Friday, 27 April 2012

Beer Waffles with Maple Bourbon Glazed Bacon

I love breakfast. It's fair to say I love all food, but breakfast holds a special place in my heart. While the classic fry up may be a British institution, eggs are one of the very few things I'm not a big fan of, meaning my default weekend brekkie is usually a doorstop smoked bacon sarnie, washed down with copious mugs of builder's tea.

If we're really pushing the breakfast boat out then I love making pancakes. Not the buttery French crepe, or our own version, doused in lemon and caster sugar, but the American style. Soft, springy, stacked up on the plate and swimming in whipped butter and maple syrup. A few strips of crispy streaky bacon and a pot of coffee (while the tannin in tea cuts through the grease of a fry up, I think sweet flavours seem to pair better with coffee) finish off the scene. Breakfast bliss.

So you can imagine my excitement when I found the Ewing's Mum had donated her (almost unused) waffle iron to me. No longer would I have to skip past the pages stating 'a waffle maker is necessary for this recipe' in my cookbook collection; a whole new plethora of exciting, crispy creations, doused in lakes of syrup, fruit, nuts and cream, now seemed possible.
Serendipitously I was reading The Modern Pantry cook book at the time of my unexpected gift. Reputedly home to one of the best, and certainly one of the most creative breakfasts in London, Anna Hansen's waffles looked perfect. Her original recipe add coconut to the batter, and is served with fresh passionfruit, mango and a vanilla marscapone. Delicious as that sounded I wanted something a little plainer to showcase some crispy bacon; luckily she also gives an alternate version, with ground polenta replacing the coconut, an ideal back drop for the smoked meat topping.

I won't lie: the waffles weren't a piece of cake to make. After deciding to halve the batter, as the original recipe makes a dozen waffles and feeds six (yes, I can eat a lot, but a girl does have her limits...), I started to get worried after the first two stuck fast to the waffle iron. Fortunately it was a little like making pancakes, after a sticky start the final four were (pretty) perfect; bronzed, crispy, golden and ready to be draped in their blanket of sweet bacon.

I manage to pick up some Oscar Meyer American style smoked bacon from the supermarket, if you can't get it then use smoked streaky instead. What ever you choose make sure it has a good amount of fat, so it will crisp up nicely under the grill. Soft, sweet waffles and pancakes demand friable strips of pig, rather than our softer curls of back bacon.

Although it's pretty hard to improve upon the simple perfection of a well cooked rasher, a glaze of Bourbon and maple syrup may just do it. You can just grill, or fry your bacon au naturel, but adding a little slick of the whisky and syrup mixture gives an extra depth to the smoky sweetness. If you take the bacon just to the edge of burning you get a nice mixture of bitter, sweet and salt all in one mouthful (just don't abandon it, as I did, returning to a thick fug of frazzled pork and caramelised sugar that had managed to stick to everything).

Beer Waffles with Maple Bourbon Glazed Bacon
Serves 4-6 (waffle mixture can be halved)

270g plain flour
2tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
100g dessicated coconut or polenta
200ml tepid water
200ml tepid beer or ale
150ml double cream
100g unsalted butter
4 eggs, separated

12 rashers smoked streaky bacon
100ml maple syrup, plus extra to serve
50ml bourbon optional

Sift flour sugar and salt into a bowl and stir in the coconut or polenta.
Gently whisk in the water, beer, whipped cream, melted butter and egg yolks.
In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks and then gently fold them into the batter.
To cook the waffles heat the waffle iron and brush with melted butter on both sides. Add a ladle of the mixture, making sure it's spread out to the edges, and close iron.
Cook each waffle for approximately 4-6 minutes, or until fluffy and golden.
(the waffles can be kept warm in a low oven until ready to serve).

To make the glazed bacon: place the bacon rashers on a grill pan and brush with a mixture of the maple syrup and bourbon.
Grill bacon until crisp on one side, turn rashers, brush the other side with the syrup mixture and repeat. (keep an eye on the bacon while cooking, the syrup can burn very quickly).

Serve waffles with bacon, extra syrup and a dusting of icing sugar.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Barnsley Chop with Baked Fennel and Anchovy

The magnificent Barnsley chop: a, sadly all too rare, cut of lamb that is butchered right across the loin to create a double chop. Seldom seen in supermarkets, or even in most butchers, when I saw a case of them at Bennett's in Leeds Kirkgate Market the lure was too much to resist.

History has it that these mega chops were first served at the King's Head Hotel to farmers, with big appetites, who were visiting the Barnsley Market. Originally the chop comprised 'the first three ribs after the shoulder, and only two such chops can be obtained from a sheep'. After being hung for a ten days it would be served with chips and locally brewed beer.

As tempting as the traditional serving suggestion sounded sounded I was still recovering from an Easter onslaught of beer and potatoes, and so decided to take the beautiful, Yorkshire-raised, lamb and serve it simply with some veg.

Wanting something a bit more exciting than peas and carrots I chanced upon some fennel while out shopping; the anise-scented bulbs working perfectly with slight gaminess of the lamb. Originally I was going to serve the fennel as a salad, very finely sliced, and dressed with a lemony anchovy dressing (the salty fish being another perfect bed-fellow for the meat). The chill in the air, however, called for something a bit more cockle-warming, so I used the same base ingredients to make fennel baked with an anchovy-scented cream.

Being a bit of an anchovyphile I really went to town with the tiny fish, ending up with a rich, wine and cream reduction spiked with a tangy, salty savouriness. If you're not as much of a fan then reduce the number you use, or miss them out altogether, although even one or two fillets will add a wonderful umami richness to the finished dish.
Working with such strong flavours I wanted to keep the fennel quite simple, so I didn't mess around with things too much. You could try a good grating of Parmesan and some breadcrumbs sprinkled on top for a more substantial main dish, or use a splash of Pastis in the braising liquid for a stronger anise flavour punch.
Barnsley Chop with Baked Fennel and Anchovy
2 Barnsley chops (or use 4 lamb loin chops)
2 bulbs of fennel
2-4 anchovy fillets
150ml vegetable stock
150ml double cream
100ml white wine or pastis (optional)
Salt and black pepper

Preheat oven to 180c
Take the the chops out of the fridge and allow to come to room temperature.
Slice the fennel lenghthways into rounds the thickness of a pound coin and lay in a shallow, oven proof dish.
Add stock, cream and wine to the dish (the liquid should cover about half the fennel). 
Tear anchovy fillets in half and tuck in and around fennel, season with black pepper.
Bake for about an hour, checking, and gently stirring, until the liquid has reduced and fennel is soft (if it is browning too quickly cover top with foil). The anchovies should melt into the braising liquid.
Pre heat a frying pan, season chops and cook until well browned on both sides.
Place chops in a baking dish and finish cooking in the oven (about 8/10 minutes for medium rare/ medium).

Friday, 20 April 2012

Rib Shakk, Leeds

Anthony Finn is a name that is synonymous with the Leeds dining scene. Starting with his eponymous fine dining restaurant he has now expanded across the city with a patisserie, all day restaurant, canteen, champagne bar, bakery, fromagerie and now a Southern BBQ joint. The last six are all housed in The Corn Exchange, ... The Piazza cafe/restaurant in the light and open central area downstairs, the various other concessions tucked into the arches of the building.

On our recent trip North, to see family for Easter we visited the Exchange with my Uncle to buy some pungent cheeses for my Aunt. While browsing around the various little craft stalls set up there on Saturdays we noticed the Rib Shakk signs and stopped to check out the meaty menu. Ordinarily I don't get to experience too much of the local cuisine scene, being kept very well fed by my family of excellent cooks, but this trip we had a spare morning before driving home; a perfect opportunity to hit the place up for a final protein overload.

Being hidden away in the bowels of the building suits the dark, smoky atmosphere of the Rib Shakk, although it does make it somewhat difficult to negotiate. While customers waiting for the Piazza are lead to their tables by smartly waistcoated waiters, patrons of the Rib Shakk seem more likely to be wandering around, rather aimlessly, looking for the t-shirt clad staff. The concept is based on a simple, Nandosesque model; seat yourself, order and pay at the counter, grab your cutlery sauce etc. But lack of signage/visible staff on our visit made it all rather confusing at first.

The menu has all the usual suspects; baby backs and St Louis pork ribs; beef short ribs and dandy ribs; BBQ chicken wings; and sharing and combo platters, including a Boston butt with mustard BBQ sauce. There is even a Wall of Flames challenge. If you manage to finish a rack of ribs coated in an incendiary hot sauce then your bravery/stupidity will be rewarded by gratis food and drink and your photo posted on their wall.

Most interesting was the rib burger section; the 'burgers' are made from chunks of their slow cooked BBQ beef ribs and garnished with various sauces, salads and cheeses. Tempted as I was, the Ewing wanted ribs, so we decided to share a triple combo to get a sample of all three types.

The Ewing embraced the spirit by imbibing not one but two floats. The first was a classic Coke version; pretty good, if a metal beaker of fizzy, creamy froth does it for you. The second, made with cream soda, was ridiculously sweet and artificial tasting. Needless to say the Ewing loved it.

I stuck to PBR, refreshing blue collar workers and hipsters everywhere. The beer list has a fair selection; Dixie, Lone Star, Miller and the ubiquitous Bud. Hardly ground-breaking, but points for choice, being cold and being cheap.

The triple rib combo; an unholy mess of St Louis and baby back pork ribs, beef rib, BBQ beans, fries, coleslaw, corn and salad.  Despite being sat at a table for four, the giant wooden board, plus our drinks took up most the available table space. This meant precariously balancing our little saucer-sized plates in one corner and attempting to eat at a strange diagonal angle. Quite tricky if your gnawing on a sauce-smothered bone.

The food was fair to middling; the meat had been slow cooked but not smoked, meaning, while it was nicely tender, there was no real depth of flavour beyond the lake of sweet, generic BBQ sauce smothered over everything (they didn't ask me to specify a sauce, from the four available on the menu, when I ordered, but I assume this was the 'Classic Kansas City' version).

Surprisingly my favourite ribs were the baby backs, reminding me as they did of childhood trips up to Knightsbridge in the 80's, where we would don plastic bibs and eat racks of pork at the original Chicago Rib Shack. Nostalgia aside they were enjoyable, if nothing special. 

The St Louis version were meatier, but also much fattier too. Now I'm a big fan when it comes to pork grease, but even I found it a little too much. The 'ribs' were also very hard to separate, meaning we ended up shredding the meat like pulled pork. Served in a bun it could have made a nice porcine version of the rib burger concept.

The beef short rib; although she had her reservations the Ewing ended up eating most of this, despite being pretty saturated with meat and sugar at that point. After being slow cooked for seven hours the meat was meltingly soft, with a decent 'beefiness', but the sauce was too sweet and it lacked any penetrating smoke flavour to cut through the rich swathes of fat. Again it would have been good to see it showcased in a bun, with the crunch of salad, and a good shake of Cholula to really lift the flavours.

Sides were a mixed bag; fries were decent, and the corn and salad a nice change of pace after all the meat and potatoes. The coleslaw was good; decent chunks of crunchy cabbage in a rich, slightly cheesy (?), dressing, but the BBQ beans were disappointing. Huge piles of dry, mealy butter beans served in a thin BBQ sauce. Eating them seemed more like a relentless chore than a culinary experience. To be fair the Ewing bravely attempted to make inroads into them, even calling them 'quite nice', but they weren't.

From the pile of bare bones left at the end of our lunch you can see the Rib Shakk wasn't all bad, it just wasn't particularly good either. While the surroundings are nice, prices fair and the service (if a little unsure) friendly, the food was merely average. While it would be ideal for a lunch stop, or to meet with mates for some meat, underneath the sugary sauce coating it's sadly lacking the smoky soul of real 'cue.

Rib Shakk on Urbanspoon

Monday, 16 April 2012

The Crown, Bray

A couple of weeks ago our lovely friend Stealth came to stay for the weekend. Originally I was planning to finish Sunday dinner by attempting to recreate Heston Blumenthal's Banana Eton Mess. Caramelised banana, hazelnut praline, lime cream, what's not to like? Well, according to some of these reviews on the Waitrose website, quite a few things.... Slightly deterred I decided to leave it to the professionals, and so booked a table for Monday lunch at the Crown in Bray.

The second pub Heston now owns in the little Berkshire village (read about our visit to the Hind's Head here) The Crown seems the most informal of all his dining venues. Rickety and ramshackle in the best possible way I was pleased to see, (despite the blue skies and budding branches there was still a nip in the air) not one but two open fires roaring away as we arrived for our meal.

As seems to be an all too common theme on this blog, we were all feeling a little tender from the night before and were sorely in need of some proper pub grub to ease our aching heads and soothe our grumbling bellies. Gingerly sipping on lime and soda and sparkling water we may not have have been up to giving local ales the sampling they deserved, but we didn't let ourselves down when it came to sampling the food.

This is a proper menu full of things you want to eat. From the carbohydrate hug of pies, macaroni and burgers through to refined fish dishes, steaks and a sharing section featuring chilli and cornbread and cheese fondue. It's all decently priced too, with a set lunch and early evening menu ( two courses £12 or three for £15), being particularly good value.

Stealth's pork pie; no matter how much pretty veg and symmetrical blobs of pickle you use to jazz things up a good pie ultimately it comes down to jelly, lard and fatty, well seasoned, pork. Luckily all three were present and correct. A simple, fine beginning.

My leeks with taleggio and hazelnut crumble was a little more refined, but no less tasty for it. The leeks had been gently cooked before being smothered in melted cheese and a decent handful of herby, nutty, citrussy crumbs for a wonderful, crunchy contrast. The sort of dish whose simplicity and flavour makes you look at humble alliums in a new light. 

The Ewing's potted rabbit. This was excellent; the rabbit was potted with a decent amount of smoky fat that melted into the warm, crunchy toast, and was strewn with shards of crunchy sea salt and garlicky chives. The sweet chutney helped cut through the rich meatiness, and, had we been up to it, would have paired nicely with a good, hoppy pint of bitter. 

Now that's what I call a pie. Part two of Stealth's pie double-header; a beautifully burnished suet carapace, cradling chunks of steak and a rich ale gravy, nestled on a bed of smooth and fluffy potato. Not a dish for the faint-hearted, the pastry still managed to be beautifully light and crisp, the meat soft and tender.

Sometimes only fish 'n' chips will do. Usually this is the Ewing's default comfort food, I tend to favour a greasy burger, but on this occasion crispy batter, fluffy potatoes and a side order of minted peas was just the ticket. Although eating off a wooden plank never fills my heart with joy, it was so good I was soon distracted by slathering the flaky fish and crispy chips in tangy tartare sauce and chasing it all down with forkfuls of sweet pea.

The Ewing's hake with Jerusalem artichoke puree and kale. This was a pleasant plate of food, but lacked any real excitement. The fish was well cooked, the artichoke light and creamy and the whole thing topped with a giant, crispy shrimp, but overall I found it a bit bland and boring; as beige as the puree it sat on.

A far better jerusalem artichoke showing came from the pail of triple cooked wedges. These were crispy and salty on the outside, nutty and sweet within. A much underrated tuber.

Pudding time. Luckily they had the, by now fabled, Banana Eton Mess on the menu; trouble was every one wanted it. Where's the fun in eating your pudding if you can't reach over to swipe a mouthful of someone else's? After hearing us squabbling over who was going to order what the waitress reappeared to let us know there was a special Rhubarb Eton Mess on the menu; problem solved.

Stealth ended up choosing the rhubarb version, and wasn't disappointed. Strips of the dried fruit joined little cubes of poached rhubarb, heaps of whipped cream and little buttons of meringue. If that wasn't enough the lily was well and truly gilded with the shards of sweet honeycomb scattered on top. I love rhubarb and the sharpness of the fruit was the perfect foil for the sweet cream and meringue mixture.

The Ewing's Banana Mess, well worth the wait. There was a saltiness from the praline, but it was kept nicely in check by the sweet banana puree and lime-spiked cream. Slices of fresh banana and more mini meringues provided contrast and crunch. A proper pudding.

Although tempted by the two messes on the menu I was swayed by the Earl Gray panna cotta with lemon crumble. Although not the biggest fan of drinking Earl Gray tea I love the gently perfumed flavour in cakes and deserts, and this was no exception. The panna cotta was perfectly, barely set and gently slumped into the buttery shortbread crumbs as I prodded my spoon into it. The astringency of candied lemon peel set off the richness perfectly.

Our lunch at the Crown was a perfect piece of Middle England, in the best possible way. Good food, good service, good company and lovely surroundings. For those who equate Heston with crazy kitchen theatrics and crazy prices the Crown kitchen remains firmly down to earth, producing modest and delicious food with a bill to match.

After finishing our pots of tea and squeezing in a final home made chocolate chip cookie we staggered, sated down the lane to Monkey Island, an Agatha Christie-esque hotel situated down on the river bank. Here we spent the remainder of our afternoon enjoying the  dregs of Spring sunshine, waving at the boats sailing by and to attempting to avoid attack by the resident peacock. Perfect.

The Crown at Bray on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Brown Shrimp & Jamon Croquetas

The humble ham croquette. Ever since my first bar-hopping adventure through the streets of Madrid  years ago I have been enthralled by the little bites of gooey bechamel encased in a crispy crust. Like many things that seem glorious when enjoyed on holiday (ouzo, clove cigarettes and pickled cabbage that should have never made it onto the plane...) croquettas always seem to be a little greasy and heavy when eaten on this side of the Channel.

A notable exception (among a few) seems to be Jose Pizarro's tapas bar/restaurant in Bermondsey. I must confess I haven't made the schlep down South to try them yet, but my Twitter feed seems to be populated with pictures of his legendary croquettas and plates of pluma most weekends. Luckily he has been kind enough to share his secrets in his cookbook, 'Seasonal Spanish Food', so I decided to roll up my sleeves and give them a go at home (with a few little tweaks).

Other nations that have picked upon the appeal of the croquette include Belgium and Holland; on a recent trip to Amsterdam the Ewing and I sustained ourselves with visits to Febo, a burger, bitterballen and croquette purveyor that dispenses snacks from little, coin operated, hot cabinets. I may not have been too fussy about what I was eating at that point, but the parcels of molten veal and cheese were a joy.

The Belgians most famous version, croquettes aux crevettes grises, use the beautiful brown Atlantic shrimp for flavour. For my croquettas I decided to combine the saltiness of Serrano ham with the sweetness of the brown shrimp for a super, surf 'n' turf snack.

I found the whole process surprisingly easy, the only small problem coming from my bechamel that remained a bit on the liquid side, even when chilled, making rolling the croquettas rather tricky. Still, perseverance paid off and soon I had a tray of breadcrumbed beauties ready for their bath in hot oil.

Worrying that my finished balls may implode on contact with the heat of the fryer, I froze them on a baking sheet overnight (we didn't need them until the next day), and cooked them straight from frozen. Despite my mortal fear of cauldrons of boiling liquids in my kitchen, the whole thing passed by rather uneventfully and soon we had a mountain of croquettas; nicely burnished on the outside, with a properly gooey centre studded with shrimp and ham. Estupendo!

Brown Shrimp and Jamon Croquettas

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 small leek, or 3 spring onions, diced as small as possible
100g Serrano or other air-dried ham, diced very small 
100g brown shrimps (or small prawns, roughly chopped)
70g flour
200ml vegetable stock
300ml milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
50g flour
2 large free-range eggs, beaten
150g dried breadcrumbs (I used panko)

Olive or vegetable oil, for frying

Heat the olive oil in a pan, then add the leek or spring onion and sauté until soft, but not coloured.
Add the ham and cook for 5 minutes, then stir in the flour and cook over medium heat until the mixture is golden and the flour cooked through (8/10 minutes).
Combine the stock and milk in a pan and gently heat through.
Gradually whisk the warm liquid to the roux, a little at a time, stirring the mixture constantly to prevent lumps.
Once you have incorporated all the milk, continue to cook the sauce for about 10 minutes until it thickens and leaves the sides of the pan when you stir it. The roux must be very thick to prevent the croquettas liquefying as you roll/fry them.
Stir in the brown shrimp and taste for seasoning.
Smooth the sauce into a dish and cover with cling film to keep the mixture from drying out. Let cool before putting it in the fridge for at least an hour.
When you are ready to form the croquettes take three bowls, one with flour, one with beaten egg and the third with the breadcrumbs.
Take the sauce out of the fridge. Dust your hands with flour, make a walnut-sized ball with the ham mixture and roll it gently between your palms.
Roll the into the flour, followed by the egg and then the breadcrumbs.
Place the finished croquetas on a tray, when you have used up all the mixture place the tray in the freezer for about an hour (or longer).
Heat the oil to 180°F in a deep fat fryer, saucepan or wok and carefully fry the croquetas, a few at a time at a time, until they are golden all over (about 2/3 minutes each side).
Drain on kitchen paper and enjoy while piping hot, preferably with a cold beer.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Tuddenham Mill, Suffolk

When I was a young kid my Grandmother moved to deepest, darkest Norfolk. As a child this had many advantages; holidays spent in the arcade in Wells-Next-The-Sea, fish and chips on the beach and the Thetford Railway Museum being a few. As I got older the excitement paled, suddenly a three hour car drive and sleeping on the camp bed in the front room (and even, once, in the shed, imaginatively renamed 'the summer house' by my Nan) seemed less like a treat and more like a chore.

Luckily, despite living far apart, we've always remained close and, although it can sometimes seem hard to find time for a visit, I'm always glad when I do; not only do I get wonderful bacon sandwiches and endless cups of tea but there's now even accommodation at the local pub in the village, no more pumping up the air mattress after a few beers too many.

Yet nother exciting discovery, and the reason for this rambling family reminiscence, was finding out that Tuddenham Mill was a mere mile or so off the baten track from our usual route home. A perfect detour for an early lunch stop.

The Mill is a boutique hotel and restaurant, set in a charming old watermill in rural Suffolk, whose kitchen is helmed by gifted young chef Paul Foster; if you haven't heard of Foster yet you soon will, already OFM young chef of the year and Good Food Guide's up and coming chef 2011, he is set to feature in the Central heats of the new series of Great British Menu this summer, and certainly seems to be one to watch.

We started with some drinks and nibbles in the bar downstairs, opting for a bottle of fizz to go with our cheese straws and pork cracklings. Unfortunately, due to our heavy night the day before, it was only sparkling mineral water. The cracklings were lovely; ethereal and crispy with the merest hint of sweet pigginess and the straws were almost as good as my Nan's (another reason I love visiting her).

Having just devoured a full English we passed over the five course tasting menu for the more modest three course set lunch. Everything (bar my nemesis, the hen's egg) looked lovely, and despite the surfeit of black pudding and baked beans I recently eaten, I was very excited about our meal ahead.

The dining room; the mill stone and cogs are set into the middle of the floor, the water wheel turns behind the bar below.

Warm home baked rolls and butter; resistance was futile...

The meal kicked off with a little amuse bouche, of (if memory serves me correctly) a carrot foam with goats cheese and seeds. Initially I found this a bit odd, it was served very cold and the cheese didn't quite have the salty kick needed to lift the foam, but I as I continued to eat the delicate, sweet carrot flavour and the creamy crunch of the seeds started to come through. A subtle and refreshing start.

The sultanas appeared to absented themselves from my beautiful starter of the pork neck carpaccio with pig's head croquette, but extra pork cracklings created a delicious porky triumvirate on the plate that left them unmissed. The pork neck was thinly sliced so the silky, rich fat melted on the tongue and the croquettes were a masterful mixture of crispy breadcrumbs and succulent shreds of pig. The whole thing was perked up with the peppery radish slices and salad leaves.

The Ewing's mackerel with sea vegetables and beetroot; The confit mackerel flaked apart in wonderfully soft, delicate chunks. The oily flesh stood up well to the salty sea veg and nutty, crisped wild rice and, again, a little welcome peppery bitterness came from the crunch of radish.

The lamb rump served as my main course was beautifully tender, if a little mild-mannered in the taste department, but that was more than compensated for by the sticky cake of braised shoulder sitting alongside; a gorgeous tangle of sweet and tender slow-cooked meat. The wafer thin squash slices and potato were perfectly complemented by the cumin spice and the lactic tang of the yoghurt.

The Ewing's main was the hake with charred leek and potato. A delicate combination of sweet, salty and bitter. The crispy fish worked surprisingly nicely with the punchy beer pickled onions, and the floury chunks of potato were perfect crushed into the pool of gravy.

My pud of rhubarb and goats milk with crispy muesli was clean and refined in an understated way, a refreshing end following my meat-heavy menu. I enjoyed the interplay of textures and temperatures, and the rhubarb was perfectly tender, but it, and the goats milk sorbet served alongside it, were, again a little tame in the taste stakes, even with the jolt of fresh mint on top.

Packing far more of a punch was the Ewing's textures of chocolate, sea buckthorn and hazelnuts. On one side cubes of brownie, mousse and chocolate crumbs sat atop a rich ganache, while on the other was a mixture of nutty crumbs with the astringency of sea buckthorn. This was a decadent yet delicate pudding that left the Ewing, a committed chocoholic, in seventh heaven.

Coffee was served with some tasty petit fours; a chocolate truffle flavoured with alexanders, cubes of passionfruit jelly and a really good square of creamy, cumin-scented fudge.

Foster's food won't be for everybody; it's clever and pretty and ambitious, but it also challenges with its presentation and combinations of flavours and textures. None of this, however, felt like style over substance; from the locally foraged herbs and vegetables (including chicory, pennywort, alexanders and sea buckthorn) there is a real sense of place about his plates.

Although not especially cheap, for intricate, innovative cooking of this calibre it still seemed like decent value. And the dining experience was perfectly complemented by our two lovely waiters who, despite us being the only two guests dining for lunch, managed to be there when we needed them without being obtrusive.

So while I may have outgrown feeding the ducks on the village pond, and am too big for the aerial swing in the park, being old isn't all bad. I can now enjoy pints of Woodford's Wherry at my Nan's local and know that there's the perfect pit stop on the return journey home; fabulous food with a country charm.