Thursday, March 31, 2011

Trealy Farm charcuterie

I used to be a bit sniffy about British charcuterie. It didn't seem quite right - surely only the French and Italians had the centuries-old know-how to do it properly? And for a while all the samples of rather bland British salami and sausage I tasted bore this out.

But there's no reason why we shouldn't do it well - we have great raw materials for a start - and I'm increasingly impressed by the local charcuterie I'm tasting

Last Sunday at the Love Food Spring Festival was a case in point. There was a stall from Monmouthshire-based Trealy Farm including a very tasty venison salami, a brilliant soft chilli-spiked black pudding (for eating cold rather than cooking) and one of the best garlic sausages I've ever tasted - apparently much admired by Raymond Blanc in his recent series. They also won the title of Best UK Food Producer in last year's Observer Food Awards.

I've also had some really authentic French-style country paté recently (ironically from an Italian, Vincent Castellano who sells in Bristol's Wednesday farmers' market). There's also Bath Pig which specialises in chorizo and former chef and forager Andrew Sartain's Wild Food Larder.

Given the charcuterie craze in restaurants and wine bars at the moment they should do well.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Hansen & Lydersen smoked salmon

I tasted some fantastic smoked salmon this week at The Albion in Islington. Actually I didn't order it so it was half demolished by the time I got to try it. As you can see from the photo.

It came from Hansen & Lydersen who are hardly new kids on the block having been smokers in Norway since 1923 but the youngest scion of the family, Ole Hansen, has now set up in Stoke Newington. Although the fish appears to receive quite robust treatment (they use, they say, 100% pure juniper, beech wood flour and chips from smoked products specialist Dansk Traemel and smoke the salmon for a minimum of 10 hours) the end result is very delicate subtle cure.

I think it rivals Frank Hederman and Ummera, up to now my favourite smokers.

They don't sell it vac packed as they think it destroys the quality. You can buy sides or fillets through Hubbub which organises an online service for independent shops in that part of North London

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Spuntino - a place not to take your friends

One visit to Russell Norman’s new bar Spuntino and I was smitten so why on earth should I say you shouldn’t take your friends? Because you’ll stand a much better chance of getting a seat if you don’t, that’s why.

I swung by at 6.30pm on the offchance and got sat straight at the bar. That’s the way to do it according to Norman - good advice in a place that only has 26 covers.

Those of you who are familiar with Polpo and Polpetto will feel entirely at home with the carafe wine and cichetti (bar snacks) formula which sees some tempting new variants on the theme.

I had to try the much hyped Truffled Egg Toast - a truffley sort of Buck’s Rarebit - and wasn’t disappointed but also liked the fresh, zesty duck ham (duck ham?), pecorino and mint salad with peashoots and the look of my neighbour’s stack of Brick Lane salt beef. Other dishes that have received plaudits are the house pickles, egg and soldiers, lardo and caperberry crostini, eggplant chips with fennel yoghurt and, above all apparently, the mac and cheese which I failed to order. Drat!

Even so the food is not entirely what you go for. All Norman’s restaurants are cool but this is ubercool in a part of town - the sleazy side of Soho - that is definitely on the up. There are no reservations, no phoneline. There isn't even a name over the door. (It's at no 61 Rupert Street just off Shaftesbury Avenue.)

My only gripe is that the minimum amount of water you can buy is a 75cl bottle - not so good for sole diners for whom this is otherwise the perfect venue.

Incidentally I never mind eating by myself, especially at the bar. Do you feel the same way?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

St John Custard Doughnuts

Not having a particularly sweet tooth (yes, weird, I know) I don't often blog about cakes but these custard doughnuts I spotted at the St John Bakery in Druid Street yesterday are simply awesome.

Thank god I didn't try to eat them in the street. As you bite in a fountain of vanilla-flavoured custard cascades over your chin. Real vanilla of course - you can see the specks. The doughnuts are featherlight and not too sweet, freshly dusted in sugar as they should be. This has to be the most perfect doughnut ever and I've eaten some of the concoctions at New York's legendary Donut Plant. (The carrot cake doughnut is particularly fine)

I'm sure they'll serve them at the new St John Hotel which opens on April 2nd and which will reputedly be serving home-baked breakfast buns. Maybe even for elevenses or for the afternoon Little Bun Moment . . . Can't wait.

(The St John Bakery opens on Saturday mornings in Druid Street from 9-2. More about this happy hunting ground shortly.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

McDo et le Crumble Pom' Fruits Rouges

I never thought I'd find myself saying this but I spent several hours in McDonalds last week. Quite happily.

It turned out to be the only place in Agde (in the Languedoc) where I could get a fast broadband connection or 'weefee' as they pronounce it in France. It was quiet, it was clean and the coffee was actually quite good.

Even more surprising they had something edible, a red fruit crumble to which I became strangely addicted. It wasn't too sweet and the crumble topping actually tasted quite buttery.

I didn't go as far as to have a meal there but you know I was almost tempted. They had burgers topped with goats cheese (though I can't find that on the French McDonald's site). And fat chips aka 'Les Deluxe Potatoes' rather than the usual pallid string fries. Not to mention a 'p'tite salade de saison avec son nouveau mélange hivernal et sa vinaigrette à l'huile de noisette' which all sounds very Michelin-ish though admittedly almost anything sounds better in French.

Was I so pathetically grateful to get online that I overlooked McDonald's usual shortcomings or has it actually improved? Or is it just French McDos? Have you been in one lately?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Pitney farm shop - the farm shop we'd all love to have on our doorstep

I’ve been too busy to blog much lately but really wanted to tell you about this fantastic farm shop I went to in Somerset a week or so ago. Not that all of you will find it convenient to get to it but it represents everything a farm shop should be.

It’s run by Lizzie and Rob Walrond who farm their 100 acre farm, Glebe Farm, organically. They have pigs, sheep, cows and laying hens and all their meat is slaughtered locally. They also have a wide variety of organic vegetables as well as - enterprisingly - ingredients like risotto rice and spelt flour which are sometimes hard to find in rural areas.

I bought a joint of beef off them purely on the basis of the name: it's called a 'bread and butter cut' and is apparently designed for slow roasting though I haven't tried it out yet. There’s a good diagram of where it comes from here.

I also bought bacon, a big lettuce, Russian kale - which was delicious and unusually tender (they only pick the tips) and some intensely flavoured (and lethally fart-inducing) Jerusalem artichokes. And I didn't buy the swede but for some reason took a picture of it.

They actually pressed some free eggs on us because they have so many. Apparently conventional egg producers have eggs all year round because they keep the hens under artificial light throughout the winter but organically reared hens lay off until the spring and then go crazy. So if you have an organic flock nearby up your egg purchases to help out the farmer.

Glebe Farm is right in the depths of the Somerset countryside, 9 miles south of Glastonbury but they have directions on the site and it's well-signposted from the main road (the B3153).

While you’re in that neck of the woods you could also go and visit - as we did - Julian Temperley’s Somerset Distillery and the Brown and Forrest smokery where we had some great smoked eel. And we missed it but Moor Beer, to which a beer-loving friend of mine is addicted, is apparently in the same village. You could actually drive round and pick up everything you need for a weekly shop.

The only dampener on the day was that it poured practically non-stop hence the dark, gloomy pictures. But I can imagine it's heaven out there in the summer.

There's a fascinating account of the manors of Pitney which date back to the early 13th century here.

Let's hear it for farm shops - have you got a good one near you?