Me and Jay Rayner Fostered!.. A Night at Salt Dining

Salt Pic 1

Firstly let me point out that Jay Rayner and I have never met. I’m sure he is a lovely guy, a 1st class restaurant reviewer, and an all round good egg. I have it on good authority that Mr. Rayner is a friendly chap, but why am i discussing Jay Rayner you ask?.. After all we are very much opposite ends of the spectrum. Mr. Rayner writes for various national magazines and newspapers, the bonus being he gets paid for it. I myself have 32 extremely valued followers to my blog. Jay has lavish flowing locks, lavish facial hair and his own radio show. I have short hair, it takes me a month to grow anything remotely resembling a beard, and I at best listen to the radio some days. I could go on, areas we live in, career paths, hobbies, the list is endless. We do however have 1 thing in common. We have both been fostered!

The title admittedly is slightly misleading. As I said at the start we have never met. The title is nothing really to do with our parental upbringing. Neither have the pair of us had tearaways lob a can of Australian lager at our heads either, well I haven’t anyway…. No no no, what we do have in common is our love of a certain  little restaurant tucked away in the heart of Shakespeare country owned by Paul Foster. A picturesque and idyllic place in the very heart of our green and pleasant land. Well, maybe a tad to the left.

It was a crowdfunding website that first got me noticing the Paul Foster project. I recognised the name but couldn’t place it and so after a bit of research, (yeah yeah okay i googled him), it turned out I had seen him on Great British Menu. He was using this particular media platform, KickStarter, to raise money (for reward) with the intention to raise enough capital open up his own restaurant. Starting up any new business is tough going and I had no doubt that a restaurant venture in these increasingly difficult times would be no different. I chipped in a minimal amount and my “reward” was an invitation for 2 to the opening night on March 17th last year. It was a very nice evening where we had canapés and drinks.

There was certainly enough insight to warrant a 2nd trip. Not been to this neck of the woods?…Stratford-Upon-Avon is a beautiful town in its own right. Lots to see and do, the town has a nice feel to it and there are plenty of quirky shops alongside your mainstream. It has some nice bars and is a great base for exploring the surrounding areas. If I remember correctly Mr. Foster had originally been set to plant roots in another town in central England but for one reason or another it didn’t come to fruition. Having been based in SUA for a year now I wonder if that was a blessing in disguise, fate, call it what you will.

Her indoors and myself took our 2nd trip to Salt around the time of her birthday. We had a fantastic evening and I discovered a dish that I’d never had before. I’m not saying it was a revolutionary idea, just a 1st time for me. A baked onion. It sounds so simple when you say it out loud but knock me down with a 10lb sledgehammer if it wasn’t one of the most enjoyable dishes I’ve ever eaten. I’m an onion fiend!… I mean it was an onion, but it wasn’t if that makes sense. I’m doing it an injustice there. It was a “Confit Roscoff Onion, Beef Juices, Beef Cracker”. It was divine.


Mr. Foster also took time out to chat with us. We discussed a variety of things including the merits of a radish. Personally for me they are like wasps, absolutely useless, a pointless vegetable. I wait for the time that someone can prove me wrong on this front.

Given that the meal was so good I decided to book us a table for a bit later in the year. GB and I met on November 17th 1990. Officially, though we still debate it at some length to this day, the fact is we got together on the 18th. Amazing what a fox in a box joke can do… and what better way to celebrate! we booked a table for 17th November, the day before we officially met 27 years ago, (my opinion). We booked a hotel around the corner, overpriced and with a leaky roof but hey ho, onwards and upwards. For the record I have recommended a hotel in the area at the bottom of the blog. It doesn’t have a leaky roof, is cheaper, and the take on customer service is far better.

We arrived at around 19.30 after a couple of cheeky snifters at The Garrick. A nice cosy pub along the street. Walking in to Salt we were greeted by a friendly team member and shown to a table in the main restaurant next to a lovely fire. There are some tables out at the front by the bar, both areas are warm, almost humble, and inviting but you cannot see the master at work sitting at the front. We chose the tasting menu with drinks pairing. I’ve had a few of these at various places but am hard pushed to think of somewhere that offers better value for money that Salt when it comes to this.

So lets talk about front of house. Professionalism, check, knowledge of produce, check, attitude towards customers… hmm, they weren’t great… I’M JOKING!.. I’m just pulling your leg. They were marvellous. Extremely helpful towards her indoors who was on crutches at the time. Real friendly team who couldn’t do enough for us. More importantly they even introduced a Chardonnay to GB that she actually enjoyed, and my nearest and dearest doesn’t do Chardonnay at the worst of times.


It was over 3 months ago now that we went. I could pretend to remember the names of the team that looked after us, they did tag our menu after all, but for someone who will tell all and sundry he has a fantastic memory I forget. Charlie (ly?) and Tom (thank you mr. Foster) are awesome, as are the rest of the team that you don’t always necessarily hear about.  I do recall the exceptional level of service we received and they are great ambassadors for the restaurant. Full kudos to you guys/girls. I’d take my hat off to you if I wore one.


So to the food, some might say FINALLY!… 7 courses (not inc the extra cheese course that we shared and the add ons that were unexpected but appreciated and delicious)…. Now I need to talk to you all, come closer my pretties, about bread. This isn’t just any bread. This bread with Salt. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say you could eat these bad little boys all night.They are like a burnt just baked mini loaf. Mother of god though they are bloody tasty and light. Whack some of the Salted butter on it and well, it’s a little bit of loaf shaped heaven. Worth visiting for on their own.

Pink Fir Potatoes, Roasted Yeast, Lardo. First course and already her indoors and myself were split. She loved it, that’ll be the Irish blood in her showing an affinity to the humble potty toe. I’m joking, it just wasn’t my highlight. It was a very pleasant starter and the purpose of food is to be interesting, thought provoking and tasty right?.. If this was the promise of what was to come then happy blinking’ days. GB had this down as her 2nd favourite overall by the end.

Course 2 was a first for me. It wasn’t the first course it was the second course, but my first time trying oysters. Some love them, some hate them, oysters are right up there with Brexit and marmite in the love/hate conundrum. You are simply for or against and there is no middle ground. There’s a first part paragraph you don’t hear very often. If they were cooked like this every time, (crispy and served with apple, kohlrabi, parsley sauce), I think I’d find safely find myself ticking the remain box. It was a triumph and the parsley sauce suited it perfectly. Definitely a winner we both agreed. No argument necessary although I don’t think you’ll see me knocking back oysters straight from the shells anytime soon.

We moved on easily and in good time to course 3. Carrot cooked in chicken fat, with chicken skin, and pickled carrot. Now remember what I said earlier in this review about the onion dish? (feels like about 6 months ago I hear you say… I know, sorry.. hehe), well this carrot bowl was pretty much its equal. To take something as humble as the carrot and elevate it to fine dining is hats off, socks off, and pants off to you chef. A winner of any “make something from a carrot competition” unless someone produces a carrot clifton suspension bridge. Stunning cooking. Would I swap it for my onion dish? maybe, but never the twain shall meet one hopes. My 3rd favourite dish.

This leads me nicely into my second favourite. Crispy Pork Belly, Chanterelles, Mushroom & Truffle puree. I’m not even sure how to describe this. I wish Jay Rayner was here. Is this a straightforward combination?..Maybe it is, maybe not, but the texture, seasoning, and flavours. Wow! (hope Jay doesn’t nick that one). They packed a punch. Not just any punch though, a full bloodied Mike Tyson punch to the tastebuds. The dish was a knockout (boom boom). We disagreed,again, on this one. I had it in the higher stratosphere of 9’s. GB had it down as her least favourite but horses for courses, each to their own.

Salt pic 2

The ‘main’ course was Saddle of Roe Deer, burnt cream, confit shallot. BABY ONIONS COOKED THE SAME WAY!.. Okay so it might seem a bit obvious I was quite excited by this prospect. It didn’t disappoint. Never had deer, so another first, although I did buy 8 venison legs for 50 quid once, is that two deer?. Moving on, the dish was cooked exquisitely. It was a masterclass of marrying flavours and to top it off it had confit baby onions. Shallots of them.. sorry two bad jokes in 1 paragraph is maybe too much.This is genuinely a chef nearing perfection. Cheery at its finest. Course that surely couldn’t be topped. I would happily have walked away there and then. Plate of food doesn’t get any better, unless it has a side of Roscoff confit onion. Oh hold on, it did! 10 to of 10. A fist pump and a high five. Her indoors was slightly more modest. Again we were at odds. Wifey was debating that the fir potties was the best course. Luckily I’m writing this so I can honestly say she was wrong.

I’m no cheese buff so I will briefly say there was great variety and GB loved them all. She did have a favourite but I fail to recall its name. Apologies for that. The slithers I did have  were very tasty, definitely had the cheddar and i believe I tried the blue, but that was just an excuse for a cheeky glass of port.

For me this is where it got weird. GB chose this next dish as her favourite. Read it, think about it, then try to get your head around it. Poached blueberries, yep, normal, BROWN BREAD ICE CREAM, not so normal, frozen sorrel granita, again off the beaten track. Now in my head brown bread and ice cream should never go in the same sentence. I found this course challenging. Food as I touched on earlier is supposed to be thought provoking and experimental. There can be no debate that for me this was both. Personally it wasn’t my cup of tea. Can’t criticise the finished article and like I say GB loved it. It was just odd. I did finish it though so maybe it wasn’t as odd as I thought. Wifey continued to wax lyrical about it for the next week or so. She is more savoury than sweet though so maybe that was it.. she definitely enjoyed that one. Maybe it needed a sprinkle of radish?…

Our last course was Valrhona chocolate cream, pumpkin custard, pumpkin seeds. A lovely way to finish the meal. The only issue we had was that I was salivating over the main course and her indoors was rabbiting on about brown bread ice cream. It never really stood a chance. It wasn’t as memorable as some of the other courses but there was nothing wrong with it at all. It just got lost in a wave of brown bread and roe deer hysteria.

In essence what I’m saying is that ‘Salt’ is or should be the next big thing. It is without doubt the finest restaurant we have been to in a fair while. No question it is fine dining. It is also relaxed and casual. The good thing is that Salt doesn’t stop at doing what it says on the tin. It does SO much more than that. Salt is unobtrusive, and unpretentious. Like your favourite old snug t-shirt that you have worn for years its a treasure to behold, with the added bonus of serving immaculate food. What a fantastic advert for Stratford-Upon-Avon. If you find yourself heading that way in the near future, don’t take my word for it, book it, try it yourself. Even if you AREN’T going that way, book it, try it, make a weekend of it. It is brown bread ice cream and baby onion worth it.

If you are staying overnight I would recommend the Stratford Limes Hotel. Five mins outside of town run by a lovely couple. Nice rooms at a fair price and an excellent breakfast.

So there you have it. My take on Salt in Stratford-Upon-Avon. If you are reading this at any stage Mr. Rayner and feel the urge to offer some free journalistic tips to yours truly, I would be more than happy to meet up and listen. In fact I know the perfect place!

salt pic.5

Finally a use for the humble radish: Filling in gaps when you run out of pics! 

P.s. humble apologies for the length of the review. This is my most confident form of communicae and so quite often I have far too much to say. Something this good needs to be spoken about though right!

P.p.s I’m still lost at the point of a radish.



No Glitch At The Flitch Part 2 (A Story of 2 Halves)


Starters, or pre starters to be exact were the Ham Hock & Lincolnshire Poacher Croquettes. They were spot on. Crispy Shells and soft and gooey inside. The cheese really came through. Perfect little quartet. I wish I’d had a bash on the quails eggs though. Maybe next time.

My starter was a Veloute of Pea, with Ravioli of Pork Belly. You could easily slice through the pasta ( or pastor as John Torode would call it ). The Pea Veloute had reL conviction to it, a strong sense of necessity and great consistency. I won’t hold back on this one, it was better than the Super Bowl. Actually, scrap that, I hate American football. I don’t normally do food pictures, but, I wish I had because it tasted better than it looked.. And it looked like Beyoncé , naked on a triangle tower of Ferrero Rocher. For equality purposes, it may have looked like Brad Pitt perched naked on a tub of Toffee flavoured Ben & Jerry ice – cream.

Okay, I saw this picture on Twitter and on reflection I have to concede that no matter good my explanation was, nothing summed it up like the clarity and quality of this photo. Massive cahoonas to @joevans16 for your foresight, photography skills, permission and input into this piece.

CHECK THAT OUT! ( courtesy of ajoevans16 )

This was Jo’s brief summary of the Flitch of Bacon:

“The refurb is excellent. Staff attentive, interactive, and informative about the food. It was evident they enjoyed working there. The food was yummy at a reasonable price, delivered with flawless execution” 

Well said that lady!… Below is the Pan Roasted Stone bass again courtesy of my new official photographer @joevans16 .. Thank you Jo.

For her starter, GB had the Salt Baked Beetroots, with a Golden Beetroot Marmalade, Shortbread and Goats Cheese. I cannot stand Beetroot. GB though loves every ingredient mentioned witching that dish and as a combination they went together like a line in that last song in Grease the musical. You know the one .. ( the “we go together like Rama lama lamma ka dinga da dinga dong” ).. Yes, the one no-one knows what they are singing!… I didn’t taste it but her little boat race lit up as she was eating like fireworks at new year. The empty plate was testament to the food.

Mains, it was a Sunday. I had the Pork, purchased so locally it could have walked over to the plate. Served with a chestnut stuffing, Apple Sauce and extra roasties for moi. There was also a carrot swede and carrot ( I think ) fusion with cinnamon inspiration. You also had your compulsory Broccoli and I believe Mange Tout but don’t hold me to that. 3 things on this plate hit me like a 10lb sledgehammer. The Stuffing was just ridiculous. I could have eaten a bowl of that on its own. It had a flavour of Black Pudding almost. Better still it wasn’t a stodgy stuffing. Your knife ran through it. Then you had the gravy!… Oh dear the gravy. Sorry that should be Oh dear lord the gravy. The gravy had flavour deeper than the River Roding ( keep it local ). Next time I visit the Fitch of B a on I am having a pint of Pork gravy!

The gravy had to be going some to outshine the Tenderness of the Pork. It was level pegging it the meat was as succulent as it could be. Slightly pink it packed more punch than a Mike Tyson uppercut, although that is not an experiment I’d be willing to put to the test. The Flitch doesn’t do half measures on your food either. There was a lot of meat on the plate. Interestingly, not enough to deter one from having a dessert.

The treacle went for Beef, it was serve pink and was almost flawless. The only reason I say almost was the missing Horseradish sauce GB loves her Horseradish Sauce and so we sent out a search party. Ok what I mean is we asked one of the many staff. Within an instant a disaster was averted. Horseradish upon us it was all systems go. I tried a slither of Beef. It was melt in your mouth stuff. The red wine gravy complemented it perfectly. I’m not a fan of Cauliflower Cheese but I have it on good authority from my beloved that it delivered on both flavour and texture. Creamy but with a little bite.
So we arrive at dessert. Apple Tart Tatin (for 2) served with a very tasty vanilla ice cream on top. It was sticky, can it be too sticky? My teeth told me to be careful of fillings. It was very sweet, but it was lovely. The apple and the ice cream on the same spoon were simply meant to be. GB thought dessert was lovely but that there was too much of it possibly. She did have the bigger half ( apparently ). I beg to differ, and I could have eaten it again.

Overall several things stand out about the FOB. The first being value for money. The Flitch certainly don’t scrimp on portion size in an attempt to save/make money. The produce is mostly gathered within the Essex and Suffolk borders, or within close proximity (Sussex, Hampshire), so provenance is not in question. The meat is so local you could throw a stone from the pub window and possibly hit a pheasant. Please note I am not suggesting that as a  viable or sporting option!

Of course it would be remiss of me to not mention the staff. The service we were given was second to none. Studious in their approach, I could only elucidate this better by saying it was almost as if they were walking to a floor plan. All provided service with a smile, and while we were served by maybe 5 different members of staff, each of them I’m sure were equipped to answer any questions we had relating to the food, wine or history of the FOB. As Jo put it, it was evident the staff were happy to be there. Teal gave us a brief history as to why the pub is so called and about the Flitch trials. Alan recommended a glass of one of the finest Riojas I’ve ever had the pleasure to drink. For the record it was a Marques de Reinosa Rioja 2013. Then there was Jordan who spoke excitedly about the ambition and dynamic that the owners are trying to create.

I’ve not even mentioned the chefs. Danny Gill take a bow squire!

This was one of the best meals I’ve had in ages. I rate Tredwells as the best Sunday Roast in Londinium. Essex now has a roast to match it. Simply put there cannot be a better Sunday dinner in this neck of the woods, or even this side of Epping Forest. The Flitch delivered on all fronts and passed its own trial of Little Dunmow. If the food continues to be this good going forward then Mr. Clifford should be one happy restaurant owner, and his tracky bottoms and hoody look will be forgiven.

My missus has a habit of bumping into well known chefs. Sunday was no different. She was spot on with her words to you though Mr.Clifford, they are doing you proud in there!

You REALLY need to visit people. You’ve no idea what you are missing!

No Glitch At The Flitch (A Story of 2 Halves)

 They say you learn something new everyday. Well I have to confess that, yesterday, (all my troubles seemed so far away ), sorry, couldn’t resist. I have to confess ( but only once ) that on this particular Sunday in February  I was overwashed by new information. I felt like I should be laying down after taking onboard so much new material. Of course when one is sitting in a restaurant this isn’t always the done thing, and so I remained upright but ever so slightly in awe of those lucky enough to live in the hamlet that is Little Dunmow, on the Essex Riviera. All will be revealed, I will be like a dreamboy doing the full monty, revealing all, but without the muscles, confidence and egotistical persona!

It began in the Molton Brown store over at Freeport Designer Village in Braintree. Mid to late afternoon. GB, (that’s her indoors ), has just discovered, that what we thought was a discontinued line many moons ago, is actually alive, well and still available. Not only is it sitting there, staring at us with those deep blue, buy me eyes, but it’s also nearly 30% cheaper than your normal Molton Brown shower gels. 

I feel it my duty to disclose to you,  that when approximately 2 years ago, my good lady was told in store that “Wild Indigo” body wash was no longer available, it was the 1st time I had seen a woman reduced to tears by a shower related product ( no sniggering at the back ). To this day the Fairy Liquid ‘Strawberry Fresh’ incident remains a closely guarded secret. Spread the word about the blog though and who knows what might happen!… Only joking, what happens in Leamington Spa, stays in Leamington Spa.

So, after a brief shopping excursion which included a near death experience with a lady on her ‘handling a pushchair’ exam, GB and I are sitting in the Flitch of Bacon in Little Dunmow. I am exaggerating the pushchair story ever so slightly. I did however learn ( new bit of knowledge no.2 ) that it’s possible for a person to control a pushchair ( badly ) and a mobile phone without even looking up. That is of course providing they use your leg as a “Not Beyond This Point” sign.

 I didn’t mind swiftly moving as this oblivious young lady just reversed back without a brief check. I gave her a glance on my 2nd move, as if to say “hello?” As she basically proceeded to twist the kid laden chair towards my legs again. The third time though got my goat as even when I moved to 1 side, the chair crashed into my skinny and unarmed leg. Still no response as she continued straight past me, phone in hand, no doubt checking her Facebook page for updates on TOWIE. I should add that this woman unequivocally failed her pushchair exam!.. How? She only had 2 minors, but her lack of control made it a serious!

Now, this is shaping up as a long blog, I apologise, I can go on a bit. In fact I’m going to split this blog into 2 halves. It’s a lobster bisque but I have to take a chance, it’s simply not compact enough. I take back what I said about blogs being easy!

This next bit of new knowledge though is as fascinating as it is important. While sitting, waiting for our mains, wifey and I were discussing the name of the place. With the dog and bone banished from the table, we were left in wonderment, as checking Google was not an option. In the end it was a young lady, Teal that enlightened us. The Flitch Trials of Little Dunmow can be traced back to the start of the 12th century. 

Flitch Trials 
Nominated couples ( you apply, you aren’t just picked at random ), are cross – examined by a selected jury to try and prove that for the past year and a day, the couple in question have not regretted being married. It’s fair to say that not too many passed the test. On such occasion that a winner(s) was found ( possibly telling the odd porky ), their reward was a flitch of bacon. A flitch of bacon is the whole side of a hog. Salted and cured. So now you know!… I have to be honest, I thought that was pretty amazing knowing that stuff like that still goes on. It takes place every 4 years, like the Olympics but without the drugs cheats. It just so happens that it’s that time again. July this year!.. I was going to enter myself and GB. She said no, and I said why not?.. It ended in a heated debate.. That’s us out! 
Now I remember why I started this blog. We went out for some food. I got the thumbs up from GB to choose where we went and luckily the FOB had a table available. I like Daniel Clifford. He comes across as a humble fellow with exceptional cooking skills. I was hoping that transferred to his new project. Well, hopefully you are still with me to find out what it was like in part 2 of this most lofty of blogs.

You walk into a light and inviting environment. Newly renovated, the bar area has a lovely old log burner. The decor is mainly white/stone and a beautiful dark green with nice light furniture. A couple of 2 seater sofas and big old wing back chair are located in the corner or you can sit at the bar, dependent on available stalls. A small quarter moon serves 4 real ales including Hopheads DarkStar. A lovely beer anytime of the year. For lager lovers Estrella is on tap. GB went straight for the wine. A New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Very light and crisp, but not that I’m in the know when it comes to wine, it could have been a tad colder for me personally. Saying that 4 glasses later something tells me it wasn’t that bad.

As you walk round past the bar and into the main restaurant area the same colour scheme continues with some burgundy thrown in for good measure. At the back and to the left is a very loud and somewhat out of place butterfly patterned wallpaper. There are some nice spotted old skool banquettes and while there isn’t much room to manoeuvre the staff are fleet of foot and balanced enough to negotiate the twists and turns without leaving you waiting. I should say at this point it’s very possible that if in the near future you take my advice and visit The Flitch of Bacon the decor may have changed yet again as the owners seek an excellent environment in which all can enjoy the exquisite food on offer.

We got a short tour of the  outside space. There are three huge smokers, and I’m not talking about 7ft tall guys puffing on a packet of bensons. Fully ready for the summer, they look the business. Also, out of the side door are 3 individual kennels for those that wish to park the dog up for a bit while indulging in a wee pint and a cheeky bit of lunch or(and?) dinner. I guess though the piece de resistance is the old green Citroen H van fully restored and stocked up with fridges, washing basin and a serving hatch. Be a shame to get it dirty such was its spotlessly clean look. It does need to be seen to be believed. 

I nearly forgot. We didn’t see them,but above the pub is 3 rooms to rest your weary head after you’ve eaten and drunk yourself merry at the trials!… If they are remotely like the downstairs area you should be in for a treat.

Part one is done… Part two will be with you in a jiffy..safer to read that way!




Rowleys, Restaurant with the cure

I think it’s fair to say that these days in London, and this is just my humble opinion, if you want a top notch steak in 2016, ( I nearly said 15 there, how quickly time passes us by ), most would look no further than a Hawksmoor or Goodman Restaurant. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t others pulling on their shirt tails, just that at this moment in time, these two names stand out as the daddies for carnivorous consumers. No point in lying, I’ve never been to either. I’ve gone to book in the past but quite often, the funds aren’t there or it’s simply the case that there isn’t the space in the diary. If you go with what you read in your foodie mags/blogs and vlogs you may find it hard to come across a better option. 

The thing is, if these are the modern day daddies, what was there before? Who was the uncle or the granddaddy from which these guys got their inspiration? …The answer to this is unknown to me, mainly because I’m a bit lapse on the research front but I’m doing this for free so give a man a break. I will though take a little shot at naming a couple of them. The beefeater and Harvester chain, ( come on!.. Free salad )..I’m just yanking your chain as our cousins across the pond might say. 

For a start there is Langans in Stratton Street. A great restaurant with a quality menu, and a great, and colourful history. It’s also home of my first foodie faux pas. I was a kid, just a whipper when taking my now wife out for a posh meal. As the waiter offered me veg, I, trying to be cool, put my hand up stopping him. “No thanks, no broccoli for me”… His reply without batting an eyelid “very well sir, but it’s actually courgette”.. Of course I love courgette, but I had made my bed, and I had to lye in it, with only carrots and green beans for company. I also went there for my 30th birthday. No real tales to tell about that, not in print anyway, suffice to say it was an unforgettable birthday. 

Then we have Rowleys restaurant in Jermyn Street, ST James’s.. If Langans is your uncle that turns up at your party and is a little loud, Rowleys is the rich grandad that sits in the corner minding his own business, not needing to talk of his abundant riches. On the night I met her indoors, (GB as she is known thanks to a nickname given to her by 2 of our closest friends ), she had actually been for a night out at Rowleys with her local darts team. GB was then being dropped off at an 18th birthday party in Forest Gate, which is virtually the same in stature and society circles. In the past we had spoken about the place (Rowleys, not Forest Gate) and I’m sure we have eaten there once before but until we went there recently, after our visit to the “Crime Exhibition” at the Museum Of London, I’d never realised what a splendid building it was.

So it was fortunas edwardo, and with some consideration on GBs part that on this, our 14th wedding anniversary, we found ourselves sitting at a table near the rear of the restaurant. To our left was a beautiful white spiral staircase, to our right, table after table of satisfied diners. What a fantastic setting for a celebratory meal. A magnificent dining room steeped in history. This building for a long period was home to the now famous Walls Meat business, ( think of the advert where the dog says “sausages” ). I had agreed to let GB take care of arrangements for the special day, and she hadn’t let us down. 

You have to hope in the circumstances it won’t be grandeur over grub. I’m pleased to say it wasn’t. GB had the beetroot salad. I went for the old faithful, soup, more precisely Pumpkin Soup. I like my soup. Happy to say Rowleys version didn’t let me down. The loop the loop was hot, but not scolding hot like it can be sometimes. You know the type I mean, you end up blowing on it for half an hour trying to cool the bugger down. I suppose, it was above lukewarm but below lip burning temperature. The beetroot salad looked good enough to eat, and that’s precisely what ensued. No complaints on the starters.

On our way to Rowleys, GB and I both confessed to a lack of hunger. How things change!

When you visit Rowleys there are some quality choices food wise. For us two though it was an easy decision. Chateaubriand all the way squire! … With a side of spinach and as many fries as one can handle you simply cannot go wrong with this option. I think the spinach was my way of trying to incorporate “healthy” into the mains, but I probably had too many chips to do that justice. The wife had lots of chips as well. Sadly quite a few of them ended up sprayed across the floor in one of those duck your head down moments we all have now and again. You know, the one when your knife slips and thrashes the contents of your plate to surburbia and back. Luckily these potato laden rude boys were like the coca – cola in Pizza Hut, unlimited!

I’m still thinking about that beef as I’m writing this…and It was over 2 weeks ago!

Served up on a small tripod shaped warming plate ( I don’t know how else to describe it ), the beef just fell apart. I might be dribbling. With a ( very ) small token gesture of salad, and a little spinach it was heavenly. I’m not stating its new age cooking beyond the realms of a mere mortal, but what it is, most definitely is straight forward British cooking at a bloody ( medium rare ) good standard!… It was food I could eat every day, or at least I could if ….

  • I lived and worked nearby
  • Had a pocketful of wonga ( that’s money, not a tiny version of a loan company )
  • Was able to survive on just high grade steak and chips 24/7

I’m sure there are other reasons but for now, those are enough. Rowleys provided us with a Chateaubriand. 2 years ago a favourite eatery of ours served us up a truffle covered Mac’n’Cheese with our Beef. It was all lovely but the M’a’C was wasted and unnecessary. It was one of the new kids on the block, and is a place for indulgence. Rowleys served up enough food, well cooked delicious food. The correct amount for 2 people

 This is where I go back to the granddaddy analogy. If Mac’n’Cheese place was the kid coming of age, then Rowleys is the understated glamorous old girl in the wing-backed Chesterfield armchair whispering stories of days gone by. Not needing the attention, but receiving it nonetheless, her stories are there for all to see. People are fascinated by her, and rightly so. She still looks elegant but with a playful glint in her eye. Give the lady a sherry, she will sip it, restful and calm. Crack open the tequila and the quiet dame will not look out of place partying all night. That’s for me sums up Rowleys very nicely.

Rowleys Restaurant
Desserts. Straight forward. GB had the sorbet. Gingerbread I believe was one flavour and the other was possibly pistachio, but its debatable. We have confirmation on the gingerbread front. It was hard to forget, it was that tasty.while I went for the blood orange posset with jelly and shortbread. The sorbet was exquisite and the posset was very nice. The jelly didn’t win me over but overall It was a nice finish to the meal.  Ooh and a quick high five for the shortbread. Awesome. 

Throw in a cheeky Irish coffee and we were dandy. The two of us had split a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc between us, a Mount Franklin Marlborough. I have to say while you can argue it didn’t suit the food it still hit the spot for us. We concluded the evening with a glass of what you would class as a house white from Francais. No problems with that. I had trouble finishing what was a large glass but luckily GB was at hand to help me out. That’s why I married her!

An amazing night in a legend of a restaurant. Rowleys we salute you!

in case you were wondering about the title of piece. Rowleys opened in 1976, the same year that Robert Smith formed well known band The Cure. Just for trivial purposes I looked it up, and Mr. Smith is the only original member left in said band, but like Rowleys, in an ever changing world he is still a constant that works. 

This piece is dedicated to my uncle who was a top man. He would have loved the no nonsense approach of Rowleys. Short on height but not in heart, you will be missed UJ. X


Honest Burgers.. It Would Be a Crime Not To Visit!

Believe it or not, I have something in common with the following people. Micky Dolenz ( he of Monkees fame ), Paul McCartney ( he of marrying a one legged loon fame ), Sheena Easton ( 1980s pop star whose most popular song was a cover of a Dolly Parton hit, 9-5 ), and lastly, Kerry Katona ( the one off of the Iceland adverts who constantly claims bankruptcy and has had more chances than a monopoly board game! )… So what is it?

Well, we all got married in 2002. In the 14 years that have passed since, Katona has gone on to claim a hat – trick of hubbies ( poor souls ), and McCartney has split from mad Mills and is I believe due to take the plunge again very soon. He must be running out of money!… Myself and GB, that’s her indoors for those unaware, will celebrate 14 years of wedded bliss on Monday ( she may beg to differ on the bliss part ). We have been together for 25 years, and before you think or say it, I know, people get less for life. You know what though, I wouldn’t change a thing. Of course we have our moments but who doesn’t ?… I guess the difference between us and the likes of Katona is that every time we have a moment it doesn’t end in divorce!

Our last “disagreement” was on Thursday. I don’t imagine we are the only people to have a heated conversation over the topic. Since Thursday we have had no gas. National Grid have disconnected our gas supply. I won’t go into the reasons as to why short of saying this. it’s not a financial thing. National Grid have arranged with no residential consultation to change the mains gas pipe in our street. Ours is proving more difficult than others to replace, and irrespective of it being the coldest week of the year they have decided to cut our supply regardless. Luckily we have a log burner so warmth isn’t an issue. Hot water and a shower however, that’s another story. 

The beaten track I lead you off of. Back to the correct pathway… It’s our wedding anniversary , have I mentioned that yet? This year GB had organised our celebratory plans. Saturday afternoon involved a visit to the “Crime Museum Uncovered” exhibition at the Museum of London. Tickets were just short of 20 quid each inc the booking fee. I will give you my honest opinion. Our booking/appointment time for entry was 15:30. It was overly crowded meaning you struggled to get a real decent look at anything. An hour later, it was less busy and therefore worth considering if you were thinking of paying it a visit. It’s not necessarily what I expected but I did enjoy it. We both did. With a dodgy back following a small op I wasn’t looking forward to a lot of walking. Luckily it wasn’t in a huge space and was well thought out. Plus there was seating for those of us needing to take the weight off our plates now and again.

The exhibition details the start of the Metropolitan Police and how it has evolved since. Without giving too much away I would say this. The last area before the exit makes you think about what is around you and the importance of it. Personally I wasn’t really appreciative of what surrounded us until this point. There are some real interesting and eerie artefacts in there. Personally I loved the “Great Train Robbery” piece. The more up to date stuff on terrorism sends a shiver up the spine. We never knew for instance the Hyde Park bombing in 1982 was on GB’s birthday. Overall the burning question is, is it worth the wonga? … Hand on heart, I would say pay your money and make your own decision. I wouldn’t visit again, BUT I’m very happy I’ve been. It was an educational experience.

We had arrived in Liverpool Street with plenty of time to spare. The museum was a 10 minute walk away and we were both Hank Marvin. Having not eaten properly the previous evening due to an impromptu visit from neighbours, and with no cooking facilities thanks to National Grid, breakfast had passed us by. On a few occasions that I’ve been around this area I’ve often passed by the Honest Burgers restaurant in Widegate Street on my way to Spitafields. More importantly I’ve wanted to try it. With an hour to kill and both of us being hungrier than a carnivore at a vegan convention, I threw my hat in the ring suggesting a visit. It took less than a minute to get there and within 6-7 minutes we were seated on a large communal table in front of the kitchen area with four more stragglers. 

It was a busy old place but the service was swift and attentive. GB had a Diet Coke ( served with a straw in the can ), while I had a pint of the Beavertown Pale Ale, purely for research purposes of course. I’m no connoseuir of real ale but I think HB have a winner on their hands. It certainly wasn’t a struggle to drink. Then the main purpose for us being there, the food. GB ordered a Tribute ( no onion ) and a side of Apple, beetroot, red cabbage coleslaw. I went for the Tribute-to-Bacon Special ( see picture for details of what’s in it, although I had no pickles or lettuce ).


Both meals came with Rosemary Chips, and all jokes aside they were chips fit for a Las Vegas poker table. Completely knockout. The Beef & Bacon Gravy.. It’s so nice it should be illegal. I’ve not even touched on the burger yet! Well the burger itself was pink inside, perfectly cooked. The flavour was full on. I would go as far to say it’s THE best burger I’ve eaten, and I’ve had a few. The bacon ketchup was delicious and I don’t even like ketchup. The brioche bun was light and fluffy with a slight crunch.

 I nearly forgot the onion rings. I loved the onion rings. Both GB and me would have given it 10 out of 10 if it wasn’t for waiting for a table and then hanging around to pay the bill. So we are going for 9.6 out of 10. It was as close as it could get. The staff were friendly, and I like the fact that the lady who took our order wrote nothing down, but the food came out exactly as requested. You really need to get to Honest Burgers, no porkies!…. There was one downside to all this. We had a restaurant booked for 19.30 and were both absolutely stuffed. What a place though.
Next up… What we did in the evening, the celebrations continue!… Happy reading!

N x

Kings Head Inn, Hursley, Hampshire

The Kings Head, Hursley, Hampshire.
Never done this before, but just to make it different I thought I’d try and poem my way through a review. Don’t expect Keats though. Plus my constructive critic, DS, thought my last blog was “lacking in wit” ( that’s rhyming slang for how he more blatantly expressed his feelings towards it ), and he may have had a point as it wasn’t the best.
( clears throat ).
In July it was GB’s special day,

She was er.. 21 again, I’d better say.

We went somewhere pleasant,

Just as a nice present,

To Hursley, ( I couldn’t afford Bray ).

It was only one night, just a treat.

A teeny weeny village, in Hampshire near Fleet, ( closer to Winchester but this ain’t easy you know ).

We stayed at the Kings Head

Just a meal and a bed,

Cheap as chips, lovely food, Bon appetit…..
We travelled down in a car, GB at the wheel,

Our SatNav though, tried taking us via Deal. ( I know every slip road off of the M3 now ).

The sun shining bright,

The Inn glistening white,

The interior had a cosy ‘n’ comfortable feel…..

Our table was booked at half three,

A roast dinner, can’t beat it, pot pourri.

Quick drink in the sun, ( outside, not in another pub )

The garden is fun,

Then time for our dinner, hope no broccoli!…..
Broccoli came out on the plate,

You can’t win them all I must state,

The rest of the dinner,

One hundred per cent winner,

The roasties, top drawer, really great……
Our room was cool, done in grey and sage,

Not a hint of boring old beige, ( praise the Lord )

A fair old sized shower

With bundles of power,

We weren’t in there together, at our age??……
It had a nice little sofa to sit,

With views of the church opposite,

It has to be said,

On Sunday, Hursley’s dead,

But the pubs own Skittles alley was a hit! ( I didn’t play due to an injury but it looked the dogs danglies )… Other games available also but SKITTLES, that’s quality!…..
A beer in The Dolphin and a relaxing stroll, ( I had to take it slow, The Dolphin is 100yds away )

We returned to our lovely Hampshire bolt hole,

Sunday eve at The Kings Head,

They do a cracking flatbread,

Might be wrong but cooked on charcoal? ( ask the owners, Penny was very helpful )…..
The courtyard reminded me of the med,

Stunning patio heaters, vintage red.

With a glass of white wine,

Lovely area to dine,

Pretty soon it was closers ( last drink ), and then bed…..

Next morning , a full English, in the price,

Have to say, it’s high five, very nice,

All the food was exquisite,

The Inn’s well worth a visit,

Would I go back?.. You don’t have to ask twice!…( Take me now! )

Small print. Ok same size print but small extra details…. And not in poetry form.

All the staff were very friendly and helpful.

We booked a “Spoil Yourself Sunday” deal. It was by a country mile the cheapest place I found. On a serious note the food was very good. We stayed in the Baxendale room. We loved the clean, airy, bright room. No window in the Baxendale bathroom, but it’s not the end of the world.

Winchester is very close and has, providing you are able, some lovely areas to wander around.
Hope you liked my efforts. If you didn’t, well, at least I’m experimenting various avenues!… Think Keats might be safe for now. Following this, The Ivy, described through the medium of breakdance!…
Next up, The Foodies Festival!

10 Dining ( the restaurant, there wasn’t 10 of us )

10 Dining Street.
Like most people I love Indian food. The fact I enjoy it so much is all down to one man, and one dish. I am not going to try and pretend I am the font of all knowledge when it comes to individual dishes or spices. I’m not sure I could tell you the difference between Caraway seeds and Cardamom seeds. At one stage I thought a particular famous chef had an ingredient named after her. It turns out the Nigella seed is nothing to do with the voluptuous cook in question, but it is an onion seed mainly used in breads, and more extensively in the east of India to season fish plates. Allegedly that chef in question is more partial to herbs than spices anyway. Too much? … Sorry, couldn’t resist.
I was 14 or 15 when I sampled Asian cuisine properly for the 1st time. It was in a small town in Essex called Upminster. My brother took me. He had been raving about it for years. The Taj Mahal was the name of the restaurant. When this illuminated red concoction confronted me it frightened me to death. I might be wrong but I believe my brother was going through a Madras/Vindaloo stage at the time. 
It not only looked disgusting but Christ on a bike was it hot!… After eating two forkfuls and drinking enough water to put out the raging fire that was my mouth I declared that Asian food was most definitely not for this kiddie. For the next four or five years I avoided visiting curry houses. It just didn’t tingle my tastebuds, more to the point it didn’t just tingle them it tore a strip off of them.
Moving on then and my next trip for a ruby. It was while out visiting what myself and GB assumed to be an unwell relative. “Uncle Dave” as he was affectionately known, although he had no family ties had just had a triple heart by – pass. Our first spin up to Whitechapel hospital, one day after this operation had seen him with tubes everywhere. Returning less than a week later however, Uncle D was up dressed and more importantly being killed by boredom. Delighted to see us he suggested we go for a walk. Of course what I, or we, didn’t expect was Uncle Dave using us as a ruse to firstly get his hands on a snout ( that’s a cigarette for you guys/gals not from these parts ), and secondly his insistence that we go for a Ruby in the Curry Mile of Brick Lane. Needless to say my first experience of these spicy foods was enough to make me go for the extremely narrow – minded omelette and chips, while GB and UD dived in to the pillar box red Masala and Vindaloo courtesy of the nearby Tandoori. Oh yeah, living the dream!… What’s that you say? Blocked arteries, triple by – pass, a Chicken Vindaloo. It’s recommended all the way down from the top by the NHS. It’s not, I made that bit up of course but I wasn’t going to try and talk UD out of his Ruby, he was bigger than me!
The term Ruby Murray meaning curry, is a rhyming slang term which is thought to relate to a popular Irish singer. Ruby Murray, born in Belfast had top 10 records in the UK charts in the early to mid 1950’s and was seen on the bill at the Brick Lane Music Hall on more than one occasion. The Brick Lane area of East London was ( and still is ) well known for its high population of Bangladeshi immigrants. An influx that started in the later stages of the 20th century. Over time it became the Curry capital of the UK. This array of narrow streets with vibrant bars, shops, restaurants and incredibly lively Sunday market is also known as Banglatown. There you go, a short but sweet bit of education about the nation, well a tiny part of the East End of Londinium anyway. Next week Stoke Newington!
Then it happened. At the tender age of 21. I was rabbiting to a crafty cockney, a happy hammer, and it wasn’t Eric Bristow. Over a game of snooker one evening a few of us were chicken chatting, ( Chicken Chat?? Worth a high 5 surely )… And the subject of our after frame food options came up. I rejected the Indian choice on the basis that it looked horrific, and tasted worse. 
My good friend, and pleasingly still one of my besties, Bazza looked at me as though I had just dismissed a hot threesome with Kylie Minogue and Charlize Theron. For the record it should be stated officially that this opportunity has never presented itself, well, they haven’t got my number!

Back to Bazza, and his questioning me on my take on spicy foods. 

” How can you not like Indian? ”

I went on to tell him about my assemblage of all previous encounters. Bazza tutted as he moved on to 32, (4 reds, 4 blacks – show off), and wouldn’t drop it until I agreed that I would accompany him to this little gem of a place he knew. 
The Spice Of India, a small restaurant in Cranham, Essex. This was the start of my tutorial on Indian spices. The place that I realised not every dish has to be liking eating Lava. Bazza introduced me to a ‘Chicken Methi’. 

I can’t even begin to tell you what’s in it other than Chicken ( that’s a bit obvious I grant you ), and Fenugreek. What I can say however is that if you find most choices too hot this is most definitely the way to go. It’s an absolute cracker of a dish for a novice/beginner to get started with.
All of this admittedly via a long winded and sometimes painful slowly written path found me at 10 Dining restaurant some 21 years on. What can I tell you about 10 Dining?. Well the first thing is where it is. I never thought I’d hear myself say this but it’s true, it’s very possible that the best Indian restaurant on the Thurrock Riviera right now is in Tilbury. Right in the heart of Civic Square in the town centre. It wouldn’t be the first choice of positioning for me personally but each one of us are different right. 

Tilbury is famous for very few things. The things it is famous for aren’t all necessarily good either. It does have a very busy cargo port, and a cruise terminal, home to some of the Marco Polo vessels. In the middle of an expansion it is one of the few things to offer local people hope of employment in the near future. Police seized £70m pounds ( street value ) worth of cocaine outside of the port just two days ago. So you give people work in one hand and take it away in the other…. Oh and before it closed Tilbury was ( again allegedly ) home to the “Roughest Pub In The UK”, an establishment called The Ship. I’m not painting a pretty picture I grant you, but the truth is Tilbury has been left behind and is now trying to catch up. It is the home of Tilbury Fort though. Queen Elizabeth 1st rallied the troops here with a rousing speech, ready to repell the Spanish during the Armada. It’s a history lesson! … I would also say much like most towns in the UK it has it’s nice parts and it’s less attractive areas.
Where was I ?… Well, five of us went there for a birthday celebration. It was my sister – in – laws big day and so, with 10 Dining being within walking distance it made the decision easy enough. I didn’t mind walking, it was still light after all!…. We arrived at what first sight seemed like an everyday sandwich shop, admittedly with added cooking Tandoor’s. It wasn’t overly busy and we were sat down straight away. Drinks came over quickly and the owner dressed in a very relaxed shorts and shirt attire made us feel very welcome. 
Starters arrived and I have to say I was delighted. We had traditional vegetable & Lamb Samosas and I’m a bit of a Samosa connoisseur even if I do say so myself. They were light, incredibly flavourous ( I know it’s not a word but don’t stop me I’m on a roll ), and better still, not at all oily. I have in the past witnessed some horrific attempts at what is supposed to be a small and delicate starter, but these bad boys hit the spot. 4 of them as well as opposed to the 2 I would normally get elsewhere. Another dish tried was Methi Na Gota ( Fenugreek Fried Fritters ). If it was Christmas these lovelies would be in a cracker. Top drawer cooking. Bit of an insult really but i asked if the Samosas were bought in. Thankfully it was a straightforward no. 
Other dishes sampled, Tandoori Broccoli, unusual but very nice and a tremendous Onion Bhajia. I should add the 5th member of our group was an infant so was otherwise engaged playing with his cars/Marvel characters/iPad and therefore too busy to try the Coriander Prawns.
In between the starters and main course our foursome discussed the owner, or more so his likeness to the guy that ran the dental practice next door. The youngster was tearing up and down as innocent children do, somehow avoiding all things hot and dangerous by an inch or so either way. My SIL finally plucked up the nerve to ask the owner – cum – waiter if he was actually feeding you in the evening and then removing your teeth the following day. It turns out she was spot on. Okay he wasn’t the teeth removing commander, but he was the operations manager. 10 out of 10 for observation to the birthday girl.
We explained exactly why we were there and in generous fashion our host offered up a drink to our slightly tipsy reveller. Joking, although she does love a tipple so maybe not, Maisie said …”Ah just leave the bottle “…..smiling, the perfect unfazed response from our food provider was simply to hand over what remained of the half full bottle. The birthday girl looked as though she had been handed the alcoholic equivalent to a box of ferrero Rochers. We didn’t abuse the offer however, generous though it was.
In turn while awaiting our food, our generous patron introduced himself properly and went on to explain why a combination of boredom and his passion for cooking, had brought him to this moment. Taught by his mother, ( mums are the best aren’t they ), he had in many ways fulfilled a family dream. Maybe not in the perfect location but we all have to start somewhere right!… and as he spoke you could actually feel that drive to succeed. Certainly if the first dishes were anything to go by the cooking classes had been worth it.
With our little chap seated and focused on his chicken and rice I got deep down and dirty into my Chicken Methi. Fare play! This was seriously good food. As Del Boy might have said, Bonnay De Douche!.. The chicken wasn’t dry at all and the dish itself again wasn’t swimming in oil, like you do find now and again. GB, forever the expansive palate chose the Smoked Chicken Curry. Again no sign of the chook swimming in murky oils. Awesome. A hint of smokiness, and a wet sauce but not so much that the star attraction is lost in flavour. A pretty damn fine SCC then.
 My BIL ( brother – in – law ), and might I add a top banana went for the Chilli Chicken, with its own heat warning. I won’t say he was disappointed at the lack heat, and as a dish there were no complaints but he was fictionally shocked at my lack of being able to type fractionally!.. Let’s start that sentence again. He was fractionally, not fictionally, surprised that the meal wasn’t burning a hole in his tongue. It was hot though. Trust me I had a try and it didn’t seem at all mild. Then again my definition of mild and his are worlds apart. I define mild as a walk in a park on a lukewarm day. His competitive edge sees benign as twenty laps round Silverstone on a racing bike with no safety gear while eating a Strawberry Split. Don’t know what a SS is? Google nostalgic ice lollies. It was vanilla ice cream coated in a strawberry flavoured ice shell. Top bombing! And Mini Milks, you had to love a mini milk. 
Back to the present day, and birthday girl was tucking into her Chicken Tikka. The Chicken was neither dry nor hot which for a girl who normally has a Korma was a blessing. It was spiced well and had great flavour to it. I had to sample it for safety purposes. She even had a little bash on my Methi. It’s the beginners winner I’m telling you! The side dishes were all adequate and complemented the food well. Big high five for the Jeera Potatoes ( tossed in Cumin Seeds ), and GB gave a plaster covered thumbs up to her Chana Masala. By the finish we were all humbly full to the hilt.
I’m not going to tell you Lot porkies by saying we had desserts. We didn’t. My experience of Indian desserts is that they are basically a screwball under another guise or called Pengu and look like a child’s toy. It may have been different here but the truth is we didn’t get to try them. We were more than happy with our intake. Even the nipper was quiet. This may have been due to him being told off for somehow managing to kick the toilet door open while I was in there but luckily no – one other than the owner, three chefs, and a table full of customers saw my embarrassment. Could have been worse, could have been his mum!
Bill paid, or at least I wish he had. The meal with drinks was very reasonable. I would say if you live on the Riviera this is possibly the best place to sample some Indian delights. If you don’t live on the riviera then take some time out and make the journey. The food was that good.
 That’s my take on 10 Dining!
Next up, Spoil Yourself Sunday in Hampshire, or was it Dorset ? … I’m off to google Hursley. Catch you all later hopefully. 
Two other things before I go.

1. I made some cracking meatballs the other day. Why am I sharing this? Mainly because I’m a dreadful cook and so I was pleasantly surprised at the end result. Thank you Jamie Oliver for the recipe.

2. A cowboy walks into town wearing a paper hat, paper trousers, paper shirt and paper boots. He was arrested and slung in jail. But why?… Answer on the next blog!