Friday 30 August 2013

Camp & Furnace welcomes… Glynn Purnell

On my last write up about Camp & Furnace (see here), I attempted to explain a little of what the venue offers and, having enjoyed the food, ended the post with the simple proclamation… “I’ll be back!”

Since then I have indeed returned – for a Friday night “Food Slam” (where I had some fantastic suckling pig and a shawarma and falafel platter) and, later, for the excellent and entertaining “Rockaoke”.

When I saw that the Michelin starred chef Glynn Purnell would be cooking as part of their Summercamp festivities, I could not resist another trip down the M62.

The price of the meal also included a one-day wristband… we arrived early to soak up the “festival of music, food, art, friends and family” atmosphere.

Bands played in the main furnace room and on the outdoor stage, whilst ‘fields’ of grass topped pallets, plastic pint pots and portaloos completed the full festival experience.

What’s more, there was sunshine and street food by the likes of the Fire & Salt BBQ and the excellent ice creams of Ginger’s Comfort Emporium – perfect!

A world away from the usual festival food offerings (just up some stairs), Camp & Furnace’s photography studio had been converted into a sleek and slick banqueting hall complete with crisp white linen and candelabras.

Heirloom Tomatoes – there are few dishes more summery than a good gazpacho and this dish featured an excellent gazpacho poured over a vibrant arrangement of fresh tomatoes, basil leaves and oil, strips of confit tomato and a quenelle of fine tomato concassé.

Organic Salmon, Pickled Cucumber, Wasabi Crumble, Watercress – a delightful dish of subtle curry cured salmon, sharp pickled cucumbers, watercress leaves and puree with a delicious wasabi crumble, featuring a powder and crushed wasabi peas.

Slow Cooked Ox Cheek, Pea Custard, Pea Salad, Puy Lentils – the slow cooked ox cheek was everything it should be but the talking point for those up and down the table was the ‘pea salad’ set with crisp fresh peas; wonderful flavours and textures. 

Lemon Verbena & White Chocolate ‘Dome’, Raspberries – a lovely end to the meal, the raspberry components were spot on and the white chocolate dome filled with a creamy lemon verbena ganache was served at an ambient temperature that made it melt majestically in the mouth.

Another “boss” evening at Camp & Furnace – I’ll be keeping an eye out for more of their special events in the future and making my way down to Purnell’s in Birmingham. 

Wednesday 21 August 2013

David Kennedy at Vallum Farm, Newcastle

Anyone who has visited our house will know that it’s a massive understatement to say that my wife and I both enjoy ‘a splash of colour’. Built in the 1960s we are midway through redecoration with period pieces to achieve a look of ‘flower power with a hint of Barbarella futurism’.

The kitchen and bathroom are the only rooms where we have given over to a completely modern look. That said, my ‘retro modern’ Smeg fridge freezer, in shiny red, and Kitchen Aid mixer are two of my most prized possessions.

One item I’m not allowed to replace is my wife’s table that once belonged to her “Nanna and Gramps” - it was the first item they bought together after their marriage in 1931 (they couldn't afford the chairs at the time and had to have sausages for their Christmas lunch).

At Vallum Farm to visit the Chef’s Pod (see here), I arrived early to squeeze in a meal at David Kennedy’s on site restaurant, housed above his farm shop in a converted cowshed. It was whilst I was waiting for my meal that my wife’s dogged attachment to her grandparents’ table (and my lack of sentimentality) finally made sense.

The dining room at Vallum is furnished with a mismatched selection of similar such tables, each with their own story secreted deep within their grain. As I waited, I looked around and imagined what scene each table may have hosted in a previous existence

Under the sturdy square one, I imagined children huddled together seeking safety during an air raid; the large round one, I saw surrounded by people, linking hands in a darkened candlelit room as spirits were summoned from the Ouija Board at its centre.

At the oblong extender, I pictured a hopeful young suitor asking his future father-in-law for his daughter’s hand.

The saw the dark wood one as a pre-loved family table – the setting of generations of breakfasts, lunches and suppers; family card and board games; children doing their homework and drawing with crayons…

Whatever the tables’ pasts, they have now found their way to Vallum Farm and are put to good use as families and friends gather round to enjoy the fabulous food of David Kennedy… happy times. 

I started with Vallum Reared Pork Rillettes, Ken’s Radishes – the meat component was delicious, beautifully done. My one gripe is that I’d have liked the radishes to have played a greater role and I certainly wanted more toasts.

Thinking to the future and sustainability, I have taken on board the idea of eating less meat. Simon Rogan’s vegetable driven menus at L’Enclume and The French, often making use of Ken’s excellent Vallum Farm produce, have helped to show how amazing and flavourful, good quality organic vegetables can be. With this in mind, I opted for the Minted Garden Pea Risotto.

Quite simply, this was the best risotto I’ve tasted in a very long time… possibly ever. Rich, creamy and well seasoned with parmesan and perfectly cooked rice; the pièce de résistance being wonderful fresh peas, mint and vibrant yellow courgettes, which I had seen growing out on the farm just moments before - my future benchmark for all risottos.

My dessert of Strawberry & Custard was delightfully simple – just fresh strawberries, halved and served with proper custard… no messing, exquisite.  

David Kennedy has other restaurants in Newcastle – Food Social at The Biscuit Factory and David Kennedy’s River Café which are now both on “my list” for when I am next in the North East.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

The Drunken Duck Inn – Ambleside, Cumbria

If you are looking for a pub in the Lake District, The Drunken Duck has the lot - away from the heaving tourist honeypots of Bowness and Keswick, it’s location at the top of a woodland hill with stunning views across the fells to the lakes and mountains beyond is picture book perfect.

The Michelin guide says, ‘Attractive pub in the heart of the beautiful Lakeland countryside, with a characterful, fire-lit bar and two more formal dining rooms. Simple lunches and elaborate dinners with prices to match; cooking is generous and service, attentive. Ales are brewed on-site.

We went of a rainy, hazy day that seemed to make the vistas even more magical. The drive there is lovely but it is also a popular spot with walkers – not least because it has its own microbrewery for that well-earned post ramble libation.

The bar area is a real cosy spot – taxidermied creatures look down from the walls and the beams are charmingly festooned with dried hops. Behind the slate topped bar, chalkboards list a number of wines available by the glass and, the real draw, the house brews courtesy of Barngates Brewery.

We ordered a ‘Barngates Beer Bat’ (three 1/3 pint tasters for £3.70) – great to sample a selection or for those unable to decide. We opted for “Catnip” “Cracker” and “Brathay Gold” – the latter, darker and stronger brew (4%) being the pick of our bunch.

For food, we opted to sit in one of the two restaurant areas adjoining the bar.

I chose to start with the Kipper Scotch Egg, aioli & confit tomato. I’m a huge fan of scotch eggs but as this was my first one made with fish, I was a little apprehensive that it would “work” – I needn’t have been, it was really good. Great flavours, well balanced and cooked to runny yolked perfection.

My wife’s Grilled mackerel, cockles, samphire & gooseberries – another dish of great flavours brought together well – the sharp gooseberries and salty crunch of the samphire balancing well with the tempura cockles and oily fish.

For our main we chose their namesake sharing-dish “The Drunken Duck”. The pub’s name came before the dish, read ‘the legend’ involving a Victorian landlady, some beer guzzling ducks and knitted waistcoats - here). At £44 and as their “signature dish” this should have been a real winner – unfortunately ours was a little dry and overcooked for our preference. What’s more, we felt the accompaniments were under seasoned. I’m guessing we were just unlucky and this is not usual.

Still half full from a late lunch, we skipped dessert. Despite the “inconsistencies” with the main, we enjoyed our experience at The Drunken Duck… we’d definitely return when back in The Lakes.

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