DSC_4992

Weekend Bake: A Sundae for a Sunny Sunday with Movenpick Ice Cream

When I was little my parents used to take me and my brother to a little restaurant in a converted watermill called Bluebeckers. I loved it there. It was my favourite restaurant and always on the tip of my tongue when my parents asked if we wanted to eat anywhere special. Through my nine-year-old, rose-tinted view, the food here was magical. If we were good and minded our manners, there wasn’t a limit to the greasy and sugary delights we were allowed to shovel in on these special occasions.

I remember beaming from ear to ear, straining upwards in my seat, back so ram-rod straight and cutlery so carefully held and deployed that I must have looked like a marionette as plates of steak and juicy burgers dribbling cheese over thick-cut chips were placed in front of me. I remember the violent green of the ‘Vampire Float’ that came topped with a bobbing and writhing puff of vanilla ice cream, slowly dissolving into the fizzing, toxic spillage soft drink. I remember my brother rowing me out onto the little lake they had and smacking me in the face with an oar and the chocolate fudge cake my mother fed me to make the pain of my fat lip go away. But mostly I remember the hot fudge Sundaes they served there.

Before Bluebeckers I don’t think I had ever had a proper Sundae. I’d run for Fabs and Zaps from the ice cream vans that pootled along our road; I’d wolfed down globes of Gino Ginelli’s fudge swirl when I was staying at my grandparents in Dorset and I distinctly remember my first magnum ice cream and the dangerous crack of chocolate that thundered from that first, wondrous bite.

These Sundaes where the real deal: tall glasses with chocolate and vanilla ice cream layered with fudge bites and popping candy that arrived with a jug of warm, fudge sauce. Bluebeckers might be long gone now but I still dream about their baby jugs of fudge sauce.

So when I was asked by luxury Swiss ice cream brand Mövenpick if I wanted to create an original Sundae recipe using their premium range of ice creams, I was elated. And it would mean that I was in for a chance of winning a two-hour master class with The Langham’s head pastry chef, Cherish Finden, as well as afternoon tea in The Palm Court. I might not be able to have another Bluebeckers Sundae but I could still make my own version.

How can you possibly improve on such a winning combination as ice cream, fruit and sauce? The only thing I could think of was to make it more grown up and what do grown ups like? All together now, booze! Well, at least this grown up does and there’s nothing more that I love on balmy, summer days like this than a glass of Pimms, full of chopped fruit and clinking with ice.

DSC_5000

So here it is, my Pimms Sundae where orange Pimms jelly and lemon syrup infused shortcake meets candied cucumber, crystallised mint and as much creamy Mövenpick ice cream as I can squeeze into a glass, all topped with lashings of Pimms and strawberry syrup.

It’s grown up jelly and ice cream with a few little treats and surprises layered in, because everyone knows that half the fun of a Sundae is eating your way down through each layer until you manage to excavate something new.

It may seem like there are a lot of different components to this, but most of them can be made in advance. You can store the cucumber thins and mint leaves in tupperware for a few days until you’re ready to use them and the jelly, syrup and shortcake can be made the night before, meaning that come serving time the only thing you have to worry about is how much you can shove into a Sundae glass without looking like Bruce Bogtrotter on a mission.

for the orange Pimms jelly

6 ripe oranges
1 lemon
300ml Pimms
2 tbsp caster sugar (to taste)
10 strawberries, quartered
3 sheets of leaf gelatine

These jellies pack a hugely alcoholic punch and aren’t overly sweet, which make them the perfect accompaniment to the rest of the sugary ingredients in this Sundae recipe. Most Pimms jelly recipes use pre-made jelly cubes or lemonade, but this easy-peasy one just uses fruit juice and gelatine to set these bronze-coloured wobbly beauties.

You’ll need to start by making the jelly as this can take up to five hours to set in the fridge.

  • Slice and squeeze the oranges, making sure you get all the juice out and add the juice from the lemon – I like to warm citrus fruits in the microwave for 30 seconds or leave them in the sun for an hour or so to get the juice flowing.
  • Pass the juice through a sieve to get rid of most of the pulp and any stray seeds you may have squeezed into the mix and add the 300ml of Pimms – you should have about 600ml of liquid now.
  • Soak the gelatine sheets in cold water until they’re soft while you warm half of the juice mixture in a saucepan on the stove. When it’s warm, squeeze the excess water from the gelatine and stir into the warmed juice.
  • When it’s dissolved, pour in the remaining cold juice and mix. Test to see if you need to add any caster sugar to make the mix sweeter (I like to keep mine quite sharp to offset the sweetness of the Sundae) before pouring into glasses or containers and adding the fresh slices of strawberry. Refrigerate for four-five hours until set.

DSC_4974

for the candied cucumber

As I dreamed this Sundae up, I wondered if anyone had ever made a sweet cucumber garnish. While cucumbers are usually chucked into salads or gin and tonics or pickled and brined, you don’t see too many cucumbers being turned into sweets, which is odd when you consider how naturally sweet a vegetable they really are. A quick internet search revealed one recipe for candied cucumbers using the exact method I was planning to. So I have to dedicate these toffee-like, floral cucumber tuiles to Cluracon from The Indestructables. 

DSC_4958

200g caster sugar
half a cucumber
half a bunch of mint
200ml water

  • Wash your half a cucumber under cold water before slicing thin discs using a serrated knife – the thinner the better as they will crisp up in the oven as opposed to staying quite water-logged and chewy.
  • Roughly chop the mint leaves from your half bunch.
  • Heat the sugar and the water on a low heat until the sugar has dissolved and a clear syrup has formed. Add the mint leaves and give it a stir before throwing in the delicate little cucumber thins.
  • Leave these to poach for about 20 minutes while you heat the oven to a very low 90 degrees and line a baking tray with parchment.
  • After 20 minutes, carefully lever out the soft cucumber slices – which will now look a little bit like stained glass windows – and spread them on the baking tray.

Keep the poaching syrup from the cucumbers as a glug of this minty, fresh syrup makes an AMAZING addition to gin and tonics, glasses of prosecco or simple cloudy lemonade.

DSC_4962

  • Pop into the oven for around two hours to slowly dry out and crisp up as the residual sugar syrup dissolves.
  • Be careful when you’re pulling these from the baking parchment as they can be really sticky and break easily. I like to remove them when they are still warm as they’re a little more pliable.

for the crystallised mint 

the leaves from half a bunch of mint
100g caster sugar
1 egg white

Crystallised mint leaves as easy peasy to make and use the same technique as making edible flower decorations.

DSC_4978

  • Just rinse the mint leaves and dab dry on kitchen towel before brushing them with egg white and wiping them through a bowl of caster sugar on both sides.
  • Lay them on a lined baking tray and you can put them in the oven alongside the cucumbers to dry so that the sugar can crystallise.
  • Take them out after about and hour and carefully peel them from the parchment and you’ll have delicate little fronds of iced mint – so easy but so effective for drink or cake decorations!

for the lemon syrup shortbread

100g softened butter
50g caster sugar
125g plain flour
1 lemon
1 tbsp caster sugar

  • Beat the butter and sugar into submission with a wooden spoon before mixing through the flour. You can use an electric mixer but it’s really easy to overwork this dough, making the resulting biscuits harder and less crumbly.
  • Gather the dough into a ball and roll out to about 1cm deep before cutting out rounds. I used three different sized cutters for this recipe  to follow the trumpet shape of the Sundae glass.

DSC_4983

  • Bake for ten minutes or until just golden at 190 degrees and leave to cool. If the biscuits have spread during cooking you can cut them down to size again with the cutters while they’re still hot and soft.

DSC_4988

  • Squeeze the juice of a lemon with a tbsp caster sugar into a saucepan and heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add more sugar if it’s too tart and drizzle over the biscuits when they’re warm from the oven.

for the strawberry Pimms syrup

A punnet of ripe, British strawberries
100ml Pimms
100ml water
100g caster sugar

DSC_4975

  • This syrup is a great way of getting rid of overripe strawberries and goes fantastically on its own with ice cream or shortbread biscuits.
  • Hull and quarter the strawberries before adding them to a heavy bottomed saucepan along with the water, Pimms and sugar.
  • Let the mix come to the boil before leaving to simmer gently for around 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the mixture has reduced to a deep, rich, ruby coloured syrup with chances of strawberries still floating then you’re there – don’t leave it any longer than 20 minutes though or you’ll end up with jam!

DSC_4977

Now you’re finally ready to assemble your Sundae. Start with a layer of jelly in the bottom before adding the smallest biscuit and a generous scoop of Mövenpick vanilla ice cream. Top with a splodge of strawberry sauce and a few cucumber rounds before repeating until you’ve created a towering, boozy ice cream mountain of lusciousness.

DSC_4989

I used a scoop of Mövenpick‘s deliciously decadent white chocolate ice cream in between the two vanilla scoops for an extra sweet treat – heavenly!

DSC_4995

Mövenpick is available for purchase in Ocado, priced at £8.49 for a 900ml tub. For more information, visit www.moevenpick-icecream.co.uk

Happy Bastille Day: Le Relais de Venise “L’Entrecôte”, Canary Wharf

Le Relais de Venise “L’Entrecôte” 18-20 Mackenzie Walk, Canary Wharf E14 4PH / 020 3475 3331

http://www.relaisdevenise.com

Restaurant image 1

While there might be a few joints in London focusing on one-dish specialties – yes, it’s mostly burger joints and gourmet hot dogs a la Honest Burger and Bubble Dogs that spring to mind – it’s quite rare to find somewhere where the menu consists of one, singular dish day in, day out.

That’s exactly what’s on offer at L’Entrecôte in Canary Wharf, which has gone out of its way to faithfully replicate the original Paris restaurant that has been serving soley steak, frites and salad for over fifty years. So, just ahead of that very French of holidays, Bastille Day, J and I travelled East to see just how good a steak this one-plate place could cook up.

We arrived on World Cup final night, which would explain the empty tables, but I can imagine that this no reservations allowed branch of the small Le Relais de Venise chain (there are venues in Marylebone, The City and New York) with it’s tres Parisian banquette seating, trumpet vases overflowing with yellow lilies and a riot of differently-coloured table cloths gets full to bursting come business lunchtimes and post work peak dinner hours.

Restaurant image 2

I’d half expected to be seated with the mournful sounds of Edith Piaf or Charles Aznavour wafting oh-so-Frenchily around but the whole venue was musically bereft. The lack of traditional, chocolate box Parisien tunes was immediately forgotten as a huge plate of mustard and walnut dressed salad was planted in front of each of us with a plate of sliced baguette (I never thought I’d have to ask où est le beurre in a french restaurant, but the bread here comes butter-free).

Peppery and salty, the leaves softly wilted by the sheer power of the vibrantly-flavoured dressing and studded with shards of walnut, this simple salad might just have become my new favourite thing to eat. A shame, as at £23 a pop for a meal here it doesn’t look like it’s going to become my daily lunch spot.

Of course, I could attempt to make the same salad at home, but I have the lingering and depressing feeling that I’d never be able to reproduce this particular salad. It might sound crazy – as seriously, who couldn’t make a walnut salad? However, while it may have been just a salad, it’s a well known fact that those crafty chefs across the channel with all their cordon bleu wizardry produce some of the best and most difficult to replicate sauces and dressings in the world.

Restaurant image 4

Salivating, it was onto the steak. Our waitress smiled and suggested that we order our aged beef rare to my medium-loving dining partner with an expression that hinted that the chef might just cry/beat her or, indeed us for ruining his meat with a few extra minutes of cooking. And how right she was. This steak, lightly charred, perfectly rested and sliced into fine slivers of bloodless, unctuous, butter-soft gorgeousness, was a revelation to anyone who wouldn’t dream of ordering their steak rare.

The wafers of meat arrived with a cloud of freshly-fried, piping hot fries and came drenched in L’Entrecôte’s most famous of sauces – a greenish, brownish slick that smelled indefinably good. And it was good, so good infact that alongside a half-bottle of the house Bordeaux it managed to conjure up images of sun-soaked Provence, of rustic farmhouses and mustachioed men called Jean-Claude who sweep you into a muscled, garlic-hued embrace.

Too much? Probably, but this isn’t any sauce. This sauce is made to a top secret recipe originally created by Mme. Godillot, the daughter of M. de Saurs who was the founder of Le Relais de Venise “L’Entrecôte” in Paris and hasn’t changed since the original restaurant opened in 1959. The recipe is so closely guarded that it’s rumoured that even the chef doesn’t know what goes into it as it arrives part made straight from France. All our waitress would reveal is that it had butter in it. Lots of butter, which is probably why the bread arrived naked – adding more butter to something so already clearly butter heavy would probably cause some sort of mass diner’s heart attack.

Restaurant image 5

Just when I was nearing the final slice of my rather small serving of steak I turned to see the waitress approaching with another platter of perfectly-cooked beef followed by what can only be described as an Everest of golden fries. They have a neat trick here of ordering your second portion of steak to be ready when you’re about three slices in, meaning that it arrives just at the moment you’re running low – a beautiful concept that can only really be implemented in a one-plate speciality restaurant.

For a place with a that prides itself on perfecting a single plate of food, the dessert menu is pleasingly expansive, with every French fancy your heart could desire from Tartelettes au Citron and Vacherin du Relais to Mont Blancs. J couldn’t resist the Crème Brûlée – she’s somewhat of an expert on them, if only because her sampling count must have surely reached triple figures by now – while I opted for the exotic sounding Tulipe au Framboises: a delicate, flower shaped tuile cup filled with fresh raspberries and vanilla pod ice cream and topped with Chantilly cream and flakes of toasted almonds.

If any reassurances were needed on the quality of the Crème Brûlée here, the only words I heard J utter came as she contemplated the last scrapings in the ramekin as she whispered forlornly: “I don’t want it to end.”

L’Entrecôte is a simple concept, simply and well done. There are touches of real Parisian authenticity here, from the size of the wine glasses and the heavy silver cutlery to the smart little black and white aproned outfits that the waitresses sport. Yes, it might feel a touch onions and breton-striped stereotyped in places, but what keeps it more Amelie and less ‘Allo ‘Allo is the sheer quality of the food. One thats certainly tempting enough to travel out East for this Bastille Day.

As part of the festivities for Bastille Day (14th July 2014), “L’Entrecôte” will be offering its guests weekday discounts of 25% from their lunch or dinner, from the 14th to 31st July; excluding weekends, which will have 30% discounts for lunch and dinner from 14th July to 31st August.

Originally penned (and eaten) for Foodepedia.co.uk

Photo credit: Paul Winch-Furness

TOZI Restaurant & Bar, Victoria

Photo credit: Paul Winch-Furness

TOZI Restaurant & Bar,  8 Gillingham Street, London SW1V 1HJ / 020 7769 9771 / www.tozirestaurant.co.uk

Let’s get one thing straight. I’ve never been to Venice and the closest I’ve been to cicchetti before is eating my way through polpo of Soho’s menu while sandwiched between Hermione Crawford and Oliver Franklin and, while geographically it was closer to Piccadilly Circus than the Piazza Del Marco, it all tasted pretty authentically Italian to me.

Photo credit: Paul Winch-Furness

But when I read that the Evening Standard’s Faye Maschler had waxed lyrical about the scallops on offer at TOZI – the Park Plaza Hotel’s main restaurant in Victoria – claiming that they were as good as any she’d sampled in Venice, my curiosity was piqued.

Paul Winch-Furness / Photographer

There’s nothing chi chi or rustic about the setting of TOZI. Walking through the giant entrance doors, the setting is as slick and cavernous as you’d expect a modern, central London hotel restaurant to be. Consisting of one, wide room, it’s all huge windows and echoing, open-plan eating, but this contemporary joint is far from clinical. TOZI has a fleet of personable, suave waiters that glide around the split-level dining room, a perimeter of food prep stations complete with piles of burnished ciabatta and hanging haunches of cured meat and the flickering flames of a wood-oven (that’s actually as I discovered, ahem, gas-powered).

Photo credit: Paul Winch-Furness

The menu is a long list of sharing plates, split into sections spanning everything from wood oven dishes and fritti to pasta and counter dishes like meat and cheese. It’s often daunting to start ordering plates for two when you don’t quite know the eating habits of your fellow diner and there’s always the threat of a table-full of wall-to-wall meat dishes or six servings of salad.

Photo credit: Paul Winch-Furness

Luckily for me I was dining with Mr. H and my and the Foodepedia bossman’s taste buds dance to the beat of the same drum. Our italian feasting banquet started flowing with tomato smeared pizzetti topped with mozzarella, and slivers of highly-flavoured salami piccante; fried baby soft shell crabs dripping with olive oil and scattered with red chillis and violently green parsley sauce; petal-thin folds of Coppa marbled with fine veins of white fat; berry-stained hunks of cheese and delicate pasta puffs, all washed down by a full-blooded burgundy-hued Barbera, which was recommended by the waiter and that swept me half way to The Rialto with the words of Italian-loving Keats ringing in my ears.

O for a beaker full of the warm South!

Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,

With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,

And purple-stainèd mouth – Ode to a Nightingale

Paul Winch-Furness / Photographer

The Testun al Barolo – cow’s cheese aged in Barolo grapes – was exceptional, as were the much-feted gratinated scallops…although I must admit that it was the thought of my commute back over the murky waters of the Thames and Vauxhall Bridge rather than a gondola ride through the Venetian waterways that was at the forefront of my mind while I ate them.

For both of us, the dish of the day was indisputably the house speciality: buffalo ricotta ravioli with black truffle. There’s nothing I hate more than a dish that promises truffles and delivers a pointless drizzle. This dish of soft, golden pillows of perfectly-cooked pasta with a feather-light filling that arrived swimming in a bowl of butter had an eye-bogglingly generous heap of shaved black truffles balancing on top. Bellisimo.

Paul Winch-Furness / Photographer

I was all proverbially packed and ready to be shipped to Canal Grande when I came back down to earth with a jolt at the arrival of dessert. Mr. H’s affogato was perfectly passable but the ricotta tart with blood orange sorbet that I plumped for was bitterly disappointing. After the flavour jaunt around Italy that came before it, the flabby pastry and nicely sweet and soured, but frankly mealy interior, came as a shock to my mellowed pallette. luckily it was redeemed by a brilliant, softly-perfumed orange sorbet, but the disappointment sadly still lingered a little.

Photo credit: Paul Winch-Furness
TOZI is a feast in all senses, one bad pud aside, and even if it didn’t get me all the way to a Venetian waterfront by the close of the main courses I was happily floating half way there passed Portsmouth and Padua and somewhere near il paradiso.

Invited in behalf of and originally written for Foodepedia.co.uk and can be found here.

All pictures from and by TOZI.

Eric Lanlard Chocoalte Masterclass.

In Pictures: Cake making with Cake Boy’s Eric Lanlard

IMG_2882

It’s not everyday you get taught how to make a proper cake or truffles by a master in the field, but that was exactly what was on offer at Cake Boy, tucked away in the steel and glass playground of the renovated Battersea Reach for a pre-showing of Eric Lanlard’s upcoming P&O Cruises collaboration.

Eric Lanlard Chocoalte Masterclass.

The award-winning pastry chef and chocolate expert offers regular chocolate work and cake decorating classes throughout the year at Cake Boy, and his patisserie pedigree is indisputable – only Lanlard can turn an ordinary eclair into a work of art – so who better to set sail with for a masterclass in The Cookery Club – the first cookery school that can be found on board a British cruise ship.

Eric Lanlard Chocoalte Masterclass.

In fact, if you take a Food & Wine cruise on P&O’s ships sometime in the next few years you won’t just be shown how to make the perfect ganache torte by and award-winning patissier like the king of the macaroon Eric Lanlard, you’ll have the chance to go sailing with one of a fleet of newly-resident food experts as part of the cruise liner’s Food Heroes concept.

Eric Lanlard Chocoalte Masterclass.

Lanlard is part of a nautical-cum-culinary roster that also includes Atul Kochhar, James Martin, wine expert Olly Smith and the formidable Marco Pierre White – with whom Foodepedia’s founder Nick Harman has recently been sailing to test his high seas cheffing metal.

Eric Lanlard Chocoalte Masterclass.

My taster masterclass in the candy floss pink and prussian blue surrounds of Cake Boy was a slightly smaller affair than the 24-person maximum that P&O guests can expect on board, but it gave a flavour of things to come from the chef who’s famous for once working his way through the great Carême’s ancient ‘grande cuisine’ cookbook.

Eric Lanlard Chocoalte Masterclass.

Lanlard in person is full of smiling chocolate-fuelled energy and determined to fix your cake-related woes offering advice on everything from cracked macaroons to flat sponges and, half-way through learning how to layer the perfect raspberry ganache cake using ladles of thick, creamy chocolate and some pre-made (I’m not sure Lanlard trusted a bunch of journalists enough to let us loose in his chocolate prep stations) chocolate swirls and scrolls, it’s obvious why he was top choice to join this new cruise and food concept.

Eric Lanlard Chocoalte Masterclass.

Aside from being one of the most personable chefs I have ever met – he didn’t even flinch when I started squeezing my piping bag full of buttery sweet hazelnut goo onto a spoon destined for my mouth instead of my dark chocolate truffle casings – there isn’t much Lanlard doesn’t know about sweet treats and desserts, just take a look at some of the impossibly pretty jewelled cakes and tarts that cover every surface at Cake Boy for evidence of the breadth and depth of his craft.

Eric Lanlard Chocoalte Masterclass.

Alongside his masterclasses, guests will be served an orginal afternoon tea in the fine dining restaurant Epicurean that’s been created by Lanlard especially for the seafaring occasion. Forget scones and clotted cream and think more along the lines of Persian candy floss, lychee pearls and air that’s been spritzed with Earl Grey perfume. Post ganache cake making and delicate, hazelnut praline truffle piping, we were given a taster of this intriguing afternoon tea, which could probably be summed up in two words: sinfully good.

Eric Lanlard Chocoalte Masterclass.

My favourite image: me trying to ram my pretty cake into a box with all my usual delicacy and dexterity!

Eric Lanlard Chocoalte Masterclass.Eric Lanlard Chocoalte Masterclass.

Eric Lanlard’s inaugural voyage sets sail in March 2015, see the P&O website for dates, booking information and more detail on their series of Food & Wine themed cruises.

Article originally written for the lovely chaps at Foodepedia.co.uk

Cadogan Square

in Pictures: Open Garden Squares Weekend

Every year, for two days, the inner sanctums of some of London’s most prestigious organisations and poncey padlocked squares are open to the average joe public.

Gardening Leave

There are over 200 squares, gardens, allotments and private grounds open for nosing about this weekend and most of them are absolute gems, from the floating garden barges near Tower Bridge to the too-posh-to-be-true rose-covered Cadogan Square Gardens and the walled peace of Royal Hospital’s therapeutic veg patches, where veterans and Chelsea Pensioners sow runner beans and sweet williams.

Gardening Leave

Yesterday the mother and I pottered all over London oo-ing and ah-ing at the bijoux, blue-painted courtyard outside Rococo Chocolates on Motcomb Street (yes, of course we ate a fair few of the freshly-made, award-winning truffles on offer before we left), we learned about the deadly poisons posing behind the luscious blooms and delicate fronds at the Royal College of Physicians and wandered around the labyrinthine Academy Hotel, stumbling across courtyard gardens that were once the haunt of the Pre-Raphelite Brotherhood and the literary Bloomsbury Set.

There are still tons of gardens open today, including the Royal Hospital’s Gardening Leave, Rococo Chocolates MaRoCoCo Garden, The Academy Gardens and Cadogan’s Square and Place Gardens and a host of other places open all over London in 25 boroughs. Check the website for a garden near you and grab your opportunity to see these leafy little slices of hidden London that are normally kept under wraps and away from prying eyes.

Peter Grimes - Benjamin Britten - Grange Park Opera - 30th May 2014Conductor - Stephen BarlowDirector - Jeremy SamsDesigner - Francis O'ConnorLighting - Paul AndersonVideo - Andrzej GouldingPeter Grimes - Carl TannerEllen Orford - Georgia Jarman

A Storm on the High Seas: Review of Peter Grimes at Grange Park Opera

After the fanfare that surrounded Benjamin Britten’s 2013 centenary and the accolades David Alden’s Peter Grimes generated in its ENO incarnation, transporting this sea-ravaged epic deep into the heartland of Hampshire’s countryside for opening night of The Grange seemed a tall order.

In truth, the Grange Park Opera’s rose-strewn lawns and delicate, neo-classical architecture are worlds away from the setting of George Crabbe’s 19th century poem The Borough that this Britten is rooted in. But any concerns about containing the intensity of Britten’s maritime opus in The Grange’s auditorium were, however, partially washed away by the execution of Jeremy Sams’ production, which managed to be both claustrophobicly intimate in its portrayal of gossiping village life and expansive, with a wall of sound that engulfed the audience emanating from his ensemble cast and an omnipresent sea that became in itself a lead character.

2014-06-06-GPO_Peter_Grimes_2014_Robert_Workman_6.jpg
GPO Peter Grimes 2014 Robert Workman

The seaside setting for the tale of gnarled and brutish fisherman Peter Grimes, who stands accused of killing his apprentice, was in full force from the off with the air full of the shrieks of seagulls and the entire cast already milling about on stage, gathering for Grimes’ trial in The Prologue before most of the audience were seated.

The somewhat stagey authenticity of this pre-brined atmosphere was helped hugely by Francis O’Connor’s brilliant set – a stripped back, wooden affair that unfolded during each act like a Russian doll, revealing interior glimpses of tavern, church and hut against a backdrop of a seething, steely grey digital sea. It might have been almost too stylized and gritty picture-book perfect (sort of like the miserably bleak film set for Les Miserables) for a ‘real’ portrayal of tough, coastal life, but it was hugely effective.

2014-06-06-GPO_Peter_Grimes_2014_Robert_Workman_322.jpg
GPO Peter Grimes 2014 Robert Workman

Every detail and nuance, from the worn paint on a wooden pillar where the ship’s ropes were fastened to the puddles that blotted the stage and the incredibly realistic rain drops of light (in fact all of Paul Anderson’s lighting design was superb) that lashed the theatrical town were impressively and immersively done and the nuances didn’t stop with the set design.

Peter Grimes is no light opera. Britten’s score is punishingly complex – the orchestra at The Grange conducted by Stephen Barlow never abated; never fully relaxing into the music and keeping listeners alert and unsettled throughout – and his characters three dimensional, always evoking a visceral reaction. Sams offered something new to Britten’s hard bitten story of Grimes, a gruff bear of a man who is physically harsh to his young apprentices, generally despised by his fellow villagers and redeemed only partially by his love for Ellen Orford – a widow who seems to love Grimes in spite of his mercurial nature and the town’s damning disapproval.

2014-06-06-GPO_Peter_Grimes_2014_Robert_Workman_111.jpg
GPO Peter Grimes 2014 Robert Workman

Atypical though Grimes is as an operatic leading man, the writing never fully allows the audience to warm to him. Sams’ theatrical addition of on stage flashbacks that depict Grimes’ violent childhood as he is sold to a terrifying sailor and show a young Ellen’s fascination and desire to protect and befriend this battered little boy add new weight to their love story and hints at the dangerous, cyclical effect of physical abuse, which explains (though does not excuse) Grimes’ mistreatment of his own apprentice. Although the verdict on whether these less than subtle explorations into the character’s psyches helps or hinders the opera is still out.

2014-06-06-GPO_Peter_Grimes_2014_Robert_Workman_1.jpg
GPO Peter Grimes 2014 Robert Workman

Carl Tanner’s Grimes came with a pre-performance disclaimer of severe sinusitis and he eased himself into the role, almost struggling with the higher register so much so that the audience was unprepared for the volume he unleashed in Act III when he declares in a bone-rattling roar that he will marry Ellen despite the mob’s opinion of him. Sinusitis or no, there was no holding back that rich tenor for the big notes.

Georgia Jarman’s sweet soprano for Ellen was high and pure and stood out alongside Stephen Gadd’s vibrant baritone Balstrode and the admirably affable Ned Keen played by Gary Griffiths, who was all mad hatter’s hair and lothario’s swagger.

2014-06-06-GPO_Peter_Grimes_2014_Robert_Workman_8.jpg
GPO Peter Grimes 2014 Robert Workman

Elsewhere, Clive Bayley made a formidable Swallow and Andrew Rees’ Bob Boles was a convincing moral zealot, whipping the villagers into a baying mob thirsty for Peter Grimes’ blood in Act II after he witnesses Grimes strike Ellen. Rebecca de Pont Davies, who plays the pill popping Mrs Sedly – a pseudo detective who’s convinced that Grimes murdered his apprentice – balances convincingly on the knife edge of shrill hysteria throughout with an expression that’s set in a near-permanent state of despairing horror.

2014-06-06-GPO_Peter_Grimes_2014_Robert_Workman_032.jpg
GPO Peter Grimes 2014 Robert Workman

Opera fanatics who yearn for the lyrical gymnastics of Puccini and Verde might lament the lack of pretty arias in Peter Grimes, but there’s no place in this unforgiving, elemental world for superlative love songs. The one piece of musical light relief that sees Ellen’s soprano intertwine with Auntie’s (the local pub landlady) alto and the pretty vocals of her nieces of dubious repute – played Soraya Mafi and Rosie Bell – provided a brief moment of lovely melancholy among the intensity of Britten’s nerve-jangling, beautifully discordant score. But while it took off it never quite managed to soar and left the audience yearning for a less transient reprieve.

As Grimes’ boat set sail for the a final time into the smoke machine mist and the ensemble gathered for one last choral crescendo, walking back out into the soft Spring evening and the rolling countryside surrounding The Grange seemed almost wrong. Yet somehow, despite the disconnection, this immersive piece of theatre feels oddly at home here in Hampshire and is a suitable opener for the Grange’s season. As Peter Grimes declares: I am native, rooted here. / By familiar fields, / Marsh and sand, / Ordinary streets, / Prevailing wind.

Peter Grimes is at The Grange until 21 June, 2014. For performance information and tickets see the Grange Park Opera website.

Originally reviewed for The Huffington Post.

photo (13)

Tea and Peony: Wedgwood’s Secret Garden

Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? Miraculously, it seems in central London. There were roses to the left of me, lupins to the right and I was stuck in the middle of a sea of white-painted garden furniture, pastel pillows and piles of impossibly pretty, floral crockery overflowing with fat, feathery peonies and pink lilies in a scene that wouldn’t have looked out of place in The Secret Garden.

WEDGWOOD_PERTWEE_002

But it wasn’t the blooms that I’d come to admire in this most exclusive of tea salons in Soho (and by exclusive, we’re talking the one day only exclusivity), I’d come for the launch of British heritage brand Wedgwood’s latest range of porcelain and historic teas.

WEDGWOOD_PERTWEE_006

Wedgwood has been creating ridiculously dainty china since 1759 –  half the country must have one of their distinctive duck-egg blue, gilded boxes knocking around the house somewhere – and their new Daisy range is true to form with a pattern that’s been plucked straight from Wedgwood’s exhaustive archive collection of prints and designs.

photo (13)

Although, in a rare departure, Wedgwood has injected an almost masculine element with an intricate weave of black glaze against the pastel pink and blue. Almost, but not quite, it’s still about as delicate as a cup and saucer can come.

But it was what was inside the cups that really caught my attention because let’s face it, good tea still tastes good whether it’s swigged from a chipped mug or sipped from a finely-wrought tea cup, and Wedgwood’s range of tea is about as good as they come.

WEDGWOOD_PERTWEE_019

Their Taste of History range fuses historic blends with design. Each tea is based on different iconic teapot designs through the Wedgwood ages, from the 1709 Arabesque mixing blue petals with black tea and vanilla as inspired by Wedgwood’s milky, powdered blue Jasper range to the 2010 Pashmina – a blend of florals, orange blossoms and jade and mahogany oolong tea leaves.

photo 1 (16)

I was enchanted by the fruity, apricot flavours in the 1780 Encaustic, which tasted of pure, Italian sunshine and was served with a side of apricot and honey panforte courtesy of food history loving wunderkind Tasha Marks of Animal Vegetable Mineral Curiosities, who, between courses of cornflower cracknels and orange marmalade truffles, I managed to snag for a chat about foodie-spiration.

WEDGWOOD_PERTWEE_150

“This is literally my perfect project as what I do mixes food, art and history all together so it was about finding historical recipes so each recipe was matched with a tea from the same year that inspired it, but I adapted it to mix the historical with the contemporary,” she explained.

“For example the scones are a Victorian recipe, but you’re putting a sheet of edible lace underneath and crystallised rose petals on top, so you’re modernising them and making them little delicacies with little edible curiosities.”

photo-3-(13)

What I really wanted the recipe for though was her chewy, almost toffee-like biscuit dragons that came propped up against cups of the 1814 Chinese Tiger tea and apparently the secret is an old marzipan recipe.

“I have been loving playing with marchpane. It’s a really early marzipan that uses more almonds and icing sugar. Contemporary marzipan is very sweet and more like a fondant while old marzipan would be more like a cakey mixture. The white marzipan that we used in the dragon is very similar to marchpane and it’s gluten and dairy free – those are sort of tag posts today but that’s an 18th century recipe!”

Gluten free? Dairy free? A pseudo-healthy historic biscuit recipe for the carb-loving modern masses? I think it’s time to bring back marchpane.

The full range of Wedgwood Taste of History Teas and the new Daisy range is available now.

photo 3 (14)

DSC_4704

In Pictures: Cross Bones Graveyard

We knew we’d found it when I saw the gleaming sign, a washed, weather-wracked white against the blood and sand red of the brick behind it. We’d been shuffling around the back of the station for a while, trying to wind our way around the alleyways, flanked by high, grey stone walls as the trains thundered ahead, wheels shrieking against the sides of the tracks and buffeting our ears with their metallic, greasy roar. But there way no mistaking it when I saw it: Redcross Way. This was the place.

DSC_4702

From the corner of the road it looked perfectly ordinary. There was a pub at the end – the building almost sagging with age and use – and, directly opposite, we could just make out a flash of green and pink against the grey of the steel gates. The faded chalk confirmed it, we were standing in front of Cross Bones Graveyard.

DSC_4703

There’s nothing like discovering a piece of London that you never even knew existed and this graveyard was definitely a first for both me and my flatmate Carine. We’d gone on the recommendation of London blogger Fiona Maclean and, to be honest, weren’t expecting much. There’s also nothing quite like being proved wrong.

On the rusty iron gates of Cross Bones, half-hidden in the twisted bits of ribbon, broken dolls and faded flowers, is a plaque that reads ‘R.I.P The Outcast Dead.’ Here lies the Winchester Geese, the ladies of the night, the women of ill repute…in short, the prostitutes that worked in the Liberty of he Clink – or Southwark as it was technically known.

DSC_4548

From the 12th to the 17th century, The Bishops of Winchester were effectively ruling this patch of seedy London and what was forbidden within the confines the city walls, be it gambling, drinking or whoring, was all go in this quarter. During Shakespeare’s times it was reputedly a seething hotbed of brothels, bear pits, taverns and, most sinfully of all THEATRES. Gasp.

DSC_4540 DSC_4542 DSC_4543

But there was a problem. The gentle folk of the city couldn’t be expected to share grave space with the unclean Southwark dwellers, so Cross Bones – a ‘single women’ graveyard – was born

‘I have heard of ancient men, of good credit, report that these single women were forbidden the rites of the church, so long as they continued that sinful life, and were excluded from Christian burial, if they were not reconciled before their death. And therefore there was a plot of ground called the Single Woman’s churchyard, appointed for them far from the parish church.’ John Stow, Historian, 1598

DSC_4544 DSC_4545

Cross Bones stayed a graveyard until concerns were raised over it becoming overcrowded and dangerous to public health. The land was briefly turned into a fair ground before being taken over by London Underground in the 1990s and used as an electricity sub-station for the Jubilee Line extension. Archaeologists removed some of the skeletons, but an estimated 99% are still buried at the site and in the last decade the gates and graveyard have become a shrine for anyone of any faith to leave mementoes, messages and gifts remembering those loved and lost. There are monthly vigils and events organised by the Friends of Crossbones, which you can find out more about here.

DSC_4535 DSC_4532

Whether you’d like to see a seedier side to London; a portion of it’s shadowy past that’s never been forgotten, or just to stumble across something so colourful and macabre it will make you re-evaluate quite why you love this city, then a weekend wander here is a must.

photo 3 (12)

Happy Syttende Mai: 99p Fish & Chips, The Ritz and Mr Mitch Tonks

£1 fish, £1 fish. Nope, you’re not on a fish stall in east London’s Queen’s market…although let’s remind ourselves of that glorious song once more:

…in fact, quite the opposite. Today is the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian Constitution and, to celebrate Norway day, Britain’s biggest seafood trading partner celebrated with a seafood feast in the candy-pink, high-ceilinged salons of The Ritz Hotel and shipped over 16 tonnes of cod so that 99 fryers across the UK can serve 99p fish and chips.

photo 4 (8)

The great and good from The Norwegian Seafood Council, trade and industry ministries, Innovation Norway and even celebrated British seafood chef, Mitch Tonks, turned up in the pristine, heritage surrounds of the Ritz’s inner sanctum to talk about, promote and gorge on the frozen-at-sea fresh produce that Norway specialises in. All of this is unsurprising really when you consider that 270 million plates of fish and chips are sold in the UK and 7350 tonnes of cod are shipped from Norway’s icy fjords and coastline into UK shops, restaurants and takeaways every year.

photo 3 (11)

Fish is big business in both the UK and Norway and, as fish-lovers are consistently battered with information on sustainability and exactly what they should and shouldn’t be eating, the question of food provenance and accountability has become a hot button issue.

Even travel companies and tourism boards are getting involved as we were told by Danny Giles from Hurtigruten, who run a surprisingly food conscious cruise called Norway’s coastal kitchen – where 85% of the food served on board is produced locally and is picked up daily as they wind their way through the fjords, meaning that the Arctic Char that’s been caught at 4am will appear on dinner plates at 5pm that evening.

photo 1 (13)

One chef who needs no convincing of Norway’s fresh fish credentials is Mitch Tonks, who has a couple of celebrated seafood restaurants and fish and chip eateries down in Dartmouth, one of which is taking part in today’s 99p fish meal offer. He celebrated syttende mai (that’s Norway day to you and me) last year with Foodepedia by offering up his very own norwegian fish recipes which you can still whip up here, if you fancy joining the party today.

photo 2 (17)

Tonks fell in love with Norway’s fishing and production techniques years ago saying that he always nods to the Scandinavian way of life for fish dishes, particularly when it comes to their penchant for pickles: “Pickled fennel or pickled red onions really lift a dish,” he explained. “Norway has integrity when it comes to sustainable fish. In Norway, sustainability wasn’t just a buzz word, it was a way of life.”

photo 2 (16)And if we needed any more convincing of the quality and ‘Arctic freshness’ of Norwegian produce, all we had to do was look at the spread that The Ritz’s executive chef, John Williams, had laid out below decks. In a tiny side room Scandinavian food had collided head on with British heritage and the result was a selection of hot and cold seafood delights that gave me a severe case of buffet blindness as I wandered around levering slivers of hand carved smoked salmon and wedges of crumbling Norwegian cured fjord trout onto my rapidly overloaded plate.

IMG_2579[1]I felt a bit like The Little Mermaid, reeling off a roll call of fishy whosits and whatsits galore: there were bowls overflowing with ruby-red prawns, lumps of king crab leg dressed with dots of wasabi and edible flowers, cushions of scallop tartare and silver cloche-covered dishes of Atlantic halibut drenched in a cream sauce and spiked with asparagus morels. And that was before the livery-clad waiters started ferrying out cones containing golden pillows of battered cod and chips.

 

photo 1 (14)

photo-5-(6)

There’s only one real way of determining how good and how fresh Norway’s fish really is and that’s heading to one of the fish and chip shops near you to try some for today’s temporary price of 99p. Find out which restaurants are running the deal on the Norwegian Seafood Councils website, here, and get tasting, buying, cooking and eating this guilt-free, sustainable produce now.

Article originally written for Foodepedia.co.uk and can be found here.

pippa7_2691818b

The Pippa/Telegraph Split: Cause to ‘Celebrate’?

Image: The Telegraph/Clara Molden

I woke up this morning and casually flicked through the updates on my Facebook and twitter, the standard start to most people’s day. One of the first posts I saw was one by MyDaily – the Huffington Post’s style pages – and it said this: “Commiserations! Pippa’s Woken Up To Bad News.” What could this be I wondered? Has her latest moneyed, permatanned Ken doll suitor given her semi-highness the boot? Has that spiffy new bob cut been butchered in the hairdresser’s chair? Has one of those famously peachy buttocks suddenly gained a dimple of cellulite and been rendered unappealing by today’s beauty fat mafia?

Nope, it was none of these things, it was this: “Kate Middleton’s Sister Axed as Telegraph Columnist.” And I’m a touch ashamed to say my first reaction leaned significantly more to the ‘whoopee’ side of the grief scale than the ‘oh no, such a shame.’

I’ve always had a little smidge of a problem with Pippa, but there’s no easy way to say that without sounding like a jealous bitch. It’s a fact of life that any criticism aimed at an attractive young woman who’s doing well, however neutrally expressed, will be met with the comedic sounds of cats meowing or that most offensively ridiculous of statements about handbags at dawn. But then again, some of the time they do come from a catty place and I suppose I did have my claws out for Pippa in a way.

I was cross that people went on about her at Kate’s wedding, choosing to focus more on her athletically toned bum than Kate’s ethereal presence in that exquisite dress. I was amused when she released a book about home entertaining that was filled, by all accounts, with helpful things about putting crisps into bowls and dubbed by Christopher Howse at The Telegraph as “a sort of cultural tea bag for the American Market.” But I was full-blown angry when she then JOINED The Telegraph as a columnist and, to add imagined insult to my presumed injury, she was writing about travel. TRAVEL.

The mildly hilarious, genteel columns in Vanity Fair I could cope with and could largely ignore her thoughts on why she thought men who played cricket were hot and how one should watch rugby (in case we’re getting it wrong), but travel writing was a little too close to the bone for me.

Perhaps it was because travel writing is what I’ve always wanted and tried to do and her first post about a jaunt to the Alps appeared at a time when she had a book deal and wrote for national magazines and websites while I was struggling to get a decent journalism commission. Jealous, moi? YES, obviously! Because I was doing it the old fashioned way of grafting and sending out endless pitches and writing for free while she waltzed into a well-paid (let’s not pretend they didn’t fork out top dollar for her writing) job with one of the best publications in the UK on the back of her face and her name and, probably, that famous derriere. Oh and her previously disclosed “passion” for writing apparently.

Perhaps, Pippa, I should have saluted you for achieving in a year what I hadn’t been able to do in five times that but, at the time, I was buggered if I was going to.

I remember writing a scribbled, vitriolic post about her travel column, which I called: ‘A glorified what I did on my hols that was so dull it made me want to eat my eyes.’ I didn’t publish it because I sounded like a mad woman – the proverbial evil Disney witch, howling with glee at a misused comma or spewing bile at what I deemed was the ultimate in ‘no one cares’ travel writing.

It was the kind of travelogue your friend writes and you read, begrudgingly. I know this because I’ve been guilty of it myself. Take this prime paragraph, for example:

“We ordered rounds of schnitzel sandwiches and würstchen (simple sausage rolls) before attempting a Bavarian jig and a bit of shoe-slapping – apparently a traditional mating dance, in which men hoped to lure their women. We embarrassed ourselves hugely, the lederhosen-clad boys in particular. The rest of the evening was spent as enthusiastic spectators.”

Urgh. Her Alpine piece told us that going up mountains is jolly hard, wine is nice and was peppered with awkward references to remind the reader that she really, really was just like ‘one of us.’ She took cheap airlines “(my easyJet cabin bag allowance ruled out walking boots)” and ate carbs, all the while worrying that she wouldn’t be able to fit in her fetching dirndl for the pictures of her gurning against interchangeable backdrops of snowy peaks and local people.

I think what got me all het up, apart from the good old fashioned jealousy, was the fact that I love Telegraph Travel and think it’s one of the best out there. It’s teeming with quality writers and columnists who aren’t just ‘names’ and column inches, they’re writers who delve headfirst into unexplored fronts; who find new ways of looking at traditional destinations or cover groundbreaking events. They produce written portraits of landscapes that move and inspire you and, while fluff occasionally creeps in – where doesn’t it – I think even they knew the backlash poor Pippa would face for her weekly column. It’s always been very telling that the comments section on her pieces were always disabled, a luxury that’s rarely afforded to most journalists who are often bombarded with unpleasant comments ridiculing their work.

Pippa soon moved on to other areas like Telegraph Lifestyle (cycling underwater to maintain that perfect posterior) and Telegraph Food (tasting pancakes for Shrove Tuesday) and my rage dimmed…although I’m ashamed to admit that I was occasionally tickled to see some of the twitter responses when the Telegraph twitter feed gallantly tried to promote her articles:

Untitled-4 Untitled-3 Untitled-2

Perhaps the most annoying thing of all is she’s probably a truly lovely woman and an intelligent one to boot and, to be honest, if someone offered me all these wonderful opportunities – like sailing with Ben Ainslie – I wouldn’t have turned them down and who can say if I would have written them up any better than she did. There’s no denying her media savvy in pulling in all those deals with zero writing or publishing experience, but I can’t deny that her success still rankles, hence my initial reaction to her Telegraph departure.

Although, as I’m contemplating it now, what right do I have to poke fun at her? Is she the next Kate Adie or Doris Lessing? Probably not, but then again neither am I and at the very least she’s got more column inches in a national to her name than I have. So despite the sacking I suppose she really is having the last laugh…especially seeing as there won’t be any more columns for me to giggle at anymore.

Pippa, I may not have saluted you before but, in typical British fashion, now you’re down I’ll raise my mug of tea to you and eagerly await your next literary foray…although a guide to Alpine Entertaining that focuses on how to look ladylike in a dirndl or how to moderate ones pretzel intake is guaranteed to reduce me to my former, hulk-like rage. Just saying.

Bites of travel, food, culture and creative writing peppered with reviews and the occasional rant. Generally soused in gin

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,121 other followers

%d bloggers like this: