Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Jammin' - Wild Bramble & Raspberry and Almond

Jam making is lots of fun; sometimes it's hard not to break into a sugar-fuelled rendition of Bob Marley when stirring a molten vat of berries. 

I made my first batch of jam last year - after a over enthusiastic afternoon at the PYO left us with four kilos of strawberries, slowly turning to sludge in the fridge - and quickly became a convert.  Not only is it very easy, but the feeling you get cracking open a new jar on a miserable winter's morning is worth having to clean up all the sticky sugar trails that seem to cover the kitchen floor and worktops, no matter how careful you are.

There's something wonderfully simple and old fashioned about it all; collecting your berries, finding suitable old glass jars (and making sure you've still got the matching lids) and buying big bags of jam sugar. There's also a certain sense of alchemy, like baking a cake, when ingredients come together to make a sum so much greater than their parts.

I've been using a ratio of 50:50 fruit to sugar. (jam sugar if there's not much pectin in the fruit, although this will make the jam set a little firmer.) You can make jam with less sugar, but as it acts as a preservative as well as a sweetener it may not keep as long.  This isn't a problem if you only want to make a couple of jars, but not so good if you want to stock the store cupboard.  If you want to know more about jam making, pectin levels of different fruits and any problems you may encounter, then this Darina Allen article in the Guardian will tell you far more than I'm sure I'll ever know.

The first recipe uses wild brambles, collected from a patch in my front garden.  If you're not lucky enough to have any growing nearby then just use shop bought blackberries instead.  You may want to reduce the sugar a little, or add a little squeeze of lemon if the fruit's very sweet.  The raspberry version was my attempt to try combine the flavour of almond with the berries.  Crunchy jam may seem a little bizarre, but it turned out rather well and tastes like Bakewell tart on toast!  If you don't fancy it you could add a dash of almond essence, or skip the nuts altogether and try a splash of Scotch instead.

One very important thing when making any preserves is sterilising the jars.  I've found the easiest way to do this is to wash the jars in hot soapy water then place them on a few sheets of newspaper in a low oven until thoroughly dry (you can do this just before you start making the jam). Wash and dry the lids in the same way, or sterilise in boiling water and dry with a clean cloth.

Raspberry and Almond Jam
(makes 5/6 small jars)

1kg Raspberries
1kg Sugar (use jam sugar for a firmer set)
A squeeze of lemon juice
1 tsp of butter (if needed)
50g Flaked almonds, lightly toasted

Sterilise your jars (see above).
Place a saucer in the freezer 
Put the berries, lemon juice and sugar into a large, stainless-steel saucepan.
Mash the berries slightly with the back of a wooden spoon and stir on a gentle heat for a few minutes until the sugar has dissolved.
Bring mixture to a rolling boil and cook for about 8 minutes, stirring frequently to stop it catching.
Take the saucer from the freezer and test for a set by putting about a teaspoon of jam on it and leaving it for a few minutes. If the jam wrinkles when you push it with your index finger then it's ready.
If not then continue boiling for a couple of minutes and check again.
Remove from the heat and skim off any scum.  A teaspoon of butter, stirred into the jam now, will also help disperse it. 
Stir in flaked almonds and mix thoroughly.
Pour the hot jam into the hot, sterilised jam jars and put the lids on immediately.
Store in a cool place and refrigerate once open.

Wild Bramble Jam

As above, but using wild brambles or blackberries, and omitting the nuts.  You can also substitute some of the berries with the same weight of grated apple too; Bramleys give a nice bite.  The pectin in the apple also means you won't need to use jam sugar.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Cinder and Smoke

There's nothing guaranteed to bring out the primeval urge than cooking outside on an open fire.  The summer wouldn't be quite complete without grown adults huddling on the patio, (usually under a brolly) poking charred lumps of protein that remain resolutely raw in the centre long after the outside has burnt to a crisp.

I do love an opportunity to crack out the firelighters and brush down the grill, and our first barbecue of the year was a remarkably restrained and civilised affair.  The unseasonably good weather meant we could sit out in the garden and start fire up at Easter.  Star of the show was these beautiful, big scallops cooked in the half shell (sadly we ended up with the flat half, rather than the concave one, meaning lots of escaping juices!) cooked a little wild garlic, foraged from the woods, and plenty of butter.

Another great choice for the grill is mackerel; the oily flesh stands up well to the heat, and the crispy, charred skin is delicious (if it hasn't all managed to get stuck to the bars).  The strong flavour of mackerel can stand some rigorous spicing; I often use chilli or harissa paste or bay leaves and garlic.  This time I tried rubbing the fish with some leftover Thai green curry paste, and made some slashes in the flesh that I stuffed with mint leaves from the garden.  Spicy, fresh and delicious with salad and a cold beer.

Despite enjoying veg, fish and seafood on the barbie my favourite things to grill are still big lumps of meat, and my absolute favourite is lamb.  The smoky flavour from the barbecue really compliments the sweet, herbal flavour of the meat,; choosing lamb with a little bit of fat helps keep it succulent, even if it may cause a few impressive flare ups!  When I was growing up we would sometimes have a marinaded and butterflied leg of lamb, butchered by my Mum and expertly cooked by my Dad until crispy on the outside and pink within. 

Chops are great for cooking like this; they come with their own built in handle to hold onto as you gnaw at the meat, and the strip of fat running along one edge becomes beautifully crisp and smoky.  I marinaded half with Ras el hanout and plain yogurt, and half with sumac, lemon, thyme and garlic.    Although I was out grilling in the garden long after the sun went down I was more than happy with a nice glass of Rioja and some fabulous crispy chops as my just reward.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Pa amb Tomaquet

Summer on toast.

So, the end of another blisteringly long, hot summer and yet again the problem of what to do with the huge glut of juicy, ripe tomatoes piling up in the kitchen... 

I'll be lucky; low light levels through August, followed by a deluge of rain have left my lawn looking very lush, but my veg patch more like like a mini bog.  That said, apart from one blight effected specimen, there is plenty of fruit on my tomato plants, and some of it is even going red.

With the first home grown spoils (or the first to actually make it in from the garden without being eaten straight from the vine) there is nothing simpler, or better, than pa amb tomaquet , or tomatoes on toast to you and I; not as a recipe as such, more a suggestion of what to do with your precious bounty.  Just take some chargrilled bread and rub with the perfectly ripe fruit, a touch of garlic, plenty of decent olive oil and a scattering of salt crystals.  I usually just squash the tomatoes into the bread with my fingers, but you can grate with a coarse grater too.  If you have a real problem with the seeds and skin then sieve the pulp before spreading on the bread, but I prefer the rustic approach.

This Catalan inspired dish is fantastic at all times of day, but makes a brilliant breakfast, along with a pot of coffee, while sitting in the garden. (you may want to show some restraint with the garlic at that time of the morning) Traditionally there is no basil involved, but as my basil has completely taken over the windowsill I usually add a few leaves. Pan tumaca sees a few slices of serrano ham being added, and you can try some cheese or salami for a bit of variation too. 

If the tomatoes are a little too hard to successfully rub into the toast then try finely dicing them with a little garlic and basil and serving on toast in the style of an Italian bruschetta.  Or, to recreate the nostalgic  weekend breakfasts of my childhood, wait until the weather turns colder, crack open a tin of whole plum tomatoes, heat through and serve doused in Worcestershire Sauce on slices of well buttered white toast.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Lavender and Fennel Seed Biscuits

When I moved into this house at the beginning of last year I was very excited to see a big rosemary bush next to the patio. I joyfully picked handfuls of the herb and flung them in stews and casseroles, even stuffing huge amounts of stems, along with some garlic and anchovies, into a leg of lamb for Easter lunch.

It was only as I was showing my Dad around the garden in the early summer that we noticed the 'rosemary' bush had grown blue flowers, was attracting bees and smelt like more like my Gran's Yardley perfume than a useful culinary ingredient. Hmm... No matter,  I found out lavender is no longer just for grannies and is making quite a comeback; it's even recommended as the integral seasoning in this lamb dish, making my Easter creation seem less weird. (although large amounts of Rioja meant everyone was either too polite to say, or too drunk to notice)

This recipe is adapted from the Food Lovers Britain website.  I added some fennel seeds to give it a extra edge;  pairing the lavender and anise flavours that form part of a traditional herbs de Provence.  It would be good with a little bit of vanilla extract, stirred into the dough with the wet ingredients, too.  The biscuits contain quite a bit of butter, which makes them very rich and crumbly, much like shortbread.  The original recipe suggested rolling the mixture thinly and cutting out the biscuits, but I found it easier to roll the dough into a log, chill it and then cut slices from it.
Lavender and Fennel Seed Biscuits

150g butter plus extra for greasing
100g caster sugar
225g plain flour
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp fresh lavender leaves, finely chopped
1 tsp lavender flowers, 
1 tsp fennel seeds

Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/gas mark 3. Grease three baking trays.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until light and fluffy. Sift in the flour, add the egg yolk, and half the fennel and lavender and mix well with a knife. Turn the mixture out on to a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth.
Roll the dough into log shape, wrap in cling film an chill for 30 minutes.
Unwrap the dough, cut slices about 1/2 cm thick and place on the baking trays.
Scatter over the the rest of lavender flowers an fennel seeds and lightly press them in with a rolling pin.  Bake for about 15-18 minutes until firm an lightly golden.
Cool on the trays for about 5 minutes, then remove on to wire cooling trays.
Decorate with a few fresh lavender leaves.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Honey Roast Trout with Borage Gnocchi

After my Spring foraging success with the wild garlic I was extremely excited when the Ewing informed me that our neighbour (with a botany degree no less) had told her that the blue plant with the bees swarming around it was borage.  Hooray!  I suddenly had thoughts of sipping pitchers of Pimm's with its traditional flowery garnish, and bowls of fancy salad strewn with the cucumber scented leaves.

Back in the real world I had to go and collect my bounty first.  After donning my washing up gloves (they are pretty bristly) and long sleeves to protect me from being stung by the bees, (this stuff has real animal magnetism) I set off on my expedition to the bottom of the garden.  Returning with my spoils I decided wilt the leaves like spinach and make some gnocchi with it to serve with rainbow trout fillets.

Despite having never made gnocchi before they were a breeze to knock together, and good fun to make too.  I baked the potatoes, rather than boiling them, to ensure the dough wasn't too wet, and stirred in a couple of egg yolks, the borage and enough flour to make a firmish dough.  (Use less flour and the lighter the gnocchi will be, but it also increases the chance of them falling apart while cooking.) Retrospectively I may have made these a little smaller, but they held their shape very well after cooking while still retaining enough of that delicious pillow-like texture.

The trout was baked with a little local honey, lemon and pepper in about the same time it took to boil the gnocchi and then finish them off in a frying pan with a little hot butter. Strewn with a few of the brilliant blue flowers this looked pretty as a picture, and tasted pretty good too.  I'm not sure the borage flavour was too pronounced in the dumplings, but there was definitely a subtle cucumber note that paired with the fish very nicely. 

Honey Roasted Trout with Borage Gnocchi

3 large potatoes
1 egg plus 1 yolk
Flour to bind the dough
Large handful of borage or spinach leaves
Semolina or extra flour for dusting
2 Trout fillets, pin boned
2 Tsps Honey
1 Tsps butter
Black Pepper and salt to taste

Wash borage leaves then sweat in a dry pan until the leaves are soft all the moisture has evaporated.
Bake the potatoes in 180c oven until soft, cool for five minutes then cut in half and push flesh through a sieve or potato ricer. (don't add any butter or milk)
Add the egg, egg yolk and borage to the mixture and knead gently. 
Slowly add the flour until the mixture is bound together but not too stiff.
Divide mixture to three and shape into long sausage shapes.
Cut mixture into gnocchi sized lumps then press a fork into the middle of each piece.
Place on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornflour or flour and cover with a damp tea towel until needed.

Dot a teaspoon of butter on each piece of trout and drizzle with honey.
Season trout generously with pepper, salt and place in a 180c oven for 10-12 minutes
While fish is in the oven cook the gnocchi in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, until they float to the top of the pan.
Heat some butter in a pan and add drained gnocchi.  Fry until they begin to turn golden.
Place the gnocchi in a bowl and lay a trout fillet on top.
Finish with any juices from the fish and decorate with borage flowers.

The gnocchi are better made just before you need  them, although any left over dumplings can be successfully frozen. Just place them straight in boiling water from the freezer and cook for an extra minute or so.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Watermelon, Tomato and Mint Granita

A week or so ago, as I was still snoozing on a rare Saturday lie in, the Ewing returned from a early  morning swim with a 'surprise'.  Slightly dubious, as the last surprise had been finding a six foot bay tree at the bottom of my bed, I opened my eyes to find a watermelon the size of a fully grown labrador (although at least this was house trained and didn't try and lick my face).

Weighing about five kilos this thing was a beast. And beautiful too, with it's bright green skin with mint green stripes.  There was also a pleasingly dull thump when I tapped it, giving a clue to the sweet, dense flesh within. After some initial bemusement towards my unexpected gift it was time to crack it open and enjoy some watermelon and coffee for breakfast.

I quickly realised we had barely dented the thing and it certainly wasn't going to fit in the fridge, even after carving into huge wedges I was having trouble wedging it in.  Time for a bit of lateral thinking.
I had been reading Jacob Kennedy's marvellous Bocca Cookbook the week before and in it he wrote about a watermelon granita.  Already a fan of the very easy, impressive crushed ice desserts, I decided to do a bit of experimenting.

Watermelon is a cucurbit, from the same family as cucumber.  Although the flesh is sweet there is little of the muskiness you ofter find in other melons, and an underlying grassy freshness too.  Cucumber classically pairs with tomato, so why not watermelon? The tomatoes in my garden were just starting to ripen so I decided to try a handful, blended in with the watermelon. Initially I thought about adding basil, but I thought the flavours may be a little too savoury, so instead I tried another of the cucurbit's good friends, fresh mint.

The mint infused sugar syrup gave a little edge that, along with the sweet, grassy melon and slightly metallic, 'meaty' bite from the tomatoes, combined to make a fabulous, summery, flavour combination.  You can leave out the tomato if you prefer, maybe adding a little fresh lime juice instead.  I've added a shot of vodka to mine, you could easily omit it or, alternatively, combine with more vodka once the granita's made to create an impressive, and very easy frozen cocktail

Watermelon, Tomato and Mint Granita

Half a small watermelon
12 Cherry tomatoes
Pinch of salt
Dash of vodka (optional)
50/100g  sugar
Small bunch of mint

Chop the watermelon flesh into rough chunks and blend along with the whole cherry tomatoes.
Add a pinch of salt, and the vodka if using, then pour mixture through a sieve, collecting juice in a bowl.
Measure liquid and for every half litre of juice add 50g of sugar to a pan, along with a splash of water and a few mint leaves.
Bring sugar mixture to a boil and simmer for a couple of minutes.  Allow too cool and remove mint leaves.
Add syrup to juice, place in a shallow container or tray and freeze.
Check mixture every hour or so, breaking up ice crystals with a fork or whisk, until juice has completely frozen into a fluffy slush.
Serve in small glasses for the perfect summer cooler or between course refresher.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Tacchino Tonnato

Last Christmas the English inability to deal with a few inches of slush became apparent when airports closed, trains were cancelled and tail backs stretched for miles.  As we were due to travel down to my Mum's in rural Wiltshire suddenly the prospect of microwaving a couple of frozen roast dinners on Christmas Day seemed a distinct possibility.

Of course, after a long and expensive afternoon emergency food shopping, it turned out that the weather lifted so we could go anyway. Hence the problem months later when we still had a gigantic turkey, taking up most the room in the freezer.  (Not to mention a cupboard full of bread sauce, cranberry relish and two Christmas puddings...) After being endlessly badgered to to cook the monstrous thing I realised the following weekend would be exactly six months between Christmases; the turkey's time was finally up.

Even the Ewing and I, with our gargantuan appetites, would have been hard pressed to not have huge amounts of leftovers.  Luckily turkey and stuffing sandwiches, on soft white bread with lots of salt and butter, are still one of the best things around.  And being the summer it was also a great opportunity to make the elegant, and very simple, Italian dish tacchino tonnato.

Traditionally this is made with slices of cold poached veal, but I've seen rabbit, roast pork, turkey and even squid used.  Valentine Warner makes a lovely looking variation with a mackerel mayonnaise, instead of the more typical tuna.  It's also the traditional centerpiece of Milan's Ferragosto dinner, held on Assumption Day, celebrated on August 15th. As that falls this Monday then it seems perfect timing to make this with any leftover roast meat from the weekend.

Tacchino Tonnato

1 poached turkey breast or leftover slices of cold turkey (or other meat, see above)
1 tin of tuna in oil
2 anchovy fillets
2 tbsp mayo (from a jar is fine)
olive oil
juice of a large lemon
1 tbsp capers
handful of rocket leaves and lemon wedges to serve

First put the the tuna, with its oil, into a processor.  Blend with mayo, lemon juice, anchovies and enough olive oil to get a sauce the consistency of double cream.  Taste for seasoning and chill.
Lay slices of turkey on a large plate and pour sauce over.
Decorate with capers and serve with rocket leaves and lemon wedges.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Salad of Green Mango with Dried Fish

Som tam, or green papaya salad, is a wonderfully spicy, sour and refreshing dish from Northeastern Thailand.  It's name translates as 'sour pounded', describing the method in which the ingredients are mixed together in a pestle and mortar. Traditionally in Thailand the customer would specify how they would like the dish to be prepared, but in essence it combines the four main tastes of Thai cuisine, hot, salty, sweet and sour.

Salads like this are usually served garnished with dried fish, shrimps, or crushed peanuts.  I picked up some 'fish floss' recently in Chinatown; moreish dried fish flakes which make the perfect sweet and smoky foil for the fresh flavours in the dish.  Substitute with a few toasted dried shrimp or roasted peanuts if you can't get hold of it.

I've made this version with green mango, giving a similarly sour flavour and crisp texture. The dish often contains cherry tomatoes and green beans, but I like the crunch and sweetness of carrot and the freshness of cucumber. Lots of fresh mint and coriander to finish, and a cold beer, finish things off nicely.

Salad of Green Mango with Dried Fish
Serves 2

1 medium green mango
2 medium carrots
A few sprigs of mint
A few sprigs of coriander
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp fish sauce
1/2 tsps palm sugar (or brown sugar)
1 bird's eye chilli
To finish:
Dried fish floss (or dried shrimps or crushed peanuts)
Cucumber batons

Peel mango and carrots and grate into a large bowl.
Pound chilli in a pestle and mortar, add lime juice, fish sauce and sugar. 
Taste dressing, it should be balanced between hot, sweet, sour and salty. Adjust as necessary.
Add dressing and herbs to grated mango and carrot and mix thoroughly.
Serve sprinkled with fish floss and with cucumber batons.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Hind's Head, Bray, Berkshire

After our trip to visit friends down on the South Coast fell through at the last minute it was time for a back up plan.  Despite living within striking distance of Bray, and all of it's fabulous food, I had never visited.  With the late date, and shallow pockets, The Fat Duck and The Waterside Inn were out the window, but I managed to get a table for lunch on Saturday at the Hind's Head, Heston's Tudor pub in the middle of the village.

After arriving a little early we enjoyed a nice pint of the Rebellion Brewery's Mutiny ale, and a browse through the weekend papers, in the cosy front bar.  We were then lead to a spacious corner table in the light and airy upstairs dining room, a perfect spot for a warm summer's afternoon.

After initially turning down the offer of a bread basket we soon reconsidered as hunger slowly began to bite while waiting for our starters to arrive.  It was lovely stuff; chewy, dark and dense with a crispy crust.

When the first course eventually came it was hard not to feel slightly panicked.  Even though it was pretty as a picture, and I had just eaten half a loaf, I wasn't sure a little pile of micro leaves was going to cut it.  Luckily some digging underneath revealed some lovely fresh goat curd, sweet slices of pear and some, perfectly balanced between bitter and sour, lemon slices.  The lemon complimented the light, citrus notes of the cheese and hazelnuts provided a nice crunch to round things off.

The Ewing went for the raw Highland venison (my original first choice, but my irrational fear of both ordering the same thing meant a late change of mind).  The meat was fantastically sweet and soft; the shallot and caper dressing a sharp and tangy counterpoint.

I had spent most of Friday at work debating whether to go for a burger or a steak, but on receiving a copy of the day's menu found the burger had been jettisoned.  After briefly considering the veal chop and the pork belly I decided to stick with beef and plumped for the rib eye.

10oz of pure bred Hereford beef, cooked rare and served with a jug of bone marrow sauce and a bowl of crispy French fries.  The outside of the steak had been beautifully charred, and was cooked enough to melt the marbled fat throughout the meat, while still keeping it nicely pink.  The sauce was marvellously rich and glossy, with sweet little nuggets of marrow happily bobbing about; a day later and I'm still wistfully thinking about it's lovely unctuousness.

The Ewing chose the rather more refined mackerel with smoked fennel, new potatoes and red gooseberry sauce.  Summery lovliness; the tart gooseberry contrasting with the oily fish.  The fennel  was particularly good, crisp anise flavour with a subtle, smoky undertone.

Sides were excellent. A spinach salad with smoked anchovy, hazelnuts and Lord of the Hundreds cheese was a bit like an English Cesar, and extremely moreish.

A side of champ came unbidden (forgot to check if it was on the bill), but once it arrive we decided we might as well eat it anyway...  A brilliantly smooth, buttery potato puree with the lovely bite of spring onion throughout.

After initial concerns I was going to need an early dinner due to the dainty portions I found myself in the unusual position of barely having the strength to look at the desert menu.  Even more worryingly the Ewing was feeling the same.  Luckily we pulled ourselves together long enough to order the 'Chololate Wine Slush with Millionaire Shortbread' (c.1660) and two spoons.  

Despite the Ewing claiming she could easily of eaten half a dozen of the shortbread (having seen her raid the biscuit tin I don't doubt this to be quite true), I found the balance between the rich frozen wine and chocolate mixture, and the salty caramel crunch to be just right.

So overall a rather lovely, relaxed lunch in very civilised surroundings.  Service was very friendly and unobtrusive, even if if did seem to take an age for any food to appear, but once we did finally see some grub it was well worth the wait.  Bonus point too for huge jugs of iced tap water that kept appearing, much to the Ewing's delight.

And while not too cheap, at a hundred pounds all in, with three courses, sides, service and a pint each it still seemed fair value.  And to put a price on that glorious bone marrow sauce...

Hinds Head on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Rainbow Chard with Chickpeas and Chorizo

After consuming vast amounts of schweinfleisch and bier on my recent trip to Germany I decided it was time to hit the veg again and get some vitamins and fibre back on the menu.

This beautiful, bright rainbow chard is from Peterley Farm, a fantastic PYO just down the road from me.  I'm not sure why you don't see more of this stuff in the supermarket.  It doesn't seem to be quite as watery or 'shrink' as much as spinach when you cook it and has a lovely earthy, slightly bitter flavour.  Of course you can use spinach, kale or any other leafy greens instead.

The trick to this dish is to balance the flavours; the creaminess of beans, the bitterness of the greens and a salty element provided by the meat (for a veggie version sprinkle some feta or goats cheese over after cooking).  A good squeeze of lemon or sherry vinegar and some decent olive oil added at the end help lift things. I usually eat this warm, with just some crusty bread and maybe glass or two of vino, but it also makes a nice accompaniment for chicken or pork.

Rainbow Chard with Chickpeas and Chorizo
Serves 2

2 Cloves of garlic
Large bunch of rainbow chard, chopped roughly
Tin of chickpeas
100g Semi-cured chorizo sausage, (or smoked bacon) diced
Pinch of chilli flakes
Juice of 1/2 lemon (or a couple of splashes of sherry vinegar)
Olive oil

Gently fry the garlic and chorizo in a little olive oil. (I use a wok) 
Add the chard and cook for 4 or 5 minutes until tender.
Add drained chickpeas, chilli flakes and lemon juice and heat through.
Season to taste and add a squeeze more lemon juice and a glug of oil before serving

Monday, 1 August 2011

The Kingswood Arms, Surrey

After attempting the slow crawl round the M25 on a hot Saturday afternoon - to drop my sister and her boyfriend at his parent's house - we found ourselves in need some serious need of refreshment.  They recommended the Kingswood Arms, a traditional local pub with a big beer garden.  Perfect to sprawl with the weekend papers and a pint of hair of the dog.

The menu was solid, if unspectacular; all the usual suspects, grills, pizza etc are available, plus some regularly changing seasonal specials. Beer selection was decent; my London Pride was fine, but a good gulp short of a pint.  Although the booze was at Surrey prices the two course set menu at £9.99 seemed a bargain. With my delicate condition I was tempted to just go for the soup, but with a main just being an extra fiver, decided to have the fish too.

Fennel and celeriac soup was mild mannered and pretty tasty. A soothing choice for my delicate  constitution.  No butter with the bread though, making it hard going when your mouth already feels like the Atacama.

The Ewing's whitebait were fairly sturdy examples, with a hefty outer crumb, but were crisp, hot and  greaseless, and soon disappeared when dunked in the zingy tartare sauce that accompanied them.

Both of us then chose the butterflied golden trout with mange tout and new potatoes.  All very nice; perfectly cooked peas and fish with a lovely, tangy caper butter.  A decent piece of simple, light summer cooking.

Most mere mortals would have been left defeated after the amount we had eaten in the proceeding couple of weeks, but not so easily beaten the Ewing went off in search of the dessert menu. As I'm such a kind and generous girlfriend (and feeling slightly guilty I had dragged her out of bed and halfway around Surrey) when she started to dither over which pud to choose I insisted she got both and I'd help her eat them. Yes, I'm quite the milk of human kindness.

Both were very good but standout was the coffee and Bailey's panna cotta.  It was perfectly sweet and creamy, not too much 'bounce' and with a great bean-studded bitter coffee layer on top.  The cherry cheesecake was also a decent effort, crispy base and pleasantly claggy, as a good cheesecake should be, but the Ewing's heart had been stolen, and so I ended up eating most of it.

So, no alarms and no surprises, but a nice stop for a good pud and to while away a sunny afternoon.