Saturday, 23 December 2017

A Festive Test

It's the most wonderful time of the year; a time to eat drink, be merry, get heartburn and have an argument. And, with this in mind, I devised a Festive Test Treat that would cunningly tick all of the above. A visit to our, newly opened, local carvery for three courses - all featuring the mighty, and clearly on-trend, yorkshire pudding - all drenched in lashings of faint regret and gravy.

Things started reasonable promisingly, with a decent selection of ale. Being a Marston's pub, the range featured a selection from their stable including Hobgoblin, Ringwood and Pedigree amber ale. I went with the, seldomly seen so far south, Sneck Lifter, from Jennings Brewery based in Cumbria. A traditional dark bitter, perfect for a wintery afternoon.

I had ordered the carvery as my main and was handed a golden ticket to the gravy train, with a promise the staff would alert us when the Ewing's main was nearly ready to leave the kitchen. So we sat back and relaxed with our pints, while fifty per cent of us watched Spurs put five past Stoke on Final Score and fifty per cent of us tried to solve a remote work-related incident involving a malfunctioning automatic door, both over the screams of the children running amok around our table. All pointers to a great day out.

Just as a member of staff appeared to give us the heads up that the rest of the food was on the way, another arrived with the rest of the food. All of it; our 'sharer' starter and the Ewing’s main. After rearranging the space on the table to fit the plates, a confused voice piped up; ‘are there two, or three of you', while we all turned a stared at my Tottenham beanie, occupying the empty seat next to me. 

Not that our confirmation of the former had any bearing anyway, as both staff vanished as quickly as they had appeared, leaving us with a surfeit of batter-based products and some sympathetic/horrified (delete as appropriate) looks from the tables around us at the mountain of food in front of us. Well, I had promised it would be a test, just not of my wife's patience.

I’m still not really sure whether it’s better or worse to assume that our invisible friend wanted to take down a whole camembert, rather than it being an appetite sharpener, but I was thankful the carvery call hadn’t been more timely as it gave me the chance to fully concentrate on the cheese. 

This proved a lucky thing, as congealing camembert in a Yorkshire pudding is as tough to eat as it sounds, although also delicious, especially when paired with the random handful of trail mix that adorned it. I'm not sure the warm and wilted leaves were adding much though, other than a metaphor for an overriding sense of wilted despondency.

The Yorkshire wrap was a behemoth of a pudding, stuffed with a whole roast dinner, before being carefully rolled up in grease proof paper adorned with faintly nauseating faux dictionary definitions of made-up words like 'hyper delicious'. With nothing to compare it to, the Ewing proclaimed it pretty good, if a little unwieldy to eat. As is the issue with many wraps, it also suffered from unfilled ends, but they did provide a bonus jug of gravy for dunking.

As there was already roast potatoes nestled in the wrap, they decide to serve it with a wholly superfluous - but actually very tasty – pile of chips and, even more randomly, ramekins of mushy peas and pickled cabbage. While I love mushy peas, here they provided a distracting sweet gloopiness; the pickled cabbage however, was pretty inspired, bringing some well needed crunch and tang. 

The carvery was everything a carvery should be; a hammy guy serving slices of ham with a smile (I also tried turkey, but skipped the dangerously desiccated beef in case we drew more attention to ourselves when the Ewing has to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre). Add oversized yorkies, overcooked carrots, ladles of gluey gravy (which tasted surprisingly good), squares of rubbery stuffing, decent roasties, and a wan but tasty cauli cheese, and it was all I ever wanted. Seriously. And a veritable bargain at £6.45.

The fun didn't finish there, as I insisted we stayed to sample the delights of the 'zingy raspberry yorkshire pudding sundae'. A potential aberration that tasted far better than it sounded. In fact, I'd go so far to say I really enjoyed it; a nostalgic mix of Mr Whippy van sauce, fresh cream and ice cream, crowned with strips of pud (which actually worked) and garnished with disc of diabetes. Even the Ewing smiled; although that may have been the constant supply of Sneck Lifter I was bribing her with.

Overall the whole experience was just like a microcosm of the festive season - crying babies, over-indulging, too much beer and a roller coaster of emotions, from elation to despair. All over the space of a few hours. Plus bonus yorkshire puddings. Pretty perfect really. Happy Christmas, one and all, see you on the other side; have fun and don't forget the Rennies.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Bites - Butcher's Tap

Sometimes I have good ideas, sometimes I have great ones, and sometimes they might be considered somewhat questionable - such as deciding I fancied opening a tin of corned beef after a night drinking whisky (I've still got the scars), or deciding a solitary bottle of factor 8 was sufficient for a week in the Algarve, in July (I'm still peeling); or persuading my other half - with just the merest hint of bribery -  a visit to Tom Kerridge's newly opened pub-cum-butchers for lunch in the run up to Christmas was a good idea.

The Spittal Street site, the third in Kerridge's Thames-side empire, was previously the home O'Donaghues - a quintessential, low-beamed Irish sports bar for lovers of Guinness and rugby, preferably both at the same time, while wearing a plush hat with a shamrock on it.

The new vibe is much more Marlow, darling, with the press release describing it as; "a welcoming hub for the local community where people can meet for a drink, a bite to eat, and buy well-sourced quality meat to take home.” That being said, there's still three TVs showing sports here, although - like at the Coach down the road - they seem a fairly pointless addition, with only the Ewing and the bar staff able to see Chelsea vs Newcastle on the screen behind me, although she seemed to be enjoying it rather more than my company.

But before we could start ignoring each other over the lunchtime kick-off, we had to make our way past the scum of eager Marlovains seemingly overcome, rather like Uncle Monty as a youth, that a butcher's had finally returned to town. Resplendent in their blue striped aprons and straw hats, it's a professional looking set-up with the offerings running from homemade chicken kievs to carefully chined racks of lamb and magnificent aged wing ribs.

I'm taking a point off for not having any faggots, my all-time favourite old school butchers treat - preferably served with chips, mushy peas, and lashings of gravy - but they did have a beatific pig's head in their glass-fronted fridge in the corner, who stared beadily from the corner as I enjoyed his bretheren.

While the beverage of choice appeared to be cold white - being ordered and dispatched at an impressive rate by a large proportion of the clientele - with an afternoon of Getting Things Done ahead, I was happy to stick with a pint. Like his other ventures, Kerridge has partnered with Greene King, who brew his Hand & Flowers ale. Fortunately, they also had Rebellion's Roasted Nuts, one of my favourite seasonal beers and brewed less than a mile down the road.

The sausage roll was, more accurately, cochleate. A snail-shaped slice, edged with flaky pastry, rather than the more familiar porky parcel. Despite its unorthodox shaping, it was pretty decent, although for £3.50 for a moderate chunk, you would hope so. Piccalilli, with its ominously lurid appearance, improves the flavour most things it cosies up with, and here was no exception.

We also ordered a couple of dogs - as they were just preceded by the word 'hot' on the chalkboard stand and there were no menus to be seen, I relied on Google to reliably inform me the over-sized smoked sausage was topped pulled pork, pickled chillies, crispy onions and mustard mayonnaise. Sometimes I marvel at the modern world - why talk to anyone when you can find out from an illuminated four inch square in front of your face. Inelegant to eat but indisputably good, even at £7.50 a pop.

However grim things seem, pork products are a well-known cure-all and our mini haul from the small deli counter was no different. Pork crunch had been 'hot flashed', which sounded like something that might befall the women we had seen queuing with their wicker baskets for their chops and sausages but, more prosaically, seemed to mean the puffier type of scratching, rather than the Mr Porky tooth-smashers.

The pie was also highly commendable, although the pastry seemed a little lighter and chewier than the common-garden hot water crust, with layers of lamination when I cut into it. The filling, however, was the real deal. lots of peppery chunks of juicy pork, with a good jelly ratio (i.e. pretty much none), and perfect eaten on the sofa with a good dollop of mustard and another bottle of Roasted Nuts. So, not such a bad idea of mine after all....