Thursday, 10 December 2009

In Search Of OOMMAAAAMMMEEE Part 1

There is a buzzword that has been bandied about rather a lot throughout the foodie twitto-blogosphere over the last few months which has left me, in equal measures, both intrigued and confused. I am quite used to this state of mind as it is an everyday occurrence. But there is something about this concept that is bugging me over and above the usual flotsam and jetsam floating around in my cranium. I am starting to see it here, there, everywhere and every time I do the numbskulls start to hammer the processing unit that is my brain with a large stick, screaming all the while "What does it mean? What does it mean?" It is of course the word umami, Japanese in origin which has been thrust out there to describe the curious proposal of a fifth taste sensation along side the established salt, sweet, sour and bitter. Hoorah! The palate just got an upgrade! But what exactly is this fifth taste? Why its erm flavourful, yummy, tasty, meaty, brothy, delicious, savoury, yes savoury that's it! You know all that kind of stuff and best of all, it now comes in a tube! Yahoo!

Well call me a pedantic eejit if you like but didn't we always have these sensations? I mean don't the original four combine in some way to give us the same fireworks, the mouth-watering experiences you describe? Hasn't it always been like this? You mean my mum has been cooking with this stuff all the time? And who am I talking to anyway?

To be honest, maybe it's the science behind the idea of umami that scares me. You see I am a bit like the peasant farmer character who centuries past who would run screaming from field whenever there was an eclipse. "Aieeee! Bogrore The Mountain Cruncher is eating the sun! Aieeee!". And take what happened today when I read on Wikipedia that "Umami tastes are initiated by these specialized receptors, with subsequent steps involving secretion of neurotransmitters, including adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and serotonin". I tell you, shortly afterwards my eyes rolled back, my mouth dropped open and I collapsed to the floor with a nose bleed. However, after picking myself up half an hour later, I also discovered that umami has been tested on monkeys and showed that it "excites neurons in the orbitofrontal cortex of the brain, showing spatially-specific characteristics" And I can kind of got some relation to that.

The monkeys I mean.

The long and the short of it is, although I think that some people probably do understand it better than I, like Sig of Scandilicious (check her post for a more academic take on the subject but beware of further nose bleeds) I can't help but think that there is an element of the Emperor's New Clothes about umami. Hell, even the word sounds comical to me. Another Essex-based eejit suggested to me a while ago that it reminded him of Vic Reeves' cry of "UVAVU" from Shooting Stars. With that in mind I have decided to go on an adventure to get to the core of umami, to try to understand it and to reach the next plane of culinary enlightenment. I have lots of things to taste along the way. The hardest part will be trying to get hold of breast milk (yes apparently it is full of umami flavour) but we shall see. Wish me luck.

Ingredient - Marmite


Sunday, 6 December 2009

Stir Up Sunday (Two Weeks Late)

Today I finally got around to making my Christmas puds after much dawdling about. If you didn't know, Stir Up Sunday was actually two weeks ago. This is the day that you should have pulled all your musty dried fruit, dessicated suet and flour containing weevils out from the back of the cupboard and set about creating your stodgy, gutbusting dessert that traditionally completes the marathon that is Christmas dinner. If your household is anything like mine, then a trip up to the off license would have been necessary. Newly purchased brandy seems to evaporate in our house. I don't know how, it just does. But why should you worry about making your puddings roughly six weeks prior to the main event? Well if you abide by the good ol' Anglican church (cake or death?) then Stir Up Sunday is the last Sunday before the season of Advent, with its origins in a prayer for the collect that day. It goes something like this "Stir up our puds Oh Lord, so that we shall faithfully overindulge and bring forth plenteous gas and heartburn, rewarding us with arguments over the remote control and physical violence because for the second year running, John has managed to get Mayfair and Park Lane, the b*****d". Or something like that, I didn't really pay attention in Sunday School.

I missed the boat that day, mainly for reasons of apathy and general stroppiness due to the fact that I wasn't quite ready to get into the Christmas spirit, not in the middle of November anyway. Also I think the actions of my neighbour put me in a sour mood too. The rain had been thundering down all morning with more than a touch of gale force winds buffeting trees and fences. It was truly a horrible day and yet as I looked out of my living room window onto the street, I spy this maniac (my neighbour) on his roof desperately trying to secure his Christmas lights to the front of his house. OK, each to their own, if you want to light up your property like a gaudy amusement park in some desperate attempt to show the world that you are fun and not the boring prat that you really are, then go ahead. Sod the planet and your electricity bill. But of all the days to do it, when nature is literally slinging it at us. AND in the middle of November. Retreating from the mask and security of our net curtains, I just shook my head and thought "well if you fall off, it'll bloody serve you right". Of course, I felt quite bad when an ambulance, two in fact, turned up an hour later but luckily they were attending another neighbour who had stupidly attempted some DIY, inside his house I should add and nearly put a drill through his head. Phew.

So after all that fun and excitement, I didn't really feel like making my Christmas puds that day, especially in the middle of November (have I mentioned this already?). Oh and I forgot to mention that I didn't have half the ingredients anyway but I was determined to make them this year using a recipe by St Nige. Last year we got our pud's from Aldi, they were good but not as good as my own previous efforts. It's from his Kitchen Diaries edition and I've used it a couple of times now over the years. It really is quite a good one, principally because the resulting pud is fairly light and digestible and you can find it here. I must admit there have been occasions in the past when Mum has approached the table, dining room lights out, holding the dark dome of doom on a plate, ablaze in flaming brandy and thought to myself "oh God, this is it, this is going to finish me, goodbye world". We did have a right result one year though when Mum tripped and split some of the roaring spirit on her person. For a couple of seconds with her hand on fire, she was doing a great impression of Johnny Storm out of the Fantastic Four before letting out a scream and dropping the pud on the carpet. Sorry Mum that you got a tangerine sized blister on your hand that year but hoorah! No Christmas pud! I should add here that Mum's pud is lovely but her Christmas dinners are ridiculously big, hence the fear. Like I said though, St Nige's version is light enough to attempt without any intredipation. Even if you have eaten all the brussels sprouts.

I bought all my ingredients with the intention of making this last Sunday but I was erm suffering from jet lag after a trip to Lille (which I shall post about soon) so it had to wait until today when I was finally compos mentis to simply mix together the ingredients and steam for 3 and half hours. I have, however, been soaking the mixed fruit in French brandy for quite a while, adding little extra tots throughout the week and leaving in the fridge. St Nige's recipe only calls for 150mls but I've managed to throw in the best part of a bottle so the sultanas, figs, apricots et al are now well and truly smashed. Every time I open the door, there has been a little chorus of "show me the way to go home..". Well in my imagination anyway. How this fairs for eating on Christmas Day remains to be seen. I can only hope I remember in order to report back.

Sloshed mixed fruit
Atora! (Beef Fat!)

Lighter than your average Christmas pud

Mummy, Daddy and Baby Pud

How to create a mixed spice sauna in your kitchen

Thursday, 12 November 2009

A Night In The Life Of The Food Urchin

So another humdrum day finally turns into night and it's time to release the shackles of the print monkey. It's time to clock off, it's time to nip into the loo to get changed, it's probably time for a quick spanish shower too but most importantly, it's time for the Food Urchin to come out and play. Sayonara suckers, it's business time!

The Food Urchin makes his way to Covent Garden for the first stop of the evening, Rules and cocktails. First he's got to wait for a compadre, so just hangs on the street corner, nice and loose. The crowds swarm around him, pausing to look and he knows what they're thinking. Who's that cool cat? He's got razor sharp style, think boho-chic meets Man at C&A. He's got the square jaw and funky frames. He got no hair but he don't care. Yeah baby, he knows he's money.

Patrick soon arrives, jeans fashionably baggy around the rear and they waltz into Old England, upstairs to the bar and find that the Dude, another compadre, has secured a table. High fives all round, seats taken, fingers snapped, the waiter appears. "3 Screaming Vikings!". Brian comes over and wants to know how the trio know about his new cocktail which isn't even on the list yet. Poker faced, the Food Urchin tells him they have their sources and to "just make me a bloody cocktail Brian!". The others suck in the air fast, Brian bows and turns, shaken but not stirred and the Food Urchin calmly nods before opening his mouth, throwing a peanut up in air. It bounces off his glasses. He still manages to look cool though with a nonchalant shrug. The drinks come swiftly. Then the Babe from Burma swans in, she's late but hey, aren't they always. She orders a Black Mojito which comes just as quick. The gang indulge in a little light conversation before draining their glasses. It's soon time to move and the Food Urchin is back out on the streets, the streets of London town.

Second destination is The House of St Barnabas on Greek Street, which from the outside looks like one of those private members clubs that's for members only. The Food Urchin leads the pack and goes up to the doorman. The doorman doesn't recognise him, he must be new in this city. So not to cause a fuss, the Food Urchin takes a note from his pocket and slips it discreetly into Mr Universe's hand before pushing past. The doorman looks down at his palm, confused that he's holding a receipt from Tescos. Ha, the Food Urchin pulls that Jedi mind trick shit all the time. The group then walk up some stairs and slink into a room where the others are waiting. The Food Urchin recognises some faces, it's the usual babes, Tiffany, Livvy, Miffy and Squiffy. The girls from Saucy PR and Phaidon are there too. Waiters mill about dispensing champagne and canapes from silver trays and mirrors. It's a beautiful scene with beautiful people, Gilbert and George look down from the wall approvingly or at least they seem to be, you can never tell with those two.

As a waiter skims past, the Food Urchin grabs a glass and a gorgeous looking morsel, he takes a bite and raises his eyebrows. "Damn these salt and pepper beef skewers are good!" he shouts to no-one in particular. And so he takes another, this time its tuna tataki with radish, apple and mustard and his eyes roll with pleasure. He spies a steak tartare drive-by so makes another snatch and bang, it's in the mouth, melting away. The Food Urchin then feels a tap on the shoulder and he turns to face Laura, one of the Saucy girls. "This is Lyndy Redding of Absolute Taste, these are her canapes we're enjoying this evening". The Food Urchin shakes her hand and makes lots of approving murmuring noises with pointing gestures to his pursed lips and bulging cheeks.There is a brief awkward pause but the Food Urchin swallows down hard and coolness resumes. Laura then says, "Here is your copy of the book by the way, sorry we didn't get it to you before this evening" And the Food Urchin thinks book? What book? But as she passes the hefty tome over, he suddenly remembers, ah yes Coco. With so many launches, so many events, it's hard to keep track but no matter, the Food Urchin switches on and pulls out the file from his cerebral database. OK, read that as a piece of paper kept in his jacket pocket. He smiles, takes the book and casually wanders over to a corner of the room.

Top shelf stuff

The Food Urchin's first impression is that this a seriously big book. Heavy, weighty, powerful. But when you've got 10 world leading masters choosing 100 contemporary chefs, it's hardly going to be a pamphlet is it. Ha! The Food Urchin chuckles to himself, shakes his head and grabs another glass of champagne. All the bad boys are there. Ramsay, Adria, Henderson and erm some other really influential big guns that the Food Urchin has heard of, somewhere. In turn they've picked the creme de la creme, the young cats that are up and coming, the next big thing, the new kids on the block. The Food Urchin isn't surprised at some of the inclusions. Hell it reads like his little black book at times but still the Food Urchin approves of the biographies, the recipes and the beautiful photography. It all looks pretty sexy, horny even. The Food Urchin finds himself pawing the pages, getting hot under the collar as he flicks through, eyes widening, sweat collecting on his upper lip. Oh man, the food, it's all about the gorgeous food. Oh my god yes, yes, yes! He then looks up and finds Lyndy staring at him. "Hey Lyndy baby, did you know you're in here?" he shouts pointing but she just turns and runs out of the room. Maybe she doesn't, the Food Urchin says to himself. He looks back at the book one more time, it's going to look the absolute money on his coffee table he thinks. Or someone else's, Christmas is just around the corner after all. And then he stashes the food porn away in his rucksack like a dirty little secret because it's time to go. Yeah it's time to get the party started.

Don't you know who I am?

To celebrate the birth of this beautiful baby called Coco, the Food Urchin and gang are visiting three restaurants for three separate courses to sample the culinary delights of three different chefs. A gourmet gallop in other words. Some of the guys are in total awe at the prospect, chatting excitedly as they board the sleek mini-bus that will ferry them around town but the Food Urchin takes it in his stride. He dines out like this all the time. The common thread is that all of these chefs have been chosen by Mr Ramsay, he who no sell no gin no more, for their excellence and innovation. So first up is a visit to Gordo's very own Maze to meet his protégé Jason Atherton and check out his delectable delights for the first course. On arrival, the Food Urchin is slightly peeved to find yet another door man that doesn't recognise him so he steams right in and throws his rucksack at the front of house who are notoriously sniffy. The gang move through the heaving throng of suits and heels and find their table. Within seconds, glasses are charged and after a short interlude, the starter is placed in front of us which is Cornish Red Mullet with Cuttlefish Tagliatelle, Squid Paint and Asparagus. The Food Urchin thinks this looks gooood and moves to attack with knife and fork but then gets rudely interrupted. Whassiss you are pouring on the plate Mr Waiter? Rabbit RAGU! Fish and bunny wabbits! Are you mad?!! Still the Food Urchin is not one to lose his cool so calmly sits back whilst Mr Waiter finishes his business and tucks back in. The combination is an interesting one, ponders the Food Urchin, wonderful individual flavours but game and fish combined still leaves him perplexed. Unfortunately Jason is too busy for interrogation but no problems, the Food Urchin will call him on his mobile at a later date to ask him "what the hell did you think you were doing?". Glasses are drained and the posse are out of Maze like a shot off to the next destination.


Before the bunny wabbit arrived


For main course, the Foodie Fun Bus whizzes through the streets to the InterContinental where Theo Randall has set up camp offering London a taste of exquisite Italian cuisine. As the Food Urchin walks into the main hotel reception area, the flashes start to bounce off his shiny head and he thinks, ah this is more like it. Sometimes you have to just work with the paparazzi, in this case a girl from Intercontinental's own PR department but give them an inch and they'll take a mile so the Food Urchin restricts the impromptu shoot to just a few dozen shots and poses outside the entrance. Blinking and rubbing his eyes, the Food Urchin then manages to stumble into the wide open space of Theo's restaurant and is immediately soothed by it's calm and intimate atmosphere. The table is situated in view of the kitchen and Theo can be seen working with relaxed intent, utterly absorbed in what he's doing. So much so that he doesn't see the Food Urchin waving at him. The gang are seated again, wine is poured, delicious focaccia is brought, everybody chills. Theo pops out of the kitchen to give the gang an introduction to the main course which is Cornish Monkfish with Prosciutto, Artichokes, Capers, Parsley and Roseval Potatoes. He tells us that his fishermen south of the Tamar take extra care when fishing for monkfish. Commercially trawled monkfish will drown in the net and essentially cook in the salty brine of the sea. Our monkfish have been caught by handline and kept alive for just that bit longer before meeting their maker. The Food Urchin is impressed and when the plate comes, he dives in. The fish is fantastic, almost meaty in texture and supremely succulent. Working with the other flavours, the dish is an education in achieving tastebud nirvana with just simple, quality ingredients. The Food Urchin particularly enjoyed the artichokes although they do have the propensity to give him wind. Which he keeps quiet from the rest.



Theo Randall at the InterContinental


Cornish Monkfish with Prosciutto, Artichokes, Capers, Parsley and Roseval Potatoes

Plates and glasses are soon empty and again it is time to go. Theo comes out again for handshakes and back slaps and the Food Urchin spots a perfect photo opportunity, sidling up for a bromance shot, the pair throw their arms over each others' shoulders. But then everybody piles in unannounced. That's the problem when you go out with the beautiful people, they're all scared of missing out on something. The Food Urchin, too cool for school, as always takes in his stride and flashes his Blue Steel. Patrick, who took the picture, moves in on Theo wanting a shot for his own "private" collection but the chef wises up and signals for security. The gang all run out, slightly unsteady on their feet, crashing into each other and it's back on the bus.

The beautiful people

Patrick and Theo before security were called

Last stop of the night is Launceston Place on the sleepy byways of W8 for dessert, coffees and cognac. The main man Tristan Welch awaits and as the posse enter, it's kisses, high fives and elaborate street handshakes. Tristan is charm personified and the Food Urchin has to pause for a moment, thinking that he could have just met his nemesis in the coolness department. However, he soon shakes off this absurd suggestion and saunters into main dining room, tripping over the leg of a chair. The swaying party is seated and an equally charming sommelier called Mickey comes out and pours out some Jurançon, Domaine Cauhape, 2004. It is pure ambrosia nectar without being too cloying or sweet. Some members of the gang are now starting to get boisterous, arguing that others are getting more wine than others, swopping glasses. It's the usual shenanigan's when it comes to this time of night, the Food Urchin just laughs again and leans his head back not noticing the candle behind him. Luckily he doesn't have that much hair to singe. Small palate cleansers appear consisting of a Raspberry Jelly and Lemon Sorbet topped with a Black Pepper Tuile which refreshes the mouth and nasal passages. And then dessert comes out. No really that should be desserts plural. No actually that should be a smorgasbord of dessert. No balls to that, lets just say it's bacchanalian feast of sugar, cream, fruit and chocolate with an overdose of indulgence. The beautiful people are momentarily silenced but then it turns into a free-for-all with spoons clashing and scraping over the slate presentation plates. The details are fuzzy by now but the Food Urchin favoured the Tarte Tatin and Banana Sticky Toffee Pudding although the Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream and Rice Pudding Soufflé were also pretty damn good. In fact, the dessert is so money, it doesn't even know it.

Tristan and the ladies

Raspberry Jelly and Lemon Sorbet topped with a Black Pepper Tuile

The behemoth of desserts

It's nearly 11PM and time to leave yet things start to get delirious as Tristan comes back out for a chat and to see the beautiful people off. It soon becomes apparent that he and the Food Urchin have a lot more in common than just good looks. The chef it seems has twins and has heard that the Food Urchin has also sired the same. It's funny how people pick these things up through the grapevine, like gossip columns in the glossies the Food Urchin thinks but Tristan refutes this and states that he's read the bald man's blog. That's how he knows the Food Urchin has twins. At this point the thin veneer nearly comes crashing down, revealing the sham that the Food Urchin is just an ordinary joe who has bagged, food wise, one of the best nights of his life. Luckily, he's got big cojones and manages to keep up the pretence by casually saying "yeah, twins man, word of advice, always remember you've got two of them when you go shopping", shakes Tristan's hand and dashes out of the door.

Ordinarily, the Food Urchin would have his driver waiting outside to speed him home to leafy Essex but after an evening of such opulence, he decides to slum it and use public transport. It keeps him real, keeps him grounded. As he sits and stares out of the window, with his head pressed to the glass, woozy and breathing hard because he had to run, yes run to catch the vomit comet, the last train home, the Food Urchin has time to reflect on the evening's revelries. And he thinks to himself.


You are a jammy bugger FU.


Big thanks go to Sauce Communications and Phaidon and not to mention the beautiful people for making the evening such fun, you know who you are.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Blaggers' Banquet

And now for some exciting news, BONG!!!!!


"On November 15th, Londons’ Food & Drink Bloggers will be taking over Hawksmoor, the revered steakhouse in Liverpool St, for the Blaggers’ Banquet.

A first for Londoners – the Blaggers’ Banquet will be an exciting 5 course dinner with matched drinks, created entirely by food and drink bloggers, and using only food and drink that they have blagged. All proceeds will go to Action Against Hunger.

Bloggers will be the cooks and the sommeliers, front of house and the prep folk, the kitchen porters and the cleaner uppers. We’ll staff the bar, make the cocktails and make the coffee, and best of all diners can review us when we are done.

The menu will feature Chapel Down sparkling wine on arrival, Wagyu Beef and sustainable yellow kingfish among others. There will be music on arrival and canapés. Vegetarians and people with dietary restrictions will be catered for.

There will also be a blaggers’ auction, where we will be auctioning exciting items we’ve blagged. This auction will be two fold, a portion of it on the night, and the rest in the weeks following. Tickets are on sale now in pairs for £150 and one table of 5 for £375. Also 5 pairs of tickets will be auctioned starting from £75. Tickets are available on ebay: http://bit.ly/19WuSA
For any further information, please contact Niamh Shields (niamheen@gmail.com) or visit http://eatlikeagirl.com/blaggers-banquet/"


And I shall be one of the blaggers getting involved in this wonderful event. Having volunteered my services, I have been picked to work in the kitchen. Finally my skills as a potato peeler supreme have been recognised! The really funny thing is that no-one has considered my penchant for cooking wearing only skimpy undergarments, it does get hot you know. Boy, my follow blogging compardres are in for a shock next Sunday.

I will of course be reporting back after the event but if you wish to be there on the night or would like to donate then please please do go in for the auction for tickets and for the auction in the coming weeks (I will be posting details when they come available). I've seen the blag list, there are a lot of fantastic goodies to be won.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Sheen Suppers

A couple of Fridays ago, I found myself wandering aimlessly around the city of London like a lost soul. I had finished work early and was going out later in the evening. I had booked a table at an underground supper club in East Sheen you see. For four people, Mr and Mrs Food Urchin along with Essex Eating Dan and his girlfriend. I had about two hours to kill and I knew I had to steer clear of pubs. I also had to find an internet cafe to get address details for the venue from my email. Yet looking for one was like looking for the holy grail. There was once a time when you couldn't move for dodgy, badly lit units on the high street that had hastily been fitted out with banks of computers and partitioning, charging ten pounds a minute. It seems that these days though, they have all but disappeared. However I couldn't let the guys down, especially Dan and his good lady who hadn't experienced guerrilla dining before so I persevered and finally tracked down a ramshackle mobile phone shop on Whitechapel High Street, which had a couple of monitors linked up and for hire. Yes, bloody Whitechapel, which from where I work in Barbican is like 50 miles or something. Still I went in, logged on and diligently tapped in the address into my Nokia and went onto meet everyone at our designated meeting point on time, even managing to get a sneaky pint on the way.

Getting there was pretty easy, a 20 minute train journey from Waterloo and it was nice to sit and chat having left the scrum on the underground behind. I must admit though that all that walking had left me a little weary and unable to concentrate fully on Dan's exploits from the previous night. Apparently he had been to a launch for a new pop-up book, very popular by all accounts, something to do with David Hasselhoff and a pig trotter? I don't know I wasn't really listening but it sounded like fun. Once at our destination we found The Pig and Whistle, a proper locals pub and had a refresher which perked me up no end and then quickly made our way to ensure we made the 7:30 opening promptly. Leading ahead (I had the details remember) I marched down the road with the others running after me and after negotiating a sharp left, soon found the secret place. I knocked on the door and waited. There was no sign of life so I knocked again. After a pause, a small shuffling from way beyond the door took place and a light came on. Eventually the door opened and an old lady peered out. "Who is it? What do you want?" she asked leaving me somewhat confused. Confused because I felt that she should be expecting us and welcoming us in with open arms. Not only that but I've met Lara, the cook and proprietor of Sheen Suppers before for a WMPC exchange. "Bloody hell, she's aged" I thought.

Of course, it soon became apparent that I had been knocking on the wrong door. The house we wanted was in fact two doors down. Not only had I fudged the address after all that effort but I also succeeded in terrorising a pensioner. With the others behind me, uneasily shuffling their feet, I must admit the phrase "you plonker Rodney" did spring to mind. Luckily a couple turned up in cab and it was obvious where they were going, so our party followed them. Feeling slightly embarrassed, I apologised, bowed slightly and then scurried back down the street into the correct house where this time I was warmly greeted in the hallway by a friendly chap called Iain. Lara also popped out of the kitchen to say hello and have a quick chat. Despite the fact that she had 16 covers, looked quite cool, calm and collected and not very old at all. If I ever have a go at this secret dining malarky (and I have thought about it) should I be cooking for as many people, expect to see me in my pants, dripping in sweat, with blood, tears and booze running down my face as I crawl out of the kitchen to stand and greet you.

Without further ado, Iain ushered us into a charming living room, softly lit with candlelight with jazz music playing in the background and sat us at our table. Slowly but surely other diners entered and as I surveyed our surroundings, a chord struck inside that the whole set up did seem, well quite romantic really. Making me wonder to myself whether I should have invited the others along after all and just kept it as a twosome. I mean, this would have been the perfect opportunity to woo Dan. But then again do we really want a sequel to Bumcrack Fountain? And besides there is only one Essex cowboy out there who is flirting with homoeroticism these days and his name is Jamie Oliver. These were just a few of the random thoughts that entered my mind as I perused the menu, which looked very enticing indeed. Iain was soon back on the scene with some olives and a tasting of the chardonnay that he had matched with the first course. He obviously knew quite a bit about wine but was far from stuffy, delivering little tidbits of information about the wine and the food throughout the evening with a great sense of humour. He also didn't bat an eyelid at the fact that we had also brought two bottles of our own, bringing us a bucket with ice to keep the Chapel Down cool. All in all the atmosphere was very convivial and relaxed.

Le Menu

After a short period of chatting amongst ourselves, the starter came out which was a Celeriac and Potato Soup with Smoked Salmon, Fried Quails Egg and Soda Bread. It looked and smelt pretty impressive but first things first, there had to be the obligatory snapping away with our cameras. Of course, due to the low light levels and the fact that I don't really know how to use my Lumix, my initial shots consisted of bleached out tablecloth and little else. As a consequence I decided to use the tactic of raising the camera aloft in the air above my head as far as I could stretch and take aerial pictures of the table instead. So apologies for the poor quality of the photos! Anyway back to the soup, which was delicious. The combination of creamy root vegetable base with the salmon and the egg worked really well and the soda bread was extremely fresh and moorish. And the wine, namely "Pulenta Estate Chardonnay, Mendoza, 2007" gave fine compliment to the dish with a slight buttery flavour. Having wolfed my soup down in a matter of seconds, I made a mental note to myself to take it easy with the main course as I didn't want my fellow dining companions to think that I was greedy so and so.

But unfortunately, next up was Braised Belly of Pork with Crackling with Black Pudding Faggots, Roast Potato and Autumn Root Vegetable Puree and so any thought of self restraint was thrown out of the window. I love pork belly you see and if you confessed that to me that you don't like this cut then I would simply say you were an idiot, kick you up the arse and send you on your way. So Lara was onto an immediate winner with this and her simple braising approach hit all the right buttons. Soft, tender, melt in the mouth stuff with some fine crackling. Scoffed in seconds. Plus the potato was crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and the puree delivered a lovely sweetness combined with cumin spice. Alas there was one component missing from the plate which was the black pudding faggots. Iain had confessed that there had been a "masterchef moment" in the kitchen and that the faggots were deemed not good enough to be served up. Which is fair play. Although I was really really really really looking forward to them, Lara proved that she was commited to executing her dishes to a high standard and wasn't going to be letting any old crap hit the table. The wine, this time was Te Mania, Nelson Pinot Noir 2008. Again, very quaffable, fruity and heavy with berries.

The cheese course consisted of a smoked wensleydale, stilton and a goat's cheese delivered to us by so far, an unsung hero of the evening who was Kim who had been helping in the kitchen (aha so you weren't all alone in there where you Lara). All three fromages were very good with the goat being the favourite and were washed down with some fine Taylors LBV port. By this point I suspect that early signs of rosacea were starting to show on my face as we had also been nipping at the bottles of booze that we'd brought with us. But luckily it was dark and everyone else in the room were now starting to raise the noise levels so I didn't attract too much attention to the fact that I was fairly fish-paste by this point.

For dessert, we finished up with a gorgeous Banana Caramel Pudding with Chocolate and Rum Sauce, Cream and a Banana Wafer. On paper, it did read as quite a sickly sweet ending to the evening but all the ingredients were nicely balanced and rounded up the proceedings beautifully. It's funny, I wouldn't say that each plate came loaded with food but still I ended up feeling absolutely stuffed by the end of the night barely having room to drink my coffee. Testimony again to Lara's cooking concerning portion control and getting the food out of the kitchen, timing wise. So hats off to her, along with Iain and Kim, they all did a great job.

Right at the end of the evening, I wondered into the kitchen which looked like the proverbial bomb had hit it, for a bit of post match analysis and it was funny to hear about the scenes that belied the calm exterior. The extreme profanity, the burnt faggots, the Transvision Vamp soundtrack that kept everything pumping along and the six pints of Old Whallop that Iain had consumed before the guests arrived for the evening. But what impressed me most was that fact that Lara and co were simply focused on providing a reasonable, understated yet alternative dining experience with an eye on quality. No bells or whistles needed here, just good food and great hospitality. At £25 a head for four courses with matched wine, I can't recommend it highly enough. And going out with Dan and his missus wasn't that bad either, although I might just suggest that just the two of us go next time.
To book a table at Sheen Suppers, email: sheensuppers@googlemail.com

I can't bloody see what I'm doing with this camera

Love is in the air

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Take This Bottle (And Just Walk Away)

There are many reasons for drinking sparkling wine at 9 o'clock this morning son. Mostly poor ones but I'm going to stick by them. I've left things to the last minute you see. I need daylight for optimum photographising conditions and I have to test out this recipe that I've been formulating in my head for the past two weeks, by tomorrow. Deadlines, son. The malaise of modern life, you'll soon learn about them. Don't look at me that way, with your head cocked to one side and frown on your face. It makes me feel bad. Anyway, this is research. Honestly, Daddy doesn't have a problem. If you think I do, don't blame me. Blame this Irish lady I know, it's her fault.

And thus, these were some of the thoughts running through my head when conducting a comparative tasting session in my kitchen early this morning. It's one thing to drink alcohol at such an hour, taking a pause to consider what you are doing before lifting the glass to your lips. However, when your little boy stares up at you whilst clutching his teddy in one hand and a Farley's rusk in the other, the guilt increases ten-fold. But then I thought "what the hell, we never ever do this normally and besides, Mummy seems to be enjoying herself. I better call her later though, to see if she's left the kids at Sainsburys or put an empty bottle in the cot."

Perhaps I should clarify here. Along with the normal bustle in the kitchen at breakfast, I decided this morning to finally try out a recipe I had in mind for a food and prosecco matching competition that is being run by Niamh of Eatlikeagirl. There's nowt better than a challenge and with the offer of a meal at Trinity as a prize, this seemed to be too good an opportunity to miss. Of course, there is the crux of the matter. What dish would go best with prosecco, namely Bisol Jeio Prosecco? I have been racking my brains for the last couple of weeks and even though I've tried some before from Niamh's stall at Covent Garden Market, having walked away thinking "hmm that's nice", I still found it hard to consider what kind of food it would go with. If I were to be honest, I would suggest everything and anything but thankfully my wife's taste buds are slightly more sophisticated than mine. With her help, I was able narrow options down, coming up with this dish, namely a Warm Winter Salad with Pheasant, Pear, Pomegranate and Walnut. Unfortunately, when shopping for ingredients yesterday, I was unable to get my hands on a bottle of the proper stuff but after making some enquiries, I was reliably informed by Dan of Bibendum Wines (who are chief merchants for Bisol in the UK) that I could buy a similar match from a certain supermarket's 'finest' range. So I bombed over to my local one late last night. I hope he hasn't led me astray, still at least I know where he works. Anyway, here is the recipe:

Warm Winter Salad with Pheasant, Pear, Pomegranate and Walnut
serves 2

2 pheasant legs

2 gloves of garlic

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

red chard, small bunch


rocket, small bunch

1 conference pear, peeled and cubed

10 walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped

pomegranate seeds, handful

salt and pepper

1 tbs olive oil

dressing

2 tbs rapeseed oil

half tbs white wine vinegar

tiny drizzle of honey

salt and pepper

method

Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, season the pheasant legs with salt and pepper and and place with garlic and thyme into the pan. Cook for 12-15 minutes, depending on size, turning once. Remove and leave in a warm place. Mix and assemble the salad leaves into the centre of plate, arranging the pear chunks and walnuts on top. Scatter the pomegranate over the salad and around the outside of the pile. Take the pheasant legs which should have cooled slightly and shred the meat from the bone with a fork, taking care to remove smaller bones. Place meat on top of the leaves. Mix the dressing together, seasoning very lightly and drizzle sparingly over the salad and around the plate. Serve immediately.


So how did it fare? Well, considering that I kind of went arse about face with the whole process ie I wrote the recipe first and didn't run any tasting sessions at home with Mrs FU, I was pretty pleased with the end result. There were fairly contrasting flavours and textures with the ingredients used but they blended together well and in my mind at least, complimented the dry fruitiness of the prosecco, particularly the pomegranate. I must say that initially for the salad, I wanted to use dandelion leaves but they would have been too bitter for this dish and plus I would have run the risk of bed wetting tonight (hell, there's always that risk!). I was also very happy with the vibrancy of the dish, having used Farrington Mellow Yellow cold pressed rapeseed oil in the dressing which stood out nicely against the reds and greens. And if you can spot a blatant plug in that last sentence then you would be right. Having received a free bottle of the stuff months ago, I've been trying to work out how to fit it in a post. So there you go, hands up, full disclosure!

As usual, I am digressing in my analysis so its probably best that I stop there and leave this recipe in the hands of the powers that be to decide whether it is worthy or not. With one day to go, the entries are starting to flood in and the others so far have been of excellent quality so may the best man or woman win.

Cheers!


Cor, look at the legs on that game bird

Warm Winter Salad with Pheasant, Pear, Pomegranate and Walnut

Daddy ish fine shon *hic* thish ish all in the name of researchsh

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Two Soups

Earlier this week, I took out from the cupboard one of my old favourites, the first Moro cookbook, so that I could crank out a couple of my old favourite soups. Its strange but I never ever imagined before that I could get all whimsical about a stained, battered, dog-eared book. Still when I dug it out, it really was like visiting an old friend as I leafed through the pages, looking at all the recipes. In fact I became quite nostalgic sitting at my kitchen table reading it and remembering all the meals cooked, the highs and the lows. Like making my first paella for instance for my parents and in-laws, just a simple affair with pork, chorizo and spinach but still it was a real hit and a great pick me up after a very sad period for our family. I won't mention the effing chocolate and apricot tart with its effing pastry shell that, well effing crumbled. There was lots of effing in the kitchen that day. And of course I have to thank Mr and Mrs Clark for inspiring me to create my own sourdough starter which I named Veronica and has become like a daughter to me. A smelly, rebellious and somewhat explosive daughter and she's only six months old, god help me when we get to the teenage years. So yes, Moro cookbook, we've had some good times together. If I could I'd take you out for a pint but then I would probably get drunk and emotional and say something like "I facking love you" which would be embarrassing and unbearable for the pair of us. So I won't. It also may be for the best that I stop personifying inanimate objects (which I am doing far too much of lately) before the men in white coats arrive so I shall proceed to talk about the soups, namely Chestnut and Chorizo and Beetroot with Black Cumin.

In my opinion these two soups are seasonal smashers, perfect for coming home and making on cold, autumnal, grey days. Thick, warm and comforting, a bowl with a hunk of bread easily provides enough for an evening meal to enjoy in front of a roaring fire or 2-bar electric heater. The chestnut and chorizo has always been a particular favourite not just for it's spiciness but also because the recipe instructs you to mash everything up by hand with a potato masher. The resulting texture of the soup is immensely satisfying as you bite into small soft chunks of cured paprika sausage and velvety chestnut pieces. Although I must admit, this time around the beetroot soup was even more of a revelation. I had made this last year using beets grown on the allotment which were rather large and as a consequence gave the soup quite a prominent earthy flavour. The beetroots I used this time were small and still quite sweet and gave far better results, letting the nutty element from the cumin seed come through. I also included garlic yoghurt and chopped parsley as instructed this time around (which I left out when I made it last) and again this added a lovely middle-eastern touch that is Moro's signature. I've been adding garlic yoghurt to a lot of dishes lately, I bloody love it. Whether it goes well with muesli remains to be seen but I might just try it. And on that tangent, I give you the recipes:

Sopa de castañas (chestut and chorizo soup)
serves 4

4 tbs olive oil

1 large spanish onion, diced (I used a couple of small english ones)

1 medium carrot, diced

1 celery stick, thinly sliced

120g mild cooking chorizo, cut into 1cm cubes

2 garlic gloves, thinly sliced

1 tsp ground cumin

1 and half tsp finely chopped fresh thyme leaves

2 small dried red chillies, crushed

2 tomatoes, fresh and tinned, roughly chopped

500g cooked peeled chestnuts (fresh or vacuum-packed), roughly chopped

20 saffron threads, infused in 3-4 tbs boiling water

1 ltr water

sea salt and black pepper

method

In a large saucepan heat the oil over a medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, chorizo and a pinch of salt and fry for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until everything caramelises and turns brown. Add the garlic, cumin, thyme and chilli and cook for 1 more minute, followed by the tomato and chestnuts. Give everything a stir and then add the saffron-infused liquid, the water and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and mash by hand until almost smooth but still with a bit of texture. Season with salt and pepper.

Beetroot soup with black cumin
serves 4

4 tbs olive oil

half a large onion, sliced

2 garlic gloves, thinly sliced

1 rounded tsp black cumin or normal cumin seeds

750g raw beetroot, peeled and finely diced

1 large potato, finely diced

1.25 ltrs of cold water

3 tbs of red wine vinegar

1 small bunch fresh parsley, roughly chopped

100g Greek yoghurt, thinned with milk and seasoned with crushed garlic

sea salt and black pepper

method

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to colour. Now add the garlic and cumin and cook for 2 more minutes to release their flavour, followed by the beetroot and potato. Pour in the water, bring to a gentle simmer and cook until soft, about 15 minutes. Place the vegetables and cooking liquid in a blender or food processor and blend until just smooth. You may need to do this in two stages. Return to the pan, add the vinegar, half the parsley and salt and pepper to taste. You may need more salt than you think to balance the acidity of the vinegar. Serve with a little yoghurt on top, the rest of the parsley and an extra drizzle of olive oil.


Key ingredients

Saffron infusin'

Veg, chestnuts and chorizo caramelizin'
Beetroot peelin'

Beetroot and spud choppin'

Sopa de castañas (chestut and chorizo soup)

Beetroot soup with black cumin

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Goodbye Betty

It is with great sadness and heartache to have to inform you today that Betty is no longer with us. As you can imagine, we are fairly devastated as Betty had been with us for nigh on 4 years now and we really felt that she was starting to become part of the family. OK, she was fiery and temperamental at first but slowly and over time I learnt how to control her ways. For instance, I found out that it was always best to leave Betty well alone after feeding her. She would need to calm down completely before you approached her again. If she got too hot and excitable, then a quick spritz of water from a spray bottle would do the trick. If she became lethargic and needed picking up, then some vigorous flapping with a piece of cardboard or frantic waving of a dustpan would soon get her all frisky again. Ah what happy memories of playing in the sun!

I knew something was up when I took Betty for a walk to the bottom of the garden. She set off fine but after taking a few steps forward, she started to shake violently, making a strange whining sound before leaning listlessly to one side and finally collapsing to the ground. I tried to pick her up but it was no good, her leg had gone. It was then that I noticed the dreaded rusty coloured rash all over her body and I felt this horrible sick feeling in my stomach. How come I hadn't seen this before? Further inspection confirmed the worst. There was a massive hole in Betty's bottom. I sank to my knees and held her for a while before looking back up to the sky with a tear rolling down my cheek. It was then that I knew she had gone. The worst part was knowing I had to go back into the house and tell my wife the dreaded news.

"The barbecue is fucked, we'll have to get a new one next year"

I am sure with time, we shall get over the loss but to help us through the grieving process I would like to dedicate this post to Betty. And by way of fitting tribute, I would like to show some pictures of her last endeavour of the summer when I experimented with some Mexican flavours and pork belly, gratis from Able and Cole.

Goodbye Betty.

Chipotle Chile and Tamarind (soaked and blended together)

Recado de Achiote

Marinate overnight

Braise in low oven for 3 hours (Recado de Achiote mix to the left, Chipotle and Tamarind mix to the right)

Whack the pork belly on Betty

Tender, spicy, sexy pork, dribble.......
"Betty" 2005 -2009

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Ten Hour Roast Lamb - Sponsored by Armitage Shanks

It can get very hectic in our house at times as you might expect having twins around. Even more so now that they are walking around and are into everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. Each day is a barrage of "No, don't touch that", "Leave that alone", "Please stop kissing the cat's bum" and "Oh my god, he's drunk the fish sauce from the fridge". Exhausting. Which is why I have embraced that technique developed by fathers across the world, the act of disappearing to the toilet when the going gets tough. Yes the secret is out. You must remember your Dad doing the same. It's Sunday morning, you and your little sister are running riot, throwing Lego at each other and off he would pop to the lav with a paper tucked under his arm. "See you in a few hours love" he would say to your Mum, patting her on the shoulder. Ha, you thought he was off for his morning constitution didn't you? Well OK yes he probably was but he was also going there for some peace and quiet too. And I've started doing the same. Except I take a cookbook into the loo with me.

It's a indecently gross thing to admit but there's something quite pleasurable about planning your next meal whilst evacuating your last and I have gained much inspiration whilst sitting on the throne. I would never admit this to my guests but lots of my dinner party menus have been formulated in the bathroom. Friends and family who read this now may have second thoughts about ever eating in my house again but I can assure you, I am scrupulously clean. When washing my hands, I use a nail brush and everything! One of my favourite books I like to take in with me is Stefan Gates' The Gastronaut which is not only a recipe book but also a compendium of adventures in food with some rather bizarre information and facts. It is also very funny albeit with a certain schoolboy humour, especially when he focuses on bodily functions which might not be everyone's cup of tea. However, as you might gather from the overall theme of this post so far, I find him hilarious.


Toilet Humour

There are many outlandish projects and recipes in the book that I would like to try out such as staging a Hawaiian Imu in my back garden for which Gates provides detailed instructions. This very basically entails digging a massive hole in the ground and then throwing a tonne of wood and heavy scrap metal into it and setting the lot on fire. Once the flames have died down and the embers are glowing red hot, you can then place huge cuts of meat or even a whole animal (pig, lamb etc) wrapped in damp sheets into the pit, cover with earth. You then return hours later, dig the lot up and gorge yourself on a carnivorous feast. This is just a brief overview but like I said, it's definitely something I want to do for a birthday or anniversary in the future. In the meantime, I recently decided to have a go at one of his more manageable projects which was his recipe for Ten Hour Roast Lamb.

The premise is very simple, take one leg of lamb, place in roasting tin with some chopped carrots, onions, garlic and water, cover and then bung in oven at a very very low temperature for 10 hours. I did stumble over two little points though, the first being at what temperature should I set the oven, how low exactly? Mr Gates didn't specify so I threw out the question to the twitterverse and the general consensus came back with 100c. Hoorah for the internet! The second point that caused me to frown was Mr Gates assertion that to get the best from this technique of slow cooking, you should baste the joint every half hour, using an alarm clock if you had to. "Sod that" I thought, I've got better things to be doing so I opted for an hourly baste. This then left plenty of gaps to chase little people around the house, do the washing, feed little people, mow the lawn, change little people's nappies and grab some quality time in the loo before my parents came over for Sunday dinner. What follows is a pictorial representation of one leg of lamb's journey roasting gently throughout the day. The lamb was English West Country, part-boned from Waitrose by the way.

7:00AM - just before going in

8:00AM - not much happening so far

10AM - pleasant odors start to emit from oven but concerned at the shrinkage

12PM - gravy forming nicely, kitchen smells heavenly, mouth starts to water

2PM - getting tangoed now (wouldn't look out of place at Lakeside), dribble starts to run down chin

4PM - really want to drink gravy straight from the tin, salivating like Roy Hattersley now

5PM - and it's out, eat, must eat now
Given that the sense of smell plays an important part in preparing the mind and body for eating and digesting, this long and drawn out exercise was agonising. By noon, the whole house reeked of sweet ovine goodness inducing a state of hunger that bordered on the delirious. Every time I went to baste the bloody thing, I'd stare down at the joint, open mouthed and get those embarrassing jets of saliva squirting from my mouth (you know, like you do when about to chomp down on a juicy beef burger). Still I was fully aware that I should try to hold back and not go too crazy on snacking throughout the day. It would be no good to get to the end of the journey and find myself stuffed full of cream crackers and cheese, twiglets, bananas, ham sandwiches and a whole tub of Onken Wholegrain Peach Yoghurt. Which of course was exactly what I managed to consume throughout the day.

So what was the verdict after all that effort and considerable torment? Well to be honest I have to say that the lamb didn't come out as tender as I expected. Yes it smelt fantastic, orgasmic even but after shovelling the first forkful into my mouth, an audible wet balloon fart went off in the back of my head. Everyone else at the table said it was beautiful but I was expecting a melting tender texture in the meat, like what you get from a good kleftiko for instance. And well, this lamb to me just seemed too tight given the very long cook. Nevertheless, we all polished off our plates anyway. I was so hungry that you could have put Charlie Chaplin's boot in front of me and it would have been scoffed in an instant. Then, later on in the evening a funny thing happened. I went back out into the kitchen and reached under foil which was covering the remnants of the lamb and placed a piece in my mouth, just to make sure. And well it pretty much dissolved on my tongue. Then it dawned on me, just how long did I let the leg rest for? Er for about a minute I think and there lies the rub. Never underestimate the importance of leaving meat alone to relax once you've taken it out of the oven, no matter how ravenous you may be. A joint this size would have probably benefited from 20 mins resting time at least. After 10 hours of cooking and drooling, it must take someone with great will power and resolve to manage that. I am no such man. I am weak. I hide in the toilet.

Ten Hour Lamb with Allotment Veg

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Great British Beer Festival

Great British Beer Festival

A couple of months ago, I received this email from my good chum, Big Al:

Dear all, I have decided to utilise my annual leave wisely this summer and take a day off to visit the Great British beer festival at Earls Court. If anyone has the inclination and can spare a day off from work for this Earth-shattering event then I hope you can join me. You can look forward to a glass of some unidentifiable fetid, cloudy, sulphurous brew whilst being surrounded by generally overweight men with questionable personal hygiene who have probably been drinking this kind of stuff all week and have the kind of deep, penetrating flatulence and gastric upset that only good real ale can induce. Can't wait.

Well how could I refuse such an invitation particularly as I've never been before and hadn't really drunk much in the way of 'real ale', the identikit pubs in my neck of the woods just don't serve it up. And by the sounds of it, I might even fit right in, especially on the wind front. So I fired an email back saying "I'm in!" and before I know it the first week of August comes rolling around, when the Great British Beer Festival is held. Hell, I didn't even have time to grow a beard so I opted for the standard issue socks and sandals instead.

Our small party consisted of myself, Big Al and Jerry (who is not German) and as tickets had been purchased for the Friday, which by all accounts is one of the busiest days, we decided to meet at Earl's Court in the early afternoon to beat the evening rush hour. Yes it was to be a Leo Sayer and I could only hope that it would end on a higher note than the last one I went on. A combination of Blur, Tuborg, sun and no hat beat me into submission you see and plonked me in an ambulance, silly boy.

We rocked up to the exhibition hall at 3pm like giddy schoolboys and once we got inside the cavernous space, it was hard not to be impressed by the sheer scale of the event with it's morass of bars, chairs, tables, food stands, memorabilia stalls and people wearing stupid hats shouting loudly at each other. This really was the mother of all pubs with 450 different beers on offer from the UK and around the world. And so the three of us handed three quid over for an official festival pint glass and dived straight into the seething pit without any care or safety or even any idea of what beers we should go for. To say that I was clueless would be an understatement but here is a brief overview of the fine ales and not so fine ciders that I drank anyway:

1. Dark Star - Hophead (3.8%). Yes it is hoppy, very hoppy indeed, too hoppy in fact. Aftertaste has subtle tones of washing up liquid. Not the best start.
2. Wolf - Granny Wouldn't Like It (4.8%). This is more like it! Gutsier, stronger, nice cherry flavour and dark in colour but not too heavy. Hmm I really like this.

3. Bartram's - Dark Side (5.0%). Another dark one but a wheat beer this time. Guide says that it has Maris Otter in the grist, what the hell does that mean? Quite pleasant, fairly strong coffee aftertaste though.

4. Wentworth - Bumble Beer (4.3%). A pale golden beer which is very refreshing. Slightly sweet but thirst quenching nevertheless.

5. Brains - The Reverend James (4.5%). From Wales. Strong, rich and spicy. Like Tom Jones. Very good actually. Could drink this as a "session" pint (quickly picking up terminology).

6. Greg's Pit Cider - Brown Ellis Kingston blend (god knows). Sweet Jesus! This is terrible, just plain fucking terrible. Were the apples pressed using old farmer Greg's sweaty, soil stained, baggy y-fronts I wonder? Thought about taking this back the stall to complain but the ginger metal head druid who served it up scared the hell out of me. So I poured it down the toilet instead.

7. Bernard - Svetly Lezak (still reeling from cider to make note of percentage). Glug, glug, glug, glug, glug......burp! Ah that's better. A fine pilsner from Czech Republic, they know their stuff about beer they do. Phew!

8. FX Matt Brewery - Black Forest Lager (5.3%) Confused by the 'lager' label, tastes and looks nothing like Fosters. Which is a good thing. Gorgeous dark beer, quite malty but goes down very well.

9. Sharp's - Doom Bar Bitter (4.0%). Last pint. OK, not brilliant, bit too flowery from my liking, had trouble finishing to be honest.

We had managed to consume this amount by 7pm which was no mean feat (oh and a singular pork and ale sausage roll) but by that time the numbers were really swelling and the cacophony was reaching fever pitch. Glasses were starting to get smashed at regular intervals sending mexican waves of riotous cheering around the hall and the bars were filling up by 5 bodies deep. So to our shame, we decided to retreat early to a dodgy bar on Earl's Court Road to sup a few more pints of Becks before going our separate ways to fall asleep in cabs and on tubes and in Big Al's case, flat on his face in Clapham (by all accounts).

Putting the all earlier dodgy stereotypes aside, I have to admit that CAMRA really did know how to put on a show and all through the efforts of a voluntary strike force. With over 100,000 members, it's looking like the organisation is gaining a lot of clout so perhaps something can be done about halting the decline of the traditional British boozer. I was surprised to find out that 38 pubs are closing down every week across the UK so I've signed up with the intention of becoming more informed about the situation and of course to educate my taste buds to the delights of proper 'real ale'. Hopefully, by the time the festival rolls around next year, I may even know what beers to go for. Who knows, Greg's Pit might be appealing by then. But I doubt it.


Jerry (who is not German), Food Urchin and Big Al, resplendent with stupid hats

Pig Snacks!

I want this t-shirt!

Damn they've sold out of Ginger Knob!

Pork Pies!

Pork Sausages! (can you see a theme emerging here?)

Granny Wouldn't Like It - my personal favourite

Greg's Pit - Rough as a badger's arse