Saturday, 13 December 2014

Pints and Pancakes, Chesham Style

Recently, at the fifth time braving the concentric circles of hell, aka IKEA - I did get to eat lots of meatballs, though – we bought a new bed. This turned out to be rather more fortuitous than I imagined, as two weeks later I was consigned to it with a rather nasty bout of ‘flu.

Whist I had all the extra cushions I had ever craved, a fluffy duvet and a memory foam mattress that pushed sleeping right back up to the top of my list of recreational activities, I was also undeniably ill. This was proved when I didn’t even venture downstairs into the kitchen for a whole weekend and even turned down dinner. Twice. 

It wasn’t all bad news, however. After a week of consignment I had dropped a notch on my belt, and although we had to cancel plans to visit the London Brewers market at Spitalfields, a trip to the supermarket to restock the cupboards took us perilously close to the Brewery Shop in Chesham…

Before my fortifying and well deserved drink, we popped in to the main reason for this blog post, Poppins. Poppins is a Southern-based chain of restaurant/cafes whose Canterbury branch retains somewhat legendary status in my mind as a regular place of salvation, providing fry ups and strong tea after nights on the tiles whist at uni.

Inside is formica heaven. In fact everything is shiny, from the laminated menus to the fried eggs. It’s the comforting kind of place that you don’t really see any more – the sort of place where you can have a deep fried burger with your all day breakfast (chips are pretty much compulsory) or mash-topped shepherd’s pie with a baked potato on the side, or toasted teacakes and beans on toast, and everything, well most things, come with lashings of squirty cream. My kinda place.

My first choice, lamb chops with all the trimmings, was off so I switched to the pork instead. It’s not actually an exaggeration to say that Poppins’ lamb chops are some of the best I have eaten, although I wasn’t holding out the same hopes for the porcine variety. Thankfully, whist being a little dry, they passed my stringent, Homer Simpson-esque, test. 

If there's any sight more comforting than grilled tomato, fried mushrooms, chops chips and peas, especially when one has crawled off their death bed to eat it, I haven’t yet made its acquaintance, and this was my perfect plate of comfort food. Oh, yeah, and it's all yours for £6.45.

The Ewing, unsurprisingly, was in her culinary heaven, choosing the three egg omelette with cheese and mushroom as a paean to the homely cooking of her Mum, whose childhood offering of ‘yellow fish with mash and peas’ remains her favourite dish, regardless of how many Michelin stars are on the menu.

With a pudding list like the one above, how could you resist (although I'm not sure if the Ewing's look is joy or trepidation)? Of course, we couldn’t and soon we were staring down a silver platter of pancakes heaped with hot cherries and a can of cream. If you want to look at the reasons behind the hole in the Ozone layer, Poppins is probably a good place to start.

CFCs aside, this is England set in aspic, the kind of place everyone remembers visiting with their grandparents - and still does, judging by the clientele. Come for lunch, stay for heart disease and diabetes, although they do have an on trend smoothie menu and even a selection of salads (prominently featuring cheese, mayo and coleslaw, obviously). The staff are also lovely, although the music – Muse interspersed with Nat King Cole – was possibly an acquired taste.

Next up it was time for a fortifying beer at The Chesham Brewery Shop, the Brewery tap for the Red Squirrel Brewery in Berkhampstead. As well as there own brews they also offer a selection of other ales, beer, cider and wine to drink in or take out.

While you can’t move around Bermondsey, Beavertown or Brixton for fear of disturbing another nest of beer drinking bead wearers huddled in a railway arch somewhere, this is a little piece of beer geek heaven transported to the end of the Metropolitan line.

They have a decent, regularly changing, selection on keg, including the lovely Gadds number 3 on our visit, of which I sampled the sweet and creamy Red Squirrel Milk Stout, an appropriate choice as the extra lactose in the brew meant it was often given to convalescents. 

We also grabbed a few bottles of the Red Squirrel Best Bitter for Christmas alongside a trio from Great Heck - the Amish Mash, a heavily hopped weisse hybrid, being particularly good – and a couple of oyster stouts from Redemption and Arbor.

No trip to Chesham would be complete without a visit to Darvells and Sons the bakers which, like Poppins, remains a place preserved time. Here you can buy old fashioned delights such as the barrel loaf - round toast anyone – wonky-eyed chocolate chip footballers, lardy cake, bath buns and cream horns. There’s even a nod to the contemporary with whoopee pies, and Syrian onion loaf, macaron and chia bread.

Our haul contained Viennese whirl topped mince pies, the gold standard of mince pies, a seasonal stilton and pear cobb and, my favourite, the ‘Battenberg Bookend’; a slice of strawberry jam filled cake covered in marzipan and then dipped in chocolate. As the lady behind the counter said, ’we can’t have that sponge drying out…’ 

Needless to say, after a week of snuffling, coughing and ineffective pill-popping, the best way to aid my recovery was with a slice of this chocolate covered delight and a cuppa - that good old English panacea - when we got home.

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