Plump Hill Farm – Crofting for the 21st Century.

 

Meet Debs and Stuart. Together they are realising their personal dream on a small patch of land at Huntley. Endless couples parade in line on seemingly equally endless property shows where the single most common motivation is to move to the county and keep some chickens. Most of these aspirations doubtless fail. But having spent a few short hours with this couple – it’s obvious that this partnership won’t be among the casualties.

Crofting is an old tradition perhaps best associated with the Highland and Islands of Scotland. Essentially a couple or a family work on small parcels of land both to supplement their meagre rations and to produce cash crops for sale in the local area, or at least they did before all the rich landowners and landed gentry threw them off the land to make way for sheep.

Here in the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley life must have been fairly similar for some. The echoes of small parcels can still be seen in the way that modest houses in the Forest & Valley sometimes also come with a little bit of ground. So, meet these modern-day crofters. Holding down day jobs and working on the land, their land.

Plump Hill Farm couple Debs and Stuart are though taking crofting to a whole new level. Faced with endless ambition but a limited budget from their day jobs they didn’t buy a farm. They bought farmland. Land going for sale in agricultural lots as an old farm was broken up and its sprawling buildings repurposed for the 21st century. They’ve just bought another parcel adjacent to their existing lot and so its seems that the well-rehearsed business plan is right on track.

We spent a great morning walking the patch with Debs and Richard Kaye head chef at the award winning Kilcot Inn. Richard was Deb and Stuarts first customer and has been with them since. We chatted to Debs while Richard checked out the loins and conformation of the ever-growing young pedigree pure bred Old Spots. Debs had to feed her cade lamb (hand reared after being rejected by mum) which was eagerly awaiting its breakfast. “We’d put a jacket on her because of the cold and she (mum) rejected it”, “always learning – we won’t do that again”. And there is so much to learn. Sensibly, they invested in themselves and bolstered their passion and enthusiasm with some top-quality training at the hands of Tim Stephens the Farm Manager and trainer at Humble by Nature. A real success story for Tim and Humble by Nature as they gave Debs and Stuart the spring board and confidence to pursue their dream.

And Richard is just the kind of customer that Debs and Stuart are looking for. Outlets for their whole animal produce who care as much as they do about the quality of the meat they are producing. Ideally customers who will take straight from the farm together with all the provenance and good animal welfare you can shake a stick at. Word is spreading too. Only that day Debs had to, sadly, decline the M5 services request for supply because they simply couldn’t produce the quantity required. That’s not a missed opportunity though for Debs. She clearly has her focus on growing the business to a sustainable size and then consolidating at that capacity.

Animal welfare comes first here at Plump Hill Farm. Yes, the animals are being bred for food but that is no reason why they shouldn’t have a great life and great care while they are part of the farm.

Richard Kaye shares this ethos for all of his ingredients for his lovely country restaurant. “A great dish starts with great raw materials,” he said. “I’ve spent years sourcing local suppliers who rear animals with excellent animal welfare.  Happy animals taste better. Slaughtered properly and in as a calm way as possible is really important to the final quality and important to me.” “It is also imperative that we support local business – keeping the money in the area can really help the economic situation for everybody.  I have the flexibility to take animals from Debs whenever they are available- and she doesn’t charge me a delivery charge!”

We have exercised the viewpoint that Britain has largely lost the connection with where it’s food comes from numerous times in these pages. Why is it important? If you are a meat eater, it’s just a fact that those animals will have to be slaughtered to meet your demand. If you lose sight of this fact and insulate yourself behind the unsustainable polystyrene punnets and red lighting of the supermarkets, you, yes – you personally contribute to what happens next. If no one cares how our food is reared you, yes you, open the door to poor animal welfare. In the shadows, people will exploit the fact that you don’t care and they will stop caring too – in the pursuit of profit. Pretty soon you’ll be buying two chickens for a fiver without a second thought for how they can be sold so cheaply.

And right there you have the transition on this escape to the country life. This is where half-hearted dreams falter, when the dream turns into the daily reality of hard work, dedication and sometimes disappointments when you bear the immense responsibility of keeping animals. The caravan in the polytunnel tells it all. It became home for a few weeks during lambing. This couple new to farming and always learning were “absolutely worn out” physically and emotionally during the process and to have somewhere to crash on site was a life saver.

The flock of fine woolly Shropshire’s all looked pretty happy and healthy grazing in the early morning Gloucestershire sunshine. And amongst the animals and covered in muck, Debs looked very happy too.

Links

Plump Hill Farm https://www.facebook.com/PlumpHillFarm/  http://plumphillfarm.co.uk/

Kilcot Inn http://www.kilcotinn.com

Humble by Nature https://www.humblebynature.com/event-category/smallholding-animal-husbandry/

It’s wild Jim, but not as we know it…

David Broadbent Photography, WyeDean Deli Confidential, copyright,
Wild garlic loving the damp stream conditions.

Spring is springing and the bountiful forage season is almost upon us in earnest. Tempting and tasty new shoots are erupting everywhere and an absolute favourite is the oniony goodness that is wild garlic.

Driving around the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley you can’t fail to notice the dramatic display of frost white flowers coating every verge, bank and glade in our deciduous woodland and river banks. If you walk or cycle in those areas you’ll also be treated to the wonderful garlicy and oniony perfume of Wild garlic.

David Broadbent Photography, WyeDean Deli Confidential, copyright,
Wild garlic Allium ursinum.

Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) also known as Ramsons and bear garlic, has long been prized by country cooks and foragers and it’s a must have crop for the kitchen as well as lifting the spirits and heralding spring proper. All of the plant is usable as a herb and has been used like its cultivated relative for donkey’s years. Collecting and using this great abundance couldn’t be easier. The leaves, flowers and bulbs are all edible but we prefer to use the leaves and flowers and allow the bulbs to make even stronger plants for next year! Pick them fresh and young and use them straight away for maximum flavour and colour. If you are unsure on identification just crush a leaf between your fingers and if it smells of garlic, onion or chives to you – it’ll be wild garlic. If you are still unsure after that – caution, the better part of valour etc. should prevail.

David Broadbent Photography, WyeDean Deli Confidential, copyright,
Wild garlic flowers light the woodland.

The leaves have a soft delicate garlic flavour when young and fresh, great in moderation for salads. The flowers too can be used in salads but they have a hotter, fiery flavour than the leaves to add a real kick and warmer flavour. A perennial favourite is wild garlic soup. So easy to make but so tasty and vibrant in colour, everyone should have a go. This versatile soup is great hot with great crusty bread, with cream or pesto added and even works cold as chilled soup for summer days.

David Broadbent Photography, WyeDean Deli Confidential, copyright,
Wild garlic and tufa stream, St Briavels, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire.

Top Forest & Wye cook and foraging queen, Yvette Farrell of Harts Barn Cookery School, also makes a killer wild garlic pesto where our native herb replaces the basil. An absolute treat stirred in to the soup or a little simple pasta dish. Ever resourceful, Yvette also uses wild garlic to add a soft perfumed flavour to home-made gnocchi by mixing in a little finely chopped leaf before cooking and then gently frying in butter to finish. So with so many options – why not give it a go?

WyeDean Deli Confidential recipe

Wild garlic soup;

  • Knob of butter
  • Two medium spuds roughly cut up
  • Small chopped onion
  • Stock
  • 4 big handfuls of garlic
  • Option: double cream

Heat the butter and add the potatoes and onions. Season, cover and soften on a low heat. Add the stock and boil, throw in the garlic for a couple of minutes and then blitz in a blender (add some small fresh leaves now for additional colour). Return to the heat and warm, check seasoning and serve. It will keep well in the fridge for a few days but don’t add the cream until just before serving.

David Broadbent Photography, WyeDean Deli Confidential, copyright,
Wild garlic flowers add real tang to salads.

Grzyb is Polish for mushroom!

 

Poland is 1053 miles from Tibberton with a 17 and a quarter hour journey time plus the time it takes to roll on and roll off a cross channel ferry.  Not that we at WyeDean Deli Confidential have ever driven from Tibberton to Poland or from anywhere else in the UK for that matter. But the mushrooms in your fridge probably have!

David Broadbent Photography, copyrighted, mushroom grower, farming, agriculture,
Chestnut mushrooms

Why, because Poland achieved world domination in the supply of mushrooms. They wrested the accolade from Ireland who in turned had deprived the Netherlands of this prestigious first place. And so, you can see that the force of globalisation is strong in the world of wholesale fungus.

But why this cut throat worldwide scramble for a dominating market share in mushrooms? One of the reasons is that mushrooms have for a long time been the crop with the highest margin and return for growers. Added to that, relatively quick growth time to be mature for market for their first crop, they provide a second and often third flush from the same mycelium impregnated compost blocks in which they are grown. And, they can be grown all year around – perfect then in most every respect for big corporations.

David Broadbent Photography, copyrighted, mushroom grower, farming, agriculture,
Dutch tray method of growing.mushroom growers.

For fungis like us, we recently had the privilege of spending a short time with Dennis Nutting, who together with his son Simon, are the last of Gloucestershire’s mushroom growers. In this industry, which has no middle ground, you operate either a small and niche business or you grow on an industrial scale into multi acre warehouses measured in football pitches. This is an industry for whom the cash driven relentless sector by sector globalisation is poignantly illustrated.

David Broadbent Photography, copyrighted, mushroom grower, farming, agriculture,
Mushrooms emerge on long trays once the mycelium impregnated blocks have been topped with sterile wet compost.

In the UK there where once 500 growers. There are now not enough to keep a trade association alive and that has folded too. For the UK at least, it’s an industry in decline and we are staring into the abyss of having no UK based mushroom growers at all.

Dennis and Simon’s farm in Tibberton illustrates this well with insulated mushroom tunnels lying empty. The two lifelong farmers are now very much in the niche fungus market for the time being at least. They specialise in Chestnut mushrooms which if left to mature become large open cap Portobellos. All of the mushrooms are grown on long trays at three or four different levels. The mushrooms don’t need light to mature so what lights there are serve only the pickers which again in this case is now just Simon.

David Broadbent Photography, copyrighted, mushroom grower, farming, agriculture,
Look at that beauty!

But fungi breathe like us, the need oxygen and an atmosphere at specific humidity and temperature levels. So warmed fresh air has to be pumped into the tunnel in winter and sometimes cooled in summer. When it comes to picking for market, mushrooms have, so far, managed to outwit the industrial robots replacing proper jobs across the globe. When you pick them from the substrate you need to do so gently and with a slight twist rather than a pluck. Pickers also have to decide which ones to pick. Size is obvious but if, like Dennis and Simon, you also want to grow Portobellos then thinning out is needed and that takes a cognisant human.

David Broadbent Photography, copyrighted, mushroom grower, farming, agriculture,
The intricate pattern of the mushroom gills

In fact, one of the hardest things to source in the mushroom growing business, even for the industrially sized operations, is labour. In a bitter twist of irony, even Polish growers so long the net exporter of labour to the mushroom growing world is struggling and now employs a significant number of Bulgarian and Romanian pickers.

David Broadbent Photography, copyrighted, mushroom grower, farming, agriculture,
Dennis Nutting hand picking mushrooms.

This is something Dennis and Simon have struggled with in the past and brings to life those political arguments about how we need immigrant labour for some industries and the impact Brexit may have on us.

David Broadbent Photography, copyrighted, mushroom grower, farming, agriculture,
The basal bulb is removed before going to market.

So now knowing that the vast proportion of the mushrooms you buy in the shops and supermarkets come from Poland, spare a thought for Dennis and Simon who grow the most exquisite brown capped Chestnut and Portobello mushrooms anywhere in the world. They do it with love and passion and they do a day or so before market. They are the last bastion of one aspect of local food production in Gloucestershire whilst incidentally saving 1000 food miles per harvest.

David Broadbent Photography, copyrighted, mushroom grower, farming, agriculture,
These Portobello mushrooms tasted fantastic!

Hook up with Simon himself at the fabulous Stroud Farmers market or buy their produce from the stalls at Gloucester and Bristol Farmer’s Markets. With a typical rash of farming conservatism, their produce doesn’t even carry a brand name. But if someone tells you these Chestnut and Portobello caps are locally grown – you can thank Dennis and Simon!

David Broadbent Photography, copyrighted, mushroom grower, farming, agriculture,

For wholesale enquiries melkirtfarm@gmail.com

Is this the best seafood restaurant in the world?

La Halle fish restaurant, Dunkirk, France, David Broadbent copyright holder, www.davidbroadbent.com,

 

Is this the best seafood restaurant in the world – Yes!

Apologies in advance to all of the great restaurants we’ve eaten in around the DeanWye and the world, but when it comes to seafood –  “the winner is….” – La Halle on the dockside in Dunkirk on the Place du Minck. We’ve written about this place before and it has been my personal goal to test this fish and shellfish joint to the maximum. The first year I was so excited with my find, I thought it may be a fluke. You know the novelty of a new place and the ambiance of it all etc. Anyway, third time lucky and there is no need for the jury to go out. It wins. And if it never ever changes – it still wins!

La Halle fish restaurant, Dunkirk, France, David Broadbent copyright holder, www.davidbroadbent.com,
Landrover parking section, La Halle fish restaurant, Dunkirk, France

Looking at it know with the hindsight of having fully scoped Bologna’s food scene on our latest Italian research trip and what’s happening in food service there, La Halle fits perfectly into the real food trend. A restaurant in the back of a fishmongers – perfect synergy of supplier meets restaurant. Actually since my last visit the restaurant has well and truly expanded into the shop with another half dozen permanent covers creeping into the fish counter rather than just at the weekends.

La Halle fish restaurant, Dunkirk, France, David Broadbent copyright holder, www.davidbroadbent.com,
La Halle fish restaurant, Dunkirk, France

Sea fish and seafood has, without too many exceptions, the most delicate of flavours and it’s hard sometimes to find recipes and sauces that are sympathetic to the fish which is why there are just those few staple sauces. So at La Halle they serve whatever variety of fruits de mer (a dish traditionally served after midnight mass in France),  you have chosen with a small pot of hollandaise and a small cup of vinaigrette. If you want to use them – it’s up to you.

La Halle fish restaurant, Dunkirk, France, David Broadbent copyright holder, www.davidbroadbent.com,
Breton Homard, La Halle fish restaurant, Dunkirk, France

The concept is simple. They sell great produce over the counter for you (and local restaurants) to cook at home. Or….they’ll cook it for you and serve it up on a bowl of ice. Actually they’ll also now grill the lobster for you and also offer a natty range of cold smoked fish platters – this one is for you our Norwegian and Finnish pals.

La Halle fish restaurant, Dunkirk, France, David Broadbent copyright holder, www.davidbroadbent.com,
La Halle fish restaurant, Dunkirk, France

Personally, unadulterated is the way I like it. I get to taste the fish and shellfish without the adornment of anything other than a squeeze of lemon.

I love oysters (Huîtres) and I’m not a big fan of doing anything to them other than eating them. However, I have to say that from now on I will try a few with the La Halle simple onion vinaigrette!

La Halle fish restaurant, Dunkirk, France, David Broadbent copyright holder, www.davidbroadbent.com,
La Halle fish restaurant, Dunkirk, France

So, my fruits de mer think time around: Breton lobster, crab claws, langoustines, whelks and half a dozen of Utah Beach’s finest oysters. I dressed the whole plate with fresh lemon and ate the lot with the occasional dip of hollandaise when I was feeling racy.

La Halle fish restaurant, Dunkirk, France, David Broadbent copyright holder, www.davidbroadbent.com,
La Halle fish restaurant, Dunkirk, France

What can I report in this sea food flavour spectacular blog? Well, the lobster was firm sweet and delicate, the prawns the same (especially the super sweet hard won leg meet), the crab claws… just sublime and shows what an underrated meat this is, the whelks – meaty and robust and very “whelky”, and the oysters were the very freshest essence of the ocean. The flavours of the actual produce alone were delicate and absolutely fantastic! Accomplished cooking skills on display – Oh yes! Fine dining, tweezers arranged garnish, decorated with foraged edible flowers and lovingly crafted sauces? No. They just aren’t necessary here.

La Halle fish restaurant, Dunkirk, France, David Broadbent copyright holder, www.davidbroadbent.com,
La Halle fish restaurant, Dunkirk, France

The produce itself was the support act, the introduction, the symphony and the crescendo! If the seafood here isn’t fresh enough for you – it’s time you bought a fishing boat and an alarm clock and cooked aboard a la Rick Stein!

I’m sure too, that if you knew anything about wine – which I don’t, the wine list scribbled on a blackboard would be similarly impressive. I’m a bit of wine oaf if I’m really honest and more in the Count Arthur Strong school (..what a lovely drop of splosh) than in the “I’m getting aroma of acacia wood camp fire roasted wildebeest” school. So wine pairing is not my personal strength. But I do know what I like and I like Sancerre, so I had two glasses of that with my lunch.

La Halle fish restaurant, Dunkirk, France, David Broadbent copyright holder, www.davidbroadbent.com,
La Halle fish restaurant, Dunkirk, France

You can’t reserve a table by Facebook, only by phone, so I did – I think. So with equal amounts of optimism and trepidation I showed up just before one. In my best class 6F French, I introduced myself and the fact that I had a reservation – result: bemusement! That heady mix of Midlands and Mancunian wasn’t doing the French mother tongue much good it seemed. I tried again and upping the ante and went all in on the Gallic. Still not getting too far. OK says I, to Madame “that is as good as it gets, un moment while I get the translator out!

La Halle fish restaurant, Dunkirk, France, David Broadbent copyright holder, www.davidbroadbent.com,
Dockside view, Dunkirk, France

But, somewhere in all those hours on the hard chair in the drafty classroom back when school was school (and not some holiday camp, bla, bla……) listening to those scratchy records with the headphones on, something must have stuck and the light bulb came one for the young guy in chef’s blacks behind Madame who now beckoned me forth. You speak English?! She said to him with amazement. “He secretly speaks English” I responded which instantly had the English speaking French diners in fits and taking the mickey out of my lovely host, new best mate and now translator on all things to do with my visit, my travels, how long I was in Dunkirk and why I have such a big camera.

La Halle fish restaurant, Dunkirk, France, David Broadbent copyright holder, www.davidbroadbent.com,
The freshest Scallops, La Halle fish restaurant, Dunkirk, France

Do they speak great English? No, you’re in France get over it, dust off your school time French and have a laugh – the staff here are great fun.

Is it possible to hold the accolades of World’s Best Seafood Restaurant and World’s Best Fishmongers simultaneously? We don’t know, but if it is – you should already have a tenner at the bookies on this place while the odds are good and before the word gets out.

La Halle fish restaurant, Dunkirk, France, David Broadbent copyright holder, www.davidbroadbent.com,
La Halle fish restaurant, Dunkirk, France

 

Facebook @lahallepoissonnerie

Call  +33 3 28 63 50 01

 

Coming next….. we have a nice little piece about a perfect little Gloucestershire gastropub that’s a big hit with locals….

The Preservation Society Wins Again!

 

   Wow! The DeanWye has yet another producer, The Preservation Society, in the hall of fame that is the UK’s Great Taste Awards. The Preservation Society scooped a 2-star Great Taste award for the 2017 competition. Judges tasted Angharad Underwood’s Plum & Cuban Rum Jelly made with local swap/cropped plums & apples and declared it DELISH!  The judges comments included “On the palate the jelly melts beautifully, the plums come through well and then a warmth of rum follows on. This feels very honest and as if made ‘of the countryside”. Too true mate!!

Angharad, thrilled to be awarded another accolade, said “We are delighted with our 8th Great Taste award, we make all of our jars of deliciousness by hand and love using local seasonal ingredients, our Plum & Cuban Rum is made with plums from Mrs Corrick (Angharad’s Mum’s neighbour) and swap/cropped local apples so it’s a very personal little jar. Great Taste really does make a huge difference for a micro business like ours”.

Great Taste 2017 will reach its exciting finale on Monday 4 September, when the world of fine food gathers at the Intercontinental Park Lane Hotel, London to find out the Golden Fork winners for each region at an Awards Dinner, with the final applause reserved for the Great Taste Supreme Champion 2017.

Angharad produces multi award winning chutneys, sirops & preserves all packed with flavour and made with love. Don’t just take our word for it, check the 2017 features in Country Living and Vogue. The Preservation Society work with great local producers for the DeanWye and produce an ever growing range.

You should try some. Eh, start with the Plum and Rum!

For more information on this and the other fab products in the range: angharad@thepreservationsociety.co.uk 01291 626516 or 07970 413574

 

Jesus and the afternoon tea

David Broadbent Photography, copyright image,

 

Recently Jesus treated us to a fabulous Champagne cream tea at the equally fabulous Tudor Farmhouse Hotel in Clearwell – and we loved it!

And the winner is….

I don’t think that I would ever describe myself as” religious” in the conventional sense. Current estimates, depending on your chosen reference source, put the world religions figure well north of 4000. How lucky then were we to have choose the right one! Similarly, I’m suspicious of the organisations behind religions. They are after all large organisations and like all others are often in conflict between protecting their faith and their organisation.

But I am intrigued by faith. Intrigued by the way in which all cultures (sometimes isolated ones) develop a faith. This suggests that there is something deep within the human spirit that needs to “believe” and I don’t think any part of the debate deals with that aspect. You feel the spirituality sometimes in expansive landscapes (high in the mountains of Nepal springs immediately to mind), in spectacles of the natural world or the light on a perfect day outdoors.

David Broadbent Photography, copyright image,
St Briavels parish church, St Mary the Virgin, Gloucestershire.

I’m also an enormous fan of parish churches. Take St Mary the Virgin at St Briavels for example. As a place of worship, it’s a beautiful parish church with a fantastic history. It (or its predecessor structures) has been a significant anchor in village life for as long as the settlement has existed. We held a blessing for our marriage there, our friends all came and it was a fabulous day. Each time I go into the church, I feel the peace and tranquility of it and I am calmed. It’s just a lovely place to be regardless of one’s own beliefs.

David Broadbent Photography, copyright image,
Homemade scones

Supporting this village icon is a lovely group of local people who volunteer toward the upkeep of the church including the fabric of the building and they do such a great job. Finally, we get to the point of this story and their summer fund raiser at the home of a very active member in the “Friends” of St Briavels church and, crucially, their raffle. Cut to a beautiful DeanWye summer afternoon, a lovely historic farmhouse garden with an impressive view of the Wye Valley, some Kingstone beer on tap and a hog roast – marvelous! Be honest, can you think of a better way to spend a summer Sunday afternoon?

David Broadbent Photography, copyright image,
Tasty bites

Now, I never win anything. Raffles, wagers, the horses or everyone’s Plan B for a better life – the lottery, are never going to get me out of trouble! And so, it was with some astonishment that I scooped second prize in the “Friends” raffle. The bottle had already gone – as it does – and there on the table was a stylish matte brown envelope with the words “Gift voucher – afternoon tea for two with Champagne.” Ker-ching! I won something – it is truly a miracle!

David Broadbent Photography, copyright image, afternoon tea,
We went for a jam, cream, jam stack
Bubbles

Voucher in hand, we turned up to a friendly welcome at the Tudor Farmhouse reception and were shown into the Tudor Room and seated to receive tea. Two pots, one of Darjeeling and one of fragrantly spiced Karma. We elected to start with a cool glass of champers each and then the tiered wondrousness appeared! Three layers be-decked with confectionery. Atop the spire, coffee macron, pungent chocolate cake and a tart cream pot with forest berry coulis on top, at the gallery level, fresh homemade scones still warm from the oven and deliciously light and crumbly. A thing so unlike the commercially available scones some of which tend to have the density of a small iron-cored moon. Cream or jam first? Oh, let’s not get into all that again. And, down in the engine room on the bottom tier, very cute sandwiches of ham with mustard, smoked salmon and creamy cheddar. A super indulgent way to pass a couple of hours and all of it delightful!

Thank you, Jesus, and everyone else involved.

Call of the Kipper

David Broadbent Photography, Northumberland, Beadnell, Seahouse, Swallow Fish, Craster Arms, Salt Water Cafe, food, drink, local, Kipper,

 

As you may know if you are a regular reader, we have occasionally to take WyeDean Deli Confidential on request tours (see our Tuscany title link). I know, tough life! Anyway, most recently we have been Beadnell on Northumberland’s heritage Coastline. Beadnell is a very pretty little seaside village with a small harbour which is (just) still in use by a few small scale crabbing boats. It has an historic lime kiln, a few pleasure craft beached by the harbour entrance and is flanked by a glorious long sweeping sandy beach on one side and some of Britain’s best rock pooling on the other. So pretty is the village and steeped in the Northumbrian idyll that a new housing development just back from the beach car park is already completely sold before it’s even got out of the ground.

David Broadbent Photography, Northumberland, Beadnell, Seahouse, Swallow Fish, Craster Arms, Salt Water Cafe, food, drink, local, Kipper,
Beach Cafe, beadnell.

It’s on these trips “dear readers” to paraphrase Keith Floyd the TV cook in whose style everyone else has since followed, that our food&drink-dar, so long honed and tempered to perfection, really comes into its own seeking out the great and the good places to refresh ourselves. A lot has changed in Northumberland food since my last visit. Some of the great and familiar is, thankfully, still going strong. There are too some new venues on the up as well and the general quality has improved immensely in an area positively shoaling with some of the best produce there is.

David Broadbent Photography, Northumberland, Beadnell, Seahouse, Swallow Fish, Craster Arms, Salt Water Cafe, food, drink, local, Kipper,
Swallow Fish, Seahouses, Northumberland. UK

Beadnell, our chosen base for both trips is a microcosm of the changes in the wider area and a tribute to how well the local tourism economy is doing in these staycation times. Its two village pubs are both open and doing well, no mean feat in the general environment. There has recently been a new café opening, leaning heavily on the freshest of sea food available, and also a street food via shack has hit the beach.

David Broadbent Photography, Northumberland, Beadnell, Seahouse, Swallow Fish, Craster Arms, Salt Water Cafe, food, drink, local, Kipper,
“Bait” seafood street food, Beadnell

First though to revisit old favourites along the coast at Seahouses to calm the nerves that too much has changed and it’s time for lunch and a quick drink in the Old Ship. Opinions are always personal and for me, this is the best bar in the world. Any inadequate written description from me wouldn’t really do it justice. The floor is still plank but the real fire has been replaced with a more convenient and presumably safer, electronic under study. But the bar is still the same, the seating arrangement and the snug, the ceiling stills drips with fishing memorabilia and the faces in the old black and white prints of fishermen of old still look remarkably similar to the old locals propping up the bar. The town’s brilliant and ever busy fish and chip shops stakes are all still going strong with Neptune ahead of Pinnacles and Lewis’ all with take out and sit-in facilities.

David Broadbent Photography, food and drink,
Neptune Fish n Chips, Seahouses.
David Broadbent Photography, food and drink, Seahouses,
Quite simply, the best bar in the world, The Olde Ship, Seahouses.

Back in Beadnell and we have sampled The Craster Arms on several occasions. The bar manager Connor Taylor oversees activity and can certainly run a bar and staff properly. We really have a thing about service. In Connor Taylor there is no such thing as a private conversation in works time that has to be concluded before noticing a customer. There is no element of his management responsibilities, be they staff, stock or admin, which come before establishing what the customer wants. And, he possesses the skill – seemingly impossible for a journeyman barkeeper – the ability to remember your last order and preferences. You cannot get through the door without him spotting you coming in and mentally placing you in the bar service queue. If it’s busy you get the reassuring acknowledgement that you aren’t invisible and you won’t get missed out. And when you are served there is bonhomie, help, advice and genuine personal recommendation based on sound product knowledge and actual tasting, on tap should you need it. This guy can run a bar!

David Broadbent Photography, food and drink,
The Craster Arms, Beadnell Bay, Northumberland.
David Broadbent Photography, food and drink,
Linguini, prawns and mussels. Craster Arms.

Why is it that – unlike Connor, the rest of Europe and in particular the States –  often in this country we produce bar staff that just can’t run a bar or couldn’t really care less about their inadequate skill set?

The Wye Valley & Forest of Dean Tourism Association is hoping to address this very point in our local area by helping members to interact with schools and would be apprentices to drive home the idea that careers in catering and the associated service industries are “proper” jobs to take pride in, to aspire to be good, if not the best, at. More on that in later blogs.

David Broadbent Photography, food and drink,
Beadnell Bay Sea trout

In The Craster Arms service is brisk and the food is great varied pub staples. The cod in the house fish and chips is gargantuan and each fish must have taken a couple of burly fishermen or Fisherlasses to wrestle it on board, but well-cooked and presented. Our personal favourites were the fish pie main and the simple seared fresh scallops and the Cullen Skink (smokily aromatic smoked haddock, cream and potato soup) starters. For other mains we sampled Beadnell sea trout caught 500 yards from the pub kitchen and seafood linguine with prawns and mussels – all fab!.

David Broadbent Photography, food and drink,
The Salt Water Cafe

Across the road from the Craster Arms is the recently opened (and our now favourite) Salt Water Café. Open from early morning onward, take your pick of breakfast, lunch or dinner or just drop in for the best espresso for miles. For dinner, Salt Water Café offers a great hot fish platter for two but we had Monkfish, samphire and cream sauce – beautiful.

David Broadbent Photography, food and drink,
Monkfish and samphire

All extremely interesting and very, very tasty. But there was one job, as yet, left undone. One reason good enough to justify a visit alone. A place no cook neglects when passing by this Heritage Coastline – Swallow Fish in Seahouses. The walls of the modest shop in the back streets are be-decked with the photographic who’s who of cookery. The fish counter is stuffed full with oceanic greatness from along the coast. Many years ago on one visit I remember, the then smaller counter, with its seafood display all crammed to one end to accommodate the massive Turbot they had fresh off the boat that morning. We were here to buy Kippers.

David Broadbent Photography, food and drink,
Swallow Fish, Seahouses, Northumberland. UK

We arrived in the late afternoon light as the small smoker on the left of the shop was about to be lit. For years this windowless black hell hole has produced some of the finest smoke imbued goodness there is. The smoking racks were full and the paired Herring hung from the black oily bars ready to produce the Kipper. High in Omega 3 this is a sustainable fish once out of fashion but now firmly back on the menu and the Marine Conservation Society’s eat list. And so with nothing but a few strategically placed piles of sawdust and a flaming copy of The Sun, one of the lads started a centuries old chain reaction of smoke curing to produce a fish-lovers breakfast and high tea staple.

David Broadbent Photography, food and drink,
Swallow Fish, Seahouses, Northumberland. UK
David Broadbent Photography, food and drink,
Swallow Fish, Seahouses, Northumberland. UK

We purchased several pairs of kippers the day before we left for the DeanWye from the Swallow Fish postal service. Allowing us the amusing comedic notion of our next day’s breakfast chasing us down the A1. The plump and oily kippers arrived safe and sound the very next day, packed so tightly in vacpac no odour could escape. We opened and grilled a pair immediately accompanied only by some white pepper and a slice of bread and butter – wow!

David Broadbent Photography, food and drink,
Kipper

The vacpacs keep for a surprisingly long time but we put them in the freezer where they freeze really well and we can very much vouch that there is no difference in taste or texture. All of the retail figures on the humble kipper are up – All Hail – the return of the Kipper.

 

David Broadbent Photography, cod, graffiti,
In Cod we trust

 

 

Mint & Mustard – A small corner of Kerala in the Wye Valley

David Broadbent Photography, Mint & Mustard, Indian, street food, Chepstow
Grand opening of Mint & Mustards Indian Street Kitchen in Chepstow. July 2017

We have it all in this article, a VIP gala opening, great Indian food based on traditional Keralan cuisine, a new and exciting restaurant in the heart of Chepstow and the Wye Valley, oh, and a little bit of an exclusive….

http://www.mintandmustard.com/locations/chepstow/
Traditional Keralan drummers

Well, street food has finally landed in the Wye Valley and for one beautiful July evening a very small corner of Chepstow town was transformed into a small section of the Chalai Bazaar (a famous market area in the Indian state of Kerala).

David Broadbent Photography, Mint & Mustard, Indian, street food, Chepstow
First dosa hits the pan.

For the grand opening of the Mint & Mustard Indian Street Kitchen now firmly, and stylishly, located on the ground floor of this small part of the Keralan state. The throng of invited guests, from far and wide, filled the street-side patio to capacity. Excited chatter about the already well established fine dining restaurant on the upper floor (see our previous blog http://www.wyedeandeliconfidential.co.uk/blog/mint-mustard-opens-in-chepstow/) being the currency of the conversation together with excitement about what this new addition to this very popular and ever growing restaurant will bring.

David Broadbent Photography, Mint & Mustard, Indian, street food, Chepstow
Tandoor chef in full swing

As you might expect from a Grand Opening, the staff were on top form, with the management present in the form of the very friendly Mint & Mustard owners Ajit Kandoran and Latheesh Kottilil and their Operations Director of Chai Street (the Cardiff based Street Kitchen restaurant), Ankur Baria all on hand and really very charming.

David Broadbent Photography, Mint & Mustard, Indian, street food, Chepstow
Roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd

But, although the crowd were enjoying the social side of their invitation to this fab event, the overheard conversations said it all. All of the chatter was about the smells now emanating from the Tandoori, Chat and Dosa stands set up around the restaurant wall inside the patio to represent a Keralan roadside – all eyes were fixed on the activity here. The tandoor blasted heat at anyone who got too close. When the tandoor chef moistened the Seekh kebab and lowered it in you could hear the crowd salivate. Chicken and a glorious paneer tikka followed and the whole marinated fish went in two by two. And like any good roadside food, much of Chepstow’s evening traffic slowed to see what all the fuss was about.

David Broadbent Photography, Mint & Mustard, Indian, street food, Chepstow
Great service

If you were in any doubt that this was about the food, you only had to observe Executive Chef Santhosh Nair for a few moments. His steely overseers’ glare saw everything, and we mean everything that his chefs were doing in preparation for our street inspired feast. His bonhomie was reserved specifically for invited guests and it was great to see an accomplished exec chef communicate with his staff by extra sensory perception alone.

Heated by the earth’s core.

As we walked into the VIP reception a Chaat stand dispensed tangy snacks consisting of crispy dough balls, onion, chickpeas, fresh coriander and yoghurt dressing. These stands (thought to have started in Uttar Pradesh) are now widespread across Indian, Pakistan and Nepal and serve these tasty pick-me-up snacks to workers and weary travellers. A Dosa stand dispensed wafer thin dosa (water and flour pancakes) with a masala sauce and next to that, the tandoor stand with blazing oven driven into the bowels of the earth and those wonderful tikka snacks on long skewers.

David Broadbent Photography, Mint & Mustard, Indian, street food, Chepstow
Fish and Paneer tikka

A stylish bijou room at the back now decorated in muted subtle tones housed the buffet serving the Master Chef’s lamb special and chicken biryani with the full nine yards of accompaniments for tonight. In operation this will also be a private function room for hire. Boy, we could just see it laid out as a private dining room for a couple of dozen people. The management would also like us to mention that the room (with IT if required) is also available for business hire for meetings etc. We’ve eaten a lot of business buffet food, but we’ll wager here and now, whatever you want that the Mint & Mustard food will top it all.

David Broadbent Photography, Mint & Mustard, Indian, street food, Chepstow
Beautiful fish, paneer and meat selection.

And there you have it. All fairly predictable for a Mint & Mustard event – top class service, a great and innovative idea delivered with aplomb and (most importantly) the best Indian food for miles!

David Broadbent Photography, Mint & Mustard, Indian, street food, Chepstow
Street food and Chaat

The idea of Mint & Mustard was borne from a dinner conversation of two hard working doctors, Ajit Kandoran and Latheesh Kottilil, would you believe. Sitting in an Indian restaurant close by their hospital dreaming of the food they used to eat back home in Kerala. Wondering why they couldn’t find it all in the UK led to, just a year later, opening the very first Mint & Mustard in Cardiff. We often talk of passion as the magic ingredient in food and drink and surely it can’t get more passionate than that!

Grand opening of Mint & Mustards INdian Street Kitchen in Chepstow. July 2017

Our exclusive? Keralan Cookery courses coming to Chepstow! The very charming and engaging Latheesh Kottilil told us that it was definitely on the cards for Chepstow’s development.  In the crowd we chatted to Dave and Lisa from Newport who had already been on the course in Cardiff. Ten minutes later they stopped telling us how good it was and how fantastic the chefs were and  only then because the food was served!

 

Links

facebook.com/mintandmustard/

Twitter @mintandmustard

www.mintandmustard.com

Deer

 

Venison is the altar boy of meats, often left in the shadow of products more familiar to the British table. For many it’s seen a niche product or, worse, one reserved for the “posh” hunting and shooting brigade. But, just for a moment, let’s look at wild venison against the checklist of ethical farming issues

Has it had a good natural life with the freedom to roam and fulfil its natural behaviours? – Tick

Has it had the opportunity to breed naturally? – Tick

Has it fed on a purely organic diet? – Tick

Is it low in harmful fats? – Tick

Has it been free from medication with antibiotics during its life – Tick

So what’s the problem with wild venison and why isn’t it our meat of choice for the celebration table. Well for some, it is. But for others, you’ll hear any manner of reasons: too difficult to get hold of, too expensive, don’t know how to cook it etc.

We believe that one of the barriers to eating venison is that, unlike its supermarket brethren, it’s just a little bit closer to that subject the modern shopper shies away from. Many shoppers like a few reality filters between their main protein source and its origins. Vac packed and jointed, displayed under lights intended to enhance the colour is IN, hanging in the butcher’s window with its beady eye looking out from the head which is still firmly attached is – OUT!   For many, being too close to where our food actually comes from is an uncomfortable place to be in animal loving Britain. Somehow we have confused the whole process. A process that is fairly straightforward. If we choose to eat animal meat, the animal in question has to die to service that need. That’s not a revelation; it’s just the plain, simple truth but one that many prefer not to have to think about.

What defines and justifies the civilisation of the whole process is how the animal meets its end. Spend any time at all with an experienced stalker and many are struck by the unexpected order of priorities they have. Any ideas on the top one (apart from safety)..? Clean shot, is the answer. If you can’t kill it outright and humanely – don’t shoot. That equates to “get it right or go home hungry”.  If, for some reason, something does go wrong – there is a responsibility to end further suffering without delay.

The Daily Mailers amongst the population love to hate the hunting, fishing mob, assuming perhaps that they are rolling in it (the truth is much different). That it’s cruel and inhumane to making killing into a sport, that’s its just obliteration of the wildlife in the pursuit of pleasure. But there is a wildlife and environmental case for controlling deer. Humans, we, long since euthanized any natural predator the deer had to keep their numbers within the natural balance of a given area. Mainly we did that for profit, so that “we” could use the deer as property to be reserved for the rich. So now, unchecked, and in ideal habitat conditions like the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley, they thrive. They thrive in numbers and densities that can affect overall health of the wild herd. Over grazing strips large areas of available food and that can lead to poor condition and even starvation. That grazing also has a real and serious impact on some of the area’s we have decided to save against the plough or development. No objective scientific review has concluded that the numbers should simply be allowed to do their own thing.

Why is it that, as a nation, we tend to demonise the hunter who takes what he or she needs for the table whilst we are happy to accept the role of the slaughter man who brings daily death on a wholesale scale? Why have we become distanced from the ways in which our protein is harvested?

Inconsistency of consumption

The culling activity goes on continually. The activity is timed according to the natural rhythms of the beast, is done by expert shots in as humane a way possible. The Forestry Commission cull on land under their control (although our area in the DeanWye is so rich in habitat that large tracts of the land are not in the hands of such a responsible landowner – local councils for example). The vast majority of the culled wild venison on Forestry land is gathered together at central points for onward distribution to the national food chain.

Wouldn’t it be great if the food miles where reduced and more of that meat was retained in the local economy for us all to enjoy?

We asked Rob Cox, Head Chef at the Tudor Farmhouse Hotel for a few venison tips. Here’s what he had to say:

In my view venison is best roasted especially the saddle. The haunch is also best roasted but it needs to be butchered correctly to remove sinew and end up with a tender piece of meat. 

 The shoulders can be braised but they are so lean it can become dry because of the lack of fat on the beast. With that in mind I like to mix in some pork belly and mince it to make sausages.

 My favourite way though is a tartare seasoned with shallot, gherkin and tabasco and served with beetroot, horseradish cream, pickled berries and chestnut.

 For a dinner I would go for roasted saddle with smoked bacon, red cabbage, Brussel sprouts and a few wild mushrooms.

Monmouthshire Food Festival – Picture Special

Monmouthshire Food Festival at Caldicot Castle May 2017

A great local food festival which is set only to grow in popularity!

Ever since our last article (read that here) we’ve been really looking forward to this. We checked out the festival on the second day, Sunday, and had a fab time. The sun shone and everything was in place for a great foodie day out in the Welsh sunshine. For the moment, at least, the festival is completely contained with the Caldicot Castle walls which mean that there is a “big reveal” for everyone who crosses the drawbridge. Emerge from the shadows of the barbican through the second gatehouse into the Castle proper and the whole nine yards of food and drink goodness is there for all to see.

So, relax and take a look at the image special from the day and if it’s whetted your appetite then don’t forget that the autumn date is already set  for this fab dog friendly event on  14th and 15th October – Don’t miss it.

Monmouthshire Food Festival at Caldicot Castle May 2017
Monmouthshire Food Festival at Caldicot Castle May 2017
Monmouthshire Food Festival at Caldicot Castle May 2017
Monmouthshire Food Festival at Caldicot Castle May 2017
Monmouthshire Food Festival at Caldicot Castle May 2017
Monmouthshire Food Festival at Caldicot Castle May 2017
Monmouthshire Food Festival at Caldicot Castle May 2017
Monmouthshire Food Festival at Caldicot Castle May 2017
Monmouthshire Food Festival at Caldicot Castle May 2017
Monmouthshire Food Festival at Caldicot Castle May 2017
Monmouthshire Food Festival at Caldicot Castle May 2017
Monmouthshire Food Festival at Caldicot Castle May 2017
Monmouthshire Food Festival at Caldicot Castle May 2017
Monmouthshire Food Festival at Caldicot Castle May 2017
Monmouthshire Food Festival at Caldicot Castle May 2017

Adrian Walker Accredited Master Butcher and the only one in Wales! Was on great form to entertain the crowd with a demonstration on preparing a Cote du boeuf. Because chef Tim McDougall had broken his ankle and couldn’t attend (get well soon Tim) Adrian crashed on and cooked it – a bit hit with the crowd in the Chef’s Theatre!

Monmouthshire Food Festival at Caldicot Castle May 2017
Monmouthshire Food Festival at Caldicot Castle May 2017

The only thing to worry about is that fantastic event will become too popular for the castle courtyard alone…….