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

 

The Queens Head Micro pub, Chepstow

Queens Head micro pub
Lights back on at the Queens Head

 

On the face of it the last thing Chepstow needed a couple of years go in the high street economic climate of the day was another pub. Why then is Glen Ellis’ Queens Heads micropub on Moor Street in this quiet border town, still going strong?

In an age when reality TV delivers anything but reality, people have become jaundiced by tripe served as prime beef steak. This group of people, who are largely immune to advertising, are known by the red spectacle wearing advertising crowd, as the Millennial Generation. Traditional methods of advertising conjury don’t work on this group – a phenomenon so worrying to TV market traders that actual scientific research has been done into this disconcerting group. They are sometimes defined as “native digital” (Forbes magazine) and the first generation to have grown up with digital communication and social media rather than mainstream media. But, whatever age you are, you may be one of them.

People don’t change and they know genuine when they see it. And you could never accuse this great little pub tucked into the row just above the town gate and next to the Police Station of being anything other than good and honest! Walk into the single room bar and it feels like a pub. The wooden bar, tables and seats have the homely warm glow that only good old solid wood can offer, a rough timber post props up the roof while a ramshackle shelf, just about, holds thick tomes on craft beer. The timber floor leads to a decoratively carved bar and the bare stone walls are decorated in beer mats and other treatise to drink good beer. The pub strap line is the famous Hunter S. Thompson quote “Good people drink good beer” – I thank you.

Queens Head micro pub
Queens Head micropub

There’s a good reason for all this architectural pub bonhomie. It’s in the building DNA.  It was The Queen’s Head for many years but was closed as a pub for about 20 years (it had a midlife crisis and became a hairdresser, clothes shop and an office in the intervening years). Glen found it on the property website Rightmove and fell in love with it and the town of Chepstow. Having secured the change of use back to a pub he has just sort of revived it in a way, brought it back to life with a real ale defibrillator in a craft beer paramedic kind of a way. The bar is actually an old church altar, Glen purchased before ever finding an actual venue for his dream micro pub.  The carving IHS in the middle stands for the first 3 letters of Jesus’ name in Greek. The Alpha symbol on the left stands for the first, and the Omega symbol on the right for the last. So, ladies and gentlemen, please step up to the altar of great Welsh beer.

Queens Head micro pub
Queens Head micropub

In many ways what you see today is the manifestation of Glen’s lifelong dream. Now 34 years old and married to Catherine with a 9 month old daughter called Ivy, Glen has worked in pubs since university days. Back in the day when you could choose how you spent the student grant, Glen invested very wisely in an appreciation of good beer and he’s had – important word here – passion for Real Ale ever since.  After university Glen worked at his mum and dads (The Tower Hotel in Talgarth), running the public bar for them which is where all of that academic research became practical experience and customer service.

Don’t get the idea that this is some sort of beardy man cave though. This is a pub for all, young old, couples, workers – all are welcome and the common denominator is that they like a proper pub for proper people who like their beer to be interesting and taste of something. We chatted to Jon at the bar during “early doors” on Friday. He owns Toytastic the toyshop nearby and calls in for a pint after work. OK, he has got a beard, but otherwise he’s largely normal and very charming. Mike runs Trans Wales Trails, horseback trail riding based near Pengenffordd at the foot of the Black Mountains. He is a regular customer in my Mum and Dads pub at Talgarth where Glen learned his trade craft in working a bar. Mike always calls in on his occasional visits to Chepstow from the hills above Pengenffordd .There’s a northern saying that you can’t stand in a pub there for more than a minute without someone talking to you. At the Queens Head – make that a few seconds and after a few seconds more the regulars will also be congratulating you on your discerning choice of hostelry and telling you what a great pub this is.

Queens Head micropub
Queens Head micropub

Generally and not unreasonably being situated in Wales, Glen offers a wide and ever changing range of beers and ciders from the home nation. He’s a bit of an authority on small Welsh beers in fact and something of an almanac on the breweries they are made in. There’s a “when it’s gone, it’s changed” approach to stock and the result is a roving travelogue of Welsh craft beer, ably assisted and illustrated by a chalk board map of Wales hanging on the wall. It’s not all about Welsh beer though and when the context allows – like the Six Nations Rugby you’ll find suitably partisan guest beers from your own backyard.

There is of course good beer and cider, a warm and genuine welcome from a knowledgeable and enthusiastic landlord and great Welsh beers. But, there is something here that not all pubs have got. There was good conversation at the bar with nice and interesting people. You could hear what was being said because there’s no “musak” or escalating irritating digital pings or distracting light show from a Tardis in the corner offering Las Vegas style riches at the pull of a handle.

Queens Head micro pub
Queens Head micro pub

There are difficult choices of where to start given the range of beers on offer. You could of course go the logical/analytical route and start on the left working your way across during the night or, more responsibly, you could opt for the Queens Head beer tapas. Tapas (sampling the beers in third of pint measures) will be familiar to anyone who has been to a big beer festival, like the upcoming CAMRA Gloucester event (article coming soon). It helps you sample several new beers, without turning the evening into a train wreck. We tried Grey Trees’ JPR, a very nice IPA beer from the Cynon Valley of South Wales (Cynon Valley lies between Rhondda and the Merthyr Valley).

In Italy all bars offer “Aperitvo” to the early evening crowd, often vying with neighbouring bars for the reputation of the best or tastiest. It’s just a complimentary selection of tasty nibbles to go with a few drinks after work. It suits the Italian psyche of food at every opportunity, enjoyment, talking and above all – welcome. The Queens Head does it Gwent style with short dated food on the “offers” shelf from Marks & Spencer’s across the road – plump and tasty sausage rolls the night we were in!

Queens Head micro pub
Queens Head micro pub

When the new M & S opened about a year ago, regulars from the pub started doing their bit to reduce the food waste mountain by bringing in reduced price bargains to share out amongst the other patrons. Thus, the Yellow Label Club was born. In the Queens, as all over Italy, competition has set in and the goal to find the item with the greatest reduction is now a grudge match. Currently in the lead is another Mike who found a Banquet Pie reduced from £25 to £2.50.

There is a movement to “Save our Pubs”, a fine cause and never a more relevant sentiment than now. You can do your bit too – by drinking in them! Occasional aperitivo is one other way the Queens rolls out the welcome carpet. Saving pubs is important because we are only just now realising that the plight of all those great pubs, now gone, was a litmus, a precursor to what’s now happening in our high streets.

Queens Head micro pub
Queens Head micro pub

Going for a beer is many things. Going for a quick beer after work is a specific thing. It’s an opportunity to unwind and put the working day behind you before going home to family. Psychologists would say that it’s a chance for the brain to compartmentalise whatever has happened in the day as “work”, provide a clear separation between work and home and also to stop you boring the pants off the family with tales of the widget you made today that mysteriously appeared with the face of Jesus on it.

Queens Head micro pub
Queens Head micro pub

Perhaps though the Millennial Generation should be redefined? Perhaps they are in realty just a group of cross-generational discerning men and women who use their powers of research to seek out places like the Queens Head they heard about on the grapevine, who don’t need the hype but instead rely on their own ability to go there and use their eyes and quality of judgement to recognize the real deal when they see it.

Queens Head micropub
Queens Head micropub

We’ll be writing all of our Grand Tour Wye Valley postcards from here in the future…..

Head over to Glen’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/queensheadchepstow/ and hit the “Like” button to support the pub. If you are part of the Twitterati – you’ll need this  @QueensChepstow you know what to do.

12 Moor Street, Chepstow. Call 07793 889613

Ugly Tomatoes.

tomatoe, David Broadbent Photography

 

I bought some tomatoes the other day. To be honest they were as ugly as sin itself. They were lined and wrinkled and had a few little black spots on them. Not really very pretty at all and they were all shapes and sizes – not one the same as the other.

Obviously I didn’t buy them from the local supermarket. These little blighters would have been strangled at birth, given the boot by the automation that sizes and grades fruit and vegetable and be now littering some landfill somewhere.

No, I bought these from a greengrocer running her own small shop in a little back street. I paid a very small amount of money for something that has taken weeks of care to bring to bring to market. When I got home I put the ugly bunch on the kitchen worktop and went back to work. They were so ugly that they would have made small children cry, old ladies feint, turn milk sour or made the Elephant Man gasp in amazement.

But, and here is the thing – they tasted fantastic! Out of this world in fact! The kitchen smelt wonderful because of them and they made amazing and super tasty bruschetta, and Caprese salad and the next day with a light grilling they made the breakfast kitchen smell wonderful as well, full of warm tomatoey goodness. They also made the grilled bacon taste even better. Who knew that bacon could be made to taste any better?

“Hello” magazine readers should look away now – As in life, it’s always in the quality and not the looks so give a lot of love to the ugly ones too.

 

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!

 

Macaron A Sweet Indulgence

David Broadbent Photography, macaron,

Becks Gough is a perfectionist – in all things. This bright eyed and enthusiastic Cinderford young woman is not the type to give up easily. And when, by chance, during a weekend in Paris she happened on the eye catching shop front of Ladurée on 75 Avenue de Champs Elysées she had – found her thing as they say – Macaron making. The window display of this famous patisserie and tea room, which has a history that began in 1862, definitely has the WOW factor and Becks and her friend bought some to try and also to take home to her mum. Macarons are delicate things but with lots of soft packaging and careful handling Becks got the colourful pastries home to Cinderford after a 15 hour return coach trip. Both Becks and her mum, Chloe, were impressed!

As so often happens, a life time’s work can begin with the belief “I can do that”. That was two years ago and in between time Becks has had several successes but many, many more failures whilst trying to perfect her own macaron method.

What could possibly go wrong? How long have you got? A slightly different mix and – fail; folded too much – fail; not folded enough – fail; try a different oven on exactly the same settings – fail! Becks’ list goes on. She purchased the Ladurée book and took control of the process and slowly but surely she got there. Soon friends were asking for some and then friends of friends and so it continues.

Why macarons? Was our obvious question – “Both mum and dad are professional chefs with a services background and I wanted to do something different” just to find MY thing.

David Broadbent Photography
A Sweet Indulgence

So, how do yours compare to the best? Rather coyly and for some unknown reason a hint of embarrassment Becks says “Better”. A few days later a very colourful rainbow of macarons appeared to sample and photograph. Pushed to deadlines and up against competing demands we didn’t think that we could do the tasting justice. So, we took them, all of them, to a very fine country house in Lincolnshire which had been hired in its entirety for a, appropriately, a Royal Navy wedding!

So in the resplendent Edwardian halls and sitting rooms the night before the wedding over drinks and bonhomie we tried out Becks’ creations on the assembled close family and friends. The colours when you open a box of Sweet Indulgence macarons are what immediately grab your attention. Let the tasting begin….

The verdict was in from a very tough crowd. Wonderful and numerous other superlatives in the stampede to try all the flavours – lemon cream, strawberry and cream, raspberry and cream, blueberry and cream, Chocolate ganache, orange blossom and salted caramel.

The bride herself loved them, but daren’t try any more than one since her dress was very precisely fitted for the big day following. The bride’s mother loved the orange blossom ones best. The bride’s father loved them all (as did we).  And, Ali, a flight stewardess for an American airline and someone who has visited the Champs Elysées outlet and tasted the original – loved them and pronounced them even better than the Paris version!! There you have it – confirmation that you should try some.

Contact Becks on b.gough1991@hotmail.com

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!

Finest Hour

 

Walk amongst the living remnants of history to enjoy the Great British craft beer and cider of today.

 

beer, craft beer, Finest Hour, Hillside Brewery, David Broadbent Photography, Summerhouse Studios,
Hillside Breweries craft special beer “Finest Hour” in support of the Royal British Legion to be launched at Gloucester Beer Festival.

Beer o’clock comes around awful soon doesn’t it? Yes it’s time to again to say “all hail to the ale” at the Gloucester city centre hidden historical secret – it’s the Gloucester Beer and Cider Festival at Blackfriars Priory on 22nd to 23rd April organised by Gloucester CAMRA.

This cathedral to the art of craft ale and cider making will once again open its hallowed doors of the cavernous hall and welcome beer fans from across the county and indeed the country. We visited last year and had a great time. The live music was good, the atmosphere was wonderful and it was nice to chat to the festival goers and absorb all that beer appreciation and chilled out vibe this festival always promotes.

The sad news is that Hillside Breweries “Anzac” the craft special brewed in support of the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal for last year’s event   is no more. Personally, I think that’s a shame since I loved it so much and always came home with a few whenever I was passing the Hillside Brewery shop at the Longhope hilltop redoubt. You never know what the future holds though – so there is always hope.

Lots of good news though in that the same great organisation (Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal) is the charity beneficiary again this year, and that Hillside have done it again and made another very tasty beer for the event. A little less ABV (3.6%) for this one to sit it firmly into the session beer category – we give you, Hillsides “Finest Hour”, ta da.

Hillsides impressive and decidedly upmarket new labels now also list the hops used in each brew. Hops, which is some case are completely new and could even be called experimental, all sourced from their usual long standing hop grower. Jester, Olicana and First Gold in Finest hour to give it a very pleaseant and subtle note with those hints of the tropical again for the more discerning nose. The symbol of the Poppy Appeal is also proudly displayed on the label so that too is a refreshing change to some of the PC and very weak excuses we hear for the bland nowadays. We? Well we just loved the taste and we think it’s going to be a real hit at the festival and beyond!

Honestly if you’ve never been to the festival before you are missing a real treat. If you like to weave in and out of very local people looking upward with their mouths open proclaiming that they “never knew this was here” you’ll realise just what a hidden treasure Blackfriars is (see our article on last years event). If you appreciate sampling the wealth of craft beers and cider available as an explosive reaction to the mass produced mega-brewery fayre this is the place to be. Or if you just fancy a nice afternoon in the city, chilling out with friends and a couple of beers, then fill your boots – you are going to love it and make space in your calendar for future events.

 

Links

http://www.gloucesterbeerfestival.org.uk/

http://www.hillsidebrewery.com/

Provisional beer list as at 26th March is here http://www.gloucesterbeerfestival.org.uk/index.php/real-ale/ales/

Twitter feed for the festival @GlosBeerFest

The Pantry

village shop, David Broadbent Photography, village, shop, Deborah Flint, Cinder Hill Farm, local, service, village life, rural, UK, England,
village shop, David Broadbent Photography, village, shop, Deborah Flint, Cinder Hill Farm, local, service, village life, rural, UK, England,
New village shop in a traditional style.

Whenever one reads anything about rural services it is seldom good news. Cut backs and closures and the age old gripe that local businesses often loose out to supermarkets and shopping centres in terms of support from their locally based customers. It’s all too familiar a narrative we have come to associate with local rural services in last few decades. But one village in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire is bucking that trend and may even be an example of how the market may change for the better in the coming years.

St Briavels, the picturesque village purchased 800 foot (240 m) up on the edge of a limestone plateau above an ancient meander of the valley of the River Wye is packed with history including its very own castle. The hot news is, it also now has a local shop – just opened – to add to its list of services. That’s right, a village shop that has just opened!!

village shop, David Broadbent Photography, village, shop, Deborah Flint, Cinder Hill Farm, local, service, village life, rural, UK, England,
New village shop in a traditional style.

On the face of it this story is a great rural news story about a new village shop. One which stocks great produce offers great, friendly and knowledgeable service. But it could also be a metaphor for the dynamic of changing rural life evolving because of the way we work as a society.

The Pantry (opposite the local pub) is a modest but nonetheless extremely welcome, well appointed, very bright and airy shop in the true tradition. It is owned and run by Deborah Flint, half of the innovative and lovely people from the desperately successful (and very nearby) Cinder Hill Farm. The engine of the Cinder Hill Pie House success was good olde “word of mouth” from those who had tried their fabulous homemade pastry wrapped pies, sausage rolls and “Foggies”. We think that the enormous marketing engine that is “word of mouth” will soon make this little haven of village retail goodness as successful as the farm in growing a rural business – and that seemed to have worked out well!

New village shop in a traditional style.
New village shop in a traditional style.

On the day we visited the shop there was a steady flow (even in what Deborah called the quieter 2-3 slot) of customers. Locals buying milk and eggs and ordering bread for the weekend, frantic tourists desperately in search of some batteries for a gadget followed by more locals seduced by the small but very well curated selection of local cheeses and, of course, Cinder Hill’s Foggies and Boar sausage. The most noticeable thing was that not many customers arrived by car. Even the tourists were lodging in the Castle youth hostel 500 yards away.

village shop, David Broadbent Photography, village, shop, Deborah Flint, Cinder Hill Farm, local, service, village life, rural, UK, England,
New village shop in a traditional style.

In one of those quirks of fate that sees Deborah cutting cheese from the various wheels on offer only to find that they weigh exactly the same, the opening of the shop 3 weeks ago on 5th February 2016 coincided with the closure of the last village shop 10 years before. On the day they opened a villager brought in a newspaper cutting about the closure of the much loved “Dot’s”. Exactly 10 years ago! How does that happen?

village shop, David Broadbent Photography, village, shop, Deborah Flint, Cinder Hill Farm, local, service, village life, rural, UK, England,
New village shop in a traditional style.

So we have a new shop – Yay! It’s bright, clean and airy. Well stocked with a mix of staple products and great locally made produce. Great bread (from the Crusty Loaf and Longhope Bake house), free range chicken and duck eggs, lovely cheeses and much more. Homemade tray baked chocolate cake sold by weight so you can cut as much as you like and good coffee to accompany your cake or pastry. Deborah is on hand at the helm with a bright smile and a chatty disposition to all which is the outward expression of her commitment to the quality of service The Pantry aims to provide.

village shop, David Broadbent Photography, village, shop, Deborah Flint, Cinder Hill Farm, local, service, village life, rural, UK, England,
New village shop in a traditional style.

It isn’t just about where a business is situated that makes it a “good local service”. When some business owners talk about supporting local services they have a tendency to assume that the” local” bit is most important. Any consumer will tell you that those businesses have got it completely wrong. The “service” bit is by far the most important part of the equation. You could be next door but if your service is bad, I’m sorry but I’m off to the competition!  There also seems in our view to be an anecdotal correlation between business owners those who misinterpret the local /service balance to those complaining about lack of support – connection perhaps?

village shop, David Broadbent Photography, village, shop, Deborah Flint, Cinder Hill Farm, local, service, village life, rural, UK, England,
New village shop in a traditional style.

Neither Deborah nor her other half Neil had any background in farming when they opened Cinder Hill five years ago. But even that story has a hint of the just get on with and trade approach that would make Lord Alan Sugar swoon and reminisce about the old days.

Deborah and Neil landed at Cinder Hill for their version of The Good Life and five years ago from two pigs, found themselves suddenly with a surfeit of 23 little porkers to deal with. Their butcher (still very much associated with them today) helped by creating cuts and products that the two would be farmers from a fund raising and IT background needed. Deborah made sausage rolls and immediately threw herself into mastering the local market trade too. Her very first attempt to sell their product left her with, a surfeit of sausage rolls which she sold the very same day by going door to door in the village!

village shop, David Broadbent Photography, village, shop, Deborah Flint, Cinder Hill Farm, local, service, village life, rural, UK, England,
New village shop in a traditional style.

One of the problems (for that read several) about being a small local producer is the age old issue of getting your goods to market. We produce fantastic local produce in the Dean & Wye but, to be a success, that produce also needs to be sold. What then better than a new local outlet that can be that shop front for those great producers?

village shop, David Broadbent Photography, village, shop, Deborah Flint, Cinder Hill Farm, local, service, village life, rural, UK, England,
New village shop in a traditional style.

The Forest of Dean & Wye Valley demographic has changed drastically over the years. Rural village populations have been gradually changing everywhere to a mix of born and bred and incomers. St Briavels has a healthy balance of both. Amongst those incomers serving the long apprenticeships to be recognised as here long enough to be called local are the professions and the blue collar workers tired of living in the conurbations. It’s the people who covet rural life and a rural place to bring up their families. What’s changing even faster that that is the way we work now and will work in the future. More emphasis on working from home, family friendly hours and (at last) improving rural broadband provision that makes working from home much more feasible for everyone. You could almost say that St Briavels is a model, a small wormhole on what “work” may look like in another ten years’ time. All of those people who used to leave in the dark mornings of winter only to return home in the dark evenings of winter turning villages into little more than dormitories are now trickling back. They travel to their actual place of work less and less often instead of daily and are returning to a village home life that will have more in common with a 100 years ago then 10.

village shop, David Broadbent Photography, village, shop, Deborah Flint, Cinder Hill Farm, local, service, village life, rural, UK, England,
New village shop in a traditional style.

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

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