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The Tasting Menu at Nathan Outlaw’s

2 Jun

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Over the bank holiday weekend I made one of my regular excursions to Cornwall for some hiking and relaxation. But this time there was going to be less hiking, more relaxation — and one of the treats I was looking forward to was dinner at Nathan Outlaw’s two Michelin starred restaurant in Rock.

This latest incarnation of his evolving Cornish kitchen is based in a hotel on the north coast of the county, and I’d built up a certain picture in my mind of what that would be like. But, on driving down through Rock, and up the steep drive to the hotel, these expectations were proven a little wide of the mark. I’d imagined a little Cornish fishing village, with a cosy old hotel/pub given new life by this star chef. In reality it’s a (relatively) new-build hotel, set in a sea of trailer parks and B&Bs. Once on the terrace, or in the dining room, all that melts away, and you do have a view of the river that winds down to the sea, and some green hills.

I quickly relaxed when it became clear that the front of house was in very professional hands indeed, and when I saw the menu for the evening’s meal.

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The concept is a set tasting menu of eight courses (though in reality the first two each had two separate dishes, so it’s more like ten).

On the way to the table I passed Nathan himself heading towards the kitchen. I’m told that he works every service here, which is impressive for a chef with a blossoming media career and a new restaurant in London.

The first course (pictured at the top of this post) was Smoked Whiskey Cured Salmon with Watercress and Cider. The flavours were subtle and fresh — the watercress and cider was a real palate cleanser to start the meal.

Cured brill, mint and coriander followed next, and again the light simplicity of the dish was very refreshing.

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One of the dishes I’d been most anticipating since reading the menu was next — Scallop, with wild garlic tartare dressing. The dish was colourful with a dash of highly reduced red wine set off by the kind of green from the wild garlic that can only mean the start of summer.

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At this point, the guests arrived at the next table — and I looked up to see Heston Blumenthal taking a seat and starting to read the evening’s menu. As he was directly in my line of sight, I reluctantly abandoned taking photos of the meal, because it’d look just like I was taking surreptitious photos of him — which would make it a bit hard for him to relax. It can’t be often that he gets to just sit and enjoy a meal on a Saturday night!

All of the dishes were exceptional, in the concept and execution. This was capped off by an excellent selection of wines, and front of house service that combined being super professional with being really friendly, welcoming and fun.

Roast Beetroot with Celeriac and Fennel Remoulade

15 Apr

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I’ve been at a conference all weekend, with lots of drinking and meaty food — so today for lunch I was craving something healthy and fresh.

Rummaging in the veg box that gets delivered each week revealed celeriac, fennel, heritage beetroot and a bag of winter purslane.

The beetroot went into the oven to roast. For the remoulade, the celeriac was peeled and then grated, along with the fennel bulb. To that I added a good dollop or two of mayonnaise, a dash of vinegar (I didn’t have lemons), and then instead of the usual mustard I put in some grated horseradish to give a zing that’d go well with the beetroot. I also sprinkled in some za’atar to give an interesting layer of flavour.

Once the beetroot was ready, I peeled and sliced it, serving it with the remoulade and the winter purslane as shown. Delicious, and just the kind of healthy treat I needed.

Lunch by the Sea

29 Dec

Between the home cooked feasts of Christmas and New Year, we headed down to the wintry Kent coast for a walk along the pebble beach followed by lunch at The Sportsman pub.

From the outside it looks like a simple place, but inside the food has earned one Michelin star and is perfectly cooked from local ingredients. They even pan their own seasalt from the water a few metres away – that’s how seriously they take the idea of local sourcing. But what’s great about their cooking is that they don’t get too fancy. It’s just good food, with a little creativity, and expert cooking.

For starter I had lightly poached rock oysters with pickled cucumber and Avruga caviar.

Poached Oysters

Main course was baked Hake fillet with chestnuts, bacon and parsley sauce.

Baked Hake

And for dessert, the whole table shared a Tarte Tatin, which was served with ice cream.

Tarte Tatin

We were in good company, with Tom Kerridge (the acclaimed chef behind The Hand and Flowers in Marlow – and winner of BBC TV’s The Great British Menu) dining here with his family, as he seems to be on this day every year when we have a family birthday lunch here.

Love your Local

5 Dec

I’ve been away for the weekend, after a busy week last week, and when it came to make dinner this evening I realised I was a little short of provisions. I also needed to work late.

So, I thought, this is thee perfect excuse for a foodie’s occasional indulgence in junk food. Tonight would be the night I’d have a pizza delivered! This time though I wanted the junk food version, not the nice tasty wood-fired oven treats of somewhere like Firezza.

Remembering my student days, and some late nights at the BBC, I thought I’d have a Domino’s pizza. I headed to the Dominos website – where I soon found that the pizza would be £17.99!!

Wow. Blowing eighteen quid on some dough, a few bits of ‘meat’, a scattering of very thinly sliced veg, and some plastic cheese. No thanks.

A quick bit of research showed that even Gordon Ramsay’s gastropub, the York and Albany, does wood fired oven pizzas for £10.50, served to you in restaurant surrondings. I’m willing to bet that a Gordon Ramsay pizza trumps the Dominos version.

So, I thought, I’m packing up my laptop and taking my quest to my local pub. It’s not quite Gordon Ramsay, but it’s perfectly good food – and very good value.

They didn’t have pizza on the menu, but here’s what I got for my £18:

Steak
This was billed on the menu as “Aged Angus Scottish rib-eye chargrilled steak with handcut chips and peppercorn sauce”. The steak was good quality, cooked perfectly rare, and really did have that beautiful chargrilled taste. Good, simple, pub food.

But that was only £13.95! So I added a pint of real ale for £3. That meant I had good food and good drink for the same price as junkfood pizza.

It also provided me with some very nice surroundings for an evening of writing (and, between you and me, some more pints).

What have I learned from this? To love my ‘local’. I want local places like this to exist, and I appreciate the value they provide in offering good simple food at reasonable prices – so I’m going to support them. I’ll be going to the pub more for dinner when I don’t have time or energy to cook.

Now, how’s that for a good excuse for a foodie to indulge?

Now That’s What I Call Breakfast

25 Nov

Breakfast
There are many advantages to being able to work from anywhere, and here’s one of them. I’m starting my day at The Garrison on Bermondsey Street, where they have good WiFi and fantastic breakfasts – including damn fine coffee.

Celebrating Martinmas with a Pig Feast

12 Nov

The 12th November is St Martin’s Day, also known as ‘Martinmas’, and is traditionally the date that marked the first slaughter of pigs. This was partly because it’s now cold enough for flies not to be a problem, and for it to be easier to store the meat, but also to get food for the feasting season.

Along with Joe, Rachael, Jenny and Anne, I’ve come to Tom and Victoria’s farm by the coast in Exeter…
Tom and Victoria

Tom and Victoria run The Idler magazine and shop, and as part of their idler philosophy are keen fans of a traditional and natural approach to food.

We’re going to mark Martinmas by spending the weekend processing a pig, with help from John Mitchinson (a keen pig smallholder), Richard Holland (known by everyone as ‘Duchy’, an expert slaughterman and butcher)… and a well cared for Gloucester Old Spot pig:
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The pig was killed yesterday at an official slaughterhouse, delivered here last night, and hung. It’s been sawn in two down the spine, and we’re going to turn half into bacon and ham, and the other half into pork joints.

Rearing Pigs

Over the weekend there were various discussions about people’s attempts or enquiries into keeping pigs. The advice seemed to be you had to keep at least two as they are social creatures and one won’t be happy on it’s own. They’ll eat anything in the field you put them in, so are great for preparing land for planting, as they even dig down to eat the roots of weeds. You’ll also need to feed them on pig nuts. This is not some dodgy offcuts from dead pigs(!), but is a special pelleted feed designed for pigs. You can also feed them apples and other crops you have access to large quantities of, but you shouldn’t feed them kitchen scraps.
You start by buying a weener for about £30. You can then expect to spend £120 on food over their life. It’s very rare that pigs will need attention from a vet. John says he’s needed to get a vet once in years of keeping about 80 pigs in total. Slaughter costs £20.

Brawn

So, now to making the most of the pig. First we cut up the head, remove the brains and set aside, and place the pieces of the head in a pot with one trotter (split open), some onions and some herbs. This will then be topped up with water and boiled to become ‘Brawn’.
Brawn
Once this has boiled for a few hours the bits of meat and jelly will fall away. Pick these out of the pan and put in a dish. Boil down the juice until it’s reduced by two thirds and add lemon zest, the juice of a lemon, chopped parsley, salt and pepper. Pour this into the dish, and then cover and place some weight on top to compress it as it sets.
Brawn
Update: Here’s the finished Brawn the next day…
Finished Brawn

Ham

Next John makes the brine for wet-curing the ham. He pours some homemade cider into a pot, and adds salt and muscovado sugar in the ratio 3:1:1. Juniper berries, black peppercorns and bay leaves are then whizzed up in a blender and added in too.
Brine

These both then go onto the Rayburn to bubble away.
Brawn and Brine
After a while the brine is taken off the heat and allowed to cool, before being poured out in a plastic container over the ham. This is then sealed and left in a cool place for 3-4 days per kilo of ham. In this case that’ll be about 5 weeks. It’s no co-incidence that ham made on Martinmas is ready in the week before Christmas.

Bacon

Now it’s time for the serious butchery. Duchy explains that it’s important to cut everything to the square angle, cutting across bones, rather than going with the diagonal of the ribs etc.
Butchery 1
The area above his saw is the shoulder, or ‘hand’. This is cut off, boned and then rolled to become a roasting joint.
butchery 2
This then leaves the side, which can be cut into pork chops and belly pork, or into bacon cuts.
butchey 3

We’re going for the bacon cuts. In the centre of the picture above is the loin, cut for back bacon, and on the right is the belly, which will be streaky bacon in this case. With just a few more cuts these will become recognisably bacon – with the added bonus of giving us some spare ribs:
Butchery 4

Butchery 5
These cuts are then going to be dry cured, simply by rubbing them with a mix of sea salt and muscovado sugar in the ratio 1:1.
Curing Bacon 1

Curing Bacon 2

They’re then stacked together. Keep them in a cool dry place. Each day rub the mixture into them. They’ll be ready in a week.

We couldn’t wait that long, and luckily, for breakfast this morning, John had brought along some bacon he’d made before from one of his own pigs:
Bacon

Bacon 2
You can cure your own bacon really easily by buying the whole cuts from a good butcher. If you don’t have a cool dry room such as a larder, you can just keep it in the fridge while it cures. Duchy suggests trying the cheaper belly cut for streaky bacon at first (you can buy it from a good butcher for probably around £20 in total), or just a small piece of the loin, before moving onto curing a full loin, as that can be expensive (about £7/kilo probably – so likely to be around £25-£40)

Ribs

Now it was time to turn the ribs into lunch, with a simple barbecue sauce:
Ribs

Roasted Ribs
Victoria had also baked some bread which was in great demand for mopping up the sauces.

Sausages

While we were butchering the pig any offcuts (of good meat) were set aside for use in our sausages. Some of the good quality back fat was also set aside for this purpose (the rest will be rendered tomorrow).

This was minced up:
Mince
The mince was split into four batches. One was to be turned into salami (which also had 20% back fat included), and was seasoned with fennel seeds, salt (measured as 2% of the weight of the meat and fat), lots of black pepper, and garlic.

The remaining three portions were to become traditional English sausages. One batch was simply seasoned, the other two were mixed with other ingredients (Sage and Onion; Leek).
Sausage mix
Small patties were fried off so we could taste and check the seasoning. Delicious.

We then washed some natural casings (ordered separately), and fed them onto the nozzle of the sausage filler. For the salami, beef casings were used, with pig casings for the English sausages.
Sausages
The Salami was filled to be about a foot long, and tied at each end with string.
Salami
The English sausages were filled for the full length of the casing…
Sausages 2
…and then twisted to length in a traditional string of sausages.
Sausages
Update: here are the sausages the next day…
Cooked Sausages

The Result

We started with a whole pig which had cost £157 to buy. What have we finished with?

Well firstly, I’m surprised by how little waste there is. We were left with one small bucket to throw away once the whole pig was processed. This includes the pieces of the head and the trotter that had been used to make the brawn – so even they had had a purpose and weren’t really wasted.

But what’s most impressive is when everything we’ve produced from one pig is lined up:
Result
Shown here are:

  • A large, 10kg, ham. The brine is being cooled and will be added later.
  • Two cuts of bacon – back and streaky.
  • Two ears
  • Pate
  • Brawn
  • 2 large rolled roasting joints.
  • 3 Trotters (the fourth went into the Brawn)
  • 2 Kidneys (to be devilled for breakfast in the morning)
  • A pork belly
  • Dozens of sausages
  • 7 Salami
  • Bones for making stock tomorrow
  • Fat for rendering tomorrow

Now the work is done, and it’s dark and cold outside, it’s time to head into the warm inviting farmhouse kitchen where a suitable feast for Martinmas is being prepared from the results of our labours.
night

The feast was a cut of pork which had been pot roasted in milk with cinnamon, black pepper, and bay leaves. The meat was moist, tender and full of flavour.
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After dinner, Tom provided the entertainment on his ukelele:
Tom on the Ukelele
The feasting then turned into dancing and singing along to a Spotify-powered playlist (not a traditional part of the celebration of Martinmas I understand), before we eventually we stumbled to bed around 5am. It was a great night.

The next morning started with a walk through the fields to the coastal path.
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Then, just as the hard work of butchery and charcuterie earned us the large dinner, I think the long night of dancing earned us the hearty brunch of sausages, devilled kidneys, brawn and mushrooms (picked on our pre-brunch walk), and generous quantities of bloody mary.

We ate lots – but there was still plenty for everyone to take away, and I’m heading home with a chunk of bacon to finish curing, two rolled cuts for roasting, sausages, and a salami.

But more than that – back in London I’m going to find a good butcher and buy some good quality pork to dry cure my own bacon and a ham, and even make my own sausages when this supply is exhausted.

So we celebrated Martinmas, but we also learned so much along the way.

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