On Sunday Cowie and I visited the London Food Festival on behalf of Trusted Places. Walid sent me off with an open brief and a free ticket. It gave me a chance to eat some free food and Cowie a chance to play around with her new and amazing camera...
We got a feel for the scope of the event by checking out their website in advance. Having been to Taste of London in Regent's Park earlier in the summer were a bit underwhelmed by the line up of chefs and exhibitors. The fact that the website was still advertising for more exhibitors wasn't the best sign either.
I don't want this to be negative because it is the event's first year. They have chosen a great and really accessible venue in the London Business Design Centre in Angel. It's huge and is frequently home to some very prestigious events. It's a great space for an event, so long as you fill the room and have plenty of visitors.
We arrived on Sunday morning eager to get stuck in. My immediate concern was that my pre ordered ticket was 15% more expensive than buying one on the day. This is probably a teathing problem and down to the quirks of online ticketing. Still, this was a bit of a luke warm start.
So far, our expectations were fairly low.
A brass band greeted us as we entered the exhibition space. Spurred on by this we spent the next couple of hours exploring the 40 or so exhibitors. Initially the atmosphere was a bit flat due to the lack of visitors. But in a way that is what made this event work. Whereas at the Good Food Show in Earl's Court there was a constant threat of being crushed, at the London Food Festival you had the space to move freely and the chance to have lengthly conversations with the people on the stands. I remember leaving Earl's Court with bruises and a sullied view of the world. It was too successful for its own good. This show on the other hand allowed you the intimacy of a Farmers' Market but on the scale of something much larger.
Exhibitors ranged from well know brands such as Tanqueray gin, Brown Brothers and Rachel's Organic to smaller scale, more personal enterprises such as Diablo toasty makers and Royal Berkshire Pork. Most of the stalls were companies I had never heard of. Very few of the big foodie brands had turned up which seemed bad to begin with but actually turned out for the best. It gave me a chance to talk to some really passionate people who love food.
Peter Green is from the South Coast and loves tea. He and his wife visited somewhere on the continent last year and were amazed by the quality of speciality teas on offer. Inspired by this they brought the concept over to England and set up their own speciality tea company 6 months ago. By the look on Peter's face he was enjoying every moment of being a tea merchant. His philosophy is simple. He wants people to experiment with tea and try new things. He aims to do this by using clear packaging which shows off the beauty of the tea leaves inside. So often with other tea companies the leaves are hidden by opaque packaging. Not so with Cha Dao. It's all on show. He is passionate about the art of tea with style. I walked away from Peter's stand understanding what this show was all about. It's a great platform for emerging foodie companies to get themselves on the foodie map.
We then met a man demonstating Diablo toastie makers. I'm all for gadgets, but am conscious that they often go unused so was a bit sceptical when watching the demonstartion you can see below. But it was brilliant and looks so cool. It's great when products are simple, functional and have a personality too. This little gadget is clean, efficient, fun and makes great toasties. You can get them on I want one of those.
We then spent the next half and hour talking to the two charming chaps on the Berghoff cookware stand. They were demonstrating their range of non stick saucepans in such an engaging way that Cowie bought an entire range of non stick pans. They looked fantastic. The ultimate non stick heavy duty pans. Currently they aren't well know in the UK. They mainly produce white label products that are rebranded by Siemens and Bosch. Good value and heavy duty. But above all, they guys showed the art of good salesmanship. Cowie bought me a new frying pan which I am currently knocking in! Cowie simply couldn't cope with the twisty removeable handle which could cause a few problems!
I was completely duped by the charming Indian stand serving very tasty chicken curries that are about to launch on the UK market. Succulent chicken turned out to my shock to be soya! But it tasted fine and I can imagine them doing very well indeed.
We briefly watched the demonstration by Ready Steady Cook's James Tanner but lost interest through a combination of not being able to see because of the camera pointing at the wrong thing and a lack of excitement for what he was cooking. We saw Ramsay at the Good Food Show along with Greg Wallace so I couldn't help but judge them in this bracket. Maybe next year there will be some more interesting demonstrations.
By this point we were starving. So we had a spot of lunch on the balcony. We loved the look of the quiche and palma ham on offer which was lucky because that was the only option! Unfortunately they ran out of palma ham and the quiche despite looking fantastic was really dull. It's a bit of a shame that a food festival can't sort out decent catering. On the other hand they did sell Belu water and they do have Dyson Air Blades in the loos. Giles Coren from the Times would love it!
We finished our lunch and decided against doing a wine tasting given the delicate nature we found ourselves in from the night before. The speaker looked energetic, but it all looked a bit forced from a distance.
Once we understood what this show was all about we loved it. Don't expect big glitzy foodie brands and top of the range celebrity chefs. The London Food Festival is all about up and coming producers and small companies reaching hardcore foodies. It's a great chance to have a personal chat with them and you get a realy feel for their passion. We're looking forward to seeing how this evolves next year and will be back for year 2.
It's been a week or so since our culinary camping trip to Devon, although it seems like we were there this morning. I miss Edwin's Morgan that made such a good support whilst reading the paper and watching the boys knock breakfast into shape!
Whilst our seafood extravaganza was awesome. Our breakfasts were pretty special too, albeit more rustic!
After having a good surf down at Woolacombe we were all starving and thoroughly in need of a decent feed. Edwin and Jack were in charge of breakfast with Edwin blowing and Jack tonging.
My favourite bit was our barbecued baked beans... mainly for the style factor!
Normally people barbecue sensible things like sausages, burgers, steaks and pork chops. If they are feeling adventurous some marinated chicken drum sticks perhaps... but only if the girls don't get squeamish about undercooked chicken!
Last year Cowie and I went camping in a field at Mulacott Farm in North Devon. We went a bit crazy and barbecued a lobster and some tuna that we had bought from Barnstable's sensational market that is just down the road.
Spurred on by last year's success we decided to take things a step further. We went to Jamie Oliver's Fifteen, near Newquay, on the Thursday before the August bank holiday before zooming up to North Devon on Friday morning for three days of camping... we met up with Anna and Edwin on Friday afternoon followed by Jack and Kira on Saturday morning for some surfing.
We got to Barnstable around lunchtime and immediately headed straight for the fishmonger whose counter was overflowing with bright orange lobsters, Loch Ness sized conger eels and every fish you can imagine. We struggled long and hard to work out what to get... we netted out with a large lobster from Lundy Island, 2 sea bream and two handfuls of skate cheeks... I'd taken so long deciding what to have, ogling the amazing display, that quite a queue had built up around me. The lady right behind me nodded approvingly at the choice of skate cheeks so I felt I'd made the right decision. Even the fishmonger seemed to be impressed with my choice. The truth is I had no idea what they were... sensing I was a bit lost the fishmonger explained that they are the bits of meat behind the head of the skate and are great fried in garlic butter like scallops. Excited by this little tit bit of knowledge I shocked Cowie with my selection... £27 was more than I'd planned to spend... but it was something new to try and I was like a boy in a sports shop!
We cooked the sea bream in a foil parcel with soy sauce, ginger, chili, coriander, garlic and spring onions. It only took around 10 minutes to cook and tasted divine. The smell of sticky, salty flesh was as good as the taste. We were off to a sophisticated start!
Next came Anna's Mum's cod and bacon skewers. You can see Anna patiently constructing her brochettes with courgettes and peppers below. They were delicious!
Round 3 saw the stakes raised with the lobster lobbed on the grill with some butter and garlic smeared over the meat. It doesn't get a lot more straight forward or tasty as this. By this point we had tucked into a couple of bottles of wine and felt like we were in a campsite version of Sheeky's! I nipped off to do a wee and came back to that unmistakably sweet, fishy smell of lobster! Our neighbours eating their sausages and burgers were somewhat in awe of the haute campsite cuisine being knocked up...
Then almost as an afterthought we tossed on our skate cheek skewers, brushed with garlic and olive oil. I left the skewers on for as long as you would cook scallops and whipped them off with trepidation. I could sense they were going to be good... but none of us were prepared for them to steal the show. The best way to describe them is to imagine the juicy, tenderness of scallops and the flakiness of medium rare cod and the taste of skate. Incredible. I had never seen them before and was frankly bowled over... why is no one else cooking with them?!
We sat, full of fish and nicely warmed by the booze and fire thinking that we couldn't have eaten better for hundreds of miles around. There's few things better than fish, fresh out of the water and barbecued.
I've been gagging to go to the Anchor and Hope for bloody ages. It hasn't helped that Oli who sits opposite me at work has now been twice and reminds me of it as often as he forgets to make me tea! So this week the perfect excuse to go came up. Mum rang out of the blue and asked if Cowie and I wanted to go to the theatre on Friday night at the Old Vic... and would we like to go for an early supper as well.
Now the thing everyone always says about the Anchor and Hope is, get there early and be prepared to queue. So we arranged to meet at 6 in order to be able to scoff down two courses and a slurp some wine before doing battle with an obscure Spanish play full of transexuals and transvestites!
Typically I arrived late because of a marathon, delayed conference call, to find everyone already assembled and ready to order on my behalf! I soon put an end to that and opted for potted crab on toast followed by roast Middlewhite pork with crackling... although in my haste I had meant to say pot roasted pigeon! It's weird what comes out of your mouth under pressure sometimes. But the thing with their menu is that you could have accidentally ordered anything on it and come up trumps.
The dining room is literally curtained off from the rest of the pun a bit like the scene in Hamlet where Polonius gets stabbed, or the division on planes between business class and thrift. I guess it makes it easy to open the whole venue out of necessary and also gives the room a nice relaxed texture. Tables are plain wood and chipboard and I don't think any of the chairs match. It's just how I like things. I think the Japanese have an expression for it called "Wabi Sabi"... which is a celebration of the imperfect. It makes you feel at ease with your surroundings, happy to be wearing trainers, late, in a rush and keen to enjoy some gorgeous food.
We loved the mini school glasses for wine. They must be so much easier to dish wash and are almost unbreakable. Practical. That's the word for this place. Practical. Very British.
Cowie's crayfish arrived looking like beasts out of hell... dangerous little claws and deep, blood red in colour. She must have had half a dozen of the little devils on her plate alongside her small glass of garlicy mayonaise... I managed to steal one of them, purely for reporting purposes of course, and can reveal that they were far less sweet and saline than langoustines... more earthy and really juicy. I remember reading an article about them saying that they are impostors from America an are decimating our native versions. If this is right then good on the Anchor and Hope for perpetuating the cull... if not, well they're tasty little lobsters!
My crab on warm buttered brown toast was exquisite. Slurpy, salthy, sweet, well textured and plenty of it. You'd have to go a long way to better it. The only times I have had better crab have never been in this format. My crab at the Riverside in Dorset was stunningly fresh and showstoppingly good, as was wok steamed crab with ginger, chilli and black bean sauce on Lamma Island off Hong Kong. But this was the best potted crab on toast that I've eaten... Yum.
Mum had terrine which she said was OK and Suz had a salad that almost filled the entire table which kept her quiet for 10 minutes so it must have been good!
The next door table ordered a leg of kid. It arrived looking slighly smaller than a leg of lamb and was greeted with great reverence by the table of four men keen to devour their meat. A chap in a red jumper did such a bad job of carving that Dad was tempted to offer his assistance but instead declared that it made him ill to even watch someone carve that badly! He was carving with the grain, giving his mates vast hunks of meat rather than Dad's slender chunks! Schoolboy! If you're going to order a whole leg of goat you'd better practice your public carving skills in advance!
Cowie and Suz shared an enormous fish soup from a communual couldron that could have been a prop in Macbeth. The vast pot was chock full with gunard, mussels, scallops and all sorts of other goodies and probably made from the stock of Cowie's crayfish!
Mum and Dad tucked into their Dover Soles with equal enthusiasm. Two each seemed excessive but neither complained. They looked beautifully cooked and judging by the lack of commentary from Dad must have met with his approval. His laparotamy on both fish was perfect so they must have been cooked perfectly.
My pork arrived to a small sqeal from Cowie when she realised that it wasn't a dish for two. I valiantly tucked into my enormous mound of swine savouring every forkfull of juicy, tender white meat and light crunchy crackling. It's hard to do the crackling justice using words alone. It was as light as a wafer, warm, crisp and simply divine. I'll never forget it. Simply spectacular.
This was British cooking at its most authentic. Top quality ingredients. No mucking around and posh French names. Just good, solid, brilliantly cooked food in a charming, low key setting.
I simply can't wait to go back so we can spend more time enjoying it... and to do some carving! Luckily Mum and Dad enjoyed it so they are keen too!
We still love to go on trips around the UK, staying in BnBs or camping in search of a good meal or two - hence, Around Britain with a Paunch. Quite often the trips have been prompted by Diana Henry's Gastro Pub Cookbook. Here's where we've been to: