Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Brum Fun

I think I've had what writer's call 'block'. I ate and I ate, then I ate some more, but still the words wouldn't form (I did get a touch of indigestion, though). Slowly, as the idea of posting became more onerous, I begun to stop taking pictures of my lunch and went back to the same places to eat, so I wouldn't have to blog about them later. Was Pies and Fries finally stale and soggy?

Ultimately though, while it was nice to just sit back and smell the coffee (without trying to snap an arty picture) I kinda missed it; So grab the Rennies and let's get stuck in.

This particular adventure take us back to the Second City, or more precisely Snow Hill, the terminus of the Chiltern line. Strangely, in the fifteen or so years I've been coming to Brum, I'd never alighted here until earlier this year; now I've visited three times since March. While it misses the architectural majesty and convenience of Moor Street, it's in a much more interesting part of town. But more of that later.

First stop after ditching our bags was Brewdog, where, when faced with the comprehensive menu board above, I followed their sound recommendation and ordered a beer flight. After all, why have one beer when you can have four (not cheap though, a flight for both of us weighing in at twenty-two of your English pounds).

Pick of the bunch was Hymir, a brett fermented pale from Worcestershire's Urban Huntsman; the Ballast Point Dorado, a resinous imperial IPA; and the Dog D, a imperial stout with coffee and naga chillies from Brewdog. Whilst the latter two were belters ABV wise and we probably could have done with a breather, neither the Ewing or I could face the third of Brewdog's alcohol free Nanny State. Sometime's more is more.

Sufficiently lubricated we made our way to the inaugural Food Feast-ival at the, ominous-sounding, Coffin Works in the Jewellery Quarter. Just like it says on the tin, this was previously the site of the Newman Brothers 'producers of some of the world’s finest coffin furniture, including the fittings for the funerals of Joseph Chamberlain, Winston Churchill and the Queen Mother'.

Whilst they've recreated the ambiance of the firm's 60s heyday - complete with restored machinery and costumed guided tours - we were here for the food and drinks, all served up in the picturesque cobbled courtyard.

The disadvantage of being in such an enclosed space, as beautiful as it was, was that the smoke from the oven - mounted in an old Mini Cooper - at the Baked in Brick pizza stand meant that I ended up smelling like a teenager's kit bag after sitting around the campfire at Reading Festival (my mother would attest, that's not a good thing).

Things looked up when we actually swapped some dough for some dough, opting to share a calzone stuffed with beef shin ragu and mozzarella. All very tasty if a little pallid on top for my tastes. Any chance of getting bored waiting for our pizza to cook was also dispelled when we (for 'we' read my darling wife), befriended Tina and Rich, two very friendly locals who regaled us with stories of sewing clubs, library cuts and the local birds (of the ornithological variety), that can be spotted in the Jewellery Quarter.

Refreshments came in the form of a couple of poky cocktails from the the Little Gin Company - a Cotswold Dry with pink grapefruit for me and Monkey 47 Gin with tonic and orange for the Ewing. Gin and grapefruit's a very good thing and the measures were pleasingly generous making the 80's soul records they were spinning even more welcome.

Most mortals may have called it a night after the second cocktail, especially seeing as we were just around the corner from our hotel. But who can resist Birmingham's small, but perfectly formed, Chinatown; especially when pissed.

This time we headed for Peach Garden, an insalubrious little gaff with endearingly gruff service tucked off Ladywell Walk, where the main deal is the roast meat that you can see hanging in the steamy front window. Here it's served three ways; roast duck, char sui and roast pork (and a fourth on a Monday and Tuesday, when they crack out the suckling pig).

A plate of crispy, fatty, salty roast meat on a bed of fluffy white rice and a few chinese cabbage leaves thrown in to prevent scurvy, is one of my favourite things to eat. Add a good dose of fiery chilli oil and endless cups of jasmine tea (here served in smoked glass beakers, from a giant metal pot) and there is no better way to soak up a surfeit of gin.

The Ewing equally relished her bowl of won ton soup, a lagoon of porky parcels swimming in a rich meat stock augmented with Chinese veg and egg noodles. We also shared a side dish of crunchy water chestnut slices and crisp bamboo shoots, scooped up with obligatory handfuls of prawn crackers that, eaten in my usual haste, left me with those little scratches at the corner of my mouth the following morning that mean I always vow to give up prawn crackers, or to improve my table manners, but alas I do neither (that's a shame there would be more for me - TE)

Breakfast was a peerless selection of cheap cereal (who could resist faux Coco Pops with lashings of cold milk (me-TE)), watered down orange juice, endless cups of strong tea and piles of hot toast with butter and strawberry jam. It was glorious. Truly.

There was also a pretty decent view across the chimney tops from the breakfast room, just a shame most of it had been enveloped by a thick fog, leaving even the sparkly new Birmingham Library as merely a gentle golden glow. 'Oh the rain falls hard on a humdrum town, this town has dragged you down', as Steven Patrick might say.

Wet weather meant the perfect chance to visit Six Eight Kafe, sit back with a book (or, as as the modern way, stare at your smart phone screen for a bit) and watch the world wade down a sodden Temple Row. A Chemex for two, brewed with bright Costa Rican beans, and a slice of freshly baked chocolate mocha cake also hit the spot.

Next was a dose of (well-read) anarchy when we joined in briefly, with the Friends of Birmingham protest march in Victoria Square, followed by a dose of culture at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. There's a very good Pre-Raphaelite gallery if, like my wife, you're into that thing. And there's a very good gift shop if, like me, you're not. We also got to see the Floozie in the Jacuzzi, Brum's first lady. 

Final stop was a full circle to the Hen and Chickens, an unprepossessing pub in Hockley, just down the road from Snow Hill Station. Sky Sports, check. Pool table, check. Pints of fizzy piss, check. Loos with fag burns on the cistern, no loo roll and no locks, check. Best Indian food I've eaten for a long while, check....

Let's be honest, you're not going to come here for the ambiance, but get a cold Cobra in your hand and order a mixed grill (this is the 'small'), a piping hot dish piled high with crisp smoky kofte kebabs, chicken and fish pakora served on a bed of charred onions, and you can see why people make the trek.

The curries were equally strong; we sampled a sag paneer that was earthy and fragrant and a summery pumpkin curry with onion and tomato that was fresh and light. Hot rounds of peshwari and garlic naans proved the perfect way to scoop them from plate to mouth.

They'll even box up your leftovers (and you will have leftovers) that made me very happy when I saw them in the fridge the next morning. For our fellow commuters on the train home, possibly less so.

And so back to Snow Hill to begin our journey back South. Aptly, there's a statue of a bowler hatted commuter, brolly and briefcase in hand, to wave us off as we depart for another week at the grindstone. 

As the sun goes down on a broken town
And the fingers bleed in the factories
Come on out tonight, come and see the side
Of the ones you love and the ones in love
And you

Monday, 15 June 2015

Rex and Mariano

One of my happiest holiday memories on a family trip to Florida as a child wasn't meeting Mickey, or riding Space Mountain, or even being splashed by Shamu at Seaworld (these were the innocent days before Blackfish) but discovering Red Lobster for dinner. A basket of popcorn shrimp for me and a pound crab legs for my sister were guaranteed to keep us quiet while my parent's piled through pitchers of weak pilsner in the desperate attempt to get pissed. 

Older but not much wiser, I still love fruit de mer (with a few exceptions, notably a cherrystone clam chowder at Grand Central seafood bar. A memory that still provokes a gag reflex) although i'm not as keen on the price tag.

Cue soho's Rex and Mariano; owned by the same group as the bonkers Beast (where £27 will buy you a solitary king crab leg) and the upmarket Goodman steak chain, you may think their latest gaff's bound to break the bank. But, like their other 'budget' option, the still peerless Burger and Lobster, this is seafood for skinflints, all served up in snazzy surroundings (the alliteration game's strong today).

Part of the cost cutting comes with iPad's instead of waiters - although they still need to employ real humans to tell you how to work the iPad's, and then come over to help you when they go wrong... Overall it was a nice touch, meaning you could pace the arrival of dishes to suit you. It also keeps the service charge at just 5%. One negative of electronic ordering meant we did quickly run out of room on the table, but that was possibly as much down to our greed).

Generous amounts of decent bread were soon ordered. The crispy ciabatta, with its oily crust stuck through with shards of garlic and rosemary, being my favourite, although the nutty wholemeal went better with the tuna pate that was served alongside. The pate itself was reminiscent of the little brightly coloured tins of fish paste I used to eat on Portuguese holidays as a child, and as such I can think of no higher praise for it.

Second out out were these little yellow fin tuna stuffed olives. I first tried these in Le Marche, with a view of the Appenines and a cold glass of Campari in hand, so was fairly confident this version would be a a mere interlude before bigger and better things. Thankfully, like many things, I was wrong (OMG, finally you admit this - TE). The only downside being the narrowly avoided third degree burns to my soft palate, the little nuggets being both moreish and incendiary when fresh out the fryer; a very dangerous combo.

From their crudo section we chose a summery seabass carpaccio with olive oil, tomato and parsley; an easygoing combo of fresh flavours that was favourite of the Ewing's, if a touch wan for my jaded taste buds.

Livelier was poky tuna tartare with chilli and avocado and sesame oil, an ingredient that can be Marmite like (controversially I have no real opinion about the yeast spread itself, other than it's far inferior to Bovril), but here applied with a restraint that gave the dish a little smoky zing. 

One of the most Instagrammed plates on my feed this year (still way behind a certain soy egg yolk on blood cake) is this dish of red prawns. Here you can have them fried or, as we did,  raw with nothing but a lick of olive oil, lemon and salt.  As Jay Rayner points out in his Guardian review of the gaff: 'if your companion does not start sucking at the heads, send them politely on their way. They are not greedy enough, and will prove unsatisfying company.' The Ewing would certainly pass muster. (compliment accepted! -TE)

A duo of crab cakes, at two for twelve quid, were peerless. Often spud heavy and bland these were dense little pucks of hundred percent Cornish crustacean, the white meat bound with just a little mayo before frying.

A bowl of rustling courgette fries and accompanying garlic aioli were unnecessary but addictive and were quickly dispatched alongside a glass of crisp picopul from a decent, if not nearly as good value as the grub, wine list.

While I'm not sure it can ever match the peerless joy of putting a plate of jumbo coconut shrimp with pina colada sauce in front of an excitable eight year old who's still slightly delirious from queuing up to ride roller coasters in the heat of the Floridian sun all day, Rex and Mariano still bought a big ol' smile to my face. And not too much pain to my wallet.

Since Tilly Gingerbread, my little strawberry blonde niece, was born I seem to see gingerbread related things everywhere I look (oh, oh, oh, Baader Meinhof, as the 'saviour of pop' circa 1993, Luke Haines would say). It was no different as we left the restaurant and headed South towards Stealth's, a route that fortuitously took us past Paul A Young's Soho shop. After nipping in 'for a quick look', how could I resist buying a brace of the gingerbread shortbread with ginger caramel and spiked with crystallized ginger. Beautiful to look at and very sweet but with a little fiery kick, just like their namesake.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Canterbury Pig Tales

After spending three entertaining and educational (although not especially productive) years in this little corner of Kent, I relish coming back to dear Canters. Especially as now it's without the gnawing fear of missing yet another essay deadline and I don't have to subsist on a diet of 'Spoons beer and a burger - if you think it's cheap now it was a bargainous £2.99 back in the day - and discount buckets of Cherry Veba (RIP, the ultimate alcopop).

With the lack of finances during that time, it's probably a good thing that The Foundry Brewpub was a dim and distant dream. It also shows how far British brewing has come. A decade ago (ok, fifteen years...) Britain's oldest brewers, Faversham's Shepherd Neame, reigned supreme on this patch. Now you can sup Canterbury Lager, Stout and Wheat beers, amongst many others including a brew made with New Zealand hops and a chilli and chocolate Aztec stout, all brewed within the city limits.

The aforementioned lager and nitro stout we tried were good, although the service, while friendly, was pretty confused when we tried to order. A shame, as I was tempted to go back and grab a few bottles of the Foundry Red Rye for takeout, but didn't have the strength to navigate the assorted melee by the bar trying to pay for their lunch.

To be fair most of my waning enthusiasm for the usual English passion for standing in line was because I needed some lunch myself. While a homemade pie platter, a ploughmans or a plate of honey beer braised ribs - as can all to be found on the Foundry's menu - sounded tempting, I knew where we were heading next; to Sun Street, tucked away by the cathedral, home of Pork and Co.

This little takeaway sandwich shop, with a few stools in the window if you want to eat in, is a veritable shrine to the swine. Something that's attested before you even step inside with the trough of shredded pork, complete with head, displayed proudly in the window. 

As well as their signature 14 hour pulled pork in brioche buns, they also offer scotch eggs, sausage rolls, macaroni cheese and salt beef in homemade seeded bagels. Pretty much all the major food groups covered and fibre's overrated anyway (if you're not a salad dodger you can get your choice of porky goodness in a box with greens instead of with bread, but why not live fast and die with diabetes and an impacted colon).

They say a picture tells a thousand words and there's not much more I can add to this one. It was as great as it looked; probably better. If large brewery conglomerates made sandwiches it wouldn't be as good as this one.

Each bun comes with the choice of one sauce and a topping (although you can pimp your roll with extras until its structural integrity collapses). The very chipper guy serving us recommended the apple butter and the chilli slaw, so the Ewing picked the former and I the latter. I also chose the apple sauce and finished it all off with crackling, because who wouldn't finish it with crackling. The Ewing's was adorned with black pud alongside the apple butter (not dairy related but a kind of concentrated fruit spread, and a cinch to make yourself - TE) and more crispy pig skin.

Afterwards a brisk constitutional around the city was in order before I made my first visit - to my eternal shame as I walked past it most days for a year - to St Dunstans church. As well as meeting a charming gentleman - who told us he came here every time he was in Canterbury for solace and a sense of wellbeing - and an Eastern European lady who appeared and began playing a captivating unplanned recital at the piano, it is also the final resting place of Thomas More's head.

Afterwards we walked down to the Westgate gardens - via my old house where I reminisced about the days when my housemate Becky got stuck on the flat roof and had to be rescued by the neighbours, drunken space hopper races down the road (I bet the neighbours wish they hadn't been so helpful) and the delights of ice forming inside the windows and chilblains in winter. 

The gardens are lovely; you can walk along the river Stour, take a punt on a punt and, at this time of year, see the Garden of England in full bloom. It's worth a trip just to see the striking oriental plane tree, purportedly over two hundred years old, with its fascinatingly gnarly and bulbous trunk.

Under the shade of the very same tree we stopped to enjoy an impromptu teatime snack, scarfing down a Plump Pilgrim, the south's shameless rip off of Yorkshire stalwart Betty's, Fat Rascal. This, dare I say it and despite its lack of almond teeth and only having one cherry eye, was even better.

Final stop of the day was at the original Bottle Shop - whose bigger brother can be found at the end of the Bermonsdsey Beer Mile - a bijou treasure trove of ales housed in the Goods Shed by Canterbury West station. Whilst local brews are not their forte (we picked up some Mikkller cans and a couple of Tempest and Cloudwater bottles), they did have the Spratwaffler Pale Ale, from Deal, as their beer of the week. A decent recommendation for some light, low ABV drinking that, alongside a bag of Pork and Co's homemade scratchings, made me happy as a pig in the proverbial.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Sussex Charmers

After the veritable bun feast that was Louis' christening, Stealth, the Ewing and I carried on the adventures with our own version of Three Have Fun in a Caravan, by spending a few days in the lovely surrounds of Rye Harbour (minus Dick and the dog. Not a euphemism).

Trying to prove that we could accomplish more than the self perpetuating drink, sleep, suffer repeat spiral (that wasn't helped with a spot of Bank Holiday wine tasting at Chapel Down on the way to Rye), I decreed we should get a dose of sea air and a measure of culture with a visit to Bexhill to see the Ladybird by Design exhibition, celebrating 100 years of Ladybird books, at the De La Warr Pavilion.

The exhibition was a fascinating, and rather dangerous, slice of nostalgia (I'm ancient enough to say that now). Taking us back to the innocent times when blonde-haired blue-eyed children went shopping with mother, learnt about public services such as gas and electricity and got to play with knives, batteries, matches and boiling water. 

For me the best bit was seeing the classic fairy stories such as the Elves and the Shoemaker, Rumplestiltskin and the Runaway Pancake; perennial favourites that my Dad used to read to me each night as a young child. And whilst the run is finished in Bexhill, you can catch it in London  from 10 July – 27 September 2015. 

Even without the healthy dose of reminiscence, the building itself is well worth a visit being a Modernist gem, especially of a blued-skied spring day such as that of our trip. On hearing of it's opening George Bernard Shaw exclaimed; 'Delighted to hear that Bexhill has emerged from barbarism at last, but I shall not give it a clean bill of civilisation until all my plays are performed there once a year at least.'

Another sign of the town's continued emergence from its faded dog days (it's an ongoing process) was our lunch at Bistro45, an unassuming little Belgian spot set just back from the sea front. While incongruous from the outside, it turned out to be one of those gems that even prompted Stealth to chide me for not taking pictures of her lunch so I could write about it later. 

From a strong beer selection (both in scope and ABV), we sampled the Affligem - served in it's own special rack, complete with a separate glass for the sediment, to add or drink separately as you wish - as well as pints of Vedett and, one of my favourites, the classic Trappist ale, Orval. 

Mains were moules, obviously. Most of us have some sort of mollusc horror story, but the allure of a well cooked bowl of mussels keeps us coming back for more. My perfect Pastis version, with Pernod, fennel, dill and cream, was a case in point. Rustling bowls of skinny fries and crisp baguette with butter were provided for mopping the creamy, aniseed infused juices at the bottom of the pot.

Stealth went all fancy dan with a mixed seafood pot with extra squid, cockles and prawns. She also, obviously, veered off piste and requested it extra spicy - or in her words 'with loads of Tabasco' - without even a raised eyebrow from the kitchen (I still didn't get any pictures, though).

Whilst it may seem incongruous to have a slice of Flanders on the South Coast - we found out that the dad of the lovely chap that served us was Belgian, and his son had now taken over the running of the place - everything was perfect. They even, on hearing it was her birthday, put a candle in the Ewing's creme brulee and served up Black Jacks and Fruit Salads with the bill.

The nearest pub to our caravan in Rye Harbour was the Inkerman Arms, a resolutely old fashioned  -in a fascinating 70/80s style, rather than olde worlde - sort of place. There was also the bonus of meeting a wonderfully eccentric and friendly bunch of locals, who even tried to persuade us to join them in an evening of drinking discounted Southern Comfort and lemonade at the Social Club followed by a night of karaoke classics.  

As tempting as it sounded, we stuck with the far more staid option of sitting in front of the fire supping pints of Old Dairy bitter, brewed up the road in Tenterden. The best place to be as the springtime showers battered at the windows.

They also serve a menu of home cooked pub staples, with the locals recommending the fresh fish straight off the boats in Hastings. As it was Friday, we chose to have ours beer battered. A tranche of huss for me (not one of my favourites, but a southern classic that remind me of the fish suppers of my youth) and the legendary Rye Bay scallops for the Ewing. All served with the obligatory chips, peas (mushy for me) and homemade tartare sauce. 

Mere words, and not even when accompanied by this strangely day-glo photo, cannot express quite how good these sweet bivalves actually were; so I shan't bother other than to say they blew the deep fried Tasmanian scallops we ate in the harbour in Hobart out the water, and were even better than the Mancunian battered potato slices that also bear the same name. 

A highlight in an remarkably sugar free week was a Saturday morning trip to Knopps, famed hot chocolate purveyors run by the eponymous Dutchman whose name, rather aptly, translates as 'buttons'. Here you can match your poison - from a creamy 34% white chocolate right through to a bitter 100% cocoa with no added sugar, -with all manner of herbs, spices and fruits. Think orange zest, fresh ginger, pink peppercorns or dried lavender, amongst others.

I'm not normally a big hot chocolate fan, but my 64% single origin dark chocolate complete with homemade vanilla marshmallows had me, not very, surreptitiously licking the bowl. The coffee and homemade salted caramel shortbread looked pretty ace, too.

A day spent in Rye itself meant a visit to the Ypres Castle monument, with the Ewing supporting the old adage 'sun's out gun's out', in between the showers. Tucked away next door we found the Ypres Castle Inn, a little gem known locally as the 'Wiper's', with its stunning beer garden looking out across the salt flats to the sea, live music, comfy armchairs (where we resided most of Saturday afternoon, reading our books) and a great selection of local ales. 

The Harveys Sussex best bitter, brewed in Lewes, was one of the best kept pints I have had for a long time. While I do have a fondness for palette wrecking hop forward beers, with all their skunky tropical fruit and stickiness, this is the perfect example of a deliciously well balanced session beer, hopped with British stalwarts, Fuggles, Goldings, Progress and Bramling Cross.

After liking things here so much, we booked ourselves in for the Sunday lunch the following day. And, after waking to blue skies the following morning, decided a walk along the beach and back through the nature reserve would sharpen our perfectly appetites beforehand. 

Three and a half  hot and sweaty hours later - a large part of it lost in a field full of sheep somewhere between Winchelsea and Rye Harbour, although we did get to walk past the magnificent Camber Castle, built by Henry VIII - we finally arrived. Any crossness was quickly dissipated by another pint of Harveys and a huge basket of warm baguette served with a delicious and ridiculously garlicky (although not quite so good when you're staying in a confined space) houmous.

A crispy rolled shoulder of roast lamb was equally fine, as were the accompanying al dente veg, raisin flecked red cabbage and generous amounts of crunchy spuds. The gravy drenched and rather soggy yorkie may have seemed somewhat superfluous, but, after so much unwarranted exercise, I ate it anyway.

Pudding provided yet more delicious carbohydrates with my absolute favourite of all favourite things, spotted dick. While slightly incongruous in the unseasonably warm weather, it was still absolutely, impossibly wondrous, with that lovely springy texture you only get from a proper steamed suet pudding and served with lashings of hot yellow custard.

What better parting shot than a visit to the picture perfect St Thomas' Church in Winchelsea, often disputed as the smallest town in Britain. It's also the last resting place of Spike Milligan, whose tongue-in-cheek gravestone inscription reads, in Gaelic, Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite. Or, I told you I was ill.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Hatches, Matches and (Mummy P's Cake) Dispatches

Despite the potential for unwelcome denouements, drunken confessions and the appearance of strange half cousins with wandering hands, family celebrations are great fun. And even more so when there not your own. So when the invite to the christening of Stealth's nephew Louis, and the subsequent garden party, dropped through the letterbox, the Ewing and I were already on our very best behaviour.

Despite the predictable bank holiday traffic, we somehow contrived to arrive in the chocolate box village of Chiddingstone a little early for the christening service, meaning there was only one thing for it - to the Castle Inn for a restorative snifter or two.

As well as the local Larkin's ale, of which I enjoyed a nicely kept pint, they were also advertising bottles of sparkling Chiddingstone cider. How could we resist, although at over seven percent you can see the effect it quickly had on Stealth and I. 

The ceremony was perfect, with Louis being impeccably behaved which is more than could be said for his aunt, who became rather teary at the surprise announcement of Ben and Kate's recent nuptials. All of us, fortified by fermented apple, sang the hymns with the sort of gusto not seen since an E number overload in the second year of infants. 

Formalities out of the way, we headed back to Ben and Kate's beautiful converted oast house, a quintessential glimpse of the Kent of yore. After a welcome glass of cold rose (or two) we made our way to the bar in the assembled yurt on the lawn for tops ups. A barrel of Larkin's beer, a solid English choice, was joined by a giant jug of refreshingly tequila heavy margarita.

To eat was a veritable feast, straight out of the pages of Enid Blyton. Stealth had told us that her sister made the best sandwiches, and whilst Mummy R will always hold that mantle in my mind, the chicken and cucumber on tiger bread (the secret ingredient, when we asked Kate later, butter you can leave teeth marks in) demanded repeated sampling. Little brown bread triangles stuffed with shredded ham hock were equally glorious and dainty cucumber bought decorum to the proceedings (although not the way the Ewing was inhaling them).

There were chicken legs, and quails eggs and two giant gala pies, Kate's favourite, that saw me luck out with a piece that was almost eggless, whilst Stealth felt equally fortunate to grab a slice shot through with hard boiled ovum. Best of all was cheese and pineapple on sticks, protruding from goggle-eyed fruity hedgehogs, who still managed to look far saner than my wife.

For those with a sweet tooth, tiered cake stands in the marquee groaned under the weight of slices of battenburg, cupcakes, delicious turkish delight scented meringues and chocolate crispie cakes. A huge platter of local cheese was also quickly demolished; a lemony, mousse-like goat being the highlight.

There was even a ice cream truck, popular with both children and the Ewing, who ate both her chocolate cone with chocolate sauce and my mint choc chip with chocolate sprinkles. Strong work.

A visit to the countryside wouldn't be complete without a trip to see the micro pigs (Big Pig and Little Pig) who were chilling out in the sun - at least until you stroked their snouts, to which they responded in a frenzied porcine fashion. On a further recce around the place - Stealth in her brogues, the Ewing in her heels, fitting in just like locals - we also made acquaintance with a brace of very friendly sheep in the lower field.

It wouldn't be a party without cake, and Louis' christening cake (whilst being without a layer of Kate's favourite marzipan) was a buttercream-stuffed spongy delight that went particularly well with a glass of port and a toast to the happy family. 

As if that wasn't enough, a fabulous day was crowned with Mummy P opening a tin to reveal a glorious chocolate cake, baked by her own fair hand. It was quickly dispatched - mostly with the help of the Ewing, who was particularly smitten (with both the baked goods and Mummy P).

As one of my most loyal (only) readers, I was delighted when she allowed me to share both the recipe and this lovely photograph here.

Mummy P’s Chocolate Cake (adapted from The Hotel Inspectors Five Star Classic)

250 g - 70 % good quality dark chocolate broken and gently melted in a large bowl in either a microwave or bain-marie
170 g - unsalted butter
170 g - ground almonds
170 g - golden castor sugar
6 - large eggs
2 tbsp - dark rum
3 tbsp - extra strong coffee
3 – 4 - cardamom pods with seeds extracted and finely ground.

To finish:  
Glazed violet or rose petals (optional) and, if used, gently pressed in to surface when the cake is out of the oven and still slightly very slightly warm

To Serve:
Bowl of whipped cream or crème fraiche (optional)

Generously grease one, deep spring-form cake tin - approx. 24 cm
Place on heavy baking sheet
Heat oven to gas mark 2, electric 150 C, fan oven 130 C
Beat the butter, ground almonds and sugar into the melted chocolate to form a paste
Add the lightly beaten egg yolks, rum, coffee and ground cardamom 
Whisk egg whites until firm
Beat about a quarter of them into the chocolate mix, then add remaining egg whites with a metal spoon keeping the mixture as airy as possible
Pour mixture into the cake tin
Depending on your oven bake from 50 – 80 minutes.  The mixture needs to be risen and soft but firm to touch when pressed in the middle
Leave to cool 

Cooking time depends a little on whether you are serving as a pudding or as a cake.  A shorter cooking time will render a more mousse-like effect, which is lovely served with cream.  A slightly longer cooking time will give a more traditional cake texture.  Both are scrumptious and are so rich that 8 -12 people can have a generous helping - depending on greed quotient.