A rather unconventional round-up of 2011. This post doesn't feature any haute cuisine, exciting revelations or a lists of my favourite restaurants/meals. Instead here are a select few of the random nibbles, morsels and unblogged high points, often shared with family and friends, that have brightened up my table this year.
As is always the way plenty of great food and drink was missed through forgetfulness, inebriation, poor lighting or politeness (although, as I found out through writing my blog, people became offended when I didn't bring my camera and write about my dinner with them!). But most of what I did capture was pretty great. Here are a few of the many, tasty highlights:
An unconventional Shrove Tuesday treat: dorayaki, or custard pancakes, from fabulous Japan Centre in Piccadilly. As well as picking up a few of these each visit I also love browsing the aisles in search of the weird and wonderful. Recent hauls include dried, smoked squid; fizzy grape candies; chestnut-filled chocolate and industrial quantities of panko breadcrumbs and Bull-Dog sauce. The fresh food counter at the front is also good - the eel nigiri and okonomiyaki make a great, quick lunch.
Lunch at the Sun Inn in Faversham, Kent. Although the food here is simple fare I really like the way they used the local produce. I enjoyed a ham, cheese and Masterbrew rarebit, followed by a Kentish hop-pickers cake with gypsy tart ice cream. Our visit coincided with St Patrick's Day, and were lucky to find they had the special Shepherd Neame stout, brewed for the occasion at the brewery less than half a mile away, available on tap.
Fry Tucks, Zealand Road, Canterbury. Included here for the solely sentimental reason that I could see this chippy from my bedroom window at uni. A favourite Friday night treat after a hard week studying was cod, chips and a pickled onion. Even as the only fried fish purveyor in the street it struggled to be the best, but I had to bring the Ewing here to experience the delights of the soggy batter and saveloys, still served up by the same lady who used to patiently let us count out handfuls of pocket change in exchange for our fish supper.
Easter trip to Yorkshire and the ice cream van at the end of the world (or the beach at Robin Hood's Bay). There's nothing quite like a Mr Whippy and strawberry sauce, with the cold North wind blowing sand onto every mouthful. Proper British treat.
All the aerated fat and sugar was followed by a very civilised weekend at my aunt and uncle's in Leeds. Not only did we enjoy a beer festival, a monster rib of beef and a boule tournament, but my uncle made some excellent oysters Rockefeller. Enjoyed al fresco, with a glass of white wine, while basking in the unseasonably warm spring sunshine.
A pint of Rebellion Smuggler supped in an sunny pub garden, one of the true joys of an English summer. This was enjoyed, along with a lovely lamb burger, at the Whip in Lacey Green.You also get a lovely view across the fields to the oldest smock windmill in England too. Bonus.
The bacon cheeseburger at the Doghouse Kennington. A favourite Sunday haunt just down the road from our good friends in Elephant and Castle. This behemoth was desperately needed the morning after a rather lively 30th birthday party. I can't remember too much about its culinary merits, despite being on the lime and soda by that point, but I can attest it contained healing properties hidden amongst all the gooey cheese and crispy (streaky!) bacon.
A bocadillo mixto and a cold caña at the Museo del Jamon. Although I wrote about this fabulous shrine to the porcine in my Madrid blog earlier in the year, I just couldn't leave this ham and cheese sandwich out. In the half dozen visits I have made to the Spanish capital this is always my first stop. I even booked a hotel within striking distance of the Carrera san Jeronimo so we could call in here everyday for breakfast.
The Ewing's Wimbledon Roll. I always know I'm going to be in for a treat when the Ewing barricades herself in the kitchen and goes very quiet. This gorgeous, squidgy, creamy beauty was the result of her labours; based on an Edd Kimber recipe this contained a great strawberry filling, laced with large amounts of Pimms. Game, set, snooze on the sofa.
The contents of our fridge, amassed while on a trip to Berlin. A girl of simple tastes, one of my very favourite things is visiting foreign supermarkets. Luckily the Ewing is both very patient, and a complete chocholic. As long as every trip to Kaiser, Norma, Aldi and Lidl included a big bag of sugary treats (and maybe some cheap German beers) then she was happy too. I enjoy most Ritter chocolate, somehow the square shape of the bar seems to make it taste even better, but the stand outs were the Olympia (a yogurt honey nut combo), rum, fruit and nut, and the good old dark chocolate peppermint cream.
A double scoop of Purbeck's chocolate and Chili Red ice cream. This was served up at Millets Farm Shop, near Abingdon, to celebrate Their August Bank Holiday Chili Festival. Chili and chocolate make good bedfellows, but I was unsure how the ice cream element would work; the answer was rather brilliantly. The combination managed to be deliciously cold and creamy, with a deep fruitiness and real kick at the end from the large flecks of red chili blended into the mixture.
Another Ewing special: This time a version Konditor's Curley Whirley chocolate cake, made for my birthday. This was pimped up with Violet Crumble honeycomb chocolate bars (carted all the way back from Oz) crumbled all over the heavenly vanilla bean icing. Thanks to @Aoafoodie on Twitter for turning me on to this one. When I tweeted a while ago that I was feeling a bit down in the dumps he suggested that this could be the cure. And it did a mighty fine job.
Birthday booze: a lovely treat from the lovely Ewing. We supped this with new season wet walnuts and local blue cheese whilst sitting amongst the palm trees in our little Cornish cottage. The hangover the next morning wasn't quite so lovely.
Terrible photos, but some of the very best food I have eaten this year. This was part of my birthday meal at Paul Ainsworth's Number 6 in Padstow. To start a delicious champagne cocktails, then the Jimmy Butler crispy pigs head with smoked eel and salad cream. Just check out those catherine wheels of crackling nestling amongst cubes of porky goodness. If all of that wasn't exciting enough the main was the equally fab Wings Land and Sea; a rolled skate wing served with boned chicken wings, a fabulous carrot puree (I never knew the humble root veg could taste so fabulous) and incredible chicken gravy. And we had the Taste of the Fairground, the winning pud seen on The Great British Menu, for pudding. Awesome.
No visit to my Nan's in Norfolk would be complete without a trip to John's Rock Shop, down on the seafront in Wells-Next-the-Sea. As a child we would be allow to run amok in the penny arcade and children's play centre, and would then make ourselves sick scoffing pineapple rock and vanilla fudge on the way home. Despite being older, I'm still no wiser and struggled to find room for my roast dinner after the big bag of candy floss I had eaten. An e number-filled delight, and the beach is rather nice too.
Unlike cracker jokes and bad jumpers this is Christmas cheese I'm always pleased to see. My Mum always picks one of these up from her local butchers in Wiltshire for the holidays; while it's great with oatcakes, pickles and a little glass of white wine, my favourite approach is spooning it straight out of the box and into my mouth. As an extra treat my lovely friend, Beth, bought a new season cheese round for dinner a few weeks ago. It didn't last long.
So, rather a tasty year. And with plenty of cooking, eating and travelling already planned for 2012 bon appetit to all!