Haye Farm, Musbury ♥♥♥

Are you disappointed with the blandness of the way your meat taste these days? Or perhaps you’re worried about drugs and chemicals in your food? Or the way the animals are kept on the farm? Or the number of food miles associated with imported meat?

Devon Ruby Red cattle

Devon Ruby Red beef: traditionally reared.

As large-scale agriculture becomes increasingly intensive and industrialised, more and more of us are opting to grow our own food – if we’re lucky enough to have some land – or to buy from farmers markets, farm shops and other outlets where we can be sure of the provenance of the produce: one answer is to source your meat from the burgeoning number of micro-producers now springing up around the country.

Of course, there is no absolute guarantee that a hobby farm or smallholding is going to be any more welfare friendly or better run than a larger-scale producer: you have to rely on the reputation of the producer… and, of course, the quality of the end product. My advice is to do a bit of research (that’s what we’re here for), ask around, and test and taste as much as you can before you actually buy – you’ll have a lot of fun doing it!

Gloucester Old Spot pigs

Gloucester Old Spots: fine pork.

To my mind, quality of meat is all about five things: the breed, husbandry, slaughter, butchery and the hanging or cure (depending on whether we’re talking about fresh meat like a joint of beef, pork or lamb) or preserved meat like bacon or ham. Each of these five aspects is an important part of the chain and the whole process can be ruined if there is a weak link at any stage.

Traditional breeds
There is absolutely no doubt that traditional breeds provide better flavour and quality of meat, provided that people understand how to rear them. Generally, because traditional beef, pork or lamb is slower to mature than fast-finishing modern commercial breeds, you get a better-quality end-product in terms of both taste and texture.

Oxford Sandy & Black piglets

Welfare is important.

With pigs, this of course means rearing them to the right weight for either pork or bacon to avoid them getting too fat. I have been supplied rare breed pork from small producers where the pig has been allowed to go past the ideal weight (traditional breed pigs tend simply to put on fat once they get to a certain age): the result was almost inedible sausages and over-priced meat where much of the weight I had paid for was a two-inch fat layer around my pork chops!

I like to know what the animals have been feeding on: I remember one old-skool farming neighbour of ours – who we now call ‘Farmergeddon’ – spraying a large field with herbicide and then grazing his flock of sheep on the dying, bright orange grass prior to ploughing the land – a bizarre sight if ever I saw one. This may well be ‘acceptable farming practice’ but I certainly didn’t fancy any of that meat!

Welfare
Welfare is an absolute priority so far as I’m concerned: the way animals are kept and despatched is important. You want to be certain that when the livestock goes for slaughter, the process will be as stress-free as possible for the animals. Thus, a lot of micro-producers favour smaller abattoirs where there aren’t thousands of animals waiting around yet, just as importantly, standards are still rigorously monitored.

One outlet I always trust to supply top-quality meat is Haye Farm at Musbury. Unfortunately, this family-run farm no longer raises sheep or turkeys but it does mean they can now concentrate on their magnificent herd of Ruby Red Devon cattle and various traditional breed pigs.

Beef
The Ruby Red Devon is a relatively rare breed of beef cow but a justifiably popular one here in its Devon heartland. It is prized for its placid temperament, ability to finish off grass (this is as natural as it gets), and the quality of the beef it produces. Grass-fed Red Ruby Devon beef really is hard to beat for texture, flavour and tenderness. This is because, unlike modern breeds, the Red Ruby Devon naturally lays down intra-muscular fat in the meat which produces wonderfully marbled beef: it is this balance of fat and muscle that is such a vital factor in the flavour of the meat.

Rib of beef

Rib of beef: marbling.

At Haye Farm, Chris Rumsby is justifiably proud of the quality of the beef he produces. The cattle take two to three years to grow until they are in a finished state. Then the meat hangs for three or four weeks before it is ready to be butchered. I can testify to the excellent quality and flavour of the meat Chris produces – check out the fantastic rib roast in the pictures – but being a small producer he only has it available on an occasional basis. Therefore, it really is a treat.

Cooked rib

Cooked rib: a real treat.

Much of the beef is snapped up by the farm’s bed & breakfast and holiday cottage guests but the rest of us can buy it by mail order. The beef is available in 20kg mixed boxes at a price considerably below others I have seen being charged on the web, and the best way of getting hold of it is to telephone the farm direct and ask to go on their mailing list.

Pork
I have been buying pork from Haye Farm since Chris first started rearing high-welfare, traditional breed pigs almost ten years ago. Like anybody learning as they go along, there was an early stutter with some Tamworths that had been allowed to put on too much weight (producing sausages that were almost entirely fat) but it’s through these experiences that we learn. Today, you can’t buy better – the pork is succulent and tasty, and this is across the range of breeds that I have been offered: Berkshires (the East End gangsters of the pig world), the placid Oxford Sandy & Blacks, or the magnificent Gloucester Old Spots.

Oxford Sandy & Black

Oxford Sandy & Black: excellent flavour.

The farm offers a bespoke service, with meat available as half or whole pigs for the freezer but butchered and jointed to your requirements. For instance, you can order mince instead of sausages (if you want to make scotch eggs or sausage rolls) or you could elect to have some of the meat cured as bacon or hams, rather than cuts of pork. If you don’t have the freezer space or it all sounds like too much to cope with at once, you can buy individual joints and packs of meat with ham, bacon and sausages being amongst the best-sellers. Sausages are available as traditional English breakfast sausages and a variety of more exotic flavours, including chilli, pork & apple, and pork & cranberry.

Haye Farm sausages

Haye Farm sausages: amongst the best you can buy.

As with the beef, the sausages and bacon are justifiably popular with the farm’s B&B guests who are able to sample them at breakfast (along with the freshest free-range eggs); they almost invariably ask to take a pack or two home. These sausages are so superior to the average shop-bought product that there’s almost no comparison: they have a far higher meat content, using much better quality meat – so much so that we are often asked where we buy our sausages from when we have friends and neighbours around for BBQs. So, once again, it pays to go on the Haye Farm email list to find out when a new batch is due to become available.

The verdict
So, what’s the verdict? In Chris’s own words the ‘meat speaks for itself’. I’ll second that. We’re lucky enough to have a plethora of good butchers in the immediate area, including one in our local town of Colyton who regularly wins awards for the quality of his sausages and pies, so there’s a lot of competition. And yet, because it comes from traditional breeds and takes time to rear, Haye Farm meat stands up very well in comparison with anything you can buy from even the best traditional butchers. It is, of course, infinitely superior to pretty much everything you can find in a supermarket.

Admittedly, the raw ingredients are not the only consideration, but they do go a very long way. Add to this the length of time the meat is hung, the standard of the various sausage mixes, the ham cure used and the cutting skills displayed by C Snell of Chard (who slaughter and butcher the meat) and you can be confident that you’re buying a top-quality product. Haye Farm is one of two or three farm suppliers we have bought from on a regular basis down the years and continue to do so. Accordingly, I’m awarding them a very well-deserved ♥ ♥ ♥.

Haye Farm – Chris & Sue Rumsby Haye Farm, Musbury, Devon EX13 8ST
Tel: 01297 551504 www.hayefarm.net

My grading system
Something about them I like.
♥ ♥ Well above average.
♥ ♥ ♥ A personal favourite.
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ I’m in love with this producer (platonically of course).
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ Food of the gods.

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Buddakan, New York ♥ ♥ ♥

We decided to head a little further west for the latest review….

About ten blocks down and a little over from where we were staying recently at New York’s Hotel Chelsea is a monument to pre-recession dining excess. Buddakan, on Ninth Avenue, is approached through a discreet but impressive door, via which postulants – sorry I mean diners! – pass into the outer precincts of what can only be described as a temple to Asian fusion cuisine.

Having completed the ritual of a pre-dinner drink, the novices are lead to the top of an impressive staircase, to gaze down in awe at the culinary holy of holies – a vast, hushed, oak-clad hall, two stories high, with gothic candelabra and huge ‘f*ck-off’ chandeliers dominated by a massive banqueting table capable of seating 34 people. Being careful not to spoil your entrance by taking a tumble down the steps, you descend into the inner sanctum to be seated amongst your fellow congregants….

Russian oligarch's bordello.

We were placed at one end of the aforementioned refectory table and left to the brisk, attentive and friendly service that is the hallmark of this city.

Menu
The menu is basically an eclectic mix of upmarket Asian food with a western twist: some of it – most of it – is brilliant, though there is the occasional disappointment.

As is so often the case, the starters and the desserts were the real stars (so far as I was concerned) though there were some real gems amongst the main courses plates as well. Surprisingly, Buddakan has survived in these leaner times – even in a city of 20,000 restaurants – which must say something. The place might look like a Russian oligarch’s bordello but, at heart, the establishment is more than a triumph of style over substance: much of the cooking has real merit.

Starters
Starters being my favourite, we over-ordered this course, which was tough luck on the wallet but undoubtedly the right thing to do! With three carnivores and a vegetarian in our party, we set about testing the menu to destruction…. The bo bo plate at $28 offered a tasting of tuna spring rolls with horseradish dip (excellent), sesame shrimp toast (a standard but done with aplomb), boneless spare ribs (excellent), carrot dumplings (more texture than taste but they grow on you) and Cantonese spring rolls (which were ok).

Jade Shrimp dumplings.

We also order individual starters: the Jade Shrimp Dumplings with pea shoots and waterchestnuts ($12) were nice enough, as was the vegetarian daughter’s option of Mushroom and Sugar Snap Siu Mei with shiitake, hon shimeji ($11).

My youngest daughter really enjoyed the Crispy Calamari Salad with green apples, cashews and miso vinaigrette ($13), but the undoubted star of the first course, perhaps of the meal, was the Spicy Yellow Tail Yu Sheng with smoked chill and pineapple £14.

Spicy Yellow Tail Tuna.

The plates came out of the kitchen in quite a random manner but this only added to diner’s inclination to share and, perhaps, squabble over the choicest morcels.

Mains
What is it about main courses, that they rarely live up to their promise on the menu? Perhaps it’s that you’ve already filled up on starters!

Mongolian lamb: pretty.

The Mongolian lamb chops with a crystalised ginger crust should have been astounding at $27. Essentially lamb cutlets with ginger and served with pak choi, I found the lamb a little bland – admittedly, we’re spoilt for choice in the UK.

The Sizzling Short Rib with mushroom chow fun and Asian pear ($26) was in essence tender steak you could cut with a spoon in a rich sauce served with noodles.

It was hardly Asian and wouldn’t have been out of place in modern English restaurant. Sometimes there’s something a bit ‘meat-and-two-veg’ about the New York cooking style.

Sizzling short rib.

As is so often the case, the less-expensive dishes turned out to be the best.

The veggie lucked out with her choice of Spiced tofu & cashews with eggplant (aubergine) and oven-dried pineapple ($15), but it was the vegetable rice with coconut curry foam ($9) that shone – it was a revelation!

Tofu.

Desserts
Crying Chocolate, malted chocolate ganache, milk caramel and jasmine tea ice cream ($10), was majorly scrummy but didn’t make me weep with pleasure.

Rice.

On the other hand, the Golden Carrot Cake with black raisin plum sauce and caramelized cream cheese frosting ($10) was simply sublime.

During our short stay in Manhattan we had a quite a lot of carrot cake – it seems to be a New York favourite – and it was all pretty good, but this was the best by a long way.

Crying chocolate.

Drinks
To drink, I had a couple of Tsing Tao beers which were extortionate at $7.50/bottle. The others mostly had water but, if you’d had a mind to empty your bank account, you could have chosen from a heady selection of sake, champagne and wines from around the world including some Californian giants, with one listed at $2,200 a bottle!

Carrot cake: the best!

Verdict
What, then, is the Buddakan dining experience? It’s definitely an establishment to visit for a treat and then probably not too often, as the pomp and charmingly absurd grandeur of the setting – as well as the food itself – relies on an element of surprise.

What it does, it does extremely well. I have to say that even if the dishes are a bit hit-and-miss, the excellence outweighs any disappointment. Executive chefs Yang Huang & Brian Ray, along with executive pastry chef Vera Tong, have got this place just about right. Accordingly, I’m awarding Buddakan ♥ ♥ ♥ .

Buddakan New York City, 75 Ninth Avenue, New York, NY 10011.
Tel: (212) 989-6699. www.buddakannyc.com
Hours Sunday & Monday 5.30-11pm, Tuesday & Wednesday 5.30pm-midnight, Thursday-Saturday 5.30pm-1am. Dress code: downtown chic, fun, hip.

Sample menu

Starters
Deviled Tuna Tartare with chili mayonnaise, scallion $14

Wok Hay Frogs legs golden chives $12

Mains
Sweet & Sour Crispy Pork with sugar snap peas, toasted pine nuts $20

King Crab Hotpot with scallops, shrimp crackers $31

Minced Pork Lo Mein with pickled cucumbers, Thai chili $11

Desserts
Seven Treasures Parfait, milk chocolate bavarois, butter pecans, coffee ice cream $10

Peanut Butter Bar char siu peanuts, sweet-and-sour cherry sauce, Horlicks sherbet $10

Grading system
  Something about the place I like.
♥ ♥  Well above average.
♥ ♥ ♥  A personal favourite.
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥  I’m in love with the chef (platonically of course).
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥  Food of the gods.

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The Garden Café, Downhouse Farm ♥

Downhouse Farm signYou can imagine the delight and the relief after a few hours’ tramping along the picturesque but hilly South-West Coast Path when you trot or stumble (depending on how fit you are!) down the slope towards Eype and spot the discreet sign to Downhouse Farm Garden Café. Like the proverbial oasis in the desert, this charmingly hidden-away spot tends to be somewhere you happen upon and is one of the area’s best-kept secrets.

Garden Café external.

Downhouse Farm Garden Café: hidden oasis.

Although I suspect the café has long been familiar to walkers in West Dorset, it is really only just starting to be discovered by the rest of us thanks to some good press and a clutch of awards. You can drive up the bumpy track from the A35 if you wish, though it would be a shame if it ever got as busy as, say, the Anchor in nearby Seatown. Because you can’t book, it is essential to get there early if you need one of the bigger tables in the cosy courtyard garden for a lunch party on a bank holiday weekend but, equally, you can drop in anytime during the day for breakfast, morning coffee, afternoon tea or a snack and you’ll probably find space in one of the two delightful outside seating areas – people are coming and going all the time.Downhouse Farm Garden Café external

Downhouse Farm is actually a working organic farm producing top quality free-range pork, lamb and beef. This gives you some idea of what is likely to be on the menu. The café serves an excellent selection of daily specials: don’t expect fine dining, rather homemade, unpretentious and wholesome ‘comfort food’ made using the farm’s own organic meats, herbs and vegetables along with other quality local produce. Cakes and scones are baked on the premises daily and the cream tea is earning a reputation as one of the best in the area.

Ambience
Expect a bit of a wait during busy times because everything is made to order. Do also bear with the waiting staff, who can sometimes be a bit random but are charming local girls earning a bit of pocket money. The whole atmosphere is one in which to chill and relax, perhaps with a newspaper provided by the café, or as a welcome break to refuel and study the map in the middle of a hard day’s walking. 

Garden Café courtyard

Garden Café: relaxed and fun.

We arrived at noon on a busy Sunday in order to bag a large table for friends coming later for lunch. There was no problem whiling away an hour sipping delicious Luscombe organic ‘Sicilian’ lemonade or elderflower pressé – you can bring your own alcohol and pay a small corkage charge (£1.50) if you like – and playing a few hands of rummy. When our friends did eventually arrive there was a bit of a wait for the food (as we had been warned) but it all arrived reasonably promptly.

Food
Greek salad (I had the small one at £8.95) proved to be extremely fresh – not a limp vegetable in sight – and generously portioned accompanied by great hunks of local bread. The Salade Niçoise £8.95 or £10.95 chosen by daughter Ellie was equally good and authentic. I also really enjoyed the Spicy Lentil Dahl £6.95 accompanied by more chunky bread, which was well-spiced, extremely tasty and would be exactly what you needed after a few hours’ brisk walking on a cold day.Specials board

Others had the Lyme Bay Fish Pie £9.95/£12.95, filled to the brim with sustainable local fish like pollack and coley; the Salmon and Dill Fishcakes served with a good salad £7.95/£11.95; a robust tuna mayonnaise sandwich £5.00; and the Smoked Mackerel Pate with zest of lemon and horseradish, toast and dressed salad £7.95.

You’ll notice that there was not much meat on the menu on this occasion – bacon was on offer in various sandwiches and as part of the yummy-sounding Bubble and Squeak £6.95/£10.95 made using Maris Piper potatoes, caramelised onions and savoy cabbage, topped with free-range bacon and eggs. If you’re a disappointed carnivore, then not to worry; you can buy Welsh Badger Face lamb, Aberdeen Angus beef, pork, sausages and home-cured bacon direct from the farm on Fridays or from a stall at Bridport’s West Dorset Country Market every Saturday 9am-12noon.

Puddings
In terms of desserts, local ice-cream hit the mark on a very warm day and some of us found room for something more substantial: the café serves a small selection of traditional puddings including crowd-pleasers like crumble and sticky toffee pudding, all delicious and well-executed.

Cream tea

Cream tea: fresh scones and local cream.

 

Tea-time
However, my advice would be to skip pudding, go for a brisk walk and then return for the absolutely scrumptious array of tea-time treats on offer, including fruitcake £2.50, lemon drizzle cake £2.25, Dorset cider cake £2.25 and Dorset apple cake £2.95 or £4.20 with clotted cream or ice-cream (one of my absolute favourites) amongst others. Then there’s the cream tea which is excellent value at £4.75: two plain scones with local cream and jam plus a pot of tea – yum!

View to the sea

Café view: towards the sea at Eype.

Verdict
How then to mark this place? Downhouse Farm is a delight in a marvellous setting, no mistaking that; and what it does, it does very well. Indeed, I wouldn’t ask it to do anything different. What’s more, it won Taste of the West Gold again last year as the best café in Dorset. However, as a seasonal café, it serves snacks and light meals and is not a full-blown restaurant. Therefore, I am awarding the Downhouse Farm Garden Café .

The Garden Café, Downhouse Farm, Higher Eype Bridport DT6 6AA.
Tel: 01308 421232. www.downhouse-farm.co.uk and www.downhousefarm.org
Open mid-March to mid-October from 10am-6pm. Closed Mondays.

Sample menu

Sandwiches
Free-range egg mayonnaise £4.50.

Bacon and Somerset brie £6.00.

Prawn and mayonnaise or a squeeze of lemon. £6.00.

Light snacks
Farmhouse platters ‘a hearty portion with apple, fresh salad, home-made chutney and crusty granary or white bread’:
Peppered smoked mackerel and horseradish £8.25.
Local Dorset blue vinney £8.25.
Local tasty cheddar £8.25.

Specials
Seasonal soup of the month with crusty bread £4.45.

Ciabatta toasted with pesto, tomato, mozzarella and olives, with a simple green salad £7.95.

Cottage pie made with own organic minced beef and herbs, topped with cheesey mash, served with veggies £8.95/£10.95.

Grading system
  Something about the place I like.
♥ ♥  Well above average.
♥ ♥ ♥  A personal favourite.
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥  I’m in love with the chef (platonically of course).
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥  Food of the gods.

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The Wild Garlic, Beaminster ♥ ♥

Mat Follas

Mat Follas.

It must be hard for celebrity chefs, especially winners of television cookery competitions like MasterChef. People come from afar to gawp at you and check that you really are human just like them, and a fair few of them will also secretly be hoping you’re going to fail.

And, of course, unless the food lives up to the unfairly high expectations bestowed by the magic of television, things can start to unravel. Which is why I was excited but apprehensive before my recent trip to 2009 MasterChef winner, Mat Follas’ Wild Garlic restaurant in Beaminster.

Wild Garlic interior

Pleasing decor is airy and modern.

This attractive little West Dorset market town is pretty much on the way to nowhere, so passing trade must be relatively sparse: the Wild Garlic’s success thus depends on locals, celebrity spotters and gastronauts willing to boldly go somewhat off the beaten track.
Arriving a little after eight on a Saturday evening, we found the restaurant still with half the tables empty, but these began to fill up as the evening warmed up – it makes a pleasant change to find a country restaurant that allows you to eat at a civilised hour. Beautifully light and airy, the decor is modern and a step up from ‘shabby chic’ without being over-bearing. A warm, friendly and briskly efficient greeting set the tone for the evening: the front-of-house staff prowled their territory like friendly, eager-to-please panthers throughout the course of the meal.

Specials are up on the board by the fireplace along with some wine suggestions. Our elegant table greeted us with some excellent spiced mixed nuts and my daughter – who is something of an aficionado – gave a big thumbs up to the white bread, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Wine list
When the wine list arrived, it was beautifully illustrated with botanical photographs of wild garlic in various phases of development. I chose a glass of Paul Buisse 2009 Touraine sauvignon blanc at £6 a glass. A subtle and elegant alternative to some of the brasher antipodean sauvignons (I’m quite surprised Follas didn’t list one from New Zealand) I was impressed enough to order a whole bottle (£22).

So, what of the food?

Starters
For starters we selected a wide cross-section of meat and vegetarian dishes. The goats cheese panna cotta with apple crisp plus poached and powdered rhubarb (£9) was a delicious and inspired twist on a traditional Italian dessert which, with its subtle goats cheese flavour, made a delightful starter: however, the small crisp was over all too quickly and the texture of the rhubarb didn’t add anything to the creamy smoothness of the panna cotta.

Goats cheese panna cotta

Goats cheese panna cotta: dessert transfomed into a delicious starter.

Pigeon breast, pear purée and black pudding crumble (£8) was well-cooked and tasty but somewhat dry, while the smoked roast garlic spelt risotto (£8) was a symphony of flavour, and too much for my daughter to finish, so I helped her out!

Half-time brought with it a pleasant surprise in the form an amuse-bouche: the Jerusalem artichoke and celeriac velouté had just a hint of cheese and was absolutely delicious – it’s funny how these little unexpected touches can actually turn out to be the stars of the show.

Main course
Back onto the menu again and my companions chose venison loin, red cabbage and pigeon spelt (£19) and confit duck leg with orange and tarragon sauce (£16) both of which proved delicious if somewhat dry (there’s a theme emerging here – we want more sauce!): of the two, I preferred the duck. My own selection – crab thermidor (£17) was from the specials board and appears to be one of Follas’ signature dishes.

Crab thermidor

Crab thermidor: bit of a disaster.

Because it was on the specials board I assumed this dish would be absolutely delicious and very fresh – bad mistake! What came was a crab shell filled with what looked and, I’m sorry to say, tasted like something you might find on the pavement outside a Saturday night boozer in central Manchester. Lobster thermidor is a classic: this concoction, unfortunately, was not. Please don’t assume, dear reader, that I’m aiming to come across as some bad-ass critic; I’m not and I take no pleasure in having to make such comments, particularly as Follas is a nice guy and also because my other half went to considerable lengths to make this meal a special birthday treat for me.

Desserts
And so from the low point of the evening to the high. The ginger cake with orange custard, liquorice ice-cream and fennel (£8) was absolutely sublime, the fennel seeds adding an aromatic bite to a cleverly executed balance of spice between the moist cake and the ice-cream. The pear sponge, cider brandy ice-cream and that apple crisp again (£7) – obviously a dual-purpose starter and dessert component in the Follas kitchen – was almost as good. What Follas likes to refer to unpretentiously as ‘pudding’ on his menu really is excellent.

ginger cake

Ginger cake with orange custard: sublime.

Not having such a sweet tooth and being a cheese lover, I felt honour-bound to road-test the cheese board, which came with a great selection of West Country crowd-pleasers including my local favourites Denhay cheddar and blue vinney. I’m not sure what the apple jelly added to the plate – it wasn’t really robust enough to stand up to some of the flavours and also slightly cloying – and be warned that the raisin and walnut mini-loaf is not really that ‘mini’, so you need a hearty appetite to finish this at the end of a meal.

I asked the waitress to choose me a red wine to accompany the cheese selection instead of the recommended glass of Taylors late bottled vintage port. She selected a rioja and I wasn’t disappointed; indeed, Wild Garlic’s wine list proved spot on all evening.

Celebrity chef
And what of our celebrity chef? Follas was to be seen throughout the evening, delivering some of the main courses to eager recipients. Always in the thick of the action, as service began to wind down and diners relaxed he sportingly pressed the flesh, posed for photographs and chatted amiably with the punters. You get the impression that he’s a self-effacing and reluctant ‘celebrity’ – just a genuinely nice guy who understands the need to promote a restaurant hidden away in the wilds of West Dorset.

Verdict
And so to the verdict. Let’s be clear, this meal wasn’t what I was expecting. There was something of the ‘meat-and-two-veg’ about the cooking, albeit presented on fancy plates, and I found the experience a bit of a roller-coaster: there were incredible highlights, some nice touches and the occasional disappointment. The meal was also my birthday celebration and I don’t have a good track-record in this respect: the previous year’s visit to Hix Oyster and Fish House in Lyme Regis had fallen a bit flat – maybe the anticipation is just too high – and I feel something of the same about the Wild Garlic.

So am I glad I went? Yes. Did I enjoy the occasion? Yes. Did it live up to expectations? Yes and no. Would I go back? Yes, later in the year to see what magic the talented Follas can weave using a late spring, summer or autumn palette of ingredients.

Now to the all-important grading. There is much to enjoy at the Wild Garlic, including the wine, the service and the ambience. The food is good – sublime even in parts – but lacks consistency and, at these prices (well over £150 for three including tip) the jury has to remain out. Accordingly, I award Wild Garlic ♥ ♥.

The Wild Garlic, 4 The Square, Beaminster, Dorset DT8 3AS
Tel: 01308 861446. www.thewildgarlic.co.uk
Open Wednesday to Saturday for morning coffee, lunch and dinner.

Sample menu

Starters
Roasted beetroot soup. £7

Pan-fried sprat and aioli. £8.

Mains
Slow cooked skirt steak, truffle cream. £17.

Cured and slightly smoked partridge, bread sauce. £18.

Fish of the day. Price varies.

Pudding
Chocolate fondant, shortbread, citrus granite. £8.

Lemon curd pavlova, toasted nuts. £7.

Grading system
  Something about the place I like.
♥ ♥  Well above average.
♥ ♥ ♥  A personal favourite.
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥  I’m in love with the chef (platonically of course).
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥  Food of the gods.

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Shave Cross Inn, Marshwood Vale ♥ ♥

I have known the Shave Cross Inn in Dorset since I was a kid, when I used to be taken there by my mother and grand-mother on fine summer days because it had a large, pretty garden to play in and a massive pond to keep small boys entertained while they could get on with their lunch. I got to know it rather better as a teenager with a motorbike: in those halcyon days, staple fair was a beautiful cottage loaf accompanied by local ham, Denhay cheddar, Dorset blue vinney cheese or a decent pork pie, washed down with a fine pint of Royal Oak bitter.

Shave Cross Inn: 700 years old in a beautiful garden.

Shave Cross Inn: 700 years old in a beautiful garden.

These days, the food is a little more sophisticated as the pub aspires to gastropub status and fine dining in the restaurant. Unfortunately, there’s no chance of sampling a pint of draft Royal Oak ever since Dorchester brewers Eldridge Pope made the massive mistake in the mid-1990s of moving out of brewing and into pub and restaurant retailing, leaving their best-known beers to be brewed under licence by Devon and Dorset-based micro-breweries (thank goodness!).

Shave Cross pub menu.

On the menu today....

Nowadays, Shave Cross offers an updated choice of real ales, including my favourite everyday bitter, Branoc, brewed by my local Branscombe Vale microbrewery and Otter bitter from Luppitt near Honiton. The local cheese and ham is still available as a ploughman’s lunch and it’s still just as good, with cheddar from the famous Denhay Farm a stone’s throw along the Marshwood Vale and blue vinney from Woodbridge Farm in Sturminster Newton; bread still comes from the excellent Leakers bakery in Bridport.

But enough of this nostalgia! I love driving to the Shave Cross Inn through the back lanes of the Marshwood Vale, but you need to be prepared to stop and back up for agricultural vehicles.

Goat curry.

Goat curry.

At one time this would have been a route followed by pilgrims, where this beautiful 700-year-old inn was a busy stop-off point on the way to the shrine of St Wite in Whitchurch Canonicorum: apparently they would have their tonsures trimmed as a mark of respect while staying. Following in their footsteps, I like to make my own kind of pilgrimage to the pub for its wonderful curries and Caribbean specialities, knowing that there will also be plenty alternatives for those who don’t enjoy such spicy food.

Leek and potato soup.

Leek and potato soup.

Pirates ahoy!
Indeed, Roy and Mel Warburton have brought the place bang up to date with their eclectic mix of traditional English fare – sourced locally – and a range of Caribbean, Creole and far-eastern cuisine. If you think about it, this is not such an outlandish idea because there has always been a connection between the sea-faring West Country and the spice centres of the world. Some would say that Roy even looks like a pirate of old!

Shave Cross garden

Garden sun-trap.

Shave Cross is still a pub and you can just drop by for a drink and a snack. In winter the best place to sit is around the massive log fire in the tiny but atmospheric flag-stoned bar. In summer, and on warm autumn and spring days, head for the beautiful garden. This is exactly what we did on the first really fine sunny Saturday in March, choosing to sit on a table by the wall, which acts a sun-trap.

Goat curry
I, off course, had the Guyanese Goat Curry with rice and veg (£14.95) but the Caribbean Chicken Curry with calypso rice and veg (12.95) is an equally tasty alternative when the goat is not available.

Jerk chicken salad.

Jerk chicken salad.

My other half opted for the healthy Salad of Jerk Chicken (£12.95) – really quite a bite to this one – while the mother-in-law was saving herself for pud and plumped for the Soup of the Day (£6.95), which turned out to be a beautifully made and creamy-tasting leek and potato soup accompanied by some of the aforementioned Leaker’s excellent bread. All was delicious, as we knew it would be, but you would expect nothing less at these kind of prices. 

Kids food
The pub caters well for kids too, eschewing the usual frozen-and-fried fare in favour of freshly cooked alternatives like proper sausages, chicken breast strips, Pildsdon pork burgers and spaghetti with tomato sauce – all at £5.50.

Crème brûlée

Crème brûlée

Desserts
To follow, it seemed rude not to continue my quest for the ultimate crème brûlée while chocolate truffle torte proved to be an unbelievably rich and yummy chocolate explosion in a kind of upside-down cheesecake format. I had a reasonably good espresso which came with one of those fun sugar-coated swizzle sticks and a mint chocolate for £2.30.

Drinks
In terms of drinks, there is a good choice of everyday wine, excellent real ales, proper ginger beer and some good quality soft drinks available.

Chocolate truffle torte.

Chocolate truffle torte.

The verdict
So to the verdict. I’m basing this entirely on what’s available on the pub menu rather than in the restaurant, which will be the subject of another review. This inn has many pleasant memories for me and the ambience and setting are unparalleled if you’re looking for a traditional Dorset country pub. For me the food is excellent but pricey so, unless you want to nurse a beer and snack on crisps or stick to soup and a ploughman’s, it is unlikely you could afford to make Shave Cross a regular experience. Some might also say that the portions on some of the main course are a touch austere, but the three of us enjoyed a delicious and very indulgent lunch with drinks for £64.95. Accordingly, I’m awarding Shave Cross Inn ♥ ♥.

Shave Cross Inn, Shave Cross, Bridport DT6 6HW.
Tel: 01308 868358. www.theshavecrossinn.co.uk

Sample menu

Snacks and mains
Dorset ploughman’s: choice of Denhay cheddar or blue vinney or Dorset ham. £8.95

Local wild boar or venison sausages with creamy mash and onion gravy. £12.95

Lyme Bay fish bouillabaisse with crusty bread (normal or spicy). £14.95

Desserts – £4.95
West Indian banoffee.

Exotic Caribbean pavlova.

Dorset cheese board.

Grading system
  Something about the place I like.
♥ ♥  Well above average.
♥ ♥ ♥  A personal favourite.
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥  I’m in love with the chef (platonically of course).
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥  Food of the gods.

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The Railway, Honiton ♥ ♥ ♥

 

The Railway.

Remember all those idealised American sitcoms like Cheers and Friends where pals hang out in a great bar or cafe? They don’t exist in real life, right? Well, I’m not so sure, because I think we’ve got a genuine neighbourhood hangout right here in the south-west, the only difference being that The Railway serves immaculate food in a chic gastropub setting and you’ll never find it half-empty like Central Perk or Cheers. Indeed, these days you’ll be lucky to find space at the weekends because I’ve seen the place heaving on a wet Saturday night in the middle of February – all thanks to its new status as Les Routiers Dining Pub of the Year 2010/2011 and a listing in the Michelin Red Guide. Not so long ago I would have called The Railway a ‘hidden gem’, but today it’s too well-known.

What makes it tick
Yet The Railway is not all about awards. It’s been doing the same thing ever since it opened – serving great food at reasonable prices. Tucked away in a back street, it offers that rare combination in Britain – excellent food served in an unpretentious local setting. Such neighbourhood eateries are more common on the Continent, so it’s no surprise to learn that owner and head chef Jean-Baptiste (Jean) Sancey hails from the Lorraine in France – although both his parents originated from Italy – while his wife Melanie (Mel), who runs front of house and creates the delicious puddings, is a Devon girl. A nod here too to chef Mark who steers the ship with aplomb even when the boss is not around.

 

Jean dishes up.

Originally built to serve the navvies working on the line to Exeter, the establishment has a colourful past, having survived a major fire and, reputedly, also hosting a brothel upstairs at one time! Today, it’s full of atmosphere. It’s not one of those deathly hushed temples to food, but a cheery place for a relaxed lunch or an evening out. Some nights it can be positively hopping – this place has got soul!

Style
On offer is the best seasonal produce from the South-West – with daily fish deliveries from Brixham market – presented in a rustic but clean style alongside homemade pizzas which you can also take away. Think modern British with a Mediterranean twist: above all, this food is about taste.

 

Mel at the bar.

Starters
Starters might be ‘nose to tail terrine’ – an old fashioned terrine of ham hock, cured pig tongue and ‘proper’ corned beef and flat parsley served with an egg and cornichon mayonnaise or potted Devon brown crab served with homemade Sardinian bread and organic leaves.

I reckon you can always tell an establishment by the quality of its vegetarian offerings: at The Railway they are not afterthoughts but delicious dishes in their own right, which is why I often opt for zucchini fritti (courgette, feta cheese and fresh garden mint fritters served with Lebanese houmous and Sicilian lemon) when it’s on the menu.

Bread
Inevitably, there will be fresh water and some of The Railway’s delicious homemade bread on the table – it varies all the time and Jean is a bit of a bread-making obsessive – along with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping.

With such a focus on baking, it’s no wonder then that the pizzas are always a good option – hand-rolled and authentic – with a variety of traditional and more unusual toppings.

Main courses
In terms of more substantial main courses, I’ve recently enjoyed the Branscombe crab chowder with smoked haddock, squid, River Exe mussels and coley. This is a heart-and-soul-warming hot pot with potatoes, leeks, and Arborio rice in a crab broth.

For the traditionalists, the 28-day aged sirloin immaculately cooked on the char-grill, served with real Béarnaise sauce, proper crisp-on-the-outside, melt-in-the-mouth chips and dressed leaves from Darts Farm is a crowd-pleasing classic.

Kids
My daughter Ellie is a big fan of their meatballs or risotto when available but has come to understand that she’ll enjoy most things put in front of her at The Railway

 

Crème brûlée.

Desserts
To finish, there are plenty of classics on offer, like crème brûlée scented with Mexican vanilla and served with Italian pistachio biscuit – I’m on a mission to find the world’s perfect crème brûlée – but my own favourite is Mel’s warm Sicilian lemon tart served with ‘proper Italian ice-cream’. I personally would avoid the bourbon vanilla ice-cream with extra virgin olive oil and Cornish organic sea salt: it’s more of a talking point, so I guess you either love it or hate it!

The cheese board changes regularly. Recently, the restaurant was presenting a selection of Italian cheese from northern Lombardy.

Drinks
The wine list is affordable and offers a nice selection by the bottle and glass. Being a pub there’s also a good range of local real ales and quality beers and soft drinks. Reassuringly, you can enjoy a proper coffee here along with various teas and herbal infusions.

So are there any problems with the place? I’ve certainly never had a ‘bad’ meal at The Railway though I have known the kitchen get a little over-stretched when packed out – I remember a New Year’s Eve a couple of years ago. However, such occasions are so few and far between that they can be discounted.

Venison carpaccio.

With its constantly changing seasonal menu of fresh, local ingredients and light, modern and stylish cuisine, The Railway is going to be winning a whole host of new friends over the coming months, which is why it’s fortunate that there is an extension planned in the not too distant future.

Verdict
As you’ll gather from my review, I really like The Railway. It’s my local restaurant where I know I can reliably go to find good, tasty food presented stylishly and at a reasonable price (£30 a head for three courses with drinks if you choose carefully) and a friendly welcome, so I’m going to use it as my benchmark for later reviews. Accordingly, I’m awarding it ♥ ♥ ♥.

The Railway, Queen Street, Honiton, EX14 1HE.
Tel: 01404 47976. www.therailwayhoniton.co.uk

Sample menu

Starters
Twice-baked Marksbury cheddar soufflé with braised leeks, a little cream, and served with a winter salad of root vegetables, lemon and mint, roasted pecans, and cider and balsamic vinegar dressing. £5.95.

Carpaccio of local venison – thinly sliced fillet of local roe venison, char-grilled and crusted with thyme and cracked black pepper, dressed with rocket, parmesan and chilli oil. £5.95.

Mains
Pollo con funghi – char-grilled chicken breast with a pino grigio, roasted cherry tomato, pancetta and porcini mushroom sauce, sliced and pan-fried rosemary new potatoes, and rocket and parmesan salad.  £12.95

A proper fritto misto – trio of crispy fried fresh fish (using only sustainable fish) served with zesty Italian tartare sauce, Rocket salad in balsamic, proper chips and the best of organic lemons. 12.95.

Desserts
Warm English apple cake with cinnamon ice-cream. £4.95.

Indulgent dark chocolate tart with the shortest of hazelnut pastries and a hazelnut ice-cream. £4.95.

Grading system
  Something about the place I like.
♥ ♥  Well above average.
♥ ♥ ♥  A personal favourite.
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥  I’m in love with the chef (platonically of course).
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥  Food of the gods.

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Forthcoming reviews

Here’s my list of the first 20 or so reviews destined to appear on Westaurant. I will post them at approximately weekly intervals.

I’ll add a link to each review as soon as it appears.

The Railway – gastropub. Honiton, Devon.
The Wild Garlic – restaurant. Beaminster, Dorset.
Shave Cross Inn – gastropub. Marshwood Vale, Dorset.
The Mill Tea & Dining Room – English restaurant, Lyme Regis, Dorset.
The Fish Shed – fishmonger/ fish-and-chip shop. Darts Farm, Topsham, Devon.
Otterton Mill – café, produce supplier and arts centre. Otterton, Devon.
The Bull Hotel – gastropub. Bridport, Dorset.
Vanilla Pod at The Cridford Inn – restaurant. Trusham, Devon.
The Masons Arms – gastropub/hotel. Branscombe, Devon.
Hix Oyster & Fish House – restaurant. Lyme Regis Dorset.
Millers Farm Shop – produce supplier. Kilmington, Devon.
The Three Horseshoes Inn – gastropub. Powerstock, Dorset.
Oliva Restaurant – restaurant. Topsham, Devon.
River Cottage Canteen and Deli – restaurant/produce supplier. Axminster, Devon.
Combe House – hotel. Gittisham, Devon.
The Riverside Restaurant – fish restaurant. West Bay, Dorset.
Frydays – fish-and-chip shop. Seaton, Devon.
Royal Oak Farm – tea rooms and produce supplier. Cotleigh, Devon.
Tean Restaurant, St Martin’s on the Isle – hotel restaurant. St Martin’s, Isles of Scilly.
The Seafood Restaurant – restaurant. Padstow, Cornwall.
The Sea Shanty – restaurant and tea room. Branscombe, Devon.

Suggestions for reviews are genuinely very welcome. Please leave a comment.

My grading system
Something about the place I like.
♥ ♥ Well above average.
♥ ♥ ♥ A personal favourite.
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ I’m in love with the chef (platonically of course).
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ Food of the gods.

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