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

Sunday, February 27, 2011


The kerfuffles over M*chel*n becomes ever more insignificant as the years roll by. Let’s face it, if you work in or own a restaurant it’s nice to get recognition for your travails during the year but as a guide on to where to eat out: not so much.

Having said that where once the stars would guide you towards food that was overwrought and tasted nothing of itself (Canon of Lamb anyone?) now it does at least cover a few more styles than the essentially poncified. Amen to that.

The Curlew in Bodiam, East Sussex is the very antithesis of that ornate style: by that I mean the sort of place where simultaneous cloche-lifting has been raised to fine art and where it takes a few seconds to focus in on the small assemblage in the middle of a very large plate and realise it was your main course.

Certainly there is a good level of technique and refinement to the food at The Curlew but the whole experience still came over as relaxed and unaffected and very enjoyable.

The kitchen is obviously a big follower of ace businessman and all-round good guy Tom Aikens as everything is served on boards. I know of few foods which are improved by being served on planks of wood and in some cases it’s a downright hindrance to eating one’s grub.

Take my first starter of Herring. Big meaty fillets of lightly soused Herring were served in a min-kilner jar with some grated horseradish, a little cream of that root and some Rye bread. Beautiful to taste, but a bugger to try and eat.

A second starter of Yorkshire Black Pudding was a clever assembly of Watercress, little balls of crisp sweet apple and interspersed with cubes of rich Foie Gras. The turnover had lovely, buttery, flaky pastry but I found the Black Pudding slightly claggy and its rich taste didn’t come through like it should have. Still, an enjoyable dish.

The signature Chop and Chips turned out to be more than the sum of its parts. Jacob’s Ladder (short rib) had been cooked sous-vide for, oh, ages and ages. I’m not a fan of this method of cooking. Sure, it’s convenient for the kitchen and the results are very consistent: even colouring; moistness. But like all meat that has been cooked this way you end up something that is not terribly interesting. Beef needs to be cooked so that it has a wider range of tastes and textures. Chips cooked in Beef Dripping were verging on the fat but just rescued from that chip graveyard.

Surprisingly, the most impressive element was the zippy, mayo-free coleslaw, something that Barbecoa tried to do but failed quite miserably. It may sound like I didn’t enjoy the dish but despite the small individual weaknesses as a whole it was well balanced and just worked.

The kitchen has a pretty sure hand with puds as well – a Chestnut honey tart was light and soft and refined although serving the equally delicious Green Walnut ice cream on a board just seemed weird. At least my Mince Pie ice cream (which actually did taste of mince pies) was served in a bowl.

The service from a handful of young women was relaxed and friendly yet utterly professional: when I mentioned a mini-Bakewell pudding I had seen wafting passed me earlier in the meal they rustled one up to go with my (excellent) coffee. The owners even arranged for a taxi to take come and pick me up from the nearest station – recommended as The Curlew is in the middle of nowhere – and to deposit me less steadily back on the London bound train.

Oh, and The Curlew has just got recognition from the Fat Tyre Man - but I doubt it will change them. Amen (again) to that.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011


Sorry if I have been a little quiet recently, but let me shout out a huge thanks to Hermano Primero for his stalwart efforts to keep everyone entertained.

I have been swamped with work in the last few weeks.  I am working on the proposal for a new book, talking TV with lots of different people and, not least concentrating on my regular gig of providing a weekly recipe for

I promise to pay more attention to the blog over the next few weeks and can also tell you that there will be lots of posts, in April, as I head out on a ten state US road trip through Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas and Missouri.

In the meantime, I hope sharing one of my favourite and most well received recipes will keep you occupied

Speak soon

2 Large White Onion
2 Cups of Gram flour (also called Chickpea or Gabanzo Flour, which is available at any good market)
1 Tsp Chilli Powder
¼ Tsp Turmeric
¼ Tsp Salt
¼ Tsp Sugar
¾ Cup Water
Vegetable Oil For Deep Frying.

2 x Large Bunches of fresh corriander(stalks and leaves)
5 x Green Chillies
2 x Limes (Juice and Zest)
4 Cloves Garlic
2 Inches Fresh Ginger
5 Tbs Yoghurt (Low Fat is Fine)
¼ Tsp Salt
¼ Tsp Sugar

Cut the onions into half inch chunks.
Sift the flour into a mixing bowl.
Add the dry spices, salt and sugar to the flour and combine well.
Add the water gradually, stirring to make a thick batter similar to heavy cream in consistency.  If the batter is too thick add more water, if it is too thin, sift in a little more flour until you get the desired result.
Add the onion chunks to the batter, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill for one hour.
While the batter is chilling, place all the ingredients for the dip in a large blender and blitz to a smooth puree. 
Heat vegetable oil in a deep sided pan.  To check the temperature is correct for deep frying, drizzle a little of the batter into the oil.  If it sizzles and rises to the surface, it is ready for cooking.
Take one of two chunks of the batter covered onion and drop them into the oil, taking care as they will begin to spit as they cook.
Do not add too many onions to the batter at one time as this will reduce the temperature of the oil and make the end result soggy.
Cook each bhaji until it is golden brown, then remove and drain on kitchen towel.
Sprinkle with salt and serve with the delicious hot, sour coriander sauce.

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Monday, February 07, 2011


Jellied Eels? Not bleedin’ likely guv. I think it was probably being force fed them by my grandparents whilst on holiday in Bournemouth that led me to think of them as the Devil’s spawn. HS loves them so go, as they say, figure.

If you really want to try them (and I strongly suggest you don’t) you can get them from Tubby Issacs seafood stall on Petticoat Lane but they also have them at Poppies Fish and Chips a brand, spanking new chippy just opposite Spitalfields Market.

I haven’t had any Fish and Chips for ages and to be honest I hadn’t missed eating them. If you’re going to pig-out on carbs then you might as well do it on carbs of decent quality and there hadn’t been any new openings of note. I also wanted somewhere close by so Poppies suited the bill.

The first shock is how bright the place is. Combine that with an interior decorated like a Piccadilly Circus souvenir shop and 50’s hits playing on the PA and it would be inadvisable to visit with a hangover or like I did, feeling slightly under the weather.

Still it didn’t seem to put off the punters: Shoreditch hipsters with stupid haircuts and skinny jeans queuing for takeaway; groups of lads lining their stomachs before a few pints; Japanese tourists admiring the Formica tables. And me, of course.

Food was a bit of a mixed bag. Despite all the shiny, modern exterior it’s still a bog-standard London chippy at heart which means the scoff churned out is ok if not quite delivering F&C nirvana.

The fryers had made a decent fist of cooking some Whitebait. The little fish had been given quite a light coating of flour before frying so you could actually taste the fish as oppose to the oil. Perhaps they could have been a tad more crisp but it was marginal and at £3.95 a painless way to start a meal.

The Fish and Chips themselves weren’t so great. A thin fillet of Haddock was soft and was enveloped by limp batter that hadn’t really bubbled up in the prescribed manner. Chips were of the pale and uninteresting variety and also could have done with a bit of crisping up.

Homemade tartare sauce was mayonnaise-heavy and needed more chopped up gherkins or something similar to give it texture. Mushy Peas – also homemade - were slightly bizarre - more like a Pea Soup (a nod to London in the 50’s perhaps?). The taste was too pea-like and the last thing mushy peas should taste like are peas. I don’t know why places in the South bother, I really don’t.

So not the best Fish and Chips you can get in the capital – although I haven’t been for a while I suspect Masters Superfish still holds that crown – but at least they had the virtue of not tasting oily and craving the carbs I did finish the lot, but felt slightly grubby afterwards: full of regret and self-loathing (as us svelte Metropolitan types are wont to do after a binge).

One for the tourists.

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