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.

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

 

 

 

Tudor Farmhouse Hotel

Hari and Colin Fell at the Tudor Farmhouse have been a little bit busy lately. As well as investing heavily as proprietors in all aspects of their fine hotel and restaurant dream to get it to their own high standards, they also work very hard running the very beautiful and very successful 20 bedroom Clearwell hotel (which – by the way – is ideally situated to explore the best of the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley). Amazing then that they have the energy for regular physical exercise lifting all that silverware at recent awards – Taste of the West Champions “Best South West Restaurant 2015” and Hotel of the Year 2015 from Sawday’s. Impressive!

Hari Fell owner at the Tudor Farmhouse hotel
Hari Fell owner at the Tudor Farmhouse hotel

We caught up with Hari over a very nice midweek lunch. Hari is a very efficient and hard-working co-owner and keeps the place ticking like a clock, but she is also very friendly, charming and attentive and her staff looked after our table of two very well. Lunch – was a real winner and very tasty too.

I saw the smoked Haddock, leek and oyster soup in the list of three starters and to be honest I had already decided on the first course before I read the other two. A very similar thing happened across the table and so – “that’ll be two soups please”. For the second course we ordered one Stone bass, also known as Wreckfish in the UK, with attendant vegetables and one roasted cauliflower steak with pickled shallots and mash.

Smoked Haddock, in my opinion, always has the potential to make for a fabulous soup, if you can get the accompanying balancing ingredients spot on. Think of Cullen Skink a Scottish speciality of smoked Haddock, cream and potatoes a tour de force when done properly (Yorkshireman Brian Turner makes the finest I’ve ever tasted) but if it’s just off perfect, well, you have got trouble.

Head chef Rob Cox has the Tudor Farmhouse haddock, leek and oyster just right. A few nice pieces of haddock to give that great smoky flavour and aroma, with a few diced potatoes and some very fine julienne of fried leek with a golden yellow egg yolk in the bottom of the plate. The soup is well seasoned and served from a small jug at the table. As it pours the creamy light green soup fills the bowl to create an island paradise of the rest of the ingredients. Break the yolk and mix a little in each spoonful to complete the rich creamy and luxurious taste of the whole dish. Very nice indeed.

Tudor Farmhouse Hotel
Tudor Farmhouse Hotel

Stone bass looks like the big brother of the more familiar sea bass. The local name of Wreckfish comes from it’s chosen habitat in deep water shipwreck sites and it’s most often caught by trawlermen in UK waters as it’s generally too deep for sea anglers. The meat is white and firm and because the species is a little larger, makes for a substantial fillet with a meatier texture than its more familiar relative.  Tudor Farmhouse serve it perched on lovely dark green “black” cabbage which makes a wonderful contrast with cumin scented carrots and carrot and swede puree. Lovely crispy skin side up, it looked fab on the plate. How did it taste – well nothing went back!

Tudor Farmhouse Hotel
Stone bass

Vegetarian food can so often be side lined in a carnivore’s mind-set and overlooked on a menu. This in my estimation is a great mistake. Although a lifelong carnivore, I love main course vegetable dishes (that happen to be suitable for vegetarian customers in my own mind-set) when they are done well with the same attention to detail you expect from the rest of the menu. Cuisines from around the world don’t seem to have such a problem with this. Think of the great Chinese and Asian vegetable dishes and things like the Vegetable Thali, a medley of several different vegetable dishes, served in good Indian restaurants.

The butter roasted cauliflower steak was great! A thick slice of cauliflower cut from the heart of the head and down through the main stalk to hold it all together before being oven roasted with butter was just perfect. The stem was tender with just the right amount of bite and the florets were soft and delicious. The roasted butter gave a delicate nutty flavour and there was a touch of piquancy from the topping of pickled shallot. A spoonful of very creamy mash and I think, Rob Cox, you can call that a great success. I would certainly order that again!

Tudor Farmhouse Hotel
Tudor Farmhouse Hotel

Chosen dessert was a very attractive vanilla mouse with apple, rosemary and sweet rosemary oil with nasturtium leaves and a little granola for crunchy texture – again very, very tasty and it looked fab on the plate.

So well done Tudor Farmhouse our superb lunch was served in very homely surroundings in the smartly furnished warm honey stone and original timber front dining room you would expect from a good class country hotel. The cooking was inventive and skilful with great flavours in exactly the right balance. The two course lunch was £22 and my lunch partner couldn’t resist the dessert for just £3 extra!

Tudor Farmhouse Hotel
Tudor Farmhouse Hotel

Honours well and truly deserved Hari & Colin.

Visit the Tudor Farmhouse Hotel website to read Colin and Hari’s blog and sign up for the newsletter to get all the latest news, events and offers.

+44 (0)1594 833046 email – info@tudorfarmhousehotel.co.uk

www.tudorfarmhousehotel.co.uk

Legless Cow’s now available at Speech House Hotel.

 

The Speech House Hotel is the most iconic hotel in the Forest of Dean. Situated, as it is, at the very heart of the Forest of Dean and housing the ancient home of Britain’s oldest court has made it well known, and well loved by all. Nowadays, it’s equally well known for the adjacent Speech House field, home to the Forest Activities Festival, the Forest Showcase and the grand annual Fireworks night display events to name, but a few.

In charge at the hotel, husband and wife team, Peter & Gill Hands, run a tight ship with customer satisfaction unashamedly front and centre of everything they do. And the latest big news is that Hillside Brewery’s traditional IPA style best bitter – Legless Cow – is well and truly re-homed in the Speech House bar and on draught.  The beer, named for the healthy appreciation the cattle up at Hillside have for the spent grain from the brewing process, has already sold out the first delivery. We caught up with Peter Hands, and Paul Williamson from Hillside as he delivered the next consignment.

Peter Hands of The Speech House Hotel takes delivery of Hillside Brewery Legless Cow ale, by Paul Williamson.
Peter Hands of The Speech House Hotel takes delivery of Hillside Brewery Legless Cow ale, by Paul Williamson.

The ever ebullient host Peter, who has only recently made his Twitter debut, has been having a little bit of “pun” in the Speech House social media channel (@speechhouse) on the Legless Cow theme. He started with “There’s a Legless Cow meandering its way to the Speech House. Watch this space for more on its journey.” On a roll and seemingly unstoppable, he waded in with “We are looking forward 2 stabling the Legless Cow at Speech House when Paul rounds her up and drives her down. Moooch joy @Hillsidebrewery.” We hesitate to say finally, because we don’t think he’s done yet, but “Mooovalous this Legless Cow Beer, Prime cut hops. No udder one like it. Cheers from Speech House Bar” – we can hear echoes of – “I thank you, I’m here all week!!”

 

Legless Cow, best bitter, craft ale, CAMRA, Hillside Brewery,
Hillside Brewery Legless Cow. Traditional IPA style best bitter.

 

Peter & Gill have always been supporters of local food and drink businesses. We last chatted to Peter at the inaugural Tourism Association event See, Taste, Buy in the spring where he was chatting to local suppliers to see, taste and, where possible, source good local produce. Paul from Hillside was there, but the two were already acquainted by that time. We chatted to Peter about the latest introduction to the Speech House bar:

WyeDean Deli Confidential: “So, Hillside Brewery’s Legless Cow on draught.”

Peter Hands: “I love Legless Cow and the name still brings a smile to my face. We love what Hillside are trying to do and we’d love to be able to say that a much larger part of our stock is sourced from the DeanWye and other local producers with low food miles.”

WyeDean Deli Confidential: “What are the drawbacks or the hurdles in trying to achieve that?”

Peter Hands: “Theoretically – none. But we have to offer our customers great service and great quality products in everything we do. One of the key factors on the quality issue, when it comes to local producers, as opposed to national producers,  is consistency. Customers may already know a brand from their travels or they may be coming back to us, as so many do, and they expect that the things they love are the same each and every time. It’s a commercial decision to stock local (and one which we are happy to make), but we can’t accept products which change with the weather – it’s just a guaranteed way to disappoint the customer. That’s why we like Hillside Brewery. We’ve been up there and met Paul and his staff and looked at the operation. We like what they do, we like the fun and the passion they bring to it and we are seriously impressed with the investment they have made to ensure that their beers are top quality – consistently!”

WyeDean Deli Confidential: “Aren’t local products more expensive than big brands?”

Peter Hands: “They don’t have to be. Big brands have definitely got the muscle when it comes to pricing, but we are always looking for the best prices from our suppliers – we have to. And the real key is, yes customers expect value for money, but it’s a mistake to assume that is their only driver, our customers also want quality. It’s also a mistake to assume that customers make those decisions in that order. In my experience quality and taste comes first every time.”

Paul Williamson: “It’s great to hear Peter pick up on the consistency issue. We’ve worked so hard on our recipes to get the quality, depth of flavour and variety into our CAMRA recognised craft ales, but making the best beer in the world is pointless if you can only ever produce one batch of it.”

So, down at Speech House, the welcome is great; the countryside is great; the hotel is great (as is the food) and the bar is well-stocked with great local beers. The jokes – well……….

 

Peter Hands of The Speech House Hotel takes delivery of Hillside Brewery Legless Cow ale, by Paul Williamson.

 

Speech House Hotel ‏ www. thespeechhouse.co.uk  Twitter @speechhouse 

Hillside Brewery www.hillsidebrewery.com Twitter @Hillsidebrewery

If you tweet and want to keep to date with all the news from the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley follow the hashtag #deanwye

 

All credit to Nigel Slater – Eating Together on BBC One

Nigel Slater, BBC, TV,
Nigel Slater: Eating Together – (C) Tigress Productions Ltd BBC Pictures – Photographer: Tom Blount

Don’t know if you have been watching Nigel Slater (cook, author, The Observer food columnist) in his new series for the BBC – Eating Together? Nigel, who describes himself as “a cook who writes” is someone who we have followed for some time, he travels the world, in culinary terms, cooking, tasting and meeting those who have bought such a wealth of flavours and cultures to the British palate. If you haven’t yet seen it you can catch a BBC One promo clip and taster for the series at www.bbc.co.uk/bbcone – we have and for a very special DeanWye reason!

Don’t jump up to put the kettle on immediately the next episode ends, but wait for the credits. Right there, if you’re quick, you’ll see the name Yvette Farrell! That’s right, the Yvette Farrell, our own local food hero, foraging Queen, Principal of Harts Barn Cookery School and this year’s Forester Business Person of the Year as well as being champion of all things local and wonderful (see previous feature).

Yvette Farrell - brains behind Harts Barn Cookery School
Yvette Farrell – brains behind Harts Barn Cookery School

The opportunity came about through a mutual acquaintance who happened to know that Nigel was one of Yvette’s all-time food heroes. Pretty soon she was signed up, amidst total secrecy, for a gruelling week long schedule of 10/12 hour days cooking for Nigel and the crew during filming. Yvette got to work behind the scenes of the new series, which started this week on BBC1 and will continue every Monday night at 7.30pm. She appearing in the credits of the show and her main role was to prepare food and catering for Nigel and the crew during the long days of filming.

“It was a great honour to work with my food hero, Nigel and he was every bit as likeable and caring as I had imagined he would be.  His approach to food and cooking is very much in line with my own beliefs and ethos – one that I try to bring in to the Cookery School every day. My highlight was Nigel saying I made the best Flatbreads he has ever tasted – which is a great boost as I have plans to develop the Forest Flatbread for production and put the Forest of Dean on the map in the same way the Cornish Pasty has  done for Cornwall!” Yvette commented.

“I run a ‘Hire A Chef’ catering service as part of the Cookery School, so I was well prepared for the hard work and the rewards really were fantastic,” she continued.

The new series sees Nigel Slater meet devoted home cooks across multi-cultural Britain to discover how food in this country has never been so exciting. From noodles, to dumplings and custard there are some dishes we all love to cook wherever we originate from in the world. In this series Nigel gathers inspiration from the distant cousins of some of his favourite recipes, finding out culinary secrets from across the world and discovering what makes different cultures within Britain tick.

For more information www.hartsbarncookeryschool.co.uk or contact Helen Hayes: helen@hartsbarncookeryschool.co.uk

@NigelSlater  Instagram.com/thenigelslater

The Rising Sun, Woolaston Common: Fab, wholesome and homemade Pies!

Maria, Landlady at The Rising Sun, Woolaston Common, in the kitchen standing over her homemade pies

John & Maria are seasoned pub owners, having been in the trade for 30 years and they have owned the Rising Sun, Woolaston, for 5 years. The pub (like John and Maria!) has plenty of character. This stone building is 400 years old and is located in the beautiful countryside that flanks this part of the River Severn. So, as you’d expect, the garden has spectacular views and it gets very busy in the summer. Continue Reading This Article

Miners Arms Whitecroft, sausages & mash to die for!

Mario - Owner of the Miners Arms, Whitecroft, posing for the camera whilst making his Scotch eggs.

 

Are you looking for pub food with a difference? Well, The Miners Arms is the one of the best pubs and restaurants for food in the Forest of Dean and they also put on live music too! The menu is packed full of local food and they even serve kid (as in goat, not children!) from the Cotswolds. Mario and Karen are big on the eating local ethos and are extremely enthusiastic about food. Their portion sizes are generous and the quality is fantastic – and it isn’t your standard pub grub! Continue Reading This Article