Thursday, 31 May 2018

Getting Freekeh With Comté Cheese

If you think that last Bank Holiday weekend, I spent a large portion of my time BBQing and eating meat - and drinking beer - then you would be bloody well right. I mean, what else are Bank Holidays for?

Actually, I did manage to do a little bit in the garden - mowing, trimming and planting flowers that my children have lovingly grown from seed. Sunflowers and cornflowers mostly. Nothing but sunflowers and cornflowers. Come July, we should be greeted with a riot of blue and yellow petals, and hundreds and hundreds of bees.

I also installed a solar cat repeller in the front garden, in a bid to thwart the neighbourhood moggies, as they do love to use it as their local toilet. Initially, I turned it up to full maximum, high frequency, mega sonic blast. However, then the kids and Lenny started writhing around on the carpet. So I dialled it back down. And in the morning, there was a fresh cat turd waiting for me. So now, I have to wait for everyone to go to bed (including the dog) before turning the thing up to extra premium, asteroid shattering, radio factor force. And then switch it back down in the morning when everyone wakes up again. We are not completely poop free yet. But I do feel like I am making small wins, in some small way.

Where was I going with this?

Oh yes, BBQing. Now, you might be reading this, thinking 'OK Dan, what lump of flesh did you cook up this time?' But I don't want to talk about that. I want to talk about the delightful salad that accompanied it. A vibrant and virtuous affair in the shape of dressed freekeh, with grilled pears, pecans, rocket and Comté cheese.

I have made this a few times now, having discovered it on their website and if you are in the business of making something rich, sticky and meaty, this salad is an excellent accompaniment and foil to help soak everything up. I have been using a lot more wholegrain in my cooking recently and freekeh has become quite a staple. It has its own individual flavour, earthy and almost smoky, so the fresh elements of citrus and charred fruit combine well. The cheese itself, can also have some similar characteristics to the freekeh. Especially the nutty notes of a piece of Comté that has been aged for 12 to 14 months. In this dish though, it serves more to add a touch of slight tartness. A lactic twist that pulls together the salt, sweet and sour. It's a fantastic recipe, conjured up by the clever brains of Laura Pope and I have been given kind permission to replicate it here.

The only difference in my method is that I like to scorch the pear pieces over coals, rather than use my heavy griddle pan. Which I broke after throwing it out the front door one night.

Don't panic and don't judge me. I only did it to scare the rotten ginger thing away.

And besides, I missed.

Freekeh salad with Comté, charred pears & cinnamon, rocket & toasted pecans

Ingredients - Serves 4

250g cracked freekeh
750ml chicken or vegetable stock (can use water if you prefer)
2 to 4 just ripe pears (depending on size – you want about 400g in total)
1 tablespoon light olive oil
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
50g rocket leaves
100g pecan nuts (without shells)
Zest of ½ lemon and juice of 1 lemon
45ml extra virgin olive oil
200g 12-14 month aged Comté, cubed


Toast the pecans: heat oven to 160℃ fan / 180℃ normal and lay the pecans out on a baking sheet, then toast for about 10 minutes, until they give off a rich aroma – but do not let them burn. Let them cool, remove a handful to leave whole and then roughly chop the rest.

If using cracked freekeh, use one part freekeh to three parts liquid. Put the stock (or water with half a teaspoon of salt added) on to boil, rinse the freekeh in a sieve under cold water and then add it to the boiling liquid, return to the boil, cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until tender. (Wholegrain freekeh needs more water and a longer cooking time: about 35 to 45 minutes or until tender.)

Drain off any remaining water and stir the freekeh with a fork to separate the grains. Leave it to one side to come to room temperature.

If the skin of the pears is rough and thick, peel them – if not, you can leave it on. Cut them into eighths and cut out the cores. Toss the pears in the oil, cinnamon and a little salt and black pepper.

Heat a griddle pan over a high heat for a few minutes and then char each side of the pears so that they have griddle lines and are warm all the way through – you don’t want to overcook them or they will fall apart. Chop half the pears into cubes and leave the rest for later.

Mix the lemon zest, juice and olive oil together and season with salt and pepper. Mix this through the freekeh and mix in the rocket leaves, the chopped pecan nuts, the cubed pears and most of the Comté. Lay the pear slices on top and scatter over the remaining Comté and pecans.

PS - This salad goes rather well with low 'n' slow BBQ'ed pork belly.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Piccolo cherry tomato, watermelon and mint salad

A study came up with some alarming news recently. Having canvassed a cross-section of office workers, it was discovered that one in every six had had the same lunch, every day, for over two years.

Now, these sort of reports in the media can be two-a-penny. Frivolous morsels that only really serve to raise your eyebrows for a fleeting moment before you get on with the rest of the day. But my god! If there is any semblance of truth in this, is it possible that Barry, your colleague of good standing since 2016, has been eating the same cheese and pickle sandwich, every day, for the same period of time?!

The mind boggles. Because from where I stand, lunchtime provides the perfect opportunity to expand your horizons, explore new flavours and boldly go where no one has gone before.

And I don’t mind making a huge display of this virtue. If it means lugging a huge watermelon, a punnet of tomatoes and a melon baller in on the train, I’ll do it. Life is too short to be trapped by repetition and the mundane. Besides, I need the exercise.

The pairing of watermelon and tomato is by no means a strange combination. Both work well in salsas, a cool gazpacho or even as a sorbet. But due to their inherent fresh qualities, using them to knock up a quick, healthy salad is best. Especially on a hot summer’s day.

Because tomatoes and watermelon are naturally sweet and juicy, it is a good idea to go quite heavy on the seasoning with salt and pepper, to balance out things a touch. Adding a nice dollop of something sour is also a clever suggestion and for this salad, I chose some acidic quark. However, a scoop of ricotta or goat’s curd would really make this dish sing.

The mint and pistachio sprinkled over at the end are also important, as they add extra vigour and texture to the bowl. And plus, it all looks rather theatrical.

It might be best assembling this simple salad at home though, before coming to work. You don’t want Barry sitting next to you during its construction and getting all jealous now, do you?

This post first appeared on Great British Chefs, in association with Piccolo Cherry Tomatoes.

Piccolo cherry tomato, watermelon and mint salad


1/2 watermelon, medium-sized
250g of Piccolo tomatoes
1 bunch of mint, (small) leaves picked and roughly chopped
1 handful of pistachio nuts, (small) roughly chopped
sea salt
black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
goat's curd, quark or ricotta, to serve


To begin, wash the tomatoes under a cold tap, drain well and cut each one in half.

Cut the watermelon into two wedges and using a melon baller, scoop out roughly twenty balls. Now, avoiding the black seeds is tricky and with some of the balls, you may have to flick some of them out using a small paring knife.

Mix the sliced tomatoes, watermelon and half the mint in a bowl and season with salt and black pepper, according to taste. Personally, I think extra pepper works well.

Divide between two bowls and drizzle over some extra virgin olive oil. Add a generous spoonful of goat's curd, quark or ricotta to the side and finish by sprinkling over the chopped pistachio and remaining mint.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Recipe Graffiti

A few weeks ago, I was having a mooch along the estuary at Leigh on Sea, walking my dog and walking off some rather splendid winkles from Osborne Bros; when suddenly I spotted the graffiti above, in a hut on the promenade. Now, I have seen all sorts of scrawl on walls in my time. Most of it rather rude and offensive. And blatantly untrue. So, it was refreshing to see something helpful and positive for a change. A recipe for a vegan chili (sic) no less, that must have been feverishly dashed out with a sharpie. Maybe under cover of darkness and with a bead of sweat dancing upon a top lip. All whilst juggling some onions. Activism of this sort can take it out of you, so well done the brother or sister for putting their neck on the line. To stick it to the man and to promote a healthy, virtuous diet.

I even like to think they had a look out. A someone else, who kept an eye on that black corridor, peppered by street light.

'C'mon maaan. Hurry up. There's some dude walking our way. Get it done. Get it dooooonnnee man.'

A bit like Neil from the Young Ones. Yes, I can picture them now, both running off together, into the distance, high fiving and swinging a plastic bag around. Before stopping to pick up the contents that spilled out. I wonder who they were? Do you know?

The recipe itself is, IMHO, slightly off the mark. There are a couple of glaring mistakes. So I decided to test it out and add a few tweaks of my own. Here is the result of my findings:

To start, it's a fairly simple recipe and a cheap one too. Even when shopping at the very tres posh Waitrose for my ingredients, the total came to £3.78. Not taking into account some of the store cupboard stuff I already had.

The first challenge for anyone encountering this dish, is the liberal use of sweet potato. I know many people who would rather pluck out their own eyeball than eat this bright orange tuber. But they are strange and I hold no truck with this spud. In fact, I love it.

I went for fresh tomatoes, as seemingly per instruction. Of course, there is no reason as to why you couldn't use tinned toms. There is a very good reason not to use ceramic knives though. Although for while they can be extremely sharp, you WILL snap the tip off within five minutes of using one.

Kidley beans, kidley beans, you just gotta love kidley beans. Seriously, I don't know why I don't eat more of them. Or wait. Maybe it's because they taste faintly dusty and earthy. But pulses are good for you and we should all eat more good stuff kids.

Peppers, yes, peppers are a good shout for this recipe. And onions too. Though in the running order of things, they should have come first. For as we all know, onions and peppers TAKE TIME TO COOK. (This was a school boy error on my part also).

The screaming, glaring horror of this recipe though has to be the amount of garlic required. Half a clove. Half. A. Frigging. Clove. Which must be some hilarious joke because no-one sane uses half a clove of garlic when cooking. And this half a clove business has really undermined the credibility of the writer here. I am sorry. It must be said. I stuck in four. At least.

Redemption did come in the form of the inclusion of chipotle though. Hot, smokey, a little does indeed go a long way. I went for three teaspoons though. Because we like it things fiery around here.

One other thing. As I was putting this together, a nagging doubt kept resonating through my brain that seasoning with salt and pepper alone, would not be enough to lift this dish. On tasting, it needed some more 'Va-va-voom.' So I whacked in a few teaspoons of Garam Masala. Sue me, hippies.

The biggest issue with the recipe however, was that it was all a touch too dry. Those sweet potatoes ain't gonna cook through properly in that gloop of fruit and beanz and under-cooked onions. You need to make it saucy guys. And I expect you'd prefer to make it saucy using vegetable stock. But I used beef. Cos...chili (sic).

The end result wasn't too bad. For someone who eats rather a lot of meat (IT'S MY JOB DAMMIT) it is good to find different and inspiring ways to inject vegetables into my system. And to be fair, this chili (sic) was pretty damn delicious. Although if you don't like sweet potatoes, you will hate it.

Finished with cheese and parsley and served with rice, I'd say whoever did scrawl this recipe on that there hut by the seaside, hadn't done a bad job really. I'd even go as far to say that you should keep doing this, whoever you are.

Yes, seep on plugging with the recipe graffiti.

There could be a book in this. And like I said, it's a lot more pleasant than some of the stuff you see daubed out there.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Cowabunga BBQ, London and Essex

This really is just a quick one, to turn heads onto a little street food outfit I stumbled across last week. Picture the scene, insofar that I am walking down Hoxton Street and currently replaying the Verve's Bittersweet Symphony in my head and on my headphones. It's a sort of a given that whenever you stroll through this particular thoroughfare, you have to adapt the loose limbed and slightly aggressive pace that Richard Ashcroft adopts in the video. Zoning out, you just have to stare ahead, maniacally. Like you're fooking mad fer it and slightly mad too. It helps if you have the leather jacket, high cheekbones and soft padded Hush Puppies. But if you don't, no matter. On that particular day, I was dressed in a floral t-shirt, flip flops and jean shorts - jorts or sheans? - and made sure that I shoulder bumped past at least three people. Without even saying sorry or anything.

The music was echoing as I did so, those triumphant strings building up through to the chorus and refrain, as I whispered under my breath:

'No change, I can't change, I can't change, I change. But I am here in my mold, I am here in my mold. No change *glances* Cowabunga. Cow-waaah-wha-wha bunga. Cowabunga. Cowbunga. Cowa....'


What's this Cowabunga? OK, it was the name that caught me first but when I saw the words 'Dairy Cow Beef' - that's what really stopped me in my tracks.

Of course, there are burger vans and stalls aplenty in this big city of ours and ordinarily, I might have just marched on by, channeling Richard. However, just on those three words alone, my interest was piqued. The smell of sweet meat sizzling away also played a part.

I asked the guy behind the counter, who's name is Scott by the way, if he was cooking with Galician meat and he replied 'No mate, this is British. Well, I get it from Yorkshire.' Again, I had heard of some restaurants starting to use beef from retired UK dairy cattle on their menus but to see a street-food stall using it, sounded fairly implausible. If not slightly dodgy. Given the state of some those aforementioned burger merchants

Scott went on to explain - 'I use brisket mostly, with a few other secret cuts and ingredients. But the main point for me using it, is that it is an ethical source of meat. Dairy cows in the past would simply get culled and wasted. But with a bit of extra care and attention, they can be kept on grass, live a bit longer and as a result, you get a lot more flavour.'

After that I was sold and decided to go for a 'Dirty Cow' - buoyed by the addition of burnt end brisket chilli and pickled red onions.

'You'll need napkins,' Scott grinned and he wasn't wrong. He wasn't wrong about the taste either. The burger could have been hidden under the morass that was piled on top but it stood out quite quickly. Intense, juicy and almost gamey, it certainly packed a punch and I would say that for some, though it might take getting some used to.

Personally, I thought it was very good though. Extremely good. Too good. Especially the sloppy chilli.

So good that I was very tempted to order another one. That would have put my Richard game right off though. Wandering off up Hoxton Street. Wobbling from side to side. So I didn't.

Hailing from Essex (and hence my extra interest) Cowabunga have only been trading for a couple of months but have plans to pop up here and there across East London and God's Own County. Keep an eye out for them via their Instagram page here.

I am just wondering when they're going to roll out the pizza oven. And if you don't get that, you never grew up watching children's TV in the 80's. Which is a shame.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Essex Fine Food Show - May 12th & 13th, 2018


In roughly under a fortnight's time, I am going to be doing a stint at the Essex Fine Food Show, donning my presenters hat and taking charge of the 'Local Chef's Stage'. Basically, this involves running maniacally around the place, with a microphone in hand. Asking various Essex based chefs questions, whilst they cook on stage. Talking to the audience, cheekily asking to see the contents of their bags. And generally filling the air with a bit of the ol' banter.

Not too unlike the sort of thing that Keith Chegwin used to do. Bless him.

And whilst the prospect fills me with excitement; in equal measure, there is also an element of fear and dread. You do have to be careful with the general public and a scrambled brain can send you off into orbit and bring you back down to Earth with a bump. Sometimes landing you in a veritable lion's den. When I say things like that, I am always reminded of an old conversation that a friend of friend once dug themselves into.

When talking to a complete stranger.


'Aw, how long have you got to go then?'


'You're pregnant, yes? Can't be too much longer now!'


'I am not pregnant.'


'Oh! I am sooooo sorry! I really didn't mean to cause offence!'


'It's just that my sister is heavily pregnant and you are nearly as big as she is.'

So no. Nooooooo. You gotta be careful out there. But I should be fine. Nerves are good before a performance - daaaarlink - and I would never, ever drop a clanger like that. Seriously, it wasn't me.


By way of giving you the lowdown, this food show based at the resplendent Chelmsford Racecourse, is in it's second year now; working as warm up to the larger Essex Food and Drink Festival that takes place at Temple Cressing, in July. Actually, suggesting that the show is simply a precursor isn't entirely fair. With a host of masterclasses, pop-ups, cooking demos, cocktails and the best artisan fare in the region on offer, it has all the makings of an excellent day out and it should go from strength to strength. Just have a goosey-gander at the exhibitors alone.


However, we must not forget to mention the fact that James Martin and John Torode - those strident titans of televisual cooking - will be in the house, on the Verstegen Stage. With flowing locks and deft swishes of spoons and blades, they will no doubt be stalking the stage like rock gods, whipping the crowds up into a frenzy and throwing their blancmange all over the shop. The mucky pups. Thank goodness for their Home Ec crew is all I can say!

James and John

I have been given a pair of tickets to both James' and John's afternoon sessions - Saturday and Sunday, respectively - starting at 3PM. If you would like to be in with the chance of winning the tickets, simply leave a comment under this post. And I will pick two at random! And no, you can't decide on which one you want to go to. Unless you want to *wink wink* slip me a brown envelope. (Note to organisers - I would never really do this. Really.)

Winners will be announced next Wednesday, at 5PM sharp and the tickets will be sent registered post the next day. Or you could collect from me in person, from...


Having read all this wonderful and thrilling news, you are probably more concerned with hearing what will be going on with the Local Chefs Stage, in which yours truly will be appearing. Yes? No?

What do you mean 'No'??

Well anyway, this year's sponsor is Dan Hull Prepared Foods, who are based in Danbury, and do a stonking ranch of delicatessen goods. Such as terrines, charcuterie and handmade salads. Dan the man himself, will be leading a session on both days. Along with Mick Binnington, Head Chef at The Windmill in Chatham Green; Adam Townsend, Head Chef at The New London Restaurant in Chelmsford; and last but no means least, David Innes, Master Butcher, who has worked previously at Jimmy's Farm, among many other places. All four are great characters, with a lot of knowledge to share and the onus of course, will be on food and fun; with plenty to sample and scoff at the end.

Please do form an orderly line though. Bun fights are not allowed at the Essex Fine Food Show and I will call security if things get out of hand.

Clockwise from top left - Dan Hull, Mick Binnington, David Innes and Adam Townsend

It would be great to see you all there, for some moral support.

Mum? Dad? I am talking to you by the way.

Please return my calls.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Colwall Park Hotel, Malvern

Look at him. Just look at him. Isn't he a handsome boy? Isn't he a handsome, wandsome, smoochy-woochy-poochy little boy. Yes, you are. Yes, you aaaare. No, don't do that. Don't lick that...Oh God. 

That's disgusting.

Please do not adjust your television sets. This is still going to fundamentally be a food blog but yes, I am pleased to announce that we are now the proud owners of a dog. A dog called Lenny Kravitz, who came all the way over to us from Kosovo and we are all immensely fond of him. So forgive me for a moment if words slide or do not scan properly because we have also gone slightly ga-ga.

It has been a long time coming, us getting a dog. But now Lenny is here, it is hard to imagine never having him. The downsides have come in the form of vile emissions, a penchant for fox poo and an incessant licking of his nether regions. However, the upsides soon outweigh any annoyance or jealousy I may feel about these things. Unrelenting love, daft spasms of joy and a simple, dopey look - with those deep brown eyes - always papers the cracks. 

In fact, he really is a very good boy indeed.

As a result, we have become those terrible types of dog people. Where the mutt must also be included in all activities and exercise. Remember that woman who wanted to know if her cheese was 'FUDGAAY'? Well, we've become the type that wants to know if places are dog FRIENDLAAAAY.

Given that we are nation of animal lovers, the options for eating out are not massive. Pubs certainly have a natural affinity and boy, now I know why so many people like nipping out to take the dog for a 'quick walk' - wink, wink. 

But you can't drag a hound into a proper restaurant, for proper slap up meal. Not really. Dogs really do do some grim things. Things that can put you right off your oysters, caviar and chips. Although it is nice to discover that some places are beginning to offer a middle ground, where you can actually dine out with your furry friend in tow and have quite a special meal.

The Colwall Park Hotel in the Malvern Hills, is such a place. Divided between Herefordshire and Worcestershire and perched high up in an area of outstanding beauty, this comfortable retreat is hoovering up in the market for people who like to walk, travel with their dogs and eat excellent food. Colwall itself, is an odd place. Magnificent old houses dot the main road in between modern chalets and blocks and the village is pretty quiet and sleepy. As a base though, the hotel is well situated for getting to neighboring towns of Great Malvern and Ledbury, which are a bit more buzzier. Although special mention should be made for Cafe Morso, which is just down the road from the hotel. They do a cracking sandwich in there.

And plus there's the very wonderful and very steep surrounding hills to explore. In which you can very nearly kill yourself. Like I almost did, in a spot called 'The British Camp'. More about that in a bit though.

Colwall Park is currently billed as a three-star hotel but it is under renovation and if Head Chef, Richard Dixon and his team, continue to execute the same level of food, there is no doubt that they will move up a notch or two. Dogs are not allowed in the large restaurant per se. You have to eat in the bar area but with a roaring fire going on and intimate atmosphere, I'd say it was the better option.

To begin, we both had the scallops with yeasted cauliflower puree, golden raisin and caper emulsion, crispy caper and samphire. The scallops were outstanding. Sourced from Brixham and quickly pan-fried, to ensure that proper ratio of thin outer Marmite crust to inner dulcet delight, they tasted almost creamy. Paired with the puree, the effect was fairly intense but the use of the sharp caper berries and crunchy sea stalks balanced everything out nicely.

For mains, I ordered the venison, featuring both loin and braised shoulder, along with roasted carrot, pine nut crumb and pickled blackberries and then proceeded to take a rubbish picture of it. Again, it really was another treat. The small slabs of loin cooked medium, along with a shredded quenelle; highlighted once again, what a great meat venison can be. The port sauce, peppered with a hint of juniper was also damn fine. One day, I will make gravy that is this good. One day.

Mrs FU ordered the turbot, that came accompanied with saffron potatoes, pea fricassee and a champagne cream. Fleshy morsels of which, left me green as the pods from which the peas were popped. Although I did manage to get a small taste. The fish had been treated just as well as the scallops but with the addition of lardons of bacon, I felt that the fricassee itself that was the star of the show. Some of the vegetables had been cooked just under, which delivered a lovely texture. And the sauce, made with the finest shampoo, was delicious and rich.

Stuffed to the gills, the idea of dessert caused some consternation by this point, yet a sharp dig and finger pointing to a rather good cheese selection soon changed my mind. Hereford Hop is an old favourite of ours and we were equally impressed with the Old Worcester White and Worcestershire Honey and Figs. All great cheeses made just down the road from the hotel, to be scoffed up with a punchy tomato chutney, walnuts and life-giving fruit. I say life-giving because I really started to feel woozy by this point, and Mrs FU resorted to throwing grapes at my head. 

As we whiled away the last few moments of our meal, Lenny just continued to lie at our feet, sleeping and dreaming of chasing rabbits and ducks. Proving a point that maybe, just maybe, it is OK to go feign diiiining with your pooch in tow.

The next day we awoke, refreshed and invigorated, and thankful that Lenny only got up once in the night to bark in our faces. Again, this was a new one on us, sleeping with a dog in our room. We haven't descended into inviting him for a cuddle under the sheets and fingers crossed, we never will. 

But it was still kind of nice to have Lenny 'in with us' - so to speak. 

Breakfast at the hotel is fairly comprehensive, with a wide selection, including all your variations on eggs 'Benedict', 'Florentine' and 'Royal'. Whenever I see them on the menu, I always feel slightly tempted to ask for a combination of them all. A 'Benfloryal' you could could say. But on this occasion, I went for the full English, which again was very good. The bacon in particular.

Then it was time to pack our bags and get on our way. Sadly, our time in the Malverns was very much of the whistle stop variety but once the weather changes, I would like to return to Colwall Park Hotel and have proper root around on foot. I do need to get some hard core training in first.

For as we drove away, it did suddenly occur to me that we hadn't done that much in the way of proper 'walking' - which really is the purpose of coming to a place like the Malverns. So on the way back in the car, when I spotted a sign that said 'The British Camp - Climb to the summit of Herefordshire Beacon, with it's Iron Age hill-fort and spectacular views,' I screeched 'STOP THE CAR!' And proceeded to bound out with my camera.

'C'mon Lenny, Daddy is going to take you for a quick walk.'

'Up that hill?' said Mrs FU.

'Yes, c'mon!'

'I'll just wait here and keep an eye on the car,' she replied, sagely.

But at least Lenny was enthusiastic. Give him any opportunity to cock his leg and make his mark and he will take it.

The first few paths that whittled up the slope, angled at median of say 25 degrees, were fine. Then the angle changed to 45. 

And then we were at 60. And then before I knew it, we were practically walking horizontal. Or at least it felt like it. The further up we went, the greater the gravitational pull on my skull became and my legs began to burn more and more and more with vicious battery acid. Sweat beading down the side of my face turned into a flood and slowly but surely, the beautiful ancient landscape around me began to spin.

I looked down at Lenny, who's eyes were like saucers by this point and his tongue resembled a long pink rugby sock, that was brushing his toes.

He looked back at me, as if to say - 'DAD! WHAT THE BLOODY HELL ARE YOU TRYING TO DO TO ME???!'

It was then that I knew it was time to go back down.

Even with dogs, you must learn to walk before you can run. It's a whole new world, this dog owning malarky but it is good to know that there are places like Colwall Park Hotel, that are there to make those first steps as easy going as possible.

Colwall Park Hotel is also registered with Pets Pyjamas and  our stay was complimentary.

WR13 6QG
Tel: 01684 540 847

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Andi Walker at The Riverside Inn, Chelmsford

Before I continue with this review, I think I should reveal that I have a soft spot for Andi Walker. Having met plenty of chefs now, I can safely say that he is definitely one of the nice guys. Modest and humble, he simply wants to do the best he can and create honest, hearty and fulfilling grub. That said, Andi also has the minerals, so to speak, to produce some rather stunning and exceptional plates of food.

Last year, prior to his eventual takeover of the Riverside Inn in Chelmsford, I visited the pop-up that Andi was running upstairs. The tasting menu he conjured up was brilliant. Dabbles of joy turned up in the form of salt baked celeriac with burnt apple, mustard and hazelnuts. A beautiful piece of guinea fowl breast, dusted with pancetta, paired up with textures of onion and a croquette containing soft, rich, ribboned thigh was exceptional. And his clementine sorbet, with vanilla ice cream and white chocolate snow rounded off proceedings perfectly. It was a great night and I even managed to wrestle a small jar of Andi's Marmite butter from him, such was his generosity.

Couple that with the fact that Andi is obviously a proud Dad, hardworking and just recently, has been organising soup and sandwich runs out to the homeless in Chelmsford, due to the snow that we've been having; well, you can see why I think that he is such a good egg.


Yes, you saw this coming, didn't you. Because despite all the praise I have just bestowed upon him, the man stitched me right up recently. I went to his launch party back in January. You know, to show some love and support and the place was swinging. Monkfish goujons and butternut squash bhaji's were flying out the kitchen and prosecco was poured over the bar with gay abandon. And though he was busy, Andi even made time to come up to me, to see if I had been enjoying everything so far. In particular, he wanted to know what I thought of the Essex Sausage Roll.

With mouth full, I could barely reply but it sort of went - 'Grepht mate! Bit's all bloody greatffh! You shoub enter next beers Grut Bausage Boll Off!'

To which he laughed, and then replied:

'Hey, have you met Dean? You should say hello. Hey Dean! This is Danny! You remember the guy who wrote all that crap about us on Great British Chefs, when we were on MasterChef? This is him!'

And off he went. Leaving me with Dean Westcar, who looked me up and down and then said - 'Oh yeah, I remember you.'

With the eyes of a cool killer.

That's tough you know. That is quite hard to get through. Facing up to someone that you may or may not have rubbished online. Especially when you can't really remember what you said. I think I may have stood there silent, wide-eyed, with an inane grin and half a sausage roll hanging out of my mouth for at least a minute.

Thankfully, Dean broke the ice by commenting on the aforementioned sausage roll and how good it was. Then we ended up having a chat about Masterchef and what he was up to at Lucknam Park and soon all was well. I then made my excuses and ran straight to the toilet and locked myself in there to Google and find out what the hell I had written. It wasn't that bad.

I am sure seasoned food writers and restaurant critics, endure this all the time and it is of no surprise to me, that Giles Coren was plastering his sliced spam all over social media last week. I am sure that someone has clocked him, finally. But that night did serve a reminder that one must live and stand by their words and be prepared to jump through a window, or leap into a passing car, should anything like that happen again.

I didn't stay angry at Andi for long by the way. I think I may have even hugged him on the way out -free prosecco, see - promising to return with my children in tow. Which we did during the half-term break, to take advantage of their offer that 'kids eat free'.

Coming back to The Riverside Inn itself for a second then, the pub, originally owned by Youngs, has been taken over by the Blue Group. So there is now a degree of plushness, glamour and bling about the place, such is their signature style. But thankfully, there are still a few rough edges (not forgetting low ceilings) and the pub's sense of history - it used to be a watermill in the 17th Century - remains intact. The bar area itself is perhaps a little bit cramped for a Friday night session but seeing as Andi and co are moving The Riverside into gastropub and fine dining territory, that probably doesn't matter so much. Parking is a slight snag but once the neighbouring ice rink and sports centre is finished, things should ease up. In fact, summers outside at The Riverside Inn, with the arrival of a Josper grill in the beer garden should turn this place into quite the destination.

All bolstered, of course, by Andi's menus. If Andi and his team keeps ploughing on, like they did with our lunch a couple of weeks ago, then all will be well.

Despite quietly telling myself to work a solid line of vegetables into my lunch, I was quickly undone by the mention of ham hock, with mustard mayonnaise and gherkins. I love a wally and as always, it proved to be a great foil to the shredded pork, all unctuous and sweet. Some mustard seed had also been folded into the porcine mix and they are so great when braised, ready for teeth to pop little bursts of soft heat onto the palate. A more than decent stray then, from regular terrine and pickled Branston.

Mrs FU, also had her meaty spectacles on and went for the crispy chilli beef salad. Which again is fairly commonplace these days as a starter, but it can err on the chewy side. You wonder how long it has been left coagulating in the fridge sometimes. But this was obviously cooked to order and seared fiercely, to provide that texture and to keep a good strong flavour of cow. Blended with honey, seasame and soy, the bowl also delivered plenty of fresh hits. I got one tiny piece to eat.

For mains, I decided on fish, quite triumphantly. In fact, I said - 'Gang, I am forgoing any more pork today and I am going to have the roasted cod.' And my son promptly fainted. With a crackling yet pliable skin on top and quivering flakes underneath, the fillet had been cooked very well indeed. The accompanying tomato, bean and chorizo stew did lack a little bit of zing. Personally I would have liked some more chilli heat but overall it worked well and encouraged plenty of finger swiping afterwards.

By contrast, Mrs FU carried on falling head first into the world of pork. A fair whack of a chop that had been sourced by Essex favourite, Great Garnetts, sprinkled with some bacon and perched on some very good colcannon. The skill is in the cooking but I am sure chef will back up the importance of sourcing quality meat here and the flavour and consistency of this chop spoke volumes. The accompanying gravy also scored high marks and more moping with digits.

Not forgetting da' kids, for they are mini-critics too, they both plumped for the Southern Fried Chicken, with 'slaw and fries. Having visited their first KFC back in December, I was a bit nervous, as they both walked away battle scarred and terribly greasy and made me vow that I never to take them there again (fair play to them, the one we visited was a sh*t hole). So it was gratifying to see them give Andi's version the big thumbs up. Because you can't beat fried chicken really. Finlay could have probably eaten twice as much. But he is going to be 6'6 when he grows up.

By this point, both Mrs FU and I were stuffed, so we decided to share a dessert and then immediately regretted the idea of sharing a dessert when it turned up. A honey parfait with bitter caramel, honeycomb and chocolate delice, it was far too delicious and small for two to share. And perhaps if the children hadn't been there, a bitter slanging match would have erupted. So take my advice. Do not share this dessert. Treat yourself and have one all to yourself. Have two even. Four! Seriously. Do it!

With the addition of drinks, our bill came to a very reasonable £65, excluding tips, which is not bad at all. Even if The Riverside had not been running that special offer, it still would have been great value - the kids menus start from £7.95. We have sat in a couple of chains over the school holidays before and often the premise of the children's menu is to offer something of the guise of being cheap and cheerful but all it essentially amounts to is bread, bread and bread. It was also helpful that Andi also threw a couple of those wonderful sausage rolls our way, gratis, but a return is on the cards and soon. Sunday lunch in particular, is meant to be worth the journey.

Great stuff then, from a man who is essentially a lovely soul. Though he will drop you right in it, from time to time.

But then again, most chefs do that, don't they?

Andi Walker at The Riverside Inn, Chelmsford
Victoria Road
CM2 6LJ,

Phone: 01245 266 881