Monday, 24 August 2015

Bermondsey Mark III

A little while ago the Beeb showed a programme where curious cat owners strapped GPS 'cat cams' to their beloved felines and finally found out what they got up to every time they skipped out the cat flap - mostly eating a second dinner at someone else's house or trying to get friendly with the local bird population; my kind of life.   

While a mix of Google maps, social media and CCTV means the idea of not being able to pinpoint where we are at any given time is pretty redundant for humans, I'm pretty sure that my path, if tracked, would be almost entirely revolving around my bed, my sofa, my desk and a slice of the Big Smoke stretching from the Walworth Road to Wapping - centering in on a small strip south of the river on a Saturday morning.

So strictly this isn't really Bermondsey mark three on the blog - being as I've written about various incarnations of the Spa Terminus, Beer Mile and the Rope Walk before - but this little patch of South London just doesn't scan as well with four or five. And there's still plenty of things to eat and write about, including a fair few happenings (more of which later), but firstly let's go back to the stalwart that was the site of our very first pilgrimage to this neck of the woods, the Kernel at Spa Terminus.

One of the reasons I wanted to come back at such an ungodly hour - they open at 9 on a Saturday morning and get progressively more rammed until they close at 2 - is because from September they will no longer open their tap room for drinking their beers straight from the keg.

Mostly this seems related to their success, too many people and not enough space to comfortably sit and enjoy their superior brews -  although you can still come and buy beer from their shop front and their website does say we are working on a more suitable way to be able to serve beers directly to our customers, but this will take some time. so fingers crossed for a new space to enjoy your London Murky soon.

Obviously we didn't waste time on our last visit, making our way through pretty much the entire list of keg beers and all before 10 am. My pick of the bunch remain the London sour with raspberries and any of their pale ale/IPA with citra; although the brown ale was rather delicious, despite the prosaic name.

One Bermondsey brewer that seems to be going from strength to strength is Brew by Numbers, in nearby Enid Street. Here they have the advantage of being able to brew under the arches while their customers can congregate outside to drink - there are a few inside tables and sofas too - when the weather's not too inclement. 

They've also got some spiffy new glasses (my Nan would have called them spivvy - TE), which you can take home for three quid, but first of all I filled mine with a witbier, dry hopped with saaz hops for a lemony finish. Wheat beers aren't my favourite, after an unfortunate summer overdoing Hoegaarden back in my teens, but this was pretty nice to sip in the sun. Another weather appropriate beverage was the Ewing's saison, brewed with motueka hops from New Zealand and fresh lime zest, 

Previously, the wonderful Bea's Diner took top breakfast spot around these parts. Obscene slabs of oozy french toast, stacks of berry and bacon-spiked pancakes and buttery eggs benedict all served up in a railway arch. Sadly they have now moved on, but, as if someone had read my tiny mind for a suitable replacement, Monty's Deli has opened just next door.

Liver, lockshen and latkes, three little words that make me very happy. Add to that the classic special I chose for brunch, a towering mound of toasted rye stuffed with salt beef and pastrami, russian dressing and coleslaw and served with pickle and extra slaw on the side - and I was practically hysterical.

Of course, I had to leave a little room for a slice of sourdough, anointed with Hansen and Lydersen Norwegian smoked salmon, soured cream and dill. Something even Stealth is happy to stop for and still one of the best snacks to spend your pocket change on.

Another must have is the St John doughnut, often imitated but rarely bettered. Alongside the classic custard (just look at that creamy spurt) and chocolate versions our last visit also saw them offering a rather good gooseberry and apple number, although it wasn't saccharine enough for the sharp-edged Stealth.

While the old guard are still holding up their end there have been a few new and exciting things going on. Most notably with the opening of Druid Street market - established and curated by Toast magazine in Bermondsey - on Saturday mornings. A bigger space down by Anspach and Hobday that mops up some of the overspill from the Ropewalk with plenty of pavement to lounge around while enjoying your wares.

Combine a new market with one of London's new summer trends and you get Blu Top, purveyor of freshly made ice cream and cookie sandwiches, dispensed from their little blue van. Choose your ice cream filling, your biscuit bread and your sugary 'condiments' to finish up with something that beats a flaccid M&S pre-packed sarnie, even if your dentist might not share the sentiment. 

After making some big decisions - summer corn and blueberry ice cream any one? - we ended up with a sandwich to 'share'. Brown butter choc chip and double chocolate fudge cookies cradling a core of bourbon old fashioned ice cream, salted pretzels and Fatties Bakery caramel sauce. Stealth reported it delicious and I can confirm the few remaining crumbs were  certainly very enjoyable, especially the gooey fudge cookies and caramel.

In the interests of impartiality we also had to go back down Maltby Street to try a sandwich from Hector and Milo's, another frozen desert purveyor working out of a blue vehicle; this time a dinky little Piaggio van.

Here my choice was a classic choc chip butter cookie with another boozy filling, this time a superlative rum and raisin number topped with lashings of salted caramel. The cookies were a little wan compared with the Blu Top, but the fillings more than made up for it. And this time I actually got to get my chops around it, Stealth having slowed down in fear of ice cream headaches and type two diabetes. 

Both vans were super friendly and very enthusiastic, so get down there and sample them while the sun's still out. Druid Street also has some great looking savoury toasted sandwiches with kimchi and stilton from F.A.T, and Louisiana inspired street snacks like butter roasted oysters and boudin balls from Decatur  if all that sugar doesn't tickle your pickle

We finished our sugar-loaded lunch off with a few tinnies to wash things down as we traversed the streets of South London. There were six tins, but only four were sampled by me; but I guess that's another story...

Monday, 17 August 2015

Pigs, Pints and Prawns

Earlier this summer (yes, it is still summer) the Ewing and I finally threw out the mouldering remains of the tent that would have been best off being abandoned on the Isle of Wight after a particularly waterlogged Bestival and got serious about spending some more civilised time under canvas.

Soon we had acquired a fancy new three man number (plenty of room for me, her and her shoe collection) and a set of poles for the porch that seemed to contain 50% more pieces than were actually needed but, unhelpfully, no instructions. Add a few cans of beer, burgers and a disposable bbq and we were ready to head up the M40 for the weekend.

Our destination was the Pig Place, a small holding by the Oxford canal (where the owners live on their boat) featuring a farm shop; a catering van serving cooked breakfasts, lunches and cake; and a menagerie of animals including runner ducks, geese, sheep, chickens, dogs, and the eponymous pigs, including saddlebacks, oxford sandy and blacks and British lops.

The site is also off the mains, so there's no showers or running water (there is a stand pipe from their borehole for drinking water) and just one Portaloo on site. So bring the baby wipes.

Another disadvantage of camp life are those early morning, bleary-eyed stumbles to the loo; complete with pyjama legs trailing across the wet grass. Balanced against the pains of attempting to get up off an inflatable mattress at such an ungodly hour, you may get to see a morning like this. With the rising mist in the field beyond, the swallows serenely resting on the telegraph poles and the light shining on the canal there was no where else I would have rather been. Yes, that is a sofa and chairs by the fire pit and an upright piano behind the hay bales.

Camping or not, sunrise is far too early (or late) to be up - although I did feel inordinately smug to be awake before our resident cockerel - and so we retired back under canvas for some extra shut eye. Next thing I knew the smell of strong coffee was floating on the breeze and we had wriggled out of our sleeping bags to put in our orders for fry ups and caffeine.

Breakfast include freshly baked pastries and rolls, things on toast and the crowning glory, the full english, freshly cooked to order using the farm's own duck eggs, sausages and bacon (which all taste amazing - TE). If you think eating pork products in the shadow of their previous porcine relations is hard, just try and do it with Sid the cat eyeing up your sausage, so to speak. But even the Ewing, certified softy, wasn't prepared to give up a morsel of her superior spread. A first class breakfast.

After a very hot day of pig tickling, sun bathing and losing pretty much every drop of my moisture in my body after falling asleep in the porch of the tent, it was time to rehydrate. Thankfully, the Great Western Arms is but a country mile down the very pretty canal path that runs adjacent to the campsite.

After bagging a spot in their pretty courtyard garden in time for dinner, we opened with cold pints of Stowford Press. Particularly apt as they also sponsor the England cricket team, who had wrapped up the Ashes that morning with a stonking performance at Trent Bridge, ergo helping save my phone battery so I could take more fuzzy pictures of maurading snouts in the trough (and some pictures of the pigs, too).

A menu full of nice things; 'anchovies debatable' (anchovies are never debatable). Being a Hook Norton pub, we also had to have a pint of the local ale, this being Hooky, Old Hooky's lighter younger brother.

Continuing with the holiday theme I plumped, unusually, for the shell on tiger prawns. As much as I love crustaceans it's a dish I normally save for foreign climes - preferably with my feet in the sand and a glass of chilled vino blanco in hand - with my natural greed often disappointed by the sparing numbers served on these shores, often with the flavour and texture of fishy cotton wool.

No such worries here, as a skewer stuffed with them arrived tableside, dripping their sweet, garlicky juices onto a plate of superior chips below. There was also a suitably garlicky home made mayo, with a luscious wobble (not unlike me on our walk home) and a suggestion of side salad to counteract the butter and fried potatoes.

It may be premature to say it but, influenced by sun and cider, it's already gone in as a strong contender for dish of the year. The simple sort of cooking, well executed and with bold flavours that you wish every pub could effortlessly bang out. Not bad value (if not cheap) at sixteen and a half quid, either.

For desert the Ewing had the majestic chocolate torte, a great hunk of loveliness (although not quite up to Delia's ameretti biscuit version) that came adorned in all that extra shizzle - orange slices, sugar wafers, raspberry sauce, strawberries, whipped cream and ice cream - that has sadly been lost in the trend for simple plating. When it comes to pudding, more is definitely more.

I don't get food envy very often - having usually trailed the internet days in advance to pour over menus and gaze at blurry phone pictures with too much flash on Trip Advisor - but on this occasion my mudcake (with chocolate ice cream swapped out for banana) looked, despite the adornment, decidedly ordinary.

But they say the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and that was certainly true in this case, with the cake being wonderfully sticky and claggy, lubricated by the hot fudge sauce and whipped cream. Another course that transcended my string of superlatives.

After a half of Old Rosie for the road (take a torch if your going to be walking after dark; the path is narrow and the water's deep), we stumbled merrily homeward. All the while safe in the knowledge that, with it's double garlic hit, we had both chosen the prawns for dinner; hence there could be no recrimination at our ability to repel vampires from fifty feet on getting back to the  confines of the tent. Ah, the romance of the great outdoors....

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

A Cake for the Boss and Another Celebration

Recently the Ewing and I got got hitched again. Well, more accurately, we had our civil partnership converted into a 'marriage'. Of course it would have been rude not to celebrate - despite originally choosing the 29th February as the 'big day', in the mistaken wisdom we would have less anniversaries to forget.

This second bite of the cherry, as it were, conveniently happened to commemorate exactly 2556 days since we first got together, which also lent itself nicely to the #sevenyearhitch hashtag. Any reason to dress up, cavort about town and drink pink fizz before lunch.

With all the merrymaking I've been distracted from blogging; although not enough to forget about the cake I made for the Ewing's lovely boss when she and her husband recently came for dinner. Yes, I really am a grown up now - although I did feel slightly like Reggie Perrin, minus the hippopotamus.

As well as a chance to impress it was an opportunity to utilise the good old Nutibullet - which, on a tangent, I have discovered is also perfect for making houmous and frozen strawberry daiquiris (although sadly not at the same time). Top hostess tip - add plenty of rum to the cocktails and no one really seems to care what the rest of the food tastes like.

This time I used it for  the far more prosiac task of grinding pistachios to make an adaption of Jose Pizarro's almond bizcocho, a dead easy Spanish-influenced loaf cake with none of your usual tiresome creaming, folding and whisking nonsense. Perfect for showing off on a special occasion, or just scoffing alongside a cuppa while nestled under a blanket on the sofa. If you don't have pistachios almonds will work just as well, although you're batter won't have that same ectoplasm hue before baking.

In keeping in with the anniversary theme, I used some flashy Italian olive oil I found buried at the back of my completely impractical kitchen cupboards (60 Minute Makeover, if you're listening...). The oil came from the olive groves on the estate where my Sister and brother-in-law got married exactly three years ago this week. (They celebrated with a bottle of vino from the estate vineyards and their first evening out without the Gingerbread.) A rather fitting use, although any light/medium bodied olive oil (or nut oil) would work equally well. 

To serve we went back to the 70's with a dish of classic caramel oranges; slices of citrus bathed in a brick red sugar syrup with plenty of Portuguese firewater and served icy cold. Yes it's a faff peeling and de-pithing, but make extra and you'll have something to liven up your breakfast yoghurt for the rest of the week.

Pistachio Bizcocho with Caramel Brandy Oranges 
(adapted from Jose Pizarro's Spanish Flavours)

For the caramel oranges
8 small, juicy oranges, 200g caster sugar, 100ml freshly squeezed orange juice, strained.

Method
For the caramel oranges, cut a slice off the top and bottom of each orange, then slice away all the skin, ensuring the white pith is completely removed. Cut each orange across the segments into slices, reserving all the juices. Put the sugar into a large pan with 120ml cold water. Leave over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved, then boil rapidly until the syrup has turned into a brick-red caramel. Don't lose your nerve!
Remove from the heat and plunge the base of the pan into cold water to stop it cooking any further. Stand back (as it will splutter) and add the orange juice. The caramel will form a lump in the bottom of the pan. Return to a low heat and stir until it dissolves again. Leave to cool very slightly then, while it is still liquid, pour over the sliced oranges and chill for at least 1 hour.

For the cake
200ml olive oil, 175g plain flour, 2tsp baking powder, pinch of salt, 100g ground pistachios (or almonds) 175g caster sugar, 3 large, free-range eggs, finely grated zest of an orange, 100ml freshly squeezed orange juice.  

Method
Preheat the oven to 170°C. Grease a 1kg loaf tin and line with greaseproof paper. 
Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl and stir in ground almonds and caster sugar. 
Make a well in the centre and add the beaten eggs, olive oil, orange zest and juice. Gradually mix the dry ingredients into the wet to make a smooth batter. 
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for about 1 hour, covering the surface loosely with a sheet of foil if it is browning too quickly. When it's ready a skewer, pushed into the centre of the cake, should come away clean.
Remove the cake from the tin and peel off the lining paper. Leave to cool on a wire rack. 
Serve with the caramel oranges and some lightly (not like mine, which went decidedly lumpy) whipped cream and a little ground cinnamon.



Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Penny Arcades, Pint Shop and a Bun for My Trunk

Birthdays start out fun. There's parties and cake and games and hey, you can even cry if you want to. Then come the first 'milestones', where you can buy cigs (legally) and celebrate with a pint in the pub you've been drinking in for the last year (apologies to my favourite barmaid, Janet, at the White Hart, Beaconsfield). 

Thereafter the lustre of that special day tends to wane somewhat. Each advancing year brings less fun and more wrinkles, and instead of Castle Greyskull and Transformers you get socks and shower gel. That is until you reach a 'certain age'. It's hard to know exactly what that age is, as it varies from person to person, but you know you've reached it when you announce - unbidden and usually very loudly - exactly how old you are to all and sundry.

At 85 and still going strong, my Nan has reached that age. Although to be fair she still talks about all the 'elderly people' around her without the slightest bit of self awareness that she may now fall into that category herself. But they say you're only as young as you feel, and with the energy it must take to edge her perfectly manicured lawn and cut all her hedges, something she still does solo, I seem positively geriatric in comparison.

Of course, we didn't really need the excuse of a birthday to jump in the car and motor to Norfolk for the weekend, with good old Doreen being such amusing company in most circumstances, but it's nice to have a reason to celebrate. And where better than a day at the seaside and more specifically one of my favourite childhood haunts, Wells-next-the-Sea.

An afternoon playing in the penny arcade and walking along the sea front would take years off anyone's life, with a fish and chip lunch, bags of fudge from John's rock shop and a couple of bottles of strong Norfolk cider from Whin Hill to take home, adding them swiftly back on again. The perfect sort of afternoon.

After a few days of shepherd's pie, ice cream in the garden, toast and homemade marmalade washed down with a few too many of the afformaentioned ciders, we probably didn't need to visit Cambridge for Sunday lunch on our drive home. But we did anyway, ending up in the Pint Shop, a pub cum restaurant on Peas Hill boasting a wide beer selection and spit roasted meats on a Sunday. 

We chose to eat upstairs, in their shaker style stripped back dining room; a tranquil spot that was rather akin to eating in a Vermeer still life. Refreshment, chosen from a large board of rotating libations, came in the form of a Pulp Fiction grapefruit saison from the Nene Brewery; a zippy little summer number; and a pretty pedestrian Hopmen of the Apocalypse from Totally Brewed in Nottinghamshire. 

To eat we both chose the spit roast lamb shoulder with homemade mint sauce, mashed roots, greens and roasties from the Sunday set menu. A good roast is notoriously hard to get right but, as promised by the friendly barmen downstairs, this was a superlative Sunday dinner if, at 16 quid, a little stingy in its portioning. Add some cauli cheese and another slice of meat and it may have even rivalled my mother's famed 'rost' lamb. A Roscoe favourite.

A brief interlude before pud saw me sampling a pint of the staid but perfectly satisfactory Meteor bitter from the Star brewery in Lincolnshire. The Ewing's choice was the, far beefier, Something Something Darkside; a mashup between an imperial stout and an imperial IPA from West London's Weird Beard. A decadent, smoky and licorice-licked, BIPA - not one to take too lightly early on a Sunday afternoon.

Pictures of the desserts seem to have turned out in soft focus, a look that makes them look more like stills from a Euro porno than pudding. I would say it was because they were so seductively alluring, but in reality I think a blob of grease from the roasties got on my phone lens.

Sadly they couldn't live up to their fuzzy glow; my buttermilk pudding with saffron gooseberries and 'rough snap' (a not very snappy, oat biscuit) paled against the magisterial example at the Wheatsheaf Inn a few weeks before. Full praise though for the glowing golden gooseberries which were spot on and reminded me of why I fell in love with this quintessentially British sweet and sour fruit. The Ewing's pear and frangipane tart passed muster, but felt like a bit of a lacklustre finale.

Not wanting to depart without having that sweet spot thoroughly scratched, we managed to fit in a quick visit to Fitzbillies Cafe on Trumpington Street - Cambridge is certainly up there when it comes to great road names. Purveyors of traditional cream teas, puffy choux pastries and flaky sausage rolls, Fitzbillies remain renowned for their gooey chelsea buns which became a firm favourite on our last visit to Cambridge.

With the mercury nudging upwards, I was pleased to see a cooler incarnation of their famed yeasted bread product was available in the form of chelsea bun ice cream; a fragrant and rich lemon-scented and currant flecked joy that I would happily eat all year round.

Of course I couldn't pass up the chance to get my hands on some of their neatly coiled curls of syrup-soaked dough and we also bought a brace to take home for tea the following day. Quite as delicious as they look and rounding off a perfect weekend of simple things; sun, sea, smiles and sugar. Here's to the next one, Nan, and many more to come.

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