Archives for category: restaurant

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!

 

Advertisements

1470397916239

This weekend I finally escaped London to stay at The Mash Inn, a recently opened modern age inn created by clever restaurateur Nick Mash. He grew up in this area and has proven his worth in the big smoke but in coming back home has created something that really is showing others how it should be done. As a child, I always dreamed of having my own small exclusive place which was truly individual and felt like a unique home from home experience and in all my travels this place has ticked the same boxes that were in my imagination.

img_7733

Mr Mash totally renovated what was the Three Horseshoes gutting it all and re-designing it to get it just right. It has the most wonderful tone with cosy nooks in the bar, original old ceilings and contemporary Scandinavian inspired decor.

bedroom

He has collaborated with so many hand picked innovative people: Another Country, London Terrariums, L:A Brucket, Rare Tea Company, Neal’s Yard Dairy cheeses and soon to expand with bespoke cabins from that clever team at Out of the Valley. In addition he has designed pieces like chairs himself and worked with local craftsmen to bring his designs to life.

bathtub

Add in a dose of reclaimed, upcycled treasure and you have everything you could possible need. Clearly this man has exquisite taste, has done his research and knows his mind. It all adds up to a great customer experience.

img_7736

What takes this place into an even better realm for me is the way he has connected that concept with the local land and the food. Looking out of my snowy window you can see the beginnings of the veg patch which will be abundant with goodies as Spring comes. For now, there are pickles and preserves from last season to play with and certainly a desire by the whole team to embrace all that nature is delivering here. Head Chef Jon Parry trained with Tom Aikens and has gone on to great places since then but you can just sense his excitement at getting his hands on this kitchen and a place that supports him to create something really unique and special.

img_7734

The kitchen is at the end of the dining room, just as it would be at home and you are positively encouraged to go and chat and enjoy the space. Clearly Mr Mash has brought inspiration from the likes of Ekstedt and Extebarri (see my entry about that here) insisting on open fires and a unique ‘hob’ again designed by him. The logs and flames add to the feeling of the kitchen at the heart and soul of the whole operation.

Chef Jon has boundless energy and bounces from one idea to the next with the quality of produce he has at his fingertips. He is trying everything from viennoiserie to cheese making, preserving to foraging. And his tasting menu, which is very reasonably priced, is a journey through his experiments. Deep fried beef tendon is like a beef version of pork scratching and pops as he brings it to the table. Seasonal purple sprouting broccoli is charred on the griddle and then laced with home made curd cheese. The meal ends with his version of a chocolate bar. Some items are more of a hit than others and I think I would actually opt for a la carte next time, or ideally Sunday lunch, but you can’t knock the enthusiasm.

img_7738

My favourite was actually breakfast in bed, brought up to your room by the lovely girls who clearly run everything with charm and professionalism. Each with our own white tray of chosen elements, there is loads to indulge in before getting out and discovering the local area. This morning the car had an inch of snow and driving out of the car park was like driving away from a perfect cocoon. Dragging ourselves away down the M40 and getting closer to the big smoke, you could see the snow melt away and that magical halo disappear with it. By the time we came onto the North Circular, there was no sign of the snow, just the crazy thoughtless London drivers. But they couldn’t take away the atmosphere inside and that was one which I will certainly treasure for a long time.

img_7741

 

It’s been a disappointing few weeks food wise.

IMG_6044

It started with a trip to the much talked about Padella. Anyone and everyone has been talking about it since the duo behind Trullo opened in their Borough Market location. I really enjoyed my Trullo experience so was quite excited by this talk. What’s not to like? Hand made pasta, simple menus, singular concept. The branding and design are lovely – simple. We went on a quiet Sunday and despite the talk of huge queues walked straight to a table. In fact, it was pretty empty which probably didn’t help the experience but it’s all about the pasta, isn’t it?

So the first thing to say is that the Pici cacao e pepe is one of the best dishes you will taste this year. I say taste, because the plate is pretty small and as we were sharing everything it really was a mouthful only of loveliness. The hand crafted, chunky pici is a pasta shape I don’t know and that cheesy, pepper sauce is thick and glossy and salty and yummy. Enough said.

The disappointment was everything else. Burrata that isn’t a patch on my friend M’s creation. Other somewhat average pastas and added to that, a waiter who really was pretty pushy, with no sense of a relaxed Sunday lunch. Thinking back, he probably set the whole tone.

Unknown

Fast forward a week and I once again joined the Jones clan for a meal trip to one of our favourites. Pitt Cue Co. has been a tried and tested meal ever since it operated all those years ago from a food truck under the Hungerford Bridge at the Southbank. When it moved to its tiny dungeon location in Soho it had charm and style which is probably why it was packed. The tables were cosy, the sauces in bottles flung on the tables, the cocktails were dirty and the food was lipsmackingly tasty….eaten with your hands and the odd dribble.

This year it clearly had some investment and they unveiled their new snazzy site which has moved to the city. That alone should have set our alarm bells going. It was clearly going to be a different experience. The restaurant itself is a lesson in industrial chic. The bar area talks about home brewed tipples and has high bar seating for walk ins. The open kitchen boasts a huge American-made bespoke grill and their blackboard menu showcases a chalk drawing of their signature mangalitsa pig. But the team have been very open about shunning all the old favourites upon which their reputation was built. Gone is the pulled pork, the pickle back, the enamelware crockery, the BBQ sauces on the table. They see this as a more grown up offering which steps away from the US BBQ theme that they started from and which has been much copied over the years. Why?

In leaving their roots, they have become much like many other places with no real lead. What a shame. It feels like they have gone from leaders to followers. In one article, co-founder Jamie Berger talked about the limited space in Soho which meant limited storage and the issues of running out of things. The irony of all this is that when we got there the restaurant had run out of all the pork on the mains menu. On a bleak Monday evening all they could offer us was the feather blade, the lamb special and the full fish selection. No ribs (a destination dish if ever there was one) , no pulled pork (obviously) and absolutely no cuts of the signature beast unless you count the cold fatty ham. For those who never knew what they were missing, I am sure they will leave satisfied. For the rest …. you will have to reminisce and pray there is the odd rib left for when you get there.

And much like the Padella experience, the disappointment was made so much worse by an aggressive Aussie waitress who obviously had no time for our reminiscing and no respect for the Jones’ commitment to this brand for all those years. Her speed and dismissive service just made me nervous.

IMG_6107

 

And so to last night. I had the dubious task of recommending a place to meet my New York foodie friends who were over for a couple of days only. I have previously written of their incredible wedding last year which showcased their favourite foods and culminated in a dessert spread from the fab Dominique Ansel. So the pressure was on. I decided to plump for a tried and tested chef…. Nuno Mendes. Taberna do Mercado harks back to his Portuguese roots and once again has been well written up by the many bloggers and writers whose job it is to critique these places.

Maybe it was the fact it was a bank holiday and so very quiet (how come they could only squeeze us in for an 8.45 booking when the place was three quarters empty?) or perhaps once again the annoying waitress whose only criteria for recommending things was the price tag. But once again the food underwhelmed. Surely authentic food that draws from homely childhood cooking would be hot, tasty, embracing. Sadly it was too much style over substance. Some dishes were nice: the mussels, the pork sandwich, the clever olive oil sponge cake. But I wanted so much more than nice. Hey ho.

This morning, I was in my own kitchen. I chopped up some sweet juicy Isle of Wight seasonal tomatoes, drizzled with good olive oil, a dribble of sherry vinegar, and added a good pinch of salt. Then I mixed in a bit of shallot, feta and basil chiffonade. Set atop a toasted piece of sourdough toast it captured the fresh, vibrant flavours that only perfect, matching ingredients can and has set me up for the day. Forget these fancy restaurants. I am staying put for a while.

IMG_6115

As a long standing food retail obsessive I am always looking at what is out there, what I think of it and what the next big thing will be. I have an active imagination which means that I am constantly looking to see what’s going on and piecing together bits of what I have seen into my fantasy place which would be cutting edge and innovative.

bills_store_brighton

In its time, Bills Food and Produce Store was that new place that everyone wanted to see and understand. Founded in 2001 by Bill Collison it was the second iteration of his original green grocer in Lewes, East Sussex. The original store was washed away in the floods of 2000 and as with all these stories, out of such a disaster came the silver lining as he re-established the business with the addition of a cafe. It was a clever model as he was able to add value to the raw produce by making delicious dishes and yet he had all the visual glamour that fresh fruit and veg offer, especially when handled by a talented team. Bill’s sister-in-law Tania Webb encouraged the evolution of the concept bringing her restaurant experience and a woman’s touch to the proceedings and paired with a good chef who understood the value of simple good food, history was made.

Over the years they stuck to their values: serve really good food, make sure every customer has a good time and go that bit further to make sure Bill’s is always somewhere people want to come back to….and they did!

Today Bill’s has been taken over by that talented corporate machine that is Richard Caring and don’t you know it. The individual charm has been rolled out to a formula and whilst it is better than some on the high street it does not have that individual entrepreneurial feel or charm any more. Bill has gone on to write a book, create Bill’s branded items and is still involved in the roll out of the brand but it is Tania and her creativity that brought me back to that Brighton area this weekend.

IMG_5831

Tania merged her love of good food, interest in design, expertise in the industry, kitchen designing partner and fellow food lover/co-worker at Bills, Louise Carter, together and in Summer 2013 Cafe Marmalade was born. She is one clever lady who may downplay the objectives of opening such a place but there is no doubt that her savvy approach has meant a roaring trade and a successful business.

What I liked was the fact that those original values that they set out at Bill’s were ingrained in the offer. Good food, great service, go that bit further.

IMG_5828

I think the whole tone of the place is established through its relaxed and homely approach. The design is rustic and eclectic, you could almost say unfinished. But it is a style no less.

IMG_5821

Simple things like shelves of raw produce and jams, stacks of well thumbed cookery books propping up the product displays and baking trays put straight out on display without touching up the overflowing browned bits of cheesy sauce all add to the feel. But more than that the staff are just great. Young, enthusiastic, engaging, smiley, chatty and above all attentive, they strike just the right tone under the watchful eye of the owners themselves who are there, in site, just bringing their concept to life every single day they operate.

IMG_5823

The flair with which they present everything is absolutely theirs. You feel their interest in food throughout the offer and as the day progresses, the counter moves along with new items added at differing times of the day as they are finished off in the tiny open plan kitchen. Breakfast evolves into lunch and then giant platters of scones or cake stands of friands come in to signal tea. And whilst the food is not going to win any Michelin stars, it is homely, tasty, generous, great value and just how you wish you could cook at home.

If you are even vaguely in the area I heartily recommend it and then take a long walk along the beach – you will need to walk off your over indulgence after falling for all the fab food they offer.

IMG_5825