Friday, 20 May 2011

'Tis I, Returned from Afar!

“Why the lack of turgid prose?” I hear you ask. “Have you been banned from every eating establishment in the country?” “Has Mrs. C. imposed the long threatened diet and fitness regime?” “Has my local Gentleman’s Outfitters succumbed to the recession leaving nowhere for me to purchase my natty trouserings?” All these questions and more no doubt, may have been troubling those that have stumbled across my ramblings or perhaps, more accurately, no-one really cares. Whatever the case may be, I thought now was as good a time as any to let my reader know that I am, indeed, still in the land of the living and my fingers are poised to resume inflicting my witterings upon the general public.

In truth, the explanation for my absence is rather humdrum. In the words of that great philosopher Austin Powers, I had lost my mojo. I had continued to eat remarkably well, as my waistline testified but could not be bothered to write of my experiences. Then, whilst on a long weekend break in Shropshire, I had an epiphany. Actually it was my first angina attack, followed quickly by further attacks, leading to a quick rebore and a couple of stents courtesy of the Basildon Cardio Thoracic Centre (I really wouldn’t recommend the food!). Thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, my mojo and my appetite were restored. Mrs. C has stopped studying the insurance policies and estate agent’s brochures and started planning holidays, which I have taken as a positive sign in that she at least expects me to last until September. In line with that positivity I have therefore decided to once again take up the metaphorical quill and subject you all to the ‘benefit’ of my experiences.

So, this entry is by way of a catch-up. A potted history of the last six months or so, in no particular order, with a couple of recommendations plus a few observations that made me chuckle or grimace, all of which you can take with a large pinch of low sodium salt substitute! My next entry will, hopefully, be back on the straight and narrow and may even include photographs if the proprietors allow me to whip out my Box Brownie.

Much chuckling ensued on the Twittersphere on the build-up to the release of the Michelin awards. One ‘commercial’ blogger leaked that a particular establishment was in the running for a star, whilst forgetting to mention that one of her relatives is in the kitchen of said establishment, and continued in her assertions right up until the awards were announced. Being somewhat mischievous, I just hope some chancer got away with a free meal at this particular pretentious pub by ‘accidentally’ revealing his identity as a Michelin inspector! This is the establishment that the same blogger suggested to a well-known food critic as being handy for Colchester, which it was if you count 40-odd miles as ‘being handy’. As you can guess. I do have problems with commercial web-sites that masquerade as blogs, especially poorly written and biased ones. Surely it is time that blogspot et al reviewed their terms and conditions and charged commercial usage?

Speaking of fellow bloggers, I dipped my well manicured toe into world of pop-up restaurants recently with a visit to Food Urchin Mansions where we were royally entertained by the Urchins. A small, select, gathering of diverse people, coupled with interesting, impeccably sourced and well presented food made for a most enjoyable evening. FU was on his normal top form, ably assisted by Mrs. FU, and everyone professed themselves to be well satisfied as we headed out into the night air. Definitely one to recommend.

Whilst on the subject of the FUs, we spent an enjoyable evening in London in their company based around the Smithfields area. A pre-dinner snifter in the Fox and Anchor was followed by a short amble to Vinoteca, only to be faced with a ninety minute wait. Having declined their kind offer, we decided to chance our arms at St Johns across the road. Yes, I know it was a long shot but the maitre’d could have disguised his contempt a little better. Plan C was required and Danny came up trumps with Bistrot Bruno Loubet. After indulging the maitre’d in the standard battle of wills (swayed, I feel, by my jaunty Impressionist cravat) he managed to find us a table at which we proceeded to have a thoroughly enjoyable meal. I will be returning in the near future to do full justice to the well crafted, excellent value, food served by knowledgeable staff without any undue pretension. It was only on returning to Cravat Towers that I able to check up Bruno Loubet’s credentials and I must agree with all the plaudits that have been heaped upon him since his return to our shores. An excellent, entertaining, evening thanks in the main to Food Urchin’s tireless research!

For every star, there has to be a black hole. Shoebury, that farthest flung outpost of Estuary Essex, is not somewhere I would normally think of as a gastronomic destination, but Mrs C persuaded me to take her to the local ASDA in pursuit of some wine on special offer. I will not dwell on the experience of mingling with the ‘shoppers’ in what I believe is termed a ‘supermarket’ but on escaping into the relatively clean air outside (there was still a distinct whiff of overstretched sports wear and lank hair pervading the car park) we noticed a new public house, the Meadowlark. Yes it is a chain, being one of Marstons’ Inns, but as it had only just opened we thought we would take a look. Decent beer, reasonable wine by the glass, and with staff that appeared to have been trained and efficient all seemed well. If only we had left it there but we returned three days later with the father-in-law in tow for a snack lunch. Will I never learn? If somewhere cannot even manage two sandwiches and a jacket potato without a list of errors as long as my cravat, they have serious problems. After correspondence with Marstons and the manager, we were offered three free main courses as recompense – any takers?.

Whilst in Shropshire, away from the the obvious delights of Ludlow, we greatly enjoyed the food at The Boot at Orleton (returned to form after a self-confessed dip in standards) and the Ragleth Inn at Little Stretton, and spent a relaxing and comfortable couple of nights at The Raven Hotel in Much Wenlock. For beer and atmosphere, but sadly not for the food, The Six Bells in Bishops Castle made a pleasant diversion. Ludlow itself was very interesting but not the food mecca I was expecting but we spent the afternoon and following morning ‘doing’ Ludlow and called in on the Ludlow Food Company as we set off towards Much Wenlock for our second night’s stay. On a personal note, I’d stay away from the walk from Church Stretton up onto Long Mynd – it’s a killer!

The Du Cane Arms continues to provide consistently good food for a ludicrously low price, having visited three times since my last missive. Their Menu du Jour carries an apology for having to increase the price for three courses to £13.50p, a level which they surely cannot sustain. The only niggle I have is the rather hit and miss service. They seem to have difficulty finding entirely suitable waiting staff out in the wilds of Essex. Our latest visit was prompted by a disappointing visit to another of our stalwarts, the Anchor at Nayland. where we failed to find anything on the menu to set the juices flowing. I don’t think we were being overly fussy but it seemed that the kitchen wasn’t trying very hard to entice the punters and the menu was too heavily laden with solid pub-grub favourites.

I recently had the pleasure of having a couple of hours to spare on the Essex Suffolk border one evening having been co-opted as chauffer to Mrs C following a hiccough with the rail network. Being casually attired (I didn’t have time to grab a cravat on the way out to rescue her from the local station platform) I trawled my memory banks for eating places near Mistley and after a brief tour of the Shotley peninsula I arrived at the Tattingstone White Horse, a ‘proper’ pub in the middle of nowhere with Grade II listed outside toilets (I kid you not!) I estimated that I had an hour and a half to kill before I would be summoned so a pub meal was exactly what the doctor ordered. Actually, in hindsight, it may have been the catalyst for my subsequent health problems as I have never seen such a large mixed grill – a large oval steak plate containing all the usual meats plus two fried eggs and a separate normal sized plate of chips and salad! Not even letting out the belt a notch would let me finish everything on offer. A friendly pub with extremely hearty food, give it a try if you dare!

As a postscript to the White Horse, I was invited to join Mrs C and her new celebrity best chum for dessert at the Mistley Thorn restaurant. I fear my red face, tight clothing, and inability to string a sentence together without gasping for air like some demented goldfish may have marked me down as a bit of a yokel. Still, he seemed a decent enough cove and he did have some amusing tales of fellow reviewers and celebrities. Mrs C appears to be settling into the food celebrity lifestyle much too easily, I think her TV appearance has given her ideas above her station!

I need to stop now; I’m obviously not ‘keyboard fit’. I promise my next blog will be more focussed.

Chins Up!

PS  For the benefit of one particular reader, I haven't once used the word 'nice'

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