I’m on a diet. Or certainly not eating carbs in the evening or red meat or sugar at all. Apart from the bacon sandwich and bag of crisps I had for dinner last night. Swiftly followed by a delicious speculoos blondie, because we’ve just got back from holiday and we still haven’t got any ‘proper’ food in. And I’ve given up booze, at least for this Wednesday and Thursday. Our local brewery is having their monthly open night on Friday, so it would be rude not to.
Anyway, I only mention this as I’m sitting here finally trying to write this blog post – after a longer than anticipated, but very happy hiatus drinking port and getting portly. A task made even more bittersweet as I stare at the platters of cheese and meats and pies and baskets piled high with bread that we have recently ploughed through, all while contemplating eating something green (I’ve been told Bendicks Bittermints don’t count). Oh yes they do! - TE
Our first stop on a weekend of celebrating the three finest things in life (apart from my wife and my cat and the mighty Tottenham Hotspur) started with a visit to Renoufs in Southbourne. According to their website the Westbourne branch is often so busy you may have to wait weeks for a table at the weekend, but at two o’clock on a Saturday we were the only ones in their sister branch.
Inside strikes just the right balance between kitsch and classy, with high sharing tables in the centre and low booths around the outside and racks of wine covering the walls, festooned with brightly coloured fairy lights. The only thing I really struggled to get behind were signs for the ‘tinkletorium’ that didn’t get any less twee with the imbibing of alcohol.
They have a comprehensive wine list which also offers flights, and as I was still convincing myself it was the dog days of summer I started with a selection of roses that ranged from bright pink bubble gum to off-white, with sweetness levels to match. Plus a bottle of Pinot noir as a chaser.
The concept is simple: choose your meat, cheese and wine, chuck in a some extras from the selection of nibbles and sides, and you're good to go. They also offer three sharing boards, the Ultimate, the Party and the Supreme for two, four and six, respectively.
We were five, but when we heard the Ultimate included 12 meats, eight cheeses, a giant pork pie, baked mini chorizo, olives, houmous, pate of the day, marinated cherry tomatoes, cheese-stuffed peppers, crackers chutneys, fruit, freshly baked bread, deep breath, and a whole baked camembert with onion marmalade, in the immortal words of JB 'baby it's no-brainer'. And we were still worried it wouldn't be sufficient - TE.
In the end it was easier to tell our waitress which cheeses and meats we didn't want from the selection on offer. Or, at least, wanted less, as I'd have happily eaten any of them. It arrived on a behemoth of a wooden board with baskets of (excellent) bread and crackers, that are happily topped up as needed. Gluten free bread was also available, and also got the thumbs up.
It was all every good, but cheesy standouts came from the Dorset Smoked, from the nearby Ford Farm, the washed-rind and slightly stinky Francis, Salisbury-based Lyburn Cheese and Tor, a pyramid-shaped goat's cheese rolled in ash from Somerset's Whitelake Dairy.
I also scarfed quite a lot of the hot chorizo sausages, the duck and orange pate and the pork pie. Who doesn't love a pork pie. In fact, the only thing I had the slightest quibble with was the houmous, as I've realised I've become a crushed chickpea connoisseur since getting my Nutribullet (and a huge bore, to boot). Oh you were a bore before you got that babe - TE
It was a hefty selection to take down, even for us quintet of gannets, but we just about managed it - bar a few token salad leaves. Ably washed down with a bottle of Italian red, to celebrate the fact the Monkey had just got engaged on a holiday to Sicily.
After Sunday's day of rest, Monday saw a visit to the Sett in Brockenhurst, deep in the glorious New Forest, for lunch en route home from my Mum's birthday celebrations in Lymington. Originally the building was a public convenience, before being sold off by the council and given a new lease of life as a convivial space that offers coffee, cakes and fancy sandwiches as well as a full range of cheese and charcuterie platters and a comprehensive range of spirits, beers and wines.
The Ewing had a glass of verdejo, while I mulled over the Vibrant Forest pale ale but stumped for the natural, low sulphite Grand Cerdo tempranillo. From looking at the website the maker says the wine is: "a great wine dedicated to the bank executives that denied loans to us on the basis that wine is not a seizable asset. One day, these greasy and sweaty corporate suits will find that the best things in life cannot be impounded. Thanks to our friends help, we were finally able to bottle this wine. Now you can enjoy it with ham." Which I did.
Because I didn't write anything down, and then I went on holiday there may be a few gaps in my knowledge of what we ate, but I do remember from the meats we enjoyed the excellent Karma Ham, made by a Pinch of Salt in New Milton, wild Scottish venison salami with green pepper that was gloriously soft and gamey, and Hampshire coppa, made from New Forest pork shoulder and cured with spices including cinnamon, for a full on festive feel.
Cheeses included Mrs Bells Blue, an excellent ewes' milk cheese from Thirsk, that was like a slightly more reserved roquefort; Lyburn Winchester, a gouda-cheddar cross from near Salisbury; and Tunworth, a Hampshire take on a camembert style soft cheese we first had at our wedding and that I'm still utterly in love with. Me too and you - TE.
So, briefly in conclusion: afternoon drinking is great , pork pies go just as well with wine as with beer (tbf, pork pies go with anything) and I think I’m over both my blogging block and my (very) brief respite from cured meat and coagulated dairy. Time to post this and knock up a cheese and ham toastie to celebrate. YEAH baby! - TE.