Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Adam Rocks...and that's a fact

Many may have thought I'd become somewhat pretentious recently when my social media feeds were littered with Adam Rocks! This however, was not some self motivational pat on the back but the name of a new car I was fortunate enough to take for spin through the beautiful Snowdonia region. Admittedly it was childishly amusing touring Chateau Rhianfa - my accommodation for the evening prior to the drive - and seeing said moniker adorning banners, bottles and unsurprisingly, the car itself.

What's in a name
The setting for this little adventure couldn't be more stunning and only a couple of hours drive from Stoke-on-Trent. Chateau (or Plas) Rhianfa is a fabulous 19th Century French inspired Grade II listed venue overlooking the Menai Strait. Due to a packed itinerary over the couple of days we had in the area, full exploration of Rhianfa wasn't possible. What I did get to see was dramatic yet welcoming, a place to which I will definitely return to enjoy in greater depth - particularly the unseen wine cave. The locality is breathtaking and we were given the opportunity to experience it from the water, via a speedboat trip down the Strait to dinner.

Chateau Rhianfa
Seeing the properties lining the water's edge was impressive to say the least and with a little help from our guide (allegedly known as Jack O'Nory) every building seem to hold either some secret, celebrity or more likely, tall story. Thoroughly entertained by Jack (his real name was Tim) and with wind paralysed, salt encrusted faces we were deposited at our destination.

Taxi to dinner
Having been told so much about the local delicacy on our aquatic tour, only one option was every truly considered when it came to ordering at Dylan's and the surprisingly substantial Menai Mussels didn't disappoint. This had been preceded by an equally delicious Chicken Liver Parfait. Not to be outdone, the Tiramisu Teacup concluded a superb meal and evening.

The menu, setting and whole experience at Dylan's I would highly recommend and is well worthy of being the main purpose of a visit to Anglesey, however the following day was the main event and the reason for the excursion to North Wales. The Adam Rocks Air, with its electric folding canvass roof, is effortless to drive. The six speed gear box belies the one litre, three cylinder engine as it maintains its momentum with painless and uncomplaining ease. With Hill Start (as standard), and optional Park Assist, it really takes all aspects of City driving to a higher level of comfort. From just shy of £15k the car was taken from concept to production in less than 12 months and has, as yet, no real direct competitor. At around 57mpg and with interchangeable interior sections, it offers cracking value for money and the opportunity to reinvigorate the look as and when required  - or if the mood takes you. It took the climbs and curves exceptionally well for what is fundamentally a tough looking urban motor - an image inspired by agile parkour athletes who negotiate such city spaces.

Aided by the entertaining and extremely informative company of co-driver Ian, the three hours of stunning scenery flew by in an instant, significantly enhanced by our mode of transport. 

But the 'fun' wasn't over. Riding the fastest zip wire in the world wrapped up a memorable visit to Wales. But that's another story.

Adam Rocks Air is available now and priced from £14,695 on the road.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Michelin stars and light

When telling an array of friends and colleagues that I was to visit Turners, the response ranged from 'oos' and 'ahhs' to 'my favourite restaurant'. Carried on a wave of such positivity, anticipation was high when entering the discreetly fronted property less than 3 miles from the centre of Birmingham. Elegant in it's simplicity,  the single dining room belies it's frontage nestled between charity shops and hairdressers.
Chef Richard Turner bases his creations on flavours rather than gimmicks and such an approach works wonderfully well.

Our appetisers of oxtail doughnut and haddock croquette proved the perfect precursor to the remainder of what was an exquisite menu.

Tomato jelly, green tomato seeds, langoustine and buffalo curd was light and incredibly refreshing whilst the wild salmon two ways (poached and house cured) with horseradish granita and English caviar was outstanding.

As I ran out of superlatives and before I thought it could get any better, the highlight was the pigeon, breast and confit leg theatrically smoked with lavender and new season peach.

How such a dish can be so light (the use of this adjective was continuous throughout our stay for which its repetition I will not apologise) and would be a welcome yet unusual accompaniment to a salad (as pointed out by my fellow diner Neil Davey), still remains delightfully difficult to fathom.

And so it continued with an encore of lime curd, chocolate, avocado and coconut curls and then a raspberry meringue, granola and beetroot sorbet.

As pointed out by a friend of mine, this isn't just fine dining, Turners is an incredible experience. Michelin stars guarantee a certain stamp of quality. This goes so much further.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Why oh why!

'Heavy Meal with dog **** to go'
I recently detailed my disbelief at the persistent failings of new businesses that go through the rigmarole of getting loans, planning permission, staff, equipment etc in order to get their new cafe or restaurant off the ground and then showcase their new project in the worst possible light.

Due to column inches (and ironically my inabilities as a photographer) in The Sentinel where the piece was published, I was unable to give an example but here there are no such issues. Not exactly an tempting advert to step inside. Did Nokia 3210s have cameras? Have you seen worse?

Oh look - they sell beans

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Dougie Mac's Little Lunch

I was privileged to be asked by The Douglas Macmillan Hospice to contribute to a blog they have founded titled 'The Little Lunch - Tuck in for Dougie Mac'. A favourite of mine has always been the good old fish finger butty and this is my take on a classic. Read more here. Thanks again to Paul for asking me to get involved.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Bubbly and Bluffer's Brilliance

Bibs not included
Chocolate and champagne. The real essence of Valentine's Day. As many suffocate in the commercial crassness of yet another season of delusional romance, there are some delights out there that buck the clichéd trend and offer a little of something different for the one you love/hope to love etc. The Bluffer's Guide To Chocolate by Neil Davey is the perfect Valentine's Day gift or an essential point of reference to take you from scoffer to specialist.
Food critic and journalist Neil said, "From its bizarre history to its actually-bordering-on-the-insane production process, the fact that chocolate exists at all is a miracle.
It might be delicious but chocolate is also a vast and confusing subject which makes the perfect topic for Bluffer's Guide to bring down to bite sized chunks."

This brilliant book dismisses some commonly held beliefs including Belgian chocolate being the best in the world; white chocolate is not chocolate; chocolate is an aphrodisiac and chocolate is bad for you. The Bluffer's Guide to Chocolate is available for Kindle and iPad at Amazon for just £4.99 and from the Bluffer's website or any decent book shop for £6.99.

If you question the depth of affection for him/her and keep the Bluffer's Guide for yourself and are in need of further inspiration, then Laurenti Champagne is perfection in a bottle.The first (and possibly most important) fact about Laurenti is that it's exceptionally low in sulphates - reducing the chance of a hangover! Added to the fact that it's also low in calories, tastes sublime and is incredibly smooth, you will begin to understand it's popularity in France for over 90 years. Known as a 'grower champagne' - Laurenti only use fruit grown from their own estate - this exquisite range include Grande Cuvée Tradition - their prestigious vintage, Grande Cuvée Rosé aged in the Laurenti cellars for 3 years and the Grand Cuvée also aged for 3 years and a blend of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay. Relatively new to the UK market this champagne is excellent value for money and the perfect Valentine's gift or your date if you're single.

The Laurenti range are priced from £34.99 and available from Wine Direction

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Pumpkin & Mice and a privilege...all on BBC2

I haven't blogged as much as I would have wanted or intended over the past 12 months. There I said it. But onwards and upwards and that original intention remains for the next 12 and beyond.

2014 has got off to a flyer and with numerous posts already in the pipeline I hope to bring more of my own personal development in the kitchen as well as the delights of Staffordshire food and drink to 'Potteries 'n' Pans' from here on in.

Yes...they are oatcakes!
Said 'flyer' consisted of a first and a privilege. I was invited to cook in a 'proper' commercial kitchen. The Coach and Horses in Farringdon is a must visit whenever I hit the capital and serves superb real ale (the BBC2 is a revelation and unbelievably rounded at only 2.5%) and sublime food. Chef Leigh Norton's menu is continually evolving and never ceases to amaze. The bacon and black pudding hash is a work of beauty and a current dish of brilliance is the incredible risotto of Jerusalem artichokes, radicchio and sherry vinegar. I was introduced to owner Giles Webster by my good friend and journalist Neil and I soon discovered that the gaffer's enthusiasm for every dish is absorbing to the point of mesmeric and his understanding of my desire to learn more about food and cooking in general he has since embraced, something for which I will be eternally grateful.

He welcomed Neil, Tom - outstanding photographer and superb cook - and myself into the kitchen for the day and gave us the opportunity to road test a few dishes we were experimenting with for another project (more of which at a later date).
Due to it's location in Central London, the Coach doesn't open on a Saturday as the City empties into suburbia and beyond, so we had the space to ourselves without the pressure of expectant diners.

I have nothing but admiration for Leigh and his team and all kitchen staff everywhere. Dealing with over 50 covers in an overpowering heat while turning out plates of such high quality must take some doing and is beyond the reaches of my imagination having pootled around playing with ingredients and under no duress whatsoever.

Sincere gratitude to Giles, Leigh and all the staff at The Coach for the opportunity and their hospitality. Cheers guys!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Jewel in the crowd

Breaking my BBC Good Food Show virginity was an experience. The size of the event was somewhat daunting and the attempt to see, taste and sample everything proved a challenge.

As I discussed in my Sentinel column, the down right rudeness of people was the biggest shock (although why I should be so shocked in this day and age - I don't really know) but on reflection it was an excellent day out and I would highly recommend it to anyone. It even made me change my long held opinion of James Martin. Enough said.

The real gem of a find for me wasn't the Sous Vide 'Smoking Gun' which is currently top of my Christmas Wish List but a Smoked Rapeseed Oil from Fussels. Inspired by the musings of a customer at a Farmers' Market, Andy Fussel experimented and the result is superb. Not normally an impulsive buyer, having sampled, purchasing became a necessity not a desire.

The smokiness is just right and formed the perfect base to a 'Smoked Bolognese', using the oil, smoked sea salt and smoked garlic.

Smoked Rapeseed Oil should be available to buy on line within the next couple of weeks.