"It's not much but it's ours"

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


As Fathers are wont to do ours filmed a lot of the Christmas festivities: the opening of the presents, the drinking of the Champagne; the Christmas Dinner, the drinking of the Champagne; the lighting of the Pudding, the drinking…well you get the idea.

I was watching the little production Baba had made the other day when I caught myself wondering who the lardy was stuffing his face and looking like a beached walrus waiting for his next feed. Not HS, he was playing the impenetrable Wii Pokemon with our nephew. Dear reader, that Jabba was me.

Time catches up with all of us and an excess of rich food and alcohol hadn’t burned off like what it oughta. A little regime change was in order. So for two weeks after Christmas (impressive huh ?) I stayed off the firewater. God, it was boring though - there’s only so many bottles of Fentiman’s, cups of tea and glasses water a man can drink. Enough was enough.

Having already booked Wilton’s just before Christmas it seemed like a suitable venue to swan-dive off the wagon I’d been marooned on. So on a cold January evening I made my way through Mayfair whose streets were seemingly unaffected by the snow falling in less tony burbs.

I don’t know how old Rules – London’s oldest restaurant – is, but Wilton’s surely pushes it close. And like Rules, possibly even more so, once inside with your derrière parked in the snug fitting chairs, you feel completely cosseted against the outside world. This is the sort of place for people who find J Sheekey a bit risqué and Dean Street Townhouse, well, unspeakable.

I’d actually visited because the Head Chef of just a few months was Andrew Turner, someone whose cooking I enjoyed at The Landau a couple of years ago. I was interested to see what he could bring to what I already knew would be a menu chock full of classic Fish and Game dishes. Well the answer was, apparently, not a lot. Save for a tasting menu that failed to set the pulses racing and to which most of the other diners gave little more than a cursory glance, it was business as usual. I suspect that’s the way the regulars like it. Where this leaves a creative force like Mr Turner I’m not entirely sure.

When confronted with a menu like this there is little point in trying to finesse things. Keep it simple and go for the best always works for me. A dozen Colchester Natives were decent-sized specimens with that long, minerally length typical of the variety. A lot of the briny juice which adds to the pleasure of eating Oysters had been lost when opening them, but combined with half a bottle of Krug it was hardly slumming it.

From one classic to another. Dover Sole doesn’t appear on too many restaurant menus, maybe owing to its frightening cost. Here, I reckon they don’t have too many problems shifting them. The fish had been grilled on the bone and was pretty much perfect. Thick and firm with quite a subtle flavour it put me in mind of seafood dishes in Spain where the preparation and service is similarly minimalist. A blob of tartare sauce was creamy but a tad over-acidulated – the last glass of the Krug was a better match.

Woodcock is one of the most prized of the game birds. A relatively short season and comparative rarity means it doesn’t come cheap but if it’s available it’s always worth ordering. The meat was gamey without being overly so, such that the taste of the flesh is masked. The guts, traditionally spread on toast were served here as a small quenelle. The head was rent in twain so the brains could be sucked out (or crunched as in my case. Speaking of which, this is usually the most challenging part of the bird tastewise but in this case it was quite mild.

The combo was finished off with some decent bacon, fried breadcrumbs and a bread sauce that had a good consistency but needed more of a clove ‘kick’, although that word seems wholly inappropriate in a restaurant like Wilton’s.

Of course, once I’d made a rule about not getting all clever with the menu I had to go and break it by not ordering something simple like Ice Cream or Trifle, instead choosing the mysterious Chef’s Dessert of the day. Unfortunately it wasn’t a very good pudding of today or indeed any day. An assembly of Poached Pears, Ice Cream and Chocolate sauce was let down by pears that were still hard. Next time I’m going for the crumble.

Pudding aside though, I had a fine time at Wilton’s. Service was predictably good and the prices, although aimed firmly at Mayfair wallets, were commensurate with ingredients that were of exemplary quality and that were treated properly. By the end of my meal, I was so cosy and well-fed that it was a bit of a wrench to drag me and my corpulent arse out into the cold. Ok, I may be getting old but I think I’ve discovered the perfect restaurant for my retirement years…interspersed with the odd visit to Rules when I fancy a bit of excitement.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010


A quick lunch today, after a couple of very productive meetings found me joining my chum, Susan for lunch in King’s Cross. There are precious few restaurants of any worth in that area (and no, Konstam is not one of them)but she assured me that she knew just the place for us to sit in peace and quiet.

I had my doubts as she led me past the station and towards the Pentonville Road and even more when she stopped in front of a small café with a peeling yellow frontage, a battered awning over the entrance and a dilapidated sign reading “Paolina Thai Café”

Once inside the décor suggested that little had changed since the place opened, originally, I would imagine from the name, as a greasy spoon with Italian ownership. One of the "new" incumbents, an elderly Thai lady, drew our attention to a laminated menu pinned to the wall.

“You choose, tell me, pay later”

The menu listed twenty dishes, not one over £6. We chose quickly, gave our order as instructed and then descended to a small basement dining room where two other tables were occupied.

The food came quickly. Squid rings were a decent starter, freshly fried and crisp and served with a sour sweet dipping sauce, a pleasant diversion as we continued with our conversation and waited for the main courses, which also arrived in rapid fashion.

Susan’s Prawn Pad Thai was probably the better of the two with plenty of noodles steaming from their brief stint in the wok and just enough seafood to justify the name the dish had been given. Less so my own choice, a daily special of Chicken Massaman curry, which while it tasted the part with of hints of tamarind and fish sauce needed more gravy and indeed chicken to stop it becoming just a stir-fry with potatoes.

Other tables seemed to have made better choices and the soups in particular looked well worth returning for. In any case, a bill that only just managed to approach £15 for the two of us including a drink seemed reasonable value for hearty portions of freshly prepared food and definitely marks Paolina Thai Café worth noting as an interesting place for lunch the next time I am in King’s Cross.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010


It is hard to believe, looking at these images that my trip to Extremadura took place over two months ago. The memories of that all too fleeting visit are as vivid now as they were the day I returned.

Why, you may well ask, did I leave it so long to post about my trip to the home of Jamon Iberico? The answer is simply a matter of courtesy. Some of you may have seen the corresponding feature that appeared in the yesterday and I always feel that if someone is going to pay me cold hard cash to write about something, it is only decent to let them have their go before I post about it on the blog.

The delay does not matter however, because if I close my eyes, I can still savour every moment of my time spent in the farmhouse of Felipe Perez Corcho in the small town of Burguillos del Cerro. The sounds of oak tree leaves rustling in the breeze, the snuffling of the Iberico pigs as they guzzled acorns, the scent of hams as they cured in a vast cellar at the processing plant, the taste, that incomparable taste, which in my opinion, surpasses any other luxury food on earth and, of course, the amazing hospitality of my hosts.

I wont go into too much detail about the process of creating this finest of all fine foods, if you are interested, you can read my article. But, be in no doubt that the stringent guidelines and checks that take place before a “sacrificed” Iberico porker can be given the surname “De Bellota” more than justify the considerable expense involved in sampling the best.

My trip came about when I contacted my friends at Brindisa, to see if they had any contacts they might share with me to facilitate a visit to an Iberico pig farm. Instead, being the splendid folk that they all are, they invited me to join their buying team on a trip to a relatively new supplier, Señorio De Montanera, a co-op of 72 farmers who produce only the very top grade of Jamon Iberico.

When my plane arrived in Sevilla, via Madrid, I was exhausted. The previous night had seen the latest in the DINE WITH DOS HERMANOS events at Bentley’s. It had been a particularly good example of the genre and, although I had not been drinking, the late night meant that I had not gone to bed and had only caught a few hurried minutes sleep while dribbling over the shoulder of a disgruntled Spanish businessman on the second leg of the journey.

I was met at the gate by Brindisa’s Sales Account Manager, Cristina Pasantes and M.D. Alastair Brown who whisked me from the airport for the two-hour journey towards the Portuguese border, with a welcome stop at a typical small roadside restaurant to sample a couple of restorative beers and a few plates of food. By the time we arrived at the finca, the traditional farmhouse, it was late in the day and the sun was already declining in the sky. There was, however, still time for us to wander out into the Dehesa to get up close and personal with the Iberico pigs as they indulged in their daily diet, no less than 6kgs of acorns a day. It is the oleic acid in these acorns which gives the Jamon Iberico De Bellota its unmistakeable flavour and the layer of fat which melts on the tongue as you eat the slivers of ham.

I slept very soundly that night. A combined result of my exhaustion and a large meal at a local restaurant supplemented by far too much wine. When I awoke, showered and dressed the next morning, I found everyone waiting for me in the farmhouse kitchen. Felipe Perez Corcho (his last name means “cork” the other great product of the region) was standing by a well-used ham stand and carving thin slices off a large leg of Jamon Iberico to serve to his guests along with eggs and toast. It was the perfect start to a busy day which saw us visit another of the co-operative’s farms and then, best of all the abattoir and processing plant where live porkers become Dos Hermanos’s favourite nibble.

Every second of the process is monitored. Not just by the farmers, but also by those who monitor each and every pig to see if it reaches the standards of the Denomination of Origin, Jamon Iberico De Bellota. After slaughter and butchering, the legs and shoulder cuts are chilled over night to become firmer and then the curing process begins. As the picture shows, the curing rooms are difficult places in which to take pictures as they are filled with artificially created mist designed to replicate the traditional climate in which the hams used to be cured. Once they have stayed under a layer of Andalucian sea salt for the required time, they are hung up to age in a vast warehouse that, I was told held over 300,000 Jamons and Paleta (the shoulder cut)

The hams are stored for up to four years and then tested one more time before they can be released. This final test was the most intriguing as the hams were pierced in three places with a porous beef bone which was then sniffed loudly by a man whose years of experience and highly tuned sense of smell could tell him immediately if the cure had reached all the key areas of the meat. Then and only then would the jamon finally be given the much sought after tag which confirmed that it was indeed “Jamon Iberico De Bellota”

That marked the end of my trip and after spending one last night in Sevilla with my hosts, I joined the long queue for an early flight home to London the next morning. I carried with me a bag filled with pork products and even more appreciation of what it takes to create my favourite thing to eat.

I would be lying if I told you that the piggy treats lasted much past the following weekend, particularly once HP got involved, but the sights, sounds and smells of my visit to the Dehesa certainly have and will, I am sure stay with me for the rest of my life.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010


A lot people seem to have a problem with Greg “It’s deeeep” Wallace, star presenter of TV’s Masterchef. It appears to be based upon the fact that:

a)he's bald and
b)when tasting food he shoves his spoon into his mouth in such a way as to induce nausea in the viewers

It’s a bit unfair really, my twice published brother, Hermano Segundo is also:

a)bald and
b)as anyone who’s sat near him at a DWDH knows, quite capable of performing revolting acts with his mouth

and still everyone loves him. Well, Sybil and I do anyway (after taking legal advice).

But I digress. As well as hosting TV programmes Mr Wallace is also part owner of Secretts, who supply fruit and veg to the restaurant trade, and out of that has sprung a deli/café, Wallace & Co, which has just opened its first branch in Putney. I say first branch because that’s what it felt like – a model for future Wallace & Cos.

My visit was not planned as I’d wanted to have big slap-up lunch of Fish and Chips in a nearby venue, but as that proved more of a slap-in-the-face (post soon come) sort of experience I needed a little cheering-up. And, Wallace & Co more or less did the job.

The first thing to say is it’s not really a destinational sort of place – more somewhere you would pop into if you fancied a quick bite. During the day there’s a selection of salads, soups, pies and tarts. In the evening there’s a few additions to the menu in the form of protein + starch. There’s a lot of competition in the area including the excellent Prince of Wales next door so it will be interesting to see how popular the evenings are.

Prices appear pretty keen but portions aren’t massive and dishes are very to the point so you’re going end up ordering quite a few plates if you do want a substantial meal. Quality is good though as in my Charcuterie plate which had meat from Trealy Farm in Monmouthshire. Salami, Coppa and Bresaola were all excellent and served properly, at room temperature.

Anyone who’s anyone does a Scotch Egg these days with wildly varying results and prices. Wallace & Co’s version was very good. It was warm which meant it was, if not cooked to order, at least cooked recently. It was cut into quarters, presumably because cut in half or served whole it would look pretty stupid on the piece of flotsam it was served on. It had nice porky meat but was also quite small - no more than a few bites – but at least it didn’t cost £7.

A salad of Chicory, Pear and Blue Cheese was a good idea, not least because you could use your hands to shove the leaves (deeeeeep) into your gob. The dish didn’t quite come off though because the Pears, although quite perfumed, weren’t sweet enough, and the Blue Cheese wasn’t salty or, er, blue enough. Comice Pears and Colston Bassett would have worked a treat here.

I’m told Greg likes his puddings and sure enough there’s a fair number to chose from on the menu. Treacle Tart was good but would have been even better served tiède. The serving was on the wrong side of mean but maybe that was just me being greedy (I’ll rephrase that: that was me being greedy). I had it à la mode, obviously.

With a few alcoholic drinks of various hues, good coffee and a decent gratuity for the friendly service, the bill was probably more than it would be for normal human beings but just right for a Hermano, especially one who was wet, miserable and hungry. Never was a tip so well earned.

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