|Spice of life|
|Thursday, 02 September 2010|
A varied offering from includes Italian, French, Indian, English country pub, and even afternoon tea
‘I distinctly remember the home pressed ox tongue and crispy eggs that oozed yolk when incised’
Liverpool has had something of a makeover since I was last there many moons ago and I was really very impressed. The people are absolutely charming and the cabby was incredibly entertaining for each of my journeys around the city, including to the Association’s annual dinner in a mini Kew Gardens palm house.
Moving back south, I dined at the Kingham Plough, a restaurant with a deservedly high reputation within a village set deep in the northern undulations of the Cotswolds, beautifully decorated in pastels with relaxed, young, enthusiastic staff and a great local, possibly organic-style, menu which was delicious – I was entertaining a large party and they were able to cope with our various requirements of no tomatoes, no gluten and so on, without batting an eyelid. I distinctly remember the home pressed ox tongue, and crispy eggs that oozed yolk when incised. The meat courses change on a daily basis and were appropriately spontaneous and deliciously fresh. There is a hotel attached to the restaurant, also run by Emily Watkins, and that certainly deserves a visit but reservations are required.
A little further south, I took lunch at an old favourite from student days; The Trout Inn on the river in north Oxford which has clearly undergone complete renovation and it is the busiest gastro-pub experience I have ever seen, but one which is really extremely high quality. This place has had a great tourist boost due to the Inspector Morse series, but the pub and restaurant remain true to life and my group enjoyed their lunch hugely apart from the cutting wind which blew through the open doors into the bar. I can recommend the linguini with tiger prawns with just a hint of chilli and a glass of beer, followed by a gentle stroll enjoying the view of the river.
Heading back towards London via Hatfield Peverel in Essex there is a much sought after lunch set-up called the Blue Strawberry Bistrot. The food was typical British Sunday lunch (roast beef, belly of pork and so on) at a very good price (less than £20 for two courses) and could not be criticised, but the overall experience was extraordinarily disappointing. It is the only time that I have sent back a bottle of wine three times; that is, three different bottles were hopeless and completely spoiled what otherwise would have been a perfectly satisfactory though ordinary meal. The waiter did not seem to be phased by this either. I must have had an unusual experience as the Blue Strawberry seems to be always fully booked, so perhaps it is worth another experiment.
Service is all important as well in a restaurant and the stylish Crown and Castle at Orford is a most attractive little place, but if I say it took 40 minutes before my food arrived you will understand our frustrations, especially when we were told they knew they were busy – a clear mismatch between number of tables and number of staff. This is just not good enough! Ruth and David Watson, the well-known restaurateurs, previously of Hintlesham Hall, who now own the stylish hotel would have been less than impressed. However, the fresh fish lunch of skate and ‘scampi’, washed down with a little New Zealand sauvignon blanc, was excellent and more in keeping with Ruth’s reputation as a food writer.
The opposite seemed to occur in Chor Bizarre in Mayfair, the sister restaurant of one of the same name in Delhi which my wife raved about on a recent visit, although, to be fair, she was describing the bizarre furniture and contents of the restaurant which, frankly, sounded more like a Hard Rock Café than an Indian restaurant. Nonetheless, this was a very true to life Indian luncheon with very good naan bread and adequate curry and special gazab ka tikka (chicken in a cream sauce) with no after effects and straightforward accompaniments. The odd thing about it was we were the only couple in the restaurant until another couple joined us for lunch. Granted, it was a Saturday, but I am rather surprised, so perhaps others know something about the place that I, as yet, don’t know. Worth trying during the week after shopping or a visit to the Royal Academy.
I am getting used to these charming country pubs which serve food and there is a delightful place in Mells, Somerset near Frome, the Talbot Inn, where a simple plate of smoked salmon at lunchtime was served in a delectable fashion with horseradish cream. It was outstandingly good quality fish from an independent source. This was just a representation of the other very impressive dozen dishes that were served and it is clear to me on my travels back and forth across the country that these days you can do very well by sticking to respected restaurants within pubs.
You will, by now, be expecting me to discuss some other exotica from across the seas and on this occasion I want to mention a restaurant called Provence which, of course, was a French restaurant with a French owner in a Bohemian suburb, Carrboro, of Chapel Hill, the University of North Carolina town, three hours in off the eastern seaboard of the United States. The owner’s name was Felix Roux – no relation, I gather. We could well have been in Provence, with the yellow ochre walls, all the decorations being entirely true to form and a wonderful French meal with excellent ingredients and, as one might expect, somewhat larger amounts than one might actually get in Provence, being in the USA. We chose lobster bisque, onion soup followed by salmon, grouper and lamb with juniper berries.
This, of course, a prelude to part of a surgical trip which then met in an Italian restaurant in Chapel Hill itself called 411. It was absolutely true to form as an American Italian with the most vast dishes of pasta that you have ever seen, which were enough for a family (see photo) and I for one thought the carbonara with shrimp – shrimp actually being mega-prawns – quite delicious and certainly to be ordered over any of the southern grits-style dishes which are otherwise plentiful in the Carolinas. This Italian was very much a locality restaurant and can be compared with the upscale Café Milano in Georgetown, Washington. This attracts the capital’s politicians and people-watchers in an efficiently run institution costing probably twice as much as 411, but again serving huge portions of amazing Italian food such as breaded veal and salad, the veal hanging off each side of the plate which itself was vast. The charcuterie, carpaccio, crispy calamari and lobster were all equally wonderful and although the three of us couldn’t face dessert, a to-die-for tiramisu was still produced for us. Great food, atmosphere and people-watching, although I haven’t a clue who the celebrities were. It was very Georgetown smart and cannot be missed, just west of Foggy Bottom in Washington DC. I have been a frequent traveller to Washington and as I was planning to go to the American College of Surgeons Conference in October this year, I realised that I could give anyone going to the meeting a list of other recommendations for their evenings off – bearing in mind that their day will start very early indeed the following morning in true American surgical fashion, necessitating missing breakfast.