I now do a Supper Club and private catering!

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Sunday, 23 October 2011

Review: Pollen Street Social

  My girlfriend has very large cups. These are Massimo grande latte cup measurements. So big in fact that she cannot buy new ones from a shop without being judged freakish in her requirements. 'I'm sorry we only stock espresso and dainty tea cups here' they say (in a matter of speaking). This is mostly by the by but it explains why I found myself at a loose end in Central London.

  As she attended a shop that was very good at judging a girl's cup requirement, I meandered into Pollen Street and thought to satisfy curiosity by peeping at the menu of Jason Atherton's well attended restaurant. A Maitresse d' spotted me and enquired if I'd like to eat there for lunch. I replied that while I would dearly love to I very much doubted the likelihood. She thought about this, smiled and said 'I'm sure we could fit you in the bar'. Having pondered it for all of five seconds after reading the thoroughly reasonable lunch menu I fetched my freshly becupped woman of significance and ordered a Sussex Pale Ale.

   What is quickly manifest about PSS is the details have been attended to. The beer came in a polished tankard glistening with sexy condensation. Service was on the right side of informality. The cote de boeuf's (big slabs of fore rib) are on display in their raw state through a clever glass fridge backing on to a basement corridor. The bar was quite beautiful with glass jars of fruit and large legs of Iberico ham. It felt like someone had thought long and hard about all these things.

 The set lunch menu was short but exceptional value (£25.50 for three courses). And the food was quite wonderful. My crab vinaigrette with nashi pear, pickled cauliflower and peanut powder was light, fresh and very delicious but could not compare to the pigeon of my companion. I felt slaughtered by deliciousness. It rivalled the exquisite pigeon and beetroot of Nathan Outlaw. It's velouté was so finely perfumed and voluptuous that I long to taste it again.

  The mains really drove the point home that this was a kitchen firing on all cylinders. My partridge was just superlative in every way and came with kale that appeared to have been cooked in apple juice. Meaning they even made kale taste like modern cuisine. The bread sauce was a foamy cream that effected a thick, springy duvet of loveliness. Memory recalls a salty (in a nice way) lamb chop but I was too in love with my partridge at the time to make any kind of critical judgment.

  Of all the glorious gastronomy my one sense of something being slightly wrong was three blobs of lime jelly with my unctuous rice pudding. It wasn't unpleasant to find sharp citric flavours in the creaminess but it was doing the 'cutting through' thing when I just wanted to gorge on the sweet, comforting rice.

  I can't praise this restaurant highly enough. Often you go to a place with great food, you eat well and decide you don't need to go there again. Or you feel by going again you're wasting an opportunity to go somewhere else. Sometimes you just want to hate something because critics have hyped it into cloud cuckoo land. This time I just don't care and will return as soon as life allows. Sorry to add to the hype but it really is that good.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Review: Secret Larder Supper Club, Abergavenny

In a few words: This is how not to do a Supper Club.

  You really have to admire the Chutzpah. A twenty-five year-old is running his own Supper Club where he invites sort-of famous people to cook and advertises as being 'harder to get into than The Ivy'. He also has a book, a blog, and a newspaper column. Surely he must be a Keatsian genius from beyond the moon? And he is. He may well be the nation's greatest bullsh*tter since George Osbourne convinced people he was good at maths.

  The Abergavenny Food Festival decided to host this whippersnapper and his 'supper club' in a 'yurt village' this year. Thus, the normal folk outside of the M25 could get a sneak sample of this fabled clique. In brief, this was how things progressed.

    A handful of us booked in on friday and paid thirty-five pounds each (food only) and sat in a cold yurt. As there was a mammoth delay between arriving and starters we were ameliorated with apologies and gin and tonics. Fine, no biggy. First was a bowl of garlic soup and it was adequate. Next course was some mandolined apple with a blob of goat's curd and a piece of watercress. This is the stuff of Come Dine With Me when it's a single chap with dodgy hair and a tweezer collection. Stewed shin of beef with turnips and a sauce vierge followed and I was really wondering how much of my hard-earned cash had gone on actual ingredients rather than hair gel and tickets to Henley. By the time an over-spiced chocolate tart with anaemic pastty arrived I felt a prize plum. And it had everything to do with a damson compote with all the stones in. Stingy AND lazy? Is there nothing the boy can't do?

  It may have helped things to have turned the heater on, chill the wine (after making sure it was a good one) and done SOMETHING to create an atmosphere. Such as insisting everyone introduce themselves. But to have just tried in some way to impress us country folk would have been good. Or to just provide the sense of hospitality I have witnessed at every other supper club I have been to would have led to a very different review. But this was a supper club in name only- chosen so as to jump on a completely different bandwagon. That I spent less on three superlative courses at Pollen Street Social merely added insult to injury. A dreadful dreadful introduction to supper clubs and a terrible piece of hoodwinking.

Monday, 3 October 2011

The not so best of British

I know Paula...Witherspoon's curry!

  There are things we do in Britain very well. There are also things like microwaved vegetable lasagne and tinned spaghetti hoops. Before I get all moany again it is worth pointing out that, much like the winter olympics, some things don't really matter. I mean, who really expects British lemons to be any good?

  Nestled between these extremes is 'must try harder' or 'I can't believe it's not better'. Exhibit A is beef.


  Now I'm not arguing that British beef is bad. Native varieties such as Hereford and Angus have been exported and bred all over the world. All our beef is naturally raised on grass in a climate agreeable to the bovine ruminant. So why is O'Shea's (luxury London butcher) importing Australian Wagyu beef? This is a Japanese breed famous for its incredible marbling and its life lived on beer and massages.

   Australia has imported and done extremely well with this rare and lusted after breed, as has the U.S, so why not the U.K? Granted those countries are keen on corn-feeding but it is hard to believe our farmers can't produce a good Wagyu or Wagyu hybrid. The market is certainly there for it.


  The king of British chicken for the last few years has been, according to renowned chefs, the Label Anglaise raised in Norfolk. Having purchased a few of these birds I can only report they are very nice. But there intensity recalls nothing of its jungle fowl ancestor. As much as economy drives the farmers, it would still make sense to farm and breed slower-rearing birds. Yes they may cost three times more but they'd be three times the flavour and luxury.


   Nothing proves the British fear of cooking like a normal British café. I could not number the jacket potatoes with cheese and beans I have consumed to avoid the box-fresh coleslaw and compressed ham sandwiches. Just admit it, a good caff is a hard thing to find. Unless you live in Stroud that is.


    Pubs do themselves very few favours. Just look at the carpets or the brass tack decor of your average boozer. Most offer terrible beer and terrible food. Small wonder they're all going out of business and sales of cider are on the up. It isn't their fault. As a nation, we have failed the publican by insisting on terrible beer (rhyming with toshters and mudweezer) and paying as little for it as possible. If not foregoing social drinking for a six pack from the supermarket and a takeaway. The worst of it is our tendency to gorge on microwaved slop and water-injected chicken breasts when attending a drinking establishment and not caring. 'It's alright. Only cost a fiver' we say as time and space are sucked into the grave of Egon Ronay, as his corpse spins at a colossal rpm. Have a bit of snobbery- for your own sake.


     The brewery connoisseur regards lager as fizzy and tasteless, but plenty of us like it. There appears to be little enthusiasm for the fizz among the small brewers. Cotswold Lager is currently the only British candidate I know of, and a fine beverage it is too. More decent lager please.


   Countless espresso machines are to be found around the country and the vast majority are used to produce a tasteless frothy milk with a hint of coffee. Were the British to learn how to use them properly we'd be able to take advantage of our excellent native roasters, such as Square Mile and James Gourmet.

 Animal Fats

   We're not bad at animal fats. In fact, the UK does them very well indeed. The sadness is in how little of these cheap and tasty foodstuffs we consume compared to our mothers and grandmothers. Their bad PR is due to an unproved theory of a direct link between consuming saturated fats and heart disease. In fact, lard contains many mono- and polyunsaturates. It is very well worth using either beef dripping or lard next time you do your roast potatoes and yorkies. You'd be amazed at how quickly they cook and how well they eat. Consider this by Jeffery Steingarten:

    One snowy afternoon, I found myself alone in a room with four pounds of pork, an equal amount of pure white pig's fat, and a few hours to spare...I chopped up the fat, put it in a deep pot with a little water and some cloves and cinnamon sticks, popped it into a 225-degree oven* and woke up three hours later. After straining the solids and spices, I was left with a rich, clear golden elixir that perfumed my kitchen, as it will henceforth perfume my life.

  The long and the short of it is we need to be a tad snobbier -have standards and expectations. Then the rest of the world will stop sniggering about our food.

*Jeffery Steingarten is using fahrenheit. If you used celsius even your mother couldn't identify your body.