Give my regards to Broadway!

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Nestling on the western edge of the Cotswolds, Broadway is a must-visit destination if you are in the area. Why? Because it’s beautiful, and it simply oozes English village charm. In fact, it’s almost too perfect and too twee for its own good, but I just love it. It’s got lots of those lovely, unique kind of shops that magnetically draw you inside, inviting you to part with large sums of money for no real good reason at all – except for pure self-indulgence of course.

We came across a chocolate shop, a sweetie shop (selling a seemingly endless variety of sweets), and a lovely wine and gin store tucked away up a side street. A visit here was required of course, and after much chat with a chap called Dan around various drink related topics, we succumbed to the temptation to sample some of the shops wares. The whole experience proved to be immensely satisfying.

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Broadway is a little gem, of that there is no doubt. One look inside the estate agent’s window will solidly conform this fact. So if you should find yourself meandering towards Stratford-upon-Avon, as we were, I would encourage you to pop in and have a jolly good look around. You are bound to find something that takes your fancy!

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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 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

On track for the exotic

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John Raby is on the Howrah Mail, one of India’s most iconic trains. During his six-hour train journey, he meets genial Ravi from Kolkata, attempts to order lunch from the Telegu-speaking pantry wallah and encounters a slightly annoying railway official

I’m sat on a train going to Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh; the Howrah Mail to be precise. I boarded this morning and will get off in six hours time, but this train actually left Chennai yesterday and will ultimately travel the 1040 miles to Kolkata, arriving early tomorrow morning…

Read the rest of this published travel feature here at the Western Morning News

 

6 Hours on a train.

 

I’m sat on a train going to Srikakulam. I’m on the Howrah Mail to be precise, which has been travelling since yesterday sometime and it is proving to be a very acceptable mode of transport. I love journeys and I love train journeys especially. I think it is the excitement in part of going somewhere new.

Rushing by are the wet rice paddies, countless Palm and Coconut trees and well, life. I’m sat in the compartment with two Indian gentlemen. One is quite chatty, the other, not so. Maybe it’s the language barrier. This is a Telugu speaking area and some speak English and others do not. I guess it’s easy for us English speaking folk. We never have to worry much about language, wherever we go in the world.

There is something truly comforting about the gentle rock of the train carriage as it speeds along. I’ve had some of my best nights sleep on Indian trains. And now I am beginning to feel hungry. Food will arrive shortly no doubt. Already the Chai wallahs are plying their trade up and down the carriage, announcing their approach with vociferous cries of ‘chai coffee!’

The quiet chap opposite, wearing a rather loud purple, green and blue striped shirt that would be hard to ignore anywhere, is really tucking into his food which is making things worse. But at just the right time, the Indian Railways food guy turns up. However, I’m trying to order lunch without much success as the Indian Railways food guy speaks zero English. Not good, because I speak virtually zero Telugu.

Luckily for me, talkative guy rouses from his slumber in the bunk above me and comes to my aid. Now surprisingly, quiet guy sat opposite also gets involved helpfully confirming what time I will be getting down from the train for Srikakulam. After several exchanges between the four of us, I think I’ve ordered a vegetable curry with rice and roti. Well, we shall see what arrives.

My journey through South India has been quite a ride. It began its life at Hyderabad which was a good starting point. There was nothing bad about Hyderabad , only good. Hyderabad is a vast seething metropolis of more than eight million souls. It’s quite a sight as you gaze out over endless urban conurbation stretching as far as the eye can see.

The landscape outside my train window has already started to alter. Rice paddies have all but disappeared, replaced with fields, trees and hills in the distance. Palm fruit trees and swathes of coconut trees still regularly appear.

Quiet guy opposite is now in a prone position, sleeping and snoring contentedly after his lunch, whilst I am now struggling to concentrate  because of that very same noise. A young man from the Indian Railways turns up and sprays the carriage floor with a curious yellow liquid and proceeds to mop. Disinfectant I guess. Our compartment smells sweeter and fresher momentarily.

The train crosses a dry river bed, save for a small water course nestling in the bottom. There is something quintessentially Indian about trains crossing river beds. The rhythmic clang and clatter reverberating around the iron framework as the in-numerous carriages roll at speed across the span of the river bed below.

Meanwhile a stand of banana trees pass by outside and yet another Indian Railways official turns up checking on the cleanliness of the carriage. I have to sign a form, give my ticket number and seat reservation. He disappears but then quickly reappears to question something about the phone number I have just given him. I can’t completely understand what he’s going on about but talkative guy above me comes to my rescue again and basically tells him to stop bothering me. He goes again.

Numerous food and drink wallahs continue to ply their trade and I really want to try the tomato soup and croutons but I am nervous. I’ve learnt that food and drink can be drugged and once you’re unconscious, they come back and rob you. Not wanting to wake up in just my underpants with all my worldly possessions gone, I decide to resist.

We’ve crossed another bridge, and down below on the river bank, the Dhobi wallahs are hard at work washing what looks like bed sheets or saris and laying them out to dry in the sun. That looks like a nice job.

More impressive hills are gliding past us outside, amid the serene and beautiful landscape. Verdant and lush vegetation dominate, and being monsoon season, a cool, grey gloom pervades. In fact it looks a bit too gloomy but that is part and parcel of this time of year. I have been to India many times and I wouldn’t normally choose to come in July, but I have been invited to a wedding and so here I am. Great reason to break the habit of a lifetime.

Some of the other train passengers are chatting amongst themselves, in what I presume is Telugu but it could also be Tamil as this train began its slow trek north in the City of Chennai, on the Coromandel Coast. I’m feeling really hungry now and kind of wanting the tomato soup wallah to reappear or at least the vegetable curry I ordered earlier. Quiet guy is now snoring loudly.

A quick shower of rain appears outside but ends as quickly as it began. We cross yet another river bridge, an old rusty one by the looks of it. Palm fruit trees stand sentinel over the fields below. We’re in the middle of nowhere but the train is slowing to a stop, which can mean anything in this part of the world: waiting for a another train to cross, a breakdown or who knows what.

A woman in another part of the carriage is talking to a small group and every now and again, laughter erupts. Right on cue vegetable curry man appears with my lunch. The tray is laid on the table and I am somewhat taken aback by amount of food served in neat little foil trays with lids: rice, roti, two types of curried vegetables one with paneer, some dhal plus the mandatory raita to cool the palate.

Talkative man now climbs down from the top bunk also to partake of lunch. He introduces himself as Ravi Chakrabatti from Kolkata, and we laugh about quiet man snoring soundly across the way. Ravi laughs and says it doesn’t matter what time of day it is, this guy manages to sleep and snore all the time.

He chuckles again declaring that any time of the day is the same for this chap, concluding somewhat hysterically that “maximum snoring is there!” Ravi got on the train at 6.30 this morning and quiet man was snoring even more loudly then. While we are laughing and chatting, the train has recommenced its journey again and now rolls slowly into the Andhra Pradesh railhead of Visakhapatnam.

Ravi tells me that he is an assistant manager for an automotive lubricant company and he is returning home to Kolkata, which is the final terminus of this Howrah Mail. Meanwhile, quiet man has now woken up and is joining in the conversation. He is a children’s clothing wholesaler from Nellore and is on the way to Kolkata to buy clothing to sell on and distribute from his warehouse in the South.

The Howrah Mail, which is never late according to Ravi, tracks north now towards her destination. The horizon is filled with even more impressive hills now creating a more dramatic backdrop and we cross another river passing yet more dhobi wallahs working hard under the hot Indian sun.

Quiet man helpfully informs me that my station will be approaching in about thirty minutes. I will be sad to get off this train as this has to rank as one of the most enjoyable rail journeys I have taken – and I have travelled a lot by rail in India over the last twenty-one years.

As the train finally draws near Srikakulam, rain-laden monsoon clouds tower above the cooler hills and hot plains below. Time for one more iron railway bridge before we arrive, arching over yet another wide and ponderous river beneath. The reassuring clatter of metal against metal is heard as several hundred tons of rolling stock lumber across, moving inexorably towards solid ground once again.

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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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

The Poltimore Inn, North Molton

Posted on DevonLife.co.uk on 21st July 2015

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For Alan Boddington, the Poltimore Inn at North Molton has been a labour of love. Resurrected from almost certain commercial & culinary death, Alan has worked tirelessly to produce a beautiful venue to eat and drink in that is entirely fit for purpose.

The moment you walk into this delightful country pub, nestling as it does on the fringes of Exmoor National Park, you at once feel at home. Although the Poltimore Inn has been refurbished to a very high standard, that doesn’t detract from its warm welcome in any way at all.

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My daughter Sophie and I were looking forward to this review immensely, as the Poltimore has in more recent times gained a somewhat loyal and faithful following. Having met with Alan and taken a tour of the lovely B&B rooms upstairs and the beautiful, self-contained flat downstairs, we were ushered into the restaurant to sample what was on offer that night.

The restaurant itself is notable in that through the large, gaping windows, it commands an excellent view of the valley and rolling landscape beyond, that is so North Devon.  Having settled in for the night, glass of Westcountry cloudy cider in hand, our eyes were soon drawn to the interesting and varied menu.

Crispy Pig Cheeks

Whilst Sophie opted for the Warm breads and Balsamic vinegar to begin with, I was irresistibly drawn to the Crispy Pig Cheeks (much nicer than it sounds!), accompanied by Fennel Mayo, Pickled Fennel, Rocket, Crackling and Salad.  I have to say that this was just delicious and an appetising gateway to the rest of the night’s proceedings.

Conversely, Sophie’s trio of breads, including a wedge of Focaccia with rosemary & caramelised onions was an equally tasty treat.  Chefs Tom Allbrook, Lynda Festa and their team in the kitchen were certainly on a winning track tonight.

Moving on, we both opted for typical pub fare, unpretentious but flavoursome.  Sophie chose without hesitation the Polti Loaded Burger.  I think ‘loaded’ in this instance was entirely justified, for upon this man-size chunk of homemade beefburger were Crispy Smoked Bacon, Caramelised Onion, Swiss Cheese and Coleslaw, served in between the comforting layers of a gourmet burger bun.

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This was attended by the curiously named Duck Fat Chips, which were the lovely, hand cut skin-on variety, which received a dutiful dusting of rock salt to bring out the flavour. Well Gary Rhodes, erstwhile celebrity chef, always said that food is all about the flavour, and he was definitely right on that score.  Interestingly, this meal came with chef’s own homemade Smoked Chilli, Ginger and Tomato Ketchup. Great.

Me?  Well I went for something different, yet similar. I selected, after not too much thought I have to concede, the intriguing Texas Brisket, glazed with homemade Sticky Bourbon BBQ Sauce. This came sandwiched in a Brioche Roll, along with those appetising Duck Fat Chips again, and served in a trendy mini-metal pail (that’s a bucket for the likes of you and me).

The Brisket & BBQ sauce combo was unusual treat. Delightfully meaty, sweet and smoky and oh-so-tender.  Tom tells me that he Brisket is marinated overnight (in his own dry rub), then smoked at length and slow cooked during the course of the next day.  It’s a painstaking process but worth the effort.  If you fancy something a little different, go for this option.

Waffle & Ice Cream

I should interject at this point that once the glass of cloudy cider was drained to its dregs, I managed to quaff a few mouthfuls of a rich & velvety Sangiovese, from the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy.  And since I am going on holiday there later in the year with my other daughter, it was of special interest. I was not in the least disappointed with my choice of this excellent wine on offer.

Now reaching the summit of our culinary adventures, I felt the call of the Chocolate Brownie, with Vanilla Ice Cream and Warm Chocolate Sauce speaking to me loudly from the menu card.  The Brownie was homemade, and if all that sounds like a mouth-watering feast of texture and flavour, you’d be right on the money. It was fantastic, and that is not an overstatement for the cynical amongst you!

Ziang’s

Posted to Exmoor 4 all on July 19th 2015

Pretty picturesque Porlock Weir is not really where you expect to find a takeaway / restaurant full of Eastern Promise, but walk far enough down to the quaint old harbour, and that’s exactly what you will get. Ziang’s has to be about the most surprising find yet I have discovered on Exmoor.

Run by Michael Taylor and his mother Choo, the family hail originally from Brunei in South East Asia. They actually serve good old fish and chips (well we are beside the seaside aren’t we?), but their piste De resistance is their brand of Far Eastern Food – and for what you get in the bowl, it’s actually great value for money.

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Its modus operandi is basically a complete meal in a bowl, and it certainly is that.

I opted for the Duck Rice which came with a fried egg on top – Michael obviously picked up in the incredulous and mystified expression on my face and immediately reassured me that this is how it is done in the far East – forget your standard egg fried rice from your local chinese, a fried egg placed on top is how it is done if you want it authentic.

My daughter Becky opted for the Porlock Chow Mein,  but I went for the chefs recommendation – Duck Rice. He eats this dish every day apparently. Well, as soon as it arrived , I could see why! As soon as I tucked into it my mouth was hot with a glorious flavour explosion that my taste buds are not likely to forget any time soon.
Now I could fish around for all kinds of Superlatives to describe the aforementioned dish but let me just say simply this: it was delicious. Lots of juicy, insanely tasty duck, mouth-watering fried vegetables on a bed of perfectly cooked white rice. And to complement the whole dish, a fried egg on top – of course.

DSC_1060Seating? Well that’s an interesting one because there isn’t masses. There’s room for 2 or 3 inside, there’s some comfortable seating and a table right outside the hatchway or there are a couple of benches just across the way right by that ancient harbourside that is Porlock Weir.

This was actually a really nice experience, enjoying far eastern delights on fine summer evening right by the harbour side – what could be better?? The combined elements of the West Somerset Coast, exotic food and a warm welcome are factors hard to beat.

Not much more to say except you should definitely check it out if you fancy a bit of Far Eastern cuisine, right in the heart of beautiful West Somerset. The menu is extensive, drawing influence from Brunei, Thailand and Indonesia.

Go and pay Michael and Choo a visit. If you like your food with an Oriental twist within a beautiful setting, you’ll love it I guarantee.