Something wonderful at The Weir!

Photo 19-02-2016, 12 57 05 Arriving at The Cafe down at Porlock Weir this month, I found Chef Andrew Dixon hard at work feeding a restaurant full of Exmoor Food Fest punters.

Effortlessly turning out mouthwatering specialties like Pork Faggot, surrounded by seasonal vegetables and capped with a golden brown potato rosti, and then Grilled Cornish Mackerel with char-grilled vegetables and a French sauce vierge, it’s little wonder that business was so brisk.

Mind you, offering two courses for £10 and three courses for £15, this is surely a chance to eat some top tucker for an insanely low price. If you have not participated yet, there are still two more days left of the Exmoor Food Festival.

Click on this link for more details: http://www.thecafeporlockweir.co.uk/the-menu/our-suppiers

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Compass: Direction Danger! Chapter 2

Read an excerpt from my new novel; a romantic thriller with a heavy slice of action set in the beautiful Caribbean…

Georgetown, Exuma, The Bahamas

Carrie Miller steered her nail polish red, GMC Yukon XL towards the Hotel Bluewater Bay.  Tyres crunching to a halt outside the hotel, shapely legs, sporting a pair of shiny black Jimmy Choo’s, appeared first in the SUV doorway.  Carrie was a naturally classy girl, and stepping out of the air conditioned refuge of her car she strode confidently up the hotel steps and headed for the sundeck restaurant.

Ebony eyes hidden behind expensive Dolce & Gabbana’s, were framed by lustrous dark locks cascading over her shoulders; complimenting natural beauty and a svelte but curvaceous figure.  Surveying the human landscape around her, she chose a table near the water’s edge and waited for Megan her closest friend.   Beginning to bake in the hot midday sun, Carrie thought about her life.  Working in the Bahamas was good, I mean what was not to like?

Hailing originally from Seattle, she’d spent all of her short working life in the realty industry but after 8 years she’d gotten fed up with the rain and living in the shadow of a volcano.  A position had come up with a local, Bahamian realtor, and with her extensive track record of success she’d landed the job.

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Life sure was different in the Bahamas; one thing there was a lot less rain and a lot less stress, and as far as Carrie was concerned that was an undoubted result.  Although she missed her friends back in Washington State, many would often come and visit her on her island paradise.  Apart from that, she’d made quite a few friends in the islands.  Being naturally outgoing and most definitely a social animal, she didn’t have any difficulties there.

Smith-Bradshaw Realty had several offices with its headquarters in Nassau on the main island of New Providence.  Carrie herself had lived in a small beach house on the island of Exuma for 2 years now, and she loved it.  The house was ideal for a single, 28 year old woman who owned as many bikinis as sets of earrings.  A few yards from the beach, it was all too easy to slip down the steps and top up her tan at every available opportunity.

Soft white sand, azure sea & sky lovingly invited long, reflective walks; a great way to unwind after a hard day’s work. Now very much part of the local community, lunch at the Bluewater Bay had pretty much become a regular occurrence by now.  Good excuse to escape the office, take in the local news on the way to the next job.

Megan Carter, who was always late, finally arrived and floated in across a sea of admirers leaving a trail of perfume across the restaurant like the wake of a boat.  “Hey Carrie!”  Megan slid into a seat across the table and pushed her sunglasses up over her thick mane of blonde hair.

Megan, simply dressed in a white linen skirt, patterned pink and white top & comfortable sandals, was one of those girls who was a natural head turner and boy, did she know how to work it.  Tanned & possessing a pouting kind of beauty, she ran a local boutique in town and through Carrie’s fairly frequent visits, they had become firm friends.

“What’s new hun?” quizzed Carrie.

“Oh you know, same old, same old…” laughed Megan, “too many window shoppers and not enough real shoppers.  Commercially and romantically!”

They both chuckled with amusement.  Scanning the restaurant menu for her usual favourite, Carrie reflected that the same might be said of her own life on the romantic side of things.

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Sure, she’d met some guys out here but no one serious, not really.  Like a lot of girls, whether realistically or unrealistically, she was waiting to be swept off her feet by someone, sometime…  Well who knows, she wasn’t one to let grass grow under her feet and had been on a few dates.  In fact her and Megan were keeping a tally with Megan definitely way out in front.

“And you?” Megan responded.

“Business is pretty good, in fact after we’ve done lunch I’m heading off to South Reef to tie up the sale on Tide’s Reach.”

“That huge property that’s been empty for ages?”

“You got it.  Some Indian guy’s interested and I don’t think money’s an issue.”  Carrie had definitely decided on the snapper, with fries & salad. Nice.  By this time Megan was also surveying the culinary choices on offer, as well as the handsome waiter.

“Oh my goodness, how much is that place going for?”  Megan asked eagerly, trying hard not to be distracted.

Carrie perched her sunglasses on the end of her nose, and smiled back “6 mill.”

Megan whistled softly.  “I bet it’s gorgeous.”

“It’s pretty impressive and worth every cent. It’s just with the economic climate at the moment, it’s not so easy to get a sale.”

“Oh you’ll get the sale honey, I know you,” Megan laughed.

The restaurant began to fill now, the usual lunchtime crowd plus a bunch of garrulous American tourists.  Well nothing new there, most of the visitors came from the States to spend their hard earned dollars.  The handsome waiter that Megan had noticed earlier walked towards their table to take their order.

“Ladies, can I take your order?”  Megan, who was now going into flirting overdrive scoured the menu one last time.  “Oh I think I’ll take the cracked conch thank you, salad and no fries” she replied.

The waiter, oblivious to Megan’s hungry gaze turned expectantly to Carrie.  Carrie gave a wry smile, and subtly shook her head.  Same old Megan…

Succulent seafood consumed, next lunch date arranged and goodbyes exchanged, Carrie steered her SUV out on to the open road and headed for South Reef.  Summer in Exuma had been long & hot and the October afternoon temperatures were still regularly reaching 30C.

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Carrie couldn’t decide between aircon or just plain winding down the window but in the end went for the window option.  Loosening the top button of her blouse, the cooling air rushing inside was a welcome relief to nature’s oven.  The cobalt, sapphire seas of Exuma sound sparkled in the early afternoon sun which always made the drive to Little Exuma a pleasant one, and the roads as always, were quiet.

Carrie’s smartphone sprang into life as an incoming call from Smith-Bradshaw broke the silence.

“Carrie, it’s Dirk.”  Dirk Johnson ran the Exuma office of Smith Bradshaw, brought down from Nassau to shake things up a bit.  Before Dirk had arrived, Smith-Bradshaw had consistently underperformed, being outgunned & out paced by competing realtors for the hottest properties.  Now things were different, very different.  Under Dirk’s leadership and deft hand on the helm, he had eased the company effortlessly into consistent success.

“Hey Dirk, how’s it going?”

“Yeah good thanks hun; you on the way to the Tides Reach job?”

Carrie smiled.  She didn’t really like all the pet names that he frequently conferred upon her, but she went along with it.  He was a nice guy but not really her type; too clean cut, too efficient.

“Yeah Dirk, just on the way now.  2.30 appointment?”

“That’s it Carrie, don’t be late – this guy’s got money to burn.”  Carrie knew that Sunil Shah had money to burn indeed; a powerful, no nonsense rich businessman from New Delhi who’d made his fortune in IT or so it was thought, now looking to splash his hard earned cash on an expensive property in The Bahamas.  Luckily for Carrie, he’d found his way to Exuma and hopefully would be boosting the coffers of Smith-Bradshaw shortly.

“I’m almost there; I’ll give you a call later and let you know how I get on, bye.”  5 minutes later she was pulling into the massive, gated complex of Tides Reach.  Stepping out into the sultry afternoon heat she found it eerily quiet as the property had been empty for a number of months.  Checking her watch, she relaxed.  It was 2.25pm and no sign of the Mr Shah.

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Carrie made a quick excursion around to the rear of the property and was immediately refreshed by the cooling ocean breeze blowing inland, soothingly rustling the palm fronds overhead.  Tides Reach was certainly saleable and indeed very desirable; 5400 sq. ft. of living space sat on an acre of beachfront land – all for the asking price of $5,900,000.  Bargain.

Somewhere in the distance, the low growl of a Ferrari 458 Italia grew nearer & nearer.  The sleek black triumph of automotive engineering rolled into the gated complex and came to a stop outside white marble steps leading up to an impressive mahogany door.  The Italia V8 was immaculately clean, sparkling in the sunlight, sporting the world famous yellow emblem of one of the most desirable cars’ in the world.

Shah jumped out of the metal stallion just as Carrie returned from the oceanside part of the house.

“Mr Shah, welcome to Tides Reach!”  Carrie stuck out a formal hand which Shah grasped firmly, but only momentarily.

“Miss Miller I presume?” he replied in a thick, monotone Indian accent.

“Call me Carrie, Mr Shah.”  Sunil Shah was taller than your average Indian, slim and immaculately dressed.  Brown leather boat shoes, white linen trousers and a blue casual shirt patterned with white flowers opened at the chest.  Shah removed dark glasses and fixed his gaze on Carrie.

“Then you must call me Sunil, Carrie.”  Something approaching a smile broke out on his face.

“Great, well would you like to have a look around then?”

“That’s why we’re here; can we go inside first?” he asked.

“My thoughts exactly, come this way.”  She led the way up the stairs to the imposing front door, slipped the key in lock, and pushed.

Tides Reach was impressive whichever way you viewed it, from the bottom to the top, inside or out.  And Sunil Shah was obviously taken with it.

“So Mr Shah, I mean Sunil, why the Caribbean.  Don’t you live & work in Delhi?”

“We’re extending our operations into the US, and The Bahamas is a good place to manage it from,” Sunil responded.

Carrie couldn’t help thinking that the Exuma was a pretty remote location to manage a business in the US from, although if you didn’t want to be disturbed then it was ideal.

“Oh great idea, so what do you do exactly?” she probed.  She cursed herself for being so nosey but she had a naturally inquisitive nature and Mr Shah was not your average purchaser of Bahamian Realty.

“I’m in the import / export business Carrie.”  She sensed that was enough probing and that he didn’t want to divulge anymore.

Moving on quickly she asked, “Great, so what do you think about Tides Reach?”

“I love it, it’s perfect and I think I’m going to buy it.”

“Think?” she asked.

“I am!”  Shah laughed for the first time.

Carrie laughed with him and said, “That’s fantastic; can you drop by the office so we can tie up some paperwork?”

“Yes of course; tomorrow at 4.00pm?”

Carrie, who actually couldn’t believe her luck with such a quick sale, almost sang. “That’s awesome Sunil, I’ll see you then.”

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Carrie weaved her way back through Georgetown, past the Bluewater Bay and on to the office.  She parked her vehicle in the rather snug parking space outside, hastily slung her bag over her shoulder and burst into the office.

“Well?” Dirk looked up expectantly.

“It’s a done deal Dirk darling, what else did you expect?” she chimed.

“Excellent, well done Carrie, but when is he signing on the dotted line?  Nothing’s a done deal until they sign on the dotted line.”

“Tomorrow at 4.  I’ll get the paperwork together.”

“Great.”

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Clavelshay Barn Restaurant

DSC_1624Out in the sticks, a few miles north of Taunton, you will find Lower Clavelshay Farm.  Ok, nothing unusual there because after all we are in rural Somerset, aren’t we?

However, within this farm, you will find a gastronomic delight called Clavelshay Barn restaurant.  And yes, as the name would suggest, it is in a barn (converted).

Farmer’s wife Sue Milveton manages the restaurant, whilst husband William and his two sons take care of this busy and productive farm.  Interestingly, Sue told me that when started this rural eatery almost 11 years ago, the question was posed along the lines of: “How are you going to get people to come to a restaurant in the middle of nowhere?”DSC_1594

Of course any restaurant is only as good, principally, as it’s chef.  That’s where Mr Olivier Certain comes in.  With his undoubted flair for producing mouthwatering, contemporary tucker, drawing in the punters to ‘the middle of nowhere’ doesn’t appear to have been a problem (it was almost full when my daughter Becky & I visited).

Olivier hails from Marseille on the fabulous Cote d’Azur in the sunny, south of France.  His culinary pedigree is impressive, having worked in the Michelin starred La Bonne Etape Chateau Arnoux and also Les Roches in Le Lavandou.

DSC_1602And right here in the Westcountry, Olivier served time as Sous Chef to Andrew Dixon in Porlock Weir, before moving on to the popular and now well established Woods Bar and Restaurant in Dulverton.

Starters and mains ordered, we sat happily ensconced at our table, quaffing a lovely light 2013 Riesling and munching rather tasty Habas Fritas (roasted broad beans).  A neat little idea indeed – I mean, who would have thought you could do something so interesting with the good old broad bean?

Soon the waitress was making a beeline for our table with plates in hand. I opted for the Dorset Cured Meats, Rocket Salad, Blushed Tomatoes with Truffle Oil.  This little beauty on a dish was comprised of two types of salami, coppa, serrano ham, pickled garlic, artichokes and sun blushed tomatoes.DSC_1596

Across the table, Becky’s Smoked Salmon Terrine, Seared Lyme Bay Scallop, Herb Salad, Radish with a drizzle of Vanilla Curried Oil was akin to a piece of art and definitely earned her seal of approval!  This evening was most decidedly looking up…

Round two came in the form of the Clavelshay Farm Home-reared Rose Veal Stew with Root Vegetables, Bacon and some lovely ‘Joe’s’ Sourdough Bread. The deliciously tender chunks of veal were sat in meaty, flavoursome gravy that was simply outstanding. It was like being hit with a flavour tsunami actually.

DSC_1610If cooking is all about the flavours as celebrity chef Gary Rhodes would often tell us, then Olivier scored 10/10 in my book with this treat.  Sue tells me the veal comes from their own farm. I guess it doesn’t come any fresher or local than that.

Becky on the other hand tucked into the Oven Roasted Supreme of Free-range Chicken, Fondant Potato, Kale in a delightful Bourguignon Garnish. Olivier told me that he very proud of his take on this very French sauce, and rightfully so.DSC_1618

By now Clavelshay was full of lots of satisfied customers, succumbing to the chef’s culinary magic.  For us, we were approaching the final furlong: dessert!  This came in the form of a Rich Chocolate Delice and for Becky, the Tasting of Lemon which was comprised of: Posset, Iced Parfait, Curd, Raspberry Coulis and Meringue.

I have to say that I am a Chocolate Delice newbie, but having tasted this, I shall now be on the lookout for this sweet textured delight.  Beautifully chocolatey and accompanied by a zesty orange ice cream.  Becky’s dish was pretty much all scraped clean as was mine; , it was a great end to the night.

Next time you’re in that neck of the woods, why not book a table pay a visit? I guarantee, you won’t be disappointed.

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Contact details are:

Address: Lower Clavelshay Farm, North Petherton, Taunton TA6 6PJ

Tel:  01278 662 629

Email: query@clavelshaybarn.co.uk

http://www.clavelshaybarn.co.uk/

The Ultimate Scotch Egg…

Photo 03-02-2016, 12 18 45This is Barrie Tucker. Barrie is the Head Chef at the Notley Arms over at Monksilver, in West Somerset. He tells me that he once came 2nd place in a national Scotch Egg making competition.

Well they do say that the proof of the pudding is in the eating don’t they? After dropping a number of mild hints, I was swiftly served the aforementioned item. I cut into it this golden breadcrumbed orb, and promptly released from within it’s inner core, the secret to Barrie’s success.

Encased in tasty crispiness, the sausage meat with a hint of pepper, and the soft runny yolk were just perfection. In addition, rather cleverly, it was served with Barrie’s fabulous home-made Bloody Mary ketchup. I heartily recommend you pop in one day soon, and try for yourself!Photo 03-02-2016, 12 11 47