Thursday, 16 August 2018

For whom the bell tolls

Last month the Ewing and I celebrated ten years together. Although we still may be a (fair) few years off getting a small feature on page 16 of the local paper, where we attribute our successful relationship to a finely balanced mix of my tolerance of her being late for everything and her tolerance of me saying 'I won't get drunk', then promptly getting sloshed, whenever she's the designated driver, I don't think we're doing too badly.

The venue for our celebratory lunch was the Bell Inn in Langford, a charming sixteenth century pub with low hanging beams and uneven floors and rooms at the back if you want to hunker down in this sleepy corner of the Cotswolds. They also have several tables outside, which meant we could fully take advantage of the glorious heatwave that had already turned most of the grass to scorched yellow dust and given us Brits something to really complain talk about.

As the Ewing was driving I started with half of Bobby's Lager, brewed in nearby Chipping Norton. We also shared a litre of Normandy cider, in the most wonderful old school bottle, while we chewed on perfectly blistered slices of home-baked sourdough anointed with peppery new season olive oil.

Giles Coren, on his visit, called the bone marrow and parsley flat bread (wrapped around slices of aged sirloin) 'the best mouthful of his life', but I tried not to let that put me off. Of course it was, as delicious as you would imagine wood-fired dough, spread with garlicky butter and strewn with wobbly nuggets of offal and grassy parsley to be. My only sadness being that, after wolfing down the bread and oil beforehand I didn’t have room for flat bread topped with chives and anchovy.

I was extremely excited to see fried chicken on the menu, and was even happier that it turned out like the best KFC you’ve never had; chunks of boneless thigh meat in a spicy breadcrumb coating served with an aioli that even rivalled the Colonel’s own special gravy (behave). And with eight pieces to a potion, it was ample enough for even The Ewing and I to share without incident.

I wanted the steak frites, which meant the Ewing wanted the steak frites. I’ve pretty much got over pretending I’m the food critic from the Sunday Times, but the idea of this still bothered me, and so I went with the wood-fired sole with seaweed butter. I’m guessing in a kind of homage to the slip sole served at the Sportsman in Kent, which I’ve also had the pleasure of eating. 

This was light and summery and served with a heap of crisp tenderstem, although I did miss my carbs, and ended up stealing a fistful of (very good) chips from my wife, plus a large glass of chilled rose, to keep my hydration levels up in the heat.

As well as the, plentiful chips, the Ewing also had a perfectly-cooked piece of beef (hanger?) with herb butter and a green salad. Wonderfully simple backstreet Paris bistro cooking, in the heart of the Cotswolds, and only £14, which seemed very fair value  for such a wonderful plate of food.

Although it was about a billion degrees, it’s never too hot for sticky toffee pudding, and this was a good ‘un. The date-studded sponge topped with a blob of rich yellow cream with a gentle lactic tang that cut through the pool of buttery toffee sauce. There’s something perversely English about enjoying a rib-sticking pud in the heat of summer, and here was no exception.

The Ewing went with the chocolate nemesis, a recipe first popularised by the infamous River CafĂ© version, that saw middle class housewives serving up ‘kind of cowpats’ all over the country. Here it was faultless, deeply rich and chocolatey while being both gooey and fluffy all at the same time and cut through perfectly with a bitter espresso to finish.

And, in case you have a little too much sympathy for my wife (it's understandable, I don't know why she puts up with me a lot of the time) she also got a few generous scoops of my pud too. Which, come to think of it, is probably the real reason we've stayed together all these years... and worth every single stolen spoonful. (love you darling xx - TE)

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