Trip Up North To Liverpool

In my line of work, I’m often forced to leave the safe haven of Somerset, in order to explore the world of food and drink that the country has to offer.

I’m fortunate that my employer at the pub has a passion for food that rivals even mine.

He understands the importance of constantly expanding your horizons, by doing so we can learn to challenge ourselves creatively so that we can produce the most innovative food with the biggest flavours possible.

The latest was an Indian-inspired trip up North to Liverpool with a dual purpose.

The first priority was to pick up our new chef from the airport. Flying in from Spain, Javier was to be our first new hire in a long time. As the pub has slowly grown, we’ve noticed an increase in interest in our food offerings. Now, with us paying closer to attention to the inventiveness of our creations, we’ve decided to bring in another pair of hands to broaden the range of our work. We’d been waiting a few months for his papers to get squared off, but with all that bureaucracy behind us we could crack on and get him on board.

Its traditional for new members of staff, no matter how minor or senior, to be treated to a small business trip when they are first hired. I share the belief with our owner that people work best together when they’ve had some form of bonding experience. So I took the car up the M5 and M6 to meet Javier off the plane and take him for a brief culinary tour of Liverpool – a town with plenty to offer the food and drink enthusiast.

After dropping the car at some convenient airport parking in Liverpool, I met the man himself and we toasted his arrival in a Crypt, of all places. With the advent of Food and Drink festivals, there is never a shortage of events to find in major cities. Sponsored by Fever Tree Tonics, the Absolutely Fabulous Gin Festival is held in Croxteth County Hall just outside the city centre.

£10 gets you in the door, but we had to fork out £20 for a pre-paid card that will bought us four Gin & Tonics each, complete with Fever Tree Tonic and impressive garnish. Although £30 might sound like a steep price to pay for four drinks, the grand venue made for a fitting setting and the measures were generous enough for us to forget the costs after a couple of drinks.

With a blend of gins swimming inside us, we headed into the city to continue along a rough theme of drinks and food made popular through the proliferation of Indian culture. There are two branches of the street food restaurant Mowgli in Liverpool. The first takes no bookings and is crammed into a tiny, narrow space; the second build is a much larger restaurant that takes bookings and has been doing a roaring trade for the few months that its been open. We ordered a handful of curries and spent a couple of hour losing ourselves in chef chat, letting the gloriously fresh food soak up the gin from a few hours ago.

Thankfully, our boss had been good enough to book us a couple of rooms in a nearby hotel, so I didn’t have to face the intimidating drive back that night on a full stomach.

An Alternative Mother’s Day

I love my Mum.

She’s a humble lady, who was brave and ballsy enough to raise me and my two sisters by herself, whilst my Dad was working away from home as an off-shore driller.

Throughout our childhoods we would always try and lavish her with attention on her Birthday, but when it came to Mother’s Day, we’d always seem to forget. Its one of those non-religious days that just managed to slip through the cracks each year, being a little too close to Easter for us to think of anything else but chocolate.

Of course, when we broke into adulthood, we started kicking things into gear a bit. By this point though, the family had essentially gone their separate ways. I’d left for University and my two older siblings had long since flown the coop to pursue careers in London. We left my Mum in Bristol, waiting for my Dad to retire and making a new life for herself in the mean time.

This year my Mum turned 60, quite the achievement, considering what we put her through as teenagers!

Although we’d celebrated her birthday with a big family party back in February, when it came to Mother’s Day this year, I thought it would be nice if we could make this one an extra special one and bring our immediate family together for another get together. We’ve always been big eaters and dinner times were always cherished, especially when we were fortunate enough to have the whole family round the table.

With this in mind, I booked us a table for Mother’s Day at The Pony & Trap, Josh Eggleton’s Michelin Star winning gastro-pub. Just a half an hour drive away from Bristol, it made for a perfect go-between for us all, plus it gave me an excuse to snag a few ideas from one of the most talked about Pubs in the country.

With a rotating menu, that changes dependent on what vegetables are growing in local farms, Eggleton ensure a ‘Field to Fork’ ethos that has secured the Pub as a local favourite and national icon  for pub excellence. When we arrived for an early dinner at 6, it was clear that we’d made a wise decision booking ahead. The interior of the small restaurant was packed out, with the jovial sounds of celebration seeping out of the traditional oak frontage.

The food on the menu that day offered a quintessential slice of Eggleton’s style.

To start, I ordered Lamb Faggots, something that I had been considering adding to the menu at our place. They came with a delicately flavoured Dill Yoghurt, a sweet Burnt Pickled Onion and a wonderfully crunchy Granola. As soon as I cut into the lamb, I knew that attempting to copy this standard of cooking would be a pointless task. Pink in the middle and well seasoned it was delightful.

There were no disappointments with the mains either. Whilst my Father opted for a Pork Chop, that came with Braised Neck, I couldn’t resist the Stuffed Saddle of Rabbit.

There’s something so satisfying about a well cooked pub meal.

Whereas most people are usually satisfied with the usual classics – I’m glad we opted for something extra special for my Mum.

Broken Oven = Another Dinner Out!

We’ve had a busy couple of weeks at the pub recently.

Finally the cold weather is dissipating, giving way to warmer days and this has lead to our weekends and lunch times becoming much busier.

All it takes is a couple of sunny days and you’ll find the Great British public are more than eager to take a pint with their lunch. With the return of Spring, of course, comes a fond farewell to the Winter-specific items on our menu and cask list. So we say ‘goodbye’ to our award-winning pies and ‘hello’ to our vegan-inspired Buddha Bowls, which will hopefully make a splash throughout Spring and well into Summer. Anyway that’s enough about work…

As much as I love to cook at home for myself, this week there was small snag in the road to delicious home cooked meals.

Off for three days, I was particularly excited to do some experimenting with a whole hare that I’d recently procured from the local butchers. With the animal prepped and ready to go I went to turn the oven on and…nothing. After a few minutes of frantic sweary investigation, I found the problem: the heating filament was completely blown.

With the oven not heating up, it looked like I was going to have to order my food in for the next few days, that is, until I was invited last minute to dinner with an old chef pal. Although I was still a little livid from the oven breaking in the first place, I soon cheered up when he picked me up and told me where we were heading.

The Willow Tree is one of the best kept secrets in Somerset, nay, the entirety of the South West.

Opening in 2002, head chef Darren Sherlock established his eatery in a 17th century listed building in the bustling town of Taunton. After spending a large portion of his career under the tutelage of the Roux Brothers, the chef now runs the business along with his wife Rita and a handful of staff. Despite the popularity of the restaurant, Darren insists on manning the kitchen by himself, meaning that every single cover that comes out of the kitchen is hand-made by the chef himself.

The menu at the Willow Tree changes every couple of months or so, meaning that returning customers are often rewarded with brand new meals to enjoy and the prices, considering the local pedigree of the food and the man making it, are very reasonable indeed. Open for four dinner services a week, the mid-week set price is a very reasonable £27.95 for three courses and the weekend prices are just a touch pricier at £32.95. In short, The Willow Tree offers fantastic value.

Taunton is a strange old town.

Gorgeous old houses mix uneasily with ugly 90s retail centres, as such the town feels like it lacks a certain amount of cultural heritage. Thankfully, as soon as you take a seat in the tiny dining room of Darren’s restaurant you’ll forget about the odd town outside.

On the Willow Tree’s website there is a banner proclaiming it as ‘One of the top ten romantic places to eat in the UK’, despite not being there on romantic business, I nonetheless felt the vibe. There couldn’t have been many more than 20 covers in the entire place – explaining how Darren can deal with running the kitchen by himself – which led to a quieter more informal dining experience, as if the chef had decided to invite a bunch of strangers to a dinner party and split them all off into pairs.

Of course, the result is a pitch perfect dining experience with Rita providing excellent hospitality, whilst her husband slaved away in the kitchen preparing great tasting, simple food that was all served immaculately. 

2017’s Hottest Food Trends I’m Psyched To Cook

The food industry is a fast moving one.

Adopting a new style or trend could be the difference between gaining or losing a new customer.

Although there are a million and one fads that pop up throughout the course of a year, ignoring them could be a bad choice. They range from the most trivial (we’re looking at you ‘Chips in Buckets’) to the truly inventive, which could well be a step too far for your usual clientele.

Last year was a dramatic one in the Food business. Still recovering from the Great Gourmet Burger Uprising of 2010, new restaurants have been forced to open with different approaches. Although modern spins on Soul food is still doing well, in a world of ever increasing homogenisation, it really does pay to be a little different.

These are the new Food Trends that I’m itching to incorporate into my food at the pub:

Asian Spins On Classics

Jaden from steamykitchen.com makes a great looking Asian Pork Burger.

The people of Britain have come along way in the last 30 years. When I was a kid, my parents idea of ‘Asian Food’ was a pre-made Black Bean Sauce from Sharwoods, limp noodles and a bag of prawn crackers – no wonder they didn’t think much of it!

Thanks to the internet and globalisation, we’ve become much more comfortable with concepts that are somewhat alien to us. Not only are we embracing fermented foods such as kimchi and miso, we’re now looking for ways that we can incorporate these techniques into our own British Classics.

Artisanal Butchery & Meat

There might well be more Vegans living amongst us than ever before, (not to mention the success of the Veganuary campaign) but that doesn’t mean that Britain doesn’t still love eating animals.

Meat is still very much a part of the British diet, however now there’s more of a focus on traditional butchering methods and truly grass-fed animals. Meat-eaters are happy to eat chicken, beef and pork when they know that the animal has been treated with respect from the farm all the way to the plate. The proof, as always, is in the taste!

Devious Compound Butters

Rachel Howden over at rachelhowdenblog.wordpress.com has a tonne of great ideas.

Although there are probably a few seasoned chefs who will be rolling their eyes at this ‘new’ idea – it doesn’t mean that its not becoming one of the fastest growing trends in restaurants today and one that I’d like to get in on.

Whereas some restaurants are going the whole hog and culturing their butter in-house, others are taking the easier option and simply combining herbs with their current stock to create fresh, fragrant alternatives to the usual plain stuff.

Citrus and Tarragon. Garlic and Rosemary. Smoked Paprika and Jalapeno. These are tried and tested flavour combinations moulded into a winning product.

Reigning plant-based Goddess, Angela Liddon, nails the Buddha Bowl here.

Wholesome Buddha Bowls

Regardless of how us Meat Lovers try and deny it, vegetarian and plant-based meals are getting more and more popular each year.

Rather than work against the grain, I’m looking to embrace more of these cooking Vegan cooking styles – chief of them being the Buddha Bowl.

Featuring healthy grains, wholesome roots and colourful super-foods, these easy to prepare dishes are a chef’s dream. Cheap to source, quick to prep and drop-dead gorgeous.

With an ever increasing interest in alternative foods, I’m hoping to design a couple of Buddha Bowls for our Summer menu, a fresh alternative to the usual pub lunch.

Turmeric In Everything

There’s always one core ingredient that both the industry (and consumers) become infatuated with over the course of a year. A few years ago it was kale, then quinoa had its time.

Now it looks like the next component to take a turn in the spotlight will be an old favourite that we’re all familiar with, just not in this form. Powdered Turmeric has been used for hundreds of years in Asian cooking to add colour and warmth to curries.

Chefs everywhere from Brooklyn to London are now embracing the ingredient in its purest form: the root. Punchier in flavour than its powdered cousin, this root has crept its way into juice bars around the world and now its finding its way into the restaurants.