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.

IMG_0175

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.

 

Advertisements

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.

http://www.flitchofbacon.co.uk
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!