From the moment I watched Tommy Banks well up with tears on the Great British menu last year I was hooked.

This young self taught chef from my home county of Yorkshire demonstrated such passion and innovation in his creations and taught us all about new produce from his Yorkshire garden. So on the list went The Black Swan at Oldstead and a year or so later I was heading up there with Mum and Dad to celebrate Dad’s birthday.

Set in the most beautiful part of Yorkshire, the Banks family evolved a challenging farm business into something so much more by investing in the local pub and showcasing the farm and new 2 acre garden produce to make it their unique offering. Mummy Banks said they felt the need to differentiate themselves and give people a reason to come to them. And boy, have they done that. Now the proud owner of a Michelin star it is actually very hard to even get a table these days.

Garden salad with 18 different ingredients

The menu is fixed although they are very keen to know up front if there are any specific requests and they make it their business to try and adapt the offering to suit. And from the moment you arrive, you are made to feel at home with Mum welcoming you in and managing front of house. There is a fabulous wine list which is all available by the glass and innovative cocktails made by Tommy’s brother James who clearly makes the most of the garden produce here with interesting flavours and cordials.

Pea and elderflower tartlet

The first couple of courses are served with your drink, which included probably my favourite dish of the day, the pea and elderflower tart. Not only was this stunning to look at but just so vibrant to eat as well. Then it was upstairs to the dining room which is spread across a couple of rooms each with a simple Scandinavian tone and simple flowers plucked from the garden. The waiting staff were certainly armed with every bit of information about each and every dish clearly proud of what they were serving.

Crapaudine beetroot cooked slowly in beef fat

Chicken, onions and rapeseed

Cake made from artichoke, chicory root and thyme

It must be said that some dishes were more of a success than others, and chef clearly has his own particular style. Dad declared that the butter served with the bread took him back to the 1940’s when they used to get butter direct from the farm and I think that sums up a lot. Everything goes back to the raw ingredient and just showcasing natural flavours as best as possible. The Banks’ are after all farmers at heart and so there is a purity that just celebrate great Yorkshire produce.

After 12 courses we were suitably stuffed with a glow from all the goodness that had prevailed.

It was still light as we drove home and enjoyed the sun setting over the countryside. The food may not have been his usual choices, but it certainly made for a special birthday for Dad – one not to be forgotten

 

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Coombeshead Farm has been on my list for some time. My list, that is, of fab places that I have read or heard about and don’t want to forget. So when I get the opportunity to tick something off I can only hope they live up to all that anticipation….and Coombeshead certainly did that.

We were on a bit of a tour around the south west and arrived after a lengthy drive to what can only be described as my perfect place. Run by chef Tom Adams and his childhood sweetheart Lottie, this young couple have created an experience that is like stepping into your perfect home in the country. They couldn’t have done any more to make us feel welcome.

We started with a bit of a roam around the grounds and even for this early in the year there were plenty of beautiful spots reminding us that Spring is such a bright and optimistic season. Clearly we were very lucky with the weather but hey, there’s nothing wrong with that. And every room is done with unique style and charm. The library has an honesty bar which showcases some of the best independent brands from the UK and the lounge was prepared with home baked shortbread that was literally melt in the mouth.

Bedrooms are much the same. Understated and stylish. Home made soap, little vases with stems plucked from the garden and hand crafted bits and bobs adding up to a really homely comfy place to stay.

If that wasn’t enough, I remind you that this is the brainchild of Tom Adams, partnered with April Bloomfield who he worked with in New York. I don’t know what I expected from the co-founder of Pitt Cue company but I guess I was expecting someone a little arrogant and cheffy. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. Tom Adams is a rare thing. A quiet, genuine, modest man who makes exceptional food and has a charm and elegance that belies his age. It is clear that he is very well respected in the industry and is pivotal to the changes in the way we eat food, but he is just so humble about what he has achieved.

Dinners at Coombeshead are a big reason to come. They take place firstly in the kitchen, where you are fed the most fabulous mouthfuls of snacks before the main event. I have never eaten Hogweed and nor do I think you have. They foraged it when they were looking for an alternative for a vegan who was staying – they are good like that accommodating all our one off needs. And deep fried it was simply nutty and delicious. It came in a little bowl to share alongside pig skin and apple, potato skins, whey and pine, and cured goose – you get the idea!

The main event takes place around the communal farmhouse table which houses all the guests plus locals who are welcomed to partake in the dinner. This Sunday, we were joined by the couple who grow their local asparagus and rhubarb (plonk in the middle of asparagus season) who incidentally are also the local vets. And Charlie, the pig farmer (and close friend of Tom’s) – pigs are a significant part of the Coombeshead offer – plus his Mum. Two chefs who were staying, who just happened to be the ex head chef of number one restaurant, L’Enclume and his mate who is chef proprieter of Bristol restaurant Bulrush. In between were a couple from the US.

Dinner was served with the same elegance that pervades the whole place. Each plate explained, every mouthful a joy to eat, plucking the best from the season and the countryside. Simple cooking but with twists that made all the difference. On every windowsill and in their special cellar are jars and jars of things fermenting and pickling, just doing their thing and when you marry those with the meal, it is perfection.

But I honestly think my favourite meal was breakfast the following day. There was no rush to leave and Tom just chatted away as he prepared our food. The table was already laden with healthy granolas, wonderful kombucha and of course a repertoire of jams, compotes, yogurts, honey. Then came hot food too nurtured to perfection by Tom’s hand, accompanied by the most incredible sourdough bread.

This comes courtesy of baker Ben who has recently moved down after a couple of years of discussing the project. His bakery is just being built and what a space it is too. He is another like minded young guy who is at the cutting edge of where bakery is going at the moment. Ben told us he was experimenting with the Kouign Amann as he wanted to explore the close relations between GB and Normandy and to find his new twist on this classic. I am sure when he unveils it, it will be mouthwatering, but that will have to wait for another visit.

And another visit I would like to arrange. Because I really couldn’t get enough of this place. It was with a very heavy heart that we made our way out. We popped in to see the Mangalitza pigs having their brunch on the way, almost getting bowled over by their weight and enthusiasm. But that’s what this is all about. You are just accepted as being part of the place for that moment you are there. And then you are gone. Til next time, Coombeshead Farm. I will be back!

 

Where do you go when two Emirates pilots are arriving into London for one night only over Easter weekend and you want a good catch up?

Despite reading that this weekend tourist traffic into London was up over 60%, I somehow talked myself into thinking Covent Garden was the answer. It was primarily driven by my desire to go to The Barbary with these guys as a good sharing food option.

I met Captain P when his wife and I were setting up Taste of Dubai some ten years ago now. P tells me the event is going from strength to strength which is great to hear. And how fabulous that he could just WhatsApp me from afar and appear here in London for a catch up after too many years of not seeing each other. You know good friends when you can do that and just pick up again from where you left off.

When visitors come to London I feel a need to match the restaurant with the person to get a good evening together and my thinking was that Dubai has a lot of the top International chefs doing classic cooking but I was sure the Israeli food revolution had not got there yet. After great meals at sister restaurant Palomar, along with Bala Baya and a truly wonderful meal at Honey & Smoke, The Barbary was the last Israeli place to on my list to try. And Seven Dials is a good place to meet. Certainly that end of Covent Garden has developed massively with a wonderful international collection of one off shops to discover and it is easy access from Heathrow.

I was able to browse whilst I waited. I had a natter with the guys doing the Haeckels pop up at Beast, admired the Easter confectionery at Pierre Marcolini and popped into Bread Ahead’s Monmouth Street corner shop. Wandering the arteries coming from Seven Dials and Neal’s Yard is always entertaining with its unique blend of shops from across the globe.

The Barbary has been on my list for a while and everyone I know has enjoyed their meal there. Personally I don’t think the team have the same Israeli vivacity of Palomar but there is no doubting the food which is all made in front of you on their grills at the counter and with an interest and passion from the chefs that is undeniable. The Spanish Head Chef was happy to explain everything and from the very first bar snacks our dishes were delicious.

The pilot’s favourite was the black salmon dukkah which was prepared in the Israeli version of soy sauce and mirin with a sweet sticky glaze coming from a syrup made by infusing a sugar syrup with the burnt aubergine skins from the baba ghanoush and then sprinkled with dukkah. I loved the warm chickpea starter and everything was lapped up with bread from their tandoor oven which was also in the kitchen on show. The open flamed grills added flavour to all the main dishes and the extra swirls of pastes and dips and drizzles just took the flavour one step further.

This is delicious well made tasty food celebrating the best of that Barbary Coast. The food and service was generous, engaging and somewhere that the pilots declared they would come again. Now, where to suggest next time?

I have to admit: ever since I watched April Bloomfield on Mind of a Chef take her inspiration, I have been ever so obsessed with the concept of the morning bun.

I wonder if it is because of all that European viennoiserie that these are not really something we have in the UK but when you see the experts at Tartine Bakery in San Francisco demonstrate their glorious beauties on the show, then I defy you not to think this is a great idea.

Like endearing April, I can’t help but fiddle with the concept thinking up fillings. It sort of reminds me of a traditional Jewish Rugelach but with better pastry. I used to watch my grandmother make those many years back and that combo of jam, nuts and fruit got me thinking too.

As I had friends over today for Sunday brunch I decided that I would give them a go. I tried a couple of different fillings using simple shop bought croissant dough and playing around with sizes. My easy silicon mould was a great size but I am sure a tin base would get a more effective crunchy base.

Admittedly the pastry itself was just a little bit disappointing, not helped by my lack of wash before baking, but the results were pretty good for a first attempt. For sweet, I went with a use of of the delicious marmalade that my gardener made me for Christmas as the base, topped with raisins and pecans. Part morning bun, part rugelach. For savoury, another use up. The end of last week’s pesto (I told you it had many uses) with extra pine kernels and cheese. I tried two different sizes. The marmalade proved a little too generous after cooking falling to the bottom and stopping that delicious crunchy base, but they were a good size.

Either way, if you are looking for an impressive but achingly simple way to impress for breakfast then just buy some croissant dough and go for it.