Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Three Course Horse hosted by Oliver Peyton

Trafalgar Square, late on a Friday night, is an interesting place to be. Buzzing with frenetic energy, the kind that arises when everyone is eager to throw off the shackles at the end of the working week, commuters and tourists alike tend to veer towards more buoyant and inebriated states. However, having dashed out straight from the office, sometimes getting fed is the last thing on people’s minds and last minute choices for eateries can be described as prosaic at best.

With that in mind, whilst walking past a certain fast food stall perched on the corner of the Strand just last week, I noticed a couple of suits getting stuck into a burger, one of whom was wearing a mustard coloured badge of honour on his lapel. And I did think about tapping him on the shoulder, to tell him that if he really did fancy some horse, then he should have popped up the road to the National Café. He could have tried cheval, pure and unadulterated in there. But after accessing his demeanour and peering into his Cookie Monster eyes, I decided against it.

It was a shame for him though because the horse meat menu served up at Oliver Peyton’s Friday Night Social was great fun and excellent value. When I heard that the restaurateur was planning an educational evening, to promote horse as a healthy, quality meat to eat; I booked a place for myself and my wife straight away. It had been a while since I last tried horse but initially, my wife wasn’t happy at all with the idea. Apparently fond of her equestrian past, she looked quite cross at the suggestion but after some coaxing and case study - “Hey, I’ve eaten horse a few times and look, I’m fine” – she frowned some more before finally relenting.

Whether or not the decision making process for the other 80 or so diners who turned up was quite so fraught, I am not sure. Actually I doubt it, because a lot of people were simply chomping at the bit to get stuck into Dobbin. The general mix, on our long table at least, was one of 50/50, comprising of connoisseurs and first timers and overall the atmosphere was one of carnivorous excitement. A friendly couple from South London, who were sat next to us, were particularly looking forward to trying out horse meat. As proponents of the Paleo Diet, they were very enthused at the prospect of discovering some different protein to gorge on and I admired them for that. And the nifty animal skins they wore, although my male counterpart had to leave his club at the front desk.
The menu and proceedings kicked off with a vac-packed horsey nose bag, comprising of horse jerky made by Billy Franks, an award winning jerky specialist from East London. And then via various horse racing puns, we were served up a handsome plate of Tartare, hay smoked duck yolk, radish and soda bread crumble. Sliced sirloin arrived at the table for mains, which had been baked in salt lick, served with charred King Oyster mushroom, Celeriac, Crispy Shallots and gravy. And we finished off with Caramelised Carrot Cake, Oat Crumble and Apple Granite for a very naughty, saccharine dessert.
Personally, the standout dish was the tartare, which was quite different to versions I’ve eaten before as I am used to a more piquant, acidic sort of hit, rather than the soft savoury velvet that this one delivered. Paired with crunchy radish and a decadent, smokey yolk, the overall effort was gorgeous to eat.
The knowingly clever carrot cake (I admit, the penny only dropped after I finished it) was also outstanding; ruinous for the teeth but probably not quite as bad a handful of sugar cubes. Billy’s jerky was pleasant and spicy and wolfed down in seconds so I suppose the only slight disappointment was the sirloin. Seared and served pink yet with hardly any trace of blood, the meat was tougher than I expected it to be but the other components on the plate matched up well. The vegetables were little stars in themselves, which unfortunately shouldn’t have been the point but still, the sirloin tasted good despite the chewiness.
 Despite that one gripe, it was a very enjoyable meal, with conversation and wine flowing throughout. The main crunch question of course is, does horse meat taste different? By and large, most of us decided that it was very similar, if not exactly the same as beef. Everyone except my wife, who declared that she could easily detect a difference. But then again, she has that telepathic resonance from her days of riding Sunflower. At a push and if I had to think really hard, I would agree in that horse meat had a touch of sweetness to it, rather than the iodine, earthiness of beef and that the texture was marginally different. Just marginally though.
At the end of the night, I had a very quick chat with Oliver Peyton, asking him if the public will be seeing more horse on the menu in restaurants and he was in no doubt that this would be the case. “After all, 10 years ago, venison hardly appeared at all on a restaurant menu and now it’s everywhere,” he said. Although after saying that, he also believed that it won’t become quite so mainstream, not based on current prices and availability. Horse is bred for consumption in this country but at present, there are only two abattoirs in the country that will process and butcher it. Which I think pained Oliver somewhat, who prides himself on sourcing and buying ingredients within the UK. If it were more readily available, he would have no problems at all with serving more horse meat in his restaurants.
Which sort of reflects opinion on horse in the UK at moment. Talk to most people and most wouldn’t have a problem with eating horse meat at all. The overriding factor or drive behind the horsemageddon hysteria that is pervading throughout government, the food industry, the media and everyone’s minds that is that horse meat in our food chain was duplicitously hidden from view. If we were simply told from the beginning that we were eating horse meat, I am sure there wouldn’t be such a hoohah surrounding it. I also am sure that, if reliably informed, the two chaps on the corner of the Strand would still happily order their ‘burgers’ on a Friday night.

Though judging by the way they galloped off, scoffing into the night, I don’t think they’d give a monkeys either way.
This post first appeared on Great British Chefs blog.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Jimmy Spoke In Class Today

The bell rings and Jimmy's stomach flips. For two long hours he has been waiting. Waiting in a cubicle, in a dank, stinking bog with blistered ceilings and soaked floors. With knees hunched up, feet on the seat, eyes listlessly staring into space, wandering from scuffed toecaps to faded hand-drawn porn, and football chants scrawled on the narrow walls. Time spent worrying, time spent crying, time spent clutching a rucksack to his chest.

The trill barely finishes before the big sound comes. Doors swing open and corridors and stairwells suddenly become flushed with the clamour of footsteps, laughter, screams and shouts. A tidal wave of noise washes over the building like a tsunami before spilling and bursting through the exits, flooding the playground outside. Jimmy could remain inside until the rush subsides and trickles away but he knows there would be no point; no matter how long he held out, they would always be waiting.

Despite the stench, he sucks down deep and places a foot on the floor, wavering at first before setting the next one down. Silence falls upon the school like a stage curtain so when Jimmy opens the toilet door, a sharp creak echoes down the hall and stops a frightened secretary dead in her tracks. Jimmy can't bear to look her in the eye when she asks what he is still doing there, so he scurries for the daylight, like the little mouse he is.

Unaccustomed to the brightness, he stands still for a second or two and squints whilst pushing a greasy fringe away from his face. Scouring the empty concrete, striped with yellow, red and white lines, Jimmy looks up to the path ahead; lined with trees and bushes, leading out on the street. To the untrained eye, not a soul seems to be about. But Jimmy knows what lies ahead. He spots the smoke from a mile off and all the white trainers, dangling casually from a wall.

Walking forward, he feels a surge of bile rise up into his throat and his heart began to beat hard and fierce, almost as if it were to explode. But this time, Jimmy has decided things will be different. Carrying on, head light and spinning, quiet conversation comes into earshot and halts as soon as his arrival is noticed. The group of white trainers jumps onto the floor and edge towards him. Soon, a half-finished cigarette bounces off the rucksack that Jimmy carries as a shield.

A mass of sputum, hacked up, thick and yellow, lands near his foot but that wouldn't be the worst thing to happen. Familiar fists would soon descend, to hammer on his body, crouched and prone. There would be no rhyme nor reason, this collective had just simply decided that this was so. Pack mentality always throws moral obligation out of the window, especially when the subject is quiet and small. Besides, it makes them feel better, better than they could feel at home.

As always, there is a leader and the leader steps into Jimmy's shadow and mocks with the same self-satisfied smirk as always; sneering, goading, with his nose inches away. Jimmy pauses and then thrusts a hand into his rucksack, pulling out a triangular piece of flapjack that he bought at lunchtime in the canteen. As Jimmy raises it into the air, the older boys immediately burst out laughing, their faces stretching and contorting in fits of merriment and mirth.

Yet the moment that Jimmy slams the flapjack shard deep into his aggressor's neck, the mood soon changes and wide smiles turn into frames of bewilderment and disbelief. Further still, as he yanks the oat and raisin blade back out, sending an arc of blood spraying up into the the air, the boys crumble into cataclysms of horror and stagger back with a gasp. Their leader, stunned, eyes wide open, clutches his throat before falling backwards, spewing crimson bubbles from his mouth.

An uneasy pall descends as everyone watches the leader's body shake, gurgle and splutter and the viscous pool that surrounds his head which grows and grows. It is all over in about a minute and soon birdsong from the surrounding trees casts back a curious normalcy to proceedings; as if what just happened, didn't happen. The group of existing white trainers look up at the face of Jimmy, which has just the faintest smattering of red across his cheek. And then they look down. And then they run.

Because in Jimmy's other hand, there is a sharpened yum-yum. And he's had enough.

This story was inspired by recent flapjack revelations in the news. As someone else so eloquently put it, it's health and pastry gone mad.

Cooking with Kids: An Infographic from Great British Chefs

As you may or may not know, along with posting well-informed, intelligent and articulate pieces of writing on the subject of fud on FU, I also do some work for Great British Chefs, the place to go to on the internets to find recipes and inspiration from top chefs around the country.

And just recently they have been spearheading a campaign to get parents into the kitchen, to teach their children to cook and to share the experience of cooking with a selection of easy recipes. I say easy, the recipes do come from Michelin starred chefs and they do often have a penchant for over-egging the pud; sous-viding, spherificationising, foamenating and homogenising all over the place. However, these recipes are really quite simple and serve as an excellent springboard into the messy world of cooking at home. 

In particular, William Drabble's Chicken and Apple Hedgehogs look brilliant. Although I do feel a caveat should be placed at the end of the recipe. When I pointed it out to my son the other day, as something we should try out, he looked a bit worried. Perhaps knowing that his Dad isn't adverse to a bit of foraging and leans, sometimes, towards the wilder side of sourcing ingredients, he thought I was going to take him hedgehog hunting. This couldn't be further from the truth. Daddy loves hedgehogs and their spikey backs and their cute ickle faces and I would never ever eat a hedgehog, ever. Great British Chefs would do well though to stress that no real hedgehogs are needed for the recipe, just so that I could point this out to Fin. Because I don't think I convinced him.

As part of their campaign, they have recently produced a fun infographic garnered from the results of a survey, undertaken by 1300 parents and they asked me to share a brief summary before the full results go public tomorrow, so here it is.............

But before you scroll down, I would just like to express my surprise at one of the findings. Which is the revelation that only 7% of the participants felt that their Dad had encouraged them to cook when growing up. I can only hope that this is a generational thing and that the Dads in question came from that dinosaur era of pipe and slippers and glass of whisky whilst mother got on with the egg and chips. I know lots of fathers today who love to get their hands dirty with the kids in the kitchen, chopping, whisking, stirring and experimenting, yes experimenting. I would certainly like to see the results of such a survey in say, 5 years time, when I am sure that the percentage will be a lot higher.

It would be interesting though, to add another line of enquiry to the survey, such as: what is the weirdest thing that you cooked with your Mum and Dad?

I wonder if there would be, just the sneak chance, of 'hedgehog' making ii onto the list. What do you reckon? 0.25?

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Too Many Chefs


I am sure that my wife loves me dearly yet on occasion, I do get the impression that sometimes I annoy the hell out of her. Especially when she is in charge of cooking duties in the kitchen and I am simply the bystander. Like a hovering, buzzing fly, I am sure she finds me irritating and a source of unnecessary vexation but sometimes I can't help but be the pain in the proverbial backside. To be fair, I only ever want help. So why I often find myself on the receiving end of verbal abuse and under the threat of a very physical sort of danger is beyond me.

Take last night and that pan for instance. Did she really want to use that size pan for caramelising shallots? did she? And hmm, yeah OK, reducing balsamic vinegar to create a sticky glaze is a good idea but why not try the lovely sherry stuff we've got in the back of the cupboard. Look, it was just there. Not even opened. Yes, the red wine smelt fantastic but did she really have to use the expensive one we were drinking? I mean I did buy a bottle of cheap plonk, especially for the sauce after all. As for the stock, come on, there was some frozen lamb stock in the freezer, wouldn't have taken a second in the microwave to defrost but no, she had to use beef stock. By K-Noor, who apparently have the K-Noor how. Thyme! Fresh thyme would have been great in that sauce, why didn't she want to use the fresh thyme? I was standing there, by the door, with scissors in hand, all too eager to go out into the pitch-black and brave the freezing cold; just to collect some fresh thyme from the bottom of the garden. Have I mentioned fresh thyme yet? And I knew we didn't have any redcurrant jelly in the fridge, I just knew it. How she thought quince jelly was going to cut the mustard as a substitute is beyond me but she went ahead and used it; stirring into the sauce at the end, against all of my advice.

And what do I get in return? I get told to sit down and to shut up. I then get told that just because I blog about about food doesn't mean that I get the final say in matters. And just because I've got delusions of grandeur, thinking that I am some top Michelin starred chef or something, doesn't mean that everything I cook always comes out well either. I get told, no, bellowed at, asking why for instance, I never got round to writing up that lamb tongue in aspic, which, according to her, looked like dog food. I was also asked why I never shouted from the rooftops about my duck and juniper terrine either. Which, according to her, looked and smelt like dog shit. I then get told that if I ever stick my big, fat nose into her cooking again, when it's not wanted; then this pan, this large, heavy, oversized pan, that is apparently too big for shallots, is going to be thrown straight at my head.

So naturally, and from then on, I kept my mouth shut and subtly took some photos instead.

I did think that maybe making a sticky, reduced red wine and shallot sauce wasn't really necessary because the Swaledale lamb we had won from the East London Steak Company a couple of weeks ago and have been ploughing through since, tastes quite beautiful on its own. The depth of flavour is stunning and doesn't really need any adornment. But I kept quiet about that.

Still, as it turned out, the sauce was pretty amazing and a perfect accompaniment for the pink rump steaks we ate last night.

I kept quiet about that opinion too.

 Quince jelly, who knew?
Lamb rump in a reduced red wine and shallot sauce
Finger streaks

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Apple, Cinnamon and Cider Cake

Last weekend was supposed to be all about the fiddle-di-dee, emerald pantaloons and general plastic paddywhackery and to a certain extent it was. I definitely enjoyed the craic, thats to be sure, to be sure; celebrating the lives of not one but two Saints. The first being St Patrick, that vanquisher of snakes and snaffler of shamrocks. And the second being Patricia, my Nan, who is more disposed towards profanity rather than piety. But at the grand old age of 80, she has more than earned the right to have her opinions and to wear red hats with purple clothes.

However, rather than drown myself in lakes of the black stuff at her birthday party, I decided that cider should be the drink of choice. Which was rather a daft decision indeed. Cider is lovely stuff. Happy, social, giggly, fermented apple juice that gets you dancing and cheering and chatting with great aplomb but it doesn't half deliver a hammerblow that sends you tumbling down the rabbit hole. After a healthy 4 or 5 pints of Aspalls (probably more) members of my family started to twist and morph into creatures from another, fantastical world; like dwarf extras with hair sprouting at odd angles and grinning inanely under bulbous noses. Looking like cider producers really. And then, the drunken fear began to descend.

My wife, sensing the downward spiral carted me out of the house toute suite and loaded me into the car, where apparently I rested my head on the dashboard for the entire journey home, murmuring softly. And then I woke up in the early hours, on my daughter's bedroom floor, clutching a large, cuddly caterpillar. 

Moments such as these, however surreal, do serve a purpose though and after staring back at my little girl's bright, puzzled eyes, piercing through the gloom of dawn, I decided there and then that I should leave the cider well alone in future. 

Well, for a little while at least.

Yet when I peered into the fridge later in the morning, there was still one bottle languishing there, missed and forgotten. So rather than pour the loopy water down the sink, I decided to have a crack at making an apple, cinnamon and cider cake as featured in Rick Stein's Spain. By all accounts, 'sidra' is quite popular in Northern Spain, around Asturias, Galicia and Basque country and they are partial to cooking with it as well as drinking it. And I am all for the cross-fermentation of ideas. I mean c'mon, booze in cake, whodathunk?

I am not a cakey-bakey sort of person but this was certainly very easy to make. If I had to tweak the recipe, I would suggest baking it for slightly longer, on a lower oven and maybe using a little bit more cider in the sponge. Not that it really needs it, the cake is moist and tart enough as it is, I am just thinking of removing the temptation some more. Still, give this dense, sweet, apple treat a go as it will definitely lift the spirits; especially since the weather remains to be so cold, inclement and poxy.

As for lifting another glass of cider, I think I am going to wait until the summer when I next do that. 

Apple, Cinnamon and Cider Cake

3 large dessert apples
3 tbsp cider
half tsp of ground cinnamon
40g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp double cream

175g butter
75g light soft brown sugar
75g caster sugar
3 medium free range eggs, lightly beaten
150g plain flour
half tsp of ground cinnamon
1 tsp of baking powder
50g ground almonds
1-2 tbsp of cider

300ml of cider
6 tbsp of icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 190C and grease the inside and base of a round 23cm loose-bottomed or clip-sided cake tin.

Quarter, core and peel the apples and slice them thinly into a bowl. Stir in the cider, cinnamon, sugar, vanilla extract and the cream.

For the sponge, cream the butter and the sugars together in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs, adding a tablespoon of flour with the last couple of additions to prevent curdling. Strain off any liquid from the apple mix and pour into the sponge mixture, beating in well with a spoon. Then sift in the flour, cinnamon and baking powder and gently fold in. Stir in the ground almonds and enough cider to give a 'dropping' consistency.

Spoon half the sponge mixture into the prepared tin and scatter over half the apples in a thin even layer. Spoon over the remainder of the sponge mixture and then scatter over the top, the remaining apple slices. Sprinkle lightly with a teaspoon of sugar.

Place on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for about 50 minutes until a deep golden brown and cooked through. A skewer pushed into the centre of the cake should come away clean but if it needs cooking further, place some foil over the top of the tin to prevent catching and bake for a further 10 minutes.

Once cooked, leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then remove from tin and leave to cool further.

For the glaze, pour the cider into a small pan and boil rapidly until reduced to 2 tablespoons. Tip into a small bowl and leave to cool. Beat in the icing sugar and drizzle over the cake and leave for a few minutes to set. 

Serve cut into wedges.

Cakey-bakey ingredients
Handling eggs
Bad cider
Good apples


Sunday, 10 March 2013

Extracurricular Vegetables

No one really likes to admit it but parenting is sneakily competitive. Listen in to the gabbled chatter on the playground before the bell goes and you will see what I mean. “Billy’s swimming is going great guns, so good in fact, that whispers are afoot that he could possibly enter for the country trials.” “Chloe has only been playing the clarinet for 6 months, yet there is no doubt that she will pass her Grade 4 by Easter.” And “Tommy’s grasp of trigonomics, latin and quantum mechanics has simply astounded everybody and just the other day MENSA was on the phone wanting to test his IQ, oh the tuition at the weekend has been soooo worth it.”

No doubt about it, extracurricular activity certainly reveals a lot about the drive and ambition of a parent, much to the chagrin of the poor four year old that has to live up to expectations beyond his or her control. 

Personally, what with the age that the twins are at the moment, I am just happy that they are enjoying their first year at school, making good, gentle progress and finding their own way in the world through play. I certainly don’t want to be that pushy parent, proudly boasting premature achievement.

Except maybe when it comes to food.

Yes, perhaps I do get a bit overbearing and obsessive when it comes to filling their tiny little brains with information about food, particularly when it comes to vegetables. I am not talking 4AM starts here, where I could sit them behind small desks, bare feet on the cold kitchen floor; whilst I bark and point maniacally at Power point slide show about brassicas. No, that would be over the top and quite possibly wrong. But at any given opportunity, if I can enthuse and educate them about wholesome legumes and fruit, then I will do so.

A great starting place is the supermarket. Brightly lit and full of colour, the fresh produce aisles are an assault on the senses and brilliant for engaging the twins in an adverse show and tell session. You can while away a good thirty minutes or so, going on an educational tour, believe me. But you do have to be careful though as supermarket managers don’t take kindly to having Comice pears ripped out of plastic bags or Dutch tomatoes, however insipid, being returned to the box with indents from tiny fingers.

Of course, a safer, ethical and more conscientious bet would be to visit a farmer’s shop, where in general, vegetables and fruits lay freely and are used to being manhandled. It is here that you can also introduce a sense of seasonality and pass on the message that it doesn’t matter whether carrots are wonky or not. Try not to be too worthy though. I once confused the hell out of the kids trying to demonstrate that oranges are not the only fruit. And it’s understandable really, I mean what have Sanguinello’s got to do with Uncle Simon and Uncle Owen anyway?

Fortunately, we also have an allotment which is fantastic for the twins. Again, not only does it bolster the notion that different vegetables grow at different times of the year but it also highlights the beginning and the end; the circle of life. At the start of the season, seedlings undergo rigorous daily examination as both pairs of little eyes draw close to potting trays in the greenhouse, sometimes crossing with the effort.

 Then once the plants start to grow and get transplanted to the soil, the care and duty continues as the twins help to water them and hoe surrounding weeds. A young cabbage or a leek will occasionally be destroyed in the process but that’s just the way it goes. The summer blazes past, if we are lucky, which is not often; and then in late August/early September, the harvest arrives, where they get to reap the benefits of all their hard work. OK, I am painting a rose-tinted picture here; the twins don’t get that involved. They do get excited though, when helping to collect the fruits of our labour. But mostly they like to weave in and out of the plot, dancing menacingly through tall, thick stems of maize, like true Children of the Corn. 

I suppose the main hub for the twins’ learning experience surrounding vegetables has to be the kitchen. Having prodded, squeezed and identified a variety of roots, leaves, bulbs and tubers with grubby digits and dirty fingernails, the proof comes in the preparation and the eating. With their help, we are still at the stage where baby courgettes and Swiss chard needs to be chopped up with scissors and as such, their ability to dice, julienne and brunoise is pretty rubbish. However, I look forward to the day when I can hand over a knife and teach them the ‘pinch’ and the ‘claw’.

Most important of all though, is that the twins enjoy their vegetables and fruit. Children are notoriously fussy when it comes to the green stuff, yet thankfully our two are willing to give anything a go and like most, if not all vegetables. There have been some challenges but nothing that can’t be solved by some gentle coercion and imaginative thinking. I struggled for ages to convince them that peas weren’t frog spawn in disguise until I found a recipe called Cheesy Peas. The resulting dish is certainly paradoxical, insofar that it looks far worse than frog spawn. In fact, it looks like vomit. But my kids love cheese. And now they love peas.

At the end of day, that has to be the ultimate goal really. For the time being, that they know, appreciate and love their food is good enough for me. Academic, cultural and sporting achievements can’t wait. I have to admit though, I was pretty chuffed when I sent them in with a kohlrabi the other day for show and tell.

Not one kid had a clue as to what it was. Not even teacher.

This post first appeared on the Great British Chefs blog.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Café de Mort - Remember A Charity

Well, I am still here. A week or so has passed and I am still here. And you know what? I knew I would pretty much handle anything that Café de Mort could throw at me. Fugu Sashimi? Pah, I thrive on tetrodotoxin. Kluwak nut pasta? I take hydrogen cyanide with my tea. Ghost Naga? I keep a supply in the shower for a bit of a scrub down; nothing beats a bit of a tingle first thing in the morning to enliven the senses. Stings a bit when I go for a wee afterwards but yeehaw, bring it on. Nah, I scoff at Café de Mort, a pop-up organised by Remember A Charity. Was that really the worst you could do? Ha!

Actually, I forgot all about the Snake wine. Oh dear god, the S s sss sss nake wine *shakely wipes brow with handkerchief*

OK, we'll come to that in a minute.

So yes, I found myself wandering around the dark, dank environs of a church crypt last week faced with the prospect of sampling one of the deadliest menus known to man and I have to admit, I was grateful for the prandial fizz and absinthe to steady the nerves before sitting down. You might think that a hallucinatory dalliance with the Green Fairy is the last thing you should be doing when standing in a mouldering, crumbling, brick-lined cavern; which not so long ago housed hundreds of putrefying, decaying, mummified bodies. But it helped a great deal. Besides, I had a lovely chat with great-nanny Alice.

Of course, being enveloped within this rather morbid atmosphere was precisely the point for holding a pop up in a crypt in the first place. The main verve and thrust of the Remember a Charity campaign is to encourage people to consider leaving money to a charity in their will. Standing in a place, where many souls were once laid to rest, certainly focused the mind and made you contemplate what should happen when one finally shuffles off their mortal coil. Wills, in my experience, can be messy affairs; so perhaps it is best to leave most of your wedge to a worthwhile cause, rather than have it split members of the family. I know I should sort out one of my own and think about leaving a portion to charity, not that I've accumulated much cash so far mind. Still, I thought about all of this quite solemnly, whilst staring, wide-eyed at a curious stain on the floor.

Thankfully, this existential musing over mortality didn't last long, as we were sat quite promptly to face the prospect of self-poisoning. Which is a bit of a paradox but there you go. The menu created by food writer Matt Day and executed by chef Errol Defoe, though purposefully intimidating, was actually quite harmless and quite delicious. Led by the aforementioned Fugu, that famous pufferfish dish where one mistimed slip of the tako hiki by an inexperienced hand could leave you brown bread, the food was fun, quirky and very enjoyable to eat. Curried Ackee Pattie with Ghost Chilli delivered just the slightest burn so chef must have been sparing. The Kluwak nut pasta with False Morels was intensely savoury. Macaroons (huge) with unpasteurized bitter Almond Cream and Elderberry Coulis were sticky and sweet. And the Peanut, Cacoa and Nutmeg Sweetbreads delivered a crunchy hit of soothing theobromine at the end.

The accompanying drinks were a touch on the hit and miss side, as some of the mixology spiralled slightly out of control but I did really enjoy the Bloody Hell Mary, made with poitin. Probably because I am one sixteenth Irish or something. But the Snake Wine..............

Yes, we need to talk about snake wine. Now, as I claimed at the start, I sort of pride myself on being able to ingest anything. There is nothing I won't try but if I never, ever have to take just the merest sip of snake wine ever, ever again, then that is absolutely fine by me. Because it is disgusting. With a capital D. Apparently, it is the sort of the drink that helps refresh the lead in your pencil, if you get my meaning.

However, I don't believe any of it

What I do believe is that somewhere, in a small village in Vietnam, there is a group of small, elderly men who regularly take a thick, brown piss in this enormous vat. It is then left to ferment and steep and coagulate and then gets watered down and syphoned off into ornamental bottles. A rotting snake and a scorpion gets thrown into the bottle for good measure, to add a certain mysticism and then it gets sold off to unsuspecting punters in the West. And these old guys are laughing. I can picture them now and I can see their bright, toothless smiles, wide open and full of mischievous joy, that people have bought into their cure for erectile dysfunction.


That aside, I really enjoyed myself in the company of others last week and I am only too glad to help promote the spread of wealth once we become worm food. Or get shot into space. Or whatever. And I would like to thank Dogs Trust for sponsoring my place at the table. Dogs are for life naturally, but they could also do with help from folk who enter the afterlife.

One last thing though. I have to say that I was most disappointed that Gregg Wallace, the face and patron of this latest campaign, wasn't there himself on the second evening of the pop-up, as I was looking forward to meeting him. But perhaps after undergoing the rigours and stresses of testing and tasting such a deadly menu, he needed the well deserved rest. After all, he has lost a lot of weight and has been looking decidedly peaky lately. Get well soon Gregg!

Remember a charity in your will
 Fugu Sashimi with Ponzu
 Curried Ackee Pattie with Ghost Chilli
 Kluwak nut pasta with False Morels
 Macaroons, unpasteurized bitter Almond Cream and Elderberry Coulis
 Peanut, Cacao and Nutmeg Sweetbreads
Hole where the last occupants tried to break out
He's deid!