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.

Abergavenny Bakery Goodies

The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny, David Broadbent Photography, bakery, bread, baking, artisan, Cross Street,

We talk sourdough and all things bakery with the innovative bakery team at The Angel Bakery in Abergavenny. Unbelievably good!

Exactly one week ago I was sitting in the middle of the A40 roundabout in my stricken Landrover, holding up the juggernauts of the morning rush hour on the A40 roundabout just outside Abergavenny. Sitting helplessly waiting for a recovery vehicle when I should have been talking sourdough with the staff at The Angel Bakery, Abergavenny.

No panic though, my meeting With Jo at The Angel Hotel to see their new bakery has been temporarily put on hold and I’m thinking that today could have gone better – good coffee, the smell of fresh bread and pastries enchanting my sense of smell. Sadly, that will now have to wait for another day. So with time on my hands until the breakdown gets here it occurred to me just how well some of our local DeanWye towns and villages are doing. We’ve written before (The Pantry) about the effect that home working may be having on our previously “dormitory” villages and towns. In fact, a little like Brexit, our towns and villages seem to be bucking the UK trend of the last 30 years against all the predictions of the naysayers.

The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny, David Broadbent Photography, bakery, bread, baking, artisan, Cross Street,
The Angel Bakery, Abergavenny.

Abergavenny is a case in point. Vibrant, lively and with a significant proportion of independent shops (new rates assessments permitting)  as well as well-known high street brands – the town is faring better than some of its neighbours.  The Angel Hotel on the towns Cross Street is a particular beacon of this new found hope for our high streets. Stylish and trendy with well trained staff to ensure attention to detail and a top quality service, the hotel is working hard to offer visitors a quality experience in this great Welsh market town. All in all there are good reasons for confidence to be up! And so in this optimistic mood, The Angel has furthered its already impressive and ambitious plans and gone and opened a bakery across the street!

And now one week to the day since my breakdown (car), I’m standing in the bakery early morning amidst all of the buzzing, but focussed activity of the 5 staff. Baguettes and sourdoughs are already out, croissant (breakfast with an espresso) and pain au chocolat are on the counter together with, a very sexy looking, rhubarb Danish. In the clean spacious bakery engine room behind the tall plate glass which fronts onto the narrow street, dough is emerging after its 36 hour incubation to fulfil its destiny and be turned into flavourful, bread and buns with taste and great texture. My baguette (eaten at lunchtime back in the office) was crisp and strong with beautiful real bread flavour. A long bake made for a nice crispy crust, perhaps not one for the denture wearers, and the result of having had a decent amount of time to prove properly was a light open texture inside. These little cavities now swallowed more mayonnaise than is probably good for me, lashed to my cheese and tomato filling – wow, fantastic.

The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny, David Broadbent Photography, bakery, bread, baking, artisan, Cross Street,
The Angel Bakery, Abergavenny.

In the old days of the Tour de France cyclists used to slice a baguette and hollow out the centre so that it could hold even more nutritious carb fillings for the long cycle ahead. At the Angel Bakery that light airy centre is fantastic so you’ll want to keep it in and just stuff everything else in as best you can.

The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny, David Broadbent Photography, bakery, bread, baking, artisan, Cross Street,
Sophie. The Angel Bakery, Abergavenny.

The bakery opened officially on 23rd December and so now, a couple of months in, and the principal bakers Sophie and Polly, have the place running like a sewing machine. It’s well equipped with the latest bakery apparatus but the work is still all about traditional hand crafting. The two ladies met whilst working at the well-known London artisan bakery, The Little Bread Pedlar. This Bermondsey based bakery tucked into several railway arches has developed an enviable reputation and you can see the DNA of the Pedlar here in the work of the two ladies at the heart of The Angel bakery. Traditional methods and proper proving, deep bakes that are all about flavour, texture and crumb all done with style and innovation.

The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny, David Broadbent Photography, bakery, bread, baking, artisan, Cross Street,
Rhubarb Danish. The Angel Bakery, Abergavenny.

The results are all good. And the sourdoughs are amazingly so. A good bake really brings out their natural nutty flavour and again the texture is fab, nice crusty outside and soft, firm inside with an open texture to capture a good spreading of butter or mayo. Sourdoughs are great family loaves. They taste great, obviously, but they also keep well and make the most amazing toasted soldiers for soft boiled eggs. We also tried the fig and walnut sourdough – triumph! Nutty sourdough flavour again combined with crunchy walnuts pieces and figgy goodness throughout with every now and again a little motherlode pocket of sweet hit of fig. Really, really tasty.

The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny, David Broadbent Photography, bakery, bread, baking, artisan, Cross Street,
Fabulous Sourdough. The Angel Bakery, Abergavenny.

The steampunk coffee machine with its enormous lever handles makes great stealth espresso using home roasted coffee without uttering a sound, unless the steam jet is activated. There are a few seats in the modest customer area which, really nicely, has a view into the bakery too, so you can see the magic unfold.

The Angel Bakery with Sophie and Polly at the helm will go from strength to strength. They have a great base to work from and the quality of what’s on offer is impressive. Even if you don’t live in Abergavenny, it’s worth going to the bakery for the croissants alone!

The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny, David Broadbent Photography, bakery, bread, baking, artisan, Cross Street,
C’est Magnifique. The Angel Bakery, Abergavenny.

Web: http://www.angelabergavenny.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lovetheangel/?hc_ref=SEARCH

Twitter: @LovetheAngel https://twitter.com/lovetheangel?lang=en-gb

 

Foraging for Fun

 

Foraging sounds like excellent fun doesn’t it – alone in the countryside finding all your own food for free. What could be better? Having just come back from celebrating mushroom season Italian style for a continuing food documentary photo project we can say – we are fans! But it’s also a bit scary isn’t it. Alone in the woods for a start! What if you get attacked by a boar or an amorous stag like the Daily Mail are always banging on about.

Foraged wild Cep porcini mushrooms
Foraged wild Cep porcini mushrooms

What if I just end up eating overgrown lawn instead of an exotic wild herb? Even worse, what if that supposed French woodland delicacy of a dew-covered mushroom you’ve just picked turns out to be from the genus instantpainfuldeatharia? Just where do beginners to foraging actually start?

Amidst this glorious landscape of ours full of free, nutritious and healthy food as we are, it makes sense to get a little help before you start. Well you are in luck! The Parish Grasslands Project will be running a foraging day entitled a Taste of the Hudnalls. Described as a day of hunting for, and appreciating, the wild food available from the Hudnalls area.

Chanterelle mushrooms
Chanterelle mushrooms

Expert guide, Raoul van den Broucke, will be on hand to lead a small group through the lanes and fields of the Hudnalls on the afternoon of Saturday 29th October picking out tasty treats along the way. Raoul, once dubbed by The Guardian, “the Carluccio of the Wye Valley”, has a long standing expertise in wild food and will be imparting his knowledge to the hardy group during the day. Later the same evening at the St Briavels Assembly Rooms Raoul will be joining the fabulous Yvette Farrell of Harts Barn Cookery School  http://www.hartsbarncookeryschool.co.uk/  in a “cook what you brung” style masterclass of using wild food in the kitchen. There is also a competition for the best wild food recipe –don’t miss that! Visit the Grasslands website for details http://www.parishgrasslandsproject.org.uk/news.html#hudnalls2016. We’ll be there to cover the whole story but don’t let that put you off coming along and do say hello. It’ll be a fabulous day – tell them we sent you…

Raoul is a familiar face at the Tudor Farmhouse Hotel where is has been wild food expert in residence for several years as well as the tutor on Tudor Farmhouse Hotel’s extremely popular residential and group foraging courses. Under the expert tutelage of Raoul, Tudor’s courses having been running for about 5 years now and are always such popular events for the hotel that extra dates have been added for this Autumn and there are some new spring dates for 2017 soon to be announced. With either the day group courses or luxurious  forage, eat and stay packages on offer to choose from, they are not to be missed. See their website for details http://www.tudorfarmhousehotel.co.uk/foraging-trips/

 

Tudor Farmhouse Hotel - you'll love it!
Tudor Farmhouse Hotel – you’ll love it!

Tudor Farmhouse Menu Exclusive

Tudor Farmhouse Hotel, Clearwell, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, David Broadbent Photography, Rob Cox, fine dining, restaurant,

 

The chic and stylish boutique hotel in Clearwell village is launching a new addition to their menu for 2016. Their All Day Grazing menu is a super tasty collection of “small plates” just right for a flavour and luxury boost for a quick lunch as you are passing, after a walk or other outdoor activity or just to catch up with a friend over something nice to eat. It’s also by way of a tasting menu for the main al a carte service and lunchtime set menus and so is a great opportunity to sample what you may like to order in a later restaurant meal.

We caught up with Colin Fell co-owner at Tudor Farmhouse and his Head Chef Rob Cox for an exclusive first view and tasting of the new menu. Colin told us “The new menu is available daily between noon and five o’clock for all of our customers.  We have afternoon tea, great sandwiches and desserts and the small plate service selected from our main restaurant menu. It’s the Tapas concept done in our own unique Forest of Dean & Wye Valley style”.

Tudor Farmhouse Hotel, Clearwell, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, David Broadbent Photography, Rob Cox, fine dining, restaurant,
Brown crab mouse with turnip and sea vegetables

WyeDean Deli Confidential had been invited to a pre-launch taster of the small plates and we have to say that we were very impressed! We’ve already tasted a couple of the dishes in their al a carte form like cauliflower steak now the main ingredient in a salad with radish and capers – delish! A smaller portion of the superb pan fried stone bass is also on the grazing menu and it looked fantastic on spinach and Rob’s colourful swede puree, and it tasted exactly how we loved it last time. There is a brown crab mouse with turnip and sea vegetables which, was so very subtly flavoured and a tour de force of presentation (as was everything else). Vegetables are a great and underused (creatively) ingredient as Chef Rob put it – “there are many more varieties of veg and ways to cook them than cuts of meat if you think about it – just as varied and tasty an option as an ingredient or a centrepiece”.

Tudor Farmhouse Hotel, Clearwell, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, David Broadbent Photography, Rob Cox, fine dining, restaurant,
Cauliflower and radish salad

Rob has really established himself in the Forest & Wye since coming to Tudor Farmhouse. Originally from Lancashire and trained in Manchester, Rob’s previous position at Michael Caines’ Restaurant “Abode” in the cities heart at Manchester Piccadilly sees a complete contrast in surroundings for him. Tudor Farmhouses’ concept of buy great, buy local is a concept Rob likes and is familiar with. Quality comes first and as many of the ingredients as possible are sourced locally.

Tudor Farmhouse Hotel, Clearwell, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, David Broadbent Photography, Rob Cox, fine dining, restaurant,
Venison tartare

But, back to the plates. The Venison tartare looked stunning with a wafer thin slice of beetroot and topped with a garden of greens punctuated with bright juniper. The 24 hour braised beef featherblade on mash with a red wine sauce hit all of those lovely meaty tones and the texture of the meat went perfectly with the creamy mash and rich sauce. The received wisdom on the featherblade cut (from the front shoulder blade of the cow) which is packed with flavour, was that it should only ever be cooked rare. Rob’s innovation takes it the other way and braises it for a whole day and it tastes really great! If you are a meat eater – you’ll want to try this…

Tudor Farmhouse Hotel, Clearwell, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, David Broadbent Photography, Rob Cox, fine dining, restaurant,
25hour braised beef featherblade

Colin had another treat in store for us and we sampled the a la carte serving of braised pheasant and roasted parsnips. Just looked fantastic and with a complimenting textures and flavours of pearl barley, quince and some fab looking mushrooms. A real country lunch or dinner plate!

Tudor Farmhouse Hotel, Clearwell, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, David Broadbent Photography, Rob Cox, fine dining, restaurant,
Homemade brownie and vanilla ice cream

The portions were just right for an on-the-go daytime treat and the menu has a wide variety to suit everyone’s taste. Dishes start from just £4 with the most expensive at £8 so they are great value for this standard of cooking in the chilled out environment of Tudor Farmhouse. And if you are really torn, are really hungry or just can’t decide – you can always have another – tapas DeanWye style!

An Inn Reborn

A40, The Crown at Whitchurch, David Broadbent Photography
The Crown at Whitchurch

 

We’ve been very busy conducting some investigative journalism in the Dean Wye lately. We’ve been looking at pubs! We’ve got some great articles with a very different slant lined up for you this year including our quest for our favourite and very best pub!

All in this very good cause, we called in for a chat with the new owners of the Crown at Whitchurch. You’ll have noticed if you have passed by recently that they have a jazzy new sign in the car park and a sparkling paint job to the exterior. This though is no, superficial facelift. There is serious change afoot in The Crown at Whitchurch and this is just the start of bringing a traditional coaching inn back to its former glory.

Coaching Inns have been around ever since people starting moving around. A place to stage a long journey and relax, get something to eat and drink, recharge those batteries, chat to fellow travellers and smell the sweet malt and hops from the on-site brewery in the sheds out back. Coaching inns existed because of the road and when journeys were long and arduous, the road needed the coaching inn. So useful was the concept that small communities started to build up around them. No Roman way station on the least travelled backwater road would be without one!

When we started to move the roads because we needed bigger high capacity highways two things happened; the vital importance and the necessity of the coaching inn was retained and service stations where born, which we all know serve only the best quality food with great service and at a very reasonable price……Mmmmm; The second was that all those lovely old traditional wayside inns were left stranded, beached like ocean going vessels when the tide had gone out, along way, and for good. Those with a village live on, but those without – who knows how many we’ve lost.

A40, The Crown at Whitchurch, David Broadbent Photography
Comfy and inviting bar. The Crown at Whitchurch

Walk into The Crown at Whitchurch and you get an instant feeling of homeliness. In fact before you get in, that feeling starts. Its position, which would have dominated the old village cross roads, looks imposing and no less so today, even with the A40 traffic whizzing by. Outside under the veranda red and black chequer laid tiles hint at a Victorian innovation, the steel table and chairs cast interesting shadows in the low winter sun and the main door has that solid weight of history hanging off the hinges. Once inside the interior is surprisingly open plan, yet still very intimate, the bright and well stocked bar to the right isn’t the thing which catches your eye first, it’s the sexy Swedish log burner glowing attractively in the heath. Around it there is a shabby chic mismatch of furniture, comfortable and upholstered on a pleasing theme. A draughts board is set out ready for play on a small table below a small window and it’s invitingly snug cushion. The large window fills the bar with light and the bar itself glitters with Wye Valley Brewery beers and a chic stage-lit spirits collection – we can hear the cocktail shaker now!

Wye Valley Brewery ales. The Crown at Whitchurch, David Broadbent Photography
Wye Valley Brewery ales. The Crown at Whitchurch

To the left, the very simple and very pleasant restaurant again with an eclectic collection of tables, chairs and tableware, awaits seated diners, although this is set for refurbishment before Easter.

A40, The Crown at Whitchurch, David Broadbent Photography
Very inviting. The Crown at Whitchurch

And so just how do you breathe life back into a coaching house? Step one; have a lot of passion about it. Step two; have a vision. Three: get a good team behind you who share your passion. Nicola and Tom do not lack passion for the place! And so has the team. They already know most of them well because most of them are family, no we actually mean family. Apart from Nicola and Tom, there is Samara (daughter) as front of house manager and so it goes on, Tom’s brother and niece, Nicola’s son and other daughter and a niece on patisserie! We not even sure that’s all of them!

A40, The Crown at Whitchurch, David Broadbent Photography
The Crown at Whitchurch

Back to what’s happening for 2016. As we’ve said the bar sparkles with the glittering hand pumps of Wye Valley Brewery Butty Bach and Dorothy Goodbody as well as locally made ciders and all the components of a great cocktail bar on the back. The main craft ales are feature beers and so change regularly – always worth a re-visit then. At the moment food is great pub food but Nicola tells us that Owain Jones, their 25 year old Welsh but South African classically trained chef is chaffing at the bit to do more. It show’s in the specials, Owain is putting his classical training and previous experience (Llangoed Hall restaurant) for inventiveness to good use. He’s already established a great Sunday Roast – not to be missed – and in the week we visited the bar special was confit duck! For the upcoming Six Nations Rugby, (which The Crown will be showing) there is a bar menu in tune with the playing nations. Great homemade Fish and Chips and Aberdeen Angus burgers for the England Scotland match for example. They are also just starting their Phileas Fogg inspired world tour too. “Around the World in Eight Weeks” kicked off with Indian and Mexican so check out their web site for what’s next before it’s too late and you’ve missed the balloon.

A40, The Crown at Whitchurch, David Broadbent Photography
Old Ross Road. The Crown at Whitchurch

With a full refurbishment of the already pretty restaurant planned to open at Easter, no doubt Owain will allowed to go for it – we definitely look forward to seeing what he comes up with and we’ll be bringing you a full report on the menu tests.

A40, The Crown at Whitchurch, David Broadbent Photography
Huff!

All in all we like what’s happening at The Crown at Whitchurch. So do the customers and the bar and restaurant is beginning to establish it’s own steady and loyal band of locals and visitors. Nicola and Tom have clearly thought out what they want to do and how they want the place to look which is reflected in the décor. The plan for their 21st century coaching inn (the bar is as big as the restaurant) is to develop it as a great pub but also a great place to eat.

A40, The Crown at Whitchurch, David Broadbent Photography
Front terrace. The Crown at Whitchurch

When you walk in to The Crown at Whitchurch It has a very welcoming colour scheme and it’s also very light and airy. But somehow it doesn’t feel overly trendy, it’s not trying too hard, it feels…….well, nice….., comfortable, familiar……., like home, like a place you would want to sit, have a drink, something to eat and wait for the next stage coach instead.

 

What about these beauties!

IMG_3235

Not just craft in the beer as these elegant new Forest Oak pump handles newly installed in the Speech House Hotel show. All from a chance meeting between Paul Williamson at Hillside Brewery and the Forest of Dean Wood Turning Group no doubt over some sort of sampling opportunity. And so the challenge was laid down to the group members to get creative with the lathe and bingo the winning entry was installed on the famous forest hotel bar. It wasn’t easy though as the members had inspired and the competition was tough.

IMG_3232

We chatted to Paul Hannaby at the wood turning club who told us; The club meets at Weston-Under-Penyard village hall on the third Wednesday of the month. We have twenty five members and the club is thriving with a full and active programme. The beer pump handles came about from a chance meeting with Paul at the Dean Heritage Centre. The brewery thought it would be a good idea if the woodturning club could make some beer pump handles. Paul thought that wood was likely to produce a handle more in keeping with their artisan beers. A subsequent brewery visit and tour was organised to confirm dimensions (of course – Ed) and the challenge was made even more interesting by the brewery prizes of local ales for the best handles. A total of eleven handles were entered in the competition. The brewery team loved them all. They eventually selected their favourites and a prize of a case of 12 bottles of beer was awarded for each of these handles Every other handle won 6 bottles. First prize was taken by Jeff Belcher who accepted the case of beer graciously.

Both businesses, Hillside and The Speech House, are both committed to sourcing locally wherever that is possible and so the first fine pair of handles are a real pleasure for both Peter Hands and Paul. In fact, Paul was so impressed these handles will used to pull beer from any of the pubs who stock Hillside beer. A real case of a craft handle to pour a craft ale – now, how many local artisan glass blowers do we know?………..

IMG_3236

 

All images supplied by Hillside Brewery