Easy Spielers

queenIn some respects I envy the continental markets where you can find lots of varieties of the same fruit and vegetables. I love combining different colours and sizes of tomatoes into salads. In amongst the various greengrocer sections will occasionally be a new size and colour combination that leaves you wondering exactly what it is. In England the nearest we have is our love of apples and our familiarity with the different types. For reference I am very fond of russet and Cox’s and I have no time for Golden Delicious. I also hunt out English apples wherever possible.

Our supermarkets still bamboozle us though when it comes to orange fruit around this time of year. Continue reading

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Wild Thyme in Chipping Norton – Cotswolds passion

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At college my best subject was art. I could draw and paint accurately and at times I thought about it as a career. And then the conservative side of me stepped in and reminded me of the garret-bound artist trading superb paintings for food. I realised I didn’t love creating art and ultimately I also knew that, no matter how proficient, I didn’t have the creativity to come up with something genuinely different. I wouldn’t be able to sell anything and so it would be a vanity to carry on with it. It would be a vanity because I didn’t have the passion to take it a step further.

I think there are a lot of parallels between creating art, creating furniture, theatre and cooking. The level of skill involved in being great at all of them seems to far outweigh the value we place on them in modern Britain. Despite the emotions they create when done well we seem to have lost the ability to discriminate and reward those people who carry out their craft. As a nation we are really good at all of these things but don’t seem to appreciate what we have and certainly don’t value them enough.

I was reminded of this when I recently visited Wild Thyme in Chipping Norton. Continue reading

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@ZouBisouCafe in Leamington Spa – a funky cafe with soul

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Zou Bisou is a cafe in the heart of restaurants in Leamington Spa. This is a place of tough competition. I’ve already written about the delights of Coffee Architects, Turtle Bay and La Coppola and enjoyed each one of them in different ways.

The first thing you notice about Zou Bisou is the decor. Its a lovely spacious and airy area with huge glass windows looking out on to a pedestrian area. There’s maybe 40 seats with cute little semicircular banquettes, comfy chairs and more traditional seating. It oozes either’relax and have fun’ or linger and read. The fun element is reinforced as you approach the counter. There’s a costume box next to a selfie seat, and a frozen yoghurt machine with plenty of sweets and sauces to decorate it. The decor includes some funky black white and red zebra stripe upholstery and some large painted teacups. And behind the counter is owner Steph. She’s very welcoming and full of ideas – hence the membership and activity nights. This is not your average cafe but ultimately it comes down to the food and drink. Continue reading

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Theslowroasteditalian’s magnificent savoury loaf

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For some time now I have been planning to make the shortbread recipe I picked up in Bridlington lately. Typically, I stumbled across a recipe via a Twitter link that changed my mind.

I definitely have a savoury rather than a sweet tooth and so theslowroasteditalian’s bacon cheddar beer bread ticked a lot of boxes for me just for the title. It was doubly interesting that the method is an all in, mix-and-bake formula.

It starts with four rashers of bacon cooked and chopped. As it turns out the mixture is quite stiff and so there is no danger of pieces falling through the batter to the bottom. I cooked the bacon well and chopped finely. Continue reading

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Mystery meal at The Wine House, Lichfield…or parts of it

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I really do like to give restaurants the benefit of the doubt but just once in a while they don’t help me. Recently I visited The Wine House in Lichfield for the second time. I had been expecting great things on the first occasion as it had been recommended to me as serving some really interesting, well presented food. In a way, the description was right: I had some very pretty dishes and there were some clever techniques but the dishes themselves just didn’t match the presentation. You see this all the time on Masterchef where the foams, smoke and sous vide provide a feast for the eyes but disappoint the palate.

We visited again for a quiet family Sunday lunch and I was hoping that a return to basics would show the real cookery. The menu looks to have changed a little – there were some roasts but also plenty of steaks including a 7oz wagyu fillet steak at an eye-watering £65.

My wife is not a fan of roast pork and so I tend to eat it regularly when we eat out. Continue reading

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Supattra in Bridlington – welcome Yorkshire Thai

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My first exposure to Thai food was in Bangkok in the late 1980s. One fiery bowl of Tom Yam soup later and I was left sweating and incapable of speech by the chillis. My experience since then has been mainly limited to suspiciously samey green and red Thai curries and quite a few meals which are indistinguishable from Chinese food. Like Mexican food, and a fair few Indian dishes, Thai seems to have been watered down and adapted to suit the English palate: to paraphrase Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men – you want Thai food? You can’t handle Thai food. Continue reading

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“My Best Shot Photia” two weeks later

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A couple of weeks back we visited Shah’s in Burnham on Sea and I ordered a chickpea starter described as Chot Photia. This is it in the photograph above. It was a slightly sweet, lightly spiced dish that I wanted to try at home. I’ve struggled to find a recipe and I don’t know whether it is an invented creation at Shah’s or something more traditional. Continue reading

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Great beef dripping sauce at Miller and Carter

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My favourite pork dish was eaten in Berlin fairly recently. My favourite lamb dish is probably one of quite a few eaten in English restaurants. The best chicken dish I have ever had is harder to establish but it was probably in France (along with the best duck one too). And what about the beef? Surely the land of Les Rosbifs can produce the best beef plate of food?

I guess it depends on what we are talking about. I recently visited Miller and Carter – a steak chain. I’m old enough to remember the old Beefeater and similar restaurants knocking out leather with cream sauce when steak was a luxury dish in the 1970s. Continue reading

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Shah’s in Burnham – bright everyday curry

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On a recent trip to Somerset we ended a lovely sunny late Autumn day with a trip to Shah’s in Burnham on Sea. I’m fond of a curry but increasingly I am finding restaurants which serve exactly the same menu and sometimes appear to serve the exact same dish with one or two additions.

The first thing to hit me about Shah’s is that this is possibly the brightest curry house I’ve ever been in. No bad thing – as I get older my eyes are failing and, while candlelit may be romantic, I need to learn braille to be able get through the menu. Continue reading

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Spicy Pumpkin Soup: The best thing about Hallowe’en

I really dislike Hallowe’en. What used to be a fun, family time of year seems to have become a celebration of horror films for a a generation who shouldn’t be watching them. Its much more fun from a food perspective. I think of bonfire toffee, hot chocolate and pumpkin soup.
I first experienced the joys of pumpkin soup in Australia – accompanied by a large slab of damper in a barn on a sheep shearing ranch. It was divine. I will always remember the sweetness and silkiness of it. Pumpkins are for soup-making and lanterns; nothing more. Continue reading

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