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Peter Green

Home, Sweet Home Counties

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September 20

We’d left the night before on what Martin Amis kindly described as “the Tube in the Sky”. Flight 007 for London, which I suppose should be auspicious, but these flights just leave me feeling like something the dog might take a liking to first thing in the morning.

Formalities were extremely straightforward and pleasant, with no queues to speak of, and we found ourselves soon thereafter with our friends, Ean and Sue, driving west through the pleasant roads of Berkshire.

This was our plan - to enjoy a serene few days in England while avoiding the clutching grasp of London. I’ve talked before of the almost Nosferatan grasp of London. This time, we would spend our four days lolling about the house, enjoying the weather, and accomplishing little outside of eating, drinking, and talking with our friends about eating and drinking.

At the house, our bags upstairs, having evicted their son Daniel from his room (I did feel a twinge of remorse over that, but he didn’t mind), we set about the aforesaid purpose of our visit – gluttony.

First there was breakfast. Sausages, grilled tomatoes, toast, eggs, ham, and mushrooms. A fine start, and one I was too happy about to shoot. (Sorry, but there’ll be breakfast pictures aplenty later).

This was a fine, heaping platter of food. But Daniel put things in perspective with descriptions of eating at Mario Cafe’s in London on Warren Street. They don’t serve the breakfast on a plate, but rather on a beer tray to accommodate the ten sausages, ten eggs, bacon, beans, five black pudding, a mound of tomatoes, and mushrooms. The ten slabs of toast are stacked to the side, as the tray’s not big enough. The draw here is that if you can finish breakfast in under twenty minutes, you don’t pay the ten sterling.

A lad loves a challenge. (From the photos, they were just shy a few pieces of toast and some eggs from the finish).

After breakfast there was just enough time to unpack, soak in a tub (I love a tub I can stretch out in), nap, and read for a bit.

After that sort of physical exertion, you get hungry, so the six of us (their other son, Charles, having awoken by now) were off down the London Road for a bit of lunch.

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The Belvedere – Sunninghill

The Belvedere, on London Road in Sunninghill, was our spot for today. Ean and Sue had been here several times, and it was the consistency of the scallops that was bringing us back.

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It’s a nice old building, with Ascot Oriental perched up above it on the rise to the left. The town itself was just a bit behind us, and was flush with boot sales and an interesting looking farmers market (which would close before we could make it back there, so don't ask).

The pub itself has all the external trappings you would expect – the picnic tables, the wee brook, the willows.

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Inside, the furnishings were very comfortable; modern rooms worked through in the small spaces. The rustic antiquery had been set aside for a greater degree of comfort.

I do like comfort.

But, the small space design of these old buildings precludes large seatings, so we went outside. On a pretty, sunny English day this isn’t a great hardship. My only complaint, if it amounts to that, is the level of vehicle noise from the London Road. But, seeing as this was a roadhouse in the past, being close to the road does make some sense.

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We started with beers. I took a Timothy Taylor Landlord, a good ale, although Ean holds that it’s not as strong as he remembers from his earlier encounters (and nights spent sleeping rough). Very smooth, with a pleasant head. The others were doing Amstels and other such stuff. I guess I’m just a tourist.

Daniel talked of Oxford, and of the wealth of small breweries there. It’s been ages since I’ve been through Oxford and I should return sometime soon. Charles, in turn, brought up Zero Degrees and Hobgoblin in Reading as worth the visit. And this, being closer, was noted down in the book.

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We did the scallops all around. The meat was soft and moist, consistently cooked through. A trio of these was set against a tomato salsa, rocket, and a drizzle of balsamic.

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For a wine, having worked hard to clear our palates of the beer (I know, I know, I shouldn’t drink beer before wines, but a warm sunny day cries out for a pint) we started with a pinot grigio (Francesco),

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and then moved to a Semillon Chardonnay (Crammer’s Deckchair).

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Yoonhi had chosen the less traditional crispy duck, a take on the Sino-Thai dish, which she was quite satisfied with. She’d ordered this from the regular menu. As is the fashion nowadays in pubs, the menu was a mix of traditional and Asian inspired dishes – usually something I’ll rail against on pub menus, but, as I’d mentioned the interior décor already, I could see that that would fit here.

Mind you, the Specials menu was all traditional. Meats, fish, chicken pies, and veggies. Oven baked, roasted, or slow roasted.

As a main, Sue and I had the slow roasted pork belly, with rosemary mash (something I’ll try at home) and an assortment of very pretty British produce. I suppose I’be become too acclimatized to the washed out produce I have at home.

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As pork belly goes, this was acceptable, but not what I would call brilliant. The outer skin hadn’t quite made it to crackling, while still being too hard to cut easily. Still, it’s pork and so I was content enough.

Ean was just far enough away from me to escape the intrusion of the camera (he shot Yoonhi’s dish), but he had gone for the hake, served with linguini and a sauce of white wine, herb cream, and prawns.

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Daniel, sitting beside me, was having the roasted rib with Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, and more vegetables.

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And Charles, on my right, was enjoying the best of the dishes, the roasted lamb rump. They’d mixed the order up a bit, and brought him the special, which was with roasted potatoes. He’d been looking forward to the mash. But the goodness of the lamb was such that it didn’t matter that much.

We eschewed dessert (as I was still chewing on the pork rind), and closed out. We needed to head home to prepare for dinner.

En route, we made a stop at Sainsbury’s though (Charles much prefers M&S, but Sainsbury’s is close) and picked up some cheese and pate for later.

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While there, we came across these – Tomberries. Small, berry sized tomatoes from the Netherlands. How could I pass up something like this?

A lazy afternoon of writing and conversation led into an early evening of food. Still relatively satiated from the full frontal of lunch, our evening meal was a simple thing of antipasto, Italian cold cuts, melon, pate, cheeses and bread.

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And more pinot grigio.

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The cheeses were, as always, a joy. An English Brie, melting away in contentment; a buttery French cheese, firmer, but still yielding to the touch; a staunch chedder; two goat cheeses, one ashen; and a firmly moldy Stilton. With some prunes and grapes to settle things.

And then to bed (after some more wine).

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September 21 – Footloose and free of fancy

Morning found me awake and on my own. Alone in the kitchen.

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Well, almost alone.

Ean was walking the younger dogs in the woods, leaving me with the two older ladies – Gussy and Sadie. They had that look that pleaded for a walk, but I was hesitant to take them out without clear instructions.

So I had a beer instead.

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I’d taken a small selection from the store the day before.

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For a day’s beginning, I opened the Tanglefoot from Badger. I’d been impressed by their beers before, but this one was a thing of wonder. The whole kitchen filled with the smell of hops and other flowers. It was like being back at Kits High School when the brewery across Carnarvon was in full production.

The beer takes its name from the failure of feet suffered by the master brewer – John Woodhouse - when first they sat down to try the brew. It’s sweeter than it is bitter, probably more fruity.

The bottle says “brewed for crisp, dry finish”, and “deceptively drinkable”.

I see no deception in the matter. I drank it. Crisper than the Taylor of yesterday (less malt) it was a fine way to greet the day.

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By the time I was done writing, Sue had risen and was ready to take the girls out for a walk. I joined them, and enjoyed that damp peace of English mornings – others out with their dogs for walks; the soft light through the trees; a cat waiting in the grass surrounded by magpies, just hoping for them to come that one hop too close.

Just one hop more.

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Enough nigh-rurality. This was to be our day out in Reading. Out and about in the big city. Talk of breweries had stirred me to action.

Plus, we’d need to find some lunch.

We took the train up, enjoying the view of the embankment as we sped Westwards (“I thought there was more of a view?”).

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In Reading – minding our pockets ‘gainst pickers – we came out through the station to a day of blue skies and red brick.

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Ambling through the streets, we admired the restored brickwork of this Roman city. It’s all been cleaned up, giving a roseate hue to the old university town. Reading does get some nods as a research university, and Heston Blumenthal has made some use of their equipment in establishing what could work with what. If that’s not a claim to fame for a university, what is?

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We wandered through Marks & Spencer’s and admired their food selection. I enjoy a market and the goods they profer just about anywhere. There may not be blood in gutters and fish guts on the counter, but the lure of food is always there.

One specialty item that Ean brought to our attention was M&S’ crispy unsmoked bacon strips. We weren’t to leave without buying some of this.

We found Charles, and he gave us directions to Zero Degrees, the microbrew he’d recommended the day earlier. In particular, he’d spoken of a Watermelon Lager that they’d been making.

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To get there, we walked back up the street until we found a lane across from Smelly Alley (more later). This took us out to St. Mary’s and a walk diagonally across its graveyard.

And then we were stuck. There was a choice of two directions to take.

Lost, we resorted to our cell phones.

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You’d know it would be right in front of us, wouldn’t you?

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After the restored tradition of the Belvedere, this was a slap in the face to wake you up. Slick, modern, the rooms designed as a backdrop to the gleam of the stainless steel of the brewery. Last year they took the CAMRA (CAMpaign for Real Ale) award for best pub design.

There are four of these about the country – here, Bristol, Cardiff, and Blackheath.

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The pub stretches through the block, with plenty of seating inside, an upstairs patio out past the tanks, and a few tables streetside out back.

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We sat down outside on Gun Street to people watch and enjoy the air….okay, mainly to people watch. Our first three beers were to be an Elderflower Lager, a Mango Lager, and a Vienna Dark.

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The Watermelon Lager, it seems, had come and gone. This just goes to show the transience of life.

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Yoonhi had already cracked open the bacon strips. I see what Ean means about the addictive nature of these things. They’re not so much crispy as jerky, pulling a little as your teeth bite through them. The combination of salt and pork, matched with a cloudy beer and vanishing sunset isn’t a bad thing at all.

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The mango (4.2%), while different, was too sweet and overly fruity for our tastes. The Elderflower (4.2%) – already familiar from yesterday’s cordial – was a success, that smell of an old woman’s knickers tied in with the related floweriness of the hops. Contrast that with the aggressive bitterness of the Vienna dark (4.8%), and it was a hard decision as to which would be the favourite.

Which meant we had to drink some more.

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Next was a repeat of the elderflower (for Yoonhi) and the pale ale and weissbeer. The pale ale (4.8%) woke me right up, with a flavour of brown woods and nuts.

The weissbeer (4.6%), for its part, while looking like a dangerous hospital sample, was amazingly fresh and clear in taste. I’m used to these being more cloying in the palate, but this one washed through. When finished, it left a delightful scum on the bottom of the glass.

At this point, general consensus placed the Elderberry in the lead, with the Weissbeer and the bitter Austrian (don’t mention the war) next. But that is mainly as I felt they were both good beers. Ean didn’t share my admiration for the pale ale, but I would still drink it in favour of the others.

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We’d ordered some bar snacks to keep hunger at bay. A bowl of chips seemed like a necessity, and these came thin and crisp, with a ying yang of ketsup and mayonnaise.

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Yoonhi ordered olives, one of my favourite nibbling snacks. When I was young they were something you only had twice a year – at Thanksgiving and Christmas. As I get older and older, I don’t snack as much anymore. But I’ll always make room for an olive or two (especially if its in a chilled glass with gin and vermouth).

Sue arrived to find us in the best of moods. Ean was explaining the ancient Australian custom of playing Colonel Pouf, tapping the bottom and top of the table while attaining a state of higher consciousness, when she arrived. The weather had lost its luster, and rain was almost upon us, so we retreated across the pub to the front of the house, taking a window table looking out onto the church tower.

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We’d planned originally for Forbury’s for lunch, but you know how these things go. Given a choice of walking somewhere, or having another pint……..

The menu here was very much that of a pub – given over to a Mediterranean styling (at least they weren’t doing gaeng keaw with everything). Nothing special, but not bad (with one exception). The big disappointment for me was that it had been the mussels that had drawn me to the menu, but, being a Monday, they weren’t on.

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Obviously we ordered more beers (with the exception of Sue, who much prefers grape to grain). Ean returned to the Weiss, while I found they had a black lager (4.6%). This was full of chocolate malt, much more of a stout than a lager, but not quite as creamy as a Guinness, while much fresher than a Guiness.

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Ean had the prawns in spiced tomato sauce. The prawns themselves were plump, and juicy, fuller than what I’m used to. The sauce was lightly spiced (by my standards) and overall not a bad dish.

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Following that as a starter, next was a ceasar salad with chicken.

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Yoonhi started with some bruschetta topped with mozzarella and caramelized garlic, tomatoes and olives, alongside a salad of fresh greens and corn.

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As a main for her, it was a sample dish of penne gorgonzola, with a thick cheese sauce and walnuts back in there somewhere.

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Sue had the jarring note, a starter of stuffed mushroom. The problem with this wasn’t in the flavour, but rather in the portioning. While a porcini is a good size, it does seem a bit much to be charging one mushroom out at 4 pounds something.

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For me, it was a pizza. Thin crust and centre-pieced by a mound of greens with some squeeze action mayonnaise. The pleasant surprise to this was in the walnuts sitting about like brains on the top. When I eat a walnut, especially a warm one like these, I just have pleasant Italian thoughts in my head.

Honestly, we should’ve gone to Forbury’s. I found out later that Reading was doing a Local Flavours Festival, and that Forbury’s was doing special menus as part of it. What we had was fair enough, but it was very much the sort of meal you put on at a large modern pub. Nothing wrong, but nothing special.

However, you have to balance that against the weight of a few pints in our stomachs. I don’t know about you, but my stomach weighs in quite formidably.

After another round of beers, it was time to wander out. The clouds were breaking up, and the sun was back.

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On my list of things to see in Reading was the Sweeney & Todd Pie Shop. As this was just across the way from Zero Degrees on Castle Street (we’d been staring at it from our earlier seating on Gun), it seemed sensible to take it in.

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It was a fine assortment that they had, with at least twenty two standards on the menu, and a few specials about – such as cheese and vegetable, chicken and leek, five nations, ham and cherry, and “Sweeneys”.

The pies are on sale up front, but a trip up the stairs and there’s comfortable seating for a couple of dozen.

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And they have beer.

Well, you knew we weren’t going to just pass by, didn’t you?

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On tap were MaltnHops and 6X from Wadsworth, Adnamsbitter, and Tangle Foot, my favourite breakfast beverage.

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I decided on an Adnam’s, while Yoonhi had a half of the MaltnHops.

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For pies I had the venison and boar; Sue had the Sweeney’s, I believe, which contained lamb and pork and vegetables; and Ean…..after that many pints, you’ll forgive me if I don’t quite remember what Ean had.

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While they do proclaim that no products contain artificial flavouring or additives, they do warn you with “Please note – all game pies may contain lead shot”.

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Yoonhi was getting close to the end of her capabilities, and so refused the pie and settled on a rhubarb crumble with custard. And that darned near finished her.

Sue mentioned an interesting item as we slowly fed down on the pastry and filling. In Cumbria, on the M6 there lies the Westmoreland Services, the only privately held motorway service in the country. Sue spoke fondly of the farm produce and prepared goods to be had there.

I have to get out of London more. There's way too much fun out here to be missing.

I quite enjoyed my pie, filling me out as it did for the afternoon. But I’m a sucker for game of any sort.

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Coming out of the restroom, I spied the pastry machine across the way. I wonder if Yoonhi would let me have one?

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The service was cheerful and bright, and just reminded me that I was getting older and older – both in that my memory couldn’t keep up with the pies she’d called from the front of the list, and the fact that young people can be so continuously happy.

Talking with the proprietor, they do some 400 pies a day, around 3000 a week, a production rate that goes up to 5000 at Christmas time. The pies are sold here, and make their way into many of the pubs from here to London.

Much of the material comes from his uncle the butcher, who has a shop selling a lot of game just up the street. It’s a handy relationship, I can see.

Content, and with a few restaurant recommendations from the owner (he spoke very well of the wine cellars at the Vineyard), we staggered out onto the street.

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We were heading for Smelly Alley.

Smelly Alley took its name ages ago when it was lined with fishmongers and butchers. Now there seemed to only the one place left for fish, some grocers, the lone butcher, and a Philipino market. The rest of the street seemed given over to pedicures and such.

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We were too late for the fish, as they were just closing out. But the butcher was open. I admired the cuts in the window, and then, peeping around, saw the sign up for the offal selection. This would make Bourdain weep in happiness.

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I turned around from the signs and was faced with beautiful hangings of chorizo, pepperoni, and biltong. I couldn’t help it, the wallet was out. I loaded up, thanked him, and we headed back towards the car.

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On the way, we passed by Perfect Chicken & Ribs. Above the door was a sign – Halal. I can see the donair and the chicken and the kebabs, but how do you do pork ribs “halal”?

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I made one lone, sad attempt to get everyone to stop in for some Cornish pasties and then a final pint at Hobgoblins. I was wondering if they’d have the same ale they had in Roppngi , the Dog’s Bollocks, but my compatriots, groaning under pies and ale, weren’t having any of it.

Wedged into the car, Sue drove the three of us home, me hanging out the window like a dog on an outing seeing what I could see.

Back home in the late afternoon, I felt it was a reasonable time for a wee pint and some writing.

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I was drinking the second of the trio from Sainsbury’s, a Bath Ales Barnstormer, a rich dark bitter, with a bit of fruit in there. From the lable it’s a mix of marisotter, chocolate, and crystal malts, together with Bramling Cross hops. Fine filtered.” I settled into this, and tried to accomplish something useful in the run up to dinner.

Dinner was later in the evening (I accomplished little), as the boys were both at work today. They came home hungry. Sue was ready for them.

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Dinner tonight was a selection of seafood. Lobster, crab farci, shrimp, smoked salmon and smoked trout, and smoked mackerel.

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Alongside of this was a salad of avacados and those fine little tomberries. They just pop in your mouth, with almost the perfect ratio of skin to meat.

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We’d move back to pinot grigio again, which did a remarkable job of reviving our appetites in order to let us keep up with Daniel and Charles.

Everyone done in for the day, the muse of sleep overtook us.

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[September 22

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Breakfast this morning was a fine English tradition – the Baky Sandwich. Two slices of good, toasted bread, a mound of bacon, and mayonnaise.

To go with this, I cleaned up the blueberries I bought the other day, and we dug into those like peanuts.

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Compared to Vancouver the berries were quite a bit more bitter, not as sugar laden as I’m used to. But still, a blueberry is a blueberry, and well worth consuming.

Ask any bear.

Our mission today was a drive to Bray.

Don’t get your hopes up too much. We’d been trying for reservations at the Fat Duck for quite some time, but they weren’t going to happen (”Recession? What recessions?”).

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However, Heston Blumenthal also owns the Hinds Head, just next door. The menu is quite different, the focus being on traditional foods and cooking methods, with several of the dishes items that have been recovered from the past as Blumenthal has worked with the Tudor Kitchens people from Hampton Court Palace (and we’ll get to some of those dishes in a bit). Clive Dixon from the Champignon Sauvage and Lords of the Manor is doing the cooking here, coming to the task with a love for traditional cooking.

So, how is any of this different from a standard pub menu, you ask? (Where’s the red curry?)

Deciding on lunch took ages. That meant we needed beers while we thought things over.

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I had Al Goode’s Fresh, they’re guest ale; and Ean went for the Bath Ale – which came brown, nutty, and smooth.

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The real decision lay between the lunch specials and the menu. In the end Ean went with the three course, and the rest of us tore apart the menu.

The specials all looked very good. To start, a choice of rabbit brawn with potato salad, or tea smoked mackerel salad with gooseberry dressing. Ean chose the rabbit brawn.

The main was either slow cooked pork collar with cauliflower macaroni cheese, or fish pie. Ean, carnivore that he is, went for the pork collar. And this is what had been luring me in as well.

And for dessert, Banbury cakes with potted stilton, or Sussex Pond pudding. And, to Ean’s everlasting satisfaction, he had the Banbury cakes.

For our part, we began with some of the snacks.

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We had the Devils on Horseback – prunes injected with a mango chutney and then wrapped in bacon. These were chewy, with salt from the bacon, the mix of flavours almost that of a fig. Small and good, they did what an appetizer should, which is to get you salivating.

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For a wine, Ean had spotted a Washington State Pinot Gris on the menu, from Chateau Ste Michelle. This was very fresh, kicking up and to the sides of the roof of your mouth. The ash from Mt. St. Helen must still be doing some good.

Sue and I both homed in on the duck and smoked guinea fowl terrine with spiced apples as our starter. This was, as you’d expect, rich. Very rich and satisfying, and the flower of spiced green apple sheets interleaved with beets went well with the richness in the terrine (ah, that layer of fat from the duck liver).

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Ean’s brawn, in contrast, wasn’t brawny enough to stand up to these flavours, and so he was content not to share in ours (although we fell upon his). But, while his brawn was delicate, the potato salad had strength enough for both, and was an excellent complement.

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Yoonhi, across the table, had ordered the roast onion tart with goats cheese, taking her back to happy meals in Luang Prabang at the Apsara. This came camouflaged ‘neath a shroud of watercress. A good tart

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We ordered the triple cooked chips for the table. Boiled and cooled, then fried and cooled, and then finally finished in a fry, they were, as advertised, fluffy on the inside and crisp on the outside.

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Sue had ordered the whole plaice, shrimps, capers and parsley as her main course. The fish was unremarkable, the flesh of the plaice being relatively neutral, just there to carry the sauce.

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Yoonhi was having the white bait with lemon mayonnaise, having decided to make up her meal of appetizers. These small herring (I think they’re herring) are cooked and eaten whole as bar snacks. The breading and frying taking away too much of the fishiness for my tastes.

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Another interesting side was the brocolli with anchovies. The salt in the anchovies worked very well with the gentleness of the brocolli.

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And her other dish was the potted shrimps with watercress salad, a tasty little thing packed with tiny shrimps.

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Ean’s pork was quite good, and the cheese macaroni very pleasant, but he was unhappy with the portioning, feeling that another slice (and these were thin cuts) would have been appropriate. But I tried a taste, and the richness of the meat and the gravy it was served with were both excellent.

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Myself, I’d been torn. As I’d said, I’d had my eye upon that pork. There was also the Balmoral venison cheeseburger, and, most attractive of all, whole roast grouse with braised savoy cabbage, bread sauce, and bacon. That grouse was very tempting.

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But I decided in the end on that staunch traditionalist, the shepherds pie with lamb shoulder, breast and sweetbreads.

I’m a sucker for sweetbreads.

The pie was served with a good selection of the ingredients on top of the potato, where they’d crisped nicely, countering the gravy goodness of the meats and veg underneath the blanketing.

This left us on the doorstep of dessert.

It seems the more and more that I claim to not be a dessert person, the more often I indulge.

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As noted, Ean’s Banbury cakes with potted stilton were remarkable. This was one of the dishes where Heston Blumenthal had been making use of the lab equipment at Reading’s university, breaking down the smells to get the right combination. The cake, on its own, is very much a savoury rather than a dessert. The potted stilton, on its own, is rather just there. But, put together, the flavours of the currant filled cake and the cheese hang richly in your mouth. Ean took wine, water, and coffee, and still he enjoyed the taste.

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Sue had the treacle tart with milk ice cream, for which she substituted full cream. This was, as the name would suggest, treacly, well matched with the dairy product.

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For myself, I had to try the chocolate wine ‘slush’ with millionaire shortbread. This (and Yoonhi’s, still to come) were old traditional recipes that have been resurrected, and came with a brief note on the history of the dish. In my case, chocolate wine went back to the 1660s, hot (or cold) on the heels of the first chocolate deliveries from the New World. They would blend a strong wine (claret or port) with the sugar and chocolate, whisking them together. I have to add in their quote from William Salmon who had a version of this in 1710:

If made with Wine, Eggs &c. it provokes Lust much, increases Seed, and adds to the Vigour of Procreation.” This comes thanks to Ivan Day 3959219125_2a4e0f6504.jpg

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Yoonhi went for the quaking pudding. This was a thing of cream, sugar and cinnamon, cooked three times and finished on a steaming. The texture comes out much like a panna cotta. The result is hard to get across with a still photo, so I’ve fallen back upon YouTube to get the right idea.

This pudding came about when, in the 17th century, cooks found that they could use cloth bags and bowls for setting dishes, rather than in gut, as with black pudding and sausages. This opened up the opportunity for making a lot more pudding, and there was an explosion on this front. The quaking pudding was a popular dish, mild in flavour, and entertaining in its undulations, and was found in cookbooks up through the early 19th century.

A still shot really doesn't do credit to this dessert..

The flavour, as described, was gentle, the cinnamon coming through nicely. I wonder why it fell out of favour two hundred years ago?

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Lunch done, we set out for a stroll through the village.

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Next door, of course, is the Fat Duck itself. We arrived to pay homage at least to the menu in the window, and then Heston Blumenthal came out with a party of diners.

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When they were done, we did take the opportunity to pass our compliments on the meal. When Ean mentioned the Banbury Cakes, Heston’s face lit up. It must be one of his favourites, as his reaction was a lot of fun to see.

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After that we wandered through the lanes, and found ourselves by the Thames soon enough, outside of Alain Roux’s The Wateside Inn. And from there we were through the churchyard and its cemetery, returning the back way to our car.

This could be a nice village to retire in.

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Edited by Peter Green (log)

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Home again, dusk settling upon us, I opened the third seal and poured the Bitter and Twisted. This had carried the usual postings on the shelf of being a “best beer of the year” and suchlike, but I was sadly disappointed. This blond, sporting a defiant rodent against ears of wheat, looks good on the pour, but is lacking in substantiality.

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Unfortunately, rather than the a rapture of rodents, it was just a slightly thin, unremarkable beer. Some people have written of the hops in this, but it lacked the edge I was hoping for from the name.

Pity.

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Our evening was a short trip to Windsor to take in the theatre. The title had promise – Lunch with Marlene and Noel – and the first half was fair enough, with good dialogue and some things I didn’t know about the stars of the silver screen. But the second half was targeted more to people who had been there when the screen was untarnished, and it didn’t do as much for me. I’d much rather have seen their staging of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, or the evening with Roy Hudd they had coming up.

Still, it’s pleasant being in a theatre, with a live performance. And there’s also the bonus of the intermission. Sue and I had popped downstairs to book our drinks in advance.

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This means not only that you maximized drinking vs waiting time, but that our three white wine spritzers and the Old Speckled Hen (another coincidental memory of Tokyo) would keep our seats safe until our arrival.

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Outside, in the dark, we took in the Thames, a flock of English swans (I was told that all swans are the property of the Queen) resting by the bridge in the company of two stray Canadian geese.

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The “Windsor Eye”, or whatever they call it, loomed out of the darkness an alien blue, jarring in this setting of Tudor structures and stone bridges. We thought of a curry or some fish and chips, but everything was closing about us.

Home we fell upon the remains of the seafood, cheese, and antipasto from the nights before.

It’s a routine I could grow used to.

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September 23- Hounded from bed

It’s a hard thing waking up with the dawn. Or at least within a couple of hours of it. We took refuge in mugs of Sumatran coffee, and exercised our lifting arms to the national past time of pillorying the BBC and the UK government.

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We took the dogs to the woods, and spent an hour or more walking through the greenery. The woods are royal, but permission is given for walkers. The rangers don’t mind the dogs (at least not if they’re trained). I will miss the greenery when we leave here.

That stroll in the light rain woke our appetites from their slumber, and so our thoughts turned to breakfast.

This was a splendid thing of sausages, blood pudding, tomatos, and mushrooms. The eggs and toast were in there as well, but I always consider them a supporting role.

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The blood pudding, unwrapped, looked rather….well, you know.

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But once it was sliced up I had no qualms.

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Our sausages were pork and herbs, properly packed in gut.

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As I watched the pork fest under the grill, I was impressed by the fountains and guysers that would erupt. There was one spurt from the pork and herb sausages that was like a fire boat in the harbour (Sue advised that they’d already had to replace one of the grilling elements in the oven, when they’d seen it about to go supernova).

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The mushrooms were allowed to slowly cook in butter while the grilling was underway, that soft smell of the forest developing as we tended the oven.

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The sausages retrieved we put the pudding in. This sizzled and sputtered, and soon the skin was crawling away from the heat like a dying insect of some sort. The fat bubbled and boiled out of the bloody matrix, and spattered onto the slab of bacon in the middle.

It’s all quite Mephistophelian.

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Ean had Australian advice on the eating of eggs. He said that the best option was to shovel the egg onto the toast, then eat away the white, and then, in a climax, allow the yolk to spend itself onanisticly into the toast.

Sue shuddered.

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Being our last day, I did feel there was a need for more beer, and so I picked up a few bottles for the afternoon.

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At home, stretched in the tub, I tried another of the Badgers. This was their Dandelion. As opposed to the others from their brewery, and in contrast to Zero Degree’s Elderflower, this was disappointing. You couldn’t really pick out the dandelion in it, and if you can’t do that, well then, what’s the point? Yoonhi – who brought me the beer – had poured some for Ean as well, and he later agreed on this.

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Next up was a bottle of Long Days, Badger’s summer solstice brew. As Ean put it “that’s more like it”. This was a satisfying ale, some fruit in there like the Tanglefoot, and a good nose. I drank this as the light fell about us.

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Following that, it seemed like a good idea to open the Meantime. This had taken the IPA 2008 Brewer of the Year award for Alastair Hook. 7.5 % and champagne corked like a Belgian.

The bottle advises me that the hops are Fuggles and Golding. I don’t know enough to comment on that, other than to say that this had a great nose, with the flower of the hops evident against a strong cloud of citrus, and an overall balance in the mouth that’s quite admirable. It gives itself to neither the sweet nor the bitter, but teases both.

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Following such a great performance, the Leffe blond was a disappointment. But that really is just in it’s place in the order of things. If I’d had the Leffe after the Bitter & Twisted of the other day, I’d have been extolling its virtues. It’s a good, general purpose Belgian, but if you’re the sort of person that’s reading this, then you already know the beer.

Daniel returned from work, and he and talked about compute gear and other restaurants. From Oxford he spoke first of Posh Fish and their all day breakfast, but then he recalled a kebab shop with an interesting burger. Two quarter pound patties, topped with donair meat, cheese, and salad, and forced closed with rubber bands. Daniel had thought it wasn’t that much, and ordered cheesy chips to go with it, but ended up leaving the chips untouched, just barely finishing the burger.

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For dinner, we were going out for our last night. So, the proper thing to do is pop some champagne first.

Champagne is always a good start to an ending.

Next - The Latymer

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Dinner was at the Latymer, located in the Penny Hill Hotel in Surrey. The chef, Michael Wignall, earned the Penny Hill their first Michelin star last year, having done the same at the Burlington Restaurant in North Yorkshire’s Devonshire Arms.

The good Mr. Goodfellow has already been here , so I’ll leave the rest of the pedigree and details for you to read there. He's far better at this. Let me concentrate on this meal.

First, it’s a beautiful hotel to walk through, I must say. And we ended up walking quite a ways through it from the car park. Luckily, there were staff about that could get us in the right direction, as we were getting lost.

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We were shepherded in past a display of champagne (always a good sign), and shown through to our table, a beautiful round thing of inlaid woods, set with charger plates of a design looking like spun gold in the form of Saturn’s rings.

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Dark woods, white linen, brown leather, and super saturated red roses gave the room a feel of deep elegance. Happily we voiced our approval.

And we could voice said approval without a twinge of concern, as the room was empty.

We asked the maitre d’ about this, and he conceded that the recession was having its way, with erratic booking patterns creating havoc. The night before, a Tuesday, they had been almost full.

But none of us minded that particularly. When you have a chef that can produce stars on regular basis, you know they’ll deliver.

Plus, when you’re in the company of friends, there’s a certain joy you can take in having, effectively, a private room, and not being constrained in how you voice your approval.

We hardly bothered to look at the carte, just told them that we’d have the tasting menu.

We had asked the chef to play around, seeing as there wasn’t too much of a load this evening, so the menu was not quite in line with the printed version. I’ll do my best to keep up with the changes, but we were hampered by our waitress’ accent, and the metamorphosis of my handwriting after a large number of pints.

Our first amuse was an interesting plate. A collection of tastes, one plate for each couple.

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The gold dumpling contained a bloody mary, which I absconded with under Yoonhi’s nose. The pretty white dish was goat cheese topped with red pepper tapioca. Our other bowl contained fried balls of gruyere cheese and butternut squash rsotto. Aubergine caviar in the spoon. Two rolled things called, I believe, duchesa feuille, which were crisp, and we belive filled with duck liver. There were pastries of anchovy. And huddled in the back were two fried bricks of sesame prawn paste.

Our first wine was a Ginolfo Viognier, Baglio di Pianetto, Sicily 2005. I’ll give the wine notes here over to Ean, as he knows more about wine than I ever will:

we need to remember that these are two atypical Italian wines, the Ginolfo is a good wine, not great, better on the palate than on the nose, with good fruit, dark berries, and a full palate with a subtle finish, this of course can be said of 90% of the wines one sees in good restaurants….

We’ll get to that second Italian white soon.

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The second dish was another amuse, a small thing of fennel froth, radish, cucumber, more faux caviar, lentils, and I believe a bit of foie under there. It was sharp points that, with the fennel froth, hit all of the parts of the palate.

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This was followed by the first course proper. A small seared foie gras down in the lower right – a pretty little thing, quivering before our gase; caramelized pear, sour dough crisp (with a strong flavour of parmesan) astride another bit of foie gras; camomile espuma beside a tube of the liver, and a dollop of butternut squash sorbet with a tidbit of tapioca of some sort atop a bacon look alike formed from foie (I believe).

This was a nice fit in the meal, as it carried the theme of tapioca pearls forward from the appetizers. It also set another theme of concentrating flavours, everything on the plate standing up well.

An exercise, but a fun one. As you’d expect, I was enjoying this meal. Common threads carrying from dish to dish, and linking flavours carrying us through.

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Our breads came packaged tidily like some parcel from afar. The selection of four pairs was well received, although we were a little hesitant about indulging too much, given the journey ahead.

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I generally agree with Steingarten (but, who doesn’t) in that a restaurant’s bread says a lot about them. These were good breads. Pully, a joy of gluten. And there was plenty of variety in the seeds used. Sue, however, felt that the seeds – the caraway in particular – were a distraction, too overpowering.

Lest I forget, the butter was excellent. Thick, cloying, and everything else you would hope for from churned mammary fluid.

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Seared tuna in five spice and cumin, rings of squid countered by two small mounds of ikura, and atop the tuna an oyster paste and osetra caviar. The fish was braced by a tube of what we think was kelp. Some squares of beet root fill anchor the ends of the swabs, providing colour, sweetness, and a morning’s fear of colon cancer (actually, there wasn’t enough to be evident….am I in the TMI zone here?).

Again, a very good progression, moving from the faux caviar to the real, the saltiness of the brined roe working against the thin, lean flavour of this tuna.

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Next was one of my (many) favourites, roast calves sweetbreads, These cowering under a flake of crisp chicken skin. There was a foam that I can’t quite recall, and a comte fondu beneath that. The Hereford snails, those two black lumps, stood out on the ring of glaze like moons in orbit, circling through an obstacle course of black eyed peas an roast onion. These were agreeably chewy once bitten into, taking me back to that dish of snails I did at Gary Rhodes W1 Brasserie a few months ago. Beneath was a butternut squash puree continuing the butternut tradition from the foie grass course two dishes earlier.

That reminds me….somewhere Rona (Prasantrin) talked about a place in Bangkok that specializes in deep fried chicken skin. I’ve got to get there, as this is good.

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We moved on a bottle of Klin, Primosic, Fiuli Venezia 2006. This had a very nice nose, and the flavour went to a good dry mineral feel after a few moments. That’s what I thought. Here are Ean’s comments:

….the Klin however goes to another place, the initial tasting was of a complex wine served too cold and so it was broken, the nose was full but on the palate it reached half way and then finished with a quite nasty taste, left for about 5 minutes and although the nose, full round with a comfortable finish, stayed the same the taste on the palate changed radically, now the blend worked, I failed to ask the celler master’s ….. name but he is to be worshipped. One of the truly great whites shifting slightly to allow for the food but never over powering it, and we were dealing with some delicate flavours in the food. Very few wines stretch from Sweatbread through eel and scallop to delicate butternut squash froths. As usual the greatness of the wine was reflected in the price.”

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I did think it tasted rather nice.

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Transitioning from a mix of marine (snails) and land (calves) we went into deeper water and had seared hand dived scallops and poached langoustine; and then went back ashore with char grilled leeks, caramelized peanuts (a very nice touch), sesame emulsion, and shavings of black truffle, both on top, and beneath, the earthiness working with the meat of the scallops and grounding the dish.

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Following this, and completely off the menu, was a beautiful plate of salt cod and eel, with crisp ‘skin’, worked up – we believe – from squid ink and tapioca (which further extends the connections). This dish again concentrated the flavours, and Yoonhi pointed out the smell of truffles in the egg yolk, all elements working to bridge the dishes.

We opened a red at this point. A cabernet sauvignon from Santa Croce, in Puglia, a vigneti real from 2005. Ean says the Santa Croce was interesting, not a huge nose but pleasant on the palate, an acceptable red, but I did notice that I tended to drink it to clear the palate rather than compliment the food. Hints of apricot which is never good for me.

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Poached chateaubriand of Limousin veal, young parsnip puree, haggis won ton (peaking out at the back there, and extremely intense in flavour), a stunning mushroom tortellini, and cos lettuce heart, with juniper jus. The beans are Italian coco beans, nice and starchy, and there were also roasted cepe mushrooms in there, king oyster mushrooms, purple brocolli, and cream of truffle.

As usual, I became too enthusiastic and had to miss something. In this case it was the cheese dish. My notes indicate that it was “a pretty thing” with the “jelly of the cheese and the crunch of the walnut”. Sue, in looking back, also mentioned a green tube with a creamy filling, the green being cucumber jelly. You’ll have to make do with that.

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Pre dessert was a bowl of Earl Grey panna cotta, an Earl Grey ice cream, a jelly of tart berries, tonka bean shortbread, and meringue sticks.

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Next was the dessert they labeled ‘continental breakfast’, with lemon crepes, a streak of coffee down the middle, ‘bacon and eggs’ of a tart strip of berry and a yoghurt ice cream and grapefruit jelly. And a “bowl of chocolate” up there. Meusli parfait and a piece of brioche toast to fill out your morning meal.

Yoonhi never makes me breakfasts like this.

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For a dessert wine, we decided on a botrytis – the Recioto Della Valpolicella, Tezza, Venetia 2004. Here’s Ean, again: “The desert wine was so-so; not a significant noble rot compared to some I have had. Maybe as with the red with a single dish would have been better.

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We finished with a moelleux of dark chocolate, malted milk sabayon, lavender, honey ice cream and jelly. For someone who’s not a “dessert person” I sure eat a lot of very good desserts.

Well, almost finished. Sue had a pot of Earl Grey tea, and Yoonhi a decaf latte.

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This with a parting shot of chocolates and candied fruits. I’m always partial to candied fruits.

From the looks around the table, we had had a successful dinner. Speaking only for myself, I appreciated how Michael Wignall had tied his dishes together. There was a consistency of style, and a handover in common flavours and themes as we’d worked through.

And we definitely didn’t leave hungry.

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(or sober, except for our trusted driver).

This was an excellent finish to the trip (overlooking the dawn departure the next day. I do appreciate a chef - and a staff - that don't just blow off an empty house, but, rather, look on it as a chance to have some fun. And this meal had been a lot of fun.

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September 24 – Training complete

Home, sweet home.

So, after a four day intensive training in the UK (we had to get ready for the WGF) what did we buy?

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Peppercorns, to tide us over to Bangkok. Beautiful leeks, that cost a fortune over here (I’ll be making duck pie and doing stocks with those). Big porcini mushrooms to bake, and smaller chestnut mushrooms to work into other dishes. Purple flowering broccoli to steam and have alongside a galena a la Mexican later in the week (trust me), birthday stuff, and some fresh rosemary and thyme (my bushes have died).

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Yoonhi had picked up a big bag of muesli, and I stocked up on Cadbury milk chocolate (we all have our weeknesses). Plus, we had the charcouterie from the butcher in Smelly Alley – pepperoni and chorizo (to use in some of Rodriguez’s dishes). And there were still 8 packages of M&S’ crispy smokeless bacon over there.

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And I shouldn’t forget the Tomberries. Three packages of those to parse out in Greek salads and other fresh green offerings.

I don’t see them, but somewhere in this we’ve got some hemp seeds, too. Maybe I should do a Happy Herb’s pizza for a Cambodian night?

There. I’ve finished a trip with just a week to spare (take that, Rona! ☺ )

Next -

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You like mass produced beer, cheap Dutch hothouse tomatoes and a huge multinational supermarket chain, have I missed something, or was there a point to all this?

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Guilty, I freely admit. Those are all things I can't normally indulge in.

I do admire the chains of England, no matter if they rattle multinationally. Just as I enjoy Shinseggae, Lotte, Sogo, and Takashimaya. They give you a glimpse into the dining rooms and kitchens of the country you're visiting.

And perhaps that's the point. To do a trip to England that's just a gentle sojourn, rather than the full frontal of most of my trips. There'll be time enough for that this next week. This was just relaxation, an attempt to capture John Major's speech of years ago, if you would.

I'm just a simple man with common tastes.

Or is that common man, with simple tastes? I can never keep these things straight.

:smile:

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Peter, please don't feel the need to apologise for soundman's churlish and invidious comments. Quite frankly there is little enough traffic on this board as it is, so thank you for your posts. I'm glad you and Yoohni had a good trip.

Soundman- for your information, I too buy the odd bottled beer from Tescos and even, god forbid, buy their tomatoes. No doubt you have artisan producers for both. Unusually, at the same time I quite happily spend hundreds of pounds of my son's inheritence on Michelin starred meals. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Thank you for pissing me off on this beautiful Sunday morning.

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I need to eat at Hinds Head. And I'd have done what Yoonhi did, too, and just order appetisers. Fried=good!

How can you get away with bringing fresh produce and meats into your country of residence? I still get stressed when I think about my mother sneaking in a sweet potato for me! (And I get bummed when I think of how I forgot to bring one this year :sad:) Is it because most foods are imported and not locally produced out there?

And it doesn't count if you haven't finished the other stuff first! Humph!


Edited by prasantrin (log)

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I have really enjoyed reading this thread and have been reminded to get some bottles of Tanglefoot in, one of my favourite beers.

Looks like a really good trip,

cheers

Lapin

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I am very impressed by a man who seems to like beer for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Although, it is probably more impressive that he has found a partner who lets him...!

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Sorry if I pissed you off Bapi, be assured, nothing was further from my mind when I posted my thoughts, I just never realised egullet was the place to talk about love for Dutch hothouse tomatoes, whether you, or anyone else buys them is not really the issue, and for the record I have a lot of admiration for the Badger brewery, though less for supermarket chains admittedly. I just still can't see why someone would want to post pictures of their Sainsburys shop on the internet, and if that's all people do post on egullet then no wonder it's on it's arse.....

Sorry to anyone I offended and Peter Green (Not THAT Peter Green I'm assuming.....) Glad you enjoy what you enjoy, and keep enjoying it!

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Thanks for an enjoyable read, Peter. Terroir remains endlessly fascinating, and to see everything from what's at the daily supermarket, through to a view into what's happening in a higher-end British restaurant these days, was great. I'm glad you made the effort :smile:


QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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