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/

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….

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

Mint & Mustard opens in Chepstow

 

Last night I went to a wake and a christening. All at the same time and at the same place.

Sadly, after many years, the Mughal Spice Indian restaurant in Chepstow is no more. The wholesome food and bonhomie of the brothers is a thing of the past. However, in its place is born an additional iteration to the very successful Mint & Mustard. The south-west based Indian food explosion has finally cracked the holy grail of the “Indian”, to offer distinctive, regional, genuine menu’s with a dash of great service and in cool surroundings. Although the new Chepstow outlet is pretty much just a lick of paint and a refresh for the old Mughal upstairs rooms at the moment, they have great ideas for the downstairs lounge. Anyone who has been to their other restaurants, particularly Penarth, will know that the decor style of this quickly expanding group is definitely upmarket and trendy with nods to all of the interior design trends and tricks of the new wave of uber-cool bars and restaurants.

Classy decoration in the upstairs dining room
Classy decoration in the upstairs dining room

As most now know, many of our beloved “Indians” have in the past been run by Bangladeshi folk. Nothing wrong in that, but since the days of the Raj, Asian food has been adapted and adopted by the British palate as only we seem to do with any world cuisine. Partly because of this restaurant menus became the anonymous high streets of the restaurant business. Homologous lists of dishes you could get from anywhere – with often differing resemblances to the stated contents.

Mint & Mustard is changing that. The reason for their success so far is simple? Of course the great levels of service are important but it’s the food. Genuine south Indian, predominantly Keralan, dishes all served up with lashings of style and presentation. Finally! An Indian restaurant that gets it all right.

Evoke Pictures Bristol Food Photographers

Kerala, known as the “Land of Spices” because of its history as a spice trading centre to the world, sits on the Arabian Sea on the tropical Malabar Coast. No wonder then that fish is one of the staple elements of the Keralan diet. But it’s also famous for its meat and vegan dishes (Hindus in the Brahmin community are vegan). Coconuts abound in Kerala and, in all its forms, it’s a significant feature of the local cuisine.

Evoke Pictures Bristol Food Photographers

Our starters of Scallop Thengapal served in their shells with an unctuous soft lemon and coconut milk sauce and the theatrical Keralan tiger prawns, deep fried in chilli and turmeric paste – delightful. A selection of mains followed which included expertly spiced chicken Kori Gassi, King Prawn Peera, chicken Dhaba Murgh with chilli, garlic and ginger and a Master Chef Mixed Grill Platter with an assortment of meat and fish tikka dishes. Accompanying sides of dals – Olan (butternut squash and cow peas) and of course Tarka dal.

Evoke Pictures Bristol Food Photographers

Tarka dal is such a domestic staple of Asian cuisine from Nepal to the southern tip of the continent that it’s a litmus for the quality of any Asian restaurant. If a restaurant can’t get this right, the thing they have been cooking at home and eating for years, then it doesn’t bode well. If the tarka dal is good, you can have confidence that everything is going to be just fine.   M&M’s tarka dal is great. Just the right amount of sauce, spice and texture in the lentils – a real treat.

Add to that a full house and lots of early evening atmos – and that’ll be another winner for Mint & Mustard!

 

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!

Around the World in 80 Meals

Harts Barn Cookery School, Supper Clubs, passport, WyeDean Deli Confidential, event, social, evening,

 

It’s all about Food or Omne suum circa cibum as the Romans might have said when they lived and worked in the Forest of Dean.

We love Harts Barn Cookery School and we love what they do at the light and airy training kitchen on Monmouth Road at Longhope. The phrase something for everybody is often overused but maestro in charge at Harts Barn Cookery School, Yvette Farrell, really does try to offer events and activities for everyone! From artisan skills courses in bread making, cake making and decorating or even making your very own personalised chocolates – it’s all here. At half term there are specific classes for kids where they cook and create in their own holiday atmosphere.

But it is the next Supper Club (hosted in the quirky Apple Barn dining area) we are most looking forward to at the moment. We’ll be at the “Taste of Thailand” on Friday 26 February and just can’t wait! All those fabulous aromas of lemon grass, basil and spices. It’s going to be wonderful!

Harts Barn Cookery School, Supper Clubs, passport, WyeDean Deli Confidential, event, social, evening,

Supper Clubs are held in the Apple Barn each month throughout the year and there is a full list of upcoming events on the cookery school website. Next up is Greek Night (March), followed by Rustic French in April, Middle Eastern in May and a riot of tricolore with a Taste of Italy in June.

Harts Barn Cookery School, Supper Clubs, passport, WyeDean Deli Confidential, event, social, evening,

 

Yvette says “These nights are really social. Food always brings people together and we always aim for a really relaxed and informal atmosphere with great food”. Just a word, though, we know that the Supper Clubs are very popular and therefore booking is absolutely essential.

Drinks are available from the bar to accompany your meal, many sourced from great local suppliers.

Pick-up your culinary passport from Harts Barn Cookery School on your first fabulous night. Just like in the good old days of travel, you actually get your passport stamped by Yvette at the Apple Barn border and if you get enough stamps you’ll qualify for a Supper Club meal for FREE! Yes, we did say free.

Supper Clubs are a great social night out enjoying food from around the world, meeting new people from the area or from further afield (holiday visitors are always made very welcome) – all without leaving the glorious Forest of Dean.

If you are interested in learning more about the Supper Clubs go to the booking page to see what’s coming up or call 01452 831719; email info@hartsbarncookeryschool.co.uk

foody stamp (1)

 

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.

 

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