Forman and Field Christmas hamper

You’ll have noticed that posts at Gastronomy Domine have been a bit thin over the last couple of months. That’s because I’ve gone from a very pleasant part-time freelance lifestyle to volunteering considerably more than full-time for the Raspberry Pi Foundation, so meals out and recipe development have had to take a back seat.

Raspberry Pi is a educational charity set up by my husband, Eben (who most of you know as Dr W). Its aim is to democratise computing for people who can’t currently afford to own a PC, and to promote the study of computer science in schools, by producing a very tiny computer for very little money. We’ve come up with a Linux PC the size of a credit card which will cost around £15, which we should be launching by Christmas. There’s been press interest from Ukraine to Brazil; we’ve been on the TV and in the papers in the UK, have spent a few weeks on the conference circuit in America, and seem unlikely to get much sleep until we launch in December. Gastronomy Domine will be back to normal in early 2012, by which time the charity should be generating some money for itself so I can hand my work over to a paid employee. If you really can’t stand not reading me witter on before then, drop into the forums or visit the Raspberry Pi blog.

Back to the food stuff.

Opening hamper
Opening a hamper from Forman and Field with some help from Mooncake the cat, who seems unnaturally attracted to the smoked salmon

I got back from the US a couple of weeks ago, after a month of prattling on about computers. The jet lag after a month of gorgeous sunshine eight time zones away is something to behold. I wasn’t safe around knifes or saucepans, so it was a very great relief that Forman and Field had decided to send me a Christmas hamper to review a few days after my return. I’ve been stealthily working my way through it ever since: this was a generous and carefully selected set of gourmet bits and bobs, which really deserved some time to be taken over sampling it.

Forman and Field specialise in top-notch foods from independent producers all over the UK.  You might have come across their smoked salmon before, which is sold at Waitrose and really stands out against the competition. The London Cure in particular is really worth your time. It’s cured in much less salt than many smoked salmons, with a less dense smoke to it, all to showcase the taste of the fish itself. There was a handsome packet in here, with a soft flavour and firm bite, alongside a pack of wild salmon, smokier, richer and creamier than the London Cure. There’s no better way to eat this than on lightly buttered slices of rye bread.

More hamper contents
Ham, pork pie, lemon curd, lobster, cakes, and some mince pies hiding under the wood shavings

Potted lobster in a pretty little Kilner jar was the only thing in the box I wasn’t able to eat (anaphylaxis is nobody’s idea of fun, and while I do carry an adrenaline injector for allergic emergencies, I try to go out of my way not to have to use it). Dr W, though, pronounced it just the ticket; a little like potted shrimp but sweeter and juicier. Take it out of the fridge a couple of hours before you serve it at room temperature so the butter can melt into hot toast.

Alderton ham from Nottinghamshire is carved off the bone, and glazed with marmalade. I made sandwiches with it and some of the British cheeses from Neal’s Yard in the hamper: a Colton Basset Stilton, which is one of my favourite cheeses in the world; some of Mrs Kirkham’s Tasty Lancashire cheese; an unidentified Cheddar; and a bit of Caerphilly. That Colton Basset is stupendous on its own, but you can raise it to positive divinity by bringing it to room temperature and drizzling a little runny honey over it before you eat it with some crusty bread. An just in case that wasn’t enough on the savoury side, there was a handsome great pork pie from Mrs King’s in waxed paper, made to the same recipe since 1853.

It’s Christmas soon, so a little Christmas pudding and some mince pies were right at the top of the package. The pudding is the only thing I haven’t eaten yet. I’m saving it for December. Mince pies came with a lovely buttery, crumbly pastry and a mincemeat sharp with brandy. I ate them as a midnight snack with a hot buttered rum. A chocolate brownie cake and banana bread made breakfast in bed for the two of us on two weekend mornings, and the little Kilner jar of lemon curd was just right for elevenses on toast with a nice hot cup of tea.

I’d reached the bottom of the hamper, but for a box of impossibly glossy chocolates from Paul Wayne Gregory. Now. For my posh chocolate needs in the UK, I usually turn to l’Artisan du Chocolat, but three chocolates into the box I was swearing undying loyalty to Paul Wayne Gregory, and by the end of the box I was both feeling sick and wondering if he’d be interested in a bigamous marriage. I still can’t decide whether I’d like the last thing I ever eat to be one of his salted caramel chocolates, the passionfruit one or the popping candy one. These aren’t cheap, but they’re worth every penny, and then some.

Paul Wayne Gregory chocolates
Paul Wayne Gregory chocolates. Be still, my beating heart.

Forman and Field hit it out of the park with this hamper. There wasn’t a single dud in there. Every item in the hamper was something I’d consider ordering off my own bat. And there is nothing nicer than opening up a beautiful wicker box like this to rummage through on the living room floor, finding surprise after surprise. If there is a greedy somebody you love very much this Christmas, I can’t  think of a better present. The hampers are packaged with ice and insulation, so they arrive fridge-cold. Last orders for Christmas at Forman and Field’s website are on Saturday 10 December, with last deliveries on Friday 23. To celebrate the launch of their new website, they’re offering readers £5 P&P until the end of November.

A word of caution. Forman and Field use the Royal Mail as couriers, and last Christmas, when we had all that snow, the Royal Mail managed to lose a Pugh’s Piglets porchetta we’d ordered from them, only to deliver it a week or so later, smelling exactly like you imagine a porchetta that’s been sitting in a van for a week probably smells; they also delivered some Forman and Field foie gras and smoked eel to my lovely Mum several days late, which meant they missed the Christmas Eve gathering they were intended to feed. Probably down to the weather, but it made our Christmas run less smoothly than it should have done. At least they don’t use the Home Delivery Network.

Bedruthan Steps hotel, Mawgan Porth, Cornwall

I was invited to spend a weekend at the Bedruthan Steps hotel and its sister, The Scarlet, in Mawgan Porth in Cornwall. These are two hotels catering for very different audiences, but sharing an ecological, food-loving ethos – and one of the greatest sea views you’ll ever wake up to.

Clifftop view from the Cornwall Costal Path, a few paces from the Bedruthan Steps

I don’t have kids. It means that I’m blissfully ignorant of things like baby monitors, the school gate experience, feeding times and other arcane kid stuff. So I was a wee bit worried about being invited to the Bedruthan Steps, which is heavily advertised as being family-friendly. I’d resolved to steel my way through a day of kids, then collect my reward at the Scarlet in the company of grownups the next day.

Bedruthan Steps from the outdoor pool
Bedruthan Steps from the outdoor pool

A total surprise, then to pitch up at the Bedruthan Steps, admittedly full of pre-vocal people accompanied by their carriers/feeders/cleaners, and find it weirdly tranquil. The management know that not everybody wants to spend their day being poked with a plastic shovel, so to that end, there are plenty of adult-only areas (and a teenager-only area which Dr W had a good old whinge about not being allowed into so he could play pool). This works well for parents, too, who don’t have to worry about their kids’ noise and play annoying the kid-free; the kid-free are all in the adults’ lounge, the bar, or the adult-only pool. Breakfast saw us and all the other childless visitors put in a child-free section of the restaurant. There’s also a no-children swimming pool and spa. And this place is beautiful. Externally – well, not so much; you’re looking at a white 1950s monolith stacked up the cliffside in steps. But inside, the Bedruthan Steps is a lovely thing: all marine colours, pale woods, sculptural shapes, Cornish artworks and handsome textiles.

Cornish cliches
Cornish cliches in Mawgan Porth village: clotted cream ice cream, pasties and surfing. All that's missing is a scone and some tea.

If you do have kids, then you are really the person this hotel is catering for. Baby monitors in the rooms; a children’s club; an adventure playground with scrambling nets and a kids-only zip wire (cue more howls of disappointment from Dr W, an 8-year-old in a six-foot microchip architect’s body). The spa offers those special pregnant-lady massages, alongside all the usual treatments. All the baby stuff that my baby-owning friends have to tote around with them is provided, so you’re not going to have to pack the car to the gills – you can use the hotel’s plastic baby cutlery, cots, bibs, reusable nappies and potties (four words which I hope never appear again on this blog) for free, and if you want, you can also rent strollers, sterilisers, bouncing chairs and bottles for a very small fee. Our room had a double bed separated from the rest of the room by a half-wall, and two single beds for our imaginary children to sleep in in the living area.

Hotel room
Hotel room - and that view!

There’s a lot of attention to detail in the child facilities, and I did feel that that same attention to detail was missing in small ways in the rooms (perhaps it was just the bad luck that comes with being assigned room 13) – I could have done with a towel rail and loo roll holder that stayed attached to the wall, and I could really have done without the half-used bottle of lubricant that a previous guest had left in the bedside drawer. But the view from every bedroom, of Mawgan Porth’s gorgeous little sandy cove and the impossibly blue Atlantic pounding up to the beach – that’s worth all the nasty bedside drawer surprises in the world. We opened the window in the night to breathe in the sea air, and to listen to the wind and the waves; better than any prescription sleeping tablet. There’s lousy cell phone reception up here on the cliff, which makes for a fantastic excuse not to pick up the phone to talk to work while you’re away.

Lane down to sea
View from the lane down to the sea

You can walk down to that beach in about five minutes. It has a dedicated lifeguard and makes for a perfect sandcastle-making spot. It’s also good for surfing, and you can arrange lessons with Nick via the hotel’s front desk. The hotel is only a few yards from the Cornish Coastal Path, and there’s some great walking in both directions along the cliffs.

Mawgan Porth bay
Mawgan Porth bay

Padstow, now entirely colonised by Rick Stein restaurants, gift shops and hotels, is just up the road. This has been great news for diners visiting this part of Cornwall – rather than allow him to have the lock on good eating in the area, the other hotels and restaurants around here have really raised their games. Dining at the Bedruthan Steps, overlooking the bay through the restaurant’s ceiling-height windows, you’ll find a menu that changes daily; mixing simple, traditional cooking with more exotic (but never unapproachable) flavours like sumac and green curry. The fish here is local, admirably fresh and carefully selected, but if you’re not a fish person, there’s lots of choice, from vegetarian dishes to some great locally, organically raised meats. Locally fished mackerel stuffed with cracked wheat, currants and pistachios had sweet flesh, rich with oil, underlined by a sharp, herby gremolata dressing. And a beef casserole, full of local vegetables, had a lovely dumpling floating in the middle, light and airy: this is family food just like my Mum used to make. Cornish plums and Mawgan Porth lavender in a tarte tatin – locavores can quite literally eat their hearts out. Cornish beers (I was there for a Harvest Festival celebrating local beers and produce) stand alongside some extremely good Cornish fruit juices – of course, if you’re a wine drinker, there’s also an extensive, non-Cornish wine list.

Mackerel stuffed with crushed wheat
Mackerel stuffed with cracked wheat
Beef stew
Beef stew with an ethereal dumpling and some terrific onion rings
Tarte tatin
Roast plum and lavender tarte tatin - and a compulsory dollop of Cornish clotted cream

Alongside this localism, you’ll see a real commitment to sustainable, ecological management of the hotel. The food and drink aren’t the only locally sourced things you’ll see here – soaps, stationery, and even the hotel’s building materials are all from the local area. There’s solar heating for the outdoor pool; the rooftops are planted with grass; and the hotel has a year-round commitment to keeping the beach clean. There is constant waste and energy monitoring, motion-sensitive lighting in some areas, and a slightly irritating towel rental policy if you want more than the one per person that you’ll find in the room for the pool or beach.

Bedruthan Hotel spa

If you’re a parent of children of any age, I can’t think of anywhere you’ll find a better mix of things for the kids to do and for you grown-ups to enjoy too. There’s so much to do in the surrounding area, but if you want to stay in the hotel, there are weekend activities for adults: shoe-making, bread-baking, beekeeping, toddler-management, yoga and so on. (Check the hotel website for what’s on when.) Summer in Cornwall is late in finishing; when we were there in early September lots of families with pre-school-age children were taking advantage of the final flush of the south-west sun. Older children appear in the school holidays. Just watch out for the contents of the bedside drawers in room 13.

Rose and Crown, Great Horkesley, Essex

White onion and thyme soup
White onion and thyme soup amuse bouche - dense flavours just right for a tiny serving.

That little episode was, I think, the longest break from blogging I’ve had in about six years. I read somewhere that we are due to get flu every ten years or so, and I managed to have this decade’s dose while on a flight back from New York (scratch one week’s blogging, while I was having fun on holiday) a couple of weeks ago. It’s been exactly two weeks today (scratch another two weeks’ blogging, while I was lying in bed staring at the ceiling and wishing I was dead), and I’m still not better. But at least I can look at a monitor now without splattering goo all over it and getting a blinding headache from the backlight.

So. To the Essex/Suffolk border, where about a month ago, I was invited over to the Rose and Crown in Great Horkesley (01206 271251) for a lazy Tuesday supper. Chef and patron Ed Halls set up shop in the sort of place that estate agents describe as having a “wealth of beams” almost exactly a year ago, after spells cooking at starry places like Morston Hall in Norfolk, and Pétrus under Marcus Wareing. (And, in the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that I discovered half-way through my meal that my buddy Krista from Passport Delicious is a part-owner of the Rose and Crown.)

Warm salad
Warm salad of black pudding, smoked bacon, shallot marmalade and soft boiled quail’s egg. As good as it looks!

Ed marks a very clear line in the fuzzy territory between the pub scampi-in-a-basket menu and the sort of fine dining that might intimidate your gran. This is an accessible menu that you can easily put in front of the family; but it’s also full of little un-pubby gestures like a little amuse bouche – in our case, a little cup of dense and pepper-hot white onion and thyme soup –  some exceptionally good olives, and ingredients like quail’s eggs, shallot confit and polenta. (Lady at table next to us: “What is this poo-len-ta on the menu?” The staff are brilliant, and had her all set in no time; and yes, she ended up ordering it.)

Alongside the less pubby flourishes, you’ll find all of the things you’d hope to find on a pub menu: stellar onion rings made with a beer you can get on tap at the bar; proper, twice-cooked chips; gargantuan portions of calves liver; and the thing that really drew me to the Rose and Crown in the first place: dry-aged Dedham Beef steaks, cut thick and chargrilled perfectly (in my case) medium rare. Don’t be put off by the slightly George Foreman Grill-looking char marks on your steak. My bone-in ribeye really was a great-tasting piece of meat, raised properly, fed with grass, like cows should be, and cooked simply and well. (Witness the fact that I polished the whole thing off; I am almost never able to finish a whole steak.) Ribeye, especially with the bone, is far and away my favourite cut of steak, and you don’t see it on menus as often as it deserves. It’s tender from extensive marbling, and full of wonderfully beefy flavour: this is a muscle that gets used a lot, and the proximity to the bone adds flavour and sweetness.

Rib eye steak
Ribeye steak, with slow-roasted garlic tomatoes and watercress salad. Stellar chips and onion rings out of shot, disappearing into Dr W.

You can choose saucing for your steak from a short list, and I heartily recommend the chunk of Stilton offered as a kind of hard sauce.

The quality of the cooking shines through in little details like the breathtakingly rich fish stock making a base for the scallop risotto, and the desserts, which were shockingly good. Not at all what you might expect on a pub menu: here was an orange and passion fruit crème brulée, topped off with bitter macerated oranges and a spectacularly creamy white chocolate ice cream. Those bitter, sour oranges paired with sharp passion fruit were such a good foil to the dense, rich custard that they made my head spin. Dr W interjected that the head-spinning may have been caused by the Greene King ales we were drinking. The brewery, at Bury St Edmunds, is only 25 miles away, and there’s a definite, and very positive, difference to the taste of the beer when it’s not had to travel too far.

Great Horkesley is just outside Colchester, and near all of those lovely day-out places like Long Melford and Lavenham; it’s also a great place to stop for lunch if you’re out on your way to the Suffolk coast. It’s great to see more pubs taking food seriously, and Ed is a really interesting guy to chat with; if you’re in the area, it’s well worth a visit.

Pecan pie
Pecan pie with maple syrup and butterscotch ice cream. There must be a magical ice cream elf in the kitchen; all the ice creams we tried were spectacular.

Roast rib of beef with red wine gravy

Roast rib of beef
Roast rib of beef, straight out of the oven

I’m blogging from my new MacBook Pro, an anniversary present from the inestimable Dr W. I’m still getting used to it; there are all kinds of PC keyboard shortcuts hard-wired into my brain that I’m having to relearn, and I don’t have any photo-editing software on here yet. In short, if anything looks a bit funny in today’s post, please be gentle with me – things should be better next week when I’ve got to grips with the various things the command button does!

Is there anybody out there who doesn’t love a big chunk of well-aged, grass-fed roast beef? This joint was a present from my in-laws, who have amazing taste in gifts. It’s from Lishman’s butcher’s in Ilkley, and had been sitting in the freezer for a few months, waiting for the weather to turn in a roasty direction.

If you’re not into turkey at Christmas, a beef rib is a fantastic substitution; it’s traditional but rather special, and there are very, very few Brits of a certain age out there who don’t have happy childhood memories of family occasions centred around a pre-BSE joint. To my mind, it’s the best of the roasting joints; the meat is rich and savoury from its proximity to the bone, and there’s a perfect amount of fat for lubrication and flavour in there. As a rule of thumb, you can count on each rib in the joint being sufficient to serve two people, so it’s easy to work out how large a chunk of meat to buy. I like to cook a rib nice and rare; if your uncle Bert likes his meat cooked until there’s not a trace of pink, just give him a slice from one end of the joint.

The gravy I served with this is a bit special; it’s intensely dense and savoury, and rich with the flavour of red wine and caramelised onion. Don’t use one of those undrinkable £3 bottles marketed as cooking wine here; while I don’t want you raiding the cellar for the Burgundy your Dad laid down in the 1980s, you should make this gravy with something you’d be happy to drink. If you can get hold of some real beef or veal stock made with a roasted bone, that’ll be fantastic here. The gravy has so much other flavour supporting it, though, that you can happily use some decent chicken stock instead. (And your freezer is full of home-made chicken stock, right?)

I served this with a huge, rustling pile of roast potatoes and parsnips, and a shredded spring cabbage sauteed in a little butter with some peeled chestnuts; these are all great for soaking up the gorgeous gravy. To roast a rib of beef rare (add five minutes per 500g if you want it medium, and ten if, for some unaccountable reason, you want it well-done), you’ll need:

A rib of beef
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon plain flour

1 red onion
250ml red wine
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
300ml good beef or chicken stock
2 tablespoons plain flour
Juices from the joint
Salt and pepper to taste

Roast beef
Roast beef

Take the beef out of the fridge in plenty of time, so it’s at room temperature when you come to cook it. Preheat the oven to a blistering 240ºC (460ºF). Pat the joint dry with kitchen paper. Mix the salt, flour and mustard in a small bowl, and use your fingers to rub the mixture all over the fatty surface of the joint.

Put the beef in a roasting dish and slide it into the oven for an initial 20 minutes, then bring the temperature down to 180ºC (360ºF) and cook the joint for 15 minutes per 500g. (See timings above for a medium or well-done roast.)

While the rib is cooking, start on the gravy. Slice the onion finely, and fry it in a little beef dripping (goose fat is good if you don’t have any) until it starts to brown. Tip the balsamic vinegar into the pan and cook, stirring, until the onions start caramelising and the mixture becomes sticky.

Pour the red wine over the onions and bring to a simmer. Add the stock, bring back up to a simmer and allow the whole thing to bubble away gently with the lid on for half an hour. Remove from the heat, and strain the contents of the pan through a sieve into a jug. Discard the onions, which will have given up all their flavour, and leave the jug to one side until the beef is finished.

When the beef is ready to come out of the oven, remove it from the roasting pan to a warmed dish in a warm place to rest for 20 minutes, covered loosely with a piece of tin foil. This will give you time to finish up the vegetables and finish the gravy while the muscle fibres in the meat relax and the juices start to flow. Finish the gravy by putting the roasting pan you cooked the meat in on the hob over a medium flame. Sprinkle the flour into the pan and use a whisk to blend it well with any flavour-carrying fat from the joint. Pour a ladle of the stock from the jug into the pan and whisk away until everything is well blended, scraping at the sticky bits on the bottom. Repeat, a ladle at a time, until everything is combined, then return to a saucepan and simmer away without a lid for five minutes, stirring as you go, before tasting to adjust for salt and pepper, and transferring to a gravy boat just in time to serve up the whole roast.

Freemasons Country Inn, Wiswell, Lancashire

I’d been invited to lunch at the Freemasons Country Inn in Wiswell, Lancashire, by the fine folks from American Express and the London Restaurant Festival. This year’s LRF sees chefs from ten London restaurants pair up with ten restaurants from all over the country to produce gala menus on October 10, especially for American Express card holders. (If you don’t have an American Express card, get a friend who does to book for you.) There are some big names taking part – Alain Roux, Raymond Blanc, Mitch Tonks, Richard Corrigan – alongside some rising stars you’re bound to be hearing much more about very soon.

Ham terrine
Ham and eggs - pressed ham hock, crispy hen's egg, "Flavours of Piccalilli"

Wiswell is a tiny village, arranged precariously along a single-track path that curves up a dripping wet Lancashire hill. I got lost on my way there, and had to stop at a petrol station in nearby Clitheroe to ask for directions. A man wearing a fuzzy jumper in the crisp aisle knew exactly where I was meant to be going: he’d just had his wedding anniversary meal there. (“Seven courses! You’ll eat like a king; it’s a magnificent restaurant.”) Locally, the Freemasons has developed a huge and loyal following, as evidenced by the fact that they were packed to the gills with diners on a soaking Monday lunchtime in August, traditionally one of the restaurant industry’s slowest months.

Scallops - Roast scallops rubbed with tandoori spices, pork scratchings, sweet potato and apple, tandoori brown butter

I was here with Matthew Foxon from the Criterion, who has been paired up for Amex’s shindig with Steven Smith, the Freemasons’ chef. They met precisely two hours before I rolled up, and in that time had become such firm friends that I found myself addressing them as one chefly entity called Matt’n’Steve. They announced in unison: “This is a good pairing. We’re on the same wavelength.” They have lots in common besides the haircuts: a very similar approach to sourcing ingredients, to the importance of texture in a dish and to flavour combinations. Steven’s team prepared lunch from the Freemasons’ menu, Matt’n’Steve developed a dish for October while I watched, and I ate myself silly.

Ricotta and beets
Beets and ricotta - poached and fried beets, crispy ricotta, pear jelly, sloe gin jelly, roast cob nuts, basil and radish cress

The Freemasons was not what I’d expected from a country pub. Downstairs, it’s pure pub: a bar, wooden tables, stone flags, shootin’-huntin’-fishin’ prints and the odd bit of taxidermy. (The upstairs houses a more formal dining area and two private dining rooms.) At a first glance, the menu looks like solid, pubby, starch-and-stodge stuff. If that’s what you’re after, you’ll be disappointed. Steven has subverted the standard pub menu and made it a jumping-off point for some of the most elegant restaurant food I’ve eaten this year. These were jewel-like, complex presentations, with each beautiful element on the plate calculated to complement the whole dish. No bangers in a bun here. Sourcing is a matter of pride for this kitchen – by the end of the meal I knew the first name of the man who grows the restaurant’s beets, the life history of the piglet who sacrificed himself for my superb terrine (and that of his parents), and the precise bit of Scottish coast my scallops had lived on.

Goosnargh duck
Goosnargh duck, poached and roast, beetroot and orange, crispy duck wontons, Stilton, creamed cabbage

Steven draws inspiration from the best bits of English cuisine and from the local area. He’s a Lancashire lad, and knows the countryside and its suppliers intimately. There’s a nod to the local Asian population in the spicing of the scallops; some traditional piccalilli and pork scratchings are given a very unconventional treatment; and what looks like a walnut whip but turns out to be a light-as-air puff of caramelised meringue. A pork jelly sits on the plate with no pork pie in sight, and works as a salty, mellow foil to slivers of sweetly pickled fennel. And who knew that pear and beetroot were such a good flavour match?

Lemon tart
Lemon meringue pie, walnut whips, salted walnut ice cream, dried autumn berries

Once service was over, I was invited to the kitchen to have a look at one of the dishes the two chefs are developing together for the LRF event. Matt was busying himself about some exquisitely delicate sheets of pasta while Steve piped a coil of leek and potato purée onto a pasta base, dropped a fresh yolk into the centre and topped the lot off with another pasta sheet to make a large piece of ravioli, which was poached briefly so the egg was barely set. Matt had brought a large and handsome truffle up on the train with him (I feel for the hungry souls who shared a carriage with him) – it made a heady sauce, drizzled around the pasta and some more leeks with another leek purée, with more of the truffle grated over the top. I’ve seldom seen such focussed attention as Steve gave that single raviolo – and it did them both proud. I was caught swiping at the yolky, truffly, leeky bits on my empty plate with a finger and sucking it, and was roundly laughed at; I felt somewhat less than proud, but it didn’t stop me going back for more.

Leek ravioli
Leek ravioli, baby, grilled and braised leeks, truffles, roast hazelnuts

Wiswell is easy to get to from either side of the Pennines (I was coming from a weekend over the hills in Leeds; Manchester is close by, and the M6 is right on the doorstep), and this restaurant should be a must if you’re in that part of the world. Book early; it’s guaranteed to be packed out. (See the links at the top of this page for booking details.) If you’re down south, try to get an American Express card-holding friend to grab you a table for the 10-10-10 event, where you’ll be able to try several of the dishes above – but get in quickly, because tables are selling out fast.

Rhubarb sorbet

Rhubarb sorbetLast winter, my friend Kate and her family moved into an enormous and ancient pile of a house in one of the nearby villages. You know the sort of house:  the street is named after it; it’s got medieval bits, Georgian bits and Victorian bits; there are wonderful corners all over the place for the kids to play hide-and-seek in; and there’s a huge, leafy garden I’d give my right arm for.

Part of Kate’s garden appears to have been looked after, a century or so ago, by a kitchen gardener with a fondness for rhubarb. Rhubarb crowns grow very slowly indeed, but Kate’s rhubarb patch, having been around for a good long while, is now about the size of a couple of transit vans. No one family can consume that amount of rhubarb in one year without severe intestinal upset, so a few months ago she gave me a few kilos of stalks. Since then, they’ve been sitting, chopped and cleaned, in the freezer, coming out occasionally to be stewed and consumed with custard. Time to ring the changes – here’s a non-custardy application of rhubarb which is grown-up enough to be wheeled out at your next dinner party. There’s a lovely balance of tart and sweet in this sorbet, and it’s a glorious colour. You’ll find it works well as an in-between-courses palate cleanser, or as a dessert. Leave any custard well alone; this stands up on its own.

To make about a pint and a half of sorbet, depending on your rhubarb’s age and water content, you’ll need:

1kg rhubarb
200g caster sugar
30ml water

Put all the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer very gently with the lid on until all the rhubarb has collapsed into a greenish mush (about 20 minutes). Remove from the heat. Strain through a jelly bag, a fine sieve or a muslin-lined colander for several hours or overnight and let gravity do its work, without poking at the mixture – you want the juice and only the juice. You’ll notice that the solid bits of rhubarb left in the jelly bag look a lot like wet hay; all the pinkness will be in your juice.

Eventually, you’ll have a bowl of pink, fragrant syrup. Chill the syrup in the fridge for at least six hours.

Follow the instructions on your ice-cream maker, or pour the syrup into a freezerproof box and put straight in the freezer, removing after an hour to attack with an electric whisk to break up the ice crystals. Freeze for another thirty minutes and whisk again, then keep repeating every thirty minutes until you have something that’s recognisably sorbet. This sorbet will keep in the freezer for months, but I doubt you’ll be able to leave it alone for that long.

Cookery for Invalids, C Herman Senn, 1900

Cookery for InvalidsRegular readers of Gastronomy Domine will be aware of my vintage cookery book habit. I’m hoping to make something of a semi-regular feature of posts about some of these books; if you’ve an interest in food and in social history, an elderly cookery book is a goldmine. Cookery for Invalids, written in 1900 (mine is a later edition), is a book of “recipes and diet hints for the sick room”, and will make you gladder than you’ve ever been that you live in an age of antibiotics, insulin and ubiquitous refrigeration.

Senn, born in 1862, was a chef and a prolific writer of food books, producing 49 books in his lifetime – a remarkable feat given the limited scope of the Victorian and Edwardian kitchen in England. (He had an eye for a new angle; I would love to get my hands on a copy of his Cooking in Paper Bags and Ye Art of Cookery in Ye Olden Time.) By far his most successful book was Cookery for Invalids, first published in 1900, which ran to many editions and seems to have been published at least until the 1930s. (Penicillin was finally purified and tested on humans in 1941, and, of course, many presses closed for the Second World War – I haven’t seen any evidence of printings of the book in the 40s.) Senn himself practised as an early nutritionist as well as a chef, working as Examiner in Sick-Room Cookery at several London hospitals; he was also employed by the government to set up training for army, navy and prison cooks. This was a time when nurse training at the larger hospitals included short courses in what was termed Invalid Cookery, to be practised on their convalescent charges. A wealthy family would employ a children’s nurse for their perfectly well offspring. While dandling, disciplining and doing a bit of mild educating, she was also expected to produce nutritious and stimulating meals for the children; training in dietetics was considered a great boon in such a nurse.

Diet was recognised as a contributing factor in illnesses like diabetes and gout, and was believed to be an efficient treatment in illnesses like neurasthenia (a disease we don’t recognise any more – it was that which affected swooning ladies in the drawing room) and rheumatism. There was a vogue for nutrition, and a huge industry in patent foods like Benger’s (a nourishing wheat and milk preparation); we still recognise plenty today, like Horlick’s, Bovril and Lucozade.

Cookery for Invalids contains a brief explanation of the make-up of foods: protein, carbohydrates, fat, salts (what we would describe as minerals), vitamins and water; a discussion of the suitability of various styles of cooking for the sick (horrible imprecations on those preparing fried food here); a series of recipes; and a list of special diets for those suffering various named, and usually pretty horrible, illnesses. Some of this stuff is curiously modern. I was particularly surprised to see that the daily calorie intake dictated by Senn is, at 2500 kCal, exactly the same as that the NHS tells us to keep today in 2010 – although admittedly, Senn’s patient doing “hard work”, when a lot of what is done today with machinery was still done by people, was allowed to increase his daily intake to between 4000 and 9000 kCal. Writing a good 70 years before Dr “Fatty Fatkins” Atkins, Senn suggested that carbohydrates were the most important part of the diet to cut out in slimmers. His approach to the sick is compassionate, kind, and non-patronising; the pretty tray on the book cover (above) is illustrative of his insistence throughout the book that food should “please the eye as well as the palate”; lack of appetite is a hurdle in most of the illnesses being treated. “The patient’s wants should be studied, and their wishes gratified as far as possible…in feeding a patient do it gently and neatly.” Cleanliness is paramount. NHS hospitals could learn a thing or two.

The Edwardian invalid’s lot was not, all that said, a happy one. While the awful drinks made from burned toast soaked in warm water that you see in the sickroom sections of Victorian cookery books don’t get a look-in here, the Edwardian convalescent was still expected to be bibbing heartily at mug upon mug of beef tea; it was thought to be easy to digest and full of delicious nourishment while “preventing the digestive organs from doing undue work”. As such, Senn recommended it for all patients.

The method is shudder-inducing. The nurse would shred a chunk of lean beef with a couple of forks, discarding gristle and fat, and soak the resulting beef tartare in a big jar of cold water for an hour or so before straining the resulting mush through muslin “with a tiny pinch of salt added”. Lucky invalids might have their beef tea warmed through. “Beef tea must never boil. If it approaches boiling point it is spoilt.” There are eight recipes for beef tea (slow method, raw method, quick process, iced, jellied and so on) here. Variety may not be the spice of life after all. Spice, in fact, was out of the question – far too stimulating. “Stimulants are in many cases positively harmful…spices should be avoided, and where pepper is allowed it must be used sparingly.” Wine, however, might be allowed with the doctor’s permission; “it often tempts the appetite…when other and more solid food would fail”.

Gruel recipes
Gruel recipes - click to embiggen

Gruels were easy to digest, and this archetypical invalid dish is given its own section. Click on the picture to enlarge this page of gruel recipes to a readable size – besides what you can see here, there are several more pages of gruels, one of which has a wine-glass of sherry poured into it. Thoughts of Oliver Twist aside, sherry gruel sounds abominable. When you’re done with your gruel, “A raw egg beaten up and mixed with a cup of milk, tea or coffee, makes an excellent and nourishing drink.” I shall refrain from comment.

It’s not all so bad. There are palatable and light fish and chicken preparations, a nice little quail on toast, and a herby poached rabbit in Bechamel; unfortunately, there’s also a sandwich filled with raw mutton and sugar, and a custard made with Marmite. I can imagine the patients of owners of this book conniving to die early just to get away from the cooking.

Diet for consumptives
Diet for consumptives - click to enlarge

So far, so frivolous. But all your sniggering postmodernity counts for nothing once you get to the final part of the book, which discusses specific illnesses. By the time Senn was writing, the control of type II diabetes through diet (as we do today) was well understood. His diabetic menu would stand up to scrutiny today; and saccharine, discovered in 1878 and commercialised very shortly afterwards, was a real blessing for the Edwardian diabetic. The diet for gout is also similar to what a doctor might suggest today, and the “reducing” diet for the obese is dull but looks effective. But what we will understand as the futility of trying to cure tuberculosis in the pre-antibiotic period through diet, fresh air and rest, is heartbreaking. The week’s menu for the consumptive here on the right (again, click to enlarge) is, as long as you were able to stomach calves’ brains three times a week, pretty palatable, but entirely useless for curing the patient. The massive weight loss that was one of the outward signs of the disease is all the diet tries to address; an earlier page on TB clings to the ancient superstition that red fluids like wine were good for replacing the blood coughed up, along with minced raw meat.

I’ll leave you with some of the advertisements from the front and back of the book – judging by the prices on the products and the graphical style of these ads, I think this edition is from the 1930s. You may recognise some of the products here – you can still buy Shippam’s meat and fish pastes (I used to love the fish paste in my school sandwiches), Borwick’s baking powder and McDougall’s flour. God only knows what became of the Stuffo stuffing company, and you won’t see isinglass outside the brewing process these days; it would have added a distinctly fishy tinge to your jellies, but was much cheaper than gelatine.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

An earlier edition of the book (there are very few differences – the most notable one is probably the substitution of the word “corpulency” in the older text with “obesity” in the one I own) has been digitised and can be read online here. If you decide to try any of the recipes from the book, do drop me an email or leave a comment – especially if you tried any of them out on ill people. I’ll be interested to hear whether they ever recovered.

Summer terraces on the Thames

Royal Horseguards Hotel Terrace
Terrace Cafe, Royal Horseguards

I found myself invited to two very different terraces on the Thames Embankment yesterday. The Royal Horseguards Hotel, near Hungerford Bridge, is offering a Wimbledon-themed afternoon tea for the whole of this year’s Wimbledon fortnight – just the ticket for those of us who don’t like tennis, but who do like patisseries. And just off Waterloo bridge, a few hundred yards upstream, the terrace at Somerset House has been transformed for the summer into an open-air restaurant fronted by Tom Aikens, with a spectacular bar and summer-casual menu.

The Royal Horseguards is one of those super-swanky, highly polished, five-star hotels, all harpists in the lobby and marble floors. Doormen and concierges line the halls, and a customer visiting for tea is treated with as much care as one staying in one of the most expensive suites. We were there to visit the very pretty terrace café, shaded by a line of plane trees along Victoria Embankment.

The Wimbledon tea is only running for a couple of weeks, so you’ll have to get in there quickly – and then you can sit back and be spoiled for an hour or so while you work your way through a very generous and gorgeously presented high tea. Proceedings open with a strawberry and grenadine Bellini, to glug your way through while you listen to Big Ben clanging away in the background before a big silver pot of tea arrives.

Wimbledon tea
Teatime treats

We were served (underarm) a long glass tray packed with pretty little patisseries, two glasses of a strawberry and Pimms consommé and a bucket of white chocolate truffles masquerading as tiny tennis balls – totally charming, tooth-hurtingly rich, and utterly addictive. Joanne Todd, the hotel’s new pastry chef, is behind this very frivolous and very romantic (seriously – take someone you want to impress, because those tennis balls alone will work wonders) outing; she’s only been at the hotel for a couple of weeks, and if this tea is anything to go by, there will be other good things in the Terrace Café’s future. The little cupcake with the logo was delicately scented with elderflower; that’s a perfectly squishy strawberry macaroon with a perfumed rose ganache hiding behind it, and a strawberry vacherin. The little truffles come with three fillings: champagne, strawberry and a fresh, creamy mint that I could have kept eating all afternoon.

Tennis ball truffles
Tennis ball truffles

It’s just as well I didn’t, because a tray of scones came out next, two plain and two with fruit and spices – along with a ball of clotted cream so enormous you could have played tennis with it. The Terrace Café runs non-Wimbledon afternoon tea for the rest of the year, from £28 for the Champagne tea (finger sandwiches, pastries, a cream tea and all that good stuff) down to £13.50 for the Westminster Tea, a straightforward cream tea. It’s well worth a visit if you’re having a day out. I spotted one of the new intake of MPs and an actress I shall not name because she was obviously trying to have a private moment (not with the MP) while I was scarfing my scones. If you don’t have a date to take, head on over with your Mum to impress her with the crowd you mingle with.

Tom's Terrace
Tom's Terrace

I barely had time to get started on digesting tea before heading over to Somerset House to meet Tom Aikens and sit down for a meal at Tom’s Terrace, a pop-up restaurant overlooking the river. Tom’s Terrace opened at the end of April and will only operate for 22 weeks over the summer, closing in September – it’s packed out every evening, so you’ll need to book ahead. I hate to get all Enid Blyton, but food really does taste better outdoors, and  Tom’s Terrace has been designed to make the most of the unpredictable English summer, with architectural covers over the tables, sculptural heaters (not used on the night I visited, when the weather was positively balmy) and coloured lights punctuating the restaurant.

Coronation crab salad
Coronation crab salad

The menu is short, outdoorsy, unpretentious and simple, full of good ingredients prepared well. There are beautifully selected charcuteries; a whole clutch of summery salads; grilled chicken; a burger cooked to a perfect medium-rare.  (You can see the whole menu on the restaurant’s web site.) There are fat, truffle/parmesan chips, parboiled then fried twice to a shattering crisp outside, with fluffy middles. The coronation crab salad pictured here was sweet, fresh, and perfectly balanced – a dense, marie-rose-type sauce lifted with a very subtle dose of curry spicing, diced mango and toasted almonds had me swiping the inside of the empty glass bowl with my fingertips and sucking them. To top everything off, you’ll find a really interesting range of cocktails (and a short but well thought out wine list), which you can enjoy either at the table or at the bar area at the other end of the restaurant. It’s refreshing to find a bar that pays as much attention to non-alcoholic cocktails as it does to the boozy ones; ultimately, I couldn’t work out whether I enjoyed Tom’s Tequila or the virgin blueberry cocktail, made with floral syrups and fresh juices, more.

Chicken liver and foie gras parfait
Chicken liver and foie gras parfait

This is great summer’s evening stuff, pre- or post-theatre, or for sharing with friends. The staff are great – our table found itself sparking off competition between two bartenders over who could produce the best drink, and the service staff will bend over backwards to explain the menu and make suggestions if you get stuck. I could have stayed for hours longer, bibbing blueberries and ordering more mango rice pudding; I left at 10.30 to get my train with the greatest reluctance.

Many thanks to both restaurants for the invitations, and here’s to a great summer.

Riverford Farm

Veg display
Veg display in the Farm Kitchen - this is representative of what was in my delivery box this morning.

A couple of weeks ago, I rattled down to Riverford Farm in Devon in a very drinky minibus full of bloggers. Riverford is celebrated not only for their organic vegetables and meat (you may well know somebody who gets weekly vegetable boxes from them), but also for the Field Kitchen, an outstanding restaurant using products raised on the farm, that sits next to a few acres of rhubarb and plum fields.

For once, I’m going to be brief on the restaurant part of the visit. You may well have read any of a number of glowing reviews of the Field Kitchen, and its reputation is well-deserved. We ate like kings from the farm’s own produce – tapas-style starters including a wild garlic tortilla, some simply gorgeous bresaola, a beet salad,  and a house-cured gravadlax. The farm’s lamb made an appearance in the main course in two presentations, pressed and roasted, alongside sweet purple-sprouting broccoli in an anchovy butter, and spring greens. Five desserts, of the proper English sort – all sticky toffee pud, rhubarb meringue and that sort of squashy nursery goodness.

Guy Watson
Guy Watson

So the restaurant is marvellous. If you’re in the area (Riverford is just outside Totnes), book a table and make an evening of it – I defy you not to love its honest, clean presentation of perfectly fresh produce. But what I really want to talk about here for a bit is the operation of the farm itself.

We were lucky enough to be invited to tour Riverford with Guy Watson, the farm’s founder. He’s a fabulous cross between a gimlet-eyed businessman in orange Converse and the sort of straw-haired, welly-wearing, salt-of-the-earth type I remember from the farms that surrounded my grandparents’ little bit of land in Lincolnshire in the 70s; Guy was in this organic stuff well before it was a twinkle in anybody else’s eye, and his passion for this way of growing and eating is palpable. He’s been successful. The business has expanded so far that one farm alone is unable to meet the volume requirements of all those boxes, so a co-operative sort of arrangement is set up with organic farmers all over the country. Riverford itself remains very much the base of operations, though, and the box that arrived on my doorstep from them this morning included produce from here in East Anglia (celery around here is famously good, and there’s a handsome bunch in there which came from Yaxley, near Peterborough, with leeks, a kohl rabi, onions, carrots and some lovely muddy potatoes), alongside little bits and pieces from other farms; I recognised the mixed salad and purple sprouting broccoli from stuff I’d seen growing in the fields in Devon, and the bag of wild garlic leaves is Devon all the way down to its pungent bottom. There are mushrooms, a cucumber and tomatoes too – the large box is enough for four people for a week, but veg enthusiasts (I’m one of them) will find that two people can easily make their way through a box in that time.

Narrow lanes, ancient Land Rover
Narrow lanes, ancient Land Rover

Piled into the back of Guy’s rickety Land Rover, which, like Proust’s Madeleines, took me right back to my childhood and days with my Grandad (although unlike Proust, what I was smelling was wet dog and whatever it is they stuff the seats of Land Rovers with), we took a trip up to the edge of Dartmoor to survey some of the fields, stopping briefly at Guy’s house to pick up some preserved artichokes he’d made last year to snack on.

The long winter this year means that some spring vegetables are arriving late this year, but it also means that there have been some bumper crops of certain produce. Purple-sprouting broccoli, which I love for its sweet stems and the tips’ ability to soak up any sauce you might choose to use it with, was going like crazy when we visited, and we picked our own straight from the fields and ate it raw, sugar-sweet and with a dark brassica bite. (Guy is less keen – he says that to his mind, purple-sprouting has an air of farts about it even before you eat it.)

Purple-sprouting broccoli
Purple-sprouting broccoli

Purple-sprouting broccoli is one of several crops that has to be picked by hand. The word “organic” brings ideas of primitive farming methods to mind, but nothing could be further from the truth at Riverford. Where possible, crops are brought in quickly by machine, which gets them into the cooling rooms fast, keeping them as fresh as possible. Fleece is spread out to keep seedlings safe from frost; polytunnels are used for tender leaves like the bitter, coppery dandelions that make part of the mixed salad. The difference from conventional farming lies in the enrichment of the soil, which is done with old-fashioned crop rotation, tonnes and tonnes of well-rotted manure, and “green manure”; crops like rye grass which are grown specifically in order to be ploughed straight back into the soil again. No pesticides are used, which means that hedgerows around the farm look the way hedgerows are meant to, dense with primroses and violets. The farm has experimented with biodegradable soap sprays against aphids and other pests, but found that predators are also killed by the soap; the best results against pests were achieved, says Guy, by leaving nature to achieve its own balance and encouraging predatory insects. And it’s true – I spotted very few pests on our farm tour.

Wild garlic wood
Wild garlic wood

We pulled leeks out of the soil to take home in the minibus, and picked plenty of rhubarb (one of my favourites). But best of all was the little ash wood at the top of a steep hill, where a huge crop of wild garlic had been seeded. It’s been an enormous success in the box scheme (Riverford recommend it in omelettes and risottos – I have a recipe here on Gastronomy Domine for a pancetta and wild garlic-wrapped chicken dish), and several other woods have also been seeded for a massive crop.

We were lucky with the weather, volcanic haze aside, but for my tastes, the wooded hills, the flowers growing in the fields alongside the farm produce all untouched by herbicides, the smell of garlic wafting in the air, and the views across the tops of the fruit trees over Dartmoor are about as close to Eden in April as England gets. More power to Riverford’s elbow. This is how as much of our food as possible should be produced, and I’m delighted I got a chance to see the farm in action.

Bob Bob Ricard, Soho, London

Bob Bob Ricard interiorI’d been invited to Bob Bob Ricard (1 James St, Soho W1F 9DF – see the restaurant link for menus, phone and email reservations) to try a new cocktail: an English 75 with an Earl Grey syrup. What was meant to be a quick sip at the bar turned into a lengthy series of vodka shots in tiny, iced crystal glasses; a selection of really interesting cocktails; and several jewel-like little plates of Russian appetisers, the better to set off the drinks. Leonid “Bob” Shutov, one of the two owners (Richard Howarth is the “Ricard” part of the equation), spent an hour or so leading Douglas and me through the menu, structured around English club food with the odd injection of Russian standards; around the restaurant, outrageously lovely in a sort of Trans-Siberian-Express meets Japanese lacquer box way; and through the cocktail menu and extravagantly stocked wine cellar.

I’m not usually much swayed by good interior design in a restaurant, being approximately 95% motivated by food even when I’m not eating, but the attention to detail and quirky beauty of BBR’s dining room is so good that it acts as a seasoning. I mentioned to Leonid that I seriously, seriously coveted the wallpaper panelling the room, all midnight blue flowers and tiny flocks of sparrows sweeping in gorgeous waves across the walls. “It’s Japanese bookbinding papers. We had to do it four times before it was right; the pieces the paper is supplied in are this big.” (Uses hands to demonstrate a disquietingly small rectangle.) I spent the rest of my visit staring, but I couldn’t see any joins anywhere.

Bar, Bob Bob Ricard
Downstairs bar

You’ll find a gold “press for champagne” button at each Pullman-booth dining table, marble panelling feathered with veining so sumptuous that I thought it had been painted on, bronze lap dogs to guard your umbrella, magnificent deco lighting, marquetry floors and handsome brass fittings. As it turns out, the restaurant was designed by David Collins (the Wolseley, Claridge’s bar, all that good stuff). It’s highly individual, and such a beautiful space that I decided I needed a spot more exposure to it. I finished my surprise lunch and immediately booked a table for later in the week – BBR was so interesting that I was very keen to see what the evening service was like, and how things go when you’re not there as a guest of the owner. (In brief, things go very well indeed – it’s a wonderfully romantic spot for an evening meal, and the quality of what was on our plates didn’t waver.)

Before you launch on anything else, you’ll need to make a cocktail/wine decision. Cocktails are superb and enjoyably imaginative (I ended up going the cocktail route with Dr W, so more on those later), but BBR’s wine cellar and markup policy are something rather special. The restaurant has a cellar to suit the wine tastes of any business tsar (sorry) you bring for dinner, but marks itself out by never charging more than £50 markup on any bottle of reserve wine. This curious bit of policy means that where you’d spend £923 on a bottle of 1999 Bollinger Vieilles Vignes at somewhere like Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, that very same bottle at BBR will rock up at a positively reasonable-sounding £294. A 1986 Chateau Leoville Las Cases is £338 here (£905 at le Coq d’Argent) and, for dessert, a 2002 Chateau d’Yquem that costs £310 at Ducasse at the Dorchester is less than a third as expensive, at £96. This is still a bit too rich for my blood, but for a very special occasion, I can see myself jumping on a bottle of 03 Sassicaia Tenuta San Guido at £129 – especially given that you can’t actually find the wine anywhere else in the UK. BBR bought up the whole stock from that year.

Happily, there’s plenty available for less hair-raising prices, and plenty on offer by the glass too.

Keta on quail's eggs
Keta on quails' eggs

James Walker, ex of le Pont de la Tour, is in the kitchen doing all kinds of thrilling things with quail eggs and caviar. The menu here is a funny amalgam of Edwardian nursery/chophouse and Russian swank, and I loved it. The rich, salty, oily Russian starters on the menu (denoted with a little Russian flag beside each item) are the perfect foil to the gloriously austere Kauffman collection vodka or the slightly fiercer Russian Standard Imperial – drunk before a mouthful of yolky quail’s egg topped with keta (Russian salmon roe), a bite of cured herring, a darkly salted cucumber or a fork’s tip draped with a silky, beautifully fresh quail eggs mayonnaise. These little shots, clinked together in shimmering little crystal glasses straight from the freezer over some unashamedly pretty food, turn out to be a perfectly joyous way to start an evening out, and a great sharing experience with friends. And the prices on these lovely little bites (you might look to share four as a starter between two people) are very encouraging – the keta with quails’ eggs was £4.50, the herring £3.50.

Jellied oxtongue with creamed horseradish
Jellied oxtongue with creamed horseradish

At a Russian friend’s wedding a few years ago, we ate a braised beef brisket, cooked for hours and shredded, then suspended in a disc of aspic. A delicious thing, a bit like the inside of a very jellied pork pie without the crust. Most of the wedding guests at our table were squeamish British sorts, and Dr W and I found ourselves the only people at the table to finish the dish and then to steal it off everyone else’s plates. I’ve not seen the same preparation since (despite some concerted effort at eating Russian in Helsinki), until lo – BBR has a version as good as anybody’s aspic fantasies. Here, the meat used is shredded tongue, and the little roundel of aspic is packed with sweet, fresh peas, slivers of carrot cut into fanciful shapes with an aspic cutter, threads of cress, and more dense, beefy flavour than you’d believe you could fit into such a small space. (There is also a quail’s egg in there, of course.) A little timbale of a sweet and mild Russian horseradish is a beautiful foil to what turns out to be a weirdly delicate, literally mouth-melting plate.

Although wild Beluga is available, most of what’s on offer caviar-wise is the farmed roe from Aquitaine. I’m a huge enthusiast for farmed caviar; it’s a reliable product and it’s helping to democratise the price of a very special ingredient. The nutty, pearly roe is served with blinis, or as part of an Eggs Royale – an Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon on the muffin instead of ham, a gout of really good hollandaise, a plump poached egg…and a giant dollop of caviar. It’s the first time I’ve come across caviar treated as a condiment, and thinking about the dish is still making my mouth water nearly two weeks later.

CocktailsThe cocktail list is enormously good fun. A rhubarb gin and tonic (the restaurant’s signature cocktail, now available year-round), made with a poached rhubarb syrup and one of the pinkest, prettiest drinks I’ve had in ages, uses a gin without too much in the way of botanicals to let the floral, rosy headiness of the rhubarb sing. There’s a clear Bloody Mary, made with the clear juices of fresh tomatoes, extracted overnight. It’s a drink that packs a glorious vine scent and a real hit of umami on the tongue. There’s intense tomato flavour with no redness – it’s positively discombobulating. You’re given a little bottle of Tabasco and some Worcestershire sauce to spice your own drink with, so the beautiful clarity of the drink isn’t spoiled before you’ve had a good chance to play with it for a bit.

Pork cheek was poached in a dense, rich jus full of star anise and tomato. Glossy and malevolently dark, it’s served with some very fine Yukon Gold mash. And I went for the evening’s special, a rose veal Rossini, which came in at a positively bargainsome £24.50, giving me a great excuse to order another cocktail. I’ve always liked veal better than beef in a Rossini; the more delicate flavour of the meat works better, for me, against the strong flavours of foie and truffles in the dish, and this was cooked to a lovely pinkness, moist and tender to the tooth. My little lobe of foie was seared glass-crisp on the outsides, melting velvety-smooth inside. And the truffly, oily, garlicky smear of duck pate on the crouton that sat on the side of the plate was so good that Dr W, having been offered a bite, made a noise I haven’t ever heard before.

The plate of cakes we asked for for dessert was a bit dry, and each of the six little bites was really rather ordinary. I was so full I didn’t really care, though – and an Affogato coffee was exactly the sort of alternative I was after, the ice cream shot through with vanilla seeds.

You can go to BBR and spend your entire inheritance in one night, if you try. You can also go and, with some judicious ordering, come away with a wallet not particularly lightened. Head along at night, when the restaurant positively twinkles, explore the more curious corners of the menu, and tell them I sent you.