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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Winter soul food

I love the many joys of winter: frosted scenery, toasty fires, mulled wine and the sense of panicked camaraderie when it snows and the country descends into chaos.

Seriously though, what’s not to love? Freezing offices and drying air-conditioning aside, I openly admit that I think this time of year is wonderful and I love the fact that it’s OK to wake up on a Sunday, do a bit of ‘proper’ activity and then go home at 3pm to watch a film and drink some wine. It’s almost like nature is urging you to do it; it would be a slight on Daylight Savings if you didn’t.

Not wanting to ruin this opportunity, this is precisely what I did last Sunday and, although I appreciate that most people in England did a similar thing, I very much doubt that they ate the venison casserole of kings at the end of the day. Oh no.

So, after a highly productive afternoon of chores on Saturday, I felt even more entitled to a day of winter bliss when I woke up to a beautiful crisp English morning on Sunday. After a quick dose of Peep Show on iPlayer we trotted along to Pierreponts for a spot of brunch (check out the warmer on my boiled egg and Marmite soldiers!), and then made our way up to The Bell in Aldworth (if you haven’t been, it’s essential for countryside drinking pleasure) and planned to go for a ‘nice long walk’ along the Ridgeway. Well, we managed 45 minutes which, considering the sub-zero temperature and my appalling lack of navigational skills, was actually pretty good going. This was followed by a pint of ale – you must remember to reward yourself, you see.

Anyway, in the words of Mr. T, I’ll quit this jibber-jabber (I have the same birthday as him, incidentally) and get on with the casserole. Now, I would love to take the credit for this masterpiece, but I have to admit that Adam (smiling like a true, relaxed chef, at the top here) should really take the praise as, apart from scrubbing the carrots and potatoes (which was bloody hard work as the tiny blighters came from allotment at work, although they do taste heavenly, are a bugger to clean individually) I did little else of use other than faff around cleaning up after him and chop and stir.

So, with venison bought from the lovely Fielders Farm Shop in Theale, we set to work making what Adam described as ‘the darkest, glossiest ragu ever’. I don’t think he exaggerated.  It involved a whole bottle of wine (’07 Côtes du Rhône, if you’re interested), plenty of love and a little West Indian chocolate. Beautiful.

Five hours later, when we sat down to eat with a glass of the really wonderful, elegant and exceptionally good value 2008 Camins del Priorat from master wine-maker Alvaro Palacios, something happened to me.  I experienced what can only be likened to a rich, savoury embrace from a familiar lover who has just returned from a time away on tropical shores and has now acquired a new air of charm, appeal and spicy exotic fragrance. Intoxicatingly comforting. Well, I suppose there probably are other ways to describe it, but this is how I felt.

So, there you have it, if you were hoping for a recipe I may have let you down but I’m sure I could cobble something together if you are desperate. It was totally exceptional. Roast belly of pork tonight…

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European expeditions of late

Would you Adam and Eve it? I almost forgot about this, but recently I have been rather jet-set and embarked on a touch of European traveling (what, what.) In a treacherous move, I only wrote blogs about two of these visits on my company’s blog (which you really ought to check out, as I edit the thing), but I thought that maybe you’d like to read these official versions. To that end, click the links and you can read about my work trip to sample the wines of Piedmont and my holiday to Jerez, where the sole aim was to drink copious amounts of Sherry and eat top-notch tapas. Finally, for your pleasure only, here is a picture of me, full of delicious food, happy and a bit defeated after my sixth or seventh 4-course meal in a row in Italy. A pasta course as well as a meat course? What do you mean it’s rude to say no?

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Burger me

Granted, I am a fair-weather blogger, but then why write about things if it’s not going to be interesting? Dining out with a friend who’s a food blogger and having a posh Mayfair steakhouse create a special burger especially for the occasion, is (interesting, that is).

So, Chris (fetching photo left) is intent on finding an authentic West Coast burger in the UK, specifically in London, so much so that his quest has become somewhat of a challenge to those with the burger know-how (or not, in many cases).  So, not knowing much about burgers myself – at least not as much as my dining companion – it was with great gusto that I happily grabbed, chomped and slopped my way (see below) through Goodman’s House Burger and the special In-N-Out tribute burger which they’d made especially, sourcing crappy cheese slices from cornershops.  Good news.

Part of this West Coast Burger ideal, which Chris holds so dear, is a portion of Animal Fries. No, dear unworldly friends, this is neither a portion of mammal-shaped bites (a la Cadbury’s Animals in potato format) or some sort of suspect Asian delicacy, this is simply a dish of French fries topped with mounds (and I mean mounds) of the afore-mentioned Kraft cheese, melted and mixed with thousand island sauce, pickles and other various artery-blocking, exceptionally tasty ingredients. I loved it. As the cheese went slightly cooler it formed a most unnatural gooey topping, which can only be 100% terrible for you. But then there are few things that can only be good if you have he cheapest, crappiest available (Frankfurters, for example, or, as I have recently found, Jaffa Cakes. I guess you could argue that Crab Sticks fall under this umbrella, but I will never endorse them. Ever.)

Anyway, I digress, but basically, it was really, really tasty. My burger was nice and Chris’ was Very nice (that’s one step up, but you’ve gotta love cheese). I won’t harp on about the actual review – that’s Chris’ job.

Yum.

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Bar Ha Ha (ha, you must be joking), Reading

“Two blogs in one night?”, I hear you cry.  Yes, because when something’s rubbish, it’s rubbish.  Just in the vain hope that this helps search engine optimisation:

Bar Ha Ha, Reading; Bar Ha Ha, Reading.  I will be repeating this at least once before the end of this article.

OK, on to my story.  After blogging a  happy tale about The Hoosiers, I got a call from my house mates and we decided to go in to Reading for a bite to eat and some beer.  Yum.  It was payday, we hadn’t caught up for a few days; it was all going to be so fun.  

So we decided to go to Bar Ha Ha in Reading, which changed from its old location on The Kings Road to The Oracle this summer.  It was shoddy to say the least.  We had nachos to share, which were basically stale puff-pastry triangle pieces, and my £8 goats cheese and apple salad was gross (think soggy cos lettuce, drenched in creamy sauce with about a quarter of an apple chopped in for good measure).  Hannah had the ‘King Prawn and Scottish Smoked Salmon Cocktail’ (for £9), which was basically two slices of smoked salmon, some cucumber, a couple of shrimps and three gallons of thousand island dressing.  Ahmed’s £10 ravioli was not much better.  

The whole meal came to £50 and we didn’t even have good service – one waitress didn’t know how to respond to our request for a table and the other guy was so stressed out I thought he was about to have an aneurism.  

Do not go.

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Art of Siam, Reading

Long have been the years that I have walked past Art of Siam in Kings Walk, heading straight for the delights of neighbouring Dolce Vita, but tonight I finally discovered what I was missing.

Not that I’m knocking Dolce Vita, which, in my humble opinion, is one of Reading’s better eating establishments (along side London Street Brasserie, Kyrenia and, if I’m feeling dirty, Nando’s), but I am really glad that on this occasion we decided to finally walk beyond the enticing wooden shutters and in to a delicious land of carved wood, padded wall hangings and hand-painted crockery.  I like Thai food, yum, yum, but it’s not always great.  The one in Henley-on-Thames (it’s too late to start researching names) was pretty average and not that cheap, and Suwanna in Caversham isn’t really much better, but Art of Siam combines tasty food, good prices and lovely, lovely service with a perfect warming dining atmosphere. Coupled with Monsoon Thai Shiraz (they had a recommendation from Hugh Johnson, so who was I to shun it?) and a smattering (!) of good company, this made for a most enjoyable evening.  Much fun was had by all and I will most certainly return.

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The Vineyard at Stockcross

Well, well, I hoped that working in the wine industry would be fun, but I certainly didn’t expect to be taken out to a Michelin starred restaurant before my first week was through.  However, this is precisely what happened.  No, correction, I was taken to a restaurant with two Michelin stars.  Brilliant.

OK, so I guess this place doesn’t really need people to write rave blog reviews about it, but it was really, really good.  It is the kind of place where the waiters explain all the dishes to you before you begin – the kind of place where the poached pollock comes with ‘smoked e’spuma’ (foam, basically).  It is the kind of place where the Internet Marketing Manager stands next to Andrew Lloyd Webber at the urinal (but not before I had spoken ill of this bizarre man.  This was a coincidence – I obviously didn’t think he’d be sat in the blinkin’ restaurant).

Anyway, it’s probably not somewhere you’d go for a hearty Sunday lunch, the portions aren’t massive, but if you’re craving elegant course after elegant course, home made chocolates, delicate jellies with exquisite cheeses, fresh mint teas and impeccable service, then this is the place for you.  I’m sure it’s not cheap but I hear the wine list is exceptional (we brought our own wines along, darling), so if you feel like splashing out then I reckon this place is a sure-fire hit.  Unless you’re afraid of a bit of posh, then just stick to Pizza Hut, I hear the all-you-can-eat buffet is something to behold.

http://www.the-vineyard.co.uk

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Loch Fyne, Reading

I ate at Loch Fyne last night with rather unpleasant digestive consequences.  I won’t go in to details, but I think there was something a little fishy in the soup – and I’m not talking clams.

However, the results weren’t disastrous so I will go on to give credit to the restaurant’s better points, for example the New England-esque decor (straight out of Dawson’s Creek – even though I guess it’s supposed to be Scottish), the cheap early bird menu (£11 for two courses and a glass of wine if you order by 6.45pm) and the wordsearch placemats (actually, that isn’t really something I’d credit it for, but if I win that trip to Scotland then I will retract all negative statements).  

The location is nice, the staff were fairly friendly and I don’t know of any other fish restaurants in Reading at the moment, so until there is more choice, it’ll do.  However, I am not the only one who has had slightly disappointing experiences with this chain – for example the one in Henley on Thames.

In any case, you won’t be missing out if you don’t go but you’ll probably have a ‘nice’ time if you do

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