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…

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

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.

Texas Brisket

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!

Reeves Restaurant, Dunster

Posted on Exmoor 4 all on 28th March 2015

DSC_0591Occupying a prime position on Dunster High Street within a stone’s throw of the historic Yarn Market, you will find a most excellent eatery, Reeves Restaurant.  Owned and managed by Justin & Claire Reeves, they have built for themselves an enviable reputation.  Before I turned up for the review, I asked a few locals what they thought.  They all with one accord sang most excellent praises about this popular restaurant: a relaxed atmosphere, amazing food and a warm and friendly welcome.

Well, I have to say that was the experience of our night.  It was a fine summer’s evening and we were ushered out to the rear garden to relax whilst our table was being prepared.  Enjoying the still, tranquil summer air, we were served drinks and olives as we sat by the shrubs and scented flower beds in anticipation.

It wasn’t long before Claire Reeves emerged to take our order.  There was no scribing on a waitress order pad but instead, she effortlessly committed the exact details of our order to memory and relayed the pertinent details to her husband and Head Chef Justin, in the kitchen.

Once our table was ready, we re-entered the restaurant and sat down at our cosy, corner table.  From here we could rather interestingly observe the eating habits of our fellow diners.  Well you need to do something to while away the time don’t DSC_0592you?  Homemade bread and a large, beautifully crafted butter rosette were placed on the table.  This kicked the evening’s dining off to an excellent start.

Our wine of choice for the night was a favourite of mine: Argentinian Malbec at a whopping 13.5%.  For those of you out there that are still drinking the Merlot and Shiraz, I implore you to try this little gem from South America.  I don’t think you will be disappointed.  Laden with mouth-watering flavour and aromas, it is everything a red wine should be: full bodied and satisfying.

It wasn’t long before my astounding seafood starter made an appearance.  I’d ordered the Fritto Misto (fried seafood and vegetables) of sea bass, squid, crab cake, tiger prawns and scallop… served with a trio of dips.  Talking of which, the dips were stylishly served in something akin to white ceramic teaspoons.  This gathering of seafood not only set the taste buds alight, but the plate was truly a picture!  Justin’s creative flair was truly something to savour – literally.

The main dish was the sumptuous Garlic and rosemary and lamb rump with root vegetable crisps, fennel puree and a redcurrant and mint jus.  Now I really adore the taste of lamb and I can tell you that this did not disappoint.  Succulent and loaded with flavour; all the additions on the plate just complemented the dish perfectly.  I was now beginning to understand why Reeves has got such a solid local reputation.

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It is at this point that I should add that Justin cannot take all the credit for the amazing food being churned out of the kitchen of Reeves Restaurant.  Working alongside him is the very young, but talented Abbie Smith.  During the attainment of her NVQ catering qualification with Barbara Hancock of West Somerset College, Minehead, she has recently won both the Eat Exmoor and Eat Somerset cookery competitions.  For her efforts, Abbie scooped the coveted ‘Chef of the Year’ for the West Somerset region.

We moved inexorably towards dessert and it was at this point, rather interestingly, we were offered a drinks menu containing whiskeys, liqueurs, coffees and… pudding wine.  What a great idea (other restaurants please take note)!  It is so rare that you are offered dessert wine, and this was fabulous surprise.  After some quick deliberations, I opted for the enchanting and mysterious Elysium dark Muscat.

The Grand finale came in the truly lovely form of the Date and apple sticky toffee pudding, clotted cream and salted caramel sauce.  Well I chose this because I love to try different sticky toffee puddings, clotted cream is a must as a long time Devonian, and for me salted caramel is the big must do flavour invading our shores from across the Atlantic currently.  I have to say that the Muscat was a perfect accompaniment and I enjoyed and savoured every last drop…

All in all, the entire experience was virtually faultless from start to finish and one I hope to repeat in the not too distant future.  The Somerset village of Dunster is replete with great places to eat but Reeves Restaurant is an absolute must.  And I think, like the loyal locals, you’ll be returning again and again.

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The Hunter’s Inn, Parracombe

Originally posted to DevonLife.co.uk July 2014

Between the villages of Trentishoe and Martinhoe not far from the North Devon coast, you will find a quintessential English pub called The Hunter’s Inn.  Encompassed by the lush, wooded slopes of the Heddon Valley, this lovely characterful pub enjoys a beautiful & idyllic setting.

This time, my youngest daughter and I were invited by Landlord David Orton and Head Chef Justin Dunn to participate in the ‘Venison 5 days 5 ways’ week.  So on Friday 13th (not unlucky for us), we dutifully arrived for a wonderful, climactic Exmoor feast.

We were swiftly escorted to our table, situated next to impressive eight feet high bay windows that provide you with a commanding view of the neatly cut lawn and wooded garden beyond.  This lovely, picturesque view was a fantastic, added bonus to what was going to be a great night.

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After much consideration of the carefully, and thoughtfully constructed menu I chose the Marinated Crispy Chilli Beef served with a Mixed Salad to begin with.  Sophie on the other handed opted for the Venison Carpaccio served with Watercress, Parmesan and Balsamic oil.  Both of these dishes were really superb and tasted as good as they sounded.

Biting into the succulent strips of chilli beef, your mouth experiences an explosion of flavour accompanied by a pleasant sweet, heat.  The leafy salad underneath was also coated with a delightful combo of sweet chilli and the signature, mustard based French dressing.  Sophie and I couldn’t resist stealing some food from each other’s plates, and we were both in agreement about the quality and appeal of both of these dishes.

Sampling the Venison Carpaccio, I was similarly pleased.  7 lovely, tender slices of Venison gracefully sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, with watercress on the side and a ramekin of Balsamic oil.  It was hard to find fault with such a lovely, well presented dish that really did look the business.   Surely this is what great cooking is all about.

DSC_0108The main dishes soon arrived after that.  Being ‘Venison 5 days 5 ways’ week, I could hardly choose anything but the ‘Char Grilled Local Fillet of Venison served with Wild Mushrooms, Wilted Coz Lettuce, Minted New Potatoes and Creamy Peppercorn Sauce.’  Sophie on the other hand decided on the more uncomplicated, yet eminently inviting ‘Eight Ounce Hunters Inn Beef Burger with Bacon, Cheese, Chunky Chips & Mixed Salad.’

The Char Grilled Venison was succulent, juicy and simply bursting with flavour.  The Wild Mushrooms (nine different varieties) that lay underneath, must surely rank as some of the strangest food I have ever eaten, but were nonetheless a great addition to my delicious, chunk of Exmoor Venison.  The creamy, peppery sauce tastefully complimented the dish, as did the beautifully soft minted potatoes.

Sophie’s burger itself was homemade and satisfying.  It would be no exaggeration to say that this burger, lovingly made in the Kitchen at The Hunter’s Inn, was a simple monument to juicy, scrumptious beefiness.  Utterly delicious in every way, I could even go as far to say that it was the beefiest Beef burger I have ever tasted.  And I’ve eaten a lot of burgers in my life…  The chunky chips, light and fluffy on the inside and brown and crispy on the outside, were of course the perfect match for the dish.

My final destination on this leg of my gastronomic journey was the colourful and creamy Trio of Lovington’s Ice Cream,DSC_0114
sourced from across the border in neighbouring Somerset.  Sat on a brandy snap basket, it was a real sweet treat that is so evocative of all that is good and great about Westcountry produce.

Sophie elected for the Lemon Tart served with Strawberries and Clotted Cream.  Looking rather good on the plate, the taste and experience of the dish matched the appearance completely!  Having lived in Devon for most of my life, I’m somewhat a sucker for clotted cream and the accompanying Wild Berry Compote made with Blackcurrant Cassis was just heavenly.

Both desserts were a perfect end to a really fabulous night. Both David and Justin can be proud of the food, service and ambience found here at The Hunters Inn.  Why not pop in sometime soon and find out for yourself?