Exmoor Live @ the Dunster Show 2017

Click on the link below to view a short, but highly entertaining video about this great event I was privileged to take part in. Video courtesy of Fly Monkeys Limited and Julia Amies-Green Photography. Enjoy!

Exmoor Live Cookery Demonstration, Dunster in Somerset

Photo courtesy of Julia Amies-Green Photography.

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The Pyne Arms, East Down

The Pyne Arms in North Devon is situated in the beautiful and peaceful hamlet of East Down. Run by couple, Ellis and Amie Pannell, this gastro pub is now most definitely on the proverbial map.

I called in last Sunday on the off-chance of a spare table (booking is advised), and I was suitably rewarded. Glass of Moretti in hand, I scoured the menu but it really didn’t take long before I settled on the day’s dining choice. 

I opted for the ‘Heal Farm Rump of Beef (locally sourced of course), Yorkshire Pudding and Horseradish.’ What emerged from the kitchen was perfectly cooked slices of beef draped over fluffy roast potatoes, alongside a rather large Yorkshire pudding. Accompanying this mouthwatering plateful, was a colourful selection of five vegetables, imaginatively presented to tempt and tease the palate no doubt.

The Pyne Arms at East Down certainly gets my vote  and I shall be returning soon I am sure…

The Exmoor Live Cookery Demo

Friday 18th August saw the 2nd incarnation of the Exmoor Live cookery demonstration, in a suitably grand marquee at the 171st annual Dunster Show.

Showcasing their formidable culinary acumen, we were treated to an interesting range of cookery demonstrations, featuring 6 top chefs from across Devon and Somerset.

Dishes on offer included a mouthwatering Venison Carpaccio, the slightly abstract but altogether delicious Pork Schnitzel and an oh so tempting trifle made with a locally distilled gin. 

The event was extremely well attended and well deserved credit goes to Chef Andrew Dixon, ably assisted by Chef Olivier Certain, who together organised this very successful event.

The Dunster Show

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On Friday 18th August, the 171st Dunster Show will be held once again in the fields nestling behind Dunster Castle. Always a great success and highly enjoyable, this annual Somerset country fair is set to attract thousands of visitors once again. And there will of course be a cookery demonstration organised and led by Chefs Andrew Dixon and Olivier Certain. Joining them this year for the second year now will be Ed Heard along with newcomers to the cookery demo, Ellis Pannell and Barrie Tucker. See you there!

http://www.thedunstershow.co.uk/

Download the John Raby’s Food & Travel flyer here

Espresso Seafood Bar and Grill.

There’s nothing better than whiling away a few hours by the seaside. And there’s also nothing better than dining in the company of long standing friends too.

On a hot, sunny afternoon Andrew and I came to the Espresso Seafood Bar and Grill in Ilfracombe, on the beautiful North Devon coast. Thankfully, a gentle sea breeze was in attendance to cool things down. 

A discussion about oysters ensued between us, and soon enough we were drawn inexorably to the Deluxe Shellfish Platter – which is what we ordered. Tempted by a spread of Lobsters, Oysters, Crab, Crevettes, Clams, Prawns, Scallops, Mussels and Cockles; you can see it wasn’t a difficult choice to make. 

Now this is where I have to come clean. Shamefully, for someone who has lived on the coast most of their life, I have to grudgingly admit that I am indeed an oyster virgin. Thought I’d just get that one out of the way. Well I was until yesterday anyway. 

I think what I want to say at this point is: “Oysters, where have you been all my life?” Well my friend Andy, who is also a top, local chef showed me the way: Grab the oyster shell, squeeze a few drops of fresh lemon on the aforementioned mollusc, add some shallot vinegar and a tiny smidgen of fiery tobacco and it’s down the hatch. 

That was definitely a culinary watershed for me because later on that day, I was pining for oysters again. “Where for at thou o clam of my desire?” Hmmm, I guess they’ll have to wait for the next trip out, which now can’t come soon enough. 

Further instruction was received from my friend and fellow foodie on dismembering the crab and lobster too (I clearly need to get out more), which proved to be yet another culinary voyage of discovery. And a very tasty one at that too.

I wish you could have been there because the smell of the sea was powerfully wafting off the two tier tray in front of us. This isn’t a particularly cheap offering, but worth every penny. If you love seafood, you’ll be in heaven. 

Washed down with a classic bottle of chilled white, it was just the ticket for a sunny day at the seaside. I also enjoyed a Samuel Adams Boston Lager too, which is a rare find in these parts. It was altogether agreeable, and nice to see it make an appearance after discovering it for the first time on a trip to New York a few years ago. 

No doubt I shall be returning for a repeat performance and I encourage you to try it yourself. This surely is what life on the North Devon coast is all about: locally sourced, fresh produce pulled straight from the ocean and lovingly served with impeccable presentation and flair.

Pappardelle’s, Arundel.

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If you ever find yourself in historic and beautiful Arundel, at the bottom of the main street on the right, you will discover not one but two Italian restaurants. In fact, two restaurants in one.

Now that I have sufficiently piqued your attention, I will explain. What you’ve got, rather cleverly, are two dining experiences under one roof. Bottom floor, you have ‘Osteria,’ which serves some Italian food and also some other non-Italian dining choices too.

Osteria is really just an Italian term for a restaurant that serves good food, beer and wine – slightly lower in the pecking order than a Ristorante or Trattoria.

Anyway having said all that, my friend and I proceeded upstairs to Pappardelle’s which is the proper Italian Ristorante side of the business. Here, we were welcomed by one Jan Marco of Genoa, Italy.

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The evening commenced with the mandatory but altogether scrumptious ciabatta with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This was followed by a simply stunning beet cured salmon, with capers, horseradish and ciabatta (again).

Having learnt from a recent trip to the Emilia Romagna region of Italy that Spaghetti Bolognese is not actually an authentic Italian dish, I ordered the more accurate Tagliatelle Bolognese – with lamb.

Spaghetti Bolognese is an adaption of the real thing which is only ever made with Tagliatelle and not spaghetti. It’s also a lot less tomato based than what we’re used too here in the UK.

Either way, the version I was served was delicious, and whilst not entirely accurate, was much closer to the Ragu I had eaten in Bologna. It looked amazing and was thoroughly satisfying.

Washed down with a carafe of house wine, a Barberra 2014 described in the menu as having juicy cherry and damson fruit flavours, I couldn’t have asked for more.

I was not disappointed in any way with the food, ambience or warm and friendly service, and will definitely be returning sometime soon.

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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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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

An Interview with Werner Hartholt.

Photo 19-08-2015, 10 45 44The Combe, set within West Somerset College in Minehead, trains post 16 students in the fine art of catering and hospitality.

At the helm of this enterprising venture for over 4 years is Werner Hartholt, a Dutch / Indonesian chef who moved to the UK some 20 years ago.

Werner Hartholt, 41, was born in The Netherlands and lived in Groot-Ammers, east of Rotterdam on the Lek river. He was born of mixed parentage, having “an Indonesian mother and a Dutch Father.”

It was in Holland that Werner discovered his love of cooking.  By the age of 20 he had become a chef, having qualified through college and 3 separate restaurant apprenticeships, and then went to Spain for a year.

Not really giving any particular reason as to why he chose that country, Werner said that he went to Spain, “because I was young and because I could.”  It was here that he met an English girl and before long, the UK was inevitably calling, arriving in 1995.

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Werner did try a couple of non-catering jobs, but by the age of 26, he had firmly decided on a career as a chef.  He remembers a conversation with a friend who had asked him, “What would you do if you won the lottery?”

Werner knew immediately and responded, “well, buy my own restaurant.”  His friend replied that he clearly and obviously wanted to be a chef.  Werner added, “Actually, it made me realise it’s what I want.” And so the die was cast and a course was set for a life in catering.

Initially working in some pubs in Kent that were not really on the quality end of the spectrum, he promised himself to aim higher and move to the South West of England.  “I will only do proper, very good cooking which is what I started off with and that’s what I did.”

Werner arrived in the South West in 2001, living in Taunton and working Photo 19-08-2015, 10 39 04in the Blackdown Hills which straddle the Devon and Somerset border.  Moving on from there, Werner settled at The Blue Ball in rural Triscombe, adding “We won lots of awards there.”

Eventually, the owner sold up and set his sights on Dulverton, the gateway to Exmoor.  Werner said, “He bought an empty property, and I came with him and we started Woods.” Still today, Woods Bar & Restaurant is a thriving business.

Sometime later, Werner started working as the Head Chef at the Dragon House Hotel in Bilbrook.  He said, “That was my full time job, and I saw an advert for a one day a week ‘Chef-Lecturer’ job… so I applied.”

After “rigorous interviewing,” Werner was selected and started work at West Somerset College as Chef-Lecturer, taking supervision of The Combe training kitchen, teaching post-sixteen students who wanted to become chefs.

Despite still being head chef at the Dragon House, Werner relates: “I kept the kitchen going here one day a week, and after about nine months that turned into three days, and then after a year it became full time.”

Photo 19-08-2015, 10 41 14Explaining to me the rationale and function of The Combe, he told me, “We are a training restaurant within a college; so we are a licenced restaurant like any other business.  The only difference is that all the food is cooked by students and served by students under supervision of lecturers obviously.”

Werner added, “We open two days a week generally for lunch and occasionally for dinners, and this is to give the students as real an experience as possible.”

Students are also in the kitchen for one day a week doing all the Mise en place (prep) for the two days that the restaurant is open.  “One day a week they do all their theory and then also one day a week has been allocated for work experience outside of college.”

Werner told me that the lunchtime menu provides lots of choice to make Photo 19-08-2015, 10 46 03it as realistic as possible.  “We do some fine dining and we do some brasserie type cooking.”  Werner explained that brasserie cooking is basically, “high end lighter meals that are a bit less intricate.  It is not
quite fine dining but it is on the cusp.”

Undeniably, these students are gaining an impressive and thorough training at The Combe in Minehead, under Werner’s experienced hand.  I have no doubt that this training restaurant will go from strength to strength, as they seek to produce quality chefs for Britain’s burgeoning restaurant industry.

John Raby