanky B&B accommodation.

What a change when I returned to the Black Swan in October for Olive magazine. Tommy, the Banks’ youngest son, now 28, had not only won himself a Michelin star (four years earlier) and  triumphed twice on the BBC’s Great British Menu (2016 and 2017) but a few weeks before I arrived, the inn had been named the best restaurant in the world by TripAdvisor (I know, what do they know about food? But hey, being named best in the world is a pretty cool accolade anyway). The car park was packed with BMWs, and my single room had now turned into nine, several inside the house that used to be Tommy’s grandmothers. Mum and Dad had been substituted by younger staff at the bar.

An eight-course tasting menu was the only option on offer, many of its ingredients happily sourced from the kitchen garden behind the inn and, in the case of foraged ingredients, the Yorkshire hedgerows. (The hogweed seed, honey and elderflower custard served with sheep’s yoghurt ice cream for dessert was spectacular). The jars lining the shelves in the smart first-floor restaurant were filled with fat jars of leaves and fruits that Tommy pickles and preserves to extend their season.

The highlight, though, and the dish that can never come off the menu, is the Crapaudine beetroot, an ancient French variety of beetroot that’s the size and shape of a very large turnip, and gets its name from its warty skin (crapaud being French for toad). It’s grown on the farm by Tommy’s dad, and once pulled is stored in straw which means it’s available all year round. Tommy slow-cooks slices of it in Dexter beef fat for around four hours – not in the oven as you might imagine, but on the top of the stove. The chunky beetroot slices are crowned  with creamy clouds of cod’s roe and horseradish, interspersed with delicate linseed wafers. As I eat the dish, I can almost imagine the Crapaudine’s robust flesh is meat. No wonder the chefs dub it ‘meat root.’

Beetroot may be the simplest ingredient, but the Banks’ genius is that they’ve chosen a variety you won’t find anywhere else and as they grow it themselves on the farm they don’t depend on erratic suppliers. Working on this same principle, they also grow delicately flavoured Alpine strawberries which greet you at breakfast. “They taste best when minutes after being picked, ” Tommy’s dad tells me. “So we grow our own in the garden next to the pub.”  So it’s no surprise, perhaps, that Tommy’s first book, just published, is called Roots. For roots is what the Banks family are all about – even if the place they’re serving them in is now up-scale restaurant rather than gourmet village boozer.

To read more about The Black Swan, and other eateries on the North York Moors, read my feature in the April issue of Olive Magazine.

The Black Swan at Oldstead © Clare Hargreaves

Tommy Banks’ sig dish of crapaudine beetroot slow-cooked in beef fat © Clare Hargreaves

Crapaudine beetroot grown on the Banks’ farm in Oldstead © Clare Hargreaves

The Wright kind of foodMarch 13, 2018

Wright’s Emporium is in the middle of Welsh nowhere, and from the outside looks like a ramshackle pub that the modern world forgot. But inside, what a find! Its Emporium designation, suggesting an Aladdin’s Cave of gourmet surprises that evokes shrieks of childish delight, is spot on. The Wrights part refers to its food-writer owner, Simon Wright and his wife Maryann, who runs the kitchen.

At the far end of its comforting warren-like interior is a wine store (pictured below) offering mostly biodynamic wines that are sourced direct from their European producers. If you like, bring your own bottles and fill them up yourself – sustainability is very much part of this place’s ethic. The heart of the place is a deli crammed with local goodies, from cured meats from Charcutier, to Hafod Cheddar (one of my favourite cheeses) and Wright’s own tomato Catsup (a variant on ketchup) (pictured). There’s freshly baked bread (pictured), and local meats, fruit and veg too.

The highlight, though, is the daytime cafe (open evenings on Fridays and Saturdays), where you can kick off the day with a bubble and squeak made from kale, and topped with a poached egg  (pictured). With its mismatched bare tables, bookshelves, and spreads of just-baked cakes, it’s a deliciously relaxed spot in which to enjoy Maryann’s European-influenced rustic cooking. Dishes might include a Tartiflette, a Rare roast beef tonnato, or Fried aubergine with labneh. Or if you’re in a hurry, the Pork belly cubano (£8) will set you up for the day, and don’t leave without one of their brownies, as big as bricks. Upstairs there’s even a bijou apartment which you can rent. Its location, the village of Llanarthne, is a perfect spot from where to explore Carmarthenshire.

You can read more about Wrights in my article on Carmarthenshire’s food for Olive magazine here.

The wine store, run by Simon and Maryann’s son Dan © Clare Hargreaves

Breakfast bubble & squeak © Clare Hargreaves

Wrights tomato catsup © Clare Hargreaves

Waitress Sammi Jones bringing sourdough breads fresh from the oven © Clare Hargreaves