Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Ludlow - a treat for food lovers

On our way from Bath up through to Holyhead, where we'd be catching our Dublin bound ferry, we needed a place to overnight.  The little Shropshire market town of Ludlow seemed as good as place as any and this was confirmed by a bit of research that told me that it was both 'one of the most attractive towns in England' and that it had 'a reputation as a centre for some of the best food and drink in England'.  Pretty much the ideal place to stop then - done.

The recently frozen weather all the way across the UK made our drive into Ludlow a fairly interesting one.  Massive snow drifts with cars and homes buried beneath and people working frantically to get roads clear and things back to normal.  Luckily we made it through and soon after finding our B&B made our way down to 'The Church Inn', a highly recommended pub with a great selection of ales.  The menu looked good, with the focus being creative pies and normal pub food.  We felt like something a little different and braved the evening chill in search of The Queens. It was a good call - a fantastic gastro-pub that celebrates local produce in a relaxed and unpretentious way. 

The town itself was a well organised mix of old and new, with an interesting morning market, an impressive castle and as an added seasonal bonus, a great covering of snow on the surrounding hillsides.  One of the highlights of our short stay was a visit to the Ludlow Food Centre.  A real superstore of local produce.  They've given me a recipe for a great salad, full of winning textures and classic flavour combinations.  Ingredients can obviously be substituted with produce from your local.   

Warm salad of English asparagus, bacon and boiled egg (serves 6)

  1. 6 rashers Smoked Gloucester Old Spot back bacon
  2. 4 slices Ludlow Food Centre Sourdough Bread, torn into rough cubes
  3. 50g shelled walnuts, roughly chopped
  4. 5 free range eggs
  5. 2 bunches asparagus
  1. 5 Tbsp rapeseed oil
  2. 1 Tbsp cider vinegar
  3. 2 tsp Ludlow Food Centre wholegrain mustard
  4. salt and pepper
  • heat oil in a pan, fry bacon both sides until crisp
  • chop into inch sized pieces and keep warm in a low oven
  • in the same pan, fry the bread until lightly brown and crisp all over, keep warm with the bacon
  • toast walnuts (again in the same pan) until they take on a little colour
  • cook eggs in boiling water for 5 minutes, then rinse under cold water to stop them cooking further
  • whisk all dressing ingredients until combined
  • halve the eggs and lightly season
  • trim any woody ends off asparagus and cook in rapidly boiling salted water until just tender
  • drain well and divide between plates
  • add egg halves, sprinkle over warm bacon, bread and nuts before drizzling the dressing over

View over Ludlow

The Church Inn

Monday, 29 April 2013

Belgo's - more than just great beer

A recent holiday that took us to the UK, Dublin and New York gave us the chance to revisit some old haunts and explore a few unknowns. 

In the backstreets of London, a little walk from Covent Garden, is an underground Belgian beer hall that serves fantastic food.  I've visited Belgo's a few times; drawn to the unbelievable variety of beers.  The restaurant is a chain with another 4 locations in London but the vibe in the Covent Garden branch does it for me.  On my recent visit, instead of my usual mussels and chips, I decided to go for the rotisserie chicken, which was succulent, full of flavour and more importantly perfect with my selection of beers.  I've always been incredibly impressed with the place, possibly swayed by the fact that I'm normally in beer fest mode.  If you like beer and some something to nibble on at the same time, Belgo's is a must.

They gave me a mussel recipe that they reckon is one of their best.

Moules Monroe

  1. 1kg fresh mussels
  2. 4 tsp flat-leaf parsley
  3. 100g shallots, finely sliced
  4. 150ml Leffe Blond or similar (and a few more to sustain the chef)
  5. 80g smoked pancetta or smoked streaky bacon, cut into matchstick sizes
  6. 30g unsalted butter
  • clean the mussels properly, remove beards by pulling off and take off barnacles by tapping against the sink 
  • give any open mussels a firm tap and they should close - if not throw away
  • get a large pan, heat butter, add bacon and fry for 4 mins
  • add shallots, half the parsley and cook for another 2 mins
  • add mussels and pour beer over, put a lid on and cook for around 5 mins, until the mussels open
  • serve with chips, mussels and beer

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Addo Elephant Park

Addo, about half an hours drive from Port Elizabeth (in South Africa's Eastern Cape), is a spectacular place to spend a few days.  We chose to stay in the main camp, which has different self-catering units and provided everything we could need.  There was even a bit of peaceful buffalo snoring at night to remind us exactly where we were.  There is super game viewing, beautiful scenery and, if you get up early enough, the opportunity to find wonderful secluded spots.  The relatively basic self-catering option is a great alternative to the more expensive private reserves of the area. 


Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Apricots of Calitzdorp

The little town of Calitzdorp, in South Africa's majestic Klein (or small) Karoo, is well known locally for being the country's capital of Port wine.  It's a happy place for grapes but for quite some time apricots have also been growing in the area and every year from mid-November to early December their harvest is celebrated.  Last year we visited and got our hands dirty plucking apricots by the dozen.  There are numerous activities for young and old with a lot of apricot biased cooking, eating and drinking. 

Boplaas, one of the town's most famous family vineyards, kindly gave me a family recipe that turns the apricots into something special (not that they necessarily need anything done to them).

Apricot Chutney

  1. 3kg apricots
  2. 3kg sugar
  3. 2.5kg vinegar
  4. 500g finely chopped onion
  5. 1 tsp ginger
  6. 1 tsp salt
  7. 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • de-pip apricots
  • cook all ingredients over a low heat and stir well
  • when the fruit is soft, transfer to a clean sterilised jar and seal
Boplaas makes good port but also has a lot of very good wine.  Their 'Tinta Chocolate', which is 100% tinta barocca, is something that is absolutely worth trying.  It won a gold at the Michelangelo awards and a silver at Veritas.  I reckon a piece of rare roast beef, some apricot chutney and a few roasted root vegetables will marry beautifully with the full bodied but well balanced wine.    


Monday, 22 April 2013

Cape Point Crayfishing

A little while ago I was lucky enough to hop on a boat and go crayfishing along the rocky coastline of Cape Point Nature Reserve.  The location is fantastic, not just because of the abundance of the crustaceans but also because it's a seriously beautiful part of South Africa. 

For those of you who've never been crayfishing in a boat before, here's a quick lesson.  Take a ring, roughly 50cm wide, attached to a net, a float, and a bait bag in the middle.  Fill the bait bag with old anchovies, or something similarly pungent, and drop the whole contraption into the water.  The ring drops down onto the sea bed, bait bag centred and net spread out below.  The float remains on the surface, enabling one to retrieve the whole lot later (a fairly important part of the procedure).  The anchovies (etc) are left for around 10 minutes to work there magic and then the whole lot is pulled at a good speed out of the water.  There are strict regulations as to how many and what size crayfish can be taken home, and this must be having the intended effect because every bag was absolutely full of them. 

The best thing about pulling crayfish yourself is that less than an hour later you can be happily biting into the little guys.  However you want to cook them, boiled, barbecued or in the oven, you're in for a wonderful meal.  Drizzled with some good olive oil or garlic butter, served with rice, a bit of fresh bread and salad, crayfish as fresh as that cannot be beaten.